Drenched with the love of the Quaid and Pakistan, Brigadier Noor Husain would inspire everyone who heard him talk. His demeanour exuded grace and poise. He had a regal air about him. One could spend hours with him while he recounted his fond memories of the Quaid. His eloquence could hold an audience spellbound and his articulate delivery would cause ripples of resonance around him. With eyebrows raised, an earnest face, feet tapping and a soft yet assertive voice, he would relate more than half-a-century old events with such vivid and graphic detail that the listener would think that he was actually witnessing those events.
Alas this silhouette of the Quaid is no more!
دگر دانائے قائد آید کہ ناید
After spending almost nine decades on the face of this earth, he left all of us on 9th August 2011 to "the unbeholden land":
O hopes fallacious! O thou spirit of grace!
Where art thou now? Earth holds in its embrace
When I telephoned him in the recent past, after the usual salutations, his words were: "I have played my innings." And what an innings it was. He had done his duty to the hilt by faithfully spreading the message of the Quaid wherever he was called upon to do so. Illness or old age would not stop him from traveling and addressing an audience that was interested to hear him speak about the Quaid's personality and vision. He was a Pakistani all the way.
Brigadier sahib was the younger brother of Major General Abrar Husain (d. 1992) who was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) for his heroics in World War II and years later the Hilal-e Jurrat for stalling the advance of the Indian army at Chawinda in Sialkot in the 1965 war. This was hailed as one of the greatest tank battles. Brigadier sahib had to go through the agony of witnessing the death of his eldest son Lieutenant (retd.) Tariq Husain three years before his own demise. He bore this sorrow with stoicism. It was perhaps the most tragic incident of his life and took its toll on his health. At Lt. Tariq's funeral, someone remarked that the age-old good military maxim had been utterly breached: "in war time, fathers bury their sons while in peace time, the sons bury their fathers." How true was this comment and how utterly distressing the son's death must have been to the father.
Brigadier sahib was married to Hushmat Shahabuddin, a niece of Khawajah Nazimudin. Her father Khawajah Shahabudddin at one time was the governor of NWFP. Herself a very accomplished lady, she remained a source of great strength and assurance to her husband and stood behind him in trying circumstances. The couple had three children: Tariq, Shahid and Shazieh. Shahid is settled in Qatar, while Shazieh in Canada.
Brigadier sahib was a very simple person at heart. He earned an honest living and had no worldly assets except the house he lived in. He was particularly fond of the young generation and would always urge them to fulfill the vision of the Quaid. When some years ago he gave a talk to the students of LUMS on the life of the Quaid, one could see this earnestness in every word he spoke.
Brigadier sahib was a man of many parts. As an articulate speaker, he spoke at numerous seminars and conferences on political and defence studies and traveled to many countries all over the globe for this purpose. He was an avid writer with many articles to his name. He was also an accomplished painter, a gifted caricaturist and a keen golfer. He was a voracious reader also and his library boasted some unique books on politics, strategic studies and military history. Besides English, he was fluent in German as well. Once he drove by car all the way from Germany to Rawalpindi. Accompanied by his wife, this marathon trip lasted almost three weeks. It speaks volumes of the adventurous spirit found in Brigadier sahib.
Born in 1923, his early schooling took place in Lucknow, India. He obtained a Masters degree in English Literature from Allahbad University and much later another Masters in Defence and Strategic Studies from National Defence College (now National Defence University), Islamabad. He was commissioned in the British Indian army in 1946. He remained an instructor at the Command and Staff College, Quetta from 1966 to 1968 and at the National Defence College, Islamabad from 1973 to 1977. A veteran of both the 1965 and 1971 wars, he retired from the army in 1977 as a Brigadier. Thereafter he was appointed the Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad and the editor of its quarterly journal "Strategic Studies" for almost a decade (1978-1986). At the institute, he commanded great respect from both his juniors and his colleagues. In 1981-82, he initiated the Track II diplomacy with India. For some time, he also served as the Assistant Military Adviser to the Pakistan High Commission in London.
He also had the unique distinction of being appointed Equerry to Queen Elizabeth II in 1960-61. He worked at the Buckingham Palace during this period. Actually, when Ayub Khan visited the UK in 1959, he had invited the Queen to Pakistan. As a result of this, a liaison officer in the person of Noor Husain (then Major) was appointed who could co-ordinate the visit between both governments and also work on some other issues between the two governments.
The pinnacle of his life which came very early when he was in his early twenties, was undoubtedly his association with the Quaid as the military ADC (Aide-de-Camp) for the last six months of the Quaid's life. He would relate with pride how he was interviewed and selected by the Quaid himself. Here is how he would often recount this interview: "I came to the Governor General's house in Karachi – coming all the way from Quetta by train. My name had been sent by the GHQ and two candidates had already been interviewed before me by the Quaid. My ears were ringing as I entered the room for the interview. The Quaid was sitting behind a large table decked with green telephones, a cigarette box and case of Cuban cigars. He seemed to have a pair of laser sharp eyes. As he looked at me, it was as if he had switched on his headlights. I must have been shivering. I got pinned to the ground and must have missed a heartbeat when he looked up and while shaking my hand tersely said: "How are you? Sit down." He asked a few questions about my family. For the next few minutes, I was rigorously cross-examined by the Quaid regarding my education, family, career, hobbies and interests. To my surprise at one point, I was offered a Craven 'A' cigarette from a tin box and being a non-smoker had to politely turn down the offer. Finally, the Quaid said: "alright," which I took as a signal to go. With a nod of the head, which was the usual way to greet a dignitary, I left the room. Later, to my utter joy and surprise, I was told that I had been selected."
Being chosen by the Quaid himself was a singular honour and one of Brigadier sahib's most cherished memories.
In his last years, one can remember him repeatedly mentioning his strong reservations about Mountbatten. He was of the opinion that Mountbatten was not fit to be chosen as the Governor General. According to him, Mountbatten was hand picked by Clement Atlee, the then British Prime Minister because he was a grandson of Queen Victoria. Brig sahib would also often cite the confession of Mountbatten recorded by Stanley Wolpert in his book "Shameful Flight": when asked by a journalist to comment on his days as the Governor General of India, Mountbatten's answer was to the effect: "I got it all wrong. I messed it up."
Today, Brigadier sahib is no more. But how can his fond memories leave us? His funeral was the funeral of a soldier who had spent all his life serving his country His life will remain an inspiration to all patriotic Pakistanis and admirers of the Quaid. He was a loyal son of the soil – a man of integrity and honour who has left many to mourn him:
His modesty, his scholar's pride
His soul serene and clear
These neither death nor time shall dim
Sad this thing must be –
Hence forth 'we' may not speak to him