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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Huzoor Abba

My post about my father's birthday got me two letters from cousins - a close one and a very distant one - that wanted to know why we were 'poor', after my grandfather (they'd heard) was a rich man. This was not a post I'd thought I'd write … but now it's here.


Memories play all sorts of tricks and, often, many of them may not be 'real'. Some are changed around by hearing things differently from different people. Others have little fluffments added on for pleasure. Or dread. My memories of Huzoor Abba, Safdar Ali - my paternal grandfather, have no such transformations that I could consider. They are few, but come straight from the actual days I spent with him.

I hated most of them, I admit, though this old pic of him and me, taken a few days before his death, may not convey that.

HA was a strange man. Slightly to the right of Ivan the Terrible? I dunno. That's what my cousins and I used to call him when we were kids. We hardly saw anyone really speaking to him, other than an uncle or my khaala (who was also his younger brother's wife). Most people I knew of were afraid to be near him, other than as younger relatives categorically asking him how he was, or some such thing, and then disappearing fast.

My father was very fond of HA … for reasons that I've never understood. But it seemed that Abi was fond of everyone, so I guess that's the way he was. In fact, when I once said I was very upset at the way HA had treated him (specially having 'forgotten' him after sending him off to UK and not paying for his fees or anything), I was told that that was between him and his father and that I had no right to pass judgement over it. What a strange world that generation was.

My own memories of him were rude, crude, distrusting, awful. He had not even the slightest aeon that he could spare for something that was not entirely in line with his thought. His anger and attitude - and there were many instances that I can recall - was something that really amazed everyone. Two that I can quickly recollect are from Calcutta:
1. His having locked me up, when I was just under 4, with his great big Alsatian in a small kothri just because I seemed scared. No lights. The dog barking away. My mother, in tears, in another room. Me crying out loud. My cousins - a couple of years older than I - writhing away in pain. I fell asleep. The dog, fell asleep, too, I guess. My khaala came later and fought with HA and pulled me out. He thought I'd gotten rid of my dog-phobia but it actually took years for me to overcome this.
2. Much worse, this was only a few days later. It was Eed. We were in my Khaala's house. I had these lovely shoes. You know … the ones with silver and red. Üff. How much fun they were. So I walked up to him, with Ummi, and told him that they were great. He looked at Ummi and said "Tüm ghar jaao. Zaheer ko maéñ lay kar aaooñgaa." I dunno what happened next. I do remember playing with my cousins who were there, too. And then he came up to me and said, "Jootay ütaaro!" … in an accent that there is no way I can write about. But it was fierce. I took off the shoes. "Socks", he said. They were gone. He caught me by the hand and, in the grossiest afternoon, at 3 o'clock, he made me walk barefoot, from his house to my khaala's. Two miles. My feet were killing me. I was blistering and in tears. People looked at us. We reached home. In the time that I was on the road and the few minutes I was at my house my feet were now burning. He said to Ummi: Bachchoñ ko ameer naheeñ banaatay. And left.
A doctor was called in. He was a friend of my father and it took a long time for my Khalu, Asad Ali, to convince him not to report it to the police. The doctor wanted my grandfather arrested. I was in bed for 4 days with bandages. I hated HA. Really hated him.
Son of Munshi "Abr" Kidvai (who was the brother of Shauq - a classical Urdu poet), he and his 4 other brothers were fairly well-off as kids. He was a friend of the little Nawab sahab - since his father was a Munshi Ji in the court and much respected - and spent his childhood there, learning the ways of an elitist crowd, enjoying all the wonderful things that mattered in court (but not in real life), and having a great time. He studied at Aligarh University and was one of the earlier batch of students. He became a good engineer - many of his works are in Bombay (Mumbai!) or Calcutta (Kolkutta!) - but his great love was always the thrill of the courts and the charms of money and riches.

Being a friend of the little Nawab meant that he also rose, in time, as the Nawab became the head of the state. He became their Minister, or whatever that was called, of Forests and Architecture.

His life remained that of a friend in court and, though he was now married (to a first cousin), his desires were way too close to those that the court found wonderful. Women were his folly - though I am told (and see from some pictures and a few writings) that his 'companies' (to use the word my chacha used) were great. But that's money. Not taste.

They lived in a large haveli in the state - in a house that seems almost impossible to think of today. Beautiful lake. Tons of trees. Wonderful place. Horses and cars were his favourite sports so there were those, too. Wrestling was another task he loved and there was a freestyle wrestler on the premises to teach him and the kids how to fight.

His youngest daughter, Bilquis, who died when she was 16 (the pic is taken a month or so before her death), was also a great person from what I hear of her. She loved riding, as did all the cousins who came to be in that house. Two brother's sons/daughters and hordes of other cousins who came from everywhere to visit just stayed on.

Then came a little problem. Nawab sahab fell in love with a brilliant singer and wanted to marry her. He was thrilled at her being 'a virgin'. HA advised him against it. There were little quarrels. Then it became worse. Finally, HA could not contain himself any longer and told Nawab sahab that he had been with this woman for months and that she was not a virgin.

Oooops. Not quite the thing you are supposed to say. And certainly not in public.

There were many in the courts who had hated HA for his close friendship and they thought the best way was to get rid of him. So they planned with Nawab sahab who, rather suddenly, sent out a bunch of staff to arrest and place HA into prison for 'having taken a bribe'.

HA's father went to the Nawab and said this was untrue. He was told what the problem was and he pleaded that his son not be accused of a false charge. Nawab sahab finally agreed — but with heavy demands. A contingent was sent to the house and everyone was allowed to be put into cars and taken to Lucknow. Every bit of jewellery, funds, utilities, silver - anything that had a value on it - were taken away. HA's hands were tied down - with his silk handkerchief - as a way of seeing him brandished as thief. That was the end of HA and his amazing days there.

In Lucknow the family gathered initially into Shauq sahab's house. (Some say that Shauq sahab had said, "Now that Safdar is here, we will have more problems.") - but not too much really happened that was as bad as this. Well, kind of.

The family was asked to get together and the brothers were told to sign away their properties in Jiggaur and the family sold  them all so that HA would have the money to go out and set up an engineering firm. He did do that - but first having spent almost half of the money to buy a car! He drove from Lucknow to Bombay with it - passing as many train stations where he could pick up petrol that was shipped to him. Jeezus! On the way he stopped at many goras and other afficianados where he had a jolly good time and made friends - and acquaintances. That's how, in Bombay, he managed to get contracts.

The car? Well, two days into Bombay and he went to see a dancing girl. Loved the song. Gave her the car!!! (I had always heard this from everyone but could never figure it out. So, a few days before his death in Dhaka, I asked him. This is what he said: "You think classical music is great. And yet you can't understand how important it must be if you cannot figure out my giving a car for a really well-sung ghazal?")

I also asked him about the money his brothers had given him. Apparently, despite his own priorities, he said he did well and paid regularly back to his wife everything he thought was possible. (She was quite a gorgeous lady, as you can see in the image.)

It was certainly enough for her to keep the rest of the brothers-in-law, nephews, nieces, a brother and his children, and several long distance cousins in the house. On top of that, she also had the house running like crazy - parties, classical music, friends (including Attiya Faizi, after whom Dadi named Attiya Habibullah - the one we all idolized as Baji Jania). Talat Mahmood was her brother's son and was taught to sing by her. She died in the mid 30s, of cancer.

My father and his brother - much apart in their own ways - were also far from their father's methods. My father, I have written about earlier. Chacha, I am told, was an affectionate man.

(I can only recall chacha in Calcutta, where he appeared for a visit soon after his wife died. Very little remains of him in my mind though I have heard a lot about him and have a selection of his ghazals that a friend from Rangoon sent us).

A year later HA moved to Calcutta - where he'd married 'an old friend', much younger than him - and then, in the Indo-Pak partition, went off to Dhaka in 1947. His elder son, Muzaffar, did see him a few times but I don't think the meetings meant much to either.

HA came to Karachi, in 1955, for a surgery that my father had arranged for him. The doctors said it was tricky. He went in, came out, and was up and about in 3 weeks. Much faster than the doctors thought he would.

He stayed for 5 months at our house and, during those days, taught me Mathematics like magic - moving from one concept to the next that had nothing to do with what the books said. From getting 2/25 in month one, I was getting 20/25 in 4 months. Since then, I loved Maths and went on to score full marks in my Senior Cambridge (and did well in everything mathematical at sea).

Despite all this, the hate never really came to an end. He did everything - apart from teaching - to make sure that his anger remained the most important thing for me and the cousins who were part of our lives.

He went back and worked … but was not in anyway capable of looking after himself as time went by. Life was running out. All the money was gone. He lived in a small flat with nothing of any value. He sold stuff. My father sent some money, but very little - given our own bad shapes.

His eldest son died in Rangoon in 1952. My father died in 1963. HA had no 'real' feelings, as far as I could tell. All he had were old kurtas and a few tahmads that he thought were comfortable. And a bed that had every kind of engineering attachment that made it possible for him to do things without getting off, if possible. He lay down all day and read tons of 'cowboy' books.

I went to see him, when my ship was in Chittagong, and he seemed quite happy in that flat. He was lying in bed - smoking a cheroot - and I asked him if he didn't miss all the things he'd possessed. He said, "Only my lighter. These matches are a problem."

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Callinography - Can this be displayed in public?

Can it, really?


Update: Thank you, NB, for having it removed. I doubt if many of you really look at what some of the lines 'say' …

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Aman Ki Asha — Are you so-o-o wrong?

Seeing a person spew out hatred after hatred each day, in public, on TV, on media everywhere … and yet you think his death requires an Aman Ki Asha snippet. And to call him an Islamic scholar, without stating any of his reasons, gets even Hindus, Sikhs, and others sending in their RIPs and other 'goodies'.

Every time one encountered him - and it wasn't too often, though - one heard wonderful stories. Women without Hijab were evil. Imran Khan rubbed the ball on his pants and was using it for exciting purposes. Girls had to be treated as lower creatures.

Talking to any person who interpreted Islam differently from him was to see Israr's face get further and further upset and his tone become ruder. His encounters with Ghamdi were hilarious.

I cannot forget that wonderful episode where Israr went on to tell us that the non-Muslims (we won't go into what he thought was a Muslim!) had only two choices in a Muslim World: Convert to Islam or Stay as a #2 Citizen. Of course, if the person you were talking to was an Ahlé Kitaab, he was being given an 'extra special consideration' by Allah: He could convert and stay on as a Muslim, Stay as #2 Citizen, or come to battle and prove that he was justified. Right. Against 96% of the population in Pakistan, for example.

I understand that it would be shameful to jump up and down when someone dies and, yes, there are a lot of his followers in Pakistan and other places. So have his news item. Write reviews about him. Let people even criticize him if they want to, as long as it's decent and not unruly. But let's not have him on Aman Ki Asha.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

11th April 1900

It was in the city of Rampur that my father, Azhar Kidvai, was born. He lived to be 63 and died in Karachi after many illnesses, worries, problems and more. But he never gave up his sense of humour.

He was a Doctor, a profession he chose after almost becoming a BA Literature at Aligarh University during which he was jailed for his political activities. He studied at Edinburgh's medical college.

My own memories - I was 40 years his junior - are of us always moving from one little spot to another, from one medical camp to the next, until the war ended and he was sent off to Baghdad, Haifa, and other mid-East places. I saw little of him in those days while I was in Calcutta with my mother and aunt. He visited us twice in a year, I think.

1947 rolled up with Pakistan, and we ended here, primarily hoping to go back to India once the riots and the killings were to stop. At least that's what members of the CP had said. As a Congress Party supporter, Abi - that's what I called him -  was not meant to be here. - but the riotous areas in India got worse and there was no home to get back to. Karolbagh in Dilli had been taken over. The little clinic he was going to set up was gone. Our home had been destroyed completely.

Very soon he gave up the military and decided to stay here and help the immigrants and the local poor people. Strange thought from someone who had little or no money himself. Life was terribly different, too. There were days of no food or some days with poorly cooked meals. Yet, it was something we could not talk about.

The people who emigrated to Pakistan always found a few days to stay with us, get fed, move on. Ummi - my mother - was a beast of a cook! How she managed to save pennies for such times is impossible but I have seen the most wonderfully cooked meals emerge from somewhere.

A quirk of fate led him to become part of a Ramakrishna Mission Hospital that was being folded up here before the owners went to India. He promised to run it for free as long as he could use the medicine also for the immigrants. That lasted a year or so ... and, soon, he set up a small clinic that no one who'd pay really ever came to. But it stayed on. With the Hindu Temple Clinic work we did get a little flat for rent and that's where we lived for years until he died.

During his better days - and there were some - we collected books and listened to poetry of those who were his friends in India and here. He had been the Secretary General of the Anjumané Taraqqié Urdu so he knew them well.

Abi's stint in the UK, where he passed his exams and then practiced for a while until coming back home to be with his dying mother, was really worth listening to. His father, having sent him off to UK, decided to have nothing to do with him for years … and Abi worked really hard to be able to pay his fees and stay on there. Ultimately he had no real money and lived off in little restaurants, far from where his friends knew, using tomato ketchup and water to continue for both meals and a bit of tea otherwise. He always told his friends that he was out on a date and they believed he was having a great time. In fact one of them told me that he'd always found Abi's life to be wonderful … until they discovered that his kidney had failed (poor eating?) and he had to have one removed.

Around then, it was time for his final exam and 'a close friend', Dorothy, paid his fees. She was given the money back by Ummi, years later, very soon after my parents got married (Ummi sold all her jahez stuff to pay for it). I met Aunty Dorothy, and the two people Abi had stayed with, several years later when my ship went to their homeport in Scotland. 

Abi had written a collection of essays and a play that were published in 1939 ("Naee Paod"). He was a regular poet but with very limited interest in public performances. I hope to bring out a new edition of his poetic ("Parvaaz") and prose works in the next 2 years.

For me his absence is an extremely strong one. He loved me as few I have seen ever love their children. We talked, we played, we fought over everything - often including his religion and my occasional absence of one - but I was never more tempted to know much, had it not been for him. His love of Urdu/English prose and poems, as well as his deeply embedded love of music (he sang well, too!) has been a great environment for me.

I miss him often - more than once a day on some days - and, had there been an afterlife, meeting him would have been wonderful again.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thank you, Beena Sarwar …

… for the entire version of Pakistan's first anthem by Jagannath Azad.

It was only the last two verses - as far as I can recall - being sung those days.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Laughing At Yourself

I had gone to Lahore to see Nassir's little son (Cute!), check Shoaib Hashmi (moving up very slowly but gradually from his paralysis attack), meet Maleeha and a few friends, attend a TNS conference for a few minutes, and have a rollicking lunch with the Aitchison boys — all because my doctor had said I need to get myself back to my usual lifestyle.

Hasan Zaidi, who was on the same plane out as me, called me up from LUMS, where he was part of a conference. "Shazia Mirza is here and she's very funny", he said.
I had seen Shazia in her very early days and really loved what she did with her 9/11 jokes and was dying to see her again. Hasan had the answer: She'll be in Karachi for Wednesday and would be able to perform at T2F, if we could arrange that. He'd already said that to Sab on email and wanted quick confirmation. I called Sab and she said she was going to write back immediately. That's how we had Shazia come over and give us an hour of a wonderful performance.

The T2F/Twitter/Email announcement got tons of people phoning in to ask for seats being reserved for them … when the announcement said: Seats are limited and will be available on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. No reservations. Apart from that, there were blogs and comments on the 'net about why people should boycott T2F for allowing an 'anti-Islam comedian' to play there. The fact that Shazia is more 'Muslim' than many of the ones commenting is another matter.

People from all sorts of areas in Karachi came over, starting from almost 5'ish. The show began at 7 … but many people still seemed to think that nothing will begin right. T2F does start on time, every time — unless the performers are missing. Heh. So, some kept coming well after the start time. Within a few minutes we had to lock the the doors, for there was no physical space, and several had to be requested to leave. Sorry, folks.

Shazia was accompanied by her mother who was taken up to the floor above, where the restaurant was, and was requested to stay there. "Her presence would put me off", said Shazia, and informed us that 'mom' had never been part of any show so far. She was great, as we talked to her after the show while sitting with a university friend she had met after 43 years.

Looking a little less Brit in her Pakistani outfit, Shazia was, until the show began, not fluffy or jumpy. Would she make us laugh? All that changed as she got underway. From sex jokes that seemed to be a bit above the top for a few members (though still toned down for local audience), to 9/11, the royalty in the UK, and 'Shania' (the Shoaib-Sania wedding), she had audiences laughing about everything. Oh, and the Mullas got it, too.

Pakistanis hardly laugh at themselves or do so in public. They cover most things in strange ways and oddities, adding religious and other embellishments on anything they feel should best be avoided. What Shazia has done is to make many people laugh at things they would not normally speak of themselves. A rare thing, indeed, for it allows them to soon talk of the things among friends and, then, out in the open.

A lot of the things that Shazia said had to do with her Britiness. From a joke at the Duke of Edinburgh or the Queen … to her remarks about Muslims ("My mom says I ought to travel PIA where possible, because they won't blow up their own."). But she was far from making any fun of Islam - constantly telling us that she neither has sex, nor touches alcohol nor drugs.

Hmmm ...

My favourite quote for the day, however, was when she was talking about bipolarity: "That", she said, "is not bi-polar. That's life!"

Go, Shazia!

[The photograph above is from Jamal Ashiquain's album.]

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