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Monday, December 25, 2017

Iqbal Ismail Calcuttawala

6th January 1940 — 19th December 2017

Iqbal always referred to himself as Iqi,
while I, like his other friends, called him Icky.

In this post I'll call him Iqbal throughout.



About the beginnings of our friendship

Abdul Razzak Marfani

Abdul Razzak Marfani, whom I had met in 1951 and who remained a great friend until his death, took me to his older friend, Ismail Haji Suleman, to listen to classical music. After that I used to go to Ismail Sahab very often (he lived not too far from my house), and one day I met Iqbal there.

I asked him why he was there, knowing that he had never discussed music with me (I had and have a large collection of music with me). He asked me why I was there. I said Ismail Sahab loved music. He said you know him? I said yes. "Well", said Iqbal, "he's my father."


I had known Iqbal since 1952 since a comic-vaala (Noor Miāñ), who travelled all over Karachi on his bicycle, loaded with comics and books, used to bring comics for Iqbal and me and saw us both at sweet shop in Soldier Bazaar and introduced us. We became friends and Iqbal used to come to my house frequently after that to exchange comics with me … and I'd go to his Māmoooñ's house where he lived with his uncles, Aziz and Jahangir, in a series of houses where his other uncles lived.

By the way a US$ was Re. 1, then,
(yes, just Re. 1)  and is Rs. 112 now.


In 1953 I joined St. Pat's and found Iqbal to be my classmate there. He and I became even closer friends. We were serious competitors in our Math classes where either he or I came first in every test. He loved Literature, too, and we bought books from the Comic-Vaala who was now carrying some classics and the Mad Comic (which later became Mad Magazine).



His house where Munchi, Anwar, Joe, Rahat, and I visited often had windows everywhere. All the outside walls had windows, but not like you normally get. There was almost a foot or more between them and another window appeared. And that was not all. Every room had windows, You could see from the rooms into the areas in the foyer, the table-tennis table room, or another place. And even that was not all. You could see between rooms, too, for there were windows there also. We always called it The Windows House and insisted that it was the windows that had been put together with bits of concrete to make it stand up and look like a house.


Iqbal didn't like Indian Classical Music at all and, though his father told me to get him interested, he never got into it — except that he fell in love with V G Jog's LP and had me get a copy for him from London, though I doubt if he ever played it, coz I don't remember a record player at his house. Perhaps he gave it his elder māmooñ who had a tremendous collection of music at his house.

Purchased in London after concert of Jog Sahab

Iqbal was a tremendous friend and it would take years to fill these pages with numerous stories that I would like to write about, but here are just a few …



The most important one was this!



Iqbal got his first car from his father. It was an Opel Rekord, (I can't remember the exact year but it was late 59-60), and he had a driver teaching him to drive. He drove it to my house and we went out for a ride and reached Old Clifton (where that lovely little Church was). I said I wanted to learn to drive, too, so he got into the passenger seat and I was given some instructions and I went around once and was coming back when I saw a bus parked there. Why did I accelerate? I don't know. Iqbal insisted to our friends that I was relaxing and had my feet crossed! However, I hit the bus really hard and its petrol shot out and people got out. The car was a total wreck. And it wasn't yet insured. And Iqbal had no driving license, either.

The Police came and arrested us and took us to the Thaana where Iqbal called his father's friend and i called an elder cousin of mine. They soon arrived. My cousin knew the Police IG and phoned him up. Iqbal's father's friend (who hadn't informed The father yet) also came with money. He paid the Bus Driver and the Policemen at the Thaana. To answer their question about who was driving, I said I was. Iqbal said to me not to take the blame for him since he was driving. No one really found out about it for months (except our school friends who were told the whole story and asked to shut up about it). Iqball's father only knew that Iqbal was driving and didn't ask us to pay — a great gift by Iqbal, for my father would not have been able to pay back a single paisa from his really poor life.


Oh, one other thing that I must mention. I had a fracture in my left shoulder and was taken to Dr. Habib Patel's Clinic where he joined it an put figure-of-eight bandages on it. A month later I was X-Ray'd and the bone had become slightly crooked in joining. Dr. Patel thought it would be easy to break it, much to my dismay. He broke it again and rejoined it. A month later I had another X-Ray session and the bone was now in a slightly S-shape. Still gives me pain on really cold nights.

One problem (and one that also persist till now) is that my left hand never got its strength back and I can't really hold on to things that I can with my right hand. However, it was time to celebrate. My friends and I, along with Iqbal , went to Bohri Bazaar to the famous Lassi/Halvah shop. Iqbal said he was buying cigarettes and came in much later. In the meanwhile we ordered our stuff and as the waiter delivered it I reached out with my left hand and took the halvah. Obviously, I couldn't hold it and it fell on the seat next to mine. The plate was lifted and the waiter went to get a cloth to wipe the stain — when Iqbal arrived and decided to sit on it. We all said don't sit there but he thought we were joking and sat on it. And didn't budge, while we all looked at each other and said Iqbal, there's halvah there — but no reaction happened. When we got out of the restaurant (dhaaba?) and headed back to the car, the driver said to Iqbal 'Āp kay patloon mayñ kyā hüā haé', he put his hand behind his back and shouted at all of us saying why did we make it sound like a joke?


One thing that I told his family while we were talking about Iqbal's life with us - and no one knew about it at all - was that he was looking after a Glue Factory in Hyderabad (Sindh). It belonged to his uncle or father, I don't remember now. And he was supposed to go and see it, often. So the trip was something we did two or three times. At one point, on the way back, the car overturned and overturned again and became straight, but on the side of the road. Everyone of us thought: I am alive but every one else must be dead! But no! Everyone came out of the car and hugged each other. We all helped and lifted the car slightly to face the road. Got into the car and drove off, with everything working. Wow!


There are so many things think of now. The class picnics; going out to Churches for Christmas and New Year's Masses; the parties - clean ones at his house but not so clean at Munchie's house (where drinks were served, too — but I didn't ever see Iqbal drinking until I saw in his book (mentioned next) that he did drink on one occasion in 1974, when his grandmother had died and he went into a pub and drank himself hoarse). He was a very straight Muslim who didn't think that killing anyone was anything but a bad idea! He was entirely anti-violence and loved Peace. His friends, like our classmates - for example - Eric Lobo, Kaikashru Baria, Louis D'Cruz, Shankar Khilnani, and many others were products of mixed marriages, Parsis, Christians, Hindus, and more.


When Iqbal was about to get married to Nasim he took me to the airport. In those days you could go up and watch passengers coming down from the craft, eat at a lovely restaurant there, and even walk up and meet the passengers coming off by walking almost to the plane. So I saw her with him and then we got home. He was the first one to get married and Nasim & Iqbal met very frequently, with him driving all the way to Iqbal Town, where I lived. We would go everywhere at night, eating food or just driving around.

After I git married they came regularly when UI was home from my Merchant Navy trips (with Nuzhat). One of the first thing that happened was that we went out to eat Gol Gappas at Napier Road — known those days as the whore-hub of Karachi, until the Government banned it and the women moved into the best laid (no pun intended) places in Karachi! My wife who had never heard of Napier Road or its environment thought it was such a marvellous place: Lights up at all houses; people sitting on the floor as you could see through opening doors; all well-dressed. She said it was lovely to see so many Melāds going on and we told  her what it really was. Iqbal and I laughed like crazy that time.

One night we went to a place called Askar's Pono. The name seemed strange. We ordered food and asked the waiter to find out what Pono meant. He should come back with the food and the answer. We waited for a while and then we decided to move away, thinking the guy had not found out. Years later we walked into another restaurant called Taktiya Tikka Shop. Taktiya seemed a strange name so we asked the waiter what it meant. Lo and behold, it was the same waiter from Askar's Pono and he asked us if we were going to run away again!


Iqbal was the first in his family to have decided to leave business and go back to teaching, a job that he loved and never considered it a job. He wrote in Newspapers and Magazines. He talked of Finance - his pet subject - but also several other things. He wrote a book that must be read, specially if interested in the Bantva Memon family and its businesses. It's filled with wonderful stories that not many are familiar with. Well worth a read - considering that I am not a businessman but enjoyed it thoroughly

Excellent reading. If you can't find it, come to T2F.
There is a copy that you can read there.

In his Chapter 8 (My Story - 1947 Onwards) there is a whole page about my parents and me. My father and mother treated Iqbal and some of my other friends like they treated me - so I was always with 'siblings', though I really had none.


This was what he wrote on the book
that he gave to me.




Bye, Iqbal.

Nuzhat, Ragni, and I will miss you a lot.





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