Sikander Ali Memon, 417/Latif

Sikander Ali Memon - 2009

By Kazi Zulkader Siddiqui, 671/Latif

Sikander Ali Memon, kit no. 417/Latif House joined Cadet College Petaro in 1963 in 9th class. He left the college in 1965 after Matric.

He was born on 23 December 1949 at Larkana and got married to Mrs. Salwa Abdelhamid Hussein on 2 June 1979. They have 1 son - Assem. The family is settled in Cairo, Egypt.

Sikander Memon's elder brother (late) Ali Raza Memon, 56/Jinnah was also a Petarian. And (late) Anwar Muhammad F. Memon 48/Latif was his brother-in-law (sister's husband).

Sikander Memon's family belongs to Larkana in Sindh. His father was Ambassador of Pakistan to Saudi Arabia during his 2 year sojourn at Petaro. Right after Matric, he moved to Saudi Arabia, and was admitted to the College of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran with full scholarship to complete his High School diploma. While he was at the college, he was also the editor of the college newspaper called Sahara.

In 1968, he got admission to Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey. Despite the tumultuous years at METU, he graduated as a Chemical Engineer in 1972.

In 1973, he moved to the USA, and completed his Masters in Chemical Engineering from the University of Miami, Florida in 1975.

Soon thereafter, he joined a subsidiary of Halliburton Ltd in Houston, Texas with the intention to send him to Tehran, Iran after his training period. As luck would have it, he was instead sent to Cairo, Egypt in 1976. He worked with Halliburton until 1984 when recession hit the oilfield industry and he found himself without a job.

In the meantime, he had married an Egyptian lady Salwa as well, and he decided to settle down permanently in Egypt. He established a business there under the name of Al-Memons Office Supplies Company, which flourished as a substantial company. After nearly 20 years of successful entrepreneurship, Sikander Memon liquidated the company in 2004 to lead a happy retired life.

Ever since his retirement, he has made it a point to travel to Pakistan almost every year.

Sikander Memon (2nd from right) at METU - 1971 (2nd from left is Kazi Zulkader Siddiqui, 671/Latif)

My Life and the Petaro Experience -

an autobiography

Sikander Ali Memon, 417/Latif


My stay in Petaro was rather brief unlike most Petarians who have spent a full five years at the college. I was there only for two years, from 1963 to 1965 (9th and 10th classes only) when I had to move abroad. Despite this short stay, Petaro has had a profound and lasting effect on my life.

My family belongs to a rural area (at least in early sixties) of Larkana District. It was our father's desire to provide good education to his children and thus hopefully lead to better opportunities in life. My journey to Petaro started in the footsteps of my elder brother (late) Ali Raza Memon( kit 56), who had impressed my father very much and gained an American Field Service scholarship to visit USA for a whole year, right after completing his intermediate in 1962.

My father had recently been appointed Ambassador of Pakistan to Saudi Arabia. He had departed for Jeddah with the whole family leaving me behind in the charge of my uncle, waiting to join Cadet College Petaro.

When the call came for the interview to CCP in Hyderabad, my uncle bought me a return trip ticket to Hyderabad on a train and gave me a lot of money for expenses. After the train departed for Hyderabad, the first thing I did was to order lunch from the dining car. I had always fancied this lunch along with its frosted bottle of cold water. The fridges had not made it to Larkana as yet in 1963, or at least to our house. During any travels with the family, meals used to be carried from home. So I had never had an opportunity to partake of the tray of food coming out of the dining car. This was my chance, being all alone and with plenty of money in my pocket. This was a memorable lunch in full grandeur.

At the interview, I tried to impress Col. Coombes and offered him a military style salute. I don't think he was very impressed with my saluting abilities. The interview turned out to be very brief. I think all they did was ask my name and let me go. A couple of weeks later, we received news that I had been accepted. My acceptance was probably because of my elder brother Marhoom Ali Raza Memon, kit 56, who had done so well at Petaro.

I arrived in Petaro – a scared 14-year old kid from Larkana who could hardly speak a complete sentence of English and had never spent a day (or night) away from the safe abode of home. After the initial cultural shock, I got into the routine of Petaro. Even though I was not outstanding in any sphere of life, I soon picked up on the training provided by Petaro regime in discipline, in organizing my studies, in personal hygiene and tidiness, in social life, in adapting to the community life, and in learning English, which I hardly knew before arriving in Petaro. The effect of Petarian regime is with me to this day and has helped me ever since.

Petaro was a great experience and a great enlightening period for me. It opened doors for me for international education, travel and employment. To this day, I am still living abroad. It taught me English, it gave me self confidence and it gave me opportunity in life. Due to my two short years at Petaro at a young age of 14 years, I did not make any close friendships and bonds. And neither was I an exceptional student nor was I good at any sport. But in some subtle ways, the college sowed the seeds of progress and improvement for which I am grateful to Petaro.

As luck will have it, after doing matriculation from Petaro, I moved on in 1965, totally alone, to the newly established College of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (which is now known as the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals or KFUPM) with a full scholarship. I essentially completed the equivalent of American High School Diploma with very high grades. I was also the Editor of the College Newspaper called Sahara.

In 1968, I was admitted to Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, which is one of the finest technical and engineering schools in the world. I studied Chemical Engineering and graduated in 1972.

Turkey is the best place in the world that I have ever been to. I love it and its people in comparison to any other country in the world. It was my wish, and still is, to live permanently in a medium sized city like Ankara. Unfortunately it was not meant to be. I had the best times ever in my life in Turkey and developed many friendships and bonds, which continue till this day. Turks loved Pakistanis and most of us loved Turkey and Turks. The nostalgia continues till this day and I often get together with old friends from Turkey and recall old memories which are nostalgic to say the least. And listening to old Turkish songs brings out the best in me.

In 1973, I moved to the USA to do my Masters at University of Miami, Florida. Even though I had the best of everything - a part-time Graduate assistantship at university, my own apartment and a car - I never really enjoyed living in States. I have a sort of love and hate relationship with States.

Upon completion of my Masters in 1975, I was hired by a subsidiary of Halliburton Ltd. They trained me and I worked in Houston for several months. Their original plan was to transfer me to Tehran, Iran as an expatriate. As luck would have it, at the last minute I was sent to Egypt in 1976, and I have been there ever since. I worked for Halliburton until 1984 and was laid off as a result of recession in the oilfield industry.

With my Pakistani Passport, there was no chance of getting a good job in Egypt. I had fallen in love there with a sweet 30-year old Egyptian girl, and got married to her in 1979. She bore me a son named Assem in 1983.

Due of my wife's personal situation, we could not leave Egypt. She was the only surviving child of her mother. Her brother had been martyred in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. He was an Air Force Pilot. Her elderly mother was the closest and the only relative she had. I did not have the heart to force her to leave Egypt and leave her mother alone.

Thus, in 1984 we established Al-Memons Office Supplies Company, which blossomed immediately. We did very well financially. In 2004, I decided it call it quits and liquidated the company and have been retired ever since.

My son Assem was educated in Egypt and Canada and now with the grace of Allah he is a young Project Manager for IBM Canada.

Egypt is so much like Pakistan in many ways minus the crime, power shortages and expensive petroleum products. Gas in Egypt is still amongst the lowest priced in the world. Eight months out of a year the weather here is beautiful. Allah has blessed this ancient land, which has been mentioned so many times in Holy Qur’an with the River Nile and two lovely seas - the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Fortunately I own a chalet on the Red Sea coast where I spend weekends every other week.

Cairo is a crazy city with maddening crowds and traffic jams. Egypt is also a favourite tourist stopover for Europeans and others because of its ancient history, monuments and weather. Some people claim that 80% of the world heritage is located in Egypt. I won't be surprised if it were true.

Egypt has been very kind and good to me, and my lovely wife Salwa has made my life so comfortable for me. I still miss Pakistan and the Pakistan experience. My longest stay in Pakistan since I left the country permanently in 1965 has been a month at a time in which is not enough.

Sometimes I wonder that had I had never gone to Petaro, would I have ever left the country?  This is a question, the answer to which I would never know. How destinies change with events indeed! And Petaro had its important role to play in this regard.

Now that I look back at my life almost 43 years after I arrived in Petaro, leaving home forever as a 14 year old boy with no knowledge of life or much else, I give most of the credit to Petaro regime, which instilled discipline, knowledge, self confidence, efficiency, ability to work with people and learn from them, and independence. All of these were seeds for making me into a good citizen. After being totally disconnected with Petaro for almost 40 years, the magic of Internet made it possible to reconnect. I came to find people I hadn't seen or heard from for 40 years, who were either room mates or class mates or simply Petaro mates. And I discovered how they in their own way had made progress in life, mostly due to Petaro's training and experience.

As I look back over these years, I can see myself going back in time – so many faces, so many names, so many places and so many incidents. One of the incidents I still remember vividly happened in the summer of 1965, when I didn't know that I would be leaving Petaro for good within a couple of weeks. We (meaning some boys from the 9th and 10th classes) were taken to Ghora Gali for some scouting camp and training under the supervision of the mighty Toor Sahib (the mathematics teacher) and Mr. Afsar Rizvi (the Urdu teacher). One afternoon I wandered away towards Murree and met some close friends of my elder brother who were themselves young Petarian cadets (a couple of years older than me). They invited me to dinner in their Mess to be followed by movies. By then it was pretty dark and late and I was terrified of returning to our camp. So I bunked with them in Murree. Early next morning I made my way back to our scouting camp. Toor Sahib and Rizvi Sahib were both very angry and upset at my absence. I got a thrashing from Toor Sahib. At that time I couldn't comprehend why they would be so angry. But soon I understood that they were worried about my safety, and that it was their responsibility to account for all the boys who were dispatched in their care. Since then, I became a very responsible person and always appreciated responsibility. Thank you Toor Sahib, I may have caused you a sleepless night and lot of worry, but I still remember that episode and it has truly affected my outlook in life ever since.

Another incident I remember occurred during my early days – shortly after my arrival at Petaro. My elder brother – the late Ali Raza Memon (kit no.56/Jinnah), who had recently returned from USA after spending  a year in Montana with an American family on an AFS scholarship – decided to visit me at Petaro and say hello to Col. Coombes who was fond of Ali Raza. So one fine evening Ali Raza Memon, with his close friends Anwar Memon, kit no. 48/Latif (now my brother in law), Hameed  Anwar kit no. 12/Liaquat, and I think Mirza Ashfaque Beg kit no. 69/Liaquat, came to see me. It happened to be “Prep” hour and Col. Coombes was on his rounds. Here was a bunch of young men and old friends talking and laughing loudly in the corridors of Latif house and guess who they ran into? You are right, it was Col. Coombes. He gave them a good verbal thrashing and asked them to leave the grounds of Petaro without a second thought, which they did in a hurry. But a short distance from campus, they had second thoughts and returned to Petaro to face Col. Coombes at his residence. I am not sure what transpired there, but I have heard several versions. One of the versions was that after further thrashing, they were treated like royalty and even offered drinks by the late Col. Coombes at his residence as he was very fond of his boys who had generally made him a proud man. This was the greatness of the man who would demonstrate values through discipline and yet had a very kind and generous heart.

In year 2000, during one of my trips to Pakistan I took my 17 year old son to Petaro. He –being unfamiliar with the Petaro magic – didn't show much interest, but I was very excited to be in Petaro for the first time since I left in 1965. If anything Petaro looked bigger and more majestic. I visited the whole campus including my room in Latif House and the bed I had spent two years of my life in. While savouring the moment, I couldn't help remembering the early morning wake up call for PT, the dressing up for dinner, the prep hour, and of course one of my most favourite moments of the day, the visit to Radio Room after dinner to listen to request programme from Radio Zahidan, Iran. I did feel my eyes were mysteriously getting moist.

Thank you Petaro, for opening up new horizons, new experiences and a new world for me!