Cdr.(R) Firoz Shah, SI

The Second Principal (1965-1972)

Cdr.(R) Firoz Shah, SI, presenting his report at a parents' day celebration in late 1960s

By Kazi Zulkader Siddiqui, Kit no. 671, Latif House

If you were asked to identify one unforgettable personality of the 1965-72 era of Petaro, the answer would be none other than its principal Cdr (R) Firoz Shah, SI. “Commander Sahib” (we always called him that, as if there was, or is, no other commander) had a profound effect on our lives.

The “Commander” to us was much greater than any general. In retrospect, even though he is of a normal height and stature, Commander Sahib appeared to be a towering figure during those good old days. In sufistic parlance, the Commander was Petaro and Petaro was the Commander, though never the twain shall meet again.

His dynamism, his energy, his patience, and love for the college and its students were simply remarkable. However, he had a soft corner for sports and sportsmen. After all, it was through his efforts and leadership that the college won the ICCST consecutively for four years. He brought about the "Famous Forties".

During a discussion with him a few years ago, Commander Sahib pensively remarked that real education can be had only “in the field”. That is what Petaro truly aimed at, by providing that balance between studies and physical training and sports.

He was born on 7 January 1914 at Baghanwala near Chakwal which is located at the foot of the Salt Range. It is barely a mile from the famous hilltop Nandna Fort of Al-Biruni fame.

Cdr (R) Firoz Shah has had a very fulfilling career. He graduated from the Punjab University, Kitchener’s College, Nowgong (in undivided India), and later from the Royal Navy College in London.

Having joined the Royal Indian Navy in 1938, Commander Sahib became a de facto member of the Pakistan Navy in 1947. His career in the Navy was also in the field of education. He served as an instructor and trainer in different positions and locations. He was the Chief Instructor Officer at the Anti-Submarine School, Main Training Centre, PNS Bahadur, Manora PN Cadet Training School, PNS Himalaya and at the Cadets' Training Ship PNS Shamsher. His last position in the Navy was as the Director of Education in Pakistan Navy since 1954 for a period of 12 years. After a meritorious service, 1965 brought about his retirement.

Thus, when he retired, the Board of Governors of Cadet College Petaro chose the able Commander to relieve Col J.H.H. Coombes as the principal of the college in June 1965. Commander Sahib ruled over Petaro for seven years until his retirement on March 14, 1972.

The year 1997 marked the silver jubilee year of Commander Sahib’s retirement from Petaro - and in fact from active service. Retirement, however, does not necessarily mean a withdrawal from life. In contradistinction to an ascetic life, Commander Sahib has had a fulfilling two and a half decades of activity at his native village Baghanwala (Jhelum district), as he engaged in farming and social activities, including performing magisterial duties, establishing a primary girls school, provision of electricity and a roads infrastructure to the village and the adjacent localities.

Having lived in Islamabad for many years after his retirement, Commander Sahib moved to Karachi, living in DHA Phase 1 with his son’s family. In the last years of his life, Commander Sahib faced several medical problems due to his age. The Almighty was kind to him and he remained mentally alert always with no complaints.

The college administration was more than eager to invite Commander Sahib to come to Petaro for any of the major functions and be the chief guest.  Unfortunately, his health did not allow him to travel. He could not even come to Petaro for the Golden Jubilee celebrations in February 2007.

With his failing health, Commander Sahib was recalled by his Lord, and he left this world on 6 August 2007 at Karachi.  His body was taken to his village Baghanwala near Pind Dadan Khan (Punjab) - around 160-170km south of Islamabad on the Motorway. He was buried there the following day.

Nearly a week after his death, the President of Pakistan awarded Commander Sahib posthumously with the Sitara-e-Imtiaz on 14 Aug 2007, for his meritorious services to Cadet College Petaro and the nation.

Let us go back to his days at Petaro. I asked Commander Sahib to recall some of the achievements of his tenure at Petaro. I was surprised to see the extensive list.

  • Provision of Sui gas to Petaro;

  • Installation of a 35mm movie projector as educational aid (despite restrictions by the government on imports);

  • College expansion as the number of students increased from 350 to 600. Seventh class was introduced on an experimental basis for Sindhis. Two new houses (Iqbal and Qasim) were built;

  • Pre-medical stream: The Board of Governors permitted introduction of pre-medical classes at the intermediate level;

  • A Flying Club was started with the patronage of PAF who provided a glider and necessary staff;

  •  The "President’s Shield" donated by late President Ayub Khan which used to be given to the college winning the ICCST (Inter Cadet Colleges Sports Tournament). Petaro won the shield and the championship for four consecutive years (1966-69), gaining the right to keep the shield permanently;

  • Selection into Services Academies increased dramatically as a result of special training introduced;

  • Other improvements: Boundary wall, main gate, tennis courts, two squash courts, expansion of riding club, shooting range, grassy hockey field, extension of dining hall, trees along all roads, orchards, agriculture farm, Guest House for visiting parents and VIPs, etc;

  • Staff Welfare: Increase in staff, additional House Masters, allowances sanction, courses for higher qualifications in the UK, staff club improvements, additional housing, staff sons permitted to join college;

  • Colony Welfare: Sui gas connections at Rs5 per month, subsidy on food, transport for colony children attending schools in Hyderabad, Welfare Fund.

The year of the silver jubilee of his retirement from Petaro was quite a difficult year for Commander Sahib. As it is said, behind every great man, there is a great woman. Or if I may rephrase it, great women prod their consorts to become great men.

Well, the great woman in Commander Sahib’s life - Mrs. Sughra Firoz Shah - was the all-encompassing memory for him. They were married on 24 November 1940 and she bore him two sons - Shafqat Shah and Sajjad Shah - and a daughter. After a fulfilling life, Mrs. Sughra parted company with him to return to the Lord in 1996. May the Almighty shower His Mercy on her!

We Petarians pray to Allah to grant Commander Sahib and his wife a place in Jannatul Firdaus.

Mrs. Sughra and Cdr. Firoz Shah, SI, shortly before Commander Sahib joined Petaro in 1965.

The late Mrs. Sughra Firoz Shah, who "played her motherly role" during her years at Petaro