Thursday, February 11, 2010

Father-daughter duo who helped Bapu learn Urdu

Few weeks back, The Times of India had reported that the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha will soon have a portrait of Abbas Tyabji (1853-1936). Tyabji, the surname is quite familiar and is associated with philantrophy and education.

Abbas Tyabji (in pic with Gandhiji) was the nephew of Badruddin Tyabji (1844-1906), the first Indian to be appointed chief justice of Bombay High Court. Like his uncle he too joined the Congress and played a pivotal role in the freedom struggle.

Abbas Tyabji studied in England where he lived for more than a decade and went on to become the chief justice in the former princely estate of Baroda. His life changed when he chaired a fact finding committee of the Congress to look into the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre. His first hand experience of the British atrocities turned him towards Congress and he became an ardent follower of Gandhiji.

He chose to divorced himself from all the comforts when he was in his late 60s - a time when people usually take a backseat. He dumped his 'British lifestyle' and plunged himself whole heartedly into the freedom struggle. One of his daughters, Rehana, too got involved in the affairs of the Congress party and along with her father became quite close to Gandhiji. The several letters between Gandhiji and Tyabji are a testimony to the close relationship they shared.

The father-daughter duo helped Gandhiji improve his Urdu. Rehana, became a disciple of Gandhiji and also learnt Hindi very well. Gandhiji used to write letters in Urdu to Ulemas and poets. He also had an Urdu edition for his newspaper - Harijan.

The Tyabjis were known for their work in the educational field. Badruddin Tyabji along with Mohammed Ali Roghay established the Anjuman-I-Islam in Bombay and the entire Tyabji clan believed in empowering womenfolk through education. Renowned ornithologist Salim Ali and eminent historian Irfan Habib belong to the Tyabji family.

Abdullah Yusuf Ali in his book 'Life and Labour of the People of India' (published in 1907) describes the women members of the Tyabji clan: "One of them on a visit to London won a coveted prize at a fancy dress ball at Covent Garden. Several of them can give a good account of themselves with pen or brush. Music, too, has been cultivated - not only on the hackneyed piano, but on the Bin, an ancient musical instrument of India, the classical Vina of the Apsaras. In conversation, artistic talents, and social gifts, they would hold their own in the most cultivated society of Europe and America."

(Sharifa Begum, daughter of Abbas Tyabji. Pic taken from Abdullah Yusuf Ali's book 'Life and Labour of the People of India')

The decision to have a portrait of Abbas Tyabji in Gujarat Vidhan Sabha is laudable and will help more people know the sacrifice and contribution of the Tyabjis.


  1. Dear Danish,

    Thanks. This was known to me. Urdu is a national language, that too a fine language. All Indians should lean it, if possible. It has no connection with any religion.

  2. dear danish

    I'm glad that Tayabji's patriotism is getting recognition though after so many years. Its very encouraging for every Indian national to do their bit and receive some kind of appreciation for honest deed and loyalty.

  3. rehana taiyabjl was a great singer. is it possible to get her songs on u-iube or any other portal?