Needlessly disciplined and pointlessly stubborn: Major (retd) Yaqeen Aziz

Major (retd) Yaqeen Aziz is a serious man. Needlessly disciplined, pointlessly stubborn and filled with too much self-control, the major retired from the armed forces 15 years ago. Now at 63, he spends each day exactly the same way as the last and as a mirror image of the next.

So when I got the major’s permission to follow him along for a morning for this profile, he made it clear that he won’t make any changes to his schedule on my account. The major even suggested that I stay over in a guest room at his house the night before so I could get the full experience of his routine.

The full experience is indeed what I got when I was woken up by a violent banging at the door at 5 a.m. It was the major: a pudgy, clean-shaven man standing in the doorway—dressed in a old worn out t-shirt, blue shorts which ended right above his knees, a white sweatband wrapped around his forehead, and Bata joggers.

“Beta an early morning workout will keep you active well into old age,” he said.

We went onto the terrace where the major began his work out regimen: an assortment of push ups, jumping jacks, burpees, hip circles and booty squeezes. The major would grunt loudly like a tennis player after each exercise rep and from the terrace, I could see lights coming on in the neighboring houses, no doubt of sleepy neighbours now programmed to wake up to the sounds of this aging human rooster.

I could see lights coming on in the neighboring houses, no doubt of sleepy neighbours now programmed to wake up to the sounds of this aging human rooster.

After 20 minutes, Major Aziz sat down next to me and between gasps for air said, “When I was your age, I would do this for two hours. I was the fittest man in my family. And I had eleven brothers, two of whom played hockey for Pakistan under-19s.” The major then dived into a long list of athletic achievements of his family, dating back 200 years when his great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Yaqeen Aziz Sr., captained the first subcontinent cricket team to play the British.

It was around 6:30 a.m. when the bell rang and interrupted the major’s sporting reminisces from going back any farther. We peered over the terrace and saw the family maid. The major went inside and put on a white shalwar over his sweat-drenched shorts before opening the gate.

The major and his neighbours start each day with his terrace exercises.

“6:37. Seven minutes late. Again. Have you no sense of time? If you were in the army, I would’ve had you court martialed by now,” he said.

The maid look over at me and grinned patiently, undisturbed and apparently at ease with the daily one-sided banter. “Sorry major,” she said. The maid calling him major might seem a little strange but Major Aziz refuses to be addressed any other way, even by his three adult children. In fact, people wanting him to do them a favour often call him major-general, much to his delight. Only the major’s wife is exempt from the rule and is allowed to call him “Sir Aziz”.

Inside the house, the major sat at the head of the dining table. Putting on his reading glasses, he picked up the day’s DAWN newspaper. By the time he was done clucking in disdain at every headline on the front page—and muttering “Huh, so this is democracy”—his breakfast had arrived. Four fried eggs, three large buttered parathas and tea.

Only the major’s wife is exempt from the rule and is allowed to call him “Sir Aziz”.

“I’ve been cutting down recently,” he said.  “At your age I’d eat twice this much and finish it off with namkeen lassi. But my doctor says I have high cholesterol and you can’t find good lassi anywhere in Karachi now. It all tastes like Disprin water.”

By 8 a.m.—after breakfast and a quick shower—the major had changed into a purple track suit, but with his sweatband still on. He was now following the maid around to make sure she was cleaning the house properly, pointing out spots she was apparently missing and wiping dust with his finger to show her. Mrs. Aziz had just woken up and thankfully came to the maid’s rescue. After a tense exchange between the spouses, the major picked up his walking stick and signaled me to join him outside.

Still fuming, he strode down the street as I struggled to keep up. He pointed the stick at a neighbour getting in his car and called after him. “Daud Sahb, this car was parked on the street again last night. I saw it from my terrace. Didn’t I ask you to move it yesterday?”

The neighbour quickly squeezed into the driver’s seat, turned the ignition on, and only reluctantly lowered his window as the major approached. “It’s my car, parked in front of my house, what is it to you major?” he asked.

“What is it to me? It’s a matter of principle Daud Sahb. As chairman of the Gulshan Street Parking Association—.”

“You made up the association yourself major and you voted yourself chairman. It’s not real. Please now I’ll be late for work.”

“What do you mean I made it up?! This is the problem with Muslims today. If someone tries to do something good, no one stands with him. Nobody appreciates him. The British, gone. Zia, gone. Saddam, gone. Gaddafi, gone,” the major yelled. “I’m a concerned citizen Daud Sahb and I’ll continue doing my part.”

Walking past a mosque on our way, I read a sign outside and did a double take. It read, “No shoes or Major Aziz beyond this point.”

Neighbour Daud had decided to leave midway through the major’s rant and left him pointing and waving amid exhaust fumes. The major and I continued our walk towards the nearby park where he was meeting some of his buddies for their daily speed walking session. Walking past a mosque on our way, I read a sign outside and did a double take. It read, “No shoes or Major Aziz beyond this point.”

The major walks on spreading discipline to everyone around him.

I pointed at the sign and asked the major about it. He laughed. “Amir beta, there’s only two things I can’t stand: hunger, and people who are not punctual. The muezzin at this masjid tested my patience two years ago during Ramadan when he gave the Maghrib azaan three minutes late. I knew he was late because I memorize the Iftaar calendar every year. I waited for the muezzin to come outside after Maghrib and then thrashed him with this very walking stick. Since then, every Ramadan he gives the Maghrib azaan three minutes early just to be safe. But they banned me from the masjid for beating him. Even at my own wedding, the food wasn’t served on time because we were all waiting for my wife’s phuppo and her family to drive in from Hyderabad. I would never raise my hand at a woman so when they finally came, I thrashed her phuppo’s husband with this very walking stick. Alhumdulilah, no one has been late to our family functions since then.”

We reached the gate of the park as the major finished his story. It had been one of the more interesting mornings and interviews of my career, but it was time to say goodbye. The major’s speed walking group was private and only a few select retirees could participate. It was 11:07 a.m. as I hailed a taxi back to the office.

This profile is the first in the Daily Fikar’s Humans of Interest series where we interview and spend the day with the more interesting creatures of our society.

Amir Khabri is a staff reporter at the Daily Fikar. Brimming with more enthusiasm than talent, he strives to inform readers of the news that really matters. In his spare time he reads book covers and takes pictures of his neighbour’s dog. You can’t follow Amir anywhere because he detests social media.