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The Protagonists

23 Sep

19th September marked the 50th anniversary of Mummy and AJ’s wedding.

The year was 1964. A young good-looking man, on his way to work, would pass by a certain balcony on Marriott Road. Unbeknownst to him, a pair of shapely eyes would wait to catch glimpses.

No words nor glances were ever exchanged.

So imagine her surprise when his people approached her people to ask for her hand for him. She saw no reason to refuse.

They were engaged in July, ’64…..

pic59-wedding…….married in September.




What’s the connection between Bartle Frere, AJ and Mummy?

29 Sep

Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere was appointed the Commissioner of Sind in 1850.
He issued a decree in 1851, making it compulsory to use Sindhi language in place of Persian in Sind. The officers of Sind were ordered to learn Sindhi compulsorily to enable them to carry on day-to-day work efficiently.
He went on to become Governor of Bombay in 1862, returning to England in 1867 where he was made a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of The Star of India.

His career subsequently took him to Zanzibar, where he negotiated a treaty with the Sultan for the suppression of the slave trade, then South Africa where he was made High Commissioner. Perhaps he took on more than he bargained for….it couldn’t have been easy trying to impose an unpopular form of confederation on the region. Frere was sent to South Africa to turn this vital area into a secure bastion on the route to India, but was distracted from the task by the routine instability of the South African theatre.
He was recalled on charges of misconduct in 1880, and died in Wimbledon four years later from the effects of a severe chill.
In 1888, the Prince of Wales unveiled a statue of Frere on the Thames embankment. Mount Bartle Frere (1622m), the highest mountain in Queensland, Australia is named after him, as is a boarding house at Haileybury. A road in Parktown, Johannesburg, is also named after him. (Frere Road is also the home of Nadine Gordimer, the Nobel Prize-winning author). In Durban, there are two roads which honour him: the first, Frere Road, transforms a little later to Bartle Road.

Frere Hall in Karachi was built in his honour. The city also named a road, street and town after him.

Out of twelve designs submitted, the one by Lt. Col St. Clair Wilson was chosen and construction started in 1863. It was opened by Samuel Mansfield, the Commissioner of Sind in 1865.


This picture is from the 1880’s

The total cost of this hall was about Rs. 180,000 out of which the Government contributed Rs. 10,000 while the rest was paid for by the municipality. The style is Venetian Gothic, executed in yellowish Karachi limestone and red and gray sandstone from Jungshahi, an area rich in minerals, connected to Karachi during British rule by the North Western Railway.

(information picked out of Wikipedia) 

Why did I choose to delve into this bit of history today?

It is because of a bunch of photos of old Karachi that were forwarded to me on email. I picked this picture of Frere Hall to post here today as it was the oldest in the lot.

And also because a hundred years after construction began on the site, AJ brought Mummy here in a rickshaw for their second date.

But in 49 years of being together and living in different parts of Karachi, Mummy and AJ have spent the last 22 just a stone’s throw away in this area named Frere Town after Bartle Frere.

Mummy the ‘best friend’ ~ 1962.

27 Mar

Mummy was Zakia Aunty’s best friend at her wedding, and they’re also first cousins. She was 22 at the time, and was the fashionista of the family, loved to make clothes, wear sarees and high heels and absolutely adored jewellery, the funkier the better. Some things never change and Mummy is still the same 50 years down the road….

Zakia Aunty’s brother recently passed away in a terrible car accident on the highway to Hyderabad. Mummy went to sit with her a few days ago, came across a pile of old photographs in a plastic bag and was delighted to find pictures of herself. She was particularly pleased with this one 🙂

that's Mum there, in the saree with the sleeveless blouse, the pallu casually draped on the back of her head...

Well, I think she looks gorgeous! But then again, I may be biased 😉

This was two years before she got married to my father 🙂

The wedding took place in Hyderabad.

Zakia Aunty’s mother was my mother’s aunt, my grandmother’s sister and her name was Zehra. She had the distinction of having coloured eyes (a very unusual thing in our family) with the consequence that all her children have light-coloured eyes too. (Zakia Aunty’s are light brown.) Zehra Masi (‘masi’ = aunt ) was very fond of Mummy because Mummy was so very talented and full of great ideas and forever doing creative things. When Mummy developed asthma (around the age of 7 or 8) she was sent away to Hyderabad for a year or two so as to be in a drier climate compared to Karachi, and there she lived with Zehra Masi and her family. So when the time came for Zakia to be married, who better to be her sidekick than Khatija?

Mummy the fashionable moral suppport, as Zakia unties the 'sehra'

Both the necklaces Mummy is wearing in these pictures were brought especially for her by her father all the way from Paris. In an age when ‘real’ jewellery (i.e anything to do with gold) was ubiquitous, Mummy wore her funky Parisian jewellery with style! (Shall we take a closer look?)

Zakia was around 4 or 5 years younger than my mother (and still is, of course) so I guess she must have been impressionable enough to let Mummy make her a dress to wear at her own wedding! Mummy called her up a couple of days ago to ask her who made the dress and Zakia said ‘Why, you of course!’

(I still can’t get over it)

She even made her a veil and a little bouquet….just like in an ‘English’ wedding! 😀

Mum in Mama school….late 40’s, spilling over into the 50’s

18 Sep

Mummy was transferred to The Mama Parsi Girls Secondary School in class III. Before this she went to the Saifiyah Girls School, a Dawoodi bohra community school.

I guess she didn’t really learn the English language all that well there, because she and her sister Maimuna had to be sent to Amy, Gooly’s sister, for tuitions.

Mummy on the left, Maimuna on the right

Gooly was my mother’s best friend in school, a Parsi. They’re still in touch, more than half a century later.

Gooly with Iskander Mirza's Iranian wife, Naheed begum. Mummy is standing next to her with cinched waist and curly hair

Mummy never really studied but she managed to have a good academic record, and won The Shield for Best Girl in class X.

Every morning they would have P.T, and then all the students stood outside class for inspection. Shoes, nails, uniform, hair, pins—anything amiss and there would be minus marks.

Lunch was in school, and for Mum, that was the most wonderful time of the day.

There was a dining room with tables, and come lunchtime, around 1:30, the servants carrying tiffins with home-cooked food would start arriving by tram. She remembers a girl called NurJehan….very stylish….her lunch was very proper with all the works, including a placemat for her spot on the table. Mum thinks she was Khoja, which might explain the ‘properness’. The main reason for such an elaborate lunchtime was because the girls played games after classes were over, and hometime was at 5 o clock! The food would be shared all around, and Mummy remembers vividly how much her friends especially enjoyed the tiffin that came for her from her house….the food would all disappear in a flash 🙂

Little Mummy was in class VI or VII when she auditioned for a show on Radio Pakistan and got selected, but the principal, Ms Thompson (a Goan Christian) didn’t allow her to to go for it, she doesn’t remember why or much care about it. It’s not like her hopes for a fabulous career in radio were dashed or anything. It was just for a lark, and like a lark, the opportunity flew away.

Games consisted of basketball, tennis and tenniquoits for Mum. She enjoyed the exercises they were put through, taking pride in her flexibility, and remembers the games cupboards were full of dumbbells and clubs which they used for their exercise routines while Mrs Jacob played lively tunes on the piano.

There were performances in formations for visiting guests and dignitaries and the girls wore special smart tunics for these. Mummy was a regular participant until she became self-conscious about her bare legs and stopped, and henceforth it was said in her report, ‘She does not take active part in sports, but she is a good spectator.’ 🙂

Mummy was used to being the ‘favourite.’ She had great handwriting, very neat, and her books were made examples of, as were her drawings. She took pains over her diagrams and illustrations, and her Geography and Science journals were works of art so the teachers just loved her. She would always be 1st or 2nd in class.

There was a cooking class conducted by Ms Jerbai, and she taught the girls to cook things like….. jaggery toffee……sago pudding…….bread pudding…..dhansak…..potato and mince cutlets….

There were laundry classes by Ms Divecha, who taught them how to starch and press napkins, boiling them with soda first to remove stains, using scrubbing boards.

Ms Rodrigues taught needlework, and Mrs Engineer taught history or some such subject.

There would be assembly every morning after the bell and there would be prayers, Parsi style, reciting the Zoroastrian Ahura Mazda prayer…

addendum:  1) All the girls were grouped into one of four ‘Houses’, named after four prominent Parsi philanthropists of Karachi. They were Mama house, Contractor house, Pochaji house and Dinshaw house. Mummy was a proud member of the Pochaji house, and all her daughters were subsequently placed in the same 🙂

2) Maimuna dropped out of school in class 5 as she suffered from headaches….

Mummy’s Quran

27 Jun

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.

quran bismillah

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….

it had been written in blue ink but had faded over time, so Mummy went over it with a gold pen

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.

in the hand of Syedi Mufaddal Bhaisaheb

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.

a revered autograph

this is stuck right above….


the first page…

the last page..

and all that lies betwixt..

the 100 names of Allah

Surah e Lahab


…and then some

And to think Mummy has Neelaam Ghar and Tariq Aziz to thank for the inspiration. 🙂

Before the Divide. Karachi, early 40’s.

24 Feb

Last night, a friend posted this decades old video, taken by a British soldier during the final days of the British Raj in pre-partition Karachi.

I watched it, enthralled (as I’m sure you will too if you’re a Karachiite) and all I could think was…..THIS was the backdrop of my mother’s childhood..

I called her up first thing in the morning to tell her about the video and see what she could remember about those days, and what she said was a revelation for me….! I got dressed as fast as I could and dashed over to unearth some more of the past….from the horse’s mouth.

Mummy (Khatija) sitting on a stool on the left, Rubab (the eldest daughter) standing behind her. Maimuna sitting demurely on the floor, Nanima(Mariam) looking bemused and regal on the chair between them, Bawaji standing behind her, carrying Hatim(the eldest son). On the far right is Amina, Mariam's sister and Mummy's most talented aunt. And the lady in the middle? That's Bawaji's mother.


When Little Khatija was a year old (or thereabouts) 🙂

Mummy was born in 1940 to Mariam bai and Fida Hussain Marvi, third in a line of eight children, in the second year of the second World War. They were a well-to-do family amongst the old Bohra families of Karachi, and Bawaji (Mummy’s father) was an enterprising trader running a Lever Brothers agency, operating his flourishing business from the ground floor of a huge house on Marriot Road. Their family was known as ‘the house of the great Moghuls’ amongst Bawaji’s peers, for their prosperity and lavish lifestyle.

One of Mummy’s earliest memories is of British soldiers rolling down Bunder Road on army trucks, throwing chocolates to the excited children lining the street, standing by to watch the fascinating spectacle with their families.

She was 3 or 4 when Karachi was declared unsafe, it being a port city in a time of war, so the entire extended family, including aunts and uncles and their children, deemed it wise to bundle themselves into a coach of the North-West Railway and move to Sidhpur temporarily. Mummy was too small to remember anything much. All she knows, or was told, is people in Sidhpur (some of whom ended up being her unwitting in-laws!) adored her as the short, cute little thing with curly hair, famous for roaming around with a ‘jharoo’ and sweeping the patio of the house they stayed in, and they would hold her little hand and take her everywhere.

They ended up staying in Sidhpur for a couple of years, coming back when the coast was clear.

Mummy smiles wistfully as she recalls the peaceful, quiet life of the Karachi of her childhood. Those were the days when traffic consisted of bicycles and horse-drawn carriages (ghora-gaaris) camel carts (oonth-gaaris) and donkey-carts (gadha-gaaris). Troughs dotted the landscape as watering-holes for the thirsty animals. It was a clean city, where the streets were swept every day and washed with water.

Trams of the East India Tramway Company plied the streets with a route that went as far as Keamari on Bunder Road past the Boulton Market and Mereweather Tower. Other routes took people from Garden Road to Preedy street, from Frere Street to the Karachi Cantonment Station and from Bunder Road to Mansfield Street on to Commissariat Road and Soldier Bazaar. Another route took the tram to Lawrence Road.

Mummy has vivid memories of Marriot Road being permeated by the mouth-watering smell of frying pakoras and bhajias every evening. It was a popular snack, and a common sight to see people munching from a stash of pakoras in cones made of newspaper, accompanied with tea from a shop called Sadaqali chai-wala.

An old woman, generally addressed as ‘Dosi’ (old woman) would sit with her basket of red sour-sweet berries called ‘ber’ all strung together in strings, packets of sliced guavas, red badaams (almonds) and tiny little cucumbers called ‘kotimba’ (Mum thinks they’re extinct now). These snacks cost 1 paisa or 2 paisas in those days.

A woman called Sara sat by the wayside with a deg full of chickpeas in a savoury gravy. She made squares of bread smeared with red chilli paste, doused in the chickpea gravy and sold it by the plate. Mummy swore by its deliciousness.

It was a wonderful, enjoyable childhood for Mummy, with moonlit excursions to the Kothari Parade Ground and Lady Lloyd pier on Clifton beach. They would pile onto an oonth-gaari and set off for the far reaches of Clifton which were nothing but sand dunes then. Sometimes the road would get covered with drifting sand too, and it was an exciting, fun-filled expedition involving a long walk down to the beach, culminating in refreshments at a snack bar by the sea with the whole family laughing and enjoying each others company. But their favourite outing by far had to be the West Wharf at Keamari harbour, where they would hang out at the Native Jetty bridge (popularly known as ‘Netty Jetty’) and watch the goods-laden ships coming in.

Karachi was a small city then and its civilisation ended with certain landmarks. The Polo Ground was one, as was the ‘tekri’, or hill, where Quaid-e-Azam is now buried. Mummy remembers the ‘Parsi no kunwo’, a place shrouded in mystery for non-Parsis……I presume the Parsi Colony near present day Mehmoodabad must have been on the outskirts of the city then, as was a certain Sanatorium for patients of tuberculosis somewhere on Korangi road. It used to be that Karachi was populated mainly by those which are now known as the minorities. Marriot Road was full of Bohras, living amicably alongside the Hindus and the ubiquitous Parsis and Goan Christians and Khoja Isna’asharis of Saddar, Soldier Bazaar and Kharadar. (This is what Mummy recalls from her memories, which are at once clear as day yet fuzzy around the edges.)