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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Four Decades Ago

1971: Mazhar - a distant cousin - had been living at my house, shifting away from his parent's house, pretty soon after the time he'd come from India almost 2 years ago.

Totally uninterested in studies of any sort, he said hilarious things that drove us laughing or made us think of the way we are:

1. Coming from Lucknow, a place with a famous Imam Baa∂a, he asked us one day: "I know who Hasan and Husain are, but who was the third brother called Imam?"
2. He once tried to open a bottle that Nuzhat couldn't open and said: "Aap nay mayree nisvaaniat ko lalkaara haé …"
3. During a car accident we had in August, for which Nuzhat and I had to go to court, Mazhar was always with us. He just could not understand why people were lying against us in court about being at the site when they were not there at the time. I told him they'd been bribed. "Laykin yeh to court haé. Yahaañ to yeh naheeñ kar saktay."

During the days we were appearing in court, the holiday of 6th September arrived. The night before, Mazhar said he'd like to spend the night at his parent's house. Of course, I learnt the next day that he chose that option because he felt that I would have asked him not to go to the picnic he'd decided to go to with some friends. But that's too late to think of, now.

On the evening of the 6th I got a call from his sister saying Mazhar had drowned at Hawke's Bay. We rushed over to his house and were informed that people had phoned their place up and said they'd seen him drown. His eldest brother and I went off to the place and came back, much later, having found nothing except two witnesses who saw him jumping into the water to save a child ... and he couldn't make it back to the shore in the rough tide.

A whole day of crying and sadness in that house - and at ours - went on. The next day we were told by a friend of his that he had tried very hard to swim back but couldn't. The navy boat people who were there had also seen this happen.

"The Navy boat? What Navy boat?"
"The people who are there as coast guards, I think", said the boy.
"There are no coast guards there, " said I, "in fact we don't have such people."
"Ohh, they were there," said the boy. "But they only save the person if he's from the Navy."

I couldn't believe this — and, in fact, I suspected that there was something wrong or was being misrepresented here.

On the morning of the 8th we were told that Mazhar's body had washed up ashore and could we go over to identify him. His brother and I went off to Hawke's Bay and saw his naked body lying there. Mazhar's arms had cracked near the shoulders. Another body had already been taken away yesterday, we were told.

 I took off my shirt and covered him as best as I could. I told his brother to go and inform the police and get things started so we could take him home. He left.

While I sat next to Mazhar's body, a young Petty Officer marched up to me and said "Iss ko yahaañ say üthaa layñ. Saahab aur bachay tahelnay aatay haéñ idhar. Yeh jagah saaf hona chaahiyay." ("Please take this body from here. The chief and his family will be walking this way in a while. The place must be cleaned.")

I went to town on him. Totally and as angry as I could get. Perhaps seeing that I was sitting without a shirt he wasn't expecting me to speak in English. When I told him that I was a Merchant Navy Master, he started to say Sorry to me. I then asked him that someone has said there were people from the Navy here. Could they not have helped? He said, "Sir - they are only allowed to help Navy people! It's not their fault, sir." — I could say nothing. I just told him to get his Saahab to go the other way but I would be sitting here until people arrived. He went back, running, to prevent a Navy man see a dead body.

An hour or so, later, the brother arrived with a few policemen and others. "The body is to be taken to the Mortuary at Civil & Military Hospital. You'll have to take it from there." The body was loaded and taken.

We followed. Other friends arrived. We met the family of the other young boy who had also lost his life in the same place. He had gone with Mazhar's friends, too. We were all told to come back the next day because the doctor wasn't at the place and would be there the next day. We shouted at everyone and finally got the phone number of the doctor who should have been there but was at a friend's house. Playing Bridge! He finally agreed to come as soon as he could. We also got some help from the other boy's family who phoned up a couple of people, as did we.

While waiting for the body I walked around and came upon an old man, perhaps 75-ish, crying near there. He was holding an old topi and asking people to donate some money to him. I asked him what the problem was. He said his only son had died by falling off the top of the house and the body had been here for two days. He wanted to bury his son. The people at the mortuary had told him that unless he paid up Rs 500 he could not take the body and that it would be used for medical research by students. He had Rs 430 now and could I give him the rest. I gave him the money. But I said he will not have to pay the amount as I would speak to the doctor. He should keep the money for his son's ghüsl and other things.

The doctor arrived an hour later and insisted that we must allow for a post-mortem. We used everything we could and finally got Mazhar, the other boy, and the old man's son out of there. It took an hour or more, but all we could do we did …

I knew then, as I do now, that we were in a really bad space. Nothing would ever change, except for the worse.

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Blogger ali96is said...

I still remember that evening when we heard the news,it was so sad and painful for every one.I met Mazhar number of times at your D'Silva town house and will never forget his face.

15 September, 2011 04:59

Anonymous Imran Jattala said...

I obviously do not - and could not have known Mazhar. I'm not from Lucknow. That is not to say that I know everyone where I come from. I do not.

But, for whatever reason, Mazhar's picture looks awfully familiar - as if I had met him somewhere.

Although I'm very certain in my own mind that I would have never met Mazhar, I do think that I may have heard of him - or someone like him - the one who wasn't saved from drowning because he wasn't from the fraternity.

Every year hundreds, or, perhaps, thousands, die of drowning because they could not be saved after people had tried hard but the waters were too deep, or the current too strong and the tides could not be overcome.

But, Mazhar's situation was different. It was not about depth, currents or tides, per se. It was about obligations, or lack thereof. Obviously Navy's obligation, like their brethren in Army and Air force, is only to save their own, or so it has been observed.

"Sir - they are only allowed to help Navy people! It's not their fault, sir."

I'm even more certain now that I have heard of Mazhar.

Next step: Get to know the people of Lucknow.

15 September, 2011 07:06

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So I guess the conventional methods need to be reworked, eh? :)

Here lies the beauty of life - they shall play their role and be instruments of evil, while we play ours.

This shall never change.

15 September, 2011 11:01

Anonymous Sabeen Mahmud said...

Poor Mazhar. I remember you narrating this story many years ago and saying what I now understand to be true. Heartbreaking.

19 September, 2011 18:58

Anonymous Anonymous said...

First time I met him just 2 days before his death. He might be in his late teens or early twenties. I was quite young but the news of his death left a deep mark on my young mind. I took notice of his personality and thought of him as handsome and "fashionable". We were not relatives (I guess) nor family friends but for past 40 years some how I am reminded of his death on different occassion. Strange!
Many years ago, some one mentioned while talking about his brother "bohat arsa pehlay is ka bhai Hawkes Bay per dob gaya tha". I knew exactly he was talking about him. Many years later, some one visiting from Lucknow, was talking about his father mentioned him again "Hasno Mian ka aik beta samander main dob gaya tha karachi main". Now this is a special one. Five years ago, a former boss mentioned him out of nowhere. They were mohalla friends at Iqbal town North Nazimabad and this guy seemed quite fond of him. He mentioned him as jolly and interesting person and all the mohalla friends spent that fatefull night at Hawkes Bay hoping against the hope. And now I accidently bumped into this blog and found this story. It is not that I am trying to ignore some thing but every now and than I am reminded of him in strange ways.
May Allah rest his soul in peace. Amin!

06 October, 2011 18:32


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