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THE general perception about the armed forces all over the world is that they are a humourless lot. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, humour is a weapon armed forces use when it comes to relaxing and making the tough and disciplined life bearable. The jokes and anecdotes published in ‘Humour in uniform’, a popular feature that Reader’s Digest ran for ages, are a testimony to the statement.

As for our armed forces, one can vouch for their ability to keep their sense of humour even when the situation is not-so-funny. Who can question the sense of humour of those who can look at the lighter side of anything while writing about the war? A good example is Colonel Muhammad Khan’s Bajang aamad, the memoirs of a young lieutenant who took part in World War II. He has described the events of the war as if he was on picnic. The officers of our armed forces who have penned delectable pieces of Urdu humour are, among others, Syed Zameer Jafri, Shafeeq-ur-Rahman, Saulat Raza, Ashfaq Hussain and Siddiq Salik.

Of them, Siddiq Salik’s writings are different in the sense that his humour often has a tinge of gloom. Hama yaran dauzakh (1974), his memoirs recording the events and impressions as a prisoner of war in India after the 1971 Pakistan-India war, is especially a heart-warming amalgamation of wit and melancholy, a brave effort to smile at miseries. This strange phenomenon is like rain is falling while the sun is shining and makes one recall some of Ghalib’s letters in which Ghalib laughs at himself and his miserable life. The book is imbued in Salik’s patriotism and courage as well as his acute sense of humour. His beautiful Urdu prose, adorned with apt quotations from Urdu poetry, makes it all the more readable.

The other trait that makes Salik different from his uniformed colleagues writing humour is his satirical streak that occasionally overshadows his humour and wit. This satire at times borders sarcasm and bitterness. Especially in his Ta dam-i-tehreer (1981), a collection of satirical pieces and brief travel accounts, when he tries to “diagnose” the ills that are keeping Pakistan from becoming a great country. Salik himself has dubbed the pieces included in the first portion of Ta dam-i-tehreer as “X-ray” reports. In these pieces he ponders over some touchy issues such as martial law, democracy, constitution and bureaucracy in his usual bitter-sweet style. But realising his own limitations, since he at that time was a part of Zia-ul-Haq’s regime — an in-service professional soldier who could not comment on many aspects of social and political life — Salik has admitted in the preface to the book that “while taking these X-rays sometimes my mental X-ray machine went out of order and sometimes the power of faith supplying the brightness became dimmed, so some of the marks could not be recorded on the X-ray films properly. But even these faded images are a boon since installing such X-ray plants was not allowed in the past”.

Among those “faded” X-ray films, some images shine quite brightly and one can read the diseases that are eating away at the heart of Pakistan, for instance: “In the beginning martial law is used as an insecticide and is sprayed on milk shops and sweetmeat shops to kill the flies and mosquitoes. But when used for too long, this insecticide becomes infected itself. Like other medicines martial law, too, must have an expiry date on it but there are very few who can read martial law’s expiry date. Martial law should be used within the expiry date and an overdose can prove very harmful”. His comment on the democratic values in our society goes: “The roots of democracy in our soil are very deep. It is our endeavour to send them deeper for if they surface, cattle would graze them”. Another one on the rise and fall of powerful regimes goes: “The morning of power is silver, the noon golden and the evening dark”. This allegorical and symbolic style is another way in which Salik differs from his other humorist colleagues.

Siddiq Salik was born in Manglia, a village in Kharian tehsil, Punjab, on Sept 6, 1935. He obtained a master’s degree in English literature from Islamia College, Lahore, and a diploma in International Relations. During his student days Salik edited Crescent, the Islamia College (Railway Road) magazine, and the English section of Faran, the Islamia College (Civil Lines) magazine. Initially he taught at some colleges but after a few years quit teaching and joined, as an assistant editor, Pak jamhooriyet, English weekly published by the government of Pakistan. In 1964, Siddiq Salik joined the Inter-Services Public Relations and in 1970 he was sent to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), where he was made a prisoner of war with the other 93,000 or so Pakistani troops. He returned home in 1973 and after the 1977 coup was made General Zia-ul-Haq’s speech writer and press secretary.

Siddiq Salik’s other books are: Witness to surrender (1977), an eyewitness account of the Fall of Dacca (now Dhaka) in 1971, and is its Urdu version Main ne Dhaka doobte dekha (1986). His memoirs written in his wittily extemporised style is titled Salute, published posthumously in 1989. Pressure cooker (1986) and Emergency are his Urdu novels that satirise the moral decay of Pakistani society. State and politics: a case study of Pakistan is a serious study. Wounded pride: the reminiscences of a Pakistani prisoner appeared in 1984.

Siddiq Salik died on Aug 17, 1988 in a plane crash near Bahawalpur with Gen Zia-ul-Haq, the US ambassador and some high-ranking military officers. At the time of his death Siddiq Salik was heading the ISPR.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2015

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