Letters from my Brother: Tale of the Pantaloon (پتلوناں مضبوط)

Letters from my late brother Lt. Col. Faruq Iqbal to me, circa 1998, a few months before he passed away. His untimely demise took from us a class act in humour and satire, and we are the poorer for it.

By Tariq Iqbal

“Some holes in the heart are impossible to fill,” wrote a dear friend to me once. It is especially true when you have lost someone who happened to be the centre of your universe, as my eldest brother was mine. May he rest in peace, although, knowing him, he must be regaling his fellow heaven-dwellers with his yarns, and laughing his hearty laugh out loud. Here are a couple of his letters for us to join in.

Over twenty years on, he is as tearfully missed today as on the day he left.

  • Letters from my brothers
  • Tariq Iqbal
  • Hamid Iqbal


#1- Ahoy and Avast

Ahoy and Avast, Bhiraao [بهيراؤ ‘brother’ in Saraiki – not our language by the way]

The top of the afternoon to you.

I returned last night from a binge of sorts. I must explain this right away. It was not the sort of binge where, when required to prove your innocence by saying rapidly, “She sells sea shells on the sea shore”, you find yourself unable to do so, even though you’ve had five odd shots at it. In the end, you give up and let the beak hand you down a stiffish sentence. Neither could it be classified as the sort where you return with the morning milk, and the key doesn’t fit. No, this was a bland boys’ night out, … with a clutch of four or five like-minded coves shooting the breeze, eternally grateful to the gods for granting them this temporary respite from their humdrum domestic lives…

On returning from dinner at a bespoke barbecue, at about 2200, I found your message waiting. It had the uplifting effect that Jeeves’ Buck U Uppo has on the tired spirit, except that I felt as if I had downed a dose meant normally for the adult male elephant. Frightfully bucked I was, in a nutshell.

It’s been ages since we communicated like this, with no holds barred. Fellow radish-wielder*, you just turned up my self-esteem several notches by insisting that I unleash myself upon the unsuspecting public, with a view to titillate and entertain with the printed word. I’ll give this a serious thought…

[*Note: Horse Radish Wielder, or Purveyor of the Horse Radish (HR), was, between us, our English for ‘Mooli Farosh’ (مولى فروش). That self-appellation came about when the mother of a friend, upon learning that we belonged to the Punjabi ‘Arain’ (ارائيں) caste, had spontaneously and involuntarily blurted out a sympathetic “Oh! Mooli Farosh!” to fecund merriment all around.]


#2 ‘Patloonan Mazboot’ (پتلوناں مضبوط), or The Tale of the Pantaloon

Letters from my brother
Faruq Iqbal at the Pakistan Military Academy

O Purveyor of the HR, Greetings.

As late Shahid [another brother], aka Billay, would have put it, “Never had so much fun since gran’pa fell off the barn roof and broke his laig”. Internet seems a whole lot more fun though, even more than the prospect of a road roller running the mother-in-law over!!

I promised in my last email to tell you about the tale of the Pantaloon. Here it is:

The story dates back to the early Bhutto days [late Prime Minister of Pakistan]. I was still apparently languishing (if languishing is the word I want) in an Indian POW camp [Prisoner of War – aftermath of the 1971 war] when all this came to pass.

I don’t know if you recall the Services’ conspiracy (of ’72 or ’73) in which a bunch of young Turks got together, ostensibly for the purpose of cutting off ZAB [Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto] in his prime, a la President Saadat [sic] (of Egypt) style. A lot of the characters of my story were part of that bunch. They were all platoon commanders at the Pakistan Military Academy; so you can glean that the so-called conspiracy was hatched by the cream of the Pakarmy; pity it didn’t succeed though, otherwise the history of this hapless country may have been different.

Anyway, to return to the story, these platoon commanders decided that life at the Academy was becoming a bit of a grind, and entertainment was sorely needed. One of the budding career officers, from Engineers [my brother’s corps], it so happened, who had contacts with the Nurses’ Mess in Abbottabad [in northern Pakistan; the Pakistan Military Academy is located nearby in Kakul], volunteered to be the master of ceremonies. He lost no time in contacting the Matron of these Florence Nightingales, who readily fell in with the scheme of things, feeling rightly that her girls also had a right to laughter and a spot of healthy fun, all of it being within the family, so to speak (for such is the Army – one big family). A picnic was mooted at one of the many idyllic spots that Abbottabad and surrounding area has to offer.

The Day of the Picnic

Came the big day, and the male complement reported at the Nurses’ Mess in their Sunday best, ready to troop off in a body to the picnic spot. Suggestions were bandied about that the nurses could ride with the officers in their cars, but the Matron nipped the scheme in the bud, for fear that horseplay may result enroute. Her charges would travel in the CMH [Combined Military Hospital] bus, standing by and eager to give of its best. Without any quibbling, they were off, satisfied and complacent in the knowledge that there was more to come, and the opportunity was bound to present itself.

Arrived at the spot, lunch baskets were unveiled by both sides, and there was much ‘aaahing’ and ‘ooohing’ at the variety and quantity of victuals. The journey to the picnic spot had given all and sundry prodigious appetites. Full justice was done.

After a brief interval, to allow the gastric juices to jump start the process of digestion of the nosebag contents, both parties agreed that it was time for the revelry to commence. The babbling brook was supposed to be the venue. All participants, less the matron, who perched herself on a rock overlooking the arena – no doubt to call a halt in stentorian tones, should the horseplay get out of hand – went into the knee deep water. At first everything was tentative, more or less in the nature of a probing attack. Positioning was of the essence. Things having worked out nicely, the PCs thought it was time to hot things up. At first a few handfuls of water were shovelled at each other, somewhat playfully, by way of ‘testing the waters’. The party of the second part followed suit. It was difficult to pin-point at what stage the proceeding was turned on its head, but the underlying idea was to ‘wet’ the party of the second part, lightly clad as it was, leading to a ‘reveal-all’ situation. This was, dear reader, “a consummation devoutly to be wished”.


With the fun and games in top gear, the Master of Ceremonies, in the act of bending over and scooping handfuls at the nearest hussy, heard a sickly, rending sound. His consternation knew no bounds when it dawned on him in a flash that it was *his* trousery that had died without notice. There was no second-guessing the cool breeze caressing and nibbling at the what-nots, being sans underwear. A trouser, made of khaki drill, that has seen much over-the-shoulder bashing by the ‘dhobi’ [دهوبى laundryman] and endless cycles of starch to boot, will only take so much abuse and no more. Immerse such a trouser in water and test it to its limits, and you’re on thin ice.

He ‘froze’ in that unusual posture. In a daze, he muttered to his nearest companion about his dire straits and wanted to be driven back to the Academy for a quick change of trousers. This was shot down as impractical; the Academy was miles away and to-ing and fro-ing would take forever. He was advised to take out his shirt and leave the rest to Fate.

Thereafter, as was expected, the revelry wound down a goodish bit, and soon it was time to return. The party set off in the direction of Abbottabad. Being the chivalrous lot that they were, they insisted on seeing the Nurses and the Matron off to their quarters.

Fond Farewells

Pleasantries were exchanged on how a good time was had by all. The cuisine had been exquisite. The ‘parathas’ were out of this world. The menu for the future bash was discussed, and details as to who would bring what were sorted out. And finally it was time to take leave.

Unbeknownst to our friend, who thought he had pulled off the whole thing with alacrity, aplomb and great elan, the Matron had seen it all from her lofty perch, including details of what the trouser had, till the moment of its demise, housed within its frail interior. The parting shot went something like this:

“Acchha Ji, goodbyeeee, tey agon di patloonan mazboot paah ke aanaa”.

[Loosely translated from the Punjabi, “Okay, goodbye, and next time wear stronger trousers”].

Need I add that our MC suffered such a grievous blow to his ego, that no sequel to the merriment under advisement is on record.

Fellow HR wielder, had you or I been in a similar predicament, we too would have given the whole thing a miss. To have one’s hindquarters revealed by the light of day which spares no detail, howsoever slight… Enough to send one into a physical decline. His lips have since been sealed; it is through the courtesy of one of his detractors (professional jealousy and all that) that the whole episode went the rounds. My source was one of the coves who was in that party, but was fortunate enough to be attired in ‘fail-safe’ corduroy trousers.

My parting shot to friends who are privy to this episode is normally “Accha ji….., abbreviated to simply: Patloonan Mazboot”, or even just PM. This then, O’ W of the HR, is the story of the Pantaloons.


Click here to read another letter, another voice, from the past: Sailing past Africa

Tariq Iqbal

Tariq Iqbal, aka Tony, is a retired banker who refuses to retire and is, therefore, a freelance consultant (aren’t we all) who advises banks on the profitability, or lack thereof, of their customers. He dabbles in writing, wears his heart on his sleeve, and is generally likeable, if he says so himself.

Click here to read more from Tariq Iqbal: California Dreamin’

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