Recollections of Mansoor Bhai
Mansoor Bhai was my wife’s eldest brother and also my cousin. Being the eldest in a large family of cousins, he had always been our favorite and a role model. He died after a protracted illness in June 2019 when he was in his mid-eighties. Here are a few lines delivered in his honor at a family zoom meeting on his second death anniversary.
My first recollection of Mansoor at work was when he was building the first blocks of Punjab University new campus in Lahore back in 1960, which later grew into a huge complex. It was back breaking work, in the full heat of Lahore summer. Punjab construction workers are extremely tough and hardworking but notorious for their bad temper. Mansoor was a young engineer, newly qualified and had only just arrived in Lahore from Karachi. But it was amazing how easily and confidently he managed to control these unruly workers and how his word was the law. I began to realize it then that this was not just due to his tough attitude or even mastery over his field of work, but something else altogether. He had charisma.
Now, as you know ,some people have charisma, some people don’t. Mansoor had it in buckets full. Even people who came into contact with him very briefly couldn’t fail to be affected by it. I was one on its first casualties. It was mid-fifties. Mansoor was going on a college tour from Karachi to the North and visited us during their brief stop-over in Lahore. I can see still him. Radiant and beaming, sitting on a divan in our living room, his whole life ahead of him. My mother, his phuppo was overjoyed. I was mesmerized.
Years later when he was 75 and I was 63 we would be sitting together at a wedding and people would think we were school buddies. But at that time, when he was 20 and I was 8, to him I must be looking like an insect crawling on the ground, while to me he was a demi-god, a dyota.
After this first visit, he came to Lahore a few years later to settle here. He was by then in his mid-twenties and working furiously at his job. Even a weekly holiday was considered a waste of time and he couldn’t wait to get back to his lovely work. I was just entering my teens. This period, roughly between 1960 and 1965, has always looked to me as a long running film. At that time, our immediate family and some close family friends numbered more than 200 people in Lahore, all living in close vicinity and in close contact. There were frequent parties and all day picnics. Life was a never ending series of family events. There were undercurrents of romance, but all very decent and subdued. Amongst this vast cast of characters, ensemble, there were some heroes and heroines. Mansoor was one of the heroes, definitely a hero.
He had a habit sometimes of pushing his glasses gently up the nose with a slightly bent middle figure. For some reason I could never understand, this drove the girls crazy. I started doing the same and was curtly reprimanded by my mother.
He then went on to assume bigger jobs and bigger responsibilities. Always more and more demanding in terms of tough budgets and tighter deadlines but always eagerly lapped up by him. A bridge on river Ravi in the town of Chichawatni, big government offices in the new emerging city of Islamabad, a housing colony in the diplomatic enclave. But his unbelievably close rapport with his workers, and his deep understanding of their psychology, was the key to his success.
Like when he was building our house in Karachi. He had his own team of workers, fiercely devoted to him, who had served him over many years and went to work for him from job to job wherever he commanded. I had a chat once with the head carpenter. He told me he had actually stopped doing building work and had started his own small business in the town of Haripur, about a hundred miles north of Islamabad. However, one day he said, he received a message from Mansoor sb. asking him to join him for an urgent business. He packed up his business, he said, and started the long journey to Karachi to join his ex-boss. This is charisma.
And now a little drama, in which I too played a bit part. The year was 2010. The company I was working for, part of a Switzerland based group, was upgrading the Karachi plant involving construction of new buildings. It was a fairly large sized project and the project incharge was Jesus Ruiz, a Swiss guy. Bids were invited and Mansoor was also asked to participate as our Director Operations who was the local supervisor of the project knew him and about the high quality of his work. When the bids were opened however, Mansoor’s bid was higher than others. After technical evaluation, Jesus Ruiz decided that as we were confident about Mansoor’s quality of work while the other bidders were untested, we shall accept Mansoor’s bid if he agreed to revise his bid and bring it down to an acceptable level. We knew that this should not be too difficult as first bids are usually flexible and can be negotiated down.
On the appointed day, Mansoor arrived to present his revised bid to the three member committee, Ruiz, the Director Operations and myself. He began by saying that he was up until 3.00 am in the morning reviewing his figures. He then said something totally unexpected. He said that despite his best efforts he could not find any way to reduce his bid even by a single rupee. He added that if there had been a possibility of reducing the figures, he would have done so when he had submitted his original bid. He then said that he knew very well that with his present bid there was no way he could win the tender but that he was resigned to this. With these words, he got up and left the room. He left behind him three people looking at each other, finding it hard to believe what they had just heard.
When you think about it, most of us are like little pygmies sloshing about in the sea of hypocrisy and double talk. We talk of high principles but given the slightest of temptations, we stumble and we crumble. There are a few people however, just a handful may be, who are strong and have the courage to stand by their principles. They also have their needs, their dreams and their must-have lists. But when push comes to shove, they never compromise. Compared to us pygmies, they stand tall.
Mansoor was just such a person, he was definitely such a person. He stands tall. He stands tall in this world and the next.
Allah se dua hai ke unko Jannat al Firdous mein jagah atta farmaiy aur unki maghfirat karey. Aameen.