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January 3, 2018

Obituary: An officer and a gentleman


January 3, 2018

He has been gone for only a short time, but the challenge remains. How to compress him into a few paragraphs, yet do him justice? That larger than life personality which dwarfed any room he entered, the belly laugh, the irrepressible wit, a connoisseur of food, the beautiful Urdu couplets he had on tap for every occasion, the sparkling smile which lit up his eyes and his handsome face. My khalu, Mansoor Alam, was such a man.

A luminary of the Foreign Service of Pakistan, he served with distinction in Russia, Mexico, UAE, Egypt and UK, amongst other places. He handled his ambassadorial stints with aplomb and was a mentor to his juniors. He did not sit idle after retirement. His desire to help those less privileged and contribute to society spurred him to set up schools for charity. He was passionate about his project Friends of Literacy and Mass Education and took an active role in supervising the schools. Mansoor Khalu was concerned about ameliorating the lot of the common man and education was a means to that end.

In the porch of his home there are framed pictures of him with kings, queens, prime ministers, presidents, statesmen and dignitaries from far flung continents. Rudyard Kiplings’ lines from “If” come to mind:“He walked with kings and never lost the common touch.”

A snazzy dresser in his sharp suits, silky cravats, dashing bow ties, short sleeved linen shirts and coloured kurtas, he belied the image of the stuffy bureaucrat. It has to be said that he was a feminist long before the term became a buzz word. Always supportive of his talented wife, he doted on his three daughters who looked after him with great love and devotion.

One can say that Mansoor Alam’s life was packed with filling “the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run”. Not only did he have a voracious appetite for books, he had a zest for life and learning. He embraced new forms of technology and hung out with millennials with gusto.

At a seminar in 2010 at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) library titled ‘WikiLeaks and after’ Mansoor Khalu had to face a lack of light while making his speech. Being the resourceful person that he was, he used his cell phone’s torchlight and candles to check his notes.

In this rat race of a materialistic world, he did not lose sight of his priorities. My parents adored him and the feeling was reciprocated. When my mother fractured her leg, he was there. When my father was critically ill, he was there. As my parents slowly recovered, he was there. He would drop by often in the evenings, having dinner and spreading good cheer, making my taciturn father laugh. The camaraderie they shared and the enjoyment they took in each other’s company made me realize anew how my frenetic generation is no patch on the affectionate older generation.

When I look back on Mansoor Khalu’s s life, I remember his warm hugs, firm handshake and his kindness of spirit. As Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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