Tag Archives: Bombay

Fugitives!~1952….a story of migration (2/2)

1 Jun

The Sessions Court of Mehsana ordered AJ and Nanima to leave Sidhpur with immediate effect…….this meant that they could not even return home to collect their belongings. What if they were arrested…..? 

Deeming it too risky, they abandoned all thoughts of going back to Sidhpur, travelling instead directly to Ahmedabad from Mehsana….with only the clothes on their backs…victims of circumstance, at the mercy of fate.

Nanima’s uncle, Hasanali Kadak lived in Ahmedabad. The displaced duo were invited to stay with him for ten days or so. From there they went onwards to Pratapgarh in Rajasthan, where Nanima’s sister, Hayati baisaheb lived. (She was the wife of Hebtullah bhaisaheb, parents of Tahir bhaisaheb, the aamil of Pratapgarh)

Since they couldn’t stay in any one place for too long, they were forced to keep moving. So from Pratapgarh they left for neighbouring Galiakot to stay for some time in the musafirkhana near the mausoleum of Syedi Fakhruddin shaheed. 

Galiakot draws people from all over, being a pilgrimage site famous for its miracles, not just for Muslims but Hindus as well. My father remembers the trees around the roza, hammered with thousands of pieces of paper, inscribed with urgent pleas....

AJ and Nanima stayed there for around fifteen or twenty days, whiling away time, waiting for Hatim to arrange for another permit from Pakistan…

Finally, they made their circuitous way to Bombay by train, where Hatim’s father-in-law (the studio owner) put them up in an empty flat he owned, ostensibly so the police wouldn’t be able to track their whereabouts.

While all this hide and seek was playing out, 16 yr old AJ had other, more pressing worries on his mind.

He had to appear for his Matric exams (with the centre in Surat) in a few days, and all his books were at home in Sidhpur. He had no idea how he was ever going to sit for the exams without being able to study for them…

Fortunately, the principal of Saify Jubilee High School back in Sidhpur (with the decidedly Potter-esque name of Badruddin Blue) counted AJ as one of the brightest of the lot that was to appear for the exams that year, therefore he was most concerned about AJ’s plight. Of course, he had the reputation of his school to be concerned about too……so AJ was indispensable and was being counted on to bring academic credit and honour to his school. Therefore, he took pains to send AJ his entrance form for the board exams, complete with a photograph that had been cut out from a group photo that had been taken at a school outing earlier that year.

And so it came to be that while Nanima stayed in Bombay, AJ made his way to Surat, all by himself and armed only with an entrance form, a mere two days before the finals.

He found the musafirkhana in Surat and stayed there until he was joined by his classmates from Sidhpur (he remembers looking out from a window and seeing the familiar faces of his friends and himself going out to join them)

Among his friends was a certain Jaffer bhaisaheb (familiar to Bohras from Karachi) who had a house in Surat, empty and unlived in. The entire group, all 22 of them, relocated to Jaffer bhaisaheb’s place, where AJ promptly fell very ill.

Displaced, unprepared, and now running a high fever, AJ faced exams for ten subjects over the next five days….two papers a day…

(Every evening him and all his friends would go over to a shop called Badshah for cold drinks…..apparently, that shop still exists.)

AJ got on a train back to Bombay on the 6th day. When he reached, the permit for Karachi had already arrived.

In a couple of days they were off, on a plane bound for Karachi….leaving Sidhpur behind forever.

—————————————

Only four of those 22 boys passed the Matric exams from the Saify Jubilee High School…..

My father was not only one of those four, he actually earned 2nd position.

The rest of them failed. Including Jaffer bhaisaheb. 🙂

(He passed away about two years ago)

The grandmother I never knew.

18 Mar

Piecing together the past, from letters exchanged between the siblings of my father’s mother, and from correspondences between her and her husband, I have learnt a little bit about my Dadima. Her name was Sakina, the eldest child, with big expressive eyes and a soulful expression, something we can only tell from the few pictures of her in my father’s collection as, sadly, we never got to meet her….

The Rangoonwala family sometime in the 30's. On the extreme left is Yusuf (younger son), then Sakina (the eldest daughter), Shirin (her sister), and the young man on the far right is Hatim (the older son). Seated on chairs are my great grandfather Akberali with Sughra (youngest daughter) on his knee, and my great grandmother, Mariam with my father, Mohammedi sitting snugly in her lap. Sughra grew up to marry Qadir, the boy standing behind her, her cousin and the son of her father's brother and his wife, the couple standing behind.

 

These are a few pictures of my Dadi Sakina taken by her husband, my Dada, TayyebAli.

Sakina with Bano who was born when my father was 7. She died at the age of one. I wonder how different life would have been for my father had he known the company of a little sister...

One of the biggest regrets in my father’s life was that he had no recollection of his mother. Whatever little he knew of her had been gleaned from his grandmother and his aunts and uncles. Little did he know that his uncle Hatim had been entrusted with holding on to her correspondences or burn them, whatever he deemed fit…

Hatim mamaji called him over one day in 1985 thinking it was time he showed my father those letters he had preserved from all those years ago. As you can imagine, my father went through an intensely emotional experience then. He still does, as I witnessed today, when he was reading some of the letters out to me since I can’t read them myself (they’re in Gujarati), and his voice choked up as he read some of the passages describing his mother’s funeral in a letter written by his dearly beloved aunt Shirin to her brother Hatim, who was away in Poona at the time, studying to be a doctor. This is what he wrote to someone back home the day after being informed of her death…

a letter from Hatim to an undisclosed person, dated 10th January 1946. Sakina passed away on the 9th.

She died of tuberculosis of the intestine, a condition that began with a pain in her stomach that persisted for months. My father remembers them splitting aloe vera leaves in half and tying them onto her stomach to ease the pain. He also remembers the confusion he felt in what were to be her last hours in this world, when family members urged him to recite the aza’an in her ears and to ask for her forgiveness. What was he to be forgiven for? What had he done? It was all very strange and inexplicable.

My grandfather, Tayyabali was one of two sons by his father’s first wife, and from bits of information from here and there, we gather that he was a bit of a scallywag, and not in the good books of his father at all, a man my father refers to as Dada Bawaji. He had studied agriculture from a university in a town close to Sidhpur and wanted to be a farmer, for which his father gave him a plot of land to experiment on. Sakina must not have been too convinced of his prowess as a farmer after they married, and declared her desire to see him doing some big business for which he had to go away from Sidhpur and work elsewhere, a place he described in one of his letters to her as somewhere ‘there were no people of their community, and no one spoke Gujarati.’ He meant Madras.

Tayyebali (looking rather debonair) with his better half 🙂

In the meantime, Sakina lived at Dada Bawaji’s house with her step mother-in-law and hated it. The wrath Dada Bawaji felt for his errant son probably rubbed his bahu the wrong way and she longed to live separately. She wrote to her husband, telling him Dada Bawaji had scolded her for something and told her to leave the house and go back to her mother’s…..which she did, along with her little son.

When my father read about this, so many years later, he was outraged. How could Dada Bawaji drive his daughter-in-law away this way? But his anger subsided when he read the letter from his Shirin Masi, where she revealed how Dada Bawaji stayed with Sakina the whole night as she lay dying, praying, and reciting the Quran…

She died around 3 am on the 9th of January, 1946. According to Shirin Masi’s letter, her funeral prayers were led by none other than Syedna Taher Saifuddin, who not only sent a handful of blessed earth for her grave, but also headed the sipara for her on the third day after her death.

Hatim had sent Rs 150 enclosed in a letter with instructions to his mother to use the money to fulfill a ‘minnat’ she had made to perform ziarat at the grave of Syedi Fakhruddin Shaheed in Galyakot, so her first-born would get better. But before this promise could be fulfilled, it was too late. Shirin asked her brother what she should now do with the money. She was instructed to use as much as was needed to order a tombstone made of marble, the same as for their father Akberali (who had passed away earlier the same year), and 25 rupees from the same were to be donated to the local library.

Mohammedi was to be given his love and regards, and was not to to be made to feel the loss of his mother by anyone.

Even so, my father still remembers being met with sad faces and pitying words everywhere he went, reminding him that he was now an orphan.