Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nothing could slow down Dev Anand

One of the most evocative picture of Dev Anand that comes to my mind is the song with Hema Malini 'pal bhar ke liye...'. As a child I remember counting the number of windows shown in the song. On Saturday, when Dev Anand was laid to rest at London's Putney Vale crematorium he left behind his countless films and autobiography, to give us a peek into his life's window. And just like in the song, the one quality that will always stay with everybody was his enthusiasm and zest for life. There were few committed fans and true admirers who braved the harsh winter to pay their last respects to the stylish and evergreen actor.

Born in undivided India, Dev Anand had become a pale shadow of himself in later years. While many people and critics opined he should stop making films he did what he felt was good. Unlike many of the current actors and very much like the earlier ones (Balraj Sahni, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor...) Dev Anand's diction and dialogues were flawless. And by flawless I mean not good but perfect Urdu and Hindi.

Dev Anand's first major film was directed by Shahid Lateef whose wife was celebrated Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai. It was also his upbringing that developed his language skills. Dev Anand's father knew Arabic and Persian and it is said that he used to explain Islamic scriptures to the less educated Muslims!

At his funeral service some songs from his films were played apart from the customary remembrances. One of the priest (who seemed to be a close acquantaince) recalled the Urdu couplets that the actor had told him in Mumbai! Lord Meghnad Desai who was at the funeral told me that Dev Anand's autobiography was very well written. "His English was very good and his autobiography was brutally frank and lively." 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mohammed Wilayatullah's elephantine memory

Justice Mohammed Hidayatullah's literary flair is well known in legal circles. He also had an abiding interest in poetry, which he had got through his father Khan Bahadur Hafiz Mohammed Wilayatullah. While Mohammed Hidayatullah is known for having occupied the offices of vice president, president and chief justice of India, this post seeks to throw some light on the life of Hafiz Wilayatullah whose elephantine memory resulted in a big plot of land being awarded to the Anjuman School, Nagpur. But more of that later.

Mohammed Wilayatullah's family originally hailed from Benares and his forefathers served in the Bhopal court for several years. He memorised the complete Quran when he was just nine years old. He was a meritorious student and stood first in the 1895 BA examination of the Allahabad University at Mohammaden Anglo Oriental (MAO) college. His industriousness got him almost all the possible awards of the year except one. The Queen Empress Jubilee Medal was given to Ziauddin Ahmed and it was believed that it was done at the behest of Sir Syed Ahmed.

Ziauddin Ahmed was the favourite student of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who was not very happy with Mohammed Wilayatullah getting all the awards. However, the threat of legal action ultimately got the Queen Empress Jubilee Medal to the deserving student. For readers wondering the source, this has been narrated by Justice Hidayatullah in his autobiography.

Mohammed Wilayatullah got a scholarship of £600 to study abroad for two years. However, domestic compulsions meant he could not take the scholarship. While Wilayatullah's family was not poor, they were not prosperous enough to let Wilayatullah go abroad. Syed Mahmood, son of Sir Syed Ahmed, took a liking for the young Wilayatullah and nurtured him to make a career in law. However, a quick job with a monthly salary took precedence over a slow paced career in law.

In the Indian sub-continent, postponing marriage and curtailing studies are some of the most common measures undertaken by youth to ensure the unity and financial stability of the family. This is especially true of joint families where the eldest son takes care of his younger siblings just like his own kids. Mohammed Wilayatullah had topped the BA examination and his father was anxious that his son takes up a job with the begum of Bhopal.

A more detailed study of the life of Khan Bahadur Hafiz Mohammed Wilayatullah will go a long way in explaining the dynamics of the society of those days. The reaons given for his not taking the scholarship was that it would be difficult for him to adjust to the food available in foreign shores. Thus the family chose not to talk about the urgency of Wilayatullah taking a job but instead made his diet a reason!

This reminds me of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. One of the reasons for his not undertaking foreign travel was the crossing of sea and his orthodox food habits. A Time magazine report talking about Malaviya's rare ship journey detailed his accompaniments which incuded a personal cook and gallons of Ganga water!

Mohammed Wilayatullah got a job as the headmaster of a school in Bhopal. However, he did not stay there for long and joined Central provinces and Berar as tahsildar. He went on to become Dewan and administrator of Bastar state. He retired in 1928 from Bhandara as deputy commissioner and district magistrate. After retirement he chose to settle down in Nagpur and struck friendship with Rajaram Dixit.

Mohammd Wilayatullah received the Kaiser-i-Hind and also became a member of the Central Legislative Assembly. When he was a student Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali used to correct his poems. He was called Akbar-i-Sani and wrote two books. He used to write in Persian and later continued in Urdu. However, most of his writings went unpublished.

While Mohammed Wilayatullah could not go abroad for studies, he ensured that his three sons attend Trinity College, Cambridge. A proud father he kept the annual register of Trinity college under his pillow. The register had the names of his three sons: Mohammed Ikramullah, ICS who became Pakistan's foreign secretary; Mohammed Ahmadullah, secretary, Indian Tariff Board and Mohammed Hidayatullah.

Mohammed Ikramullah married Shaista who belonged to the famous and rich Suhrawardy family. Shaista Ikramullah was the first Indian woman to do her PhD from London University. It is believed that it was under her influence that Mohammed Ikramullah went to Pakistan. In his last days Mohammed Wilayatullah longed for all his three sons to be together. When he died in November 1949, Mohammed Ikramullah came down to India and before that kept on visiting his father despite the hostilities between both the new sovereigns.

Mohammed Wilayatullah had plunged into social activities after his retirement and became quite famous in central India. His political opponents attacked him for having accepted the Kaiser-i-Hind and the title of Khan Bahadur. However, he continued with his social work. He was secretary of the All India Muslim Educational Society and was associated with Anjuman School, Nagpur. His friend Rajaram Dixit donated generously for the Anjuman School.

The school authorities once called the chief commissioner to the annual day celebrations. They requested him to give a nearby plot for the school. The chief commissioner promised it in his speech. However, later when a delegation did a follow-up they realised there was no copy of the speech to make the commissioner's promise operational. The chief commissioner too pleaded helplessness as the speech was made extempore.

Khan Bahadur Hafiz Mohammed Wilayatullah offered to reproduce the speech. He gave a copy to the chief commissioner who happily signed after making just a single change. This must have definitely accelerated the administrative process. The plot was released which was used to make a hostel and a school for girls.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How son of Pak journo got assets in India

Around 15 years ago the death of a retired professor of agriculture in Allahabad led to a bitter legal battle that finally culminated in his property being awarded to a Pakistani citizen. The case assumed importance as the judge pronounced that a Pakistani national can inherit property in India. The Allahabad high court however did say that the inheritance would be subject to permission of the Reserve Bank of India.

The case relates to the family of famous Arabic scholar Dr Abdul Sattar Siddiqui who was also head of Arabic department at Allahabad University. Dr Siddiqui had two sons Muslim Siddiqui and Zuhair Siddiqui both of whom studied in Allahabad. After finishing his high school Muslim Siddiqui enrolled in the Agricultural Institute for further studies while his younger brother Zuhair did Masters in Political Science. This was before Partition and Zuhair Siddiqui got a job with Dawn newspaper in Delhi.

Zuhair Siddiqui was a sub-editor and after Partition was apparently 'temporarily posted' in Karachi. As his father and brother remained in India he visited them regularly and remained an Indian citizen. It would be interesting to know if there was any provision for a man working in Pakistan to be an Indian citizen. And that too working for a prominent Pakistani English newspaper!

Muslim Siddiqui remained a bachelor all his life and continued to live with his father Dr Siddiqui in Allahabad. With one son in Pakistan, Dr Siddiqui gave away all his property to his eldest son Muslim Siddiqui. In the 1970s within a gap of few years, both Dr Siddiqui and Zuhair Siddiqui died. The former due to old age and the latter in a road accident in Pakistan. Thus Muslim Siddiqui became the absolute owner of the ancestral property in Allahabad which included the bungalow on Muir Road build by Dr Abdul Sattar Siddiqui.

When Muslim Siddiqui died in August 1996, one Bhai Lal Shukla along with the Administrator General of Uttar Pradesh staked claim to the property of the deceased. Bhai Lal Shukla and his wife were employed by Muslim Siddiqui to take care of the bungalow and serve him. However, Bhai Lal Shukla claimed that Muslim Siddiqui had through a will given him all his property and hence he had the sole right over the estate of the deceased.

The Administrator General contended that Bhai Lal Shukla was not related to Muslim Siddiqui and as Zuhair Siddiqui after migrating to Pakistan did not take any steps to stake his claim in his father's property it should be allowed to administrate the estate. The case was adjourned several times covering few years as Suhail, the son of Zuhair Siddiqui was having problems in getting a visa to India from Pakistan. He had visited India on an earlier occasion and as he had overstayed he was facing problem in getting entry to India.

Several witnesses appeared before the court which included friends of the Siddiqui household. One such witness was M Sayeedullah whose testimony perhaps went a long way in establishing that the will brandished by Bhai Lal Shukla could not be relied upon. Sayeedullah was a childhood friend of Muslim Siddiqui and both had studied in the same school. Sayeedullah became a deputy collector in 1945 and ultimately entered the Indian Administrative Service. He was also the son-in-law of M A Rauf, who was independent India's first ambassador to Burma.

Sayeedullah told the court that Bhai Lal Shukla was appointed as a gardener only few years before the death of Muslim Siddiqui. He told the court that during some of his visits he had seen Bhai Lal's wife pressing the feet of Muslim Siddiqui or giving him some medicines. On another occasion when he visited his friend's bungalow unannounced he saw the couple putting him in a car. He told the court that his friend was looking lost and was informed that he was taken to be admitted to the Medical College. However, when he went to the Medical College he found out that his friend was never admitted there.

Some other witnesses informed the court about their suspicion that Muslim Siddiqui was being kept in a state of intoxication by Bhai Lal Shukla and his wife. The court was convinced about the unrealibility of the will shown by Bhai Lal Shukla. However, as Suhail Siddiqui was a Pakistani national there were question marks over his eligibility to own a property in Allahabad in which his father had a share. But as his father died way back in 1979 and did not stake any claim when he was alive, could Suhail Siddiqui become the owner of his uncle's property?

Under The Enemy Property Act, 1968 all immovable property belonging to or held by or managed on behalf of Pakistani nationals after the 1965 Indo-Pak war were put under management of custodian. However, the court in the judgement delivered in 2006 held that this provision does not hold for Pakistani national inheriting property in India. A RBI notification coming as late as 2003 further made it easier for the court to decide the case in favour of Suhail Siddiqui.

According to the notification, a person who is a resident outside India can hold immovable property acquired by way of inheritance from a person resident in India. Thus the son of a Dawn journalist became owner of a property in Allahabad more than fifty years after his father migrated to Pakistan.

I will really appreciate if someone can give me a picture of any of the main players in this case or an update about the Bungalow no 50/184 Muir Road, Allahabad.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

He fought to be British MP while in Indian jail

Decades after Dadabhai Naoroji was elected as the first Asian MP to the House of Commons, another Indian stood for elections while lodged in a jail in India. Naoroji was assisted by, among others, Jinnah in his successful campaign while Shaukat Usmani had the support of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Usmani, one of the founding members of the Communist Party of India, was arrested in the Kanpur conspiracy case and the Meerut Conspiracy case. While the masses were with Gandhi and the Congress party to overthrow the Britishers, the Kanpur and the Meerut conspiracy cases brought the communist agenda and their ideas in the public domain. People discovered the communist ideology and their revolutionary plans.
In March 1929, Usmani was arrested along with some other Communists in the Meerut Conspiracy case. It was just a way for the British goverment to lay their hands on the Communists who were giving severe headaches to the administration. During the trial the Communist Party of Great Britain decided to field Usmani as their candidate for the general election held that year. He stood against Sir John Simon from the constituency of Spen Valley.

This was a clever move on the part of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It got the much needed publicity to the British misrule in India and the Meerut conspiracy case in particular. Sir John Simon was the same person who later came to India in 1930 as head of the Simon Commission.
The British government was in no
mood to let the off the comrades easily. The Meerut conspiracy case dragged on and during the 1931 British general election, Usmani's name was again put forward. He was still in jail when communists from all over Britiain converged in London to campaign for him. This time he was the candidate for the St Pancras South East constituency (now abolished). His main opponent was Sir Alfred Beit, who was a millionaire. Usmani lost again.

It was purely on ideological gro
unds that the Communist Party of Great Britain decided to field Usmani for elections to the House of Commons while he himself was miles away in a nondescript cell in India. Interestingly, V K Krishna Menon fought elections and became the Labour councillor from the borough of St Pancras a year later.

On the directions of M N Roy, Usmani became active in Kanpur and Benares where he had to work to make a base for the communists. He had widely travelled and had taken part in the Russian civil war in 1920. He also wrote few books. One of them is attractively titled Peshawar to Moscow: Leaves from an Indian Muhajireen's diary and was published as early as 1927. Most of his books are now out of circulation.

I do not know Usmani's date of birth but it is widely believed that he was born in 1901 in Bikaner where his father Bahauddin was a stonecutter. His real name was Maula Baksh but being an ardent admirer of Maulana Shaukat Ali he changed his name to Shaukat Usmani. He had left India during the Hijrat movement and came under the influence of M N Roy.

Shaukat Usmani died in 1978 unsung and unnoticed like many of his ilk.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Samachar mein Hindi by Johnny Walker

"They should not announce ‘Ab Hindi mein samachar suniye’ they should say, ‘Ab Samachar mein Hindi suniye.’" Balraj Sahni, the great actor, quoted his friend and colleague Johnny Walker while speaking at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1972. Sahni was talking about the Urdu-Hindi divide and also lambasted the Pakistan radio 'for ruining the beauty of this language by thrusting into it as many Persian and Arabic words as possible'.

I couldn't stop laughing at Johnny Walker's witty remark. 'Ab Samachar mein Hindi suniye'. It was Balraj Sahni who got Johnny Walker into Hindi films. And that in itself is an interesting tale. Johnny Walker worked as a conductor on Mumbai's BEST buses and it is widely believed that Sahni first saw him in action regaling the commuters.

Before he made it big, Johnny Walker had worked in a couple of films as an extra. For his antics he used to get paid Rs 5 out of which one rupee went to the pocket of the supplier. According to Sahni's autobiography, Badruddin (Johnny Walker's real name) used to entertain film artistes during lunch breaks.

Once Sahni asked him if he was paid for his acts during the breaks which the stars relished. "No? Then aren't you ashamed of behaving like an ass in front of those fellows," he admonished Johnny Walker when he said he took home only the Rs 4 for the shoot and nothing extra. "You are right, sahab! But I am helpless, I can't possibly displease the big bosses!", replied Badruddin.

These 'big bosses' included Dilip Kumar, Yaqub and other stars in the film Hulchul. Balraj Sahni, who also acted in Hulchul then promised Badruddin to get him the kind of roles he deserved. While he promised Badruddin a role he soon discovered it was not an easy task. He used to bump into Badruddin at Mahim while passing in his motor cycle who would remind him of his promise. Sahni had not forgotten Badruddin. He had written the script for Baazi and had woven the character of a drunkard keeping Badruddin in mind.

However, Sahni's problem was how to get Badruddin the drunkard's role. He was just an extra, like dozens of others, and getting everybody agree to take him was a challenge. He however had an interesting idea which he told Badruddin.

The very next day, when he along with Guru Dutt, Dev and Chetan Anand was discussing the script, Badruddin had to make a dramatic entry. As per the plan, Badruddin had entered the office acting as a drunkard and managed to enter Guru Dutt's cabin. Sahni writes in his autobiography: "All of us there found the way the man was making a fool of himself excruciatingly funny and we burst out laughing. For well over half an hour he entertained us and the rest of the office staff with his pranks."

Finally, the stars had enough of his antics and asked the staff to throw him out. Sahni gestured and Badruddin became a sober man. He got the role in Baazi and became famous as Johnny Walker. This also led to a steady friendship with Guru Dutt and the two became very close. They used to go together for fishing and hunting and Johnny Walker became a regular in Guru Dutt's films.

He played memorable roles in Pyaasa, CID, Mr and Mrs 55, Madhumati and countless others. Not many people would know that he had a solitary scene in Mughal-e-Azam. He was perhaps the only comedian who had several hit songs specially composed for him. Such was his presence that many leading stars were wary of sharing screen space with him.
His popularity can be gauged from the fact that there was a movie named after his own screen name - Johnny Walker. Everybody in the film industry knew that while his screen name was Johnny Walker he himself never drank in real life. However, the passing away of his dear friend Guru Dutt did shake him.

Johnny Walker went on to act in over 300 films and had the entire nation laughing at the mere sight of him. Dilip Kumar once told in an interview that on Independence Day celebrations or Republic Day functions Jawaharlal Nehru would ask him to get Johnny Walker and Mukri for some light moments.

My own favourite is the one from the B R Chopra's Naya Daur which had Dilip Kumar in the lead. Johnny Walker plays a reporter and while taking a picture of Dilip Kumar asks him to 'Ismail' (smile), to which Dilip Kumar replies "Woh to aaj kaam par nahin aaya"!
The veteran comedian who never resorted to slapstick comedy or vulgar dialogues led a simple life. He was modest, reserved and led a quiet life. Years later he took a break from retirement and essayed a role in the Kamal Hasan-Tabu starrer Chachi 420 on the insistence of Gulzar, who wrote the dialogue for the movie.

Johnny Walker later moved to his bungalow in Andheri (W), a Mumbai suburb. Unlike today, his bungalow was in a quiet surrounding with hardly any public transport around. It turned out that his bungalow was just opposite the building in which my father had booked a flat on the fourth floor.

A visit to the Andheri flat was very occassional as reaching there was quite a task from our city home. It was nothing short of a weekend getaway with the added attraction of getting a glimpse of Johnny Walker.

My father later gave out the flat to the family of his friend from Aligarh Muslim University days. He needed a kidney transplant and was not keeping well. I later found out that Abba took the initiative of collecting funds to facilitate the transplant.

This was in late 1980s and it required a fair amount of money. Friends and well-wishers pitched in as much as they could. The kidney transplant did take place. And one of the contributors was Badruddin Kazi!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ilyas Burney, a man lost in translation

Abdur Rahman Khan, who was the principal of 'Osmania College University' in 20s, wrote an interesting book 'My Life and Experiences'. The book details the struggle and the passion of the people behind the Osmania University. It gives an amazing account of the functioning of the institute and how the management dealt with getting the right faculty. However, as the medium of instruction was supposed to be Urdu, a Translation Bureau was established. This Bureau had the mammoth task of translating all books in Economics, Medicince, History, Philosophy and other subjects in Urdu.

Principal Khan's book is gripping for anybody interested to draw a picture of the working of an educational institute in those days. However, I was a bit disappointed as he did not write much about Ilyas Burney, who was heading the department of Economics at Osmania University. A graduate from Aligarh University, Burney was born in Bulandshahr. He had a brilliant record as a student and at Aligarh University won the Strachey Gold Medal.

He had studied LLB and was offered the position of a judge in the Nizam administered Hyderabad around 1915. However, as he was academically inclined he decided to get himself involved with the Translation Bureau. According to another version he was offered to join the Translation Bureau that got Burney to Hyderabad. Whatever be the reason Burney made Hyderabad his home for good and spent his working life enriching the social and intellectual circles of the city.

Burney's services were later utilised by the Osmania University where he joined the Economics department and also worked as the Registrar of the University. His book on Economics in the Urdu language was praised by none other than Allama Iqbal. A multi-faceted personality, Burney did not restrict himself only to Economics. He wrote dozens of books on several subjects and a travelogue that established his identity as a towering intellectual. He was well versed in English, Persian, Arabic and Urdu.

He worked closely with Baba-e-Urdu Maulvi Abdul Haq at the Translation Bureau. In 1934, he was appointed curator of the Translation Bureau. He had replaced the competent and versatile Maulvi Inayatullah. He wrote a book comparing the Urdu and Hindi scripts that earned him praise from several quarters. His book on the Ahmaddiya sect got a huge response. Titled 'Qadiani Mazhab' it was also translated in Arabic and is considered a masterpiece on the subject.

His immense knowledge and ability to get along with youngsters made him very popular. The Nizam appointed him to tutor the young princes. He was also President of the Football Club at Osmania University. He once spoke for two hours to the students at Osmania advising them ‘how to live a wholesome happy life’.

Burney's brilliance got the attention of Jinnah who wanted him, along with scholars from other fields, to work for the planning commission in Pakistan. I do not know the reasons, but he did not go to Pakistan and remained in India. The street where he had his house in Hyderabad is now named Ilyas Burney Avenue. S M H Burney, a civil servant in Independent India, who went on to become the Governor of Haryana and Manipur is related to him. Ilyas Burney died in 1959.