I was brought up in Allahabad, to which my father had moved to be near the high court, and where he had acquired a house with flower and vegetable gardens and fruit trees including mango, guava, sita phal, kathal, molsery, holy bael and mahua. The house had its traditional churail, a harmless and restless soul in white sari who wandered around our beds at night as we slept under the summer sky and saw the falling stars, as the angels protecting God in the seventh heaven would throw them at the devil, to keep him at a distance from the Almighty. We were told that she was the ghost of a previous lady of the house who had committed suicide. Also, our house was large enough to have a badminton court for the female members of the family and a hockey ground for boys.
Allahabad, or Prayaga (place of offering) is considered one of the holiest places in the Hindu religion, where after creating the world, Brahma offered his first sacrifice. In the sacred Vedic literatures, it is situated at the confluence of three sacred rivers, the Triveni Sangam, where the Jamuna and the invisible Saraswati, which flows underground, meets the Ganges, which then takes off to meet another great river, the Brahmaputra (Jamuna of Bengal).
The legend is that the gods thought of churning the Ksheera Sagara (primordial ocean of milk) to obtain amrita (the nectar of immortality). This required them to come to an agreement with the demons or asuras to work together. However, when the kumbha (urn) containing the amrita appeared, a fight ensued for its possession. For twelve days and twelve nights (equivalent to twelve human years) the gods and demons fought in the sky for the pot of amrita. During the battle, the celestial bird, the Garuda, the vehicle of Vishnu, flew away with this kumbha of elixir, and drops of amrita fell at four places on earth: Prayaga (Allahabad) and the Haridwar (Hardwar) in the U.P., Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh and Nashik in Maharashtra. In memorium, the Kumbh Mela takes place at Allahabad every three years, and the Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela is celebrated every six years, while the Purna (complete) Kumbh takes place every twelve years. The Maha Kumbh Mela comes after every 144 years. I often joined the pilgrims going to sangam as they passed in front of our house.
The name Allahabad was given to the city by the Timurid Emperor Akbar in 1583. It has the largest fort built by Akbar. In this fort is the Ashoka Pillar that was erected by the order of the great Mauryan king in 232 BC, with inscriptions in Brahmi, Gupta and Arabic scripts by three great emperors of three religions, Buddhist Ashoka, Hindu Samudragupta and Muslim Jahangir. It was Saleem’s (later Emperor Jahangir’s) capital when he rebelled against his father Emperor Akbar, and holds the three exquisite tombs of Jahangir’s wife, son and daughter in the garden named after his son, Khusro, who rebelled against him and therefore had to be blinded. Khusro Bagh is famous for its guavas. It possesses one of the first high courts built in British India, and one of the oldest British universities in India, known as ‘the Oxford of the East’. It is associated with seven prime ministers of Independent India.
Our house, number 26, was the last house on Hamilton Road where most of the famous lawyers of U.P. lived, and in the evening came out to stroll in their starched flowing white dhotis or saris, which reminded me of Krishan Chandar’s ‘sau gaz lambi sarak’. It had only one other Muslim House, which was next to ours, and therefore the other twenty boys who made up two teams to play hockey in the evening at our house must have been non-Muslims. I remember that my Muslim neighbour Kamal Mansur Alam, who later became Chief Justice of Sindh and a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, had hit me so hard while playing hockey that my right ankle bears the scar to this day.
The same was true of the school, where the majority were Hindu student, and although we had a PT and sports period every day, where intensive physical interaction took place in all kinds of sports and athletics I only remember the Muslim boys who played with us. The same was the case in the class where the Muslim boys sat together, and I only remember some of them. There was an exception to this when a Hindu refugee boy named Prem came from Punjab, joined the Urdu class and excelled. This was a surprise, because till then the Urdu class did not have any Hindu students, as all our Hindu classmates had opted for Hindi.
Our large servants’ quarters housed one Brahman husband and wife, one shuder/dalit family with a lot of children, Maulvi sahib and his wife, the former was supposed to make sure that we said our prayers. There were also orphan boys and girls who came from our village to live with us, and one of them died of small pox. I only remember the Brahman family, because whenever we accidently touched the Brahman lady while playing she immediately stood under the communal shower in the compound to drop water over her head to purify herself symbolically. She also showed great displeasure if our ball went into her quarter, as our hockey ground was sandwiched between the kitchen quarters and the servants’ quarters.
Our house was the centre of Muslim League politics in Allahabad. My elder sister, Bilquis Jamal, wrote short stories for the Urdu magazine “Nighat of Allahabad”, and organised demonstrations in girls’ schools and colleges for the Muslim League. The boys’ wing of the Muslim League was led by Salahuddin Aslam, who worked day and night for the Muslim League, and as a result his studies suffered, and he ended up being a photographer for a newspaper in Karachi, organized the Pakistan Association of Press Photographers and was elected secretary of the Karachi Union of Journalists. However, the student who was instrumental in establishing the Muslim League Student organisation in Allahabad, was Mukhtar Zaman, with his associates Zuhair Siddiqui, Shah Mahmood Sulaiman,
and many others. Mukhtar Zaman was general secretary of the All India Muslim League Students’ Federation, with Raja Saheb of Mahmoodabad as its president, and had a long and distinguished career as a journalist and a writer. An interesting member of the student movement in Allahabad was Saleem Akhtar, who later became a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The most colourful character was Kunwar Tehsin Yunus Ali Khan, who suffered injuries in a fight with Hindu boys for his provocative demeanour and colourful language, which he maintained even in Karachi as a customs officer. When his father admonished him for receiving a knife wound on his back, his answer was that it was not him but those who attacked him who were cowards, because they dared not attack him from the front. I was therefore surprised when Salman Faruqui went to a conference at Delhi, and his counterpart in India, a Hindu, asked him about me and gave Salman’s wife his phone number so that I could contact him.
As Deputy Leader of the Muslim League Assembly Party in the U.P. Legislative Assembly, Secretary of the U.P. Muslim League Parliamentary Board, and later Leader of the Opposition and member of Constituent Assembly of India, my father was mostly away touring the countryside in his Ford car. We often followed him to Muslim League gatherings as audience and slogan raisers, and during the long summer school holidays our mother took us to Naini Tal Hill Resort, where the U.P. Legislative Assembly held its summer session. Allahabad was visited by all the top Muslim League leaders, for whom special meetings were arranged. We now laugh at the fact that though the Quaid spoke in English, even the youngest and most uneducated of the Muslim audience thought that they understood him and cheered him on. We were often taken care of by a colleague of my father, Shaukat Ali Khan, MLA, who did not have children of his own and gave us long lectures on every subject that affected Muslims. Our favourite Muslim League leader was Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar, who warned Hindus not to mistreat the Muslims of minority provinces, because Pathans knew how to avenge their brothers. He said I can take one Hindu in one hand and another in other and smash their heads together. It reminded us of Emperor Babar who is supposed to run on fort wall with one Hindu under one arm and a second Hindu under his other arm whom he used to throw over the wall to their death. It was this kind of statements and stories which intensified enmity between communities.
My father’s main contribution to our upbringing was in the provision of books. He had a large library and he allowed us to buy books by signing for them at Kitabistan bookshop, whose owner was instructed to send the bill to him for which I was often told off because my elder sister quite often bought popular novels from the shop and made me sign for them which my father did not like. This is a tradition, which I kept up with my own children, who were also allowed to buy books by signing for them at the Pak Amerian Bookshop on Elphinstone/Zaibunnisa Street in Karachi. One of my favourite books from my father’s library was a two-volume set of the complete plays and prefaces of George Bernard Shaw, in which he said something to the effect that if we wanted to understand his life work then we should read it twice every year for next ten years. I followed his advice for a number of years.
As children we were brought up on Alif Laila and Dastan-i-Amir Hamza. My mother subscribed to “Ismet” magazine from Delhi, and a number of children’s magazines from Lahore, like “Phool” and “Khilauna” for us. While the Urdu newspaper “Madina” from Bijnor and magazine “Nigar” of Niaz Fatehpuri from Lucknow came by post. Articles by Niaz were often provocative and created intense debate.
At school, Tegh Allahabadi became an instant hit with his revolutionary poetry at the annual swadeshi numaish. When he moved to Pakistan he changed to his real name, which was Mustafa Zaidi (1930-1970), passed the civil service exam and became a bureaucrat till he was screened out by Martial Law government. This depressed him so much that he made a suicide pact in which he died but the lady survived and a case was registered against her. I met her at Karachi Gymkhana with her lawyer Mr. Farooqui where they were regulars on the dance floor. The lady lived near us in DHA-4 in Karachi, and after her husband died she brought her daughter to me to work with us for the Heritage Foundation. She was a kind and petite woman with beautiful eyes, who wrote to the newspapers that the Kohinoor diamond in the British crown had been taken from her family by deceit by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and that therefore the British should return it to her. I reproduce here a verse from each of five poems that Mustafa Zaidi published in her name:
Lay chali thi mujhay zarron ki tarah bad-e-samoom
Tu nay hiron ki tarah mujh ko sanbhala rakha
Apni palkon main chupaya mujhay tunay us waqt
Jab saray rah har aik fard mera qatil tha
Mayn alag ho kay likhun teri kahani kaisay
Mera fan mera sukhan mera qalam tujh say hay
Duniya main aik sal ki muddat ka qurb tha
Dil main kaiy hazar qiran ki sharik thi
Shairo, Naghma garo, sang tarasho, dekho
Us say mil lo to batana kay hasin tha koi
- Our House in Allahabad
- Khusreau Bagh
- Our Family