There used to be a very popular show on good ol’ PTV called ‘Neelaam Ghar’ (literally meaning ‘Auction House’). It was a general knowledge quiz show that ran for many many years through the 70’s and 80’s, hosted by a man who ended up becoming a household name throughout Pakistan.
You can’t talk about Neelaam Ghar without mentioning Tariq Aziz. The two are synonymous. Even as I type these words I can hear his deep sonorous voice saying those famously dramatic opening words….’Dekhti aankhon aur suntay kaanon, aapko Tariq Aziz ka salaam pohnchay.’
The show encouraged the audience to participate, with commercial sponsorships for specific questions or question rounds, and generous prizes as giveaways. Tariq Aziz would conduct the show with his characteristic informal bonhomie, frequently referring to audience members and guests as ‘mere dost’ or ‘mere bhai’.
I doubt if any other PTV personality could have pulled off the show with as much flair as he did.
Those were days when Pakistan Television (inaugurated by President Ayub Khan in 1964) was all we had in terms of visual entertainment and Neelaam Ghar was up there in the list of favourite shows, and Mummy watched avidly. I remember my sister had even made a bunch of flash cards with Neelaam Ghar-style questions (answers written at the back) and the show would be re-enacted at home where my sister would be Tariq Aziz and I the hapless audience.
It was on one of the episodes that Tariq Aziz either introduced a guest who had written the entire Quran in his own hand, or spoke about someone who had done so. Mummy was struck by something he said at the time…something along the lines of God giving everyone the ‘naik taufeeq’ (good intention) to do something similar.
And that’s all the impetus Mummy needed. She decided she would write the Quran too.
All she had to bank on was her ability to write neatly and with precision, a skill that earned her a good reputation amongst her teachers at school. That, and her intrinsic willfulness that carries her through the most nitpicky tasks.
She was untrained in the art of calligraphy, but that didn’t faze her. She just sent my father to buy her some flat-nibbed pens and a pile of pretty bordered paper and set to work.
It took her around five years to complete the task at hand, page by painstaking page. It was very difficult going, and for my mother to say something like that tells you a lot. She had to write with grave concentration, as even one mistake meant she would have to do the entire page all over again. This she learnt the hard way.
So she wrote in the mornings when she was at her freshest, and even then for just half an hour, as that was the most she could manage. This is how five hundred and eighty three pages managed to get covered in neat, beautiful Arabic text, day after day, month after month, year after year.
And this gem of an endeavour, a testament to Mummy’s faith and tenacity, has been bound and covered in ochre velvet and lies on a shelf in the house, unseen, unremarked, forgotten by and large. Family and some friends are all who know about Mummy’s hand-written Quran.
What matters hugely to my mother is the fact that she managed to show her work to the spiritual leader of our community of Dawoodi Bohras, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, whom she humbly requested to inscribe in his own hand, the opening phrase.
In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful.
This Arabic phrase is spoken before embarking on anything significant, and having the ‘Bismillah’ written by Maula was a foregone conclusion in Mummy’s scheme of things…..which is why she left those areas blank, until the opportunity came along….
Syedna Burhanuddin wrote the first Bismillah in his inimitable lovely hand atop the Surah e Fateha, and then, to the surprise of all present, passed it on to his second son, Shehzada Mufaddal Bhaisaheb, to grace the beginning of the first chapter with a Bismillah of his own, a move that sparked a buzz in the family as being something rather significant.
That was around 15 years ago.
Recent events have revealed the foresight and wisdom of Syedna Burhanuddin, a fragile yet powerful presence in our lives, whose centenary we all celebrated the world over, just a few months ago.
Mummy’s Quran will have the honour and distinction of being inscribed by two Da’i’s, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, and his successor, now titled Syedi Mufaddal Bhaisaheb Saifuddin.
She has also stuck on the first page an autograph she procured sometime in the late 50’s, when she was still a school girl, of Syedna Taher Saifuddin, the eminent and much-loved father of Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin.
And to think Mummy has Neelaam Ghar and Tariq Aziz to thank for the inspiration. 🙂