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The recent demise of Dina Wadia, the only child of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, reminded me of Lieutenant Colonel Ilahi Bakhsh’s account of the last days of the Quaid in his slim yet extremely important book, With the Quaid-i-Azam During His Last Days. A leading physician of his times, tasked with treating and looking after the Quaid, Bakhsh accompanied Jinnah and his sister Fatima Jinnah when the ailing Father of the Nation was shifted from Ziarat to Karachi via Quetta just before his death on Sept 11, 1948.

The book was first published in 1949 with a foreword penned by Fatima Jinnah, and its three chapters, named after the three places where the Quaid spent his last days — Ziarat, Quetta and Karachi — chronologically narrate the events and the feelings of the author as well as of others who had witnessed those events. Subsequently, the book was published a few more times besides being translated into Urdu.

Fatima Jinnah authenticates the account by writing in her foreword that not only did Bakhsh toil ceaselessly and left nothing to be desired in his treatment of the Quaid, but his book sets to rest several baseless rumours about the Quaid’s illness and the time and place of his death.

Although it is heartfelt and emotional, the book retains an air of objectivity when relating details of incidents — perhaps because of both the simplicity of expression and the scientific training of its author. It becomes even more revealing in the last chapter which describes how shabbily Quaid-i-Azam was treated by the powerful politicians of the time and the new administration run by civil servants after independence. The only person of consequence to receive him in Karachi upon his arrival from Quetta was the Military Secretary to the Governor General, Colonel Geoffrey Knowles. No other colleague of Quaid-i-Azam from the political government that he supposedly supervised, or representative of the civil service that he had wished to serve the country, was at the airport to receive him.

Knowing his principles, one may argue that the Quaid may have disapproved of an official welcome in Karachi. But what would explain the fact that the ambulance carrying him broke down in the middle of the journey from the Mauripur Airbase to the Flagstaff House — his official residence as the Governor General. Also, there was no backup available, causing him to sweat profusely and almost lose his breath before he could be moved to another ambulance that arrived after quite some time. Later, when the Quaid reached his residence, his physician — who had accompanied him from Quetta — had to run from pillar to post in Karachi to organise the medical and nursing aid that the Quaid immediately needed. Little assistance was available. Bakhsh ends his account by saying that serving the Quaid during his last days was a melancholy privilege, and its unfading memory is something he will never cease to cherish.

In her foreword to the book’s first edition, Fatima Jinnah refers to herself as the forlorn and lone sister of the Quaid after his death. But she was never alone, as the common people of Pakistan held her in high esteem. After many years spent away from practical politics, she was persuaded by politicians opposing Gen Ayub Khan’s martial rule to fight the dictator in the 1964 presidential elections. She was the only politician ever in our history who brought together everyone who believed in democracy — ideologically in terms of the right and the left and geographically in terms of both the eastern and western wings of the then Pakistan.

Not only did Fatima Jinnah lose the allegedly rigged presidential elections, she was perhaps the first politician of that stature to be called an Indian agent in a smear campaign launched by the powers that be. Therefore, I say this with a lot of grief: Dina Wadia saved herself from being called an Indian agent by not moving to the country her father had founded.

The writer is a poet and essayist based in Islamabad

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, November 12th, 2017

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