Title: Books that Changed My Life: Life and Life Lessons
Author: Major General (Retd) Muhammad Tahir
Publisher: National Book Foundation, Islamabad
A review by Ghulam Hussain Malik
In his book titled ‘Books That Changed My Life: Life and Life Lessons’, Major General (Retd) Muhammad Tahir — who served in the Pakistan Army for 35 years and whose area of special interest is reading literature and interfaith and intercultural dialogue, addresses what is deep and most abiding, the inherent goodness of a human being and the necessity to lead a life of purity and ethical existence, possible only through consciousness of a transcendent power.
The beauty of the memoirs lies in seeing how the books inspire the day to day life because every book that one has read, every experience that one has had are accumulated in one’s mind and soul. It depicts an intense loving relationship of the author with the books and between the reader and a book. The author gives his reminiscences of the books, which inspired him and played a role in the development of his personality, and feels that he has learned to think better and to be a more discriminating and reflective person having internalised their contents.
Major General (Retd) Muhammad Tahir, who has been endowed with exceptional qualities, has used several lenses to examine and appreciate the value of life and human existence. The book is not only motivating, but also a unique reading experience. It is an excellent narration of his own philosophy of life and ethical living and topping it with interesting anecdotes and reflects his passion for literary writing focusing on finer intricacies of life.
The book is based on the author’s experiences and lessons he learnt from literary giants, such as Tennyson Ulysses. He has penned his thoughts with recollections of the authors and books, which changed his life. He has skilfully blended quotations from the Western as well as Eastern literature amalgamating these together that it touches many finer aspects of life. It has philosophy, literature, religion and even the best of Shakespeare as well as some poems of renowned poets.
The author selected the books that are rich in content covering life and its lessons as recognised by philosophers from Socrates to Bertrand Russell and even prior to Socrates, i.e. Prudentius and Heraclitus, let alone Eastern philosophers like Rumi and Iqbal, who have one simple lesson for humanity that man can achieve transcendence only in ethical living, a positive and rational life full of action, meaning and purpose, rising above the partialities and futility of one’s own desires.
Major General (Retd) Muhammad Tahir has beautifully dealt with the transcendent reality in our hearts that means contemplation, prayers, good deeds and compassion free from the limitations inherent in matter.
In his own philosophy of life, the author has dealt with talks of a value-based society and the values he has underlined have a universal application and appeal. In doing so, he feels: “A man must therefore have orderly ideas about himself and the world and this will regulate the direction of his various strivings. If we give values like peace, love, humanity, respect, kindness, patience, diligence, abstinence their rightful place in our lives, we would lead a meaningful life.”
Major General (Retd) Muhammad Tahir has also discussed the natural harmony of the universe, which is affected whenever a crime is committed. For a resolute life, one has to do something, which gives one validation and objectivity. “Concentrate on good things in life including nature and its effect would be a balm on the soul. Don’t make money to replace Allah and its quest, oblivious of the Almighty’s existence. Make peace with yourself, you surroundings and your God because, He is the most compassionate, the most merciful (Rehman and Rahim). Ask God for forgiveness for the sins committed, because of your human limitations. And last don’t be afraid of solitude, if you can face yourself, you can face anyone in this world,” he advises.
“The book reminds me of the 20th century American writer Henry Miller’s book, ‘The Books in My Life,’ where one can find a treasure of insight relating to books,” writes Mazhar ul Islam, a renowned writer and novelist, in his review in beginning of the book.
“This book is also a premier for anyone interested in the purity of thought communicated by an avid reader through remarkable books and authors,” opines Mazhar ul Islam.
“The book offers a vivid glimpse of life from a philosophical and literary angle giving insight into hundred of books and authors, who have a unique perspective of life. The collection of poems is beautiful, which are rightly referred as thoughts in tranquility. It is enlightening and enjoyable read,” writes Muhammad Raffat Pasha, former federal secretary and inspector-general police, while commenting on the book.
Major General (Retd) Muhammad Tahir graduated from the Pakistan Military Academy in 1971, did BA (Honors) from the Government College Lahore and MA (English) from the Punjab University in 1976. He also holds the degrees of BSc (War Studies) from the Balochistan University, MSc (War Studies) from Egypt and MSc (Defense and Strategic Studies) from the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. During his 35-year service in the Pakistan Army, he earned the award of ‘Hilal-e-Imtiaz’ (Military) for meritorious service and held key command, staff and instructional appointments at all levels. He is a graduate of the Command and Staff College, Quetta; National Defense College, Islamabad; ‘Distinguished Graduate’ of the Command and Staff College, Egypt and an ‘Honor Graduate’ of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, USA.
Major General (Retd) Muhammad Tahir contributed articles in army magazines and Green Book of the Pakistan Army. After retirement, he joined the Fauji Foundation and served as director welfare (education) till 2010. The area of his special interest is reading literature and interfaith and intercultural dialogue. He was the keynote speaker at the conference at Brussels on interfaith on December 1, 2007 and was awarded the prize of ‘Ambassador for Peace’ by the University Peace Federation, USA.
*This review also appeared in Rawalpindi/Islamabad edition of The News International on August 03, 2013.