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My name is Aijazuddin. I come from a country that is your unfriendly neighbor. I am the neighbor you cannot live with, and the neighbour you should not have to live without – the neighbour with whom, in Mani’s sage words, you should maintain an ‘uninterrupted, uninterruptible’ dialogue.

After arriving in Karachi in the 1970s, Suneet asked Mani: ‘‘Is this ‘the enemy country’ people have been warning us about?’’

Since then, Mani, supported by Suneet, has spent the last fifty years of his life advocating the cause of conciliation, not confrontation, between our two nations.

He has done so through the storms of wars and during the placidity of peace (however uneasy). He is doing so even now, as together we endure an Ice Age (this time diplomatic) that last covered our subcontinent over 20,000 years ago.

I share Mani’s credo, which is why I regret deeply being unable to be with you today in person at the launch of his book Memoirs of a Maverick.

After he sent me an invitation, neither of us realised how arduous and problematic it would be for me to obtain a visit visa. We tried everything within our weakening octogenarian power. The bureaucratic chasm, however, that separated our two worlds proved unbridgeable.

At times, I wished I had been like Vamana (Lord Vishnu’s incarnation) who covered earth in one stride and the heavens in the second, leaving him with a third boon unfulfilled.

I first met Mani and Suneet soon after their arrival in Karachi in 1978. My first book – Pahari Paintings and Sikh Portraits in the Lahore Museum – had just been published simultaneously in London, Karachi and New Delhi. I called on them with a copy as an icebreaker.

That proved to be the first of many meetings over the years – in New Delhi, Kasauli, and Lahore.

Mani has asked me to speak specifically on the years he served as India’s Consul General in Karachi, from 1978 to 1982. Everything he has written in that chapter, and had covered more fully in his earlier book Pakistan Papers, is like rereading a diary. Every name, every incident, each event resonates with  a previous familiarity.   

I remember the Indian consulate in Civil Lines Karachi as it was in the mid-1960s. I used to visit its library to browse through Indian newspapers and the latest copies of Marg magazine.

During the 1970s, the building had been vandalised following the 1971 war. By the time Mani took possession of it in December 1978, he found the four storey building dilapidated and utterly neglected. He describes how he and his team of two clerks deputed from the embassy in Islamabad ‘huddled into a small room with one telephone between us.’

It was an ironic replay of August 1947 when Pakistan’s fledgling Foreign Office began its work in a musty Mohatta Palace in Karachi, using one typewriter and thorns from nearby kikar bushes in lieu of paper clips.

Once Mani had settled in, he realised that one way to a Pakistani’s heart was through the visa portal. The demand for visas grew exponentially to the numbers issued. Mani mentions that by September 1979, ‘within six months of our opening, we were edging towards one hundred thousand, a full lakh. By the end of my term [in 1982], we had issued over 3 lakh visas and not a single case of misuse had been reported.’

The support for every application was invariably a clichéd telegram from India using the standard phrase – ‘Father serious. Come at once.’  To which came the usual retort: ‘If he cannot be serious at this age, he never will be.’

Mani exercised his intellect with academic research, which yielded a thesis ‘Towards a Revival of the Pakistan Economy’. He had it reviewed by one of Pakistan’s top economists, and fortified by his opinion, he handed it to Ambassador Shankar Bajpai during his visit to Karachi in September 1979. Had anyone the wit then, instead of being Consul General in Karachi, Mani should have been invited to become the Advisor on Finance in Islamabad. 

Within a year of their arrival, Mani and Suneet had made their mark on Karachi society. In December 1979, they threw a really big party. They called in everyone they knew. There were the bon vivants (who constituted the majority of the guests) and a sobering antidote of two Jama’at-e-Islami MNAs for Karachi.

The second lesson Mani learned was that the way to a Pakistani’s heart was through his liver.

Mani recounts how when the Foreign Secretary Ram Sathe asked him ‘what kind of qualities he should look for in my successor. Unhesitatingly, I replied, ‘Only one, sir. A really strong liver.’

Mani continues: ‘Sathe was astonished. I elaborated, ‘I know the exact geographical location of the line that divides the Dar-al-Islam from the Dar-al Harb. It is the bar of the Sindh Club, north of which is Ziadom and south of which is freedom!’

Mani’s memoirs are replete with descriptions of bibulousness. He refers to one Sindhi politician bemoaning Ziaul Haq’s dry policy: ‘Mr Consul General,’ he said, ‘before [Zia] came to power, I used to have twenty-four brands of whisky in my bar. Now I have only six!’

But one must remember that Mani remit was restricted to Sindh and that he is referring to a gilded veneer of Karachi’s society. Mani’s amusing anecdotes would lead his readership to assume that everyone in Pakistan was an alcoholic. The truth is that more than 200 million Pakistanis are teetotalers, except the truly determined and the parched affluent.

Mani will forgive me, therefore, if I correct that misrepresentation. As I hope his publishers will understand why I repeat E. M. Forster’s witty comment on Dom Moraes’ intoxicating book Going Away: ‘One longs for a non-alcoholic edition.’

The success of Mani’s tenure as Consul General lay not just in his expansive hospitality which flowed like the unstoppable Indus. He broadened the network of his contacts and friends across urban and rural Sindh, from the Bhuttos and the Jatois to the police and the paanwalas outside his house.

He compensated for not being able to visit Balochistan by interacting with disaffected Balochi leaders whenever they visited Karachi, which they did frequently.

Perhaps the most significant event during Mani’s days was the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on 4 April 1979. That coincided with the visit of the Indian chief of army staff (CoAS), General O. P. Malhotra. Mani was disappointed that, contrary to protocol, General Malhotra was received only by a Brigadier. He learned next morning that no higher ranking officer was available as ’they were busy hanging Bhutto and arranging his burial before daybreak at his village of Garhi Khuda Baksh near Larkana!’

The following day Mani was surprised that ‘while the papers were emblazoned with screaming headlines, the streets were subdued. There were no rivers of blood flowing. All was calm and quiet [.] The revolution had choked. Zia had got away with murder.’

I can testify to that. The morning of Bhutto’s hanging, I had to drive past Rawalpindi jail from the airport en route to a meeting in Islamabad. There was not one PPP mourner to be seen agitating outside its forbidding walls.

Mani and Suneet, after moving back to New Delhi in1982, have expanded the quantity and deepened the quality of their friendship with Pakistanis. I and my family have been, and hope to remain, the beneficiaries of their generous largesse and the love of their family.

Mani’s subsequent political avatars are beyond the scope of my talk this evening. However, I will allude to Mani’s efforts to persuade Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to visit Pakistan, and specifically Sindh.

Mani proposed to Rajiv Gandhi that he should visit Mohenjo-Daro and the shrines of Shahbaz Qalandar and Shah Abdul Bhittai, Sind’s greatest poet, who are revered by both Muslims and Hindus in and beyond Sindh.

Mani recalls: ‘I assured him, he would draw huge crowds and he would be received with wild enthusiasm. This rapturous welcome would be beamed into every drawing room in India and Pakistan and would open the way, through negotiations, to a possible entente cordiale between India and Pakistan. He seemed interested but non-committal. However, I think I did strike a chord that reverberated when he became, in 1988, the first Indian PM in twenty-eight years to visit our ‘distant neighbour’.

Rajiv Gandhi, accompanied by his wife Sonia, did visit Pakistan, but they remained confined to the gilded birdcage that is Islamabad.

There is so much in Mani’s fascinating memoir that one could dilate upon, and savour. But for that you need to read his book – repeatedly. 

There is one particular incident in it, though, that I would like to conclude with. It concerns the Balochi Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti, one of the most impressive men I have ever met. Mani never met him but he learned later from Hamida Khuhro (daughter of the Sindhi leader M. Ayub Khuhro) that Bugti had filched from Khuhro’s library a signed copy of Mani’s book Confessions of a Secular Fundamentalist (published in 2004).

Two years later, in August 2006, Mani learned that Bugti had been killed in his cave ‘where he was gunned down by Musharraf’s troops’. The apocryphal story is that Bugti died with Mani’s book pinned to his chest.

And so in conclusion, Mani, I have told my family that when I die, I want to be buried with copies of your Pakistan Papers and Memoirs of a Maverick, pinned to my chest.

I want your words of good neighbourliness, tolerance, and humanity to be interred in the soil of Pakistan, so that in time, the seeds of your humanitarian truths will germinate, allowing future generations of more enlightened Indians and Pakistanis to reap their harvest.







31 August 2023
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