By Owen Benett-Jones
CHITRAL: Amidst their many disputes and arguments, all Pakistanis can agree on this: there is only one Quaid-i-Azam.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah stands peerless amongst his compatriots, past and present, as the great leader who, through his political brilliance, won a country without firing a single shot.
Well, it’s not quite as simple as that. Because hidden away in the steep mountain valleys of Chitral there is another Quaid-i-Azam. And he is neither an imposter nor a madman.
Our Quaid-i-Azam, as I can perhaps call him for the purpose of this article, was born in 1975 in Rumbur, one of the three valleys populated by the Kalash. His father was a Kalash community leader and perhaps hoping that his son might follow in his footsteps, he bestowed upon his offspring the name Quaid-i-Azam.
While most people accepted the name, some had their doubts.
“When I was in class 7,” Quaid-i-Azam recalled, “one of my teachers called me aside and said I should change my name because otherwise it would create a problem for me when I became grown up, going to college and university.” Looking slightly put out at the memory of this friendly advice, Quaid-i-Azam continued: “I told him to give me a day or two to think about it. I then asked my father what to do.”
The father argued that there was no problem with the name Quaid-i-Azam. He had every right to choose a name for his son. It wasn’t as if some spurious group or even a grateful nation was awarding the son a false title: it was a name, properly bestowed and there was no reason to change it.
Indeed our Quaid had an edge on Mr Jinnah because while the original Quaid was given his title later on in life, our Quaid had his portentous name from infancy.
The Kalash have the happy habit of using names if they like the sound of them. At the time our Quaid was given his name the valley was far more cut off from the rest of the country than it is today. “The Kalash didn’t really know about Pakistan and Mr Jinnah,” Quaid-i-Azam said. “There was very little education in the valley so they didn’t think there was anything very unusual about the name. It was only after that people knew who the first Quaid-i-Azam was.”
The teacher still didn’t think the name was a good idea. But emboldened by his father’s advice and showing some of the defiant tenacity of his namesake, Quaid-i-Azam told his teacher he would stick with his name. “I told him that if there is a problem with my name then it was my problem not his.”
Now a senior member of staff at the Hindu Kush Heights Hotel in Chitral, Quaid-i-Azam says most of foreign guests have little inkling of his name’s significance. Pakistan tourists, by contrast, are curious but after a fair amount of confusion most accept the name with a smile.
Quaid-i-Azam is married with six children: three daughters and three sons. And in what clearly has the potential to become a long-standing family tradition, he has mimicked his father’s idea. His three sons are called Sikandar-i-Azam (Alexander the Great), Moghul-i-Azam (the Great Moghul) and Shahmir-i-Azam (the Great King). His daughters have more traditional girls’ names but all end with “-i-Azam”.
“When my son Moghul-i-Azam had a stomach problem I took him to a hospital in Peshawar. He was just two years old. I told the staff what his name was and they all seemed surprised. Then they asked for my name too,” he said.
A professor and a registrar were called in to assess the situation. “Both laughed and told their colleagues to take particular care of my son. He got very good treatment.”
The name also came in handy back in 1993 when Quaid-i-Azam went on a trip to Mumbai to give people there a better understanding of Kalash culture. “There was a big exhibition in Mumbai. When we entered Wagah they asked for my passport. The officer looked confused and then he was laughing. They asked if I was really Quaid-i-Azam and when I replied I was they asked me to join them for tea and then gave me my stamp much quicker than anyone else.”
And what of his wife? Doesn’t it grate on the nerves a bit to be constantly calling her husband Quaid-i-Azam?
“No,” the man replied with more than just a hint of surprise that this should be considered a possibility. “My wife always calls me Quaid-i-Azam. She has never denied it.”
Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2017