True friends are hard to find, harder to leave and impossible to forget.
- True friends are a rare possibility and privilege in our times. Late Squadron Leader Iqbal Awan embodied all the ingredients that go into making of a great friend. Sincere to the core, he was extremely affectionate and caring. He conducted himself with a deep sense of self-respect and dignity. It was my good fortune to know him and knit with him life-long friendship. Our SPSSC course reported at Kohat in the midst of freezing December 1976. The second oldest in a batch of 11 trainee-officers, he was the crown of our class of 1976. A strikingly smart blue-eyed soul with erect graceful posture, he eclipsed everyone else. He was simply the best of all. Very mature, well-poised and well-groomed gentleman, he impressed whosoever met him or interacted with him. He was endowed with Quaid’s cardinal qualities—Integrity, faith, discipline, fairness and commitment. I was instantly sold on his amiable personality and gracious manners. We graduated in May 1977, with Iqbal Awan winning the overall best position—an honour he richly deserved.
- Before his joining PAF’s education with master’s degrees in English and Political Science, he was studying at Beirut University for MA degree in education which was disrupted for good due to outbreak of civil war in Lebanon in circa 1975. That exposure did reflect in his intellectual capacity. Our friendship gained in depth and meaning during our stay at PAF Lower Topa where he enjoyed the respect of the officers of both Education and other branches. He stood out by virtue of his noble and hospitable nature— a unanimous “Mr Decent” without any ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. I had the privilege of living in his close neighborhood in an adjacent old apartment. As a newly married couple, my wife and I often enjoyed his hospitality. His late spouse was a mother-figure to all newly married young ladies. She stitched the curtains of my flat before my wife joined me at Lower Topa. For another fellow officer’s expected new arrival (guessing it would be a baby girl) she sewed a beautiful pink frock.
- On the sudden death of my father in June 1978, Iqbal Awan along with three other fellow officers paid a condolatory visit to my hometown, Okara. During fundraising campaign for PAFWA in 1977, while I was travelling in a private bus, I fell victim to pickpocketing. The cutpurse stole my wallet carrying a few thousands rupees collected as donations. Besides money, I also lost my service identity card. On arrival at the base an inquiry was ordered. The inquiry officer detailed for the inquiry did not carry a good repute, and was likely to blame me. To my good luck, the very next day he was replaced by Flt Lt Iqbal Awan. In his findings, Iqbal Awan observed that the officer was an official with a private task assigned to him. Pickpocketing in a fully packed private bus could not be ruled out. Moreover, the money lost was purely non-public fund. He recommended that the amount lost be written off and the officer be issued with a new service identity card. The acting Base Cdr, Wg Cdr Iqbal H Kirmanie, approved the proceedings after a verbal note of caution, and I was saved from unnecessary pain and embarrassment, thanks to Iqbal Awan’s crystal clear inquiry. He believed in fair dealings. On his posting to PAF Base Sargodha, Gp Capt (R) Badar Kayani (Flying Officer at that time) put his car on sale. Iqbal Awan was a keen candidate for it but he didn’t have enough money to buy it. When Badar got the wind of it, he approached Awan Sahib and offered him to take the car and pay at his convenience. An extremely responsible and conscientious senior, as he was, Iqbal Awan cleared the friendly loan in three months’ time.
- I had another tenure with Iqbal Awan Sahib at Directorate of Education. He was painfully honest and straightforward. Far from being obsequious, he held service interest uppermost in his mind. He headed the most ‘lucrative’ section of the directorate, Central Pool Library. His predecessors had been making the best of this position by issuing newspaper, magazines, and imported aero-modelling kits to their friends and other unauthorized people. Iqbal Awan was the last person to allow this mayhem of service resources to go on. He stopped forthwith pilferage of the pool library resources, setting personal example by surrendering 2-3 newspapers previously subscribed for Officer in Charge Pool library. This was like agitating the ‘hornets’ nest’. Unauthorized beneficiaries of newspapers and magazines—Unit Accounts Officers, Adjutant and others— found it rather harsh, and he faced great difficulty in clearance of routine payments to vendors and book agencies. But like a true Awan he stood his ground to the hilt, but not without paying for his irreproachable integrity. He was labelled as “tactless” “inflexible” and “rigid”, and he could not make it even to Wg Cdr’s rank. I believe promotions based on value judgments and biased opinions are no criterion to determine an individual’s intrinsic character. Despite ending up as Sqn Ldr, Iqbal Awan is held in high esteem which may elude even the highest ranking officers.
- Following his supersession, he sought premature release and took up a good academic job in Dubai. On hearing about my promotion to Wg Cdr’s rank, not only he celebrated this good news by distributing sweets to his staff but he also sent me a very warm message of felicitations and good wishes. He was a large-hearted men and nursed no ill-will against anyone. He retired with meagre pension and without housing benefit, but I never found him complaining against anyone. Extremely forgiving, contented and infinitely grateful in the tradition of our illustrious elders, late Air Cdre Inam-ul-Haq and Justice Dr Fida Muhammad Khan, he always focused on Allah’s countless favours, and forgave gracefully the follies and faults of others. His dictum, “Keep your expectations low” still rings into my ears. I have seen very few people exuding such rare contentment and deep spirit of gratitude.
- An excellent educator and academic leader, Iqbal Awan acquitted himself admirably well as Principal PAF School, Minhas and later Fazaia College, Kalar Kahar as well as two premier civil institutes. During his tenures of principalship at these institutes, he worked with integrity and exemplary zeal, He was looked upon as a true role-model both by his teaching staff and students. He was an outstanding host, with a heart filled with pure love and affection. During my visit to Kalar Kahar along with my family, he treated us to a fabulous During his house-mastership at PAF College Sargodha, he daily hosted for some fellow officers a game of badminton in his home lawn. An avid sportsman, he played several games like hockey, cricket, Squash, Volleyball and badminton. He was equally good at Scrabble, and I remember losing to him a few games. The best part of playing with him was the feast of freshly fried “pakoras.”
- During his illness, I visited him thrice along with some friends. We always found him very pleasant and full of faith in his destiny and Allah’s mercy. He wore his heart of gold on his sleeve during his soul-searching discourse on Allah’s countless blessings—with no gripes, no complaint of afflictions that had touched him. Once I suggested to him to start his day with at least three guffaws. He smiled and did follow my friendly advice in true letter and spirit. I had my last video chat with him on 20th Unable to speak, he intently listened to my conversation and waved his hand smilingly in between to show his keen response. A few hours before he passed away at the first word of call of Magrib prayer, “Allah o Akbar”, I had tried in vain to video-call him.
- Iqbal Awan’s daughter and son, Zahidah and Zahid, now grandparents, are living happily with their children and grandchildren. They took care of their ailing father as best as they could. His younger brother, Manzoor Awan and brother-in-law, Fazal Elahi, were extremely helpful and supportive throughout his terminal ailment. His surviving spouse and her daughter, Manal, a recent graduate from Haripur University, were equally caring. They looked after him in the best possible manner during his protracted illness.
- By end-November, I sent him two voice notes. In his reply on 28 November, he honoured me with such gracious words:
“ASSALMUALAIKUM! Chotay bhai, Ap kay donoon voice messages sunay. Ap ki batoon se dil ko raahat aur sakoon milta hae. Alhamdulillah, maali tor pe ALLAH ne thouree thouree zarouratoon se nimatnay kay li wassail de rakhay haen. Is key ilawah koi khwahishat nahi reh gaen… Allah Tala ne mujh par bay intiha inaayatten ki hain. Ab bhi us kay karam or rehmat kay beech main zindagi guzar rahi hey… ALLAH ap ko us ki pasandidah zindagi is duniya mein aur jannat ul firdous is duniya main ata farmayn. REGARDS”
10, Two days before his death, he called both his brother-in-law and his younger brother to tell them that worldly life has its end sooner or later. The coming two days, he told them, would be hardest for him. When he dies, he advised them, to hasten his funeral and burial.
I feel short of words to express my sentiments for late Iqbal Awan. He was in the vanguard of some of my “exclusively” dear friends. He lives in my heart with his fondest memories. May Allah bless him and his family with His infinite mercy and blessings, and may He bestow on him the stature of his true saints!
آ رہی ہے چاہ یوسف سے صدا
دوست یاں تھوڑے ہیں اور بھائی بہت
(Still audible from Yusuf’s well is the voice: The world abounds in friends and lacks in friends.)