Tag Archives: days of yore

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.

pic38-300dpi

pic28-300dpi

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.

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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)

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! 😀

College days (AJ writes to the President!)

5 Jul

Something about this picture makes me look at it more closely.

Well-dressed young men in suits posing on a railway platform…on the verge of a journey….47 years ago.

That’s my father in the white shirt and tie, standing second from the right. The year was 1964, and the college was sending a batch of final year students on a 20-day educational tour, to visit major industries and hydro-electric power plants around Pakistan.

A special bogey had been booked for them on the train, a group of 40 students….the ‘cream’ of the crop as they were called by the principal of NED Government Engineering College in Karachi.

But let’s rewind the tape a couple of years…

My father (whom I refer to as ‘AJ’ in this blog) did his B.Sc. from DJ Science College, located in the heart of old Karachi. ‘DJ’ stands for Diwan Dayaram Jethmal, a Sindhi philanthropist whose financial support was instrumental in building the college. The foundation stone for the college was laid in 1882 by Lord Dufferin, the Viceroy of India and was inaugurated as the Sindh Arts College by Lord Reay, Governor of Bombay.

DJ Science College, many many moons ago.

So, my father did his Bachelors degree in this glorious institution, unfortunately flunking Urdu and Religious Knowledge in his Intermediate year. But don’t blame him dear readers, bear in mind that my father came from Sidhpur….where the medium of his education had been Gujarati.

freshly baked graduate 🙂

He wanted to pursue engineering after that, and to that end he applied for admission at the NED College of Engineering, the oldest engineering institute in Pakistan…..

This institution was initially founded as the Prince of Wales Engineering College with the donations of the citizens of Karachi to commemorate the visit made by the Prince of Wales to the city in 1921. The College was renamed as the NED Engineering College in 1924 in memory of Mr. Nadirshaw Edulji Dinshaw, a well-known philanthropist, whose heirs made substantial donations for the development of the College on his first death anniversary.

AJ’s form was rejected at the NED, for the simple reason that he had crossed the age limit for applying…..by 6 whole months.

All of a sudden, he was at a loss. He HAD to get into NED somehow, but it seemed there was nothing he could do. Desperate, he could only think of one course of action. He must write a letter to the Chief Martial Law Administrator of the country.

But first, here’s a little video to give you a picture of Karachi in those days, and the man himself: Ayub Khan.

Muhammad Ayub Khan, (May 14, 1907 – April 19, 1974) was a General and later self-appointed Field Marshal in the Pakistan Army and the first military dictator of Pakistan, serving as the second President of Pakistan from 1958 to 1969. He became the Pakistan Army’s first native Commander in Chief in 1951, and was the youngest full general and self-appointed 5 star rank Field Marshal in Pakistan’s military history.
Appointed Commander in Chief after the death of several senior generals, a combination of ambition and his distate for politicians led to his increased interference in Pakistani politics. Close to President Iskander Mirza, Khan supported the President’s decision to declare martial law in 1958 but had ousted him shortly afterwards, becoming increasingly frustrated by the level of corruption, he overthrew the government and declared himself President.

AJ wrote to Ayub Khan, saying he wanted to be an engineer but had crossed the age limit for admission. Could he help him?

He sent off the letter and let fate decide what it wanted to do with his dreams.

He was working at his uncle’s shop at that time, the Small Tools and Hardware Supply Agency on Nicol Road in the Wazir Mansion building, named after the Quaid’s house. About eight or ten days later, AJ got a phone call at the shop.

It was the principal of NED.

AJ was out on an errand in the bazaar, so his uncle (Yusuf) sent someone to go search for him. He had been asked to come to the college immediately.

‘Are you a cricketer?’ asked Pestonji, the principal of NED, as my athletic-looking father walked into his office.

boxer!

AJ replied that he did play cricket, but he wasn’t a cricketer. He played a lot of volleyball back in Sidhpur, and was a table tennis champion at DJ. He was also a champion at chess. And boxing.

‘Why did you write a letter to the President??’

AJ told him that was the only thing he could think of in order to get admission in the college.

Pestonji looked at him, then smiled and told him to hurry up and fill out the application form once again and submit it along with the 150 rupee admission fee and three photographs by 3 o clock in the afternoon.

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So it came to be that my father spent four years studying at one of the top engineering colleges in those days, and the reason why he was one of a group of forty final year students on a railway station in 1964.

Who knew then where their journey would take them.

But it’s easy to understand why he should have a soft spot for Ayub Khan in his heart.

Now you see me, now you don’t…(Sidhpur 1944)

10 May

There’s something wrong about the date in this here letter. The year can’t be 1934 as it so says, for the simple reason that my father was born in 1935, hence probably not even a twinkle in my grandfather’s eye yet. 🙂  Therefore, it must be 1944. Whatever the case, it was written by a most elusive figure in Little AJ’s life. Here it is, in all its yellowed, fragile, historical glory…

I asked my father to read it aloud to me so I could transcribe it into a form that is understandable by those who cannot decipher the quaint Gujarati script, and this is what it says:

”Waala dikra Mahmibhai,

Tamaro kaghaj malyo chhe. Waanchi khushi thayo chhoon. Tamaro aanglo saaro thai gayo hashey. Tamari Ma lakhave te parmaanay saara akshar thi kaagal lakhta rehjo.

Aam lakhwaani aadat paarsho tou akshar shudhri jashey. Roj time sar madrassa maa parhva jaajo, anay ghar maa Master paasey dhyaan thi sheekhjo.

Mota Bawaji ne roj salaam karva jaajo. Moti Ma batavey tey kaam kaaj baraabar karjo. Lucha chhokrao ni shohbat maa farta nai.

Kapra bau saachvi ney perhva joiyye. Kapra mela kari faari naakhta tou badhha chhokrao ney aavre chhe, parantu sambhaal thi dar waqte nava lagay tem saachavta bahuj ochha chhokrao ney aavre chhe.

Tey tame jaano chho?

Sughrabai temaj Zaitunbai saathey hali mili ne rehjo.

Dua go, Tayyabbhai Mulla Abdullahbhai.”

—————————————————————————

There. I think that should be understood by my family and all the Bohris and Parsis out there…perhaps even some of the Khojas and Memons. I do realise the unintelligibility of both these versions to everyone who does not understand Gujarati, so I shall proceed to translate it into a language that is, I trust, pretty much universal…

”My dear son Mahmibhai,

I have received your letter and was very happy to read it. Your finger must be better now. You must keep writing letters in good handwriting as your mother dictates to you.

If you keep writing this way your handwriting will surely improve. Do go to madrassa on time every day, and pay attention and learn from your Master at home.

Go to Mota Bawaji for salaam every day. Do everything Moti Ma tells you.

Do not hang about in the company of naughty idle children, and do not spoil your clothes in games and play.

Clothes should be worn with care. All children know how to dirty their clothes and tear them. But very few children will know how to be careful and to keep their clothes looking new every time they wear them. Did you know that?

Stay close to and behave well with Sugrabai and Zaitunbai.

Best wishes, Tayyabbhai Mulla Abdullahbhai.

——————————————————————-

My father’s name is Mohammadi, so Mahmi was a nickname. What amazes him is the formality with which he has been addressed by his father when he was so very young….. Also the way he ends his letter…with his full name. That typically Sidhpuri, Gujarati formality is quite lost in translation.

Mota Bawaji was Tayyabbhai’s father, and Moti Ma refers to my father’s Nani, my grandmother Sakina’s mother.

The ‘Sughrabai’ referred to in the letter is my father’s aunt, his masi, who is actually just five years elder to him, and Zaitunbai is his father’s step sister. Sughrabai and Zaitunbai were the same age, and were more like playmates than aunts to my father.

———————————————————————

Nanima's house (photo taken in 1988) in Sidhpur.

the door of Nanima's house

Abbaji on the doorstep of the house he spent his childhood in (photo taken in 1988)

Mota Bawaji's house in Sidhpur (photo taken in 1988)

the upper windows as seen from the street outside

Isn’t it simply beautiful?

And this is us, inside Nanima's house when we visited Sidhpur in 1979...and that is me, the little girl in green (and the author of this blog) sitting on the left

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.

The Accident. Sidhpur, 1946.

11 Feb

[My father. whose name is Mohammedi, and whom we have always called Abbaji, shall be referred to as Little AJ in this story, for reasons of brevity and cuteness. Also because it is impossible for me to call him by his first name, no matter how little he was when this story unfolded, a story he recalls vividly, and was told to us in his mesmeric voice, in colorful Gujarati, the predominant language of the Bohra community of India. I hope to convey it as effectively in English, the chosen language of this blog. The setting for this story is a Bohra mahalla in Sidhpur, a small town around 103 km from Ahmedabad in the Patan district of Indian Gujarat. More on the history of Sidhpur and some beautiful images of its architecture can be found here and here.]

Little AJ could never step over the threshold of the school-gate; he liked jumping over it. Only, today he seemed to be out of luck. He knew it the second he jumped over and saw the puddle of wet earth.

He slipped in such a way that the slate he carried in the crook of his elbow somehow slammed against his ulna upon impact with the ground, as a result of which it broke. And I don’t mean the slate.

Little AJ picked himself up, and noted with horror the strange way his arm dangled, yet he made his way to the classroom and took his seat, and sat there in grave pain. Thankfully, the kindly teacher took one look at his poor, stricken, blue-tinged face and immediately sent another kid to walk him back home.

Now, Little AJ was an orphan. His mother had passed away earlier that year and his father (who worked in Madras) left him to live with his Nanima, his mother’s mother, who looked after Little AJ with all her heart in a little house located a 10-minute walk away from school. Nanima was very upset and distraught by his injury and instructed the boy who accompanied Little AJ to take him to Sheru, the local ‘haad-ved’, a bone doctor, right next to Allah Rakha’s paan ki dukaan.

Sheru ‘fixed’ Little AJ’s arm as well as he could and bandaged it, but the pain stayed all day and he couldn’t sleep all night.

The next morning, Nanima thought it best to send Little AJ off to his Dada Bawaji’s house, (his paternal grandfather) who lived in the next mahalla, a few minutes walk away. Dada Bawaji was quite old himself and all he could think of was to send little AJ across to his neighbour, a man called Najam Kapadia, with a request to see what he could do. It was decided he should be taken to Ahmedabad, three hours away by train.

So off they went, catching the first available train, and got off at the train station at Ahmedabad. There was a bazaar near the train station with a row of Parsi ‘haad-ved’ shops. They walked into a random shop and the Parsi haad-ved man there unwrapped Little AJ’s arm and surveyed the damage.

‘Must have hurt some, chhe na?’ asked the Parsi doctor. Little AJ was distracted by the doctor’s small talk and was taken by a jolt of surprise when the man suddenly (and very expertly) yanked his arm and set the bone in place.

Miraculously, the pain completely disappeared and soon they were on their way, back to Sidhpur.