In the late 20th century, Qudratullah Shahab remained a controversial figure because of his alleged role in the undemocratic activities that took place in Pakistan. Some believed him to be a distinguished and well-meaning civil servant, while others cast sceptical glances at him and blamed him for harm to democracy in 20th century Pakistan. So even now, his recognition mostly revolves along those lines. However, there is more to his personality than meets the eye. In fact, he was a well-known litterateur who had written excellent books and produced great literary pieces such as Ma jee, one of his best short stories. Given this aspect of his personality, I wanted to read his autobiography Shahabnamah. With that end in view, I had the opportunity not only to read it, but to review it as well. Shahabnamah is a huge book and consists of about 60 chapters. It begins with a chapter titled Iqbal e jurum (literally meaning confession of crime) wherein the author has given the reasons for writing the book. He says that he had started keeping his personal diary from 1938 onwards when he was just 21. He would write down events in his own shorthand notes, which made little sense to others. One day he showed it to his friend Ibne Insha, a renowned litterateur in his own right. The latter advised him to turn it into a book. So he writes that it was his friend’s wish to produce the book, coupled with his desire to come clean on the allegations that were levelled at him. It was held that Shahab was behind the scenes of the anti-democratic activities that took place in Pakistan. Even renowned poet Hafeez Jahalandari composed a verse, which reads: Jabb Kahein Inqilab hota he Qudratullah Shahab hota he (Wherever there is a revolution/ an anti-democratic activity, Qudratullah Shahab is present there) The book contains an account of events and incidents that occurred in his life. It details his naughty childhood and his bright academic background. It also sheds light on his induction into Indian Civil Services, and his services to the leaders of Pakistan, including Iskander Mirza and Ayub Khan. He also writes about his travel to different countries around the world. As he has written this book intending to deny allegations against him, the author has made every effort to come clean. The book mentions some incredible actions that the author undertook when he was part of the ICS. To begin with, he has written that during the time of British-induced famine in Bengal, he got himself transferred there with a view to helping the famine-stricken people. There, he was appointed in sub-division Tamluk, a famine and storm-affected area. He noticed that a majority of the people were starving. So he wrote to the government seeking official permission to distribute the grain hoarded in government stores. When he did not get a response even after repeated letters, he broke open the stores, formulated a committee of regional leaders of political parties and tasked them with the distribution of the grain among the needy and deserving. This action of him outraged his senior officials and he was transferred back to the province of his origin. In another incident, he held his senior officials hostage when was appointed as an assistant commissioner in district Bhagalpur. At that time, the Quit India movement was in full swing. An angry mob of the Indian National Congress had killed a constable in an area, which was under his jurisdiction. So he was tasked with arresting the culprits. To cut the long story short, he went to the village and camped there. He called in the regional congress leader and had a conversation, which revolved around the injustice of the British. When the villagers heard of his conversation, they came to him in hundreds and wanted him to deliver a speech. He dissuaded them out of it, but a little girl put a floral garland around his neck. When this news reached the authorities, they were enraged. So a DIG, an SP and a collector came to set the village on fire. When they entered his camp, they ignored him. They even kicked him out of the tent when he resisted their plan of setting the village on fire. But he hit upon a plan and using his magisterial powers, detained them in the tent until further orders. He was taken to task for insulting his seniors, but he had tendered his resignation, which was not accepted. This way, he saved the village from being burnt. Besides these interesting events, the book gives insight into the lives of the heads of the Pakistani state as the author had served as secretary to three prominent personalities of Pakistan, that is, Governor-General Malik Ghulam Muhammad, and President Iskander Mirza and Ayub Khan. The author has given his comments on their personal lives and has tried to portray their characters through his writings. He is critical of the actions of Malik Ghulam Muhammad and blames him for all the anti-democratic activities that took place after him. He argues that the latter planted the seed of authoritarianism when he dissolved the National Assembly. He has shown him as domineering, temperamental and possessive. Despite his illness, he did not want to relinquish power. He has also written about the governor general’s obsession with Ms Ruth Boral, an American lady, who was his personal assistant. The author appears a bit balanced about Iskander Mirza. He has avoided using extreme language about him. However, he does criticize him for imposing Martial Law and describes him as a selfish person who tried to continue in power at the expense of the people. However, when it comes to Ayub Khan, the author appears to have a soft corner for the well-known dictator. He has painted him as a patriotic leader who was moved by the suffering of the people and was committed to reforming the entire system. He has dedicated about 9 chapters of his book to Ayub Khan. They deal with topics related to him such as his rise to power and downfall; his relations with, and attitude towards, students, litterateurs, politicians, journalists, the press, the economy, and foreign policy. One of them is also about his desire to bring out reforms. Talking about his reforms, he says that Ayub Khan had revolutionary ideas which conflicted with his temperament. He was moderate and conciliatory. He was not the revolutionary type; as a matter of fact, he was the status quo type. There is one more interesting thing about the book. It is that the author has lamented the use of religion by politicians to dupe the public. He has mentioned some incidents where the former had manipulated Islam to further their interests. For instance, he has written about an incident when he was in Kashmir. There a minister during his speech waved his lighter to the audience and pretended that it was a holy Quran. Besides, he also has moaned about the fact that the opposition to a sitting government is branded as treason. It has become a trend to label your opponents as a traitor. As he has written this book intending to deny allegations against him, the author has made every effort to come clean. He has not written of any incident which should show that he compromised his principles or he committed a crime such as accepting a bribe. He has mentioned incidents when he was offered bribe or favours, but he rejected them. He has mentioned that during the course of his duty, he resigned from his job four times: once before the partition and thrice after it. He tendered his resignation to Iskander Mirza and later to Ayub Khan. However, it was not accepted until he resigned during General Yahya’s era. This time it was accepted, though after much ado as Yahya wanted him to bow down before him. At that time, about seven years of his service remained. The fact that he has mentioned his financial constraints in his later life makes a compelling case for him. He says that his pension was withheld at the behest of General Yahya for three years in a row. During that time, he faced financial difficulties. His family, which consisted of three members, including his wife and his son, lived a very poor life. His wife died a premature death for want of money, he writes. He says that she would have survived her disease had he had enough money to get her treated in the US. In fact, her doctor had advised him to take her to the US. By mentioning this, he has tried to show that he was not hungry for power or wealth. He just delivered his duty when he was serving under the leaders and generals. Many of the incidents in the book appear exaggerated. For example, there is a chapter entitled Bimla Kumari kee bechain rooh (literally meaning the restless soul of Bimla Kumari). In it the author has given a much-exaggerated anecdote. He has written that when he was in the ICS, due to a shortage of residential buildings in Khattak, he was offered an abandoned house on civil lines. When he moved there, he was haunted by ghosts almost every night. He has given a detailed account of his interaction with ghost(s). They used to frighten him in strange ways. Sometimes, it rained stones and bricks in his bedroom. Sometimes, they filled his room with bone and skeletons. This continued for some time but he did not let anyone know of it. Later he has revealed that it was the ghost of Bimla Kumari, a young girl who wanted the news of her death to reach her mother. According to him, Bimla was a young girl who had been deceived by a civil servant over the pretext of marrying her. The civil servant had illicit sexual relations with her. He did not marry her; instead, he got rid of her by murdering her and burying her in the building where the author was living. This entire story is illogical as it is superstitious and metaphysical. No doubt the story sounds interesting. However, the author should have kept in mind that he was writing an autobiography, not a fictional piece. Besides, he also appears a bit biased. For example, he has used extreme language about Maharaja Hari Singh and Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan. He has also written that during his stay in a rented house of a Hindu in Karachi, the landlord had left his parrot with his mother for some time. The parrot was hurling invective at Pakistan in the Sindhi language. The mention of the language appears unnecessary here. It had would have been better if it had been left out. As far as the language of the book is concerned, the reader would find that the author is not short of words. He appears to have a treasure of vocabulary at his disposal to choose words and phrases from. He has used Persian words profusely, which makes it difficult to read for common readers. However, he has remained proficient throughout the book. His way of narration is also worth applauding as the events have been narrated in a clear, lucid and smooth way. Overall, the book is a fascinating read. The author has shared his experiences in all capacities. He has written about his role in almost all walks of life. He has narrated his meetings with delegates with great leaders. He has mentioned his stay in Holland, when he had been sent there to complete a particular course, and later when he was there as an ambassador of Pakistan. He has also mentioned his visit to China when he had gone there with then foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Besides, he has given accounts of his visits to Iran, Turkey, Japan, India, the US and many more countries. He has also penned down his 10-day secret mission to Israel, which he undertook on behalf of Muslim countries to expose the interference of the Israeli state in the UN-backed educational scheme. Israel had included some derogatory lessons about Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad ?, but he successfully completed the mission in time and produced evidence before the UN. To conclude, as has been mentioned already, it is a huge book so a single review cannot do justice to it. It has many aspects, which the reviewer might have missed. So there are no two views about the fact that the readers will find a lot to ponder upon. The writer is a freelance columnist based in Larkana.