The courage behind the laughter

By Zubeida Mustafa

It was November 1956. The Suez crisis had thrown the Middle East in a turmoil. A summit of the Muslim members of the Baghdad Pact was being held in the Iraqi capital. The visiting leaders had been invited to dinner by Pakistan’s ambassador, Mr Shuaib Qureshi.

Suddenly word came that Shah Faisal of Iraq had expressed the desire to accompany President Iskander Mirza to the dinner. In those days of yore, the Iraqi monarchs did not as a matter of royal protocol go to embassy parties. Hence this was an honor for Pakistan.

By Zubeida Mustafa
The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs is one of the oldest research institutions in the country. In the 1970s, which were years of change for the institute, Khalida Qureshi’s steady presence and devoted and meticulous work gave continuity and stability to this organisation which she served for over two decades. As the Director of Research, hers was the key role in keeping PIIA’s research tradition alive at the leanest period in its history.

It was November 1956. The Suez crisis had thrown the Middle East in a turmoil. A summit of the Muslim members of the Baghdad Pact was being held in the Iraqi capital. The visiting leaders had been invited to dinner by Pakistan’s ambassador, Mr Shuaib Qureshi.

Suddenly word came that Shah Faisal of Iraq had expressed the desire to accompany President Iskander Mirza to the dinner. In those days of yore, the Iraqi monarchs did not as a matter of royal protocol go to embassy parties. Hence this was an honor for Pakistan.

19-02-1993

A wave of excitement ran through the mission. The hostess was Khalida Qureshi, the ambassador’s daughter, who deputed for her late mother. She was very young at the time. But what she lacked in experience she made up in charm and hospitality. In the short time available she managed to have everything set for the royal guests.

But in her nervousness and eagerness to have everything in perfect order, Khalida forgot to mind her step when she went to receive King Faisal. It was only later when the photographs came in that she discovered to her great horror that it was she who was occupying the place of honour in the middle of the red carpet that had specially been laid for the monarch’s reception. The royal visitor had, been edged off the carpet. Years later, this was an incident Khalida would recount with good humour. There were many more such faux pas in her repertoire of lively anecdotes that made her such an excellent conservationist. One never tired of listening to her. She possessed the art of converting the most embarrassing of situations into an occasion for laughing at herself.

Then there was the story of the broken shoe. At a formal diplomatic party thrown by the British ambassador in Baghdad, Khalida felt the heel of her Cindrella-like shoe come off no sooner than she had entered. As she struggled to discreetly kick away the offending object,* the host noticed her predicament and came to her rescue.

The shoe was promptly dispatched for repairs and brought back on a silver salver.
But there was something more in the anecdotes that Khalida had to tell: her inborn sense of humour. It was this quality that made her the life of every gathering. It also made her a lovable person who put others at ease, for the jokes at her own expense conveyed the message, “I am after all human and not infallible.”

I first met her at the Karachi University after we were admitted in the International Relations department. She was well-travelled and as the hostess of the parties thrown by her ambassador father Khalida had had many interesting encounters with people whose names now figure in contemporary history. She spoke about her experiences with natural ease making them interesting and entertaining. I learnt infinitely more from these discourses than from the theoretical text of the books on diplomacy. Khalida’s light-heated demeanor could be quite deceptive though. One had to know her better to detect the rock-like courage and seriousness of purpose which lay beneath her jovial exterior. They kept her going through adversity, inspiring others who met her.

For hers was not quite the life a young and intelligent girl from an upper class family of high repute (her maternal grandfather was the great freedom fighter Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar whose fiery spirit of independence she inherited) is called upon to lead. She gave up her studies when her mother fell ill (and later died). This was the most challenging period of her life and given her youth and inexperience, she could have faltered. But she rose to the challenge learning much more than young women of her age were required to know as she strove to be a mother to her younger sisters and play the perfect hostess at the embassy parties.

After being mostly in the company of older people for ten years she decided to resume her studies when her father retired and settled in Karachi. Now she was called upon to adjust to the company of girls much younger in age. She did it gracefully and with good cheer. During her travels she had discovered her natural flair for foreign languages. When she went back to the university, she found that she was intrigued by the academic dimension of international affairs.

There was no looking back after that. Her interest in the subject was further stimulated by the research job she took up at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs where she worked for over 20 years, writing papers and reports. After the death of the founder- Secretary of the Institute, Khwaja Sarwar Hasan, Khalida was increasingly called upon to guide younger scholars and edit the research journal. She did these jobs with untiring devotion until she took final leave ten days before she died on February 23,1983. No one knew how seriously ill she was, surgery and radiotherapy having seemingly brought a remission in her cancer. But insidiously the illness was devouring her liver. She continued to be her kind and con. siderate self, forever concerned about the comfort of those who came to visit her, though all along she was fighting a losing battle against the dreaded disease.

Only once for a fleeting moment she had seemed to despair. When she discovered the lump and was due to go in for surgery she called me up. I went to see her. She would • always declare it time for tea whenever we got together. It reminded us of good old times. That day she was pensive. “I feel like packing that tin trunk we always talk about,” she sadly declared. (She was referring to an old joke we shared of wanting to run away with a trunk full of clothes whenever things seemed to be going drastically wrong in life.)

“The only problem is,” she added after a pause, “my illness will come with me wherever I go. So what good would it do running away?” Thereafter she came to terms with her illness, departing gracefully after due farewells only when her time was up. But she did not have to pack her steel trunk for her final Journey

No ambassador can be greater than his country

By Zubeida Mustafa

It had been a really windy day. The Karachi University campus wore a dusty look. That was not unusual. In those days there were few trees and greenery to shield it from the sprawling sandy wastes where Gulshan-i-Iqbal stands today. When we reached the University we found the tables, chairs and blackboard in the Seminar Room coated with dust which had also drawn wavy patterns on the floor.

We had learnt to ignore the natural elements as the price we had to pay for the spaciousness of the campus. This day was no different until Dr Khurshid Hyder reached the University in time for her class. She was teaching us International Relations. No sooner had she arrived, that every one was acutely made aware of how unacceptable it was for academics to be in unclean surroundings. She went straight for the broom and without much ado began sweeping the room. Of course that stirred every one into action and the students promptly took over the clean-up operation. She had given the lead. Continue reading “No ambassador can be greater than his country”

An unconventional calling

By Zubeida Mustafa

Way back in 1974, when Khushi Kabir first went to Vnandapur, a remote village in Sylhet, to do relief and rehabilitation work for Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), it was a new experience for her.

Previously   her work had been restricted to the village on the outs- kirts of Dhaka. Anandapur took her away from her home and family, Living among the peasants and interacting with them, Khushi developed a new approach to life. She gradually shed off her inhibitions and values imbibed from her middle class background (her father was Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Information in United Pakistan). She was soon to discover the fulfilment of working with the downtrodden.

Continue reading “An unconventional calling”

Slow acceptance of a major breakthrough: Computerised calligraphy

By Zubeida Mustafa

IT IS now eighteen months that computerised Urdu nastaliq calligraphy has been in use in the country but it has yet to produce the impact on Urdu printing it could have been expected to. Only one machine is currently being used in Pakistan to bring out an Urdu daily from Lahore.

Why this delay in response? Not that the inventor, Mr Ahmed Mirza Jamil, has not Continue reading “Slow acceptance of a major breakthrough: Computerised calligraphy”

Memories of a great scholar

By Zuhair Siddiqi, Viewpoint, September, 1977

geust-contDr. Wahid Mirza died in Lahore on September 5.

MOHAMMAD WAHID MIRZA was already in his late seventies, and slowly wearing away, when the country observed the 700th death anniversary of his beau ideal, Amir Khusrau, earlier this year. For nearly forty years, Dr. Mirza had been a distinguished figure in the world of Oriental learning. But outside the limited circle of Orientalists, he was not much known — thanks largely to his own retiring disposition and his inherent dislike of self-projection. During the last year of his life, however, his valuable work on Amir Khusrau brought him much wider recognition among the lay intelligentsia. In their search for authentic material on the fascinating character and amazing achievements of that great savant, writers and journalists inevitably had to turn to Dr.Wahid Mirza’s classic contribution, and many of them acknowledged him as one of the greatest living authorities on the subject. The National Book Foundation published a new edition of his Life and Works of Amir Khusrau, which has held the field as a practically indispensable work of reference ever since it was first published in 1935. And at the request of the Foundation,he produced within a few days, in spite of his old age and failing health, an English translation of Khusrau’s Khazain-ul-Futuh — a short history of the reign of Alauddin Khilji. As wider recognition, and fresh bouquets of tribute came to Dr. Mirza during the last year of his life one was reminded of the touching lines of Robert Blair : Continue reading “Memories of a great scholar”

Obaidullah Sindhi: A fascinating figure

Reviewed by Zuhair Siddiqi

MAULANA OBAIDULLAH SINDHI, HALAAT-1-ZINDGI, Taaleemat, aur siyasi afkaar by Mohammad Sarwar. Fifth edition, Published by Sind Saagar Academy, Lahore. pp. 440; price Rs. 16.00.

geust-contMaulana Obaidullah Sindhi is one of the many fascinating, but now nearly forgotten, figures in the recent cultural and political history of Muslim India. For nearly a third of his life he remained in exile, and when he returned home early in 1939, the political atmosphere was not at all congenial for a man of ideas. No Muslim intellectual who did not carry a Muslim League flag could then expect a patient hearing in his own community. On the other hand, the Maulana’s aversion to Gandhian obscurantism ruled out an active association with the Congress in spite of his general sympathy with its objectives. He continued to preach his religious and political ideas independently, and died in 1944.

Although he was a Punjabi by birth and lived in Sind for many long years, we have read scarcely anything about him in Pakistan except in the writings of his ardent devotee,

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar. The work under review, which appeared in 1943, was first published in Pakistan in 1967. Together with a complement volume entitled Ifadat-o-Malfoozat, it forms a comprehensive study of the life, thought and works of that remarkable man.

Born posthumously in a Sikh family in a Sialkot village, Obaidullah fell under the spell of Islam while still a boy, abandoned his home and family, and embraced the faith of his choice at the hands of a Muslim divine in Sind. At the age of twenty-five, he went for higher religious education to the famous school at Deoband, where he was taught by Maulana Mahmud-ul-Hasan and mastered the traditional Islamic disciplines. After graduation, he returned to Sind, taught for several years, and also established a madrassah where he used to bear the students’ expenses and maintain the teachers. After a few years he went back to Deoband, at the instance of Maulana Mahmud-ul-Hasan, and undertook to organise the old students of the Dar-ul-Uloom. But his mind was too independent to accept the rigid conformism of the Deoband school and he fell out with a section of its ulema, who denounced him as a heretic. He later moved to Delhi and devoted himself to the propagation of his own views on the reconstruction of Muslim society. He took his stand firmly on the Quran and attacked the conventional beliefs and doctrines that he found repugnant to the spirit and essence of the Book.

Advocate of modernism

During the Great War, he was caught in the current of the prevailing pro-Turkish sentiment in Muslim India, and at the instance of Maulana Mahmud-ul-Hasan, went to Kabul to persuade the Afghan ruler to attack the British. He failed, but stayed on in Kabul during the rest of the war years. After the end of the war he became the president of the first branch of the Indian National Congress in Kabul. In 1922, he left Afghanistan for the Soviet Union, where he lived for nearly a year. In the following year he moved to Turkey to witness her rebirth and transformation under Mustafa Kemal. A few years later he went to the Hejaz, where he devoted himself to study and teaching for over a decade.

It was during this long stay in Arabia that Obaidullah embarked upon an exhaustive study of the works of the eminent Muslim thinker and divine of the eighteenth century, Shah Waliullah. He became an ardent follower, and the thoughts and teachings of the Shah dominated his ideas and activities during the rest of his life.

The Maulana did not know any Western language, but he had an open mind and a keen observation, and during his long stay abroad he responded favourably to the currents of radical and revolutionary ideas then sweeping the world around him. He became a strong advocate of socio-economic reform and modernisation in the Muslim world, and pleaded for an ungrudging acceptance of nationalism as a determining factor in its future political organisation.

Federal nationalism

The author has explained Obaidullah Sindhi’s religious and political ideas clearly and concisely, and devoted a whole chapter to the political movement associated with Shah Waliullah. The work is, however, dominated by a reverential spirit which seems to rule out a critical approach. Maulana Obaidullah was as much a hero to Mr. Sarwar as Shah Waliullah was to the Maulana, and neither of them has subjected his hero’s ideas to a really critical examination. The doctrine of wahdat-ul-wujud, as interpreted by the Shah in the eighteenth century, is no doubt noble and sublime; but its utility as a basis for national integration in India was doubtful even at that time, and it had clearly become irrelevant when Maulana Obaidullah sought to preach it two hundred years later.

In spite of his nationalist leanings, Maulana Obaidullah, did not stand for a total national integration in India and envisaged for the Muslims a measure of autonomy far beyond that permissible in a normal federation. This is explained, at least partly, by his aversion to the infiltration of Hindu spiritualism , into Congress politics; in any event, it is significant that the “political manifesto” issued by him as far back as 1924, from Istanbul, envisaged a three-tier system very similar to that proposed under the Cabinet Mission scheme in 1946. Even otherwise, Mr. Sarwar has made it clear that the Maulana’s vision of a free India was not that of an integrated national State; he rather believed in a multinational State based on autonomous linguistic units. It is not clear, however, how he proposed to reconcile the linguistic principle with the claims of Muslim separatism.

Perhaps, the most remarkable aspect of the Maulana’s thought and politics is his ungrudging acceptance of the economic and social consequences of the industrial revolution and his passion for an equitable economic order free from the exploitation of man by man. He urged the Muslims to realize that the industrial revolution and the sweeping social and economic changes that had overtaken the West had not only transformed the methods of production but shaken the very basis of the social and juristic systems under the old order. He wanted the world of Islam to open its eyes and respond to the winds of change rather than continue to coddle itself in revivalist dreams incapable of being realized.

Source: Viewpoint  February 25, 1977

 

 

 

Mian Iftekhar-ud-Din – A man of courage

By Zuhair Siddiqi , Viewpoint, June 11, 1976

geust-contThis article was received too late for inclusion in our issue of June 6, which marked the fourteenth death anniversary of Mian Iftikhar­ud-Din.

On April 18, 1959, a half-educated military dictator, ad­vised and assisted by a clique of underlings, scribes of easy vir­tue, and elevated college passmen, seized the direction and control of the Progressive Papers —the publishers of The Pakis­tan Times, Imroze and Lail-o­-Nahar. A little over three years later—on June 6, 1962—the man who had founded the institution and been its moving spirit for over a decade, died.

Two days earlier, Mian Iftikhar­ud-Din and his political associates had been branded as enemies of the nation in a columnful of editorial gibberish on the front page of The Pakistan Times. When he died, somebody sarcas­tically remarked that that com­bination of political perversity and atrocious English had given the last blow to Mian Sahib’s ailing, lacerated heart.

It was the heyday of Ayub’s despotism, and the mourning for one of its chief victims was, understandably, a muted affair:

Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note—

A crowd of relatives, friends, admirers and old colleagues quietly laid him down in the family graveyard at Baghbanpura. Some dear and near ones cried quietly to themselves. Some newspapers carried perfunctory obituary notices, the most insi­pid ones being those of the news­papers that he had established and nurtured. Continue reading “Mian Iftekhar-ud-Din – A man of courage”

Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan – the end of an era

By Zuhair Siddiqi

guest-contributor“In these dark and threatening times we have to rediscover the vital truths, those great patterns of thought and behaviour, those great moral and spiritual values, the oneness of God and the bro­therhood of man, which are asso­ciated with Islam. Unfortunately, in the course of centuries these central truths are obscured, and rites and rituals, creeds and dog­mas, have covered up the simplicity of the message of Islam. It is the duty of thinkers in each generation to recapture the origi­nal purity and dynamic vigour of the ancient message and re-express it in the idiom of their age”.

Whose voice is this? Not Iq­bal’s. Nor that of any Muslim. It is the voice of Sarvepalli Radha­krishnan, the Indian philosopher and statesman, who passed away last week at the ripe old age of 87. Continue reading “Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan – the end of an era”