“We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”
I can still recall stopping here when I first read the American Declaration of Independence. I was sufficiently educated to know that man was supposed to be ‘born free, but is in chains everywhere’ — Rousseau’s The Social Contract — and I was aware that mankind was theoretically equal, and could have added to its rights of justice, equal opportunities etc. But the pursuit of happiness was an idea new to me.
That mankind should have the right to happiness would also not have given me pause to wonder but to pursue happiness? It took some more years before I could begin to comprehend the infinitely superior wisdom of Thomas Jefferson. I realised that in the humdrum activities of life, mankind frequently passed by opportunities to feel happy, in pursuit of more practical goals: ambition, most of all. And, therefore, it was indeed necessary to pursue happiness as actively as any other goal. Every individual owes it to his/her family, subordinates, indeed to all mankind, but most of all to himself.
Consequently, from my twenties, I have pursued happiness and have found it in all forms. A game of bridge, a job well done (not necessarily one that would further my career), a train journey with my kids romping all over the place and enjoying themselves, on our very frequent road trips together, when we whiled away the time reciting poetry to my children or singing nonsense rhymes or songs.
I am fortunate to have a life companion who shared that spirit. When things went wrong or the car broke down — a frequent occurrence, since I could only afford jalopies — she would invariably tell the children, “here is an opportunity for another adventure”, and they would picnic by the roadside, while I attended to our problem and joined them. She never offered a word of complaint and her patience was infinite; regretfully, age and disease have taken their toll, but she still has the same spirit.
When I was posted to God-forsaken parts of the country, I would train my men hard, then force them to play games till close to nightfall. But we would all gather before a bonfire for dinner and, invariably, someone with a reasonable voice would break into songs — Pashto, Urdu, or Punjabi — and the day would end happily. Frequently, local residents in the farthest corners of Balochistan, and even Sindh, who could not understand a word of the song, only the music, would gather around the peripheries of our camps and clap alongside. Those were also dangerous times, though not as dangerous as today, but fun and happiness are usually infectious.
As I rose in rank, I still managed to find myself in some of the farthest corners of the country. But wherever I went, my pursuit was relentless and I ensured that it included those under my command. Kel, the farthest corner of Azad Kashmir, was connected by a road that was overlooked by Indian posts across the Line of Control, and continuously interdicted. We drove through each time under fire and exited under fire. My kids were thrilled with the continuous tracer rounds that were visible and the occasional rocket. They could never understand why the Indians missed us, even though I was driving fast. I had to graphically explain the complications of plunging fire from a height downwards before I could convince them that the Indian soldiers were no less competent than ours. They took that part a little doubtfully.
Then there was my stint at Tall, including Parachinar, when I took them across the Durand Line to a resounding welcome by the locals, and we visited both North and South Waziristan, where my family also enjoyed local hospitality and was introduced to local customs.
Now I am retired, but am proud that me and my family are all Taliban, Talibs not only of knowledge but relentless in the pursuit of happiness. I have a small cottage in the slums of the very posh DHA, where all my friends abide in castles, but my cottage is at the highest point and no one will ever be able to take away the heavenly view from my terrace. I sit there in the evenings to enjoy the view on a starlit night.
I am occasional visiting faculty at the Fatima Jinnah University and have been teaching courses on subjects I never heard of nor am qualified to teach; a fact I have brought to the attention of the vice chancellor. But I enjoy learning those subjects and learning even more as I teach.
I have four grandchildren who are of the view that the only elder of their age group is ‘Abbajee’ — a form of address I have yearned for, since that was the way we addressed both our grandfathers. They join forces to drive me up the wall, but their glee at what they are doing to their Abbajee is something I could give my life for. I cheat shamelessly to ensure that they all beat their Abbajee at each game. These brats alone could constitute all my happiness now.
Indeed it is the right of mankind to pursue happiness and each one of us must do so. Those unfortunate souls that don’t will never know what life has to offer and how unfortunate they are not to pursue it and taste it.
The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)