Saturday, December 22, 2012

Yusuf Meherally, for whom Bombay stood still

On 3 July, 1950 bus and tram services in what was then Bombay stopped for few minutes as the clock struck noon. The city was in a state of shock. The city that never stopped, stood still. Several educational institutes, factories and mills remained shut. One of the most potent symbols of the city's financial strength, Bombay Stock Exchange, though officially opened, witnessed no trading. It was a collective mourning and significantly bereft of any fear or force.

A day earlier, Yusuf Meherally, a selfless leader of the masses had passed away. The man who had coined two of the most popular slogans associated with the freedom struggle 'Simon Go Back' and 'Quit India' had roused the same passion in his death as his slogans. Years of struggle had taken its toll and a heart ailment that had struck him while in prison for the 1942 Quit India agitation had rendered him weak, though only physically and not in spirit. Just few days after his death, he was supposed to chair a meeting in Madras. Meherally was only 47 when he died.

Born in a prosperous family in Bombay on 3 September, 1903, his father Jaffer Meherally and his family were pro-British and the young Yusuf was looked upon as a renegade. He studied at Bharda High School and took interest in extra-curriculum activities. A firm believer in the power of youth, he was the main architect of the Bombay Youth League formed in 1928. In February 1928, the Youth League put up an admirably strong opposition in the wake of unprecedented lathi charge while opposing the Simon Commission. Meherally's slogan 'Simon Go Back' was on the lips of every nationalist in the city and country.     

Meherally believed in universal brotherhood cutting across race and nationalities. He belonged to that rare breed of leaders for whom personal gratification meant the well-being of fellow countrymen.  

At 4 pm on July 3, his coffin draped in the Tiranga started the last journey from Congress House to the Dongri Kabrastan. The four-mile journey was a spectacle but without the key ingredients that have now come to be associated and identified as a barometer of love, popularity, respect and reverence. No live coverage, studio discussions, or array of platitudes thrown across by anybody who was somebody.

It only had mourners in dignified silence and utmost respect, united in grief and a collective sense of irreplaceable loss. Beedi workers in faraway Thallessery in Kerala sported black badges and observed a hartal for their beloved leader.     

Active in the Congress, Meherally was among the key individuals who established and strengthened the Congress Socialist Party along with Jayaprakash Narayan, Achyut Patwardhan and Minoo Masani. This satiated his appetite for putting a forceful opposition to the British rule and at the same time working to address the needs and concerns of the working class.

He was a legendary figure for the hawkers, small-time traders, and clerical staff who toiled in commercial firms. He founded the Gumastha Mandal which fought for the rights of the working class. But this was not what his family wanted.     

Meherally did a BA in History and Economics from Elphinstone College. With the legal luminary H M Seervai and several other friends, Meherally did a penetrating study on the issue of university reforms. Speaking to students they covered a vast array of issues and came up with recommendations. Active in drama and debates, Meherally made the most of the extra-curriculum activities that Elphinstone College offered and was famous for. It was perhaps at Elphinstone College that he mastered the art of writing witty slogans and attractive posters – a quality he deployed to the maximum opposing the British rule. He then studied for a law degree at Government Law College.  

According to Madhu Dandavate, his biographer, the days when Meherally received his Bachelor degrees turned out to be of national significance. He received his BA in History and Economics on 8th Aug, 1925 – the same day in 1942 when the Quit India resolution was passed - and Bachelors in Law on 26th January 1929 – the day that is now marked as Republic Day.

Armed with two degrees, Meherally plunged into the freedom movement to the much consternation of his family members. His father had spoken to Mohammed Ali Jinnah to ensure his son’s law career treaded the right path. Meherally had different plans and perhaps the heavens too willed his way. Despite being a qualified lawyer, the High Court, just months after he received his law degree, refused to allow him to practise. This again was a rarity as several leaders were qualified lawyers but none was barred from appearing in courts.

Meherally was a magnet for the city’s and country’s youth. He was a hero for a whole generation of educated, and well-meaning men and women. Much of the people he inspired, nurtured and worked with would graduate to become professors, scholars and social workers. They looked up to him in awe and reverence due to his organisational abilities and clarity of ideas. As Aloo Dastur, former head of the department of Civics and Politics, Bombay University described him '24 carat gold and the likes of him are very difficult to meet these days'.

In 1938 he led the Indian delegation to the World Youth Congress in New York and also attended the World Cultural Conference in Mexico. Inspired by the vast literature on contemporary issues available in the West he decided to to plug the gap in India. Taking the lead, he authored 'Leaders of India' which ran into several editions. It was translated in Gujarati, Urdu and Hindi. It would be illustrative to share some excerpts from the Foreword he wrote: 

The rise of the pamphlet and the booklet as a powerful weapon for the spread of ideas has been truly remarkable. During my visits to these continents (US and Europe) I was greatly impressed by the part that such brochures play in moulding public opinion. In Europe and America there exists a wealth of topical literature that is in striking contrast to its scantiness in India. The Current Topics Series of Padma Publications is an attempt to meet this need. The idea is to publish every few months a booklet on a subject of topical or special interest having regard to present-day controversies and their bearing on the future. The series will not be restricted to political questions only. Every title will be published in a pleasing format, at a price within the reach of all.”

In 1942 when his name was nominated for the election to Bombay Mayoralty, he was lodged in Lahore jail. Vallabhbhai Patel was keen that Meherally stands for the election though a section of the Congress leadership was not in his favour. He was released from prison to take part in the elections and won comfortably becoming the youngest Mayor in the corporation’s history.

Meherally had a fine taste for art and culture reflecting his aristocratic upbringing and genuine love for India's diversity and rich heritage. In October 1949, he organised an exhibition of pictures and paintings tracing India’s freedom struggle beginning from 1857 in Bangalore. It had more than 200 pictures and was a much talked about event. It is said that he planned and designed a catalogue of another exhibition from his hospital bed. At Chetana, situated at Mumbai’s famed Kala Ghoda, Meherally organised an art and cultural event inviting personalities like Ustad Allauddin Khan and others.

Meherally’s motto was ‘Live Dangerously’ which he normally shared with friends and colleagues. On the morning of 17 December 1940 when the Britishers arrested him, the cotton markets, bullion exchange, stock market did ‘not transact any business’. It might be inferred that they must have remained close, but they were not. They were open for business, but chose not to do any!

For Meherally ‘Live Dangerously’ meant working to ensure a safe, secure, prosperous and healthy life for fellow citizens putting his own life at risk.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mushaira in the countryside with IPS as chief guest

Just when you would think that a Mushaira would not attract a lot of viewers I found out that thousands of people thronged to attend one in village Usia in UP's Ghazipur district. The gathering had around 20 poets who kept the audience awake and busy till early morning the next day.

An October evening when it's not that chilly makes for an ideal function like a Mushaira. Grandly titled 'All India Mushaira' the chief guest was M W Ansari, IPS who is ADG in Chhattisgarh police. The Zamania Circle Officer Kamal Kishore was also among the reciters.

According to a local report, chief guest Ansari said: "Both Hindi and Urdu are my language, but justice has not been done with Urdu. Both the languages must be supported and encouraged." 

The Mushaira was dedicated to late Haroon Rashid, who was the editor of Urdu daily Inquilab and was born in Usia. The posters proclaimed - 'Ek Shaam Haroon Rashid Ke Naam'.

Some memorable lines
"Insaniyat ka jazba dikhane lage hai log, bhookh se gash khakar girne waalo ko mirgi batakar joota soonghaane lage hai log" 

"Yeh mat samajhna ki tumse woh pyaar karte hain, haseen log hain aksar shikaar karte hain"


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Babur Ki Aulad in London

I had always wanted to watch Babur Ki Aulad. So, when a mail arrived from The Nehru Centre, London informing that Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan will play host (Oct 10, 2012) I marked it on my calendar. As the name suggests it provides a glimpse into the lives of Mughal emperors. 

The narrative revolves around the imprisoned last Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar and his interaction with a history scholar from the current time who gets transported back to Zafar's cell in Rangoon. The sad, lonely and forlorn emperor gets candid talking about his ancestors, correcting the youngster's Urdu in between.

In a moment of heat, Zafar reminds his 'friend' that while a father's blood can be disputed there can be no ambiguity regarding the mother's identity. This was in response to questions about the Indianness of the Mughals. Bahadur Shah Zafar's mother was a Hindu. Without doubt, Tom Alter excelled in his role as the weak and ailing Zafar. His voice had the depth and pain of an exiled king who was only too eager to share slice of Mughal history.

It starts from Babur and reflects upon the emotional struggle he faced between choosing to live in India or returning to Afghanistan. The king who loved a good glass, established the Mughal kingdom, but longed for Kabul. Babur's dialogues reminded me of Baburnama that I read couple of years ago. The frailties and courage of a king really strikes you. Sayeed Alam the director of the play played the role of Babur with finesse. "It was after defeating Ibrahim Lodhi and not Rana Sanga that the Mughal found their foot in India," informs Zafar to his wide eyed friend.

The play brings out the power struggle for the Mughal throne between heirs down the generation. Most of the emperors witnessed ugly power struggles with the accompanying palace intrigue and battles between brothers. Akbar's confrontation with Bairam Khan, Nur Jahan's wish to see Prince Shahryar on the throne instead of Prince Khurram (Shahjahan) who himself saw enough misery in his last days were well captured.

When Aurangzeb appeared on stage the youngster remarked that he doesn't look like even Aurangzeb's servant. The king who imposed jaziya and expanded Mughal rule lived on earnings made by copying the Quran and stitching caps. Right from Babur, Humayun to the 'benovelent' Akbar, the 'womaniser' Jehangir, the 'magnificent' Shah Jahan, the 'mighty' Aurangzeb to Bahadur Shah Zafar - none of them went for Haj - despite their wealth and power and capability.

The last Nizam, touted as the richest man of his time, did not go to Haj even though he made arrangements for pilgrims in Mecca at his expense Faith aside, being in constant command was perhaps a prerequisite to safeguard the kingdom and maintain ones hold. A trip to Mecca meant being away from the throne for few months, at a time when a few days would turn the tide. However, they never shied away from sending unwanted and troublesome relatives, generals to Haj to have their paths clear.

The title Babur Ki Aulad is apt as the play is indeed about the sons of Babur. It does touch upon the attempt to use Babur Ki Aulad to label a community as alien to India. As the narrative flows it reveals why the Mughals acted the way they did. Some of the more popular Mughals were born of Hindu mother - Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan Bahadur Shah Zafar.

It is an irony that the principal language used in Babur's time disappeared from the Mughal court quite soon. Chaghatay, the language in which Babur wrote his Baburnama, which was his first language gave way to Persian. While Akbar could converse in it, his son Jehangir could only understand it. Babur's alienation had started much earlier.

The play originally written by Salman Khurshid in English was translated in Urdu by Ather Farouqui. "We thought it fit that the play be in Urdu in London and for the English version you have to come down to India," Khurshid said. Also present was the Indian High Commissioner to UK Dr Jaimini Bhagwati with his wife.

When the play ended it was a relief to see Tom Alter stand erect. During the whole play all he had was a bed, one-fourth his size, which made me sitting in the audience constantly uncomfortable. Tom was not very happy with the cameras flashing all along during the performance and spelled out his displeasure. 

"Hindustan mein inse zyaada gora aur inse achhi Urdu bolne waala koi nahin hain," said Sayeed Alam at the end.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fathema Ismail: Mumbai's millionaire polio activist

In 2011, India declared itself polio-free. It had taken decades of government and civil society intervention to achieve this result in a country where an attack of polio, and the physical disability it caused, was traditionally regarded as punishment for past sins.

One of the early pioneers of polio activism in India was Fathema Ismail, who was born in 1903. Ismail was the sister of the flamboyant mill owner, Umar Sobhani, an ardent Congress party activist who was very close to M.K. Gandhi and who, in fact, supported the party financially in a major way. Given her brother’s proximity to nationalist leaders, Ismail was naturally also drawn to issues of social emancipation.

In 1936, she had served as the Secretary of the Simla branch of the All India Women’s Conference. Her Nepean Sea Road residence in Bombay (now Mumbai), where she lived after marriage, was a meeting ground for members of the party. She was known to have hidden Jayaprakash Narayan, then a young freedom fighter, under her bed to escape getting arrested by the police! She was also actively involved in women’s education and was a founder member of All India Village Industries Association.

Her life, however, took a different turn when in the 1940s her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter was diagnosed with poliomyelitis. The shocked mother realised there was very little that could be done, but driven by her personal anguish, she travelled the length and breath of the country to ensure that her daughter got the best medical attention available at that time. More than her daughter’s condition, it was the attitude of the medical community and lack of proper treatment for polio patients that disturbed her.

Finally, Ismail was referred to Dr M.G. Kini, a renowned orthopaedic surgeon based in Madras (now Chennai). For around eight months, her daughter underwent treatment at Stanley Medical Hospital under the supervision of Dr Kini and all the while she herself made sure to imbibe the basic principles that underlay the rehabilitation of the polio stricken.

From Madras, she went to Pune next, since it offered her daughter more salubrious weather conditions than those that prevailed in Bombay. Here Ismail regularly visited the Army Rehabilitation Centre, which took care of injured soldiers and officers, to observe for herself the methods employed there.

After around three years of such work, she decided to put her experience to good use by assisting parents struggling to get their disabled children treated. She single-handedly networked with the medical community to achieve this and her first step was to collaborate with Bombay’s leading doctors to start a rehabilitation centre.

By May 1947, even as the country was on the threshold of independence, the Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Centre for Infantile Paralysis had taken shape. But it did not have premises from which to operate. The space crunch was eventually resolved after Dr A.V. Baliga, a surgeon and educationist, offered his clinic to Ismail since he himself was going to the US on a six-month tour. Thanks to Dr Baliga's generosity the Centre could start functioning and patients began to trickle in as word spread. By July 1948, the Centre had a waiting list of more than a hundred patients with around 80 children under treatment.

Once the Centre was up and running, Ismail began to work towards the creation of supportive organisations like the Society for the Education of the Crippled (SEC), the Fellowship of the Physically Handicapped, and the Children's Orthopaedic Hospital, all of which continue to be around today.

Ismail was a true visionary who understood how difficult it was for differently-abled children to get access to educational and recreational facilities and she worked hard to address this concern.

Veteran journalist, M.V. Kamath, who was then a reporter with ‘The Free Press Journal’, did a story on her, naming her India’s Sister Elizabeth Kenny. Kenny, incidentally, was a remarkable Australian nurse who had evolved rehabilitation techniques for polio patients. Such media coverage made Ismail’s work better known among those who really needed such support and with this the number of patients who sought medical assistance increased dramatically. People began to realise that children with disabilities had as much right to a future as any other child.

With the phenomenal increase in the number of patients, Ismail decided to expand the movement. Since the rich and educated could seek assistance from economically prosperous countries, she decided to focus on the less privileged. They clearly needed help and information.

In September 1947, just after the country had gained independence, Ismail - ably supported and guided by the socially conscious doctors and surgeons – established the ‘Society for the Rehabilitation of Disabled and Crippled Children’. As Ismail put it herself, it was to “organise diagnostic and treatment facilities and to educate the public on the problem as well as to collect statistics”. The government could now no longer overlook her pioneering efforts in the area, and released a grant to ensure that the good work being done could continue.

In 1951, she represented India at the Second International Polio Poliomyelitis Congress. She also visited several countries to gain first-hand experience on the different ways to support and help polio survivors. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 1958 and was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1978. The pioneering activist passed away on February 4, 1987.

Piecing together the shards of Fathema Ismail’s remarkable life is not easy given the sparse information available. For instance, the question arises as to what happened to her daughter whose treatment had led to the determined mother emerging as a disability activist. Again Kamath provides some clues. In the 1970s, he was introduced to a certain Miss Ismail at a party in New York. As he notes in his book, ‘Reporter at Large’, she turned out to be the daughter of Fathema Ismail and bore no visible trace of any disability. She was married and had children.

But it was not just her own daughter to whom Ismail had reached out - she had helped innumerable children stand on their own feet and enjoy lives on their own terms. Today, she continues to do this through the institutions she built and nurtured.

—(Women's Feature Service, Published in Kashmir Times)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Kamila Tyabji: Passion WIT charisma

In the late 1940s, an Indian woman was making her mark in the courtrooms of London. Kamila Tyabji's Oxford education and crisp saris sought to break the stereotype of Indian women. She was also the first woman to practice in the Privy Council Chamber. However, years of staying in England did not make her lose her affinity to India, where she returned to start the Women's India Trust (WIT) in 1968, leaving behind a successful career in law.
Born on February 14, 1918, Tyabji studied at St Xavier's College, Mumbai, after which she joined St Hugh's College at Oxford to study law. She was granddaughter of Congressman Badruddin Tyabji, who had famously granted bail to Lokmanya Tilak in 1897. Her father, Faiz Tyabji, was a distinguished lawyer and social reformer and made available for his children the best education possible. 

Tyabji took forward her family's tradition of strong and independent women when she did not yield to her parents' wish of having her come back to Mumbai after finishing her studies. Instead, she built a successful practice in London, excelling in insurance cases. Her sojourns to court became the talk of the town and she was credited with having introduced 'brilliant silken saris to the somber monotony of London's law courts'. 

What finally prompted her to quit her charmed social circle of London and come back to India was the famine that hit Bihar in the early 1960s. She decided to join Jayaprakash Narayan and work for grassroots women. 

After studying the law, politics could definitely have been her calling. After all, Tyabji had sailed on the same ship as Indira Gandhi for Oxford, and she had a family background in politics – even her mother, Salima was a member of the Bombay Legislative Assembly in 1937. Yet, she consciously chose to stay away from that arena. 
Social activism is how she chose to make a difference. And it is as the founder of the Women's India Trust (WIT) that she is best remembered. With a capital of Rs 10,000 she started WIT, an organisation that did pioneering work from Panvel, a few kilometers away from Mumbai. It began by training marginalised and unskilled women to stitch sari petticoats. The idea was to make them economically independent. 

Today it also runs a nursing home, kindergarten teachers' training classes and other vocational skill enhancing programmes. 

Tyabji's formal training in law meant she also kept up with the burning social issues of her times. The Shah Bano case and the Uniform Civil Code also kept her busy and she did not feel shy about voicing her opinion and concerns. 

So close was she to the subject of women's empowerment that she was chosen to represent India at the United Nations on the status of women. But, for her, these foreign trips were also about scouting for potential markets and consumers for WIT products. In fact, it was her dedication and enthusiasm that propelled WIT products towards foreign markets. 

Today, WIT continues to grow and in its quest to help as many less privileged and unskilled women as possible, it has broadened its activities. Apart from the food processing units, there are departments dedicated to tailoring, screen printing, toy making, and block printing. Keeping in mind the lack of formal education, many girls and women are given professional training so that they can become financially independent in time. 

A whole range of products, from chutneys, jams, marmalades and fresh fruit squashes to greeting cards, gift envelopes, home linen, paper products, toys, mobile covers and wallets are made by these women and exported to countries such as Spain, Germany, the UK and Australia. WIT's cloth and slipper bags are also used by top hotels across India. 

Tyabji passed away on May 17, 2004, but just as her saris had made heads turn in London, WIT products, in their own way, have also carved a niche in today's competitive market.

(This article was originally done for Women's Feature Service and published in The Hindu) 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nazir Hussain: From INA to Bollywood

Nazir Hussain, the famous character artist was born on May 15, 1922 in the village of Usia in Uttar Pradesh's Ghazipur district. Hussain, now long forgotten, acted in more than 400 movies and is considered as the Pitamah of Bhojpuri cinema. Much before it became fashionable and productive, Hussain was instrumental in the making of first Bhojpuri film 'Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo' produced by B P Shahabadi. The success of Bhojpuri films in the last few years led to talks of his contribution to Bhojpuri cinema. However, not many know that he was in Subash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army (INA), which became the reason for his entry into Bollywood.

Nazir Hussain's father Shahabzad Khan was a guard in the Railways and Hussain grew up in Lucknow. He worked in the British army for a short time but came under the influence of Subhas Chandra Bose and joined the Indian National Army (INA). I asked scholar Sugata Bose about Nazir Hussain and he replied: "Yes, Nazir Hussain was in the INA. He joined with Bimal Roy to make the film 'Pahela Aadmi' based on the INA experience." I have not been able to find out his exact role but he seems to have faced imprisonment and was released after Independence. He was accorded the status of freedom fighter and was given free railway pass for life.

In those days Bimal Roy was planning a film on Bose and the INA. To give it an authentic touch he was scouting for INA members to help him. Nazir Hussain's personality and impressive voice perhaps helped Bimal Roy to notice him. However, Hussain was reluctant to work in films as he had no such background. After much persuasion and cajoling from friends and colleagues he relented. 'Pehla Aadmi' released in 1950 launched him to stardom and he became a permanent fixture in Bimal Roy's movies.

He excelled as a character artist and starred in several blockbuster movies. He became famous for his emotional scenes and is best remembered for his roles in Amar Akbar Anthony, Charas, Jewel Thief, Parakh, Devdas, Leader, Ram Aur Shyam, Kashmir Ki Kali and many others. While Hussain was busy in the Bombay film industry a meeting with President Rajendra Prasad changed the course of his life. At an awards function, Hussain was introduced to Prasad and after knowing that he hailed from Ghazipur started speaking in Bhojpuri.

Prasad told Hussain to consider making Bhojpuri films which resulted in the super hit 'Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo'. Hussain wrote the script for the movie that became a raging hit. The songs were super hit and Hussain himself went on to produce and direct several Bhojpuri films in the 60s and 70s. One of his films Balam Pardesia is considered a landmark in the Bhojpuri film industry. Unlike the Bhojpuri films of today, the films made by Nazir Hussain (and others) revolved around social issues. They tackled the problems of dowry and landless farmers, highlighting the wickedness of cruel zamindars and capitalists.

My personal favourite is his role as a rickshaw puller who trains Balraj Sahni in Bimal Roy's Do Bigha Zameen. Despite his broad shoulders and good physique, he excelled in roles as heroine's father or poor, helpless farmer/worker. Any film he starred had to have a crying scene. No doubt he was dubbed 'Aansuon Ka Kanastar' in the film industry. In real life too he was an emotional person. He used to don silky suits and Indian clothes with equal elan in movies. However, whenever he used to visit his native village he prefered dhoti-kurta. People would come from far-off places in huge numbers to see and meet him at his small village in Ghazipur.

Hussain shot several of his films at his ancestral village and put Ghazipur on the film industry map. After Nazir Hussain, Ghazipur gave several film personalities like Rahi Masoom Raza, Anjan Shrivastava and Yunus Parvez. The veteran actress Leela Mishra too was from Ghazipur and starred along with Nazir Hussain in 'Ganga Maiya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo'.

"I have met Nazir cha in Bombay and he told me that he had been in the INA and became very emotional thinking of my parents," activist Subhashini Ali, daughter of Colonel Prem Kumar and Captain Lakshmi Sehgal told me few months back. I remember meeting actor Raj Babbar in Mumbai for a report and when I told him I am from Ghazipur his immediate remark was: "Nazir Hussain too was from Ghazipur."        

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The humility of Hasan Gafoor

For the last few months, very infrequently though, I was requesting Hasan Gafoor to provide me a picture of his late father Khwaja Gafoor. The senior Gafoor had retired as the additional chief secretary in Maharashtra and was instrumental in the establishment of the state Urdu Academy along with some other Urdu afficionados. "Yes, he was part of that group," he told me. However, when pressed for a photograph and some more details, he would not venture much. "Look for it. You will definitely get it from somewhere. Try the central library in London for his book where you will get what you want."

That was so typical of Hasan Gafoor. I remember asking him about a case as a journalist covering the crime beat and he told me: "Speak to the senior inspector. He will have the details." A thorough professional, his personality belied the fact that he was an ace shooter who hardly missed the target. Simplicity marked his personal and professional life.

Not much is known about the sandwiches he used to carry for lunch in his younger days. His staff used to wonder how their 'sahab' could manage to survive the whole day on 'few slices of bread'. Some felt he was more suited for a posting in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or the National Police Academy (NPA). But it was perhaps for these few slices of bread from home, that he did not go on central deputation except to Air India much later in his career. His family including his aged mother (who died few months ago) were well settled in Mumbai.

One of the decisions he took after becoming Mumbai police commissioner in 2008 was scaling down his own personal security. During the 26/11 attack, he chose not to wear a bulletproof vest just like the several other ordinary cops. He himself escaped being a target of the Pakistani terrorists while outside Trident. But Gafoor was not the one to blow his own trumpet. Nor was he the one to malign anybody. Which is why the interview he gave to a magazine (in which he named four IPS officers for not responding well to the 26/11 situation) came as a surprise.

Despite being ill-equipped the Mumbai police had its share of heroes. While Tukaram Ombale, Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar among others lost their lives giving the ultimate sacrifice there were also some who bravely took on the terrorists. Vishwas Nagre Patil, the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) of South Mumbai was right inside the Taj hotel. The area was under his jurisdiction and he took the challenge head on. 

I was among the earliest reporters to reach the Taj site thanks to photographer colleague Raju Shinde who got a tip that 'a group of drunken youth had opened fire'. Later, I noticed the official car belonging to Rajvardhan, a DCP who was not really obliged to be there but had ventured inside Taj. I spoke to his anxious driver who said 'sahab andar gaye'. I immediately called him and left messages. He responded after few hours. Rajvardhan went inside because he felt he could not be anywhere else. And no words can do justice to Sadanand Date's heroic exploits at Cama Hospital.     

Hemant Karkare's funeral was the next big event for the media where some senior news channel journalists had also come. Gafoor did not give any interviews there, while the then state DGP A N Roy obliged them with bytes just next to the pyre of Hemant Karkare. The enormity of the 26/11 attacks meant that those in the hot seats had to show they had done their best or at least cut a good figure through the media. Hasan Gafoor was the last officer to indulge in such exhibitionism. 
What made matters worse for him was that he also became an easy prey for some who got the media to focus on him. And not being a 'ring back with confirmation' police officer, it was much easier for the media to go after him. Interestingly, a news report indicates the possible role of Nira Radia in the vilification campaign against Gafoor.

Unlike most of the officers, Hasan Gafoor never texted reporters. He would never 'confirm' or 'deny' anything through a text message. He would only speak on the phone or meet journalists in the office. Occasionally, he would return calls. Barring important cases like the 26/11 terror attacks and the earlier arrests of Indian Mujahideen terrorists (where in both the crime branch and ATS chiefs shared a platform), Gafoor kept his press conferences to a minimum. A senior inspector of police excited about his 'marvelous detection' requested Gafoor to take the press conference. Gafoor told him: "I have seen your interviews in the media. You speak very well. Go ahead why do you need me."

One police commissioner was so concerned about his image that he used to send an officer to meet journalists who portrayed him in a 'bad light'. One such officer came to meet me with his master's grievance - the commissioner was unhappy with his picture being used with a story pertaining to the Mumbai police! A senior journalist told me about a supercop who took an influential editor for a drink after his publication carried a negative report about him. Gafoor used no such tactics or tricks.

Any other officer in place of Gafoor, with even a slightly better penchant to deal with media, would have become a hero for heading the Mumbai police in the wake of an unprecedented terror attack. Sadly in the media, humility and heroism don't go together.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

An Alig Remembers Shahryar

By Guest Blogger: Mohammad Sajjad

To pen down in memory of somebody who kept me so dear to himself is too difficult a task. I am choked with emotions too deeply, even though we knew it for the last so many months that the cruel hands of the greatest truth called DEATH is going to snatch him away from us.
Munhasar marney pe ho jis ki ummeed
   Naa ummeedi us ki dekha chahiye

My friend, Syed Ekram Rizwi, devastated with the news of Shahryar’s death, called me saying, ‘only dust is left in Aligarh now’  
hadd-e-nigaah tak yahan ghubaar hi ghubaar hai

While joining the namaaz-e-janazah at the AMU Graveyard [Minto E], I could recall what he had said few years back, when he was about to retire from the services as professor of AMU. He was living in the type ‘A’ quarters of AMU which is located just across the graveyard separated by  the ‘Gulistan-Syed’ which was then a desert like field. Somebody reminded him, ‘Sir, you will now have to quit the university quarters and you are yet to have a house of your own’. To this, pointing his fingers towards Gulistan-e-Syed, in his characteristic way, Shahryar sb told very casually, ‘ab makaan wakaan kya banana, ab to sirf yeh maidan paar karna hai.  

He had also composed a poem,
Ghar ki Taameer tasawwur hi mein ho sakti hai
apnay naqshay ke mutabiq yeh zamin kuchh kam hai

When I had come to Aligarh as a student, I was already some sort of a fan of Shahryar, the poet who composed beautiful songs for a marvellous film of Muzaffar Ali, Umrao Jaan. I was dying to see him, and when I saw him on a 50 cc moped Hero Majestic, the naive, innocent student in me was stuck with his simplicity that in contrast with the ‘professors’ I was familiar with [before coming to Aligarh] were riding Bajaj scooters or Rajdoot motorcycles of 150 cc, if not cars. The ‘film’ of Shahryar, moving on that moped, remains preserved in my memory, quite indelibly.

In the last 12-13 years, he had made me become much closer to him, sharing too many things about the culture and politics of AMU, about some interesting persons of the campus and also about so many other things. By late 1990s, we had started feeling much agitated about certain aspects of AMU. In order to comprehend these, we started looking into history of AMU; in order to share our feelings we resorted to pamphleteering which was also a kind of catharsis. In this way we came across one of his poems, ‘Muslim University ki Fariyaad

Mujawiron ki bheerh ney
Mujhey phir ek qabr mein badal diya
Main keh raha der sey
Main zinda hoon
Meri sada mein baaz gasht kyon nahi
Merey khuda
Mujhey sazaein jitni de
Pe yun nahin

This particular poem further increased our appetite to get closer to him in order to have more frequent longer sessions of conversations with him; he used to offer us too much of cold drinks, which was an added incentive. He however remained reluctant about sharing his feelings/ observations which moved him to the extent of making him compose this kind of poem, which is his angst against the deeply entrenched vested interests of his alma mater. 

When we shared that his poem has been used in one of our pamphlets, he seemed glad about it but simultaneously expressed his mild disapproval, then he went on to say with a lovely smile, ‘aap log to hamari nazm ka siyasi istemaal kar key mujhey merey apnon se door karna chahtey hain, aap ke liye apney idaray mein khushgawaar tabdiliyan aham hain, hamarey liye to merey zaati taaluqaat aham hain, khwah woh ‘un mujawiron ki bheerh’ hi mein kyon na hon.[you people are making political use of my poem and thereby you intend to create gulf between me and my acquaintances, for you more important is to bring about pleasant changes on the campus, for me more important is continuing good relations with the people, howsoever they might be the vested interests spoiling AMU]. 

We recalled his lines,
Tujh ko ruswa na kiya khud bhi pashemaan na huey
Ishq ki rasm ko is taraha nibhaya ham ney

He would then ask us to be a bit pragmatic, by exercising certain degree of restraint in our pamphlets. Simultaneously he would also add, betey inhin kaawishon se likhna parhna aur duniya ko samajhna bhi seekh paogey, halaan ki aisi targheeb de kar main tum baaghi naujawanon ki tez dhaar ko kund karney ka gunaah bhi kar raha hoon [My son, with such efforts you would grow intellectually and also become worldly wise, however by asking you to be moderate I am also committing the crime of blunting the edge of the productive rebellion in youth]. He would further say, ‘I am no pessimist, yet I must say that you and your friends were engaged in letting flowers blossom in the desert of AMU, it was an exercise in futility, yet, this was undoubtedly an exercise worth doing at least for sometime in the prime of youth’.

He would often share, ‘in AMU, those who are today expressing their grievances against infirmities of Indian secularism, are/ were the worst kind of communalists’, while saying so he was also equally critical of the ‘progressives’ and Leftists of the campus. According to him, quite a lot of such ‘progressives’, have also degenerated into ‘vested interests’, i.e. ‘mujawiron ki bheerh’, who have turned AMU into a qabr, deadplace.

Having heard such remarks from him more than once, I once mustered the courage of submitting a request to him: ‘kindly write down your memoir’. For sometime he prevaricated on the issue and maintained silence or gently pushed it aside by bringing in other subjects. As I persisted with this demand for too long then he passed a highly pertinent remark, ‘betey, khudnawisht to bahadur log likhtey hain jin ke andar apney gunahon ka aitraaf karney aur sach likhney ki jasaarat ho, aur main to nihayat buz dil insaan hoon’ [my son, autobiographies can be written only by the brave people; those who have the guts of confessing their follies and have the courage of speaking truth; I am too timid a person]. Later on he elaborated upon it and said that if he had to write his autobiography he will end up antagonizing too many people close to him, and that was, by his own admission, quite unaffordable for him. He however later on composed a poem with this line:
Buz dil honey ka khamiyazah sapney mein bhi bhugta hai

He then gifted me Wahab Ashrafi’s autobiography, Qissa Be-samt Zindagi Ka, and said, ‘you should appreciate one good thing about this autobiography that the author has made frank confession of the indignities he inflicted upon himself just in greed of a position [jaah-o-martaba ki lalach], Chairman, Universities Service Commission’.

Once I wanted to know his views/observations about anti-Bihari prejudices among some sections of AMU-ites. I thought this particular query of mine would be quite provocative. But that was not the case. He narrated, ‘you see, the Muslims of UP, particularly the decadent feudal elites, take pride in their chaste Urdu, which they are abandoning or unlearning for whatever reasons, as against it, the Muslim students, coming from Bihar as well as from eastern UP, are generally well versed in Urdu, with appreciable degree of interests in creative literature, regardless of their preferred disciplines of studies’. He would then add with a smile, bordering on laughter, meri beti ney to shaadi ke liye ek Bihari ko hi pasand kiya, aur Patna ke hukkaaam aur siyasatdanon se lekar Bihar ke adab dost log to mujh se itni zyada mohabbat kartey hain ki agar sachai kuchh aur bhi hoti to main Bihariyon ki himayat mein hi kharha rehta, itni dayanatdaari ki tawaqqo to mujh se rakh hi saktey ho.

In 2009, in the Wisconsin (USA) journal, Annual of Urdu Studies, I published a long essay on a novel dealing with naxalism in Bihar. This was an outcome mainly of his persuasion. As said earlier, most often, he disliked the idea of talking about his own poetry, and in order to push it aside he used to bring in other issues. This is how he enquired about my opinion on the origin, development and trajectory of the naxalite movement in Bihar. After listening to me, he asked whether I had read Dhamak, an Urdu novel by Abdus Samad, as my answer was in affirmative he immediately sort of issued a command to write something on this. I gladly abided by it and having taken help of few more well-wishers, when finally I showed him the published version of the print, he was very happy to see it. As he saw his name acknowledged by me in the essay, he became dismissive about his role in prompting me to do the job. Then he went through my essay on (under)depiction of 1857 in the fiction of Qurratulain Hyder which I had presented in a seminar in BHU (now published in a volume edited by Rakhshanda Jalil); he asked me to render it in Urdu and sent it to Humayun Zafar Zaidi to publish it in a volume edited by him, and published by the Maktaba Jamia.

The academic-literary world of Urdu in India is said to be bitterly divided between two groups, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi and Gopi Chand Narang. Shahryar sb was dear to both. Only a lovely person like him could manage such things so beautifully.

In one such sessions of conversation, I took the liberty of knowing his assessment of the better known ‘communists’ of AMU. Having said few good things about them, he shared few confidential anecdotes, taking my strong assurance that I won’t be writing it till he is alive. He said, ‘I am making a confession that I have partly contributed in getting a recruitment of an ineligible candidate as Reader, approved by an Executive Council (EC) member, who was a Dean as well [the member, a renowned academic, is no more now]. I was persuaded by my teacher, the renowned scholar, to persuade an EC member close to me, to do the favour in the EC meeting, I requested the EC member; with lot of reluctance, he finally agreed to oblige me only by remaining silent on, rather than opposing, the recruitment’.

That Reader became Professor and then Chairman, but he never made even a courtesy call [to Shahryar sb]. He became too belligerent against the renowned scholar as well who had curried all these favours for him from these people sullying his own image. Then Shahryar sb became fairly explicit about the moral of the story. He said, ‘my son! Here is a lesson for you. Never ever extend such outrageous favours to incompetent people in academia, such people turn very badly unfaithful to their benefactors’. While narrating this painful anecdote, Shahryar sb was visibly uncomfortable with the discourtesy/perfidy of the Reader who also became Professor and then Chairman of a very prestigious Department.

We had heard a lot [and read] about the angst of Rahi Masoom Raza against few people of AMU. We therefore remained curious about knowing the version of Shahryar sb. He was generous enough, and had enough love for me to have granted this much liberty to me and have shared such things. He said that Rahi had some grievances against him also. The reason was: in one of the selection committees for the position of lecturer (temporary), Rahi did not turn up for interview, whereas Shahryar was called at eleventh hour by the Dean and was selected. Rahi did not turn up, as he was told that Shahryar has been called specially by the Dean; that the ‘match’ was already ‘fixed’, and therefore there was no point in appearing before the Selection Committee.

Fact of the matter, as shared with me by Shahryar was that one more vacancy had emerged, and therefore there was absolutely no question of substituting Rahi with Shahryar. But given the temperament of Rahi, he never believed this version and nursed the grievances against the ‘system’ (Dean) as well as against the ‘rival candidate’ (Shahryar); in fact Rahi never even allowed anybody to explain the matter. Shahryar was sad about this, but he could not do anything; he was particularly angry with one of the ‘friends’ common to both Shahryar and Rahi, who rather than helping reduce the tension, he kept working towards widening the gulf between the two. Shahryar valued personal relations to great extent, yet he suffered the pain of losing relationship. 

Probably because of having undergone these experiences, he composed this:
Kabhi kisi ko mukammal jahan nahin milta
Kahin zameen to kahin aasmaan nahin milta
He often used to call me at his flat in the Safeena Apartment to have long casual chats. Not long ago, he asked me to provide him with biographical accounts of Nur Jahan, the Mughal Empress, but the condition put by him was that it should have some illustrative photographs. The purpose was: his good friend Muzaffar Ali was contemplating the idea of making a film on the subject, and Shahryar was supposed to compose lyrics for the film. I told him that he had got so many good friends who are big and highly accomplished historians of Medieval Indian History, and it was therefore strange to turn towards me, a semi-literate student of the history of Medieval India. He said, ‘I don’t have to read serious details of the history of Nur Jahan, I only have to scan through some anecdotes, some photographs which should help me create lyrics for the film’. It was, in fact, merely his tremendous love and affection for me that he indulged me too much. Very affectionately, he would always instruct me to keep producing researches, staying away from the ‘bitter factionalism’ within my Department.  

His passing away is a terrible personal loss for me.

Mohammed Sajjad is an Assistant Professor at the Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University, India