The Spirit of September

It was September 10, 1965, and by now the dark clouds of Indian aggression had transcended over almost every front, thundering and barraging with all their ferocity and viciousness. Standing between this gauntlet of Indian aggression and the sacred soil were men in khaki committed to defend every inch of the motherland. By now the ‘September War’ was reaching its climax, and Khem Karan sector was no exception. There were fierce battles being fought in this sector as Pakistani tanks and infantry were advancing into enemy territory. Lt Tipu, still in his early twenties, was serving in 24Cav at Khem Karan sector and had already witnessed enough action since the time hostilities had started in the Rann of Kutch. 
The sun of September 10 rose with its glistening, golden rays unveiling the horrors of the battlefield, and after midday, the warmth of the sun started abating gently, creating a subtle chill in the ambiance around the open fields of Khem Karan. Lt Tipu was standing beside his tanks in one of the green fields east of the Indian town of Asal Uttar. He was tasked to extricate Brig Ahsan Shami, Commander Artillery 1 Armoured Division and Brig Bashir, Commander 5 Armoured Brigade, who were reportedly under enemy fire in the no-man’s land. While Lt Tipu was awaiting final orders, he saw 2nd Lt Nadeem approaching him. Nadeem was a smart, young officer who despite putting on just six months of service, was doing a remarkable job in assisting MTO to keep the tanks of his regiment rolling. He had come here for tank recovery and after seeing Lt Tipu, he decided to have a few words with him. During the course of the candid conversation, amidst the growling sound of the tanks, Lt Nadeem with a shy smile on his face said to Lt Tipu, “Sir you are senior to me in rank, but in one aspect I have superseded you.” Lt Tipu, who was still a bachelor could see excitement on the face of the young officer as he disclosed that he had got engaged just a few days back. Just as young Nadeem uttered these words they heard a thick and short whistling sound. They could make out that it was the sound of approaching Indian artillery rounds piercing through the air, coming towards them. As a reflex action, both the officers immediately jumped to the adjacent ground, which was comparatively in depth. When the artillery rounds’ fuse hit the ground, there was rumbling thunder, shaking the earth beneath them, the jolt thoroughly felt. This blaring explosion was closely followed by a mushroom of dust, the splinters that were piercing through anything and everything coming their way. As the dust settled, Lt Tipu saw the young 2nd Lt lying on the ground severely injured. Splinters had penetrated deep in his thighs cutting his femoral veins causing excessive bleeding. Tipu could see Nadeem’s uniform completely soaked in blood. Lt Tipu himself was severely injured with splinters piercing his right side, injuring his head, abdomen and thigh. His deep wounds were profusely bleeding; he stood up not quite aware of the intensity of his own injuries and tried to rescue the young lieutenant who was lying just few yards from him. After mustering some strength, Lt Tipu stood up and started searching for the much-needed help and luckily after walking a few yards, he came across an officer from his brigade who was mounting a jeep. Subsequently, both officers were evacuated but Lt Nadeem succumbed to his severe injuries and embraced shahadat. He was buried at village Lulyana, Mustafabad near the Main Dressing Station (MDS) beside the other martyrs of Khem Karan, mostly from 5FF in the war cemetery whose land was donated by local villagers. 
Lt Tipu was shifted to MDS where his wounds were cleaned, and he was injected with morphine to lessen the pain. In line with the SOPs of MDS, the time of his arrival was written on his forehead with a black marker while he patiently waited for the other part of the SOP to materialize, i.e., provision of tea and biscuits to the injured soldiers. After waiting for some time, Lt Tipu, with a witty smile on his face, said to the doctor in charge who was a Major: “Sir, during exam while answering the question regarding the SOPs of MDS, if we forget to write the point regarding provision of tea and biscuits to the injured, one mark is deducted.” On hearing this remark, the doctor smiled, he was amused by the sense of humor of the young officer, who despite his severe injuries was keeping his wits alive. The doctor immediately instructed his staff to abide by the SOPs of MDS and Lt Tipu finally got his hands on his much craved cup of tea. After consuming hot tea, probably due to blood loss and effect of pain killers, the young officer drifted into laps of peaceful sleep. When he opened his eyes next, he found himself in CMH Lahore where he came across a very graceful lady in her mid-thirties. She was the wife of a Lt Col. On seeing Tipu awake, who still had remnants of mud on his face, she gently asked: “Beta, nobody washed your face?” Then she arranged a jug of water, soap and a shampoo, helped young Tipu in washing his face and head. She was not the only one, many ladies like her had voluntarily rendered their services to assist the paramedic staff in looking after the wounded officers and soldiers. Incontrovertibly, Pakistani women, be in any role, mother, wife, sister or a daughter have always acted as bulwark, a source of motivation for the men fighting on fronts.
Back home, in Model Town Lahore, Lt Tipu’s mother Hadayat Begum used to tell her servants to place the chair on the roof  of her house so that she could see the artillery duels. She had all the reason to be strong nerved as her son and three sons-in-law, Maj Ikram Ghaznavi, Maj Mehmood Hayat (later Maj Gen) and Capt Akhtar Bhatty (later Maj), were serving in the army during the September War. Once during the war, she went to Mall Road for shopping. A dog fight between the fighter jets of PAF and IAF commenced in the sky over Regal Chowk. In headlong and disorderly haste, people immediately started running helter-skelter, but she stood firm on her feet and witnessed the dog fight till its conclusion. Naturally, a lady whose almost all male members of family were in one way or the other mired in the war, calm and composure were a requisite, and in all probability, she was well-aware of this reality. 
Lt Tipu had not informed anyone at home about his injuries, and quite oblivious of her son’s predicament, his mother was sitting in her lounge when the phone rang. She picked up the phone. On other side was her son-in-law Maj Ikram, who out of sheer concern asked his mother-in-law about the wellbeing of Lt Tipu. Being a strong nerved lady, she took the news of her son’s serious war wounds with calm and cool. The proud mother went to visit her son. On entering Tipu’s room, she pulled the chair and sat beside his bed, drew out few packets of dry fruits and chocolates from her bag and handed them over to her son. To Lt Tipu’s utter surprise, she also handed him a pack of cigarettes. “I know you smoke, you can smoke in front of me since now after fighting in the war you have become a man. I have bought these cigarettes for you myself from the best shop in town, you can smoke, while we talk,” said the proud mother in a gentle tone. She wanted to hear everything her son went through from the battlefields of Rann of Kutch to the front of Khem Karan. As Tipu narrated the story of his combat experiences, he could see his mother’s eyes shine with pride. She also disclosed to Tipu that she was praying that her son gets injured and come out of the war as a ghazi so that she can look after her mujahid son. With such brave mothers at the back of their sons, undoubtedly, no power on earth can undo Pakistan. Before bidding goodbye to her son, she took Tipu’s blood-soaked beret, uniform and belt along with her, as a gesture of acknowledging her son’s sacrifice and grit.
Lt Tipu’s sister Sajida Akhtar was residing in Abbottabad since her husband Capt Akhtar Bhatty was posted in PMA. She was newly married and was living in Hut No 1, which used to be in front of Commandant’s House. The Commandant’s wife, Mrs Brig Sultan, had nominated Sajida as the Ladies Club Secretary. On the morning of September 6, Sajida along with other ladies of PMA was having the morning coffee at the Club when one of the ladies, Mrs Maj Baber, entered the room and disclosed the news that Lahore was under Indian attack. Soon after, Sajida returned home, her husband Capt Akhtar had also reached home and told Sajida that he had to prepare his trunk with his necessary belongings since all Armour and Infantry officers of PMA had been placed at two hours’ notice. She helped her husband, an infantry officer from 13 Punjab, with the packing. As the days passed, the ladies of PMA started collecting money within the community of PMA for the ongoing war. She, along with her sister Tahira Hayat, wife of Maj Mehmood Hayat who was also posted in PMA, were on the forefront in the collection efforts. When the government asked for donations in the form of gold in order to boost foreign reserves the ladies of PMA placed a table in the Ladies Club where all ladies generously donated their gold ornaments for the war effort; it was indeed a reflection of pure patriotism. The Ladies Club of PMA was incontrovertibly resonating with feelings of patriotism and when this announcement for donating gold was made, Sajida Akhtar and Tahira Hayat were amongst the first ladies to stand up and donate. Since Sajida was newly married, she had all her jewelry with her, from which quite a substantial portion made its way into the war effort in support of troops fighting on the fronts. 

PMA had one minivan that was used by families of officers posted at PMA on payment for going to CMH and other domestic requirements. During the war, being the club secretary, Sajida along with other ladies used to go in that vehicle to the bazaar for procurement of dry ration for troops fighting on the fronts. All ladies of the PMA used to gather in the Club and make small dry ration packets. When the ladies of PMA got the news that soldiers on Kashmir front needed warm clothing and blankets, they collected warm clothes and blankets from their homes to dispatch to Kashmir. Mrs Sajida Akhtar recalls that, there was a surge in the patriotism to an extent that the ladies used to spend almost the whole day in packing these items, and the next day again used to gather for more work. The situation was no different in other garrisons and cities of Pakistan, where women belonging to every walk of life donated magnanimously for the war effort in the form of monetary aid, working round the clock in factories producing defence commodities, or rendering their services at hospitals. They were also instrumental in Civil Defence efforts across the country. 
Although after 17 days, the war ended on a victory note but it did not end Sajida and Tahira’s patriotic pursuits. Mrs Tahira Hayat’s three sons (Gen Zubair Hayat, Lt Gen Omer Hayat and Maj Gen Ahmed Hayat) joined the army. Mrs Sajida Aktar’s two sons (Lt Gen Muhammad Ali and Brig Zulfiqar Ali Bhatty), in addition to her two sons-in-law (Gen Zubair Hayat and Col Yasir Jawed) also joined the Army . Mrs Sajida Akhtar revealed that when her son Lt Gen Muhamad Ali (then Maj Gen) was posted as Commandant PMA, she visited PMA and her first home, Hut No 1, that has now been relocated to Thandiani. She also visited the Ladies Club of PMA, which brought back the memories of the September War, when the ladies of PMA worked together as a team for the sole purpose of national interest. 
Sajida’s brother Lt Tipu later retired as a brigadier and is presently living a quiet life in Rawalpindi. I had the honour to meet him and his wife at their residence. We sat in his beautiful lawn and had a nice cup of tea and homemade biscuits, completely in line with the SOPs of MDS. I was really touched by his hospitality and more than that his good sense of humor, which I believe is the pivotal ingredient for any good soldier, since amidst the tempests of testing times, it is eventually our wits that keep us going. When he was narrating the above story, I found myself completely absorbed. He told me that when he was admitted in CMH Lahore, all the beds around him were occupied by officers, who were injured at various fronts in pursuance of the sacred duty of defending the motherland from the malicious designs of the enemy. During his stay in CMH, he witnessed many beds beside him getting vacated after doleful demise of his comrades who could not recover from their injuries, beds that were immediately re-occupied. Later, from CMH Lahore, injured officers were transported to hospitals in Multan and Rawalpindi via two special trains. Owing to the threat of air attack, these trains used to commence their journey at night, and despite the dark hours, people used to gather in flocks all along the railway track so that they could have a glimpse of their heroes. Brig Tipu recalled that in one such train he was also transported to Multan along with other wounded officers and soldiers. The train was moving extremely slowly due to the huge gathering of people along the railway track who were pushing biscuits and candy through the windows of the train as a gesture of respect and gratitude. 
On the conclusion of this captivating meeting, Brig Tipu brought a smile on our faces saying, “I still have a splinter in my head, which was not removed being in close proximity to nervous tissue, so I always tell my family, if I sometimes act nutty, it’s not my fault as I have a piece of splinter still in my head,” with a smile on his face and soldierly spark in his eyes. From this thought-provoking anecdote of the September War, the foremost conclusion I brought home is that it is not just the armies that fight the aggression but the whole nation, which stands behind their army. And Pakistan is indeed blessed to have a perfect combination of an intrepid army and a strong supporting nation. HH


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