Mongolian Pot Renaissance Man.
Book Title : Mongolian Pot
Author : Sirajuddin Aziz
Publisher : BBCL, 2019
Pages : Hardback; 574 pp.
ISBN : 978-969-976-004-4
Notable senior banker (who has been based in Switzerland as well as other places) Sirajuddin Aziz delights us with this collection of essays which spans well over three decades. Aziz, though a seasoned and harried banker, is remarkably well-read and his thoroughly in formed opinions on current affairs and history are consistently infused with literary allusions as well as delightful personal anecdotes. The best part about the book is that the sundry essays, each of which is brief but captivating, need not be read in any particular order. Clearly this is a book to be savoured and enjoyed, and Aziz does us a favour in carefully compiling his sundry heartfelt writings in this single volume.
The former Pakistan High Commissioner to Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, an unapologetic an Anglophile as Aziz himself, pens a thorough foreword to the book. Having travelled extensively over the course of his career, Aziz makes interesting references to several places he has person ally visited. His awestruck impressions of the Great Wall of China, his aversion to Egyptian belly dancing, his delight in the picturesque French city of Nice, and his literary snapshots of places as diverse as London and Hong Kong, all serve to provide us with a panoramic and global view of the modern world viewed from a position of both privilege and empathy.
Lest readers assume that he can focus only on the grandiose, I shall hasten to note that Aziz is as good about writing on topics far more domestic and close to his heart as he is about depicting his globetrotting adventures.
His mother passed away tragically when he was but a child, and his father raised him with a grace and tenderness that would put most women to shame, and virtually all men. Firm and capable, but also sensitive and ethical, his father instilled fine values in the child while simultaneously encouraging his love of reading. One of the essays is entirely on Charles Dickens, himself a past master at depicting social panorama. But references to Shakespeare also crop up regularly in Aziz's work, as do mentions of leaders and conquerors such as Napoleon Bonaparte, Aurangzeb, and Alexander the Great (whose destruction of the Persepolis library in a drunken rage - one of the Macedonian's less commendable moments - is well-noted by Aziz's informed pen). One of the wittiest essays deals with types of bosses in the corporate work place; Aziz likens some to Napoleon (especially the short ones), others to the lascivious Henry VIII, and some to modern-day King Arthurs presiding over boardroom tables as opposed to the Round Table! What impresses me about Sirajuddin Aziz's writing the most is the lightness and deftness of his touch. His tone remains unobtrusive regardless of whether he is expressing his dis pleasure over irreverent Danish cartoons or voicing his sincere appreciation of Syrian sites such as the Cenotaph of St John the Baptist.
He deals skilfully with religious and political is sues and personalities; indeed, his respect for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's charisma and diplomacy reflects genuine admiration as well as nostalgia. One of his pieces on Bhutto was written as far back as in 1976, and though many of his essays (such as those on Presidents Musharraf and Zardari) are less dated, his writings will appeal to both young and old alike. It is refreshing to observe Aziz paying sincere compliments to Asif Zardari's political and business savvy, since one gets tired of hearing the same old criticisms of the former president, many of which are no doubt grossly exaggerated.
I am unable to gauge why Aziz chose to place his essays in this order - perhaps he was relying on some mysterious inner instinct as a writer. But given that there are several pieces on the importance of China as a major global power, on his father, on various locations in Asia, and on matters pertaining specifically to Pakistani politics and society, perhaps the book would have benefited from being organized into topical sections. Regardless, he has written widely for respected publications ranging from Dawn, Newsline and the Express Tribune to the Business Recorder and the Daily Times. Thus, in his own inimitable way, he is as fine a freelance journalist as he appears to be a committed banker, though he takes the undeniable demands of the latter career in stride by referring to aspects of it humorously. For instance, he comments that in order to compensate for their dull, number-crunching jobs, bankers hold their conferences in the most interesting and exotic locations around the world! He speaks in more detail of certain specific conferences such as the famous Asian Development Bank conference based in Manila, and uses such points to springboard his discussion towards broader views of culture than just those presented in over air-conditioned conference rooms.
A thorough gentleman, Aziz's old world charm and superb breeding are evinced by th
subtlety and refinement that underpin even his strongest opinions and most complex topics. His feelings for Pakistan range from restrainedly passionate to politely critical, but every line of his text smacks of sincerity. With an egalitarianism and diversity of which the great Dickens himself would have been proud, Aziz writes about 'characters' such as a sari-clad air flight companion with the same grace with which he deals with Imran Khan and Benazir Bhutto. Though he may not actively characterize himself as such, at heart Sirajuddin Aziz is a true Renaissance man.