Tuesday, January 12, 2010

NASIR NAWAZ JANUA - A Physician Remembering My Friend, a Military Officer



____________________________6 September, 1965

The Indian army has crossed the international border – their tanks have crushed our border police – it was a cake walk for them. My school friend, Nasir Nawaz, son of Brigadier Nawaz of Jhelum, picked up a washcloth and in one rapid motion he wiped off soap from his half unshaven face.

“I threw away the facecloth and dressed myself quickly for the coming battle….”

As I leapt out of my tent I heard my own loud words, ‘Where are our battle tanks?’”

Then, “Get the tank commander out into the field –NOW!!...”

“Sir, he is nowhere to be seen…”

“I strode to his tent, pulled aside the flap, looked in and beheld an empty cot. I hesitated, walked right in and bent down to look beneath his cot. Imagine my surprise when I saw the young captain cowering beneath his bed – a lot of abject terror on his pale as a sheet face. I was incredulous. My usual full of bluster colleague was trembling – he was shaking like a leaf. ’Get out of the tent now!’ I heard myself barking out orders. As he crawled out I gave him a sharp kick on his BUTT with the steel toe of my heavy black leather marching boot.”

“Do not be a coward. We need your tanks to face the invaders. My men are ready to walk alongside your tanks! Let us go and push the Indians back into their own territory….”

Panjab Cadet College Hasan Abdal

Nasir Nawaz Janjua told me these details in July and August of 1966 when I drove to the P.M.A. (Pakistan Military Academy) at Kakul to visit him for the last time.

We had met in 1954 when both of us were admitted in the first batch entry for P.C.C.H.A. (Panjab Cadet College, Hasan Abdal). He was an outstanding athlete, hockey, swimming, gymnastics, cricket, and an all rounder. In 1956 he joined the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul while I went off to pre-medical studies at the Government College Lahore, the alma mater of my ancestors.

In 1959 while I was on summer vacation from medical school, my mother purchased a Volkswagen. We drove in our new Volkswagen bug to Jacobabad, and surprised Nasir by arriving unannounced. There were three of us, our mother, my brother Jehangir two years younger than I, and myself. Nasir’s room was in the hottest spot in Pakistan and was decorated with pin-ups of attractive American females - hastily he took these off his walls.

The roads of Sind and Baluchistan were empty of traffic – and our VW seemed to be the only vehicle on the highway in that distant day in July 1959.

Brojan Das

Nasir Nawaz was posted to East Pakistan and invited me to visit his mess in 1960 when I lead the Panjab swim team for a month of training under the legendary English Channel marathon swimmer, Brojan Das. Brojan would coach us in yoga and help us develop our breathing techniques, our flexibility, our strength and stamina at Dacca’s Olympic pool. I had to compete against the Pakistan Army champion swimmers, trained by Brigadier Rodham (no relation to Hillary, I presume) at the Risalpur Army Engineers swim facility. The army swimmers were semi-professionals and were all taller than 6 feet. As I was almost a foot shorter, I sensed that my friend, Nasir, was surprised to see me compete against the other ranks of men like Havildar Nazir (medalist at Tokyo Asian Games) and engineer Inayat. My brother Jehangiv later told me that the latter had a foot blown off by an exploding landmine while trying to de-mine I.E.D.’s of the 1960’s.

These were the Pakistan swimming championships held in Dacca, the capital of East Pakistan, in 1960. I had 26 swimming records at one time. I doubt that any of them exist today, at least I hope not.

Nasir did visit me once at the King Edward Medical College, Mayo Hospital Campus in Lahore, West Pakistan in 1962/1963. I remember his look of disdain when he beheld the pallid complexion of one of the KE bookworms, my class fellow Shahid …. tall, skinny, emaciated.

I also recall Nasir’s look of interest when a pretty nurse walked by. The nurse was doubtless aware of his interest but she studiously avoided eye contact - even Christian nurses had adopted the guarded behaviour of their Muslim co-workers, when boy meets girl…..

Hand-to-Hand Combat

“So, Nasir, tell me about your battle experience in September 1965…”

“Omar, when we met up with the Indian infantry we pushed them back in hand-to-hand combat. When we reached a deep trench I leapt into this trench and disposed of some of their soldiers, but the place was crawling with enemy soldiers. The trench was full of them, they were swarming like ants. Just as they were about to overpower me I leapt out of the trench in order to escape being captured. I then tried to hightail it back into our own lines. I thought that I had almost made it back across “no man’s land” to my own lines when it hit me.”


“A lot of hot lead hit my bum…perhaps divine vengeance for kicking the tank commander in the morning. Anyhow, I spent many days on my face. The surgeons had dug out most of the bullets from my backside, but it takes a long time to really be fit again.”

“So, was that the end of your September 1965 war?”

“Yes”, he said, a bit sadly, as if dissatisfied with his performance.

He was a real Ghazi, my friend Nasir Nawaz Janjua (NNJ).

Did I see him again?

My Fulbright Scholarship

The last time was when I was in Pakistan to get married. I had spent two years in Chicago from 1964 to 1966 on a Fulbright scholarship. I then telephoned my mom as I was finding it Spartan to starve myself on alternate days for a whole year.

Why did I need to fast the whole year of 1965/1966? Because I had been conducting the greater Jihad against my own self.

What is that?

It is a prescription of the Quran for young men who cannot afford to get married.

When I told my Jewish medical student at Mount Sinai hospital of my wedding plans he simply said, “Omar, why buy a cow when milk is so cheap?”

“Mike, I need fresh, pure, unadulterated milk, so I am willing to fast for the whole year until my mom finds me a bride in Pakistan.”

“You are crazy,” Michael simply said.

Nasir Nawaz said practically the same thing when he saw my full faced black beard at Abbottabad when I went to see him at the military academy.

“Why have you become a maulvi (priest)? I am going to shave off your beard right away and make you back into a human being.”

With that he rushed to get a razor.

“Nasir, you will not be able to shave my beard off.”

“I have this razor with which I shave every day. It is a trusty instrument. I will put a brand new Gillette blade in and then we can proceed.”

With a flourish he rammed the shiny blue Gillette blade into his razor and he twisted the handle with such great force of his mighty hand that the razor came apart before our very eyes.

It was thought to be divine intervention!


I heard that Nasir had got married but he had no children. That was the sadness of his life. During his younger days in Lahore he had enjoyed dressing in a Roman toga and he threw grand parties and games called Tambola, games which remained a mystery to me while I was at medical school. I never had a chance to attend any of those parties.

Alas, I never got to say goodbye to my dear friend of my school days. His last battle apparently was with his own body. He had been extremely fit during his school and college days with an extensive exercise program and a very active lifestyle. As he got older I presume he played less and perhaps became more sedentary, not competing in the swimming championships that had been his specialty, especially the front crawl. I heard that he had died of a heart attack well before his 50th birthday, but, alas, I do not know the year or place of his death.

Before I end this story of Nasir Nawaz I want to add one incident when I saw him angry, only the once in his life I suspect.

He had been attending some military exercises and he was quite agitated when he talked to me about how the Americans were controlling the payout to the officers on their salary days. He appeared quite agitated that Pakistan was giving up its sovereignty by allowing the Americans to interfere with the income given out to its soldiers.

I think it was at this time that he must have realized that Pakistan was not really an independent country anymore. We never really discussed this aspect of Pakistan’s politics. He was, after all, a military officer and I was just a physician.