Apr 27, 2008

Princess Abida Sultan - Bhopal's Pakistan Connection

Earlier Posts on Adida Sultan 1, 2
The marriage of Abida Sultan did not last, and was broken up rather violently. As a single mother Abida brought up her son, Shehryar Mohammad Khan (nick named Mian and Bubbles in family) and continued in her tomboy ways. noor-us-sahabShe was instrumental in assuaging the feelings of old Bhopal families like the Jalalabad clan, the Misti khels and the Mirazi khels, relations with whom had grown strained due the Bhopal succession case. The credit for getting her second sister Sajida alias Majkul married to Iftikar Ali Khan Pataudi also goes to her. Meanwhile she went on to become the second Muslim woman in the world and the first woman in India to hold a flying license which she received on 25th January 1942. The Noor-Us-Sabah (photograph above), constructed as dowry for Abida Sultan by Sultan Jahan Begum, continued to be her residence.
Abida Sultan was brought up by Sultan Jahan  Begum to carry on the long tradition of Bhopal Begums. She was trained to taste (actually taste - by putting it on tongue) the soil to tell what would be tax rate for the land. An able administrator, Abida Sultan was appointed the Chief Secretary and President of Cabinet by her father Hamidullah Khan. She acted as the head of state during the frequent absence of her father, who had started playing an active role in the Muslim politics of the subcontinent. She was outstanding at squash, becoming All India Women's Squash Champion in 1949. Hamidullah Khan and Abida Sultan had grown a deep bond, that of two friends more than that of father and daughter. However, true to the long history of Bhopal male rulers, Hamidullah also ended up being a miserable ruler in spite of all the pains taken by Sultan Jahan Begum to educate Hamidullah properly. Hamidullah would spend most of his leisure time surrounded by women of Bhopal gentry. From this changing group of women, suddenly Hamidullah married Aftab Jahan, a school friend of Abida Sultan. 
The relation with Abida Sultan started to sour with her father after this marriage, which ended in Abida Sultan migrating to Pakistan. In an interview much later in life, she said that she did not want people to say that a woman ruler could not protect her kingdom and handed it over to India. She even fantasized about going down fighting like Wazir Mohhamad khan during the Seige of Bhopal, but eventually moved away to England and finally to Pakistan. The Indian government, represented by Krishna Menon, tried to bring her back to India. The Indian government sensed her potential and wanted her to stay on India as a Muslim leader. She refused, her faith on Pakistan as the ideal nation state for the progressive Muslim not shaken, even by the death Mr Jinnah during her stay at England. She moved in to Karachi and settled at Malir - about 12 kms from Karachi. Although she could not continue with her sports activities in Pakistan, Abida Sultan represented Pakistan in UN in 1954 and visited China in 1956. She supported Fatima Jinnah in her opposition to Ayub Khan's marshal law as the head of Combined Opposition Party, which ended prematurely with the death of Fatima. Abida Sultan had serious doubts later in her life about the decision to move away to Pakistan, which continued till her son Shehryar M. Khan refused the offer of Hamidullah Khan to return to Bhopal and claim his heritage in January 1954. After staying away from Hamidullah Khan for twelve years, Abida Sultan was present in Bhopal during the death of her father. She narrates her last meeting with Hamidullah Khan:
As I entered the room where HH (Hamidullah Khan) lay propped up with pillows, I noticed he was unable to focus on me. He enquired "Who is there"? The aide whispered "Bia Huzur has come." HH's face lit up and he said "Barkul has come?" and opened his arms. I went into his embrace unhesitatingly and realized then he was blind! ...
The old families of Bhopal and the public gave me a moving and highly sentimental response. 'Don't go back, stay with us. We recognize you as the Nawab's chosen succesor'. I recall a simple tonga-walla recognizing me, peering into my car and saying 'you are Bia Huzoor. I won't let you go now. You belong to us. You must be our guide and savior'....
I therefore told my sister, Manjkul (Sajida Sultan), to hurry back to Delhi to establish her rights. She duly departed for Delhi to duly establish her claim as successor to the title with  Pandit Nehru who was always her well wisher. Despite an emotional clamor from the Bhopali public, I had no desire to play a titular or administrative role in Bhopal.
She was even chided by President Ayub Khan for returning to Bhopal, who wanted her to remain in Bhopal as true friend of Pakistan. On Abida Sultan's insitence, Ayub even issued a letter confirming her Pakistani nationality in the event of the Indian Government accepting her as her father's successor. Her claim was conveyed through the foreign office of the Indian Government. In view of her staunch criticism of Indian policies at the UN General Assembly, her able administration from a public office at Bhopal for twenty two years, a son in the Pakistan Foreign Service, her popularity with Bhopal public and her headstrong and proactive ways she was a unsuitable candidate in a Bhopal which was no longer an autonomous princely state. During subsequent discussions in April 1960 with Prime Minister Nehru and Home Minister Govind Ballabh Pant, she conveyed firmly that she wanted to remain a Pakistan citizen. In March 1961, Sajida Sultan was announced successor of the title of Bhopal Nawab.
Years later, G. Vishwanathan, former Commissioner of Bhopal, told his Oxford contemporary, Ishaat Habibullah, that there was no way that the Indian government would accept "a firebrand like Abiabida2da Sultan" in its midst. In fact Viswanathan had tried to find some lapse, some fault in her tenure as Heir Apparent and Chief Secretary but could not find a single incident that could damage her reputation and intigrity. By October 2001, Abida was bed ridden with pain in knees from arthritis and bladder prblems. She was admitted to the Shaukat Omar Memorial Hospital on 27th April 2002, where she died of cardiac failure on 11 May 2002.  Digvijay Singh, Cheif Minister of Madhya Pradesh telephoned his condolences to her son, Shaharyar M. Khan  within two hours of her death saying that in Bhopal every mosque, every temple would be mourning Princess Abida Sultan's Death.
Abida Sultan left India after the turmoil of partition, holding a belief that the Muslims of India will not be able to prosper under a Hindu leadership. She however found that democracy took root in India while dictatorial feudal leadership ruled the roost in Pakistan. She noted the incidents of Gujrat smugly, as the indications of her apprehensions coming true. Her apprehensions are reflected in her will:
Finally I follow the example of my revered grandmother, Nawab Sultan Jahan Begum of Bhopal in humbly begging my most beloved son, family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors and people in general to forgive me for any pain or harm that I may have inadvertently caused during the course of my lifetime. This applies with emphasis to my son and grandchildren who have so cheerfully shared the privations of my life and, who with noble courage and fortitude, have suffered the consequences of my settling in Pakistan. They would have, no doubt, enjoyed an enormous inheritance with countless other advantages had they remained in Bhopal. May God bless and amply reward them for their sacrifices.
The Princess who could have become the leading face of Muslims in an independent India, was rarely used for any fruitful endeavour in Pakistan. Even after Abidas death, the Pakistan government continued in usual uncaring ways.

Apr 21, 2008

Picture Abhi Baki Hai Mere Dost

The basis of Indian politics, since we got independence and a country - as we know her today, has been caste and religion. The very foundation of independent India was the religious separation of Muslim dominated areas from the Hindu dominated areas, aided by large scale violence. The world never believed that the entity of India would survive with her inherent divisions based on castes, religion and to top it, the leadership’s inherent love to democracy. The new nation entity of Pakistan was supposed to be more coherent ideologically, as a home for all progressive Muslims. On that day the god of destiny might have smiled and whispered "Picture Abhi Baki Hai Mere Dost".

bhopale - picture abhi
The Indian politicians have not learnt from the troubled neighbors, and have kept on 
their divisive agendas. Surprisingly even the people of India have not moved away from caste and religion based political agendas, even after so many years of watching the effects from close quarters. A little scratching the surface brings us to the reason beyond any doubts - it is the governments - successive governments irrespective of political ideologies - steadfast control and man made short supply of education for the Indian populace that has led us to this situation. Until and unless the educated mind is allowed to think freely and is able look at the bigger picture, Indian politicians would be happy to harvest their votes by spending a couple of nights at a tribal house, announcing the loan waivers for the farmers or promising endlessly about a temple. Education will make people appreciate Milton Friedman's description of government:

There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government.
The severe shortage of education supply, the big demand, the caste based reservations now being extended even to the premium Indian institutes like IITs and IIMs, the booming Indian economy and requirement of Indian industries of trained man power might eventually force the hand of government to privatize education and allow free entry of private players in the education field. As is being observed in the telecom industry, the quality and the price will be adjusted sharply by the market forces. On that day the god of destiny would smile and whisper "Picture Abhi Baki Hai Mere Dost".

Apr 8, 2008

Bhopali Batole In A Festival

soorma_bhopali_sholay-full The Bhopal culture of Patiyas is now being recognized by the government as part of the Bhopal culture. After destroying the famous Bhopali patiyas for widening the roads of old Bhopal, a festival by the name of "Bhopal Carnival" is being organised between April 19 and 26 where there will be a search for the biggest brag. The Saddan Nawabs of yesteryear were definately a product of the culture prevalent at that time - the Bhopali Batole was just a byproduct of the Bhopali Patiyabazzi.
Will the Bhopali, used to getting drenched in the colors of batole at the patiyas, be satisfied with the sanitized "Herbal Gulal Ka Tika" at a festival?

Apr 7, 2008


On Friday, 18 June 1926 at about 3 p.m., during the festivities connected with my father's coronation, we three sisters were seriously engaged in pillow-fighting with some of the ex-Sikandaria girls when Khalloo (Zaheda Begum, a trained midwife who was given charge of attending to me after my birth) came in saying I had to take a bath and get dressed in my ceremonial clothes. Having always hated ceremonies and dressing up, I made faces at her and poking my tounge out in protest said, " Why am I always singled out for these stunts? What is all this fuss about?" "It is the price you pay for being the eldest," Khalloo smiled. Taking no notice of her, I resumed the pillow-fight with greater enthusiasm. Presently Sarkar Amman padded in. "Is this how a bride behaves on the day of her nikah?" she growled. "The Qazi Saheb has arrived and you are not even dressed, you are busy pillow-fighting."  "You", pointing at Khalloo, "what do you think you are here for?"  and boxing my ears she pushed me into the bathroom to prepare me for the ceremony.....

Having had no previous warning or information about the nikah, I kept asking Khalloo while she dressed me whose Nikah it was and with whom. Perhaps she was too scared to talk about it and only smiled. "Be a little patient, you will find out." She said. I was then conducted to the kutchery room (audience chamber). There were hundreds of swarming women and children squeezing themselves into this small room. Some perfumed and bedecked in their finery, others smelling of stale sweat and mustard oil. Pandamonium prevailed. No one had prepared or instructed me on how to conduct myself with result that I walked into the nikah chamber, pushing the gathered women out of my way, my face uncovered, sulking as usual for being chosen again for some new  experiment.  There were immediate indignant remarks. "Just look at this shameless bride". I still did not comprehend. Then I saw another bride traditionally bent over and huddled up in a corner, shaking with histerical sobs and alomst fainting in the heat under her heavy bridal brocades. She was my cousin Noor Jahan (daughter of the Late Nawab Nasrullah Khan) whose nikah with Saeed Mian was to take place simultaneously with mine.

Glaring at me and grumbling at my shocking entry, Sarkar Amman covered my face and told me to bend over like a bride. I complied and wasx made to squat next to cousin Noor Jahan. On the other side of the screen, my father, the Qazi Sahab, and other male members of the family were awaiting  my arrival. A male voice started reciting the nikah formula, first asking Noor Jahan if she was willing to accept Saeed Mian as her husband.  She made no reply. The whole process was repeated, read and re-read, again and again, with Sarkar Amman and several other women pleading and begging Noor Jahan to make the required "Hoon" (yes). But she would not. Finally in exasperation, her aunt, Surraiya Bi, put her head under Noor Jahan's head covering, and squeaked the "Hoon". This faked "hoon" was accepted by the males on the other side of the screen as Noor Jahan's own consent to become Saeed Main's wife.

I was shocked and outraged at this hypocrisy, so when the Qazi's voice addressed me, "Do you Abida Sultan, accept Sarwar  Ali Khan as your husband" I clearly and promptly said 'Yes , I Do' On the very first asking, creating another uproar at my immodesty. Meanwhile cousin Noor Jahan had fainted. Taking advantage of people's pre-occupation in reviving her, I slipped away without waiting for Sarkar Amaan's permission and without being escorted by the self-appointed bridesmaids. Later on, at Sadar Manzil the bridegrroms, Nawabzada, Captain Saeed-Uz-Zafar Khan, and Nawab Sarwar Ali Khan of Kuwai gave their consent in an all male ceremony.

There were still about ten weeks before my thirteenth birthday. I was nature's child, a tomboy, not in the least interested in marriage or aware of sex. Sarkar Ammans stict supervision had kept us ignorant of the facts of life. Therefore, marriage was, for me, a strange custom that I had never tried to analyse. Nevetheless, I was fond of Dadabhai who was the kindest, most affectionate, sympathetic person I knew. The prospect of finding my freedom by living with him away from 'horrible' Sarkar Amman was sweet indeed. I looked forward to it with happy anticipation.

Previous Posts on Abida Sultan 1, 2

Bhopal : A Prayer for Rain

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