The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006)

The Kingdom of Awadh (1732-1858), or as the British called it, Oudh, continues to evoke images of a society refined and sophisticated beyond any other. A syncretic melding of the best of Indian and Persianate-Turkic high cultures in all forms of art, architecture, music, poetry and intellect, even food and drink. This all too brief flowering of an elegant blend of cultural traditions was in actuality a long time in the making; the richly cultivated Indo-Gangetic plains were one of the cradles of early civilization, the site of the ancient kingdoms of Kosala and Magadha and the birthplace of Ram amongst many others. Cultural exchanges, trade and commerce with Persia and Central Asia were a constant feature throughout the ancient and early modern periods of history. The legendary wealth of India had always attracted migrants; often adventurers and fortune-seekers, some in search of kingdoms, some with ambitions of world conquests, still other less fortunate seeking refuge and shelter from war-torn homes and natural disasters. India’s abundance of resources was such that she was able to accommodate all. Early European writings about travel in India mention the ease of travel in a country which allowed considerable freedom of movement to foreigners.

Muslims have been a part of the Indian landscape almost from the early days of Islam. In spite of their negative depiction as fanatical aggressors by Colonial British and European historians and more recently by Indian politicians and popular media, India’s early encounters with Islam were peaceful and a mere continuation of the age-long commercial relationship that had flourished across the Indian Ocean from pre-historic times. The first mosque on Indian soil (and still in use) was built in what is now the state of Kerala, at Methala, in AD 629 by an Arab trader. The military conquests by the recently converted Turkic warlords was also a continuation of earlier militant incursions by Central Asian conquerors such as the Scythians, Huns and Kushans. Interestingly, early modern Indians continued to refer to Muslims as Turkusha, a term they had used for over a millennium for the nomadic invaders who came in from the northern passes.

Although small communities of merchants and traders from West and Central Asia had existed in India, pre-and post-Islam and peripatetic Sufis had slowly begun to make their way across the length and breadth of the subcontinent; the establishment of Muslim rule in north India encouraged a further steady and constant flow of scholars, intellectuals, artists, poets along with the merchants and soldiers of fortune. As in the past, war-weary refugees from Central and West Asia, only recently converted to Islam, also sought succour and sanctuary at the magnificent Muslim courts at Delhi.[1] Persian had long been established as the literary and court language at the Imperial courts of West and Central Asia and was so now at the Sultanate court at Delhi and later under the Mughals (1526-1857). As the font of intellectual learning as well as the vehicle for more mundane administrative purposes, its knowledge and mastery ensured instant employment in the vast administrative bureaucracy, as did military skills for displaced or aggrieved Turkic soldiers.[2]

India was the proverbial land of plenty that could embrace and accept all those who came seeking a better life for themselves and their families. This then was the route our ancestors took. Some came as refugees, some were wandering Sufis who laid root in the small towns of North India, others came as adventurers and sought service in Delhi or the many minor Sultanates and kingdoms that came and went with the vicissitudes of time. While some brought their families with them, it is likely that many did not and married into local families.

The antecedents of the Kidwais/Qidwais, the clan to which my father’s maternal ancestors the Jahangirabad family belonged, are fairly well recorded; Qazi Kidwatuddin, from whom the Kidwais/Qidwais trace their lineage is said to have been the brother of the Sultan of Rum,[3] Kaykhusraw, and the Chief Qazi of that Sultanate. A falling out with his brother forced him into exile along with his family. He arrived in India somewhere in the late 1190s and as a Turkish prince was well received at the court of the Sultan of the Ghorids, Muhammad Ghori. Qazi Kidwatuddin is said to have lead a fighting force and managed to win 52 villages in Ayodhya, which became his Jagir and came to be known as Kidwara. This is where he eventually settled down in 1205 in a locality which came to be later known as Kidwai Mohalla. His son Qazi Azizuddin married the daughter of Qazi Fakhar ul-Islam, the Qazi-ul-Quzat of Sultan Iltutmish, thus further consolidating his position amongst the established elites of the court at Delhi.[4] Qazi Kidwa died in 1208 and was buried in a graveyard at Ayodhya which was destroyed in the wake of the 1992 destruction of the Babri Mosque. The Kidwais/Qidwai’s remained firmly entrenched amongst the Ashraf or aristocratic gentry of Awadh, securing substantial estates and power, both secular as well as spiritual, since a number of clan members embraced the Sufi way of life, a tradition firmly rooted in the ethos of Indo-Muslim culture.  Several members of the extended family continued to seek employment at the Mughal courts; a number were appointed qazis and others received mansabs, jagirs and sanads.[5] My father’s great-grandfather Raja Mardan Rasul Khan was a Risaldar or Cavalry Commander in the Nawab of Awadh’s army. His youngest brother Raja Farzand Ali Khan who succeeded to the estate of his father-in-law and kinsman Raja Razzaq Bakhsh of Jahangirabad[6] was a close associate of the last Nawab of Awadh Wajid Ali Shah. According to family lore when Awadh was annexed and taken over by the British in 1856 and the deposed Nawab chose (self) exile in Calcutta, he bequeathed four of his innumerable wives to the widowed Raja along with a Charbagh Palace to accommodate them. My father would relate how he had a vague memory of his mother taking him along on a visit to the youngest remaining Rani at that palace. He recalled her as an extremely pale-skinned, frail old lady; he was around four to six years of age, and the old lady most probably in her late eighties.

The Dewa family, my father’s paternal ancestors trace their origins back to Iran and claim a Syed ancestry. Their ancestor in India was Shah Ziauddin who arrived in India in 1398 as a member of Amir Timur’s retinue. It is said that scions of defeated noble and royal families whose lives had been spared were forced to remain in constant attendance on the emperor and thus under strict surveillance; basically, they were war hostages, albeit of aristocratic lineage. Shah Ziauddin was a scion of the Muzaffarid dynasty, a family of Khorasani origin that ruled Fars, Shiraz and Kerman from 1335 until 1393 when they lost their kingdom to Timur. After the brutal sack of Delhi, Timur realised he had far too many captives and released a number of his earlier hostages on the condition that they remain in India and not venture back to their homelands. The young Shah Zaiuddin made his way to Jaunpur, Awadh, where the former Tughluq governor, the Malik-us-Sharq (Master of the East) had set himself up as an independent ruler in the aftermath of Timur’s devastating conquest of north India and the destruction of the Tugluq Sultanate. It is the Sharqi Sultan who directed Shah Ziauddin towards Dewa with the bequest of a tax-free land grant or Madad-e-Maash. These revenue free properties were generally given to educated people to assist them in disseminating learning, particularly religious knowledge. The Dewa family took great pride in their scholarship and learning and produced several scholars as well as Sufis including Makhdoom Bandagi Azam Sani (d. 1465) the celebrated Saint of Lucknow who established a highly acclaimed madrassah in that city.  In his hand-written noted my father mention that, “His tomb was situated on a huge big mound near the Telay Wali Masjid in Lucknow and could be seen from many places and many views in Lucknow. I hope it is still there”. Perhaps the most outstanding amongst them, the pride of the family, was Qazi Maulvi Abdus Salam/ Abd al-Salam, the Chief Mufti of the Emperor Shah Jehan’s army for many years, and a much-respected scholar and a Sufi.[7] Upon retirement from the court at Delhi he established a Darul Uloom at Dewa where the Maqulat or rational tradition of Islamic learning which encompasses philosophy, logic, arithmetic, geometry and astrology amongst other subjects was taught. Maqulat scholarship had gained momentum in India with the arrival of the brilliant Persian polymath and educationist Mir Fathullah Shirazi at the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) in 1583. According to S.M. Azizizuddin Hussain, “Ibn Sina and others perfected the combination of manqul[8] with maqul[9]. Fathullah Shirazi introduced this legacy in India. It was transmitted by a chain of Fatahullah Shirazi’s students. Mulla Abdus Salam Lahori (b.1540), Mulla Abdus Salam of Dewa, Shaikh Daniyal Chawarasi, Mulla Qutabuddin Sihalvi and Mulla Nazimuddin of Firangi Mahal of Lucknow”.[10] It was at the Dewa Darul Uloom that Mulla Abdul Halim, the father of Mulla Qutabuddin Sihalwi who set up the Farangi Mahal seminary received his training.[11] Abdus Salam’s son also served as a Qazi-ul-Quzat at Delhi during the Emperor Aurangzeb’s reign. Later, Syed Ahmed Khan, the nineteenth-century educational reformist would also prescribe to this rationalist approach in scholastic learning.

The educated families of qasbas like Dewa, Kakori and Fathepur took great pride in their use of chaste Urdu as opposed to Awadhi or Purbi which was spoken by the masses and the rural aristocracy such as the Jahangirabad family. Most people would, of course, shift seamlessly from one to the other as and when the need arose. My paternal grandmother only spoke Purbi, while all her offspring were equally comfortable in both, at least in their early years. My father and his younger brother who were both educated at Aligarh kept up the Dewa tradition much to their father’s relief.

The Muslim population of Awadh never exceeded one-fifth of the total population of that state. The Ashraf or landed gentry then was minuscule in number and consequently ended up marrying within that limited social sphere. Family lineage counted far more than material riches which explains the marriage between my paternal grandmother Taqi-un-Nissa, a daughter of the affluent Jahangirabad family, to my grandfather Mahmood-ul-Hasan, a scion of the substantially less wealthy but highly respected family of Dewa Sharif. Mahmood-ul-Hasan had the added benefit of being closely related to the acclaimed Sufi Haji Syed Waris Ali Shah whose Dargah at Dewa was a focal point of spiritual veneration in the entire district of Barabanki and beyond. Families who shared a bloodline with such Sufis enjoyed an elevated status, indeed some of the spiritual aura of the saint himself. It is therefore not surprising that the Muslim qasbas or market town which dotted the countryside in districts like Barabanki tended to centre around such holy shrines. More often than not ownership of land around the Qasba was tied to the land grants gifted to the saint’s progeny and kin. While larger landholdings were often a result of grants handed out to military men, or simply acquired by powerful individuals, the smaller taluqadaris and zamindaris were commonly held by families connected to daraghs. Moreover, the Darul Ulooms that were often attached to these shrines provided the essential education necessary for the advancement of an administrative service class that was the backbone of Imperial and state bureaucracy. Muslim laws of inheritance by their very nature resulted in the eventual fragmentation of landholdings and well-educated aristocratic or Ashraf gentlemen invariably sought employment either at the Imperial court or at the multiple smaller provincial courts that were a constituent element of the overall Empire. It is important to point out that it was not considered essential that the ruler be Muslim and service at the Rajput and other non-Muslim courts was not uncommon.[12]

With the disintegration and eventual demise of the Mughal Empire, many Ashraf gentlemen were forced to seek employment with the British, although reluctantly at first. The battle of Buxar in 1764 virtually ended native rule in India and the 1857 Revolt which also concluded in crushing defeat for the natives rang the final death knell. The reaction of the victors was merciless and brutal and the results were far-reaching and catastrophic. North India at the turn of the nineteenth century still bore visible scars of the 1857 war that had brutally ravaged its population, towns and countryside. The Muslim aristocracy were particularly affected by the crushing ferocity of the British retaliation for what they (the British) perceived as a ‘Muslim inspired’ revolt, although in reality the anti-British movement was far from communal and clearly cut through (perceived) religious lines with a leadership which ranged from Nana Sahib, the adopted son of the exiled Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao II, to the Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, and Hazrat Mahal the Begum of Awadh. Ruins of palaces, forts and palatial havelis dotted the urban and rural landscape, most still inhabited by their now often improvised occupants.

The initial response of the British to the native uprising in Awadh had been to abolish the existing elite structure of the province, the taluqdari system under which the landlords or owners of estates, large and small, ruled as quasi-kings or rajas. Soon, however, the populace’s unremitting loyalty to their overlords and unwilling to change their allegiances forced the British to rethink their policy. The subsequent Taluqdari Settlement Act of 1859 restored the majority of the estates to their erstwhile owners and reinstated the taluqdars as landlords but stripped of their political, civil and military powers; many others, however, lost their lands which were granted to British loyalists from other parts of the subcontinent. This partial restoration of lost status helped, to some extent, in pacifying both the urban and rural elite although the humiliation and wounds of defeat continued to chafe and influence the attitude of the Indians towards their British overlords.

The British colonial objective was to squeeze the maximum amount of capital and resources from what had once been considered perhaps the richest empire the world had ever seen. Towards that end, they had systematically levied crippling and back-breaking taxes on all agricultural produce, and the revenues they extorted from all trade and commerce exceeded by far that levied by any previous native government resulting in an unprecedented number of man-made famines. Awadh, fortunately for its inhabitants, was somewhat of a late addition to the British Colonial Empire along with the erstwhile Mughal heartland. But in the early part of the twentieth century when my father was born and became aware of his surroundings, the British were not just merely in firm control of the province which they had renamed the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, but had successfully managed to convince a substantial number of the native aristocracy of the superiority of western culture and philosophy, even language, over their own. Persian, long the language of intellectual discourse and learning, the vehicle for prose, poetry and history, the instrument of governmental administration, and conduit of knowledge exchange within the wider regional world of Central, West and South Asia had been discarded by the Colonial administration and replaced by the newly bifurcated Urdu-Hindi. Traditional forms of learning at Madrasas and Dar ul Ulooms, the schools and universities that had educated scholars for centuries, were deemed inferior and downgraded to mere centres of religious knowledge and replaced by western-style schools and universities structured on the blueprints of Eton, Harrow and Oxbridge. In fact, the influence of Aligarh Muslim University on the aristocratic elite of the Indian subcontinent cannot be overestimated. Syed Ahmed Khan’s viewpoints and philosophies were deeply ingrained into the intellectual psyche of the men who attended his unique and innovative institute of learning. As a reformist but devout Muslim, his imprint on the young minds who imbibed the essence of Aligarhian scholarship was clearly evident in the views expressed by my father and his peers and widely accepted by members of the generation brought up in that social milieu. My father would often reiterate Syed Ahmed Khan’s pragmatic explanations of miracles as natural phenomena, Syed Ahmed “interpreted miracles naturally, making such an event as the parting of the Red Sea into a simple period of low water; the Prophets’ night ascension into a dream; the jinn into mountain dwellers.” [13]

These new institutions of learning proved to be incredibly successful in attracting the native aristocrats and moulding them into a hybrid mix of British-Indian gentlemen who often looked askance at their own centuries-old traditions and knowledge. This is not to say that everything held sacred was discarded in one fell sweep, but conflict and contradictions gained ground. Age-old manners, speech, clothing and lifestyles only gradually gave way to western norms, and that too largely in the male sphere of activity where interaction with the British was inevitable and necessary. The zenana of the women’s world continued to function more or less as it had done before British rule. My grandfathers on both sides of the family, for instance, continued to wear their traditional garb and were far more comfortable in Urdu as the spoken language, and both Urdu and Persian in their written forms, than in English. For my parents, this was not the case. For the Indian elite generation that came of age in the mid-twentieth century, traditional ways of life were more often than not considered “old-fashioned”, even archaic and undesirable compared to a westernised lifestyle that was considered “modern” and thereby far more attractive. Even everyday clothing and living patterns changed rapidly; the ubiquitous takht gave way to sofas and armchairs, and farshi or furniture-less living-rooms with their stuffed goh-takias, carpets, masnads and floor sheets were looked down upon as antiquated. The silver or gilded bed, which had always been displayed with great pride as prized dowry items only a couple of decades ago were now outmoded. Indeed, both of my father’s older sisters whose dowries had included what had previously been considered indispensable, gilded-silver beds legs, almost immediately discarded these old-fashioned objects in favour of “modern”, European-style wooden bedroom furniture. Men were quick to don European garb and although the women continued to wear their traditional attire, they now favoured European colours and patterns and materials over the brightly coloured silks and cottons of yore.

Through my father’s formative years these patterns were rapidly emerging. In the family homes, the gentlemen now often favoured a western-style drawing-room, amply furnished with highly polished teakwood or Sheesham Anglo-Indian sofas, chairs and innumerable tables. Decorative wall-paintings depicting flower-vases and often wine-bottles and small glasses, or intricate floral arabesque designs gave way to plain walls with western style paintings and large oil-painted portraits of the men in the family. In these spaces, they took pride in entertaining their British guests, the local administrators of the area. Even foreign architects were much sought after: Walter Burley Griffin, the American architect of the Lucknow University Library and a great admirer of Mughal architecture, was commissioned by Raja Ejaz Rasul Khan of Jahangirabad, my father’s maternal uncle, to design a new zenana addition to his existing Qila palace in Jahangirabad. However, the internal conflicts and contradictions persisted. My father often related how this maternal uncle, Ejaz Rasul Khan, an important taluqdar of the area had several European-style rooms in his palace in Lucknow; the crystal and glass drawing-room with furniture imported from Venice, the silver drawing-room in which the sofas, chairs and tables were covered with repousse silver over wood, the massive dining-room which seated a hundred people and had walls adorned with large paintings of his predecessors. All the rooms were lit by dazzling chandeliers and candelabras. Jahangirabad had at one point purchased the entire contents of one of two ships which had anchored at Calcutta, bearing priceless porcelain, jade, wood and enamel artefacts looted from the Imperial Chinese Summer Palace by the British. These were now displayed throughout both the Lucknow Palace and the Qila in Jahangirabad. All these rooms were used almost solely to host British dignitaries including the Governor of the province, yet when the Raja shook hands with a white man, he promptly placed his hand behind his back and availed of the first opportunity he had to wash it. Similarly, my paternal grandmother would shrink from receiving a peck on the cheek from the rare British lady who would visit the zenana section of her house. And while pale skin was considered both desirable and attractive by most Indian Muslims, the underlying pink tones of the European complexion was considered particularly unattractive to those earlier generations, an aesthetic perception that too underwent a change by the early mid-twentieth century.

The harsh treatment meted out to the Indians of North India, particularly Awadh and Delhi, by the British were still raw and those unpleasant memories still painfully fresh for most people some sixty years after the disastrous events of 1857. Oral narratives of the woes that had befallen family members in the aftermath of the doomed uprising were an essential component of regular and oft-repeated accounts and anecdotes that peppered the conversation in the zenana, in particular. These too were the stories told to the children by their maid-servants and attendants who regaled them with the heroic deeds of the male and female family members during and after 1857.

The bravery of the many hundreds of Kidwai men who had laid down their lives in both 1764 and in 1857 was widely lauded and mournfully lamented. The daring yet foolhardy and failed attempt by Raja Razzaq Bakhsh of Jahangirabad to blow up the British Officers lead by General Sir Hope Grant was an exceptionally popular tale and colourfully narrated. By early 1858 the British had consolidated their position in Lucknow at the conclusion of the unsuccessful native revolt; the countryside, however, took longer to subdue and contingents of the British troops undertook the task of ensuring the subjection of the ruling taluqdars and zamindars. When General Hope Grant arrived with his troops at the gates of Jahangirabad and made their way through the dense bamboo forest that surrounded his Qila, Raja Razzaq Bakhsh declared his submission and pledged his loyalty to the British, but a close search of his fortress revealed a couple of cannons well-hidden near the entrance, prepped up for firing.[14] These along with some discriminating letters sealed his fate. The old man had to beg forgiveness, but could not prevent the destruction of his fort by the British. Hundreds of similar mud and brick forts were destroyed by the victors and innumerable families left destitute, deprived of their properties and lands which was the source of their income. As a child, my father and his siblings would accompany their mother on her visits to her relatives, many of whom had been left impoverished in their crumbling mansions. One of the stories he narrated was about an old lady who lived with the remaining members of her family and retainers on one such derelict estate, the grandeur of its past still evident in the collapsing structure. It was widely believed by all that in in her impecunious state with no viable source of income this elderly relative was financially supported by a friendly Jinn who had taken pity on her and her family; every evening, after her Maqrib prayers, when she turned back the corners of her janamaz or prayer-rug, she would find a silver coin or mohar. This daily allowance kept the family reasonably solvent and allowed them to survive without handouts from their more affluent relatives. As an adult, my father figured out that it was not the supernatural visitor that kept them funded, but most probably a hidden hoard stashed away during the upheaval, that the old lady was privy to, the source and location of which she was obviously wary of sharing with anyone else and had therefore fabricated the fool-proof story of the benevolent Jinn. People had resorted to concealing whatever valuables they could in those troubled times, either by burying them in secret places, in bricked wall or floors, or in dire situations, throwing them into ponds and wells. These were age-old practices in the subcontinent. My father would confidently state that if the innumerable ponds, which were an integral part of the rural landscape were dredged and abounded wells searched, much jewellery and gold would be recovered.

Another narrative that particularly resonated with me was the tragic tale of a foolishly brave young man who with his bravado, and perhaps with an unfortunate touch of arrogance, refused to bow down to the victorious conquerors. The British administration in Lucknow had decreed that if a European and a native found themselves on the footpath at the same time, the native would have to step down and let the white man pass. Our hero, a Sheikhzada, the scion of the old, distinguished family of Sheikhs, the erstwhile rulers and governors of Awadh before the Nawabs, in his crisp muslin angrakha and wide-legged pyjamas, suitably scented with attar, his pure white, starched muslin cap set at a jaunty angle, must have found it below his dignity to step aside for one he perceived as an uncouth, unwashed Englishman and continued his dandified, yet elegant saunter until he was rudely pushed off the sidewalk by a walking stick yielded by a red-faced Englishman. Sputtering and cursing, the Englishman raised his stick and hit our refined young man causing him to stumble onto the muddy street. Picking himself up with as much dignity as he could muster in the face of his mud-spattered condition, ignoble condition, our hero drew his rapier, cunningly encased in his silver-handled walking stick and ran it through the shocked Englishman, then immediately recognising the enormity of his crime fled the scene post-haste. He rushed home to inform his newly-wed young wife about his calamitous encounter. Shouts and loud knocking at the gates confirmed their worst fear; the police along with the troops were at the door. The terrified girl, beside herself in fear, could only suggest he hide himself in her large dowry chest in the vain hope that the soldiers would not enter the zenana. That was not to be, and our young gentleman was hauled away for almost immediate execution. The fate of the widowed young bride is uncertain; some said she pined away for her handsome young husband and went to an early grave, others said she lived on to a ripe old age, telling and retelling her story, never remarrying, faithful to her unfortunate spouse till the end.

The upper classes of Awadh, like those elsewhere in India, eventually developed a love-hate relationship with the British and many sought to emulate their lifestyle and mannerisms. Elephants and horses gave way to the newly developed automobile, adorned and kept in the style of a horse or bullock carriage. There was even a local raja who bought an old, decrepit WWI plane and tied it to his front gates where the elephants had in earlier times been fastened. When asked why it was chained, he responded, “You can never trust those wily Goras and their inventions”. Although a good number of the Ashraf stuck to their age-old traditions, language and culture, material success and social as well as economic advances encouraged the more ambitious to model themselves on the British in as many ways as possible and this proved to be the guiding force which led to the subsequent Anglicisation of Indian society. Undoubtedly, admiration for the British, their perceived discipline, efficiency, administrative and military acumen continued to gain ground; most Indian were naively blind to the motivation behind the introduction of industries and particularly the railways by the British. They tended to believe that all this was being done for their (India’s) wellbeing and were incredulously unable to see that what they perceived as British benevolence was merely a tool to tighten the Colonial grip on Indian economy in a more ruthlessly efficient manner, as was their extremely successful policy of divide and rule along communal lines. My father and many, in fact, most of his peers in the military and civil administration, were amongst these admirers. Echoes of this and the distorted versions of our own histories, written and presented to us by Colonial historians and unfortunately, unquestionably imbibed by us, continue to colour our vision of our past and continue to influence our vision of our future, both in India and in Pakistan.

[1] The Delhi Sultanate was established by Muhammad of Ghor in 1192 and continued to flourish under various dynasties until the last wave of Turkic conquerors, the Timurid Mughals, established their empire in 1526.

[2] Turkic soldiers, especially cavalrymen and artillery gunners renowned for their military prowess, were in high demand in several non-Muslim kingdoms including the South Indian Imperial Kingdom of Vijaynagar.

[3] One of the Seljuk Sultanates in Anatolia, present-day Turkey.

[4] Mushirul Hassan; From Pluralism to Separatism. OUP, Delhi 2007. P 87

[5] Mushirul Hassan; From Pluralism to Separatism. OUP, Delhi 2007. P 89

[6] The Jahangirabad Estate had been conferred on that branch of the Kidwai family by the Emperor Jahangir, hence its name.

[7] … Mullå ‘Abd al-Salåm of Dewa, east of Lucknow, who was made mufti of the imperial army by Shåhjahån but who was also a philosopher. His student Daniyål Chawrasi, also from Lucknow, became, in turn, the teacher of Mullå Qutb al-Din, one of the most renowned Muslim scholars of the eleventh/seventeenth century in India. (Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin to the Present: Philosophy in the Land of Prophecy: Seyyed Hossein Nasr, 2006; pg. 206)

[8] The transmitted sciences such as tafsir (exegesis), hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) and fiqh (jurisprudence)

[9]   Rational sciences

[10]  S.M.Azizuddin Husain; Kanishka Publishers, New Delhi, 2005. P 32

[11]  Francis Robinson; The Ulama of Farangi Mahall and Islamic Culture in South Asia, Permanent Black, Delhi 2001. P 43

[12] Two of my phupas or paternal uncles, the husbands of both of my father’s older sisters, Shaheeda and Hasina, Khan Bahadur, Sir Kazi Azizuddin Ahmed and his first cousin Khan Bahadur Kazi Khaliluddin Ahmed served as Diwans at the Rajput courts of Datia and Panna in Bundelkhand, Central India in the early years of the twentieth century.

[13] Barbara D. Metcalf; Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900, Princeton Legacy Library, 2014. P 323

[14] Per General Grant’s own account, one of his sharp-eyed Sikh soldiers discovered the hidden cannons. P 268-270, “Incidents in The Sepoy War 1857-58, Compiled from the Journals of General Sir Hope Grant”.

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13th December 1938, Agra by Mr Dorab
Meher and Sallu, Lucknow 1948
Meher and Sallu, Lucknow 1948
Raja Farzand Ali Khan of Jahangirabad
Raja Farzand Ali Khan of Jahangirabad
Maharaja Ejaz Rasul Khan of Jahangirabad (seated) and Raja Imtiaz Rasul Khan of Rasulpur
Maharaja Ejaz Rasul Khan of Jahangirabad (seated) and Raja Imtiaz Rasul Khan of Rasulpur
Amma and Abba
Taqi-un-Nissa Begum and Khan Bahadur Mahmood-ul- Hasan of Dewa Sharif
sheema4.tga-1
sheema2.tga-1

Continued …

For our family, it is particularly tragic that my father was unable to complete his writings. He passed away suddenly, without pain or suffering, on January 19th, 2006, seven months short of his ninetieth birthday.

His memories stop midway in 1943, in Iraq, shortly after he had taken over command of the 52nd Base Supply Depot at Basra at the youthful age of 27. He remained in that part of the world from 1941 to April 1945 when he returned to India; a total of four years. Unfortunately, we have been unable to recover any further papers or records of his activities over those last two years in the Middle- East. What we do know is that he travelled fairly extensively, although he remained posted in Iraq throughout. He visited Egypt and enjoyed a private tour of the Grand Pyramids at Giza. He talked about the sophisticated people and culture he encountered in Lebanon and Syria, particularly Damascus and Aleppo, he dwelled on his visit to Palestine, to the holy city of Jerusalem where he felt blessed to have had the opportunity to pray at the Sacred Dome of the Rock Mosque. His deep interest in all matters spiritual led him to seek out the Padres of the various religious faiths and denominations that have long existed in West Asia.  The balance and peaceful co-existence of the different religious communities and sects in Jerusalem was at that time exemplary. He told me about the two ancient Muslim families who have for centuries remained the guardians and protectors of the keys and doors of that holiest of Christian sites, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the place where Jesus is believed to be buried. The Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Roman Catholic and other denominations all share the custody of the Sacred Church itself but the task of carrying and keeping the keys safe is entrusted to one particular family, while the task of opening and locking the doors falls to the other family. This has been the case for over five hundred years now dating back to the end of the Crusades and the rescue and liberation of Jerusalem by the Kurdish Sultan, Salahuddin Ayubi. The idea behind this being that no one Christian denomination can dominate or control the Church since the guardianship of the keys is vested in the two chosen non-Christian families. Very soon after his return to India in 1945, his much-loved father passed away on the 24th of May 1945. Of the three sons, my father had been closest to his father; their temperaments, interests and habits were similar. Realising that this son of his was the one most attached to their family history and traditions, to their lands and their home, he left the ancestral Dewa house to him. Unfortunately, the turn of events was such that he was never able to claim the house or the property that had been so designated for him to take over and run as a model farm on the family estate. In 1947 when he was given the choice to either remain with the Indian Army or transfer his services to the newly formed Pakistani Army he opted out for the latter. Logically it did not make sense; his senior officers cautioned him to rethink his choice; “Your roots are here Kermani, why do you want to go to Pakistan?” He was asked that question more than once by his British superiors. His non-Muslim peers also pressed him to stay on, “Don’t go, you have nothing to fear, you are one of us, you belong here.”. But he had made up his mind; his two older brothers-in-law’s, his sister’s husbands, both railway officers, had already made their decisions in favour of the new country. All the male family elders were gone by this time, his father, and both his maternal uncles and paternal uncle as well. Chotay Mamoon, Raja Imtiaz Ali had died much earlier, before the war at the age of forty-one, Baray Mamoon, Maharaja Sahib Jahangirabad, a patron and financier of the Muslim League passed away in 1946. Salahuddin Ahmed an energetic and enthusiastic young man was eager to serve the new country that came into being on the very day he turned thirty- one, August 14th, 1947. He felt Pakistan had a greater need for young people like him, more than the old country. That is how he always explained his selection, his decision to choose the Pakistan option. Of course, what he, and many others like him, did not realise at that time was how irrevocable and final that choice was. Even Mohammad Ali Jinnah planned on retiring to his luxurious mansion in Malbara Hills, Bombay, so my father can be forgiven for thinking that he could serve the Pakistani Army for a couple of years, hand in his commission and retire to his family home and lands in Dewa, Barabanki. But the umbilical cord had been cut, and there was no going back.

However, back in 1946 after my father returned from the war, plans were already afoot for his marriage. His mother and sisters were anxious for him to get married and settle down; he was approaching thirty, and most men (at that time) were married long before they got to that age. My parent’s families though not quite related, belonged to the same baradari; the Shurfa of Awadh tended to marry within a twenty-five to a thirty-mile geographic radius of their towns and qasbas. Matrimonial relationships between the Kidwais, the Dewa, Fathepur and Bansa families were long well- established, but in more recent years my mother’s Khala, Zehra Begum, had married my father’s first cousin, his Phupi’s son Wasiuddin of Dewa, and my father’s younger sister Murshida had married one of my Nani’s cousin Safiullah Siddiqui in Hyderabad Deccan. My eldest Phupi Shahida happened to meet my mother at Zehra Begum’s house in Lucknow and took an immediate liking to her. With Zehra Khala’s strong backing the proposal sent was readily accepted. The only condition my mother’s paternal grandfather, Masood Ali ‘Mahvi,’ the family patriarch put down was that my mother was to complete her Medical education before the marriage could take place. It was to be a long engagement, and a long-distant one too. In spite of my father’s request, my Nani would not allow him to meet or even see my mother. All he got was his sisters’ reports and a single photograph my Nani reluctantly agreed to send him.

 

The two years my father spent in India before the division of the country were spent in Ferozepur, at the Training Centre, where he was posted as Commander Royal Indian Army Service Corps Training Battalion, and then in Bombay where he served as Deputy Assistant Director Supply and Transport, a position he held at the time Partition was declared. Major S.A. Kermani’s first posting in the newly established country was as Commander Royal Pakistan Army Services Corps in Dacca, East Pakistan, where the Chief of Staff Eastern Command was none other than the future General, Field Marshal, Commander-in-Chief, and President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan. It was Ayub Khan who advised the young man to not delay his marriage since travel prospects (to India) for Military personnel could soon become practically impossible. This startling news was immediately relayed to Barabanki and from there on to Hyderabad Deccan. Although Hyderabad was still an independent Princely State at that time, the likelihood of its survival as a separate domain surrounded by the Democratic Republic of India was bleak. The reality of the irrevocable antagonism between the newly created countries had sunk in and so the elders of the family reluctantly acquiesced, perhaps, cognisant of the improbability of my mother completing her medical education. The marriage date was fixed for April 3rd 1948. The baraat, according to eyewitness accounts, was elegant and impressive in spite of the unsettled times, and the bridegroom strikingly handsome in his Awadhi sherwani and churidar pajama. The young couple left soon after for Barabanki where the lovely young bride was introduced to her mother-in-law and the rest of the family; in those days, it was not the norm for the women of the groom’s family, particularly the senior ladies to travel with the baraat. For my mother, this was a world far removed from her urbanised life in the Nizam’s city of Hyderabad. Although she had regularly visited the north with her mother and siblings over the years and had numerous cousins and extended family in Lucknow, Paisar, and of course Bansa Sharif, her mother’s family home and qasba where a pilgrimage to the family Dargah of Syed Shah Abdul Razzaq was an obligatory requirement, her introduction to the still vibrant and dominant taluqdari life-style with its old-fashioned etiquette and customs gave her a glimpse of a culture which was at its very last stages of existence. The young couple was feted and feasted and taken to all the family shrines to pay their respects to their ancestral Saints.

 

As they prepared to leave for Pakistan, my Dadi generously suggested the newly married couple take their pick of fine carpets, the ubiquitous Gardiner Russian crockery, so popular at the turn of the century or any other items they fancied from the house. My father’s response was that they would do so when they came the next time, on a more relaxed visit. Little did any of them realise that the next time he would return would be thirty-two years later in 1980 to what was a tragic shadow of what had once been. The dynamic, effervescent, legendary Ganga-Jumna culture had been shattered and on the verge of being abandoned and lost.

Life in the newly constituted Pakistan Army was on the whole agreeable. The Staff College in Quetta offered not just training for the officers but also camaraderie and social bonding. The Army Messes continued to run on the British pattern with ample wining and dining to make life enjoyable for the young officers and their wives. After Staff College, from 1949 to 1956 my father was stationed in  Rawalpindi, then Lahore and back to ‘Pindi, a town he always liked and wanted to retire to. In 1956 he got his dream posting when he was entrusted with the task of setting up and establishing the Army School of Administration in Kuldana, in the beautiful Murree Hills. The location offered the perfect surroundings for a man acutely receptive and sensitive to nature, and his position as the Commandant of that institution allowed him to indulge in his life-long passion and quest to further enhance his environs. Truckloads of flowering bulbs, in particular, daffodils were planted along with strawberries and cherry trees in all the areas under his jurisdiction. His delight in gardening and planting was a deep-rooted passion, and every Army house we lived in, until 1967 when he retired from his last military post as the Director General Defence Purchase in Karachi, was enhanced and beautified by his gardening prowess.  A lifelong member of the Horticultural Society of Pakistan, he served for several years as its President and throughout as an active participant. After his retirement from the Army, he served as the Chairman and Managing  Director of the KESC, the Karachi Electric Supply Company, where his managerial skills turned an ailing corporation into what an International Development Bank recognised as the “Best run Public Sector Company” in South Asia. A strong believer in Cicero’s adage ” If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need”, his civilian life after KESC followed that creed. Travelling, reading and, eventually at our insistence, writing, and that too on a computer, when he was well into his eighties. A man of great personality and charm he was never at a loss for company;  his innate ability to make friends and his capacity to maintain those friendships served him well up to the end of his life and even as his peers slowly passed away he continued to make new friends. After he himself left us, there was a constant stream of elderly gentlemen, whom he had befriended during his evening walks in the nearby park, who came to condole and share in our grief.

Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani left us without warning early morning on the 19th of January 2006. In December 2005 we had a large gathering of our (sadly) widely dispersed extended family in Karachi; my mother’s sibling and many of their offsprings, my father’s younger sister Murshida from Australia, altogether a wonderful assemblage of near and dear ones. Slowly over the first two weeks of January people started returning to the various countries and continents they now called home. I left Karachi for the USA on the 13th of January with a promise that we would all return in August to celebrate his ninetieth birthday. That was not to be. Five days later I was on a plane flying back, heartbroken, in total denial and disbelief. The Army and Corps Commander Karachi gave him a splendid sent off with full Military honours, the road in front of the house was blocked by KESC service trucks bearing as many workers as could be given the time off from work, people called from around the world and his friend’s widows grieved at losing a gallant and honourable support. He is buried in the dusty and barren new Military Graveyard in the Karachi Cantonment area, far from the verdant family cemetery in Dewa where his ancestors had been buried for well over six hundred.

Courtyard

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Lucknow April 1947

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Meher Sultana Nisar Fatima at the time of her engagement. This was the photograph reluctantly sent to her husband-to-be.

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Ferozepur
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Officers of No.2 Reserve Supply Depot, Panagar (Bengal)
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Special Senior Officers Course, April 1947
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The Army Service Corps Journal, Autumn Number, December 1958

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Rawalpindi 1949
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Lahore 1952
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The Elegant ’50s. Lahore Officers Club, 1951 From left to right Mrs Mehmood w/o Gen. Dr Mehmood, Unknown lady, Mrs Qudsia Khan w/o Gen. Azam Khan, Meher Kermani and Irene Alavi w/o Col. Nasru Alavi
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Winter view from our Bungalow at Kuldana, December 1957
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With the children in Kuldana

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The Glamorous ’60’s. From left to right Sallu and Meher Kermani, Tasneem (Mumani), Lottie and Mehmood Mushtaq, Talat Masood (Mamu)

 

 

 

Appendix:

Notes (from Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani)

MAULANA ABDUS SALAM DEWAVI

Maulana Abdus Salam[1] was one of the most respected and illustrious personalities of the Dewa family, so much so that his descendants came to be known as the Khandan-e-Abdus Salam. Stories and legends about this distinguished ancestor abound. The Maulana was a notable scholar and author of many books. Professor Abdul Majid Memon, the Chairman of the Department of Arabic during my university days, told me that in his opinion one of the finest Tafsirs[2] of the Quran was written by the Maulana, and that a copy of this Tafsir was at the Al-Azhar University at Cairo.

The Maulana’s exemplary knowledge and learning was widely acknowledged. An oft repeated family narrative was about an incidence that occurred during his days at the Imperial court of Shah Jahan in Delhi where he served as the Chief Mufti of the Imperial Army. The Emperor was a consummate builder responsible for the construction of the magnificent Taj Mahal, the Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir and Lahore, the Red Fort in Delhi, the Jamia Masjids in Delhi and Agra and the fabulous new city of Delhi, Shahjahanabad, besides many others. The Maulana was in attendance on one of the Emperor’s visits to a construction site of a new mosque. The older gentleman was slow in his movements and Shah Jahan called out; “Why Maulana, are you afraid of death?” The Maulana promptly responded; “Well Sire, indeed I am for if the Emperor dies another can immediately take his place, but if this Mufti dies it will be a long, long time before another can (adequately) replace me”. This judicious reply apparently pleased the Emperor and brought a smile to his face. 

According to a family lore, no jinn can ever annoy a member of the Maulana’s bloodline. The story told is that a jinn fell in love with and took possession of a beautiful, unmarried girl much to the distress of her parents. The parents appealed to the Maulana who instructed them to arrange for a large karhai[3] filled with ghee to be placed on a large fire outside their house. As the ghee started to boil the Maulana began reciting certain duas[4] as a result of which hundreds of crows materialised out of nowhere and began to fall headlong into the boiling ghee until one of them appeared in human form and begged for forgiveness on behalf of his tribe and a solemn promise that no jinn would ever trouble any descendent of the Maulana.

On retirement, the Maulana returned to vatan, to the qasba of Dewa, where he established a Darul-Uloom. He is credited for having popularised the rational sciences or Maqulat in Awadh and passing on that Silsila of learning, fostered and advanced in the subcontinent by Shaikh Fatha Ullah Shirazi, during the reign of the Emperor Akbar, to the Farangi Mahal scholars of Lucknow.

[1] “… Mullå ‘Abd al-Salåm of Dewa, east of Lucknow, who was made mufti of the imperial army by Shåhjahån… “(Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin to the Present: Philosophy in the Land of Prophecy: Seyyed Hossein Nasr, 2006. Pg. 206)

[2] Explanation, interpretation, and commentary

[3] Wok

[4] Prayers

 

The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006) Chapter 12

                                            Home Again

I had come home after the longest period of absence ever, and, that too after having lived and spent most of my time in desolate, arid places which were either absolute or semi-deserts; areas of oil-bearing rocky soil, oozing oil and bitumen pools, and where the air reeked constantly of these noxious precious liquids. Although suffering from acute mental stress and nostalgia and anxious to reach home to see my ailing father as soon as possible, I could not ignore the joy and thrill that the sights and scenes of Lucknow aroused in me driving through the familiar streets and then on to Awadh Trunk Road. The Lucknow-Barabanki Road lined and shaded by Pipal trees, appeared to be lovelier than ever before. The fat Brahmin taxi driver with his refined Urdu updated me with all that was happening in the country; the economics, the politics, the deteriorating state of morals and the development of a black market. He seemed to be well informed and talkative and soon we were at the gate of the house. I was instantly overcome by the overpowering impact of colour and the waft of delightful fragrance from the beautiful garden created by my father; it was no wonder that the house was known as “Phoolonwali Kothi”[1].

As I stepped out of the car I was greeted by a bellowing jubilant voice; a man came running towards me, shouting “Mangily Bahia aa gaiahain”.[2] He was the head gardener, Permeshwar Mali. While he was uttering all the joyful expressions of thanks to his galaxy of Gods, including his own namesake for my safe return, the outcry of “Manjaly Bahia aa gaiahain” was taken up by other servants outside, and by the shrill voices of maidservants from inside the zenana. My Mother and Murshida hastily come outside from the drawing room onto the veranda. I rushed into mother’s open arms and motherly embrace, where, as always, I felt a sense and a feeling of boundless inexpressible peace and absolute joy,  like a current of spiritual, divine blessings flowing into me. I have been missing such blissful moments for years. Soon we were with my father, who by this time, had been helped up to a sitting position reclining against a big Gao Takia[3]. I had never seen him in such a poor state of health. He embraced me and he held me in that position for quite some time. We all sat down; my father had many questions about my life. He was concerned about the Japanese endangering sea voyages such as the one I had recently made and the ever-present threat of invasion. I wanted to learn all about my father’s illness how it all came about and the treatment being given. Both Amma and Murshida gave a comprehensive account, the best part being that Dr Abdul Hamid had taken full charge of looking after father. Doctor Sahib, besides being an eminent physician of great repute and principal of Lucknow Medical College was one of my father’s closest friend from college days, almost a member of our family, so to hear this was a great relief. In addition, the civil surgeon of Barabanki, Dr—— a friend as well, lived in our neighbourhood, was on call, and visited daily. Pandit Ram Nat another family friend, known for his excellence as a Homeopath and benevolence in giving free treatment to the needy, also called daily to inquire after father’s condition. Our family had a number of friends amongst the Hakims of repute of Lucknow, experts in the traditional Unani medicine, who also visited regularly when their services were needed. Often, in the past, our family experience had been that Hakim’s treatments succeeded where allopathic failed. I felt somewhat better knowing that father was out of danger. Dr Abdul Hamid’s visit a few days after my arrival and his kindly assurance further reinforced my morale. The next day I went to pay my respect at the Shrine of Haji Sahib at our ancestral hometown Dewa. The eight miles journey itself was poignantly nostalgic, reviving countless memories made on this road by every form and means of transport. I recalled the numerous, leisurely, almost luxurious  journeys in the  bullock wagon with my mother, with at least two of her maidservants in attendance, and the entire paraphernalia of pandan, sigardan, sandookcha, ogaldan, in short, an entire room at home (but with a lowered roof) complete with a carpeted chandani floor, gao takia, etc. lifted and placed on a four-wheeled cart, pulled by two big, sturdy well-groomed white oxen/bullocks; to my mind almost  the perfect classic specimen of the Indian breed. The wagon was invariably escorted by a mounted Lancer or two lathi-wielding Sepahis[4]. It was a matchless mode for going on a short journey, leisurely and in complete comfort, with ample opportunity to observe every bit of land we passed through, most of which belonged to us, or to our near kith and kin. We stopped anywhere we wished as we often did at the hamlet of Quluwallahpur, in the mango grove part of our large orchard on one side of the road with the large dhak forest on the other. This spot at four miles was exactly half-way between two our homes, Barabanki and Dewa. There would immediately be a rush and scramble by the peasants to fetch the produce of the orchard or forest, depending on the season; wild sweet karwanda, the sweet-sour berries from the forest, falsa, mangos, guavas, imli, zafraniqalmi ber from the orchard, phalenda, rose apple or the large jammun from the trees planted along the road-side, green freshly picked grams or boot, fresh sweet peas, sugarcane and fresh sugarcane juice from the farm. While all this went on the bullocks, their drivers and the attendants took a break and enjoyed their refreshments. The other means of travel was by horse-buggy pulled by two fine horses, driven by a pompous coachman sitting on his seat with a long whip. Whenever Bhaijan travelled with us, he would sit next to the driver and take over the reins, despite Amma’s protest. There were always two grooms standing at the back or holding the horses when stationery. My mother disliked this mode of travel as she did not trust the horses. Sometimes we travelled in the 1911 model Wolseley Sedan, purchased and used by mother’s late uncle Raja Aba, my Raja Nana, Raja Sir Tasaduq Rasul Khan, Raja of Jahangirabad. This very interesting car, which looked like a horseless phaeton was driven by an internal-combustion engine. To start the car a handle had to be turned in front, at times was not very easily. At night-time, the headlamps were lit by carbide which threw light up to ten to twelve feet. The maximum speed it could reach was about 30 mph, but it was seldom driven at that formidable speed. Very spacious and luxuriously furnished, with curtains to provide the necessary purdah and two extra seats for the servants, Mother generally preferred this for short journeys such as those between Barabanki, Jahangirabad, Dewa and Bansa. Preoccupied with these thoughts running through my mind, I found myself at the gate of the Mazar Sharif where I found Shakir Shah, as usual, sitting on the raised terraced in front of his hujra on the left side of the gate. He was one of the very few Khirka Posh or original disciples of Haji Syed Wajid Ali Shah still alive. After his grandfatherly embrace and shower of blessings, I heard the sorrowful news that Faizu Shah the oldest, most intimate disciples and Khadim of Hajji Sahib’s was no more. I proceeded to pay my respect inside the chamber where lay the remains of our holy saint, his grave under a marble canopy perpetually covered by a multitude of Chadars[5]. As I was about to raise my hand to recite the Fateha, memories of all my visits to the Dargah as far back as I could remember flashed through my mind. Faizu Shah had always been a part of this Holy place. When we entered the broad, wide gallery there he would be there sitting on the floor, against the wall on the right side of the chamber door, a saintly person with one knee upright the other flat. His snow-white head bent, hands lying in his lap, his body wrapped in a yellow sheet, he appeared to be unaware of his surroundings. Regular visits were generally made by all of us, sometimes all three brothers, or one, or two of us. As we approached him we would call out loudly, due to his being hard of hearing, “Dada, Adab”, he would immediately recognise us, “Mahmood Key betay, aaoowo, aaoowo”. He would raise both his hands as we sat in front of him and place them on our heads one by one while words of prayers and blessings would pour forth from his lips. This over, he would say “Challo, challo salam karain”[6]. Two of us would help him stand and with him leaning on our shoulders we would enter the chamber where he would declare in a loud voice, “Toomray potay salam ko ai hain”[7]. Under the canopy, we would bend down to touch our foreheads to the grave while Faizu Shah continued his conversation with the Saint, “Toomray potay …”. He would lift the chadars over our bent heads and we would stay in that position for a while as he continued to talk with his master, something conversing in words quite beyond our comprehension. All this time we had the chamber to ourselves. Faizu Shah again leaning on our shoulders would walk back to his special place. Kissing his hands while words of blessing continued to flow from him, we would take our leave. This time sadly all that was missing. I alone stood at the place as I used to stand with him and recited the Fateha, bent down at the grave as I used to and uttered respectfully, “Dada I am here, accept my Salam and Pray for Abba’s recovery”. Elated and comforted, I drove back home as fast as I could.

Other than going for my early morning walks, during which many past memories were stirred, I would visit my old favourite haunts and places, including the shrine of Wajhan Shah. Abba’s ever-faithful, ever-affectionate Fox terrier, although now getting old and feeble, refused to let me go alone; he had welcomed and greeted me with great love and joy, which only a pet dog imbued by such an affectionate nature can express. Messages came from Baji, Hasina and Bhaijan about their expected dates of arrival. This cheered father up considerably. Subsequent arrivals and the gathering of the family was like a balm to Amma’s wearied and exhausted nerves. In addition to bearing the burden of worries due to father’s illness, she had undergone an extraordinary distressing experience. When she got the news of my coming home on leave, she decided to pay a visit to Maqbool Mian at Khairabad. There she was received as usual by Mian’s wife, and taken to meet him, as soon as he saw her he burst out “Tum yahan kiakar rahi ho. Tomarey han to maut jhundla rahi hai”[8]. Mother was stunned. She could only think about my ailing father, or me, who she thought was on the far seas. But being a courageous woman of unbounded faith, recollecting herself she turned to Mian and said, “If Allah has given you the power to know what is happening to my family, then you must have the power to prevent it. Do something, it is no use my going back to my house”. Then turning to his wife, she declared “I am not going anywhere from here”. And sat down. For a while all was quiet. Mian seemed to have gone into trance; after what appeared to be a long time he stirred and addressed his wife, “Bib labia jail, ink aram dain, khatir karain, phir bula ainge”.[9] To mother, “Bibi Allah par bharosa, Allah par bharosa”.[10] He continued in this vein until he was out of hearing. Mother remained with Mian’s wife through a long, anxious, disturbing wait until she was summoned by Mian who mumbled, “Allah khabi musibat tall dita hai Bibi, ghar jaw”[11]He kept repeating this until with a gesture from his wife the women left his still mumbling presence. Her arrival home coincided with the delivery of a telegram from Haider Khan stating that Wahaj was well out of danger. Wahaj my youngest brother was studying at Aligarh; in the course of carrying out practical Chemistry experiments in the laboratory and trying to verify different chemical salts, he attempted the tongue testing method with the near-fatal result. One of the salts was an extremely potent poison. Haider Khan’s prompt and effective action saved Wahaj’s life along with the prayers of that pious saintly person Maqbool Mian, and of course not without Allah’s unbounded mercy and benevolence. This incident with its near-fatal effect took place at Aligarh after mother had left home, Haider Khan’s telegram informing father about the accident and its serious nature arrived in mother’s absence and as such, she was unaware of it thus she could not obviously connect or comprehend Maqbool Mian’s initial utterances.

A far greater tragedy that befell the family, during father’s illness, that aggravated and caused a relapse was the sad, sudden and untimely death of Munir Bhai. This was being kept a secret from Abba, but the night after it occurred, he woke up suddenly in an acute state of emotional agitation asking for Munir. He persistently demanded that Munir be sent for, and then turned around and said, “Please do not hide the truth from me, Munir is no more, I dreamt I saw some people carrying a coffin, and telling me, Yeh Munir ka janaza ha[12]. There was no further any need for secrecy.

My leave was about half over and mother was getting worried about being left alone after my departure. Bhai Jan was at Gorakhpur and could not reach home in a short time in case of an emergency and Wahaj was still at Aligarh. Her wish was that Bhai Jan could to be posted nearer home and planned on asking Barey Mamun to speak to the Governor to see what could be done. Since I knew the Chief Secretary who really handled such matters I proposed I give it a try first. The next day I went to Lucknow and sent my card into Mr Francis Mudie[13] (later Sir Francis) requesting an interview. I was standing beside my car when I was greeted by an affable, kindly voice, it was Sir Francis with my card in his hand. I was surprised, in fact, rather astonished that such a senior officer, holding a post just below that of the Governor, instead of calling me upstairs to his office, on the first floor, would come down to meet me, a mere Captain. I thought it was extreme graciousness on his part and an honour for me. After all, I had only met him at a few social functions at the beginning of the war at Agra where he had been the Deputy Assistant Magistrate and me, a junior 2nd Lt in the 11th Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles. I told him I was on a month’s war leave, as my father was ill, and explained the purpose of my visit. Without much-ado he declared, “We shall post your brother back to Gonda, that would be alright, won’t it?” I thanked him profusely. Bhai Jan was posted to Gonda before the end of my leave and departure from home. The entire family  gathered before I left including Barey Mamu with his young and beautiful Junior Maharani, whom he liked addressed as Lady Sahiba, visited a number of times, the Senior Maharani, Bari Mumani Jan entrusted me to deliver a packet to her Pir, Najamuddin al-Gilani who normally resided in Bombay but was in Baghdad those days. Choti Khala Jan came to stay, she was my foster-mother and very fond of me. It was time to leave and my batman re-joined me. Although my father was now well on the way to recovery, it was in a rather depressed mood that I bade farewell to my mother and all my loved ones.

Arriving at the port of Bombay, I embarked on SS Jalap-Gang a cargo ship owned by the Scandia Steam Ship Corp, she was manned entirely by an Indian crew and officers and had limited passenger accommodation. I was the last passenger to come on-board and was cordially greeted by two ship officers, one of whom introduced himself as the chief. Soon the Captain of the ship came to greet me also most pleasantly and respectfully. He remarked that his ship was lucky to have the first and only Indian officer on board and that I would be treated as an honoured guest. He had one of his officer’s cabin vacated and prepared for me, he also offered me the option of taking my meals with him and his officers throughout the voyage which I enthusiastically and gratefully accepted. There were only about a dozen other officers on-board, all British except a RIASC officer who had done the course with me at Chaklala. I did not know him well at that time but he was obviously an Indian. I pointed this out to the ship’s officers that they had, perhaps inordinately, overlooked the fact that there was another Indian officer beside me who could be considered for similar privileges. The unanimous response was delivered with a certain degree of acrimony, they insisted, “He is not Indian, he does not talk to us like one! You do not know. Perhaps he is an Anglo”. I did pursue the matter further; Indian nationalistic sensitivity had seeped too deeply and extensively, reflecting the prevalent mood of India in turmoil.

I found the cabin though small, comfortable, and well-appointed with a shelf full of books, all fiction which I rarely read but did so during this voyage, and, actually discovered some that I rather enjoyed. There was a Radio and a gramophone with some choice popular film songs, including those of Saigol. The attached bathroom was an added boon. I had the Captain’s open and standing invitation to come up to the bridge anytime and taking advantage of this facility I would go up daily for my morning and evening exercise. The food served was excellent though purely vegetarian. I do not think that people anywhere in the world can match Indians in this style of cuisine, it is simply remarkable. I read a number of novels and found them quite interesting. The radio provided the latest war news, and of course, the gramophone proved a wonder instrument for dispelling depressive moods. So, the voyage came to an end, completed in great comfort, made possible by the extraordinary kindness and curtsey I experienced; I shall always remain grateful to that very fine Captain and his smart set of officers.

We arrived at Basra from where I was booked on the evening train and reached the Mosaib Reinforcement Transit Camp situated and spread out in a date-plantations, a few miles from Baghdad. The camp teemed with Indian Army personnel, officers, VCOS, and men of all classes belonging to various Corps and Regiments. I reported my arrival to the Adjutant at the camp HQ, an intensely busy officer who shoved a form towards me to fill out. Having filled out the required details I shoved it back. I was told that posting orders take a week to ten days, sometimes less, so I should mark my time and check daily. My next visit was to the Quarter Master and to Officers Mess Secretary for allocation of accommodation and attachment of batman. That done I headed to the Officer’s Mess for a much-needed drink. This Mess was no different to those at any other such camp, appalling atmosphere and horrid food.

I managed to visit Baghdad where my friend Ali Akhter, was still commanding the GHQ TOT(?) Company; he was a regular visitor to Hazrat Gilani’s shrine, and to the residence of Al-Syed Asim Al Gilani, the Naqib al-Ashraf, who lived across the road. The Gilani family was one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Iraq. Syed Asim had played a leading role at the highest level in the establishment of Iraqi State and he still wielded great power and respect. A dignified elderly gentleman, pleasant and soft-spoken, he welcomed us both in the usual Arab manner with lengthy greetings and servings of tea. I mentioned that I had a message and a package from my aunt for Al-Syed Najamuddin Gilani and requested his help in fulfilling my mission. His prompt answer was, “Come to lunch or dinner on any day and date that suits you, and he shall be there”. As arranged Ali obligingly picked me up one morning and by midday, we were at a very fine big modern house on the banks of Tigris. Al-Syed Asim Al Gilani had invited a number of notables of Baghdad and his own family members including Pir Najamuddin to whom I handed over the package with Maharani Sahiba’s good wishes. It was wonderful to encounter some highly educated and polished Iraqi gentlemen. I was to meet several of them again during my visits to Baghdad.

Back at the camp, I was getting impatient about my posting, I had been there a week when my posting orders finally came, I was to report to the 53rd Base Supply Depot Shaiba as second-in-command and Chief Stocks Officer. I was not very happy about it, but there was nothing I could do, the only redeeming factor was that I was to continue to retain my temporary rank. I took the evening train and arrived at Shaiba Railway Station at about sunrise. I had already bathed and changed and eaten my breakfast by the time we disembarked. It was a frightfully hot morning. A VCO with a 15-cwt truck was there to receive me. We drove through an utterly cheerless, treeless, dismal, desolate looking landscape swarming with of heavy military activity. Shaiba was one of the biggest Administrative Bases or in modern American Military Terminology, ‘Logistical Base’ of the British Imperial Army. Dotted and spread out over a vast extensive area were a number of Base Hospitals, Ammunition, POL, Engineers and Supply Depots all served by road and rail and a huge marshalling yard to serve the Basra port. We soon entered the barbed wired area of the 53rd Base Supply Depot and proceeded straight to the Headquarter to meet Major J.O. Rae the Commanding Officer, who welcomed me with a pleasant and friendly smile. He was very much a civilian gentleman on whom the Army uniform has been so thrust as to make both the wearer and the dress worn uncomfortable. Indeed, as I found out in the course of time, he was a gentleman in every sense of the word and had been inducted in the Army along with many others as a measure of war. We got on well and became good friends. I was with him for a short time and during this period I tried my best to improve the all-around standard of NCOs and men who to my mind lacked the requisite standard in performance both in technical and soldierly RIASC duties. I had not been there long when I received a posting order to immediately take over the command of the 52nd Base Supply Depot at Basra as the OC of that installation had been infected by Shingles, an incurable disease, and had been repatriated to the UK. This was for the first time I had heard about such a disease but came to know it well and proper when I myself was inflicted and suffered terribly from this dreadful malady in my old age.

My new posting meant an independent command with the rank of a Major; the appointment also entailed heavy financial and administrative responsibilities. Grant of permanent ranks except for those who were already holding substantive ranks was held in abeyance, all ranks granted were acting or temporary. If you happened to be in a Unit and an appointment befell you carrying a higher rank, you got the acting rank, and if lucky enough to hold it for twenty-one days, with the approval of the Commanding Officer, a temporary rank. In case an officer senior to you or one specifically posted on that appointment took over you reverted to your basic rank. Up to the time of my posting as CO 52nd Base Supply Depot, there were very few Indians in the Paiforce[14] holding ranks above that of a Captain and to my recollection none in my Corps, I, therefore, had every reason for having a sense of pride for getting that specific appointment. All that elation soon evaporated as I entered the area and the premises of the Unit which I was to command. The moment I arrived at the gate a huge big black mound, almost a small hillock, a highly repulsive sight, confronted me. The further I proceeded the worse I felt. After checks and rechecks of account books, stock register and documents I decided that I could not take over the outfit in its current appalling state. Without consulting, informing or reporting to any intermediate authority, I sent a signal to the Director of Supply and Transport GHQ Paiforce. Having acted on an impulse, I realised that I had committed a serious act of impudence and audacity, but by then there was nothing that could be done to alter the deed but to await the consequence. I did not have to wait long, a few days later, mid-morning the door my office opened and I found myself confronting a red face, wearing a red peak cap and red shoulder tabs, an officer of the rank of Brigadier, a most formidable sight to behold at any time and place. But this was far more alarming as he was none other than Brigadier Hickie, the DS&T, Paiforce in person, reputed to be one of the fire-emitting General officers. An officer of great professional ability, I had a fleeting encounter with him a few years back at Mosul, when he had abruptly ordered that I go and open a Field Supply Depot at Al-Qairah. Contrary to his perceived reputation, I had not experienced any ‘emission’ of heat either on that occasion nor did I felt any now. After a mild ticking-off for which I was fully prepared, knowing well my act of omission, he pulled the chair opposite mine and ordered me to sit down. We were both quiet for a while then he asked, “How do we clear this mess? What do you suggest?”  “Sir the only way I can think would be to appoint a handing, taking-over Board authorised to check hundred percent all the ground stocks, stock registers, account books. Close and transfer the balances to new books, registers and documents at 11.59 hrs on a date fixed. A new team of officers to key appointments be posted and I take over full responsibility for all transactions thenceforth, and the command of the Unit”. To my surprise and relief, the DST not only approved but responded: “Any other requirements?”  “Sir, I shall submit those in due course after taking over.’’ The Board consisting of seventy officers; Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers, Non-commissioned Officers, (not below the rank of Havildar) with a Lt Colonel as President, completed their task as required. I took over Command with effect from 12.00 hrs on the 22nd of August 1943; I had just past my 27th Birthday. The replacement of the three officers I had requested also had arrived in time a few days before my taking over. Captain Urquhart was the senior most of the three, a thin, lean, bandy-legged gentleman, with a very prominent Adam’s apple that moved up and down when talking, soft-spoken, confident and self-assured a thoroughly unmilitary personality in army uniform. Still, I liked him, as he gave me an impression of a hard-working, studious, trustworthy officer, which indeed so he was, I had, in fact, found the perfect Chief Stocks Officer and second-in-command who was also a workaholic. Captain Johnston, the other officer was to take the appointment of TLO (Train Loading Officer) an RASC term but at best a misnomer, as the duties of the officer involved supervision of all movement of stocks be it by rail, road, sea. river or air. A man with a weary, harassed look but well-mannered, who at first, I thought would be unable to handle arduous outdoor work, proved to be quite a tough, efficient individual and in course of time we became good friends and I greatly valued his mature and sound advice. The third officer who took over as my Adjutant and Account Officer had served in one of the Guards Regiment. A fine gentleman, he had been in civil life a tea-taster, a profession I heard of for the first time. As I had not asked for a change of Quarter-Master and the officer already in place continued to perform that duty. He was an old Commissary Officer, and as a Warrant officer had been an Instructor at the RIASC Officer’s School. I did not consider it necessary to make many changes in the VCOs cadre, and none in lower ranks. Of the three key VCOs appointment, Subedar Major Khawaja Mohammad Yusuf, a graduate of Gordon College Rawalpindi was one of those war-time direct Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer who had not been lucky enough to make ICO grade. I found him to be a highly efficient man, who served with me until I recommended him for ICO, which he got. Much later he served with me again as a Captain and a Major in Pakistan. I was given permission to have a VCO from the MT Branch for the appointment of a Jemadar Adjutant, whom I could entrust with additional duties as an MT Officer. As it was rather an important job, I made arrangements with the Commandant to allow me to select one from those awaiting postings. It was very accommodating of the Commandant to have about sixty VCOs paraded; as I moved along the line I noticed a very smart, neat-looking man. I drew him out of the line and after a few words selected him. Header Shier Singh was a high-class Rajput from Shahjahanpur District of Rohilkhand in the United Provinces. I could not have made a better choice, a man of the highest integrity and technical ability, a fine soldier and perhaps the best pistol shot that I have yet come across; he could write my full name from the prescribed distance firing a service pistol in one go, or any figure or name for that matter, truly an amazing feat. Always correct, almost a martinet, although not as educated as his colleague the other VCOs or even Havildars of the Supply Branch, he not only fitted in well but commanded great respect. The job of Quartermaster Jemadar was equally important. Jemadar Joginder Singh too fell in the same category of direct entry as VCO as our SM. A man of unusually short stature for a Sikh but with refined manners, dedicated, hard-working and honest. Along with Captain (Commissary) Morrison as Quartermaster, this branch was now better run. Joginder Singh too was later recommended by me for the Indian Commission.

After having taken over command, to my astonishment, on my own terms, and then being allowed to implement changes and any reasonable recommendations that I deemed necessary, there was hardly anything more an officer in my position could want. I thus started with a clean sheet, with the full realisation that I would have no excuse to offer in case my performance was found to be below expectation. As I was one of the few from the cadre of Indian officers in the Theatre to be given independent command of a Unit and Installation and the rank of Major, I considered it essential to not only maintain a high standard but to outperform others. Although there were two similar units operating with some variation in the area located at Shaiba and at Baghdad,  both of those, however, were commanded by British officers.

[1] The House of Flowers

[2] “The middle brother is back”.

[3] Large bolster

[4] Sepoys/soldiers or guards

[5] Sheets

[6] “Come, come, let us go offer our salam”.

[7] Your grandsons have come to offer their salams.

[8] “What are you doing here? The shadow of death is hovering over your house”.

[9] “Bibi look after her, take care of her, make her comfortable. I will summon her again”.

[10] “Trust in God, trust in God”.

[11] “God sometimes removes our troubles. Go home Bibi”.

[12] “This is Munir’s funeral”.

[13] Later first Governor of West Punjab after Partition.

[14] Persia and Iraq Command

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Dewa Sharif

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Salahuddin Kermani in Arab dress, Basrah, 6th January 1944

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In Basrah, 6th January 1944

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On the back of this photograph, it says “Presented by Kunwar Joginder Singh, 10.1.44

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Major S.A.Kermani on the right. (Kunwar Joginder Singh, 10.1.44)

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(Kunwar Joginder Singh, 10.1.44)

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(Kunwar Joginder Singh, 10.1.44)

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PAI Force Insignia

The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006) Chapter 11

                 Paiforce (Persia and Iraq Command)

While we were engaged in our petty issues the war had extended into wider fields, and nowhere was it going in favour of the Allies. Ever since Japan’s entry into the war as an ally of the Axis powers, the Allies, the Americans, the British and the Dutch had all been suffering unprecedented setbacks and humiliating defeats. The news of the war in the Western Deserts was also dismal. One fine morning the world was stunned to learn that Tobruk had fallen to the German General Rommel with a considerable number of Indian, British, South African troops, killed, wounded or missing, and a great loss of material destroyed or captured. Rommel had already acquired great fame and now became a ‘Legend’. With the British Imperial Army in retreat, the Italian Dictator Mussolini rejoiced; it was said that he put on a white uniform and prepared for a triumphal entry into Cairo on a white charger to symbolize the re-emergence of the Roman Empire. The medals for the triumphant entry had been struck. Although the ‘White Charger’ entry did not materialise the possibility of such an occurrence could not be ruled out. The danger of a heavy offensive drive breaking out loomed large, and to meet such a threat in its worst, planning at the highest level had to be been done. These plans were now being implemented in the form of construction of self-contained ‘Fortresses’ capable of holding and defending themselves for the approximate period prescribed for each. Some of these were to be so well armed and equipped as to be able to billet enough troops to constantly sally forth and harass the enemy. In our zone, Mosul was to be one such ‘Fortress’. An extremely formidable all-around line of anti-tank trench was ready, well provided with a variety of defensive and anti-tank weapons. The famous marble quarries of Mosul had been developed into huge, deep anti-air raid shelters, almost like underground marble palaces that housed hospitals with the provision of up-to-date facilities and included residential areas for essential staff including the nurses living quarters. The food supplies, ordinance and all other stores were well stocked, well sheltered and very effectively camouflaged. It was garrisoned to hold for about six months. The next in the chain was Al Qaira, which I called a defensive box, all well excavated, protected and stocked for three months. I had been in command of it almost from its initiation and now it was almost complete. I was ordered to open a Rail Head-Depot at Baiji known as K2 an important Pumping Station of Petroleum company, and at the same time at another place Al Fatha about ten miles or so further south by the Tigris. It was quite a formidable task setting up two FSD at the same time and entailed frequent journeying. The first journey in the sequence was not very pleasant; I received a message while I was still at Al Qaira to report to the Colonel at the Brigade HQ at Al Fatha at a given time and date which happened to be the 11.00 hrs the very next day. I started early morning in a 15-cwt truck with a driver, a rifle orderly, and Hammodi. As we drove down from the higher elevation of Al Qaira the road ended giving way to vast flat-lands called Baiji Plains, treeless and completely barren but apparently much used by MT vehicles judging by the unmistakable tracks. The temptation to drive at high speed was tempting. You could move from one track to the other at will, it was like going on a race track. My driver having obtained my permission to drive fast was cruising along at a high speed when suddenly we hit a bump, up went the nose of the truck and then down into a narrow khed[1]. We took the shock, the vehicle, a low-nosed Ford did not, the radiator bibcock was smashed and in no time all the water drained out. Although a highway to Bagdad and grazing grounds for the Bedouins, no living human or animals were visible as far as the eye could see. With the rising sun and temperature, a few Chaguls full of water and many tales of small parties lost and perishing on this plain, the prospects could well be grim. We stretched ourselves in line at shouting intervals, two men with loaded rifle ready to fire in the air when they hear my pistol shots if and when we sighted a vehicle. About two hours later I saw a line of dust clouds arising from the direction we had come, and then, what appeared to be an MT convoy speeding in the same direction we were to go, I waited until I could clearly discern the vehicle bodies and fired a shot, this was followed by a volley of rifle fire from my men.  All this was very effective as two trucks came rushing in our direction, one halted by my side and out came a Major, the OC the GPT Company RIASC, destination Al Fatha, Baghdad. He very kindly gave us a ride to Al Fatha to Colonel Muller’s and arranged for me to get a vehicle in exchange for my damaged one. I was meeting Colonel Muller again after a long time, he was as usual very kind and pleased to see me. There was an imposing gathering of representatives from all the services and Engineering Corps present. After a detailed briefing and lunch, we dispersed to our Units to await further orders. It was around the third week of February that I got my orders to move to Baji to establish the Rail Head Depot for the subsequent stocking of dumps and reserves to Al Fatha. The area allocated at Baji was adjacent to the Railway Station. The Unit moved and I was called up to report at the Headquarters at Mosul. We had a very busy day and I finally left Mosul in the evening driving under very foul weather although it cleared off as we reached the plains. I got to my tent weary and so tired that did not eat anything, I told Imam Din to take my socks and boots off and fell onto my camp-cot bed, still in uniform, into an exhausted, deep sleep.

I woke up early the next morning as was my routine,  put on my socks and boots, took my swagger stick in hand saying to myself “Let’s see what its like outside”, and threw open the tent flaps to find myself at the edge of a sandy ridge looking at the astounding panorama in front of me. I thought to myself “Oh God, what a desert! A classic desert, a moving desert”. It suddenly dawned on me, this scene was familiar, I found myself thinking, “I have been here before???”  It was like I was in a reverie, a replay of the dream I had at home before my departure from India. While still in a state of incredulity at this impossible phenomenon, I heard loud voices and sounds of wails and subdued crying. Subedar Shingara Singh my trusty VCO came running towards me shouting, “Sahib, Sahib, Singapore, Singapore has fallen, we have surrendered…my brother is in the … Battalion Punjab Regiment.” Many NCOs and other ranks followed him, all in distress. I collected all the men and expressed my sympathies to those who may have lost their kith and kin, and at the same time thanked God that we were here, safe and sound; but we could very well have been there. The war was still on, the Germans hovering close by striving hard to take Cairo and break through into this country and onward to India. I explained to them that, “That is the reason we are here, exhaustively making all preparations to meet the threat effectively. The RIASC has done very well on all fronts, so keep up the excellent record, so let us drown our sorrow and get down to our duties with greater zeal and devotion”. Dismissing the men, I withdrew to my tent. Despite the courageous words I had just uttered to the men, I found myself a quite shaken-up and somewhat bewildered, the entire scenario that I had experienced and seen in my dream now was displayed in truth and reality. The strange looking soldiers in their peculiar uniform, their officers with their very different style of swords beheading our men whom they had taken prisoners as a result of a lost battle. I did not know then the identity of the men, or the place, but it now dawned on me that they were the Japanese in Malaya and Singapore because their photographs now appeared regularly in the papers since their entry into the war against the allies.  My belief and faith in the divine and in the effectiveness and fulfilment of prayers was not only revived but attained further strength. At the same time, the chain of constant defeats and disasters suffered by the allies at the hands of the Japanese shook one’s confidence in the superiority of Allies. The surprise attack and destruction of the American fleet at Pearl Harbour, the sinking of two mighty Royal Navy battleships, the Prince of Wales, and the Repulse with thousands of men lost, the unchecked advance down the Malayan Peninsula, and ultimately the ignoble surrender by the garrison of the ‘Impregnable Fortress’. A hitherto unbelievable event had occurred, about seventy thousand Imperial troops had laid down arms, and that too after having suffered extensive annihilation and indescribable humiliation. It was perhaps the greatest military defeat of the British Army. Such momentous and significant adversities could change the course of world history. The American Naval Fleet in the Pacific lay crippled, their prestige and power humbled in the Philippines, the Dutch thrown out of Java thereby ending their domination, the French after their fall, almost eliminated. With the epic surrender of Singapore, many myths, beliefs and assumptions such as the superiority of white man, the dynamism and ascendency of the technologically advanced elite European military forces, the invincibility of Fortress Singapore, and many others, far too many to describe lay shattered. In short, it forestalled the end of an era and the demise of Imperial and Colonial rule, the unburdening and laying down of the “The White Man’s Burden”. The immediate effect of these disastrous and far-reaching events had an extremely adverse effect on the morale of the Army. Further advance of the Japanese Forces threatening India through Burma was halted temporarily due to the Monsoons. However, despite bewailing the distressing news there was nothing that could be done at our level but to get down to our immediate duties. Work at Al-Fatha had begun, the Engineers and the Pioneer Corps moving rapidly to finish their part of operations. By the close of winter, everything was complete, all the supply stocks and POL dump well camouflaged. The ‘Fortress’ was ready as far as the Services were concerned, the Engineer stores, the Service Corps, the Medical Corps, the Ordnance Corps with all their ancillaries were spread out over a wide area.

was an interesting place, the area we had occupied began at the mouth of a gorge cut by the Tigris in between a range of hills, both side neatly vertical in shape, giving an impression of a huge man-made gateway. Rushing out of it this confine, the Tigris spread out into, initially into a narrow valley, then both the river and the valley widened out further forming the extensive Baiji plain,  It was also the scene of a ferocious battle during the First World War, the site of the Turkish Imperial Army’s last stand against British Forces. The signs of that battle were still apparent, the remains of a complex of trenches of both sides, weapons such as bayonets and old coins scattered around. On a distant high ridge stood a small whitewashed building known as ‘Hindi Shaheed’, it was a shrine. A Muslim Subedar Major of an Indian Unit along with his men broke away from his Commanding Unit, changed sides and went over to the Turkish Army in the midst of the battle. He along with his men was killed fighting against his own comrade in arms and in so doing he was declared Shaheed by his Muslim brethren. Most of the Muslim Arabs had not only allied themselves to the British-French Imperial powers but under their tutelage revolted and waged an aggressive guerrilla war against the authority and armed forces of the Sultan-Caliph. The Arab uprising was one of the major factors and cause of the downfall, defeat and the ultimate end of the centuries-old powerful Ottoman Empire. With its demise, the only Muslim institution (although it had been quite ineffective) that had been a symbol of Islamic unity ceased to exist. This momentous and significant historic event hardly produced a ripple and barely a tear was shed in those regions that were populated mainly by Muslims. However, a segment of Muslims within the British Indian Empire started a Movement for the retention of Khilafat. The leaders of the move also urged the Indian Muslims not to join the Army and explicitly not to fight against the Turks. But except for a few random cases, like what occurred at the battle of Al Fatha, and caused some political embarrassment and administrative inconvenience, the movement had no serious outcome. The Indian Empire continued to play an important role in the British Imperial War effort. Though indeed, the wave of emotional sympathy for the Turks was wide-spread and extensive and could not be prevented it had no practical value.

We were quick in setting the Depot up at Al Fatha. Lt Moid was posted as my 2nd in-command and was of immense help and good company too. I still continued to reside at Baiji making daily trips to check on the progress of work. The advent of summer made these trips exceedingly unpleasant; driving on a desert track in an open 15 cwt truck with the scorching hot wind, heavily laden with equally hot sand hitting your face singeing your eyebrows and every exposed part of the body, the vehicle engine and radiator regularly boiling, sometime getting caught in a virulent afternoon sandstorm, turned the short journey into a wretched and painful experience. At last, our part of the project at Baiji was completed, and, leaving a small detachment at Baiji we moved to our dugout encampment at Al Fatha. All supply stocks were stored or dumped in dugouts along the ridges, and the POL[2], quite a few thousand tons of Petrol in Flimsies, i.e. four-gallon tins, were dumped in dugouts along the valley plain, so well camouflaged that they merged completely with the local natural landscape. The men’s living areas in dugouts were similarly designed, as were two luxury caves with attached bath and toilet for Moid and me. These cave-rooms were ingeniously provided with ventilation,; hot wind passing through well-watered dry Camel-thorn screens made our cave dwellings cool and fragrant. Hitherto I had little knowledge of this interesting plant except that I had noticed its dried tufts surrounded by drifting sand turning into little hillocks, spread all over the desert during the summer it made driving somewhat irksome. In spring, when the desert briefly glows with greenery, animals, mainly sheep and camel in great numbers are found grazing greedily, the camel, in particular, consumes this herb with great relish, hence the name camel thorn or grass. That it is used in the same manner and purpose as we do with Khas grass at home in India was unknown to me. There was an important difference though, Khas has a pleasant smell, and perfumes the air while the Camel-thorn had the aroma of long, dry scorched earth after the first rain. Unfortunately, our cool and comfortable dwellings attracted the original inhabitants of the area, scorpions and snakes. They began to appear from nowhere, sometimes dropping from the roof seeking to share our accommodation, and although they quietly occupied a very small space and none had done any harm to any of us, they were nonetheless repulsive and poisonous creatures and we could not muster the courage to co-exist with them. An intensive operation was undertaken to eliminate them inside and a no-go area created for them was outside where they continued to live and roam without hindrance. It is quite fascinating to watch a bunch of scorpions moving as a body of well-disciplined soldiers in a single file with their tail raised ready to strike and sting. If the line is disturbed, they scramble in panic and in obvious anger until their leader reorganises them and the line is re-formed. I wish I had had more time to study the organisation and living habits of this fascinating insect.

During my stay at Al Fatha, I had to make a number of trips to Baghdad mostly to report in detail to the S&T Directorate on the progress of the Supply and POL built-up. These trips involved driving through barren, featureless, dry almost lifeless deserts with constant dust-laden winds; a very unpleasant journey to say the least. But immediately after the winter rains, the scene changed dramatically to an endlessly green landscape with patches of a wide variety of wild herbs and flowers in a vast hue of colours and shades. The land was filled with grazing camels, sheep and occasionally herds of gazelles, animals of great grace and beauty which could be seen fleeting about or grazing along with sheep and goats. Now the landscape was studded by the black Arab tents occupied by herders and their families. Sometimes when driving through I would stop by one of these tents get down to be met, greeted and welcomed most cheerfully by the entire family. With my interpreter by my side, there were no communication problems. I also took advantage of these long drives to stop at Samara the historically famous but short-lived capital of the Abbasid Caliph Al Mutawakkil. Al Mutawakkil commissioned the construction of the Great Mosque of Samarra, the largest mosque at that time in his brand-new city, with its unique spiral minaret highest in the ninth century Muslim world. It is said that the Caliph sometimes rode to the top of the minaret on horseback. Except for the massiveness of the buildings, I did not find any architectural beauty in any of the buildings, all now in a sorry state. Samarra is also the resting place of the tenth and the eleventh Imams, Hazrat Imam Al-Hadi and Hazrat Imam Al-Askari and the Holy Shrine of twelfth Imam, Imam Al- Mahdi, also known as Imam Ghaib for per the Shia belief, the Imam disappeared but will reappear before doomsday to restore the glory of Islam. After paying my respect at the holy shrines I was met by an Indian Muslim gentleman from Awadh who looked after the interest and comfort of Indian Muslim pilgrims and was in the pay of the Raja of Mahmudabad. On one occasion I stopped over at Tikrit another ancient town more importantly known for being the birthplace of Sultan Salah Uddin Ayubi the illustrious Muslim hero who is held in great honour and esteem for his re-conquest of Jerusalem and the final expulsion of the Crusaders from Palestine.  It was at the suggestion and request of my interpreter Hammodi that we made a stop outside a house almost immediately after we had entered the town. A loud and rapid conversation ensued between Hammodi and a couple of men hanging about which sent one of them shouting into the house. A man soon emerged from within, immaculately attired in the garb of a typical Arab gentleman with the prerequisite string of worry beads in his hands. As he approached at a brisk pace I wondered at his identity, then Hammond explained, “Sir, he is the head carpenter who worked for us at Al Qaira”. When I saw his face, I remembered him but not his name which I cannot recall even now. A cheerful, wrinkled, kindly faced man, who even in his working dress did not have a semblance of a carpenter. I remember he had entreated me many times to visit his home. He was delighted to see me now and after having shaken my hand warmly and enthusiastically with both of his lead me with Hammodi in attendance to a modest-size rectangular room neatly furnished with an old carpet and wooden dewans placed against the wall. After the usual Arab tea, dates, and exchange of many polite words, I bade farewell to the happy old man and was in Baghdad by the evening.

The next morning, I attended a conference at the S&T Directorate the outcome of which was that if the war in the Western Desert turned in favour of the allies the plan under which we were operating would come to stand still, and in due course close down. I took the opportunity of this short stay to visit some of the mausoleums, shrines, and holy places that Baghdad is full of having been the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate for centuries. Closest to where I was staying was the Mosque and the tomb of one of the greatest Sufi Saint of all times, Syedna Mohiuddin Abdul Qadir Al-Gilani (known in India as Barey Pir), the founder of the Qadri Sufi Order or Silsila. The Naqibul Ashraf (equivalent to Sajjada Nashin) Syed Asim Gilani lived across the road and I went there to pay my respects to him. An elderly soft-spoken gentleman, of refined and kind demeanour and polished manners and a charming personality, I could only able to spend a short time with him. I enjoyed his company and promised to call on him whenever I visited Baghdad again. I was able to make a fleeting visit to Kazimain, the Mausoleum of the 7th Imam Hazrat Musa Al- Kazim and his grandson the 9th Imam Mohammad Al-Taqi, and also the Mosque and the Tomb of Imam Abu Hanifa the great Muslim scholar cum jurist, the founder of Hanafi School of Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh).

I returned to Al-Fatha and to the normal routine until one fine morning an excited Subedar Shingara Singh, the senior VCO announced, “Sahib, all formations, Infantry Brigades, Engineers, everyone moved out last night, all gone to the Western Desert, only a small detachment of Medicals, some of the Engineers, Ordinance and ourselves are left behind”. There was nothing anybody could do but wait for further developments to take place. So Moid and I sat down to have a good hearty breakfast, soon the Doctor Captain Khansoo IMS joined us then an Ordinance Officer. As we ate and discussed the situation while going around to examine the state of the denuded garrison, two uniformed personals were seen coming up the ridge towards our camp. Our senior VCO went out to meet them and guide them to us. The first, an officer, introduced himself, he was Captain Kanandhia Lal Atal, commanding a Company of the 5thBatallion 13th Frontier Force Rifles left over for garrison duties to protect the Services Installation until relieved. We welcomed him, expressed our sympathies for being delegated such a difficult and unpleasant task and promised every possible help, assistance, and cooperation in carrying it out.

For a week or so all went well, and then one night the nocturnal quiet was broken by sudden, unknown noises. The sentry on duty called out a challenge and fired, he caught a glimpse of some fleeing bodies and thought he had been able to foil an intrusion. However, the next morning it was reported that one of the Ghi dumps had been tampered with and three tins were missing, obviously stolen. All the follow-up actions required were duly carried out and a report sent to the Area HQ stating the likelihood of more such incidents recurring unless proper action was taken to strengthen the existing protective force. All this while Hammodi appeared rather perturbed and confided to me that he too had been investigating; he was convinced that no outsider other than those employed as labourers could know the location and contents of dumps. He, along with some other men of the labour group strongly suspected one particular individual. After giving it some thought, I told Hammodi to assemble the entire labour force at one place, I instructed Imam din to accompany me there carrying a copy of the Koran. With Hammodi translating I announced, “If any of you committed the theft, or know someone who did, or has any information about it, step forward”. No one made a move. I told Hammodi to call out the suspected man, I asked him if he had committed the theft which he vehemently denied it, I then told Hammodi to make him swear by Allah holding the Koran, which he did. I let him off, at the same time stated, “In the name of Allah I declare that if this man has lied he shall not live long.”

Shortly after this minor incident, there was the declaration of great importance, Iraq had signed a Treaty with British thus entering the war as an ally and ending its status as an occupied country. This change resulted in a visit by the Brigadier, the Area Commander and the Military Advisor to the government of Iraq, Major General (?) As the senior-most officer present, it was my duty to receive these important visitors. The General, a grumpy rather heavy, elderly gentleman shook my hand and announced, “A good force of Iraqi Army, our friends are moving in, should be here anytime tomorrow. They shall look after everything. Alright. Well happy to have met you”. I saluted and stammered, “Thank you, Sir”. Before I could say any more he leaned forward and inquired, “Have you learned Arabic?” Very little-sir”. Well learn it well, you will rule this country as I learned in the last war.” He walked off at a fast pace with the old Brigadier trying to keep up. The General was certainly a fine gentleman and exemplifying the typical British officer of good breed and tradition.

The same evening Captain Atal came to say goodbye as he and his Company were moving out to re-join his Battalion. Early next morning as I came out of my cave I beheld the valley down below teeming with life; men, horses, tents pitched all along the bank of the river as far as the eye could see. Moid, Shingara Singh and Hammodi greeted me excitedly and almost in a chorus announced that an Iraqi Infantry Brigade and a Regiment of Horse Cavalry had arrived. I asked Moid to take Hammodi with him to their HQ and request an appointment anytime convenient to the Commander of the force so that we could pay our respects.

The HQ was within walking distance and we were there at the given time, late afternoon. A Major (Raidliva or Brigade Major) with a Lieutenant (Mulazim) received us. We were conducted to the Brigadier (Mirliva) seated in the open by the river bank, his flag flying attached to a lance behind his chair. There were a number of officers sitting in a semi-circle in front of him. We saluted the Commander, I announced my rank, name, designation finishing with a loud “Sir’ and another salute, then advanced towards the Brigadier who rising from his seat shook my hands and greeted me very cheerfully, with kind, polite words, in the manner of a true, polished Arab Gentleman. I introduced Moid and Hammodi. We were taken around by the Brigade Major to meet the other officers and then back to the  Brigadier and offered chairs next to him with Hammodi squatting on the ground between our chairs, interpreting. The Brigadier a somewhat heavily-built old soldier with a benign weather-beaten face, asked my name again. I gave my full name, he then asked Hammodi in Arabic if I was a Muslim, and when this was affirmed responded with an Alhamad lilallah, and repeated that when Hammodi told him that so was my second-in-command. He assured me that everything that was under my care including all the all installations would now be secure from all intrusions. During the course of our conversation, I informed him that I had received orders that our Army Engineers would lay on water points for his force which were now ready. On hearing this he burst out laughing I asked Hammodi to find out what had I said to amuse him so. He was silent for a bit then apologised and lifted one up a hand with most of the fingers missing, saying, “I have a few more scars of wounds I received in battle at this very place as an officer in Turkish Army. We lost men not by drinking the water of this river but by the bullets, and the bayonets of your Army”. We returned back our camp quite happy, Moid holding a packet with two bottles of the highest quality Arak, a gift from the Iraqi officers. We sent gifts in exchange, Scotch Whiskey and American Beer cans. Our relationship continued on cordial but strict, formal terms. Their Cavalry Regiment had excellent Arab mounts and since I had not got a chance to ride since I left the AT Company at Abbottabad I took full advantage of the very kind offer of the Commander of the Regiment to ride their fine horses. Every afternoon, two horses with a groom reported to me. The horses were beautiful and very well trained, comfortable rides, some of them were also first-rate jumpers. Moid was not interested, but Captain Khansoo the Doctor displayed a keen interest. After a few days of simple cross-country riding, we got a bit more adventurous and decided to ride over the numerous line of trenches and mounds, remains of the First Great War scattered throughout the valley. We were riding through smoothly and comfortably and I had gone a fair distance ahead, when I saw, to my horror Khansoo’s horse without Khansoo making a beeline at a terrific speed towards the Iraqi lines. I found the Doctor comfortably lying in one of the old trench none the worse for his fall with almost no damage done, and thank God none to the horse. I was sorry that this incident ended the Doctors enthusiasm for riding.

Life went on quiet and serene, the Iraqi army was doing a good job with a mounted patrol going on rounds and an armed sentry at almost to each dump or stack. One night the peaceful silence was again broken by two rifle shots fired in succession followed by some loud voices. Our senior VCO in his booming voice called out, “Irquian ne ek admi shoot kardia”[3]. I responded equally loudly, “hamko koi fikar ki bat nahin hai. Jao sojao.”[4] Early next morning, as a I, with Moid, Interpreter Hammodi and some of my VCOs and NCOs reached the place where the commotion had been during the night we found a number of Iraqi officers already there dealing with the situation. It was a ghastly sight; a sentry had shot a man at point-blank range. Strangely enough, he was the same man who was suspected of having stolen from the same dump of Ghi and had denied the deed under oath by swearing on the Holy Book. I left the scene with my men and an assurance from the Iraqi officer in charge that a copy of the full report of the incident would be sent to me. As the normal day’s routine work began I noticed an unruly crowd gathering near my office tent with Hammodi and the senior VCO trying to impose some order. As soon they saw me approaching there was loud yelling and shouting with the crowd rushing towards me, “Ya-Saeedi, ya Saeedi”. The entire labour force appeared to be there with their foremen in the lead. I was about to get into a rage at their rowdiness but Hammodi calmed me down explaining “Please, please Sir, they have come to pay homage to you since your prediction about the man who took the false oath has come true. Please let them pay their homage to you”. Then one by one the men started coming up to me holding and kissing my hand and uttering many praises to Allah. For a while I had acquired a saintly stature, embarrassing to me, but highly amusing to Moid.

By now we had received strong indications that the place would be closing down, which turned out to be the case. There was not much left as most of the stocks had been back-loaded except for several thousand gallons of petrol, the entire stock in 4-gallon flimsy tins in dumps spread over an extensive area. I soon received orders to hand over the entire Installation to the Iraqi Army. A board of Iraqi officers arrived headed by a Lt Colonel with many Majors and Captains, as well as others of lower ranks. I did not have enough camp chairs to seat them so the Colonel a nice friendly gentleman decided to sit in my office tent with his two Majors to work the details of the taking over of necessary Stock, Account books etc. along with a sketch of the area, the position of each dump, the quantity of containers, and every possible detail under our rules and regulation were placed at their disposal. I explained to the Colonel my inability to match the force he had brought to check the stores but assured him of providing every assistance within our resources. After a great deal of discussion and making may rounds of the area they came and sat in the open EPIP tent left in our unit. By now arrangements had been made and we had enough chairs.  They sat down, there was a longish silence, then one of them spoke, “Captain, how do we know that the tins in these dumps really contain petrol not water”. I requested I be given a little time to find the solution to this problem. I ordered the Senior VCO to fetch me a carton of matches and to distribute one box to each officer. I then addressed the Colonel “Sir, please have the tins taken out, open them one by one and apply a burning matchstick. If the tin blows up it will be petrol, if not then water”. There was a hush as they all looked at each other than at me; the silence was broken by a loud burst of laughter. The Colonel came up to me, “We have taken over”. The necessary papers were formally signed. My truck was already loaded and leaving Moid in charge of the final wind up I left for Mosul. At Mosul, I found the HQ 21 Supply Personnel Company covered a very extensive area, with many more Supply Personnel Section officers than ever before. A Lt Colonel was in command who at one time had commanded the 2nd Indian Base Supply Depot at Basra. All the officers called him “Auntie”, I cannot recall his real name. A shy, reserved, quiet, sort of elderly gentleman. He met me most amicably and warned me that my two Units and I were likely to transfer into a new area and place shortly, and I should, therefore, remain on standby for a move at short notice.

During this period Saud came to see me in his usual grand style. He insisted that I fulfil my long-standing promise to visit his home at Sharqat. So, one morning with Hammodi in tow I picked up Captain Kainander who I had managed to get an invitation for as well from Al Qaira We arrived at the Sheikh’s palace which he shared with his elder brother the powerful Sheikh Safouk al Yawar. Sheikh Saud received and welcomed us with the utmost courtesy and lead us to a spacious hall-like room. We spent quite some time enquiring after each other health, and each other’s well-being in the typical Arab manner. Coffee, tea, and a variety of snacks were offered. I had noticed, as soon as we arrived, that the grand palace had an incomplete and unfinished look to it which I found rather odd, During the course of conversation I brought this up. My friend explained that when the palace was being built by his father the late King Faisal came on a visit; looking at the palace he remarked, “I thought there was only one king in Iraq”. That remark was fully understood, the Sheikh responded, “There is one king and that is how it shall remain.” Further construction was immediately stopped and so it remained. We were now taken to another equally large room where a huge tray had been laid out on a carpeted floor, on the tray lay the golden baked carcass of a young camel nestled in a bed of Chelo Pulao. We were invited to take a seat beside our host almost but not exactly at the head but at a place from where he could easily reach out the prime meats. Captain Kainander sat on the right of the host, I sat on the left. I had told Hammodi to ensure the Captain be treated as the more honoured guest. The meal began with a “Bismillah” from the host who pushed some rice in front of each of us and himself and began to eat, he then looked around and said something to the standing attendants, there was a slight hustle and bustle as they too sat down to share the meal. I signalled Hammodi to sit next to me. Two men were apparently detailed to start digging deep into the animal; they brought out a lamb that was stuffed with chicken which in turn were stuffed with the best quality of pulao. I noticed the Sheikh coaxing Kainander to taste the choicest part of the animal, the eyes. I never found out if the Captain enjoyed that particular delicacy. The meal over, we had another round of tea and coffee, then with deep and profound thanks to our kind and most hospitable host we took our leave.

A few days later I was ordered to move to Kifri to open a Field Supply Depot for the maintenance of the 31st Corps and troops under that command. Before moving out I managed to visit Tel Kaif which I had been wanting to do for a long time, and also the shrine of Sheikh Adi a reformer of the Yazidis, locally known as Satan worshipers.

An Iraqi Christian army officer, a Major, who I had befriended at Al-Fatha, invited me to his home in the old city of Mosul to spent an evening with his family. Since I had never met an Iraqi family of this class or status I readily accepted his kind invitation. The part of the city where he lived was out of bounds for our army, I had to, therefore, obtain permission to visit the place and to take an army vehicle there. The area in which the house was situated, and the house itself bore a strong resemblance to the old streets and houses of Delhi, Lucknow, and Lahore, except that these houses were of grey stone and the courtyard was paved with grey marble. My gracious host led me to a very moderate size, spotlessly clean courtyard where I was met by the lady of the house and three children all simply and neatly turned-out. No one except the Major spoke English which somewhat limited my interaction with them. The usual Iraqi snacks were produced along with famous Red Hadba wine of Mosul. I mentioned that I had been wanting to visit one of the ancient Monasteries that the nearby town of Tel Keppe was famous for but I could not decide which one. My host promptly offered to arrange a visit to one of the oldest monasteries in Tel Keppe. I  thanked him effusively for his offer and also for his family’s excellent hospitality before asking permission to leave. I was informed that a talkative young man who worked as an interpreter in one of our Army installation would take charge of the arrange details for my visit and also go with me. So, accompanied by that fine gentleman whose name I can’t recollect, I arrived late one morning at the ancient Assyrian town of Tel Keppe which I was told meant” Hill of Stones” in the ancient Aramaic tongue. The Chaldean Church and Monastery is believed to be one of the oldest in the world, a place of great antiquity. We drove for approximately 10 to 12 miles before we entered into a vale. its beautifully lush green fields dense with orchards and extensively cultivated fields spread out as far as the eye could see and beyond. The whole area teemed with life and with healthy-looking young men and women busy at work. Following the road along the foot of a ridge, we came to a stop at a large opening of a cave carved like a gate. A group of black-robed monks were standing near the gate, seeing us two of them advanced towards me with greetings, we were introduced and they shook hands courteously and politely.

We were lead into a big hall, which was actually a huge cave shaped like a hall, softly lit to highlight and draw full attention and focus on the altar with its statue of Christ glittering in midst of a mass of lighted candles. The overall impact was of a feeling of veneration, peace, and tranquillity. One of the monks explained the magnitude and the extent of the entire complex. There were many chapels, meditation rooms, residential areas including that of the Patriarch. We now were taken to another moderate size room, the Patriarch private chapel, there sitting on a throne-like chair, with a monk in attendance was His Holiness, an elderly black-robed gentleman who looked very serene and refined, with a kindly face and a long greying beard. He welcomed me with soft-spoken words of welcome and extended his hand which I took in both of mine and kissed, this gesture seemed to please him, and he asked me many questions, mainly about my family and background. After a short while, he gestured and said something to the monk in attendance, who left quickly and returned shortly with another monk carrying a glass-cased box. The box contained a much-faded parchment written in an old Arabic script, it was a decree issued by the Commander of the Arab Muslim forces, after their conquest of this region during the rule of the Caliph Omar, granting full protection and accepting the right of possession and retention in perpetuity to the Christians of all their lands, properties, churches, crosses, and the freedom to worship, and practice their religion without any interference or hindrance. It further enjoined all future Muslim rulers to do the same. The Patriarch on behalf of his community had, in return, solemnly affirmed to remain loyal and ever faithful. I was told both sides had honoured their solemn undertaking. At a gesture from His Holiness we were ushered into another large, well-lit room, this was the dining hall furnished with heavy wood furniture it. Laid on the table were a variety of eatables, cheeses of different kinds, olives green and black in various forms, breads of many types, diverse fresh vegetables, greens, and fruits all produced by the monastery monks. While we were busy with this deliciously tasty repast a young monk came in carrying a glazed earthen wine jar on his shoulder. Standing by me he declared the wine was four hundred old. A South Indian civilian gentleman, a Syrian Christian from Travancore State, whom I had met earlier, seated across the table from me declared loudly in a very Madrasi accent, “Please take some as you could not have tasted such before or perhaps ever in future”. I took a sherry glass full, it was indeed excellent with a taste like very dry sherry. The meal over, I begged leave of the monks, paid my respects and expressed my deep gratitude to His Holiness, received his pious blessings and departed. On my way, back my thoughts were full of admiration for this institution which I had the good fortune to visit and for the wonderful people who initially established it, for those who continued to maintain it and the ones still kept it meaningful. Monks voluntarily give up and abstain from the worldly life to devote themselves purely and entirely to the service of God; at the monastery, I had witnessed a practical demonstration and manifestation of that doctrine in practice in its true form. Under the guidance of the Patriarch there lived a thriving hard-working community of people in peace and harmony, self-contained and happy. Tel Kaif supplied a great number of the white collar-workers and most of the Hotel staff as well as the educated Iraq Railway staff.

Back in Mosul, heeding Hammodi’s counsel I gave up the idea of visiting the Yazidis as I was told they do not welcome stranger visitors at their shrine. Soon enough I received orders to move to Kifri. Before I left my friend, Sheikh Saud, came to see me and presented me a Shammar silver dagger[5], inscribed on it in Arabic was, “To my brother Kermani”. A gift which I greatly cherish and still possess, it was given in the true spirit of sincere love, and affection. The silver, with gold classic Amara work, had also inscribed on it ‘Zahroon’ in Arabic. Zahroon were the Kings Jewellers and said to be the best goldsmiths not only in Iraq but in the entire Arab region. They belonged to a small religious community of people known as Sabians or Subbi in Arabic They dress in white and believe in free immersion in water. I was told that almost all jewellers in Baghdad and Basra belong to this community I met a few both men and women, fair and pretty women and good-looking men. They are mentioned in the Quran as a People of the Book. I was sorry indeed to bid farewell to Saud, he was indeed one friend I made during my stay in Iraq whom I shall never forget.

Kifri was a small town located almost in the heart of Kurdistan not far from the Persian border town of Khanaqin. The larger Kurdish towns Arbil and Sulaymaniyah were a short distance away. Here we were to maintain the 31st Corps. Elements of Corps HQ had already started arriving and we as the Field Supply Depot were soon well established and in full swing as by this time the Units had acquired, under my command, the highest standard of proficiency in their technical work and all-around military efficiency. We had hardly any problems, stock-building was going well, the fresh supplies were of superior quality including the meat while the labour too was hardworking and of a cheerful nature. Once the agent of a fresh supplies contractor complained that he was having some problems with local civil administration, I wrote a letter to the Qaim Muqam, (Equivalent to a Deputy Commissioner in India) which Hammodi delivered asking the officer concerned to come to meet me. Promptly the Qaim Muqam, Mr Baban turned up with Hammodi, a man of impressive presence well dressed in a smart suit he could easily have been an ICS Officer. We soon became friends; the problem was not only solved but assurance given that no such problem of any nature would arise in future. It was the month of Ramazan and he very warmly invited me to spend Eid with him which I gladly accepted. When I had accepted his invitation, I had not asked about the time, but thinking that about eight in the morning appropriate I arrived at that hour to find myself in the midst of a highly festive gathering. Men, women, young and old, children and adults, all gaily attired in colourful clothes, the scene very similar to that in our homes and functions except for the somewhat thunderous sounds and noises of joyous, gleeful music, and dancing; altogether a highly entrancing atmosphere. I stood with my host still exchanging niceties and feeling sorry for having missed the Eid prayers which according to their practice were performed very early in the morning. I also felt somewhat out of place in my Battle Dress, the only one so attired in the existing company. My host indicated with a gesture that I join the dancing folk and I found myself in the grip of a number of young men and women who carried me to forward to join the line of the dancing circle with a terrific shout of joy and a resounding of the drums and trumpets (not unlike a Shanaie). Discarding my inhibition and reserve I easily fell in with the mood of the party, matching the enthusiasm with equal gusto. The place was overflowing with food and drink in such abundance, and varieties so great, that it is impossible to narrate. The people were so friendly and full of charm, there was so much in their manners, food, drinks and customs common to our own that I really felt at home. I particularly liked the men’s dress, smart and practical with all the attribute to maintain the necessary body discipline, very unlike the male garb of most of the Muslim countries where the body remains wrapped in loose and flowing robes that let the belly and the bottom grow freely with layers upon layers of fat.  After spending many delightful and enjoyable hours with my new friends and my gracious host I thanked them all as profusely as possible returned to my unit.

A next few weeks passed uneventfully until one day after lunch a signal was delivered to me, addressed not as OC, but by name, to report to the Corps HQs without specifying the subject. The Corps HQ was not very far off located in an old building, I reported to the duty officer who without a word, handed me a sealed enveloped marked ‘Most Secret’ to be handed over to Brigade Commander Brigadier Rodham. The duty officer gave me a sketch showing the location of the Brigade Headquarter and a handed me motorcycle. The weather was cloudy and rain imminent, it started almost immediately making road slippery, full of slush and thick mud and causing the ride to be quite unpleasant. By the time I found the Brigadier’s tent I was drenched. The motorcycle’s din outside the tent must have alerted him to open the flap. I expected to find a red-hot verbal blast, instead of a torrent, a kindly voice inquired, “Who? You? What are you doing here in this weather? Come right in”. He shouted for his batman, who was already there and had started to take my boots off. I took out the envelope from my inner pocket and as he read it a roar emitted combined with a torrent of not very complimentary words, “I already know all about this. Have to be at their HQ in the morning. Sending an officer, quite, quite unnecessary”. This kindly Brigadier, many years my senior in both in age and service, treated and looked after me in a very fatherly manner, he made arrangements for me to stay that night and be dropped off at my Unit the next morning. Brigadier Rodham MC, was a remarkable gentleman, a senior officer of great ability, a sincere and noble friend. It was my good fortune to meet him again in Pakistan, to serve under him, receive his guidance, and get to know him well, but more about that later.

It was a fortnight after this episode that I got an Air-Card from home, that my father had had a heart attack and was seriously ill. I had been serving overseas for almost three years without a day’s break or leave. I applied and was immediately granted one month’s leave. After having made special arrangements with Field Controller of Military Accounts to have all the accounts audited I handed over my command to my successor. Travelling by road to Baghdad, by rail to Basra, and thence by ship to Bombay, I eventually arrived at Lucknow.  I took a taxi, a big old Buick driven by a courteous and pleasant, fat, elderly Brahmin. Due to the acute shortage of petrol, the taxi was being driven on charcoal, a novel idea. It could not run more than about 20-25 mph. My arrival was not a complete surprise since the approximate, expected time of my arrival was already known to the family.

 

[1] Ditch

[2] Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants

[3] “The Iraqi’s have shot a man”.

[4] “We don’t need to worry about it. Go to sleep”.

[5] I bequeathed this dagger to my grandson Misha on his birth. I know he will cherish it.

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Mosul, Iraq

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Tomb of Hazrat Ghaus ul Aazam Syedna Shaikh Mohiyuddin Abdul Qadir Jilani

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Mosul

The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006) Chapter 10

                                             Iraq

A despondent Colonel Taylor left my cabin, not at all happy with the contents of the ‘Most Secret’ document he had so eagerly opened, breaking the strict norms of military discipline. I too felt somewhat dejected, I had been looking forward to being in Singapore, considered by many to be the best station in the Empire; moreover, I had many friends serving there at that time as well. Any probability of its falling into the war zone was remote, after all, it had been hammered into us that Singapore was impregnable, it could not be taken by land, sea, or air, furthermore, the sphere in which it was located could not be allowed to come under an unfriendly power. The reason for our disembarkation at Basra was therefore beyond comprehension. True that there has been trouble in Iraq but the pro-axis coup led by Rushed Ali Al-Gilani, the Prime Minister had been effectively quelled. In Iran, the Shah-in-Shah, Reza Shah Pahlavi had also become far too friendly with the Germans and had deployed his forces along the frontiers. This gesture was seen as a threat by the Allied powers and could well have jeopardised valuable economic and highly strategic interests of the Empire in the Middle East. As a result, British Indian forces had undertaken a short but swift military operation and Reza Shah was not only removed but also exiled and Iran secured under British protection. Northern Iran fell under the Russians while the rest remained under the British. All these events had already taken place, and Syria, Iraq, Iran fully subdued while German-Italian forces were being appropriately dealt with in North Africa.  The role of Units like ours was not quite clear, except to reinforce and strengthen the already existing Line of Control troops. However, it was, I thought quite pointless for me to dwell on such matters. I was a tired but cold and could not sleep so I decided to go out to get some fresh sea breeze and also experience the mood of the Arabian Sea at night. As I came out of my cabin I was hit by the highly salt-laden, soothing, and sighing wind, the overwhelming darkness except for the star-lit sky above and the phosphorescent sea below. There appeared to be some kind of light emanating from the breaking waves, sparks shooting out from the sea which took a short run and disappeared. These I discovered were flying fish. After a while, I began to feel drowsy and returned to my cabin to fall into a deep dreamless slumber.

Early next morning I was woken by a knock on my door. My batman Imam Din with a “Salaam Sahib. Chai”, had brought my bed-tea. After a bath and a shave, I donned my PT outfit for the morning parade. Outside the troops were already forming up for their PT drill. While waiting for the CO, whom I and the Quarter Master had to accompany on his morning inspection of the troops and their decks, I experienced my first early morning at sea. The salty breeze was still moisture-laden yet pleasant and the sea unusually calm. The horizon was all ablaze with the sun, resembling a disk of fire, emerging out of the water, it was a magnificent sight. We had been at sea and away from land for almost twenty hours and yet there was still a lot of birdlife with a considerable variety of birds, particularly gulls, hovering and encircling the ship, screeching and screaming and happily floating alongside the vessel. Sea life was plentiful as well; there were huge turtles and occasionally schools of dolphins moving fast, popping in and out of the water, not unlike humans doing the breaststroke. The shrill sounds of whistles signalled the start of the parade beginning with PT for all ranks. Under Colonel Taylor’s guidance, we had worked out an intensive training programme that included sports and several activities that ensured that there was no time left for idleness. We continued to sail in comfort although the alarm sounded twice, once for an air attack, and the other for a potential enemy submarine, fortunately, neither materialised. When we entered the Persian Gulf, the sea turned turbulent and tumultuous but as we sailed up further down it became comparatively smoother. During this period, there were many cases of seasickness, and some men suffered miserably. Thank God, I did not. Except for a little feeling of dizziness at times I was basically fine throughout.

Our voyage to the Gulf ended without any event worth mentioning. It became more interesting when the ship sailed into that mighty river, the Shatt-al-Arab, the name by which the confluence of Tigris and Euphrates is known; this vast river flows for about a 200 km before joining the sea. Sailing down this expansive river towards our destination, the inland port of Basra, was a fascinating experience. The banks, on both side of the river, were covered with thick, deep date palm plantations. There was plenty of human activity as well with country boats of various types plying up and down carrying assortments of cargo and people. Young men and women waved out and greeted us with friendly gestures and smiles.

It was evening by the time our ship docked at Margil, the port of Basra. The officers of the Army Embarkation HQ and Base Area HQ were there to assist us in every way possible. We were to all disembark early morning except for the advance party of the Quarter Master’s establishment, which had to leave earlier so that they could set-up the cook-houses and Messes and be ready to serve breakfast when the rest of the Unit turned up. The entire operation of our disembarkation and road journey by MT from Margil to our camp was carried out with the utmost efficiency and security and in complete black-out conditions. We reached the camp while it was still dark. Everything was well laid-out, signposted and marked. My batman Imam Din, had with great agility, set up my tent and arranged all my camp furniture. He now produced a cup of tea and declared that my bath was ready. By the time I was ready and came out of the tent daylight had broken and the men had already had their morning chai and parathas. Outside it was windy and chilly with a lot of dust billowing around. The camp was situated in a huge barren, treeless area with not a scrub or bush in sight, an arid and depressing place. A Gurkha Rifles battalion was encamped a short distance away.

The CO, Colonel Taylor, decided we take a round of the Unit before we sat down for breakfast. He was pleased to see the men busy settling in, and the cheerful, positive mood and high morale displayed by all ranks. Orders were issued to the men to spend the day on maintenance and rest, and to only unpack equipment considered essential for our short stay. We were in transit, our destination yet unknown. As the Officer’s Mess had started running we had an excellent breakfast of fresh river fish and eggs; our thoughtful and resourceful Mess Havildar having managed to procure all the fresh supplies. After breakfast, the CO announced that he was going to report to the HQ Base Area and that I was go with him. We went straight to the S&T building and met Colonel Guinea who was very pleased to see me again. During the conversation, he remarked on the superior performances of all the RIASC units that had come from the Ambala Centre to the 10th Army, a reflection of the hard work put in by Kermani during the training period of these Units. Colonel Guinea gave us an update on the recent operations in Iraq and Persia and the role played by the Service Corps in the existing administrative layout, deployment and future plans. Our Unit, he informed us, was to go up north to Mosul. We also got a lowdown on practically on all aspect of prevailing conditions and the likely developments. After meeting the S&T staff officers, and quick, short visits to other Staff Officers, we left the HQ. We were unable to meet the Brigadier but were told that he would be visiting us the following day. On our return to the camp, we found the Quarter Master busy with the officers and men of the Ordnance Corps who had turned up to check the Unit’s arms and equipment. All items not needed in our current theatre were to be returned or replaced, such as mosquito nets by sand-fly nets, and Chaguls were issued, these are a type of canvas bottles designed to keep drinking water cool in the desert, a simple but most useful piece of equipment. We also had to leave behind baggage that was for one reason or another redundant, for instance, officer’s peace-time Mess kits fell in this category. The Colonel and I were only two who had such items, so I undertook the task of depositing our rather large and heavy steel trunks at the 2nd Echelon. The officer commanding the 2nd Echelon happened to be an Indian, Major Idrees, a KCIO. It was still unusual to find Indians however senior, above a Captain’s rank in those days, it was also quite unusual to find a KCIO of such seniority as modest and gentle as Major Idrees. I was deeply impressed and developed an instant and profound respect for him. I was to meet him again several years later in Pakistan.

It was our third morning at the Transit Camp and the Colonel had called me to his office tent to discuss something when I noticed a lot of activity and commotion at the entry point of the camp. I could see a stationary staff-car and uniformed bodies running about trying to catch sheets of paper flying around haphazardly, carried by the wind. One of uniformed personnel appeared to be a senior officer with his swagger stick and red cap in one hand he too was trying to catch the flying papers, the others were his staff officer/ADC and car-driver, and the MPs on duty. By the time we caught up with them, the chase was over, and the staff-car was heading towards us, we could feel the blazing heat, the sparks emitting out from the back seat of the car, followed by heavy dust. The Colonel’s second-sight alerted, exclaimed, “Something is drastically wrong, God help us”. A fuming Brigadier emerged from the car, we all saluted, and the Colonel stepped forward. “You command this outfit?”  He handed over the sheets of papers he had collected. “Read this! One of yours?”. “Yes Sir”, was the hapless Colonel’s only response. The sheets of papers were carbon copies of a letter written by 2nd Lt Sardul Singh to his family and friends in India. The letter showed an outrageous disregard for the strict orders on military security as it gave the names, location and movements of Units, an unforgivable offence in war. The offending officer was immediately put under close arrest and handed over to Base Area Provost for necessary action, most likely a trial by the FGCM[1]. Our CO thought the man was either an absolute fool or a knave or both.

The Unit had to find a replacement and the CO ordered me to go to the Army Reinforcement Camp to find one. In the meantime, the Brigadier having calmed down had an 11’o’clock beer with the Colonel and delivered the orders of our move details. Since I was the Adjutant of the Unit his Staff officer handed me the papers marked ‘Most Secret’. The next day, the Colonel gave his orders to all the officers and I  handed over the written details of our further deployment. Around the Colonel’s beer time I decided to visit the Reinforcement Camp. On the way, I stopped over at the 2nd Indian Base Supply Depot[2] the largest RIASC unit located in the area. The 2nd IBSD had been raised and trained at Ambala, and I was sure to meet some officers of my acquaintance.  As my vehicle drove through the entrance to the BSD I noticed that there was very little activity; it was around 11.00 am and most of the work would have already been done since Detail Issues to Units are completed early in the morning, as a rule. An NCO of the Unit guided me to OC’s tent where I discovered that the place was under command of Captain Chirag Hussain, my genial friend ‘Chacha Chirag’. I was warmly welcomed by a beaming Chacha Chirag and an impressive assembly of officers who had gathered there for pre-lunch drinks, mostly the ever-popular beer. I knew several of the officers there, amongst them Omar Khan very proudly displaying on his shoulder the rank of a Major, 2nd in command of the BSD. It was very unusual for an Indian to hold that rank and appointment in those days, unfortunately, Omar did not hold it for long. Hamid Ullah Khattak, my old school friend was there as well, happy to be under posting to a GPMT Company. Among all these younger officers was a comparatively older, balding Captain comfortably seated with a glass of soft drink and an amiable, good-natured though slightly patronising air of an older brother about him. We shook hands as I was introduced to him; a teetotaller and non-smoker, Captain Jamal Dar RIASC, a KCIO was Staff Captain ‘Q’ serving at Base Area Headquarters. He was one of those who had themselves transferred from the Infantry very early when the entry to the Service Corps was opened to Indians. He was also one of the first from Tribal Areas to obtain entry into Sandhurst and be granted the King’s Commission. I was to meet him often after the war and to serve under him when he became the first Pakistani DS&T[3] and thereafter the first Service Corps officer to serve as the QMG[4]. I also noticed a quiet, young, very British looking 2ndLieutenant. I remarked to Chacha Chirag, “How come you have this single Gora at your gathering?”  Prompt came the rejoinder “I am Indian, damn it!”. He was Khawaja Abdul Moid, a well-regarded former Cricket Captain of Government College Lahore and Punjab University. We soon settled down to an excellent lunch, as could well be expected from Chacha Chirag, during which many stories and tales of personal experiences in Iraq and Iran war were told as well as reflections on the existing war situation in the region, including the Middle-East. I happened to mention that we had had a casualty and I am on my way to Reinforcement Camp to find a suitable officer to replace the one we had lost. In an instant, a very excited Moid jumped up and implored me to please take him. He appeared to be a very popular man since almost all present enthusiastically pleaded his case. I was somewhat taken aback, but he seemed to be an upright gentleman, and a fine officer so I responded with a “welcome Moid”. Since I no longer needed to visit the Reinforcement Camp I returned to our own and reported my find to the CO who readily gave his consent. The posting was arranged and Moid reported for duty the very next day. After the CO’s interview and final approval, he took over the duties of the officer we had lost. Thus, our Unit was once again complete in officers’ strength. From that time onwards, Moid and I developed strong bonds of a lifelong friendship. I found him a real gentleman, always correct in all matters, loyal and sincere, an able and efficient officer. I discovered that the reason he looked so  British was that his mother was actually British and his father Kashmiri.

By now we had received detailed orders for our move to Mosul. The advanced party with the QM moved out, but Moid arranged that before we left we would see a bit of Basra city which was strictly ‘Out of Bounds’ for all ranks. He managed it through his friend, a Major of the Military Police, who drove the four of us through a rather unattractive town situated a few miles away from the modern port town. On our return trip, we stopped at an Arab Cabaret /Café. It was too early for the stage-show, but people were having drinks which looked like milk diluted by water, and tea without milk in small glass cups. They were also smoking the ‘hubble-bubble’, the Arab version of our hookah and playing an indoor game that looked like backgammon. Many twirled small amber-coloured rosaries and appeared to be praying. Since I had never seen such a scene before I thought they were a pious, health-conscious people. I soon discovered that the drink was a potent alcoholic drink called Arak made from dates and highly flavoured with aniseed (saunf), the addition of water turned it milky white. It was said if one drinks to the state of tipsiness at night, then goes to sleep, and drinks some water upon waking up in the morning you can achieve the earlier evening’s high again without consuming more alcohol. I tasted it, intensely disliked it and never touched it except once again as a guest of some Iraqi officers, on whose assurance of it being of the highest quality I tried it again but found it no better. Telling the beads, I learned, was the national pastime, termed Shuugal, a de-stressing activity with no piety involved whatsoever.

We entrained on a September evening and arrived at Mosul the following day, journeying mostly by train up to the railhead at Baiji and thence by MT Convey to Mosul. The first part of the journey was at night and the rest mostly through a desolate desert. We reached our camp at Mosul in the afternoon and discovered it was situated in the denser part of a large pistachio orchard. It was a well laid-out camp with tents for the officers and the Officer’s Mess. Well-sited slit trenches had been dug in consideration of possible air attack and the entire area was well marked and sign-posted for day and night. There were already troops in the area, the HQ of the 8th Indian Division was in Mosul, but its regiments and brigades were spread over the  Kirkuk-Mosul area. The CRIASC[5] 8th Division, his staff and RIASC personnel were of great help to us in our initial stages of settling down. The Royal Air Force had a strong and effective presence, which prevented the German Luftwaffe from intruding into the allied airspace. Yet within a few days of our arrival, there was an intense air-raid warning alarm and much activity in the sky. We learned that a German reconnaissance plane had sneaked in; it was successfully forced down and both plane and the crew captured. The CO and I went to call at the HQ of the local Commander RAF and found a very fine friendly set of officers there. The two of us were taken to see the German plane, an impressive aircraft, it was being systematically cannibalised and one of the Air Force officers offered me an ashtray and a periscope removed from that plane which I kept as souvenirs for a long time. It has not been long since several successful operations against the Vichy French Army had taken place, Syria occupied, and the German penetration fully eliminated. The entire region, Persia, Iraq, Syria up to Egypt, the most important link with the Indian Empire was clear and secure and the safety of the oil fields of Iraq and Persia ensured. However, danger still lurked of Germans penetrating through Turkey into Iraq, disregarding Turkish neutrality, and then into Persia through the northern borders. To be able to not only meet and prevent such eventuality but to forestall such a move forces were already being deployed. Our Unit was a part of this strategic scheme and we had already started both building up stocks to meet future needs according to these plans, as well as meeting and fulfilling our daily maintenance responsibilities, all effectively with zeal and efficiency.

The work of Service Corps generally, and Supply Branch particularly, can be rather boring and unspectacular; the saving grace is that it is highly self-satisfying and gratifying to know that the front-line troops, with all their courage and bravery, would not be able to achieve success if the men of the Service Corps had not done their job well in the first place.

It was my fate to continue to serve in Iraq for the next few years. My stay covered almost the entire country from the north-most tip to the southern-most. There was hardly a place of any consequence that I did not visit in addition to places where I happened to be on duty as a part of the Army of Occupation. Present-Day Iraq, former Mesopotamia constitutes some of the most ancient lands and it is in fact termed ‘the cradle of human civilization’. It is also the land of prophetic revelations, the great Prophet Abraham, the fountainhead of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the originator of monotheism on which the three great religions are based, was born in Ur in ancient Mesopotamia There is also a legend that the garden of Eden, the first home of Adam and Eve was also somewhere in southern Iraq. I, however, doubt the authenticity of this claim; when I visited the site some miles north of Basra, the place was in a sorry state with absolutely no sign of the existence any garden, even in remotest times. I consider the claim of such a garden being in Ceylon or in India far more sound. The other great prophets said to have dwelt in these lands were Noah (Hazrat Nuh), Jonah (Hazrat Yunus) and Seth (Shish). I visited the tomb of Hazrat Yunus, situated in Nineveh the capital of ancient Kingdom of Assyria, where the local guide pointed out at a skeleton of fish mounted at the entrance and tried to explain the story, as related in the Quran of Jonah being swallowed by a big fish and then under the order of God cast out alive on the shore.

Both the operational and administrative built-up was going at a fast pace, a composite reconnaissance party composed of officers of the Services was detailed to work out the administrative set-up in case a German incursion into Turkey necessitated Allied intervention. I with another officer, Captain Swain, as members of this party, had to visit the town of Macho, the north-most town in Iraq located on the Turk-Iraqi border in a green, mountainous region. It was a small picturesque Kurdish town with a mixed population of Assyrian Christian, Muslims and Jews. We met some of the exceptionally friendly people there and were invited by a well-dressed gentleman who spoke some English, to his home; since he was very insistent we accepted his invitation. He took us to his small, charming, circular stone house where we entered a very warm circular room with a sunken fire-hearth in the centre topped by a canopy with a chimney. Low rug-covered dewans set all around the room offered ample, comfortable seating and a homely, attractive atmosphere. The lady of the house, an attractive middle-aged woman, well-groomed and modestly dressed soon appeared, shook hands and greeted us warmly. Since she only spoke Kurdish and Arabic the husband served as the interpreter. She was followed by the charming teenage daughter of the house who also greeted us and shook our hands. The mother and daughter exchanged a few words and the daughter disappeared briefly only to return with a heap of platters. dishes full of dry fruits, a variety of snacks, green salads, dates and olives. The mother who in the meantime had been busy with her pots and pans cooking something brought out cuts of roast turkey and a type of bread which I had never seen or tasted before. At first sight, it looked like a version papadum or papaar but was soft to the touch. The closest bread that I could think was the chapatti made in our homes in Awadh, yet at the same time quite difference in that it was mildly spiced, baked and stored, kept for a long time and when needed taken out, sprinkled with water and heated, ready to be eaten, as fresh as ever. The idea of finding and introducing a type of bread that could be cooked and baked in mass and kept for a reasonably long period to replace the outmoded langar chapatti which entails a lot of time and effort became strongly embedded in my mind.  After a thoroughly enjoyable meal, we thanked our kind hosts for their matchless hospitality. Since we did not have anything at hand to return for their cordiality and knowing that offering money would hurt their self-respect and dignity, we gave them all the tins of 555 cigarettes we had with us at that time and thanked them again most profusely. Before returning, we stood at the top edge of the mountain-range dividing Iraq and Turkey and enjoyed an excellent view of the deep valley down below. Another step forward and we would have dropped into Turkey. We returned to our camp late in the evening pleasantly tired and satisfied with our task completed and well executed.

It was now October and the beginning of a long bitter spell of cold rain, sleet, and snow. The dull, grey, overcast sky was just a precursor to the rains that first came slowly and intermittently and then with steady and increasing persistence and volume. Although we had taken all the possible precautions, the pistachio garden and the open area around was getting inundated with water. The rapidly flooded slit-trenches turned into death traps while the precipitously rising water endangered our valuable stocks. It had become almost impossible for men or machines to move. The Engineers had forgotten to cut a drain-line and now they moved fast to drain off the excess water, but nothing could be done with the heavy mud and slush. Even after the rains had stopped the soil was too slippery, and the mud stuck to our boots adding a good six to seven inches of extra height. We received an issue of rubber top-boots which was a great boon. Sleet and snow followed the rains with the temperature falling into the minus thirties; it was said that was that we were experiencing the same temperatures as in Moscow. Luckily, we were faring better on the war-front and the fighting remained a good distance away.

Notwithstanding the miserable conditions prevailing we stuck steadfastly to our normal standard of maintenance of stock and issue of all supplies including fresh produce. The OC Field-Bakery, an old commissary officer produced excellent bread. One cold day he invited some of us to a tasting of his Field-Bakery bread. He was himself a Master-Baker and was very proud of it. The bread he produced was really of the quality he claimed. Eaten hot and fresh off the field-oven, with spring onions, goat cheese and washed down with frothy cold beer it had the flavour and subtle aroma of the fresh earth in which it had been baked. We all agreed that it was the best bread we had ever tasted.

The OC Field Butchery instead of setting up a new butchery found a well-equipped slaughterhouse of high standard owned by the local civil authority. It was used in common by all the local communities, Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Arrangements were made for its use by the Army as well. The quality of the animals that produced both beef for British troops and mutton for Indian troops were consistently of a high standard and met our specification. Similar high standards were kept for the fresh fruits and vegetables including potatoes and onions. Some fruits particularly the pomegranates and grapes, both green and red, and the watermelons were of the highest quality. In fact, I had neither seen such large pomegranates, nor tasted ones so juicy and delicious ever before. I also learned a new way of consuming them, you hold the fruit in palms of both hands squeezing it all like we do to a prepare a sucking mango, and when soft make a hole and suck it or pour the juice into a glass. Mosul has always been famous for its fabled Red Hadba Wine from ancient time, and indeed, the wine connoisseurs amongst us pronounced it to be as good as any French Red.

The weather watchers declared that the temperature would continue in the minus degrees. It was bitterly, freezingly cold and the men from southern parts of India and Bengal felt particularly miserable. Extra rations of milk, tea, sugar was sanctioned, and Rum for those willing to consume alcohol such as the Sikhs. There were a good number of MT vehicle casualties due to cracked cylinder blocks. The use of anti-freeze was not known in the army yet, instead, all Units having MT vehicles on their establishment had to carry out an anti-freeze parade, a well worked out drill which had to be conducted under an officer on a daily basis. Just before sunset, at the sound of the whistle, the bonnets of the vehicles were raised, the lids of the radiators removed, bibcock’s opened, and water fully drained off, all the while with the engines running until it was ensured that no water was left in the system. Then the bonnets came down and were covered with tarpaulins. There were two General Purposes Transport Companies or GPT RIASC which were equipped with the newly arrived 3 tonners Chevy Trucks, highly prized and valued at this stage of the war. On one cold morning over a dozen vehicles were found with their cylinder blocks cracked. An obvious and serious dereliction of duty by someone, no less than an officer. An immediate Court of Inquiry fixed the responsibility on an officer resulting in his trial by Field General Court Martial. The officer was found guilty, deprived of his acting rank and posted on an adverse report to another unit near Baghdad. On his first night at his new Unit, while sleeping in his tent, he felt unusually cold and reached out for extra blankets to cover himself, unable to find them, he opened his eyes and found himself lying on his camp-cot under the open sky. His tent, his blankets his kit including his service pistol had all vanished, the work of some local Arab gang, a not uncommon activity amongst them and basically considered a sport. However, the loss of a pistol was a serious offence. Another court martial, further reduction in rank and a posting to a newly established Bullock-Cart Company in the wilderness of Central Provinces in India was the fate of this luckless, unfortunate officer.

Despite the ever-increasing bitter weather work continued as usual. The 10th Indian Division having very successfully, and in a short time, completed and secured British interests in Iraq, Persia, and Syria were now on the way to join the forces operating in the western desert. Two distinguished RIASC officers from HQ 10th Division came to visit us, Colonel A.H.J.Snelling and Colonel R.I.Jones. I had served under the former a couple of months back when he had been CRIASC Rawalpindi, he was now the AA & QMG. It was unusual for a Service officer to hold such an important staff appointment, but Colonel Snelling was an officer of unusual ability and in course of time, he became Major General Administration South Asia Command. Colonel Jones CRIASC was the Commandant Service Corps Officers School, Chaklala when I attended the Course there. He became Director Supply& Transport India after the War. It was a great pleasure to meet these two senior officers and for me a matter of pride and a boost to my self-esteem that they both recognised and remembered me well.  During the course of the conversation, I could not help voicing my aspiration to serve in their formation. The response was, “We can take you with us if your CO agrees”. A stern, yet kindly “That’s not on”, from Colonel Taylor’s put that prospect promptly to rest. Thus, ended my chance of serving in a field formation and the remote possibility of winning, however small, some sort of distinction in the field. I always considered it a misfortune had I never again had an occasion to serve under two senior RIASC officers of such high calibre as those two.

With the ceaseless monotony of work and the dismal icy weather, life continued in a somewhat uneventful and tedious manner. Consequently, one evening a few of us decided to go and see a stage-show at the local theatre. It seemed to be a decent place and we took a box and settled in to watch the program which consisted of an all-male orchestra with Arabic/Turkish musical instruments and a female dancer. The orchestra warmed up and the dancer appeared wearing high heel shoes and a closely tight fitted, shimmering long dress; smart, slim and highly made up in the European style. The show was quite interesting, particularly the dancer’s movements and the clicking sound she produced with her thumbs and forefingers while with her hands were raised above her head. Some of the band’s members begun to sing and the audience joined in with enthusiasm clapping along in rhythm.  During the interval, I went out to get some fresh air; as the bell rang and the lights went off I opened the door to find myself in the wrong box, I was about to a beat a hasty retreat apologising “sorry for my mistake”, when the dim lights of the box were switched on and a man stood up, and in Arabic welcomed me with a “Wallah, no mistake, Ahllan, welcome. You are with brothers and friends.” He advanced towards me and we shook hand. He introduced himself, Sheikh Saud Al-Yawar. Another man vacated his seat and I was invited to sit down. When I said that I must go and tell my friends, the Sheikh responded, “No worry they have been informed”. So, for the last part of the show, I sat in the company of the Sheikh, generously served with Arabic coffee and sweet tea. The show over, I could better view my kind host. A pleasant looking, handsome young man, light-skinned, of medium height, about my age, very elegantly dressed in the Arab fashion and wearing strong Oudh (Attar) perfume, the fragrance of which had hit me when I had first entered the box. This perfume, I was to discover, was most popular amongst the Arab male elite. The other men in his company were his entourage, bodyguards and servants; all armed to teeth. Sheikh Saud became my best Arab friend and addressed me as Akhu.[6] He was a younger brother of Sheikh Safouk, the Sheik-ul-Masshiek of the powerful Iraqi Shammar tribe and reputed to be the most powerful man in Iraq after the King.

There was no break in the bad weather, nor in work. One day a visitor came to see me, very harassed and weary, in great distress and in need of urgent help. A civilian officer of Military Accounts and Audit service, he had been posted as Field Controller of Audit & Account with orders to set up a Field Office. Pending the arrival of other personnel and staff and suitable arrangements to accommodate them, he was required to live in the Transit Camp where he found life an absolute misery. He had to share a tent with several British officers, who he proclaimed, had no qualms about taking their clothes off and walking around nude and showering and bathing together, all naked. Worse still, the latrines were multi-seaters. There was no privacy. He was a middle-aged Muslim gentleman from Lahore and was greatly concerned for not being able to maintain his Tahara[7] for his prayers or even eat food which he considered of doubtful ingredients from his orthodox point of view. After having spoken to and obtaining the CO’S permission, we extended the use of our living facilities to him and I instructed a senior Muslim VCO to look after him. For this, he remained forever thankful. When his personnel arrived, we made arrangements for them as well to stay attached to our installations, thus saving ourselves from the often unnecessary, sometimes irritating and consistently irksome audit objections for which this department is known to be notorious.

The foul weather kept getting worse. It was mid-November and the entire area including the roads was a sea of mud and slush, fortunately, we were able to get ourselves equipped with long rubber gum-boots. Our worthy Quarter Master thought that our greatcoats were not good enough to keep us warm and outfitted us with local sheepskin poshteens. However, on our very first exposure to the sleet and snow in these, we stank like rotten fish. The poshteens were promptly discarded and the faithful old British-style great coats were retrieved. We were now informed that a new Administrative Plan was in the offing which would most likely result in the relocation of the Administrative Services and Installations. While this was going on a major catastrophe befell our unit, our CO, Colonel Taylor fell seriously ill and had to be admitted to the Hospital. The Director of Supply & Transport 10th Army, Brigadier Hickie arrived around this time. The Brigadier was reputed to be one of those formidable, fire-breathing general officers much feared and dreaded by the younger officers. To me he seemed to be a very normal senior officer, except that he appeared to be in a hurry, and although trying not to show it, somewhat weary and tired. This was the condition of most senior British senior officers at that time; burdened with ceaseless work, heavy responsibilities, the stress, and strain of war, it was remarkable that most of them continued to function with zeal and efficiency. However, there were some who could not handle it and broke down. Unfortunately, our Colonel Taylor was one of those; a fine man in every sense, he had been showing signs of depression for some time which made him drink more and more. After being admitted to the hospital, he was evacuated to India where within a short time he died. It was indeed sad news for the entire Unit where he was very popular and held in great respect and esteem. I served as his Adjutant, and in absence of a formal post by virtue being the senior-most officer, performed, as his 2nd in-command. He always reposed full and complete trust in me. After he had gone, the head clerk who also handled his personal and confidential correspondence, papers, and files, opened his portfolio. It contained some very personal papers with instructions for their disposal, which we carried out immediately. It also contained, papers recommending me for the newly started war-time short Staff College course. He had never mentioned this to me, and even if had known, I fully understood that I had no chance to be selected at this given time. Anyhow, I was very deeply touched. After his departure, I received a confidential note from him written in a shaky hand, saying” goodbye” and asking me to look after his Batman.

The DS&T, Brigadier Hickie was accompanied by a rather oldish, big-boned man, burly, tall and, broad-shouldered with a pronounced stoop. He carried a thick, long and rough stick in his hand and with his wrinkly face, he looked like a farmer who has just dropped his plough. He was Major Curtis, soon to become a Lt Colonel after taking over the command vacated by Colonel Taylor. The Brigadier turned to me, “Get all your officers here”. “They are all here waiting to meet you, Sir”. “You are to move to a place called Al-Qaira to open an FSD[8] to stock and maintain an Armed Division, an Infantry brigade. You will get all the necessary information. Take the Sub-Units and personnel needed and start functioning as soon as possible. Goodbye and good luck”. I did not meet the Brigadier again until August 1943, when I was to take command of the Base Supply Depot at Basra and he, at my request, helped me to take over that Installation smoothly. Al-Qaira about 55 miles south of Mosul on the main road to Baghdad was the base of an important British Oil and Petroleum Company. When we got there, we found that a Corps of Engineers had been working there for some time and had already laid out the barbed wire perimeter as well as demarcated the areas which would be needed for our operation. They were busy building covered store-sheds, incredibly well designed against air-raid as well as the local tribes who were prone to carrying out armed incursions and raids. This was an especially popular form of night-sport, aimed at capturing and carrying off as many supplies as possible, the most attractive items being tea and sugar, any other item falling into their hands was a bonus; obtaining arms and ammunition was considered hitting the Jackpot.

The Depot could not have been better sited; on high, hard ground with natural drainage and the type of soil that soaked in any amount of rain-water, snow and sleet. The area around our perimeter was broken ground studded with natural ponds and pools of bitumen, as a result of which the air smelled heavily and constantly of noxious crude oil and bitumen. There was no escape, we had to live with it. The VCOs, NCOs and all other ranks of the two Supply Personnel Sections, the Butchery and the Bakery knew me well. Lt Cheema, the second officer was my old friend. He was also reliable, trusty and efficient. I thus had no difficulty in getting the show going and running smoothly and effectively within a very short time. I was authorized to have an interpreter with the status equivalent to a Havildar. I chose one out of the six sent to me. Hammodi, though was not very literate, was fluent in Urdu and English in addition to Arabic, Kurdish, Assyrian and Farsi. He had previously been a First-Class cook at the British Officers establishment of the Oil Company. Moreover, he was a Shammar, a member of the dominant tribe of the region.

We were soon well settled in. The tents were outfitted with dug-in fireplaces designed by the Army Engineers and so were the cook-houses which used the everlasting supply of local crude oil as fuel. We also had a Field Post Office covering the area and a Sub-Office of the Field Controller of Military Audit and Accounts living and attached for rations to us. This was done on my personal request to the heads of the respective departments based at Mosul. I found the arrangements mutually helpful.                                                      Cheema and I shared two tents joined together covering a dugout and managed to have separate bath-tents. Imam Din and Cheema’s Batman, with the help of the Sappers still working on the buildings and sheds, rigged up a cook-house for us. Soon they were producing and serving excellent meals. With Hammodi’s help, they were also able to churn out Arab and English dishes. Soon we had gained a reputation for our hospitality and found ourselves very popular amongst our fellow officers and even those passing through found time to pay us a visit and to enjoy a good meal. We too enjoyed these visits as a break from boredom and monotony as well as a means getting the latest news, whether it was operations in the western desert or events in India since the traffic passing went both ways. Occasionally, through the courtesy of the Petroleum Company, we got to see a cinema show, usually a matinee. Once a group of us arrived at the cinema hall when the show had already started, as we quietly entered the darkened hall we were hit by a blast of heavily perfumed air. There was quite a bit of whispering as someone remarked that a convey of Nurses was passing through, everyone quietly but with great curiosity waited for lights to come on but when they did there were groans of disappointment. The hall was full of rows of Cavalry and Armour Corps Officers, most prominently well-groomed Hussars It was their day at the Cinema. In any case, we all agreed though that breathing the heavily perfumed air was far pleasanter than that saturated with crude oil vapours.

The FSD was functioning very well indeed. There were no complaints or problems, in fact, we had superb relations with all the Units and at all levels. The local labour worked diligently, and honestly under the guidance of Hammodi. The exception was a single minor incident. One morning on my return from a visit to another Unit I was met by a very miserable looking Hammodi standing alongside our senior VCO. I enquired, “Subedar Sahib Kia Bathai?” “Sahib aik cooli chori karta pakra gaia. Phir, Lt Sahib Ke hukam sey, usko Assyrian Levies kay hawala kar dia”[9]. “Well done” I responded and was about to move on when Hammodi with tears in his eyes, interjected “May I ask your permission to say something Sir” I said go ahead, “Sir, yes the man is a thief, he stole a handful of sugar, but those Assyrians will kill him. They are very cruel, and they do not know when to stop. If only if you could see how they treat our poor people, if only you could see how very cruel they are”. I stopped, “Subedar Sahib call my truck”. I drove along with Subedar Shingara Singh and Hammodi to the HQ Assyrian Levies Company, quartered not too far off. A British Major was in command, I introduced myself and explained the purpose of my visit. He was a kindly decent looking, smart man in the Levies uniform, Gurkha felt hat, shorts and boots with short putties. The men were all smartly turned out and the lines well kept. In fact, the whole atmosphere was very similar to that of our Army Units. A Captain had by now had turned up and he was instructed to show me the treatment the Arab thief from our Unit was getting.  I was led to a place where a man was standing against a bare wall with his hands and feet bound, two Levy soldiers stood about twenty to twenty-five feet away facing the man with Revolvers in their hands. As we halted they saluted smartly, the Levies Captain said something, one man saluted, took aim towards the wall and started firing all around the captive Arab. It was a cruel scene; the Captain was surprised that I was not only not amused but asked that the man be released and handed back to me. On our return, I told Hammodi to collect all the labour and tell them how the man was let off this time, but that this would not happen the next time something was stolen. The poor culprit himself was full of gratitude and shame and swore never to commit such a crime again.

We had a good number of important visitors who were apparently brought over to see the unique layout and construction of the first Field Supply Depot of its kind. Some of them were Indian civilians, none of whom showed any interest in the men, material or anything else. Even their handshake and forced smile seemed to be a mere gesture. The only names of these Indian visitors I remember,  both from the Finance and Accounts, were Mr Rao and Mr Mohammad Ali.  However, one important individual’s visit gave a boost to the morale of the  Indian soldiers who were mostly from the Punjab. We had a letter from the Area Commander notifying us of the date and time of the arrival of the Hon. Lt Colonel Sirdar Sir Sikander Hayat Khan KBE, KBK, CSMBE, Member of the Viceroys’ Council. We were also informed that he would like to meet the Punjabi Officers, VCOs and other ranks. Since there was no such category or designation as Punjabi Officer in the Indian Army, the only one in my unit who could meet that definition was Lt Cheema, whom I instructed to make the arrangements necessary for the important occasion and to receive our VIP guest. On that day and time, after having checked to ensure that all arrangements were properly made, I went and sat in my tent, waiting for the inevitable. The Staff Captain appeared, “Your presence is required by the Area Commander, the Brigadier wants you immediately”.  I had expected the call, as soon as the Brigadier saw me he demanded, sternly “Where were you?” “Sir, the letter from HQ stated the presence of Punjabi officer, there is no such category of officers in the Indian Army, there are only two officers in my unit, I am an officer but not Punjabi, the nearest to the specifications, Lt Cheema was detailed to attend”. Then turning towards Sir Sikander, I continued, “Sir, no disrespect was intended, mere obedience to orders”. All of this was said rather loudly in a somewhat Parade ground voice. There was pin-drop silence all around. The Brigadier having become redder in the face looked at me furiously. A refined voice broke the silence, “A misunderstanding no doubt. “It was Sir Sikander I saluted, “Sorry Sir, no disrespect to you Sir”. We shook hands. I saluted again, “I hope you have been well looked after, Sir”. He looked towards Cheema who was by my side, “He has been doing very well”. He then turned towards, “Are you related to Mahmud Kermani, he was with me at Aligarh”. “Yes Sir, my father”. Sir Sikander very graciously, and affectionately embraced me, I managed to mumble, “Your son Shaukat was also with me at the school”. At this point, the Brigadier came up to say that they had to move to their next engagement. Sir Sikander was indeed one of the great Indians of his times. Several years later I happened to meet many members of his fine family and some of them became my close friends.

A few days after this we had some nocturnal visitors. Despite the war and battles raging not far from our location, we hardly ever heard the sound of firing. That night my sound and peaceful sleep was rudely disturbed by a few shots followed by a burst of rapid fire, without doubt from the sentries of the Gurkha Rifles on night duty guarding the Installation. I got up at once to go out and investigate but Cheema held me back, by this time the VCO on duty came running to report that there was a tribal gang raid and that they had got away with only a few boxes of tea.

There was nothing to do but go back to sleep. In the morning, I met the officer and the VCO of the Sub-Unit that provided the guards as well as the Guard Commander, all shame-faced and downcast. There was the usual Court of Inquiry as a result of which, I as OC FSD could write off the lost stores. An occurrence such as this should not have happened. Everyone agreed that I bore no responsibility in this matter, but I was not satisfied. I asked Hammodi to convey a message, with my compliments, to Sheikh Saud requesting a meeting as soon as it would be convenient for him. Sheikh Saud has become a regular visitor and our friendship had turned into that of Ankhus or brothers. The Sheikh came promptly, attired as usual in his regal style of blue and gold flowing Arab robes, along with his entourage including the Negro bodyguards all armed to their teeth. After going through the elegant rituals of the shaking of both hands, kissing of cheeks, embracing, repeated shaking hands while reciting the appropriate words in praises of Allah, we proceeded to the protocol of who would sit first with the politest vocabulary brought into play. Even after taking our seats the formalities continued; enquires about each other’s health and well-being and on and so forth for some time, again with few words of thanksgiving and praise of Allah. While this was going on, tea and coffee was being served. I apologised for any inconvenience caused and thanked him for his visit. Apparently, he seemed to have been well briefed by Hammodi as he said he had heard about the incident and felt bad about it. But, “Why should my Brother worry about it, the safeguarding of the property and stores is not his responsibility and no blame can accrue to him”. I explained that while I got no blame, I felt bad as we are one army only different branches performing different tasks, any setback experience by one was felt equally by all. I continued, “I also feel unhappy that such an event happened in my Brother Saud’s domain”. The Sheikh got up and announced, “Wallahey, all the stores, every bit shall be recovered, but you must give me your word that no one will demand the custody of any man”. I gave him that assurance. A few days later, and again after midnight we were awakened by rifle fire some distance away, and the senior Subedar came rushing in, “Sahib, Sheikh Saud wants to see Captain Sahib”. I jumped out of the bed and started to dress as so did Cheema. There at our entrance gate stood the Sheikh and his men at some distance the Gurkha Guard Commander with his men. I was asked by the Sheikh to accompany him as his men had caught the thieves and the stolen stores. I took a seat beside him in his Buick and we drove nearly a mile or so over the broken ground into a small valley. There stood three donkeys, the tea-boxes, some already opened,  the contents in process of being transferred into black woollen bags littered the ground along with a few rustic daggers.  There were no human beings about the place. By this time Cheema with a few armed men had also arrived, very worried and concerned about my safety since he did not consider the Arabs reliable under any circumstances. He asked the Sheikh if any of the thieves had been caught, “All of them. And they are being looked after”. We returned after having thanked the Sheikh most profusely. The items recovered were credited to the state, the donkeys sold, and the money credited to the Unit welfare fund. The daggers were distributed amongst VCOs.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Field General Court Martial

[2] Indian Base Supply Depot

[3] Director Supply and Transport

[4] Quarter Master General

[5] Commander Royal Indian Army Service Corp

[6] Brother

[7] Ritual purity

[8] Field Supply Depot

[9] “Subedar Sahib what is the matter?” “Sahib, a thief has been caught stealing. On Lt Sahib’s orders, he has been handed over to the Assyrian Levies.”

 

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Basra, Iraq

Hadba Wine

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Sheikh Saud Al-Yawar of the Shammar Tribe

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From right to left Captain S.A.Kermani, Sheikh Saud Al-Yawar, Unknown, Hammodi

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Hammodi

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Somewhere in Iraq

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Somewhere in Iraq

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Major General A.H.J.Snellings, C.B, C.B.E

 

The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006) Chapter 9

Ambala

My first impression of Ambala Cantonment was not positive; it was an unattractive, ugly place. This dreary, desolate image was further heightened by the intensity of the heat and dust, this being the month of May the first and worst month of the Indian summer. Fortunately,  the other three officers I was sharing my accommodations with were my friends, we had been at the RIASC School Chaklala only a few months back and we got along well. They too had been posted only a short time ago to units that only existed on paper. There were no arrangements for Officer’s Messing, in fact, there were hardly any arrangements for anything at all, therefore, we all sat down to discuss and organise our living situation. Since there was no Officer’s Mess nearby which we could join we agreed that the best thing to do was to run the place as a ‘Chummary’[1]. Lt Syed Chiragh Hussain Shah, a sedate, sober, solemn gentleman, known to his brother officers as Chacha was to organise and run the outfit with Lt Mello Castro, whose family owned and ran a hotel in Bombay, as his assistant. My man Rehmat was designated as head cook in addition to his work as my bearer. The other servants were to work as directed by Chacha.

The next morning as I got ready to leave, to report to the HQ Mobile Training unit, I noticed all others still having their morning tea and reading the Newspapers. I called out to them “Are you all on leave, or is it some sort of holiday?” “You shall soon find out when you report to the old Major.” They laughingly responded.

The Mobile Centre was located in the former British troop’s barracks and although the area was teeming with troops and one could see a number of officers about as well, the whole place seemed to be in a state of bleak desolation and lacked the typical immaculate military atmosphere. I soon found the barrack that housed the HQ; it must previously have been the Regimental Battalion Headquarter building and had obviously seen better days. A well turned out Service Corps orderly showed me to the OC’s office, I knocked and entered the room to behold a heavily built officer, a Major I realised as I approached him, deeply engrossed in reading some paper. I saluted, he raised his head and moved his glasses down to the end of the nose and looked up rather irritated. Without acknowledging my salute, he enquired “Now who a’ you?” I handed him the GHQ’s letter of my posting order, he looked at it with a bit of disdain, looked at me again, was about to say something but instead hit the bell on his desk thrice, rapidly. In rushed a Subedar, the Major turned to him, showed him my posting order said something to him. He indicated for me to sit down and as I pulled up a chair he got busy with the papers spread out on his table. I have been unable to recall his name but remember thinking he blended in well with the prevailing, somewhat decrepit atmosphere. It was obvious that he was a recalled officer, a well-flogged old warhorse, weary, tired and sad looking. The Subedar came in with a file, the Major looked up at me, and pointed towards the Subedar, “He is the Head Clerk.” He took the file glanced over the pages and gave it to me saying, “Here it is all I have on your unit. Take it. You can sit in the next room.” As I stood, he gave me another look, which seemed to be a little kindlier and said, “What do you think of the place?” “Sir I have not seen much of it, of the little I have seen it appears to be in a state of chaos.” This time, he gave me a hard look but replied in a softer tone “You are right. Now take this file. The Headquarter of the 21st Supply Personnel Company shall be responsible for running this Centre until a permanent establishment is sanctioned. The Commanding Officer is under posting. You are now to work as my Adjutant in addition to the Headquarter of the 21st  Supply Personnel Company. I will expect you to assist me to sort out things.” When I went back for lunch and related these events to others, they almost all in unison asked me to do something to get their orders fully clarified. I also learned that Captain Umar Khan has arrived, posted to the 2nd Indian Base Supply Depot a big Unit with a Lt Colonel in command. This Unit was fully mobilised awaiting orders to move overseas. This time Umar had brought his family and was staying at the only hotel in Ambala Cantonment. Within a few days’ time, the postings of all my friends were clarified. Hamidullah Khattak too was to join the 2nd IBSD[2] as MT officer (Captain). The other two were assigned to Supply Personnel Sections to be raised soon. Before long, Lt Colonel Guinea arrived to take over as CO of the 21st  Supply Personnel Company. He also took over the Command of the Centre and the old Major was gone. I found the Colonel an extremely fine gentleman as well as an able and experienced officer. I consider myself lucky to serve under him and that too as his Adjutant, he was an excellent guide and a worthy leader. Very soon, the Centre had a changed look and the atmosphere reflected the best of military efficiency and meticulousness. He also pressed hard to get a permanent establishment on the ground. By now, a sizeable number of Units had gathered at the Centre; they were of all types, of different strengths, in various stages of training and process of organising. One day Colonel Guinea decided to see how these Units would look like on the field. I organized a grand parade and the Colonel was very pleased, it had an excellent impact and helped in creating a higher sense of Esprit-de-Corps and of boosting morale. The 2nd IBSD that had already been alerted to move and received their embarkation orders. Umar Khan who had been promoted to the rank of a Major and second in command moved out to an unknown destination as was usual at that time,  Colonel Guinea, to my sorrow, was also posted to an unknown station overseas. I felt sad as he was the first CO in the RIASC under whom I had served directly. As his Adjutant I had the privilege to enjoy his absolute trust and confidence, for me, it was a great opportunity to learn my profession and to get practical guidance in important matters. I was sorry that the time I served under him was so short. Before leaving he promised to try to get me a posting under him, but I knew it was not always possible during wartime, particularly at a lower level. We remained in correspondence and I had quite a few letters from him that I greatly valued but unfortunately lost over the years. Lt Colonel Taylor took over as CO and accepted me as his Adjutant without hesitation. Most of Colonel Taylor’s service had been spent with the camels and he had previously been commanding a Sillader Camel Company, a Major’s command, and had come on a promotion. An easy going man with a pleasant personality and an ever-smiling but worn countenance, not very robust either physically or mentally and a bit too fond of ‘bottle’ the full effect of which showed; yet a simple, straight forward kind gentleman with a lot of common sense and a one who hardly ever lost his temper. To start off he refused to take the command of the Centre and insisted that AHQ sends a permanent man. With a few days’ time a Major arrived, we as HQ of the 21st Supply Personnel were relieved of the extra burden and could concentrate on mobilising, and preparing the Unit and making sure it was fit and ready for performance in the field.

We were now placed on the priority list, and officers, men, and equipment started arriving rapidly to complete our war equipment table and war strength. We had an Officer Quarter Master and all the necessary personnel, an Account officer, Stocks Officer, and MT sections complete with vehicles. The CHQ had the clerical staff. The Head Clerk was a Christian, Subedar Winifred, an interesting and amusing personality the like of whom I had not yet encountered. He was from Assam and raised at the Tea Gardens. He smoked a pipe and tried to affect an accent. He looked upon and treated the other VCOs with an air of disdain but was very efficient in his work. Subedar Winifred worked directly under me and in addition to his regular duties, I entrusted him with the task of ensuring that Colonel Taylor was served his 11 o’clock beer, exactly on time and correctly, to the minutest details, of all his duties he was happiest to carrying out this task.

We had six Supply Personnel sections, each with a Lieutenant in command. Since the officers were not allowed to take their private servants into the war zone, a batman was authorized instead. I had to select a sepoy to replace the inimitable Rehmat, my ever-faithful, efficient, and loyal servant who was indeed a part of our family as his forefathers had severed ours for generations. Therefore, at the morning parade, I went around looking at the men lined up to see if I could pick the right individual. One essential requirement was that he be a first-class shot. While going through the ranks, I noticed a meek-looking man who seemed to belong to the typical north Indian peasantry, I stopped and asked if he was a first-class rifle shot, “Hain Sab” My next question, “Tum Haryana ka hai?” [3] Hain Sab,” “Ranghar hai?” [4]Again, he answered in the affirmative. “Tomra nam?” “Imam Din.” I had found my batman. Imam Din was placed as an apprentice under Rehmat. He learned fast, including how to cook and within a short period was producing all my favourite dishes. He remained my batman throughout the war and served as my bearer when released from the army with the rank of Naik. He continued in my service even after partition; a most devoted, loyal, selfless man.

Our Unit was almost complete and fully mobilised. To further condition the men for better performance in the field, Colonel Taylor decided that we go under canvas until we received our embarkation orders. To save our own tentage, the Centre at our request, laid out a Transit Camp. We moved into this Camp and commenced exercises based on the likely roles we could be called upon to perform in any theatre of war, including self-defence capabilities. During this period, it was discovered that although well equipped with field furniture, we were deficient in items such as cutlery, crockery, and other kitchenware. A list was prepared and I was detailed to go to Delhi to purchase the necessary articles. The Colonel thought it better that I take one of the newly arrived 15 CWT Chevrolet trucks. Apart from it being convenient, it would take care of the run-in and I could give him a report on its performance. I put in a request to take the vehicle up to Aligarh and he very kindly gave me permission. Early the next morning I left with MT Havildar Mohammad Akbar and Imam Din my batman. The latter had asked for 10 days leave and requested that he be dropped off on the way near his village. So, off we drove down the Grand Trunk Road to Delhi. The necessary shopping was soon completed, and I decided to indulge myself and purchase a folding Japanese gramophone, something I had never seen before. The shop had only one, which I promptly purchased along with a few records. It proved to be a great boon during the lonely period I had to spend later in the Iraqi desert.

I then drove on to Aligarh. Along the Delhi-Aligarh Road were many places that I was very familiar with having travelled on this road many times during my student days. Upon reaching Aligarh I drove to Colonel Haidar’s beautiful home on Marris Road since I planned on staying there for the night. Both Haidar Chacha and his wife were surprised and very happy to see me. After a short chai and a chat, I drove to the University campus to meet my brother Wahaj who was still studying there and living in one of the hostels.

I soon reached Diggi, a small lake and another very familiar place for me. During the ten years of my life that I had spent in Aligarh, I must have passed it innumerable times. I had walked, cycled, ridden in an ekka or tonga, at the back of Haider Chacha ‘s motorcycle numerous times, as well as in Sajid Mian, Nawabzada Sajid Ali Khan of Rampur’s Amil Race Car. The heavy cloud of dust raised during the drive was beyond what most car manufacturers ever imagined in those days since they would not have driven on the Aligarh roads. The military vehicle I was driving was not all that bad in terms of throwing-up dust on the passengers, but awful for pedestrians.

There must have been some event that afternoon at the University because a large number of students were walking on either side of the road and although I slowed down, my vehicle still managed to create a dust cloud. I caught sight of Wahaj with another student strolling alongside the road, however, when I got close to them (to my surprise) they looked backed but instead of stopping both of them started running away. I immediately stopped, got down, and started shouting Wahaj’s name. With the help of some other students, I managed to get them to stop. By now, Wahaj had recognized me and came racing back to embrace his brother in khaki. This episode turned out to be a minor comedy of errors; Wahaj and the other students who were out for walk considered it an act of trespass and sacrilegious for the Army to enter the sacred premises of their almost holy Alma Mater. They had begun hooting but when they saw the Army vehicle heading towards them, thinking that the soldiers had heard their jeering, they took to flight. Once the misunderstandings were cleared up we all had a good laugh. Taking Wahaj with me I drove on to the university entering through Baba Ur-Rehmat gate and stopped in front of the Strachey Hall. A meeting had apparently just ended there and many students and professors were coming out of the Hall. Of course, none of the students knew me but many came and stood around out of curiosity. I considered myself lucky to be able to meet and pay my respect to the many revered personalities gathered there, above all Professor Allama Haleem Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the university, a thorough gentleman and a great scholar, who was held in high esteem and affectionately called Papa Haleem by all. He embraced me with great love and kindness and glancing at the epaulettes on my shoulders congratulated me saying, “Kermani Sahib, we are proud of you.” That is how he always addressed me even when I was a student. He inquired about my life in the army and expressed his concerned when I told him that I was about to go overseas He examined the truck I was driving with great interest and said, “Kermani Sahib, I have never sat in an Army vehicle.” He was very happy when I offered him a ride. I drove him around the campus and then returned to Strachey Hall. He thanked me and blessed me with good wishes. Soon I had to bid farewell to all including my brother. After spending the night at Haidar Chacha’s house, I left for Ambala.

The purchases were properly displayed the morning after my arrival for the CO’s inspection. He fully approved and appreciated my choice of selection. We soon had the Officer’s Mess going and all officers including the CO moved to the Camp and a number of realistic outdoor training exercises were set for the HQ and the subordinate Units. During this period, the Supply Personnel Section was required to open a Field Supply Depot. The place selected happened to be a dense old mango grove, however two days later when the CO went to inspect the setup, the VCO in charge, a directly commissioned officer, reported to him that the grove was infested by fearsome Jinns who have threatened his Unit at night and told them to leave the place or otherwise, they all would all die. The Colonel responded by instructing the VCO to tell the Jinns that they were the ones who had to go and inform them that the Unit would continue to stay on until the place was cleared of all Jinns. Moreover, the VCO was to report on the situation on CO’s next visit. Exactly a week later, the CO returned, this time, accompanied by a newly posted officer, Second Lt Sardul Singh and was informed by the VCO that the Jinns had all gone. He was told that Unit would continue to stay until further orders and to ensure that they do not return, moreover, Second Lt Sardul Singh would take over the Unit command. Two weeks later the Unit was permitted to re-join the camp.

We soon received orders to prepare and be in readiness for overseas service. All ranks were allowed 10 days pre-embarkation leave, according to a roaster system. When my turn came I too proceeded home.

Despite all effort not to publicise my imminent overseas departure, that news could not be hidden. In addition to immediate family members, many relatives, even distant ones, came to bid me farewell and pray for my safe return home. A large number of riaya[5] along with their families from my father’s estate, old servants with their families from my mother’s home, all came with deep expressions of love and concern for “Bahia lama par ja rahen hain kairiat say wapas ain.”[6]

One night, while sleeping in the open courtyard of the zenana section of the house where most of the family slept during summer months, I had a peculiar dream. I found myself in an open area, lush green, surrounded by a thick equally verdant green forest the like of which I had never ever seen before. It seemed as if a bloody battle has just ended and that I belonged to the army that had suffered a severe defeat. We were being rounded up by extraordinarily ugly looking soldiers wearing shabby uniforms and armed with unusual rifles with fixed bayonets, both longer than those used by our military. Some were wielding swords, again different to ours, others were running about with pistols indiscriminately shooting men herded together. I found myself standing in line, with British officers both on my left and right, and saying to the officer on my right, on seeing officers being pulled out from the right end, taken to the centre of the open ground, to be shot, beheaded or beaten by sticks, “God how awful! Treating prisoners-of-war in such a manner is against the Geneva Conventions.”  I continued, “Well, don’t worry there are many seniors left, by the time our turn comes these men may be too tired.’’ Before I could utter another word, I felt an arm around my waist that lifted me bodily and threw me up in the air. I soared in space, and then found myself wearing my normal summer uniform, khaki shorts, shirt, boot, and short putties, standing with both hand on my hips saying loudly to myself, “Oh God! What a desert!” A classic desert, an actual moving desert appeared like a fantastic clear panorama in front of me. I woke up with a start to find myself in bed. Quite shaken up and bewildered I could not sleep anymore.

Despite my every effort, I could never determine the identity of the person whose hand, gentle yet strong, had lifted me,  although I think I had a momentary glimpse of a familiar personality. Next morning, with so many people in the house, and so much going on I forgot all about it, and in the course of time, it faded from my memory.

My ten days of leave were soon over and I duly reported back for duty. This time on leaving home however, I noticed my father too looked worried. Back at Camp I was soon deeply immersed in the ever-increasing preparation and readiness of the big move. We still had no clue about our destination.  Colonel Taylor has been to AHQ while I was on leave and during his visit, he had tried to get some inkling of our next post, which, he now thought, would most likely be Singapore. The local Ordnance representative soon visited our Unit to change the colour and pattern of camouflage of all our tentage etc. into dark green and brown. This action further indicated that we were heading for a station in the Far East; obviously, the Singapore garrison that was being strengthened. A good number of our friends were already in Units there and sending very positive reports of life on the island, almost like the peaceful hill-stations in India with the added attraction of an excellent nightlife, wine, women, and dance. Many of the officers were undoubtedly very happy in anticipation of this. The Colonel decided that officers would carry their peacetime uniform trunks which meant mess-kit and dress-suits, in short, all our peacetime paraphernalia.

By about the second week of September 1941, we received our embarkation orders. A troops train had already been arranged and we entrained after breakfast for the port of Bombay with our CO Lt Colonel Taylor as the OC train and me as his Adjutant. Before leaving I bade farewell to Rehmat who wept profusely, he, however, got a good amount of bounty, in addition to what I gave him. from all the officers who had been living as Chummary along with the crockery, cutlery etc. bought by us before our move to the Field Mess. It was arranged that he would join the household my sister Hasina until my return from overseas.

The rail journey from Ambala to Bombay port was quite boring and uneventful. The troop’s train were given priority in all rail movement and had few stops and that too at small, out of way stations. It must have been on or about the 13th or 14th of September that we found our train standing alongside a docked troop ship. It was still quite dark but there was a lot of activity going on all around. After a short time, an officer of Embarkation Commandant arrived to give us all the necessary details and orders along with the recordings, priorities, timetable, allotment of decks, cabin accommodation and so on. Embarkation by all Units was complete before sunlight. The Captain (Skipper), a fine old veteran of the first Great War welcomed us onboard onto what had previously been an old Greek Troop Ship taken over by the Royal Navy.  Colonel Taylor assumed command as OC Ship, and I as Adjutant. The Colonel and I had a cabin to ourselves facing each other, the Colonel’s more spacious with a writing table and a sofa set, mine smaller but also with a writing table, typewriter and a few chairs and more importantly two safes, one for ‘Most Secret’ and other classified documents, and the other for storing Unit Field Treasure boxes, . All the other officers had to share a cabin in threes or fours. Immediately after boarding the ship, all ranks had to change into PT shoes; then the ship’s bells rang out, a signal for boat drill and checking of lifebelts. Lifebelts had to be carried at all times by every individual throughout the voyage. The boat drill was meant for allotment of lifeboats in case the Ship had to be abandoned due to enemy action or fire or on orders of OC Ship for any other reason.

The ship carried a sufficient number of boats each numbered and named, marked with the number of passengers it could carry. Individuals were grouped, numbered, and allocated a group leader. Each launching place or point was designated as boat station and allotted a number. In the case of a call “To Boat Stations”, each and every person knew where to go and what action to take. We had to undergo this drill a number of times until the OC was satisfied that it could be done faultlessly. Before breakfast, Colonel Taylor decided that he would go around to see the VCOs and men’s decks and eating arrangements. Once this inspection was over, we were able to have a much-needed morning meal for which we joined the Skipper at his table. While we were having breakfast, the ship started to move out of the port. There was a good deal of excitement, for the reason that except for the officers of British origin, for almost all the other officers and men, including myself, this was our first experience of a sea voyage. Most of us had not been to Bombay either and felt sorry for not being able to see it. The only sight we had was the coastline and a receding outline of the Island City and of course the famous India Gate.

Outside the port, we joined a convoy of ships already anchored there and were soon joined by a few more. An hour or so later we were told that greetings were being exchanged between the Naval Commander of the Naval Escort ships, who was also the Convoy Commander, and all the other ships. Soon the convoy was on the move and we could see Naval ships going around, I think they were Sloops. We also had a visit from an officer of the Embarkation HQ who handed over a ‘Most Secret Document’ sealed with instructions that it be opened by OC ship personally and only at the time specified. Since the document was to be kept in my custody both Colonel Taylor and I had to sign for it and I immediately locked it in the Safe in my cabin. Orders were issued for ‘No smoking’ either day or night on-deck and complete blackout at night. We were now moving, as far as we were concerned, to some unknown destination. That afternoon, the Colonel realising that everyone must be getting bored ordered all ranks out and various deck games organised most of which were new to us. He also started and led a chorus, singing popular First Great War’s British troop war songs, ‘Role on the barrel’ and ‘It is a long, long way to Tipperary’. Although something new for troops the singing went down well and was a good morale booster.

After dinner, most of us retired early. At about ten, as I was reading a book there was a knock on my door; before I could open it in came the Colonel. I could see he was in his after dinner ‘booze’ mood. He plonked himself on a chair and announced: “Kermani, let’s open that damned paper, we should know where we are going!” I said, “Sir, it won’t be right, I think we should not open it before the specified time”. He got up with a “Well if you say so,” and walked away. He must have had a few more drinks as he barged in again not too long after, blurting, “Well, well, my boy nobody is going to bother us, let us open it. It is all my responsibility.” The paper was taken out, it read somewhat like this, “You shall land at Basra and come under the command of the 10th Army C-in-C,  Lt General Sir Edward Quinan.” This was followed with further instructions, such as, “Basra is still likely to suffer enemy air raid, thus, disembarkation should be carried out in such and such manner. You shall receive further orders on or after disembarkation.’

The Colonel was not very happy but left my cabin muttering, Well at least now we know, we can go to sleep. Good night.”

[1] Bachelor living quarters.

[2] Indian Base Supply Depot

[3] Muslim caste from north India

[4] “Yes Sir.” “Are you from Haryana?” “Yes, Sir.” “A Ranghar?” “Your name?”

[5] Tenants, peasants etc serving under a landlord

[6] “Bahia is going on a long trip, may he come back safely.”

Ambala
Ambala Railway Station

 

 

 

India Gate, Bombay
Gateway of India, Bombay

 

2019-05-19_173501
Lt Colonel R.D.C.Taylor

 

 

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The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006) Chapter 8

                                         Abbottabad

I was delighted with my posting to Abbottabad. In addition to the place being an extremely pleasant, small hill station the unit was an Animal Transport Company, 27th AT (Mules) and my appointment was 2nd in Command which meant I retained my rank of Temporary Captain granted to me at the SD Rawalpindi. The posting provided me with a healthy wholesome life that revolved mostly around a remarkably interesting animal, the mule, half-sibling to the horse and donkey, a unique animal that has the traits and attributes of both. Mules are intelligent animals and are really not stupidly stubborn as commonly portrayed; they will rarely put themselves in danger, actually possess a sense of humour, have great endurance and are stronger and are less excitable than horses. Unlike the horse that can be worked until it drops the mule will not be pushed beyond endurance level. That stubbornness is the mule’s way of saying “enough is enough” and things are not right, yet they work with a great amount of patience and stamina. In physical appearance, the hind-side and legs take after the donkey although they do not have the prominent arched neck. The tail is like that of a horse as are the ears which are the same shape and long like the horse and smaller than the donkey. They also come in different sizes and shades of brown and grey. The AT units of the RIASC had mules of uniform sizes and as far as possible of matching colours. We also had a number of horses for officers, VCOs, and NCOs, the ones for officers were classified as chargers.

The taxi driver, who had met me on my arrival at Rawalpindi, and remained on call throughout my stay at Chaklala, drove me to Abbottabad. He belonged to that area the Hazara Civil Division of which the Abbottabad was the HQ. The hotel I was going to stay at, Spring Field Hotel was owned by some retired British Officers although my friend the taxi driver claimed it now belonged to one of his close relatives. I found the hotel of a good standard, housed in a large bungalow, a typical British-Indian hill station building. Abbottabad, as the name implies, was founded by Major James Abbott the first Deputy Commissioner of the newly established district acquired and taken over by the British after they had defeated the Sikh rulers and dismantled the Sikh kingdom. It was very well laid town, over 4000 feet above sea level picturesquely situated amidst verdant green hills with the black Hazara Mountains in the distance and blessed with a comfortable climate throughout the year.

I arrived at the hotel about midday and found the suite of rooms allocated to me comfortable and the lunch satisfactory. I rested for a while and then went to report to the Company HQ and the OC. I was told that the OC, Major —had gone on a long training course to Kirkee near Poona. A Risaldar, a smart Punjabi Muslim (I have forgotten his name) was looking after the unit, and the OC Supply Depot next door was acting OC in addition to his own Command. The Risaldar took me to meet the OC Supply Depot, an oldish Major, one of the recalled officers he looked rather worn out and shaky and smelled strongly of alcohol. As I saluted and introduced myself he stood up and held out his shaking hand and stated, “Thank God I am rid of the mules.” He took a small bunch of keys and handed them to me. “Hope you find everything alright with your animals. Goodbye. You shall find me a good neighbour.”

On my way back, I told the Risaldar that I would like to have a quick look round of the unit starting from the men’s lines. I was quite pleased with what I saw. It appeared to be a unit with a high standard of discipline and administration, and both men and animals were in good shape. I asked the Risaldar if there were any problems that required immediate attention “None, Sahib, sab theek thakhai”.[1] By this time the two other VCOs and the senior NCOs had turned up and were waiting in line outside the Company Office, I met them all, as well as the Head Clerk and the rest of the clerical staff. As I prepared to leave, I told the Risaldar that I would be back early morning just after the Reveille, the poor man was quite taken aback and pretended he had not heard me correctly, “Sahib. Parade time  …” and before he could say anything more, I repeated “Reveille key foran bad awunga aur pura din guzarung samjha sahib?” [2] The Risaldar could only respond with a “Han Sab”[3].

Returning back to my hotel I reflected on my good luck at being attached to such a fine unit and determined to keep up the standard, if not improve on it until the permanent OC returned.

It had been quite a while since Rehmat had to bring my bed-tea so early and prepare my bath. I was in the unit lines just about the time the workday was getting into full swing, the men’s kitchen (langar) fire was being lit and the cooks were busy making morning tea and paratha, the standard breakfast of troops. I liked the langar tea made with tea leaves tied up in a muslin bag, cooked continuously in a boiling mixture of water-milk-and sugar and served piping hot with parathas saturated in ghee. Then it was the animals turn to be fed, groomed, brushed and combed, and prepared for their duties after the parade and inspection. Feeding time was most interesting to observe; at the bugle call a terrific pandemonium ensued, the outcome of the neighing of the horses and the braying of mules, a peculiar sound that started like the bray of a donkey and ended like the whine of a horse. A vast variety of birds could be seen perched on the beautiful Chinar trees which were planted throughout the lines by some thoughtful and foresighted officer. These had now grown to provide shade and protection from all elements of nature, the sun, rain, and snow. There were sparrows, doves, mynahs, pigeons, crows and many others singing, chirping, cooing, and crowing, waiting impatiently to feast on the spillover of the mules and horses feed. To me, it was a most enjoyable scenario. I spent the whole day outside and remained there until the last post was sounded. I checked out the animals and men, inspected the arms, ammunition, stores, saddlery, and equipment, and examined all accounts public and regimental. Errors, omissions, mistakes were verified, wherever possible rectified or recorded to be corrected by a definite date. Similarly, all the workshops inspected in great details, no nook or corner escaped me, even the cobwebs were pointed out.

I also rang up the Veterinary officer to introduce myself. He sounded friendly and pleasant and since I felt a visit by him to the unit will be of great value to me we fixed that for the following Monday.

I left the unit after the Retreat was sounded with instructions to the Risaldar that I expected to see everything put right within three days time.

The next three days I spent on normal routine matters, except to go through the reports, returns, and correspondence in far greater details with the Head Clerk. The veterinarian, a very fine, heavily built middle-aged Major came as promised. When I told him that I wished to learn as much as possible within the time he could spare, he kindly remained until lunch and filled me in with the finer details about mules and horses. I learned more from him than I could ever from books or manuals.

By this time, I had selected two officer’s chargers for my daily rides. There were plenty of excellent places for riding, just across the road was a vast open area used for parades, in addition to that there were polo grounds, training grounds and playing fields and encircling the entire maidan[4] was a riding track surrounded and enclosed by large shady trees. A vista of absolute beauty, a pleasure to behold.  

The cross-country rides too were most pleasant and interesting. On one of my evening rides, I took a turn from Mansehra Road onto a gravel road adjoining the Kakul Road. Passing through Nowshera I noticed a handsome house with such a magnificent and exquisite flower garden that I could not restrain myself. Leaving the NCOs riding with me at the gate I rode straight in. Since I was in uniform no one dared stop me or inquire about my identity or business there. As I stopped my horse at a particularly attractive spot to admire my surroundings, I saw a well-dressed gentleman emerge from the house onto the veranda. I rode up to him and before he could say anything, I immediately dismounted and profusely apologised for trespassing. I told him frankly that I had found the beauty of the place absolutely irresistible. That apparently pleased him, he not only invited me for a cup of tea and drinks but extended an open invitation to come to the house whenever possible. Unfortunately, I could not avail of his offer in that instant since my men were waiting outside, and the extra work I had to grapple with left me little time in the weeks that followed, and soon after I was posted out. I later found out that the fine gentleman I had come across was Rai Bahadur Mehr Chand Khanna the owner of a large, at the time the only, sugar factory in NWFP situated in Mardan.

Nonetheless, this blissful period of independent command, the enjoyment of being around animals and congenial, cheerful men was not to last much longer.

The CRIASC[5], Lt Colonel A.H.J. Snelling came on an inspectional visit. The inspection went extremely well and the Colonel a highly professional, kindly gentleman was very pleased. The only comment he made, standing on the veranda outside company office, was that the angle of my cap was too jaunty, and smiled as I hurried to correct the angle. We walked into the office and sat down. He then informed me that he was going to give me extra and heavy responsibilities, “The Major OC Supply Depot has been admitted to the hospital and is not likely to come out soon.” I was to take command of the Depot in addition to my duties, I was also to open a Field Supply Depot in Mansehra to maintain an Indian Infantry Division that would be arriving soon. There was nothing for me to say, I was not expected to, except for “Yes Sir” and that too with gusto.

So, the very next morning, I think it was about middle March, I assumed dual command, although the only immediate change in my work schedule was losing my morning ride. In about a week’s time additional supply personnel including a new, direct commissioned VCO, a Jemadar arrived. Equipment necessary to man and operate an FSD was authorised and duly turned up including a new 15hwt American Chevy truck, the first of its type that I had seen or driven. An area off the Mansehra road about a mile from a superbly located Rest House was selected for the Field Supply Depot. The village Phegli was about a mile or so from the place and could provide daily labour. I had a room reserved for myself in the Resthouse and it was indeed a place that provided rest to the body, mind, and soul. Sitting or standing on the veranda or the lawn one had an uninterrupted view, as far as the eye could see, of many shades of lush green. If one looked down, some thousand feet below was the fertile valley, a truly exquisite display of a superb natural panorama. As I beheld the view, I could not help but praise God “Subhan Allah” and commend the man who had selected the site and built the house with a “Shahbash[6]”.

The FSD was laid out (as far as possible) in accordance with what I had only recently been taught at the RIASC School. It was almost ready to operate and soon the Division (I think it was the 17th Indian) started moving in and the Senior Supply Officer of the Division visited to check and tie up loose ends. I left the newly posted VCO in charge of the daily working of the Depot and visited whenever possible. The AT Company presented the least problems as the SSD[7] the senior VCO was a former civilian storekeeper, now a Subedar he was experienced and to a great extent totally reliable. I found out that the Depot was to operate a big rice contract and that the first consignment, for which a shed had already been prepared, had been received, stacked in that shed, and sealed. A packet containing an approved sample and specification of rice was delivered with instructions directing the OC SSD to draw a representative sample from the consignment, examine, check and compare it to the tendered, original sample, and accordingly accept if it matched or reject if not. In the case of a rejection, notice was to be issued to the contractor to remove the stock within a defined time. I got the three VCOs in attendance to assist me in this process. We rejected the stock and issued a notice as directed. A few days later as I was getting ready to go to work, a big car drove up and stopped alongside my hotel room veranda. Soon Rehmat came in holding a visiting card, saying “Yeh apse milna chahetay hain”[8]. The card read “Sardar Bahadur”. I read no further and gave the card back to Rehmat to return to the gentleman and tell him. “Koi galti hia sahib ap ko nahi jante.”[9] I put my cap on, picked my swagger stick, and was about leave when Rehmat reappeared with a Sikh gentleman wearing a Sherwani. Outwardly dignified looking, he greeted me in English. I asked him to sit down, he immediately began “Captain Sahib you have ruined me. The rice…” As he spoke these words it dawned on me who he was, “Oh! You are a contractor. You have no right to be here.” He got up, “Sahib, Ap jo chahathy mein khidmat karonga.”[10]  By now my temper was rising and as he repeated what he had said before I was in a rage. My sense of dignity and self-respect was outrageously offended; the fellow was trying to bribe me! Somehow, I managed to maintain a hold on myself although what I said to him is quite unprintable and so foul that I myself felt ashamed. It worked, however, and he left in a huff muttering something under his breath. Thus, ended my first encounter with a Service Corps contractor. It left an indescribable, inexpressible bitter taste and a detestable, highly prejudiced image in my mind, and an opinion of such contractors that I could never erase or change. A few days later I was summoned to meet the CRIASC at the Rawalpindi Club in the evening. For some inexplicable reason, I felt somewhat apprehensive about this visit. I arrived at Pindi in the afternoon planning on staying overnight at the Flashman Hotel. Since no time had been given for my meeting I walked across to the Club in the evening, sent my card in and was immediately led to Lt Colonel Snelling. As I greeted him, he got up shook hands and asked me to sit down. I found him as kind and amiable as he was when he had come on his inspectional visit. He asked and ordered drinks and enquired about my work and possible issues. While I was updating him on the ongoing work he interrupted, “What happened to recent rice contract stocks?” Now I understood the full object of this exercise. I narrated the entire episode exactly as it happened. When I reached the portion of my narrative where I dealt with the contractor,  describing word by word how I had spoken to the man and repeated the very rude, crude and abusive words I had used the Colonel almost jumped off his seat. He actually stood up, “Did you really say that?” I said, “Yes Sir I did,” getting up as well. He thumped my back with a loud laugh, “Jolly good! Jolly good! Well done, I am so glad. Sit down, sit down, have another drink. Nothing to worry about”.

We sat down and continued with our drinks. He talked to me about the problems the Corps was facing due to the unprecedented rapid expansion, he also touched upon the problems of maintenance in the field and the ever-changing conditions of modern warfare. He mentioned that some method had to be found to supply fresh rations to the Indian troops, especially meat. While the British troops could happily live on Bully Beef, there was nothing to replace the supply of meat on the hoof with the added issue of Jathka and Halal. At this point, I requested if I could present an idea that may provide a solution. At Aligarh, we had students from different provinces and states, who, when they returned to their hostels after holidays at home, brought back trunks full of long-life food, specialities of their regions to supplement the rather unpalatable hostel food. The students from Hyderabad Deccan always returned with plenty of sun-dried meat that could be cooked into a variety of delicious dishes or even be eaten raw. The Colonel thought it an excellent idea, and thus within a year’s time, dried meat, appropriately certified Halal for Muslim troops and Jathka for Sikh and Hindu troops became a regular item of RIASC issue in lieu of fresh meat. Similarly, dehydrated onions, potatoes, and other vegetables were found and proved to be a great boon where and when fresh items were not available.

I suppose similar ideas must have occurred to many others as well, but that is how these items were introduced into the British Indian Army food Supplies.

I returned to my normal work but could not forget the wisdom and thoughtful manner in which Colonel Snelling had dealt with my case. Had he called me to his office it would have meant that he had taken an official view of the complaint by an unscrupulous individual, he had undeniably set an example worth emulating.

My stay at Abbottabad did not last long; I attended a short course of Ammunition Recognition at the Rawalpindi Arsenal and immediately after received my posting order to the HQ 21 Supply Company as Adjutant (Captain). This, as yet non-existent unit was to be raised and established at RIASC Mobilisation and Training Centre Ambala. I took ten days off to discard all unnecessary kit and civilian clothes which under the latest order officers were not to wear on any occasion. Though nothing was totally clear about the charter of the new unit I was being posted to, it was evidently a field unit that was to be raised, equipped, trained, and eventually moved overseas to a theatre of war.

I went home to recoup rest and as usual, enjoy a brief sojourn with my family.  Up to this time, I was still corresponding regularly with most of my friends and we kept ourselves informed about each other whereabouts and postings and that is how I knew my friend Hamidullah Khattak was already at Ambala. I consequently wrote informing him of the date and time of my arrival at Ambala. Hamidullah was at Railway Station to receive me with two Tongas[11], one for Rehmat and the baggage and the other for the two of us since Ambala had no better form of transport available. We had not met since we had left the Service Corps Officer’s School and had much to chat about until the Tonga entered the dry, barren compound of a decrepit and ugly Indian Mutiny period bungalow that had become still uglier due to neglect and lack of maintenance. It had the usual hall in the centre used as drawing and dining rooms and four bedrooms with attached dressing and bathrooms. Three of the bedrooms were already occupied by Chiragh Husain Shah, Mello Castro, and Hamidullah Khattak. The latter had kindly reserved the fourth one for me. My friend Omar Khan had previously been living in this room but had moved to the only hotel in Ambala Cantonment since his wife had joined him recently. The bungalow was provided with barest of MES furniture, so I let Rehmat fix up the room, unpack, and get thing ready to enable me to report to HQ Mobilisation Centre early next morning.

[1] “Everything is fine.”

[2] “I shall be here immediately after the Reveille and spend the entire day here. Understood Sir.”

[3] “Yes Sir ”

[4] Grounds/open area

[5] Commander RIASC

[6] “Well done”

[7] Superintendent Supply Depot

[8] “This person wants to meet you.”

[9] “There’s been a mistake. My Master does not know you.”

[10] “Sir whatever you want, I’m here to serve you.”

[11] Indian horse carriages

 

Abbottabad
Abbottabad

 

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Nowshera

 

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2019-05-19_172420
Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani

 

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Nowshera: Khartoum Barracks in Nowshera Cantonment, the 1920s – 30s.

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19th Century Abbottabad

The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006) Chapter 7

                 The Royal Indian Army Service Corps

                   RIASC Officer’s School – Rawalpindi

It is an extraordinary coincidence that some of the important events in my life have occurred in the month of August, my birth-month. On an early morning, on the last day of August 1940, I arrived at Rawalpindi Cantonment Railway station by the Punjab Mail, East Indian Railways. As there was no one to receive me, I decided to stay on in the waiting room. After a bath and shave, I put on my RIASC uniform cap with the red lanyard[1] badge and shoulder titles signifying the Royal status of the Corps. Leaving Rehmat with my baggage at the station, I took a taxi and headed for the Station Supply Depot Rawalpindi only to discover that it was actually very close by as within a few minutes we had arrived at the gate. A civilian chowkidar salaamed and let the taxi pass. This taxi did not look like the commercial taxis of latter days; it was a big American Buick sedan, driven by an equally big man, who by his demeanour and dress looked more like a Malik or Sardar of a tribe than a taxi-driver. It turned out that he was the car owner who selected his own passengers, mostly British Officers, but he occasionally condescended to pick up young Indian Officers in uniform as they paid far better than the British did. On that particular morning, I happened to be one of the lucky ones.

As we entered the large compound I beheld a substantial number of red-roofed sheds situated along straight, neat, roads as well as several railway lines. There were hardly any uniformed men around. Except for the very military layout, it could very well be a civilian installation, and so indeed it was. The Supply Branch of the RIASC was until the outbreak of the War, with the exception of the Officers, some VCOs[2], and the British Warrant Officers called Conductors, manned entirely by civilian non-combatants with nomenclatures such as Store Keeper, Storeman, and Laskar. Even the officer’s cadre had two categories, regular KCOS[3], KCIOS[4] and Commissary Officers. These were drawn from the warrant officers rank and granted Commissions with limited powers of command and could not be promoted beyond the rank of Lt Colonel Commissary. They were designated as Captain Commissary and Major Commissary. This rank structure and establishment of the supply branches, as I found out, were the remnant of the former Commiserate Department, and had not updated as yet. Confronted by war and its requirements, efforts were being made to rapidly reorganise and modernise the entire Corps.

As my taxi approached a building with signs that read R&D and DSO (Depot Supervising Officer) I decided to step out. A uniformed individual came running towards me, a well-built, well turned out, pleasant looking Sikh, he halted and with a smart salute introduced himself as Risaldar Major Bindra Singh (RIASC was a mounted unit hence ranks were as in the Cavalry). We shook hands, the Major Sahib was on his way since there were, he informed me, a few minutes left for the Depots opening time. I called the taxi driver and asked him if he could wait. With a genial smile and joyous expression, he replied: “Sahib, I shall be happy to wait for you forever if you so wish”.

The Risaldar Major had a respectable educational background and command of the English language. Normally I would have spoken to a VCO in Urdu (Roman Urdu) but I found not only RM Bindra Singh but also all VCOS of the Service Corps, the storekeepers and storemen too were well versed in English. Under the current policy, recruitment was made on the basis of a good educational standard and direct entry as VCO. Men who could not make officer grade happily accepted the grant of Viceroy’s Commission in the RIASC. A new scheme of introducing Indian Warrant Officers had also been introduced and currently, there were two such officers under training in the Depot, I met them but did not think much of them, they did not seem to possess the composure, confidence, and competence and class of the position they were to fill. Such qualities develop in those who go through the mill and then gets built in with long experience and service. The scheme was soon dropped and the few already inducted became VCOs and some in the course of time ICOs[5].

While I was talking to the Risaldar Major, Major Commissary Ellis, Officer-in-Charge, Rawalpindi RIASC Supply Depot turned up. A bespectacled, dignified, older man, he showed all the signs of ruggedness, confidence, and ease peculiar to Army men of long and productive service. We shook hands, he welcomed me to the Corps and apologized for not having me meet on arrival. There was no one else except for himself and a VCO, and, as I would soon find out, they shared duties from early morning and were rarely able to get away. He had, however, arranged to have a portion of an MES[6]  bungalow reserved for me. I had the option to live there and mess in any of the Regimental messes located near my quarters or to go and live in the Corps Mess at Chaklala, a very fine place but a bit too far. Of course, I could also stay or any of the hotels or if lucky, I might find a room in the club or eat there. It was kind of him to offer me these choices and time to settle down before reporting for work the following morning. An offer of a mule cart was also made to carry my kit from the Railway Station.

I thanked him for the options and mule card offer, took the taxi back to the station where I collected Rehmat and the baggage and headed for the bungalow that I found was well situated near the Scottish Church. It had ample accommodation and was typically furnished with bare MES furniture and all the usual necessities including a sufficient number of servant quarters well stocked with the essential lower-class servants; permanent residents who provided twenty-four hour services such as the sweeper, bhisti[7], mashalchi[8], malli[9], and dhobi[10]. Most of them with their large families were ready and eager to supply extra help to sahib and memsahib loag, the ever-changing occupants of the bungalows. There were also a sufficient number of empty quarters for sahib loag’s bearers, and of course for the syces and grass-cutters along with the stables and storerooms required for saddlery, harness and other paraphernalia for those Sahib loag who were rich enough to maintain a riding and polo establishment.

I was the first desi sahib to occupy the bungalow, and that too only a portion since I was a “Muflis Sahib”, a term used by the bearer-class in the Army for unmarried officers. My bags and baggage, including my cycle, were soon off-loaded. Rehmat had no difficulty in getting all the help he needed from residents of servant quarters. That taken care of, I discussed my messing with him since right across the road were a row of single officer’s quarters of a British Infantry Regiment and their Officer’s Mess. The entire area belonged to the Victoria Barracks Complex in permanent occupation by one of the British Infantry Battalion stationed at Rawalpindi. This locality was popularly referred to as Lalkurti Bazaar (Red tunic market) the redcoat being the normal uniform of British soldiers at the beginning of the Raj.

I thought the British Regiments Mess being nearest would be most convenient, but one of the residents of the servant quarters appeared to be privy to the information that the Regiment was packing up and moving out. Rehmat suggested I leave all the bandobast[11] to him and that by the afternoon teatime he would have everything arranged. It was about lunchtime and I asked the Taxi driver to take me to the best restaurant in the town. He took me to the Flashman Hotel, a fine place with good food and service, and, as I noted for future reference, an excellent place to stay. On my return, I found everything unpacked and properly laid-out. Rehmat asked permission to take the taxi to go to the bazaar in order to purchase the necessary items required to run a full-fledged house. Rehmat was in charge of my money and accounts and continued to do so until my marriage. Having instructed him to bring me afternoon tea early and to retain the taxi for the evening, I retired for my afternoon nap. I planned on calling at as many Officers Messes as possible later in the day.

After a satisfying cup of tea and biscuits, all efficiently procured and served by Rehmat in a recently purchased tea-set, I decided to pay a visit to the RIASC Central Officers Mess and take a drive around Chaklala, the home of the Corps.

We drove through a well-kept, tree-lined road, the Mall, with wide riding-tracks flanked by stone-lined pavements on both sides. We turned on to another similar road and drove past the Civil Courts on the right and a pair of splendid houses, almost palaces, that the taxi driver said belonged to two important Sikh brothers who owned much of Rawalpindi. Soon we were driving down Chaklala road, passing through undulating green fields with animals grazing on either side of the road. An idyllic pastoral scene and pleasing to the eyes. This, in fact, was the farm of Military RV&F Corps[12] that provided fresh milk and butter of superb quality to the Rawalpindi garrison. Passing over a small bridge across a stream we came to a fork in the road; a First Great War memorial of pink sandstone honouring the S&T Corps[13] stood at the junction with a slab dated 1903, the year Chaklala became the home of the corps. On the left side of the road, was the RIASC Officers School to which I was to come in a few weeks’ time. Further, down the road, a few long barrack-like buildings housed the headquarters of the Training Centre. As we drove past a very green Golf Course I caught glimpses of a Riding Course in the distance.

Passing through a pair of rather fine wrought-iron gates, we entered a large compound with well laid-out gardens and finely pruned hedges and bushes that framed a gracious building, the Central Officers Mess. A highly polished mahogany writing table that shone like mirror stood in the exquisite classical style foyer with a silver inkpot and pens and a leather-bound visitor’s book that displayed the silver crest of the Corps. As I was about to sit down on the elegant matching chair to write my name a Sergeant entered, saluted and introduced himself as the “Mess Sergeant Sir”. I, in turn, introduced myself as a newly joined officer out to make my form calls. “Welcome to the Corps Sir, can I fetch a drink for you”. I declined since I had other places to visit but told him that 1st November onwards he would be seeing me more often.

The next place to call was Officers Mess of a Battalion of the 12th Frontier Force Regiment situated on the Mall past the Club. To my surprise, sitting there on the chabutra[14] was Fazle Muqeem Khan a friend from my Aligarh days and the UTC. He too was surprised and welcomed me with his pet phrase “Oh zaalim tum kahan”.[15] I sat down to have a cold drink and we soon updated each other on our recent lives. Nearby I noticed some broken glass and what appeared to be parts of some sort of electronic machine. On inquiring, I was told that these were the remains of an expensive Mess Radiogram that had been smashed by some Indian officers who had reacted angrily when certain British officers objected to Indian music being played on the machine. As Muqeem Khan explained,We thought, na rahega bans na bajae gi bansri[16]“. Since this event had only just taken place a Court Inquiry was on its way. I beat a hasty retreat without even entering my name in their Visitors Book.

It occurred to me that perhaps I did the right thing in choosing the Service Corps where no one dared object to my playing any music I cared for in my Mess.

I bade farewell to Muqeem Khan; he had left Aligarh to join the Army in the ranks, served in MT branch of the RIASC as an MT driver got into the IMA on the Army quota and earned his commission. I was not to meet him again until after partition.

I dismissed the taxi and walked back to my quarters. After a hot bath and an excellent dinner produced by Rehmat, I put on the radio to hear the news and some music and thus ended my first day in the RIASC.

The next morning, as per my routine, after a bath, shave, and good hearty breakfast I got dressed, as usual, with Rehmat’s help and had my bicycle readied. I soon found myself cycling on a road where there was hardly any traffic. But when I entered the Mall with its wide tracks on both sides of the road, I encountered a number of horse riders, almost all British; both men and woman smartly attired in riding habits on well-groomed horses or ponies. An equally well-groomed hedge divided the road and the tracks on both sides. Very soon, I was at the junction of the Mall and Murree Roads where, within the wide roundabout, stood a finely crafted and sculptured marble statue of Victoria, as Queen Empress of India. Wheeling right onto Murree Road, I saw a red brick church on the right and Flashman Hotel on the left. Walking along the pavement were a number of Indian families, mostly females, some older, heavy, and buxom, many young, slim, and pretty and children of different ages, healthy and cheerful, all gaily dressed. Some raised their hand to greet me; they were on their daily morning walk as I discovered over the next few days. It was a short ride of delightful scenes and sites, the excellent ‘Pindi weather making it even pleasanter.

A number of mule carts and personnel were queued up and waiting near the entrance of the Depot to collect fresh rations for the various units. It seemed that I had arrived on the dot of time since at that very moment the bell rang out and the gates opened. The Risaldar Major after a formal inquiry about my health and comfort asked if I would like to inspect the fresh supplies as they were issued and dispersed to the units. Since I was only an attached officer with no formal status in the unit I suggested we wait for the Major. He soon arrived and asked if I had settled down. We then walked to the sheds where daily issues of fresh supplies had been laid out. The sheds were marked out with BT for British Troops and IT for Indian Troops. The items and scale of rations, even the indenture forms were labelled BT or IT, there were hardly any items common to both, the few that were had different specifications, e.g. the potatoes for the BT were bigger in size to the IT. This differentiation was largely due to the entirely different culinary requirements of the British and the Native troops. We walked through the well-stocked well-stacked sheds with their assortment of rations, some bagged, some tinned, all numbered and marked with each stack having its tally sheet listing all such details as the item, the total number of packs, weight, date of receipt, issues if any, and so on. In fact, the entire Depot was organised on a group basis. While all the sheds had doors fully open there was one that was closed and locked, it was marked ‘Hospital Comfort’. The storekeeper was standing by but the Major gestured to him to leave it locked. Turning to me he remarked, “We shall see it at a later time”.

We came out into the open and walked across the road and a rail line that ran parallel to it until we came to a place marked PM for Packing Material. These were further marked ‘New’ or ‘Old’. Stacks of empty bags, tea cases, and ghee tins were piled all around. We walked through another gate again across the main road and rail-line to a gate marked POL, Petrol Oil, and Lubricants. The entire lot was dotted with stacks of oil drums in large, medium, and small, sizes. There was also a massive, lofty, and long building with very high arches that looked like elephant’s stables, and indeed, it had at one time housed elephants in the days when those animals were on the strength of the Commissariat and used as pack animals along with camels and bullocks. These stables were stacked high with two-gallon petrol containers and four-gallon tins (called flimsys), which were now permanently replacing the two-gallon containers.

We crossed the road to Major Ellis’s office, the Depot Main Office. Here with the exception of the head clerks all the personnel were civilians. I was given a comprehensive description of the working, organisation, and administration of the Depot. Major Ellis was kind enough to give me all the training manuals, contact law manuals etc,  in fact, everything  I would be required to study during the forthcoming course. He handed to me a copy of the Order appointing me Depot Supervising Officer and Officer In charge of R&D. I now bore heavy new responsibilities and immediately got down to the business of carrying out my duties, with the greatest possible care since every action had financial implications. I had an office, the necessary staff, and the Risaldar Major as an assistant. I fell into the normal routine which, however, was rather, boring, thoroughly uninteresting, and very unsoldierly in my opinion. A couple of days later, I asked the Risaldar Major if he could spare me about an hour after lunch, to enable me to learn the intricacies and the complex working of the supply branch from him. He readily agreed, and so, this learning hour also became a part of my daily routine. A few weeks later Major Ellis dropped by my office to take me to the storage area and explain the method of storage, checking of receipts, and issue of items for ‘Hospital Comforts’. The term ‘Hospital Comforts’ was used for special items of food and drinks that the Medical Officer prescribed for patients. These were procured and stocked by Service Corps on the recommendation of Medical Directorate at AHQ. Such items included wines, spirits, and other alcoholic drinks, and the best quality Champagne. Major Ellis showed me how these were stored since particular care had to be taken in this respect due to the hot Indian climate. He took a number of Champagne bottles out to explain the vintage and character of the wine. He explained that bottles that were suspected of having leaked were a write-off and would have to be removed since the wine that had gone off would turn into vinegar, unfit for consumption. Similarly, beer and cider too would have to be watched since they were liable to turn stale. Frequent and strict checks of all these items were necessary in order to maintain the quality of the stored alcohol and prevent unnecessary write-offs, which would,  in turn, reflect on the efficiency of the officer-in-charge. Subsequently, the bottles for disposal were then loaded into the booth of Major Ellis’ car. Within the shed was a heavily locked cupboard what contained opium.  Opium was also graded as an item of ration, issued to addicts; the amount released being determined by the Medical officer who wrote out a Medical Certificate for that purpose.

When I got home for lunch Rehmat handed me an envelope with a note from Mrs Ellis that read that she and her husband would be pleased if I would join them for Cocktails that evening. Later that day I put on my DJ (dinner jacket) and cycled to their hotel on the Mall where a few couples had already arrived, soon more joined in.  The majority seemed to belong to the same vintage and background as my middle-aged hosts. I was cordially received with remarks about how refreshing it was to see such young officers joining the Corps, and that they hoped I would be happy in the Corps. However, I found the atmosphere at the party very subdued and totally lacking in mirth and gaiety. One could certainly notice and sense the women’s anxiety and concern; Britain was under an intense pounding from the German air attacks, the ‘Blitz’, as it was referred to, was at its worst, with the Germans doing their utmost to weaken the British spirit of resistance. The British were not faring too well on the high seas either;  the German torpedoes had recently sunk SS City of Banaras, causing great loss of life including many children who were being evacuated to Canada. So, despite the ample consumption of wines and spirits, the mood did not change. A gentleman remarked to me “Oh well, at least the Corps has not done badly, of the two AT Companies one extracted itself at Dunkirk. Major Akbar the OC must get full marks, damn good luck, sorry for the other one caught in the bag, bad luck”.

By now I was getting a bit bored and sought permission to leave, I thanked my hosts and cycled back with a strong suspicion that the excellent Champagne served at the party was from the suspected leaking bottles condemned for disposal and write-off.

There was now about a month left for the Training Course to begin. I was determined to utilise this period to learn more about how things worked then I had been able to do so far. I mentioned this to the Major who very kindly and within a short time, sent me a chit with the times and days that I was to accompany him to the Bakery and Butchery for the inspection, receipt, and issuance of meat on the hoof to the Indian units. The visit to the bakery had to to be made twice, once late in the evening to check on the initial preparation, and again early morning to check on the baking process. A fresh loaf selected at random had to be submitted to the officer-in-charge who sends his remarks to master baker, invariably a British Warrant officer or a Sergeant, the rest of the establishment were Indians. The standard of the bread produced was considered of the highest quality and the best in the British Indian Empire. It was delivered to the British units and BMH in specially fitted MT vehicles of the Corps. I once took a ride with them at delivery time in the old outdated Thorny Crafts that were utilised for this purpose. The visit to the Butchery, however, was somewhat nauseating. Only beef was slaughtered here for issuance to the British units. The Master Butcher, a Sergeant, very enthusiastically tried to explain the fine points of the different parts of the animal and the names of cuts. I made some notes, thanked the sergeant and hastily left the premises.

I soon got into a normal routine. One morning, however, the OIC asked me to carry out a very stringent check of the packing material group. The storekeeper in charge was a civilian named Ragbar Dayal; I had started calling him Gaarbar Dayal, a name that described him better. Soon after I began the check he asked my permission to say something, “Sahib, you can check every item as much as you like but will find nothing wrong and yet I do make money. You are too young, to understand and can’t catch me”. I was instantly taken aback and outraged at his audacity, I cursed him roundly, to which he responded by keeping quiet. I pushed my cane into his bulging stomach saying, “Gaarbar Dayal, if both of us live and remain in service I shall indeed catch you well and proper. “I walked away and reported the incident to the OIC. Years later after the war, I fulfilled my pledge.

A number of officers started arriving. Eventually, the number reached half a dozen. They were all here to attend the Officers Course at the Corps school. However, none received the attention of the OIC as I did during my attachment. One of the first to arrive was Lt Umar Khan, an AIRO (Army in India Reserve of Officer). He also got a portion of the bungalow I was living in. A married man and rather conservative, he kept his wife in strict purdah and had not brought her with him, nor had he any intention of doing so. He was from a small hamlet Gulabad, situated on Grand Trunk Road, not far from Attock fort in Campbellpur District (now Attock District). He typified the middle-class Punjabi landowner; simple and rustic with unpolished manners and lacking in refinement, but at the same time, he was polite, honest and forthright, sincere and loyal. We became good friends, he respected my ways and my way of life and remained a valued friend until his death. Since Umar Khan was senior to me he took over the duties of DSO while I retained the R&D. A few days later my friend Dewan reported for attachment. He had decided to stay with relatives who had a very large, newly built house across the Railway Bridge where the city area began. He promptly invited me to lunch with them promising pure Punjabi-Hindu vegetarian food, which I found tasty but heavy and over-rich. Some of the dishes were new to me, and from my native Awadhi Hindu culinary standards rather crude. During lunch, I learned that Dewan was soon to be married and a package containing invitations to the many marriage ceremonies from both the bride and bridegroom’s sides was handed to me, with a very emphatic and sincere oral invitation reiterating the necessity of to my attending. I was to accompany the would-be groom to his home in Lahore and thence to Delhi as part of the baraat and then again return to Lahore with the wedding party for a few more days of festivities. I had never attended a marriage of a rich, well to do Hindu family, and to refuse an invitation so affectionately and sincerely extended was unthinkable. On our way, back Dewan insisted that I too shift to the house he was currently living in. I pointed out to him that since he himself was a guest in that house, he ought to seek permission from his host to whom I was a complete and utter stranger. In any case, it would be pointless to move at this stage for a mere few weeks. The next day a visibly upset Dewan met me, almost in tears and cursing his host, “They say that they cannot keep a Muslim in their home”. I did my best to calm him down, but such things happened sometimes, I did not mind or take offence. Soon after, I joined him in Lahore at his fine commodious home with Rehmat in attendance. I had a very well-appointed bedroom with a dressing room and an attached modern bathroom. A good number of guests had arrived and many more were constantly coming in. It appeared that most of the houses in the neighbourhood had been taken over by Dewan’s family for the duration of the wedding period. Hindu upper-class marriages are fabulous affairs, the ceremonies stretch over a long period and are full of gaiety and fun, dance and music and altogether very colourful. The Punjabi dholki songs sung by women, with lively rhythmical music combined with the beat of dholki have an instantly captivating effect. Their folk dances are full of vitality with fast free movements of the body. The men and women wearing lachas, kurtas, lungis, and pugrees displayed a natural lack of inhibition and thus all the events were full of liveliness, merriment, and pleasure. The tone, tempo, and vigour increased substantially when a number of Sikh men and women joined in after a few drinks. After spending several enjoyable days and nights, the baraat departed via a late evening train and arrived at New Delhi in the morning to be received by the bride’s people with great pomp, and ceremony. We were housed in a gracious, expansive bungalow and generously provided with excellent food and drink. Every need was warmly met and we were made comfortable in an atmosphere of unrestrained festivity with beautiful, well-attired people, particularly the lavishly adorned ladies, heavily draped in gold jewellery and precious stones. The Hindu marriage ceremony is an interesting though longish ceremony, perhaps better described as a combination of many religious recitals by Brahman priests and symbolic rituals such as the tying of the apparel of the bride and bridegroom in a knot after which both circle a well-lit fire. During the festivities and ceremonies, I met many fine and interesting people, but one who made a particular impression on me was an attractive young European lady, an Austrian-German she was married but unaccompanied by her husband. After our initial introduction, she continued to remain in my company. She spoke fairly good English and soon we found many subjects of mutual interest. Other than the British, I had not met too many European women, except for the Germans wives of some of the professors at Aligarh who had gone to Germany to study and acquired spouses in addition to their Doctorates. However, as a student, meeting them was a formal matter. Besides most of those ladies were middle-aged except for the wife of one of the younger professors, an attractive Danish girl who during a summer vacation stay as Haider Khan’s guest tried to teach me Ballroom dancing. One day Haider Sahib’s old mother, to her utter horror and shock, happened to view the highly immoral act that I at such a young age was being made to perform. There was a terrific uproar in the house! Haider Sahib was not present in the at the time; on his return, he immediately faced a highly indignant mother who blamed him for not taking due care of the boy put in his charge by his trusting parents and of hosting an immoral foreign woman as a house-guest. She demanded that the lady leave immediately. She sincerely believed that I was an utterly innocent child being seduced but I still managed to get off with a mere ticking for neglecting the far healthier outdoor life. The Danish lady soon left and my lessons in dancing ceased. She was a charming woman, but older and larger than I was. Therefore, my image of the German and Nordic female was very different from the Austrian lady I encountered at Dewan’s wedding. She was petite, delicately built with equally delicate sharp features, and although in my opinion our woman, especially those of Indo-Gangetic origin, are incomparable to any in the world in terms of feminine charm and beauty I did find in her an extraordinary appeal. The next day arrangements were made to visit the historic places of Delhi for those guests who had not seen them before. Since I did not fall into that category, I decided to forgo the excursion and stay in. After lunch, the Austrian lady knocked on my door to inform me that she was going with a group of guests to visit the Fort and she would like me to accompany her. Although I told her that I had seen the Fort several times, she insisted, saying that, that was the more reason for me to come. We had a car at our disposal, spent a very pleasant afternoon, and returned somewhat later than others did. I had a booking for the late-night train and so having thanked my hosts and bidden farewell to the assembled company I journeyed back to Rawalpindi to report for duty. The episode in Delhi however, took some effort and time to erase from my mind.

The RIASC Course began mid-November (1940) at the Corps School at Chaklala. The RIASC had developed from the 1901 pre-World War Commissariat Department to a Supply & Transport Corps in 1923,  in 1935 the title ‘Royal’ was conferred by the King-Emperor, hence, it became the Royal Indian Army Service Corps. It constituted of three main branches (1) Supply (2) Animal Transport (3) Mechanical Transport. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the total strength of the Corps was 18,875 which included British officers KCO’s, KCIO’s, Commissary Officers, Civilians, and followers. The MT branch was sub-divided into Field units and Maintenance units. Most of the MT establishment was based at Chaklala. The HQ Maintenance group had seven Workshop Companies, one Motor Transport Convoy, and Four Heavy Repair Workshop with a Central MT Stores Depot, Vehicle Reserve Depot, and an Experimental Section. Chaklala thus belonged to the RIASC along with the Training Centre and the Officers School. The Central Officers Mess was said to be the finest Officers Mess in the country and the only one to possess an Octave String Band which seated in a built-in beautifully carved Corps-crested, teakwood Band Box played during dinner on Mess night and other formal occasions. The increase in the number of officers’ due to the recently enhanced enrolment meant that neither the Officer’s Mess nor the School had the capacity to house or the classroom space and facilities to cope with the additional officers. We, therefore, had to live under canvas. An improvised Officer’s Mess was established, and a number of buildings were taken over by the School. Rattan Singh, a former Cavalry officer, and my coursemate from IMA decided to share an EPIP tent with me. This had an attached 180-pound bath tent, which if slightly detached could be used as a lavatory. We had our camp kit canvas tub, basin, and a bucket placed outside, and also the zinc MES tub that was used for water storage. In spite of the freezing cold and frosty Chaklala winter mornings, we found an early cold bath, sitting in our bathtubs, with our servants pouring icy cold water over us very energising and bracing. A number of our brother officers thought us quite mad, but some soon followed our routine until it developed it into something resembling a trend. Forty minutes morning PT, a dry towel rub, bath, another towel rub, a wonderful, body tingling sensation, and hunger which could only be satiated by a hearty breakfast. On certain mornings, this would be followed by an hour of exhilarating cross-country riding through the delightful wilderness of Topi Park where one caught colourful glimpses of a variety of riders. On some other days, we’d return tired, dirty and dusty and encrusted with mud, muck, slime, with watery burning eyes, after long bumpy and noisy motorcycle training rides on thoroughly uninteresting, dusty country tracks. Then, of course, we were trained to drive the 3-ton trucks, the constant clutching, double-declutching made for long, exhaustive and weary days. However, the night training convoys were the most boring. These could have been made interesting, even enjoyable with a bit of ingenuity of thought and imagination on the part of the instructional staff, but with the war on we had to rapidly gain experience under the worst possible conditions. Great stress was put on the maintenance and repair of vehicles. A very well-equipped demo-cum workshop provided this facility. We were required to dismantle and reassemble an engine, as well as check on other parts of the vehicles such as the carburettor etc. It was essential for an officer to be able to detect faults, locate, and apply the correct remedy. In addition, we practised day and night convoy drills and disciplines; in fact, there was hardly an area relevant to MT that remained untouched. We were fortunate to have had very able and enthusiastic instructors, but one personality who stood out was Subedar Majors Atta Mohammads, I have written his name as he himself would articulate it with an ‘s’ added on and indeed that is how he spoke most of the time, for example, “I am your instructors in MTs”. He soon became a good friend, got an Indian Commission during the war and retired as a ‘Majors’ and later migrated to Pakistan.

During this period, we had a distinguished visitor, Marshal Chakmak of the Turkish Army. We were told that the Marshal did not speak English but was well-versed in Persian. Accordingly, the instructor in charge asked for an officer who would be able to explain the working of an internal combustion engine to him in that language. To our great surprise, Umar Khan stood up and launched into an explanation of the model engine “Eien piston ast benzene wa hawa mixture dakhilshuad, ek shoal dakhil shawad, piston, bambaak chu, bambaakchubaak mekardan”. The Marshal, a typical old soldier was highly amused, in crisp English he turned to Umar and laughingly patted him on his back, “Your Persian is excellent, I must remember a new word, bambaak, sounds more Turkish than Persian”.

The end of the training series concluded with a number of lectures on Mules. The anatomy and various attributes peculiar to these hardy animals were discussed at length, including the number of times the animals had to be fed and watered as well as its bowel movements, and, of course, the method of loading and unloading and other important points of care and maintenance.

At this juncture with the war mostly confined to Europe and the Middle East great stress was placed on MT, later with the Japanese invasion of Burma, and the Far East, the importance of AT’s increased considerably, and an AT training centre was established at Jullundur. However, of the two AT companies that formed a part of BEF[17] in Europe at the beginning of the war, one was caught and became German POW, this was under the command of Major Anis Ahmed Khan, the other under the command of Major Muhammad Akbar Khan escaped at Dunkirk and managed to safely reach the UK though of course without their animals, arms, and equipment.

Now began the more arduous training series on Supplies covering Food, Forage, Fuel, POL, Ammunition, Butchery, Bakery, Contracts and Contract Law as well as specifications of various items including fresh supplies. The Senior Instructor, an oldish Major introduced the series in a manner that typified the irksome nature that the task entailed. It was indeed somewhat boring for me since I had studied the Training Manual and had participated in practical work during my attachment to the Rawalpindi SSD. However, the subjects taught were so vast and educative that one felt one could never learn enough. Of course, the working of RIASC in the field was of supreme importance and required great attention and devotion to detail. Major Muller the Chief Instructor, an officer of great ability lectured us on the long history of the problems of maintenance and administration of armies down to the existing system and the importance of flexibility so as to never fail in battle under any circumstances. During the training of Supply series, we had to do Bakery and Butchery training and while the former was of interest to many of us and we learned some very useful thing particularly about setting up and working a field bakery, the latter was not liked and in fact, was naturally revolting to officers of Hindu faith. A major issue arose when my friend Rattan Singh, unable to bear watching the beef animals being slaughtered, skinned and cut up felt sick and had to be removed. He was now determined not to attend any more Butchery classes which meant serious trouble entailing disciplinary action. He decided to resign or put in for a transfer to his former Cavalry Regiment. To provide him with solid grounds for such drastic action a council of friends was organised and after much deliberation, it decided that I who was not been very happy with service in the Corps should put in an application for transfer to my former Regiment and if accepted Rattan could follow suit citing my example. In the meantime, Rattan would, on some pretext, be admitted to the Hospital. Our Regimental Medical Officer was a good friend and solved the immediate problem by diagnosing appendicitis. Rattan was instructed to act as if he were suffering from acute pain in that region and was promptly admitted to the British Military Hospital. Accordingly, I wrote out an application to be submitted to the Commandant and handed it over to the Adjutant. The following Friday Rehmat brought an elegant envelope containing, to my great surprise, an invitation to Sunday lunch with Major and Mrs Muller at their home. I thought there will be other people invited as well but found none. The Major’s bungalow was walking distance from our camp. It was one of the very fine married officer’s houses with a large garden and well-kept lawn. I was received very amicably, and a mug of beer was promptly produced. After some formal pleasantries, the Major mentioned the names of a number senior Indian officers serving in the Corps and asked if knew them or knew about them or their families. He then went on to tell me about his brother who was a serving officer in one of the King’s Guard Regiment and that he himself belonged to the Royal Artillery but had of his own accord transferred to the RIASC. He reminded me that the officers were indeed gentlemen and service in the Corps as honourable as in any Regiment in the Army. By now, I fully understood what was going on. In the heat of the moment, and, very foolishly, I had written that I did not consider “service in the Corps fit for gentlemen”. I felt deeply ashamed but was unable to respond or indeed say anything at all. Nothing further was said for a while until Mrs Muller took it upon herself attempt to change the subject. When lunch was over I thanked the couple for their kind hospitality, then turning to the Major I said: “Sir, I get the message, I am sorry for my thoughtless action”.

I spent the following day reflecting on and admiring the nobility of the Major’s character; the understated manner in which he conveyed his response and his subtle guidance. I thought if the Corps has such wonderful senior officers it is indeed worth serving in.

The next morning being Monday, I was called in by the Adjutant to report for an interview with the Commandant (Colonel Jones). I went in prepared for a thoroughly rough time. As I entered the office and saluted, he looked up, “How dare you say that I and all other officers in the Corps are not gentlemen!” I could say nothing but stammer, “I am sorry Sir, it was a terrible mistake. I deeply regret and apologise and will accept any action you deem fit”. “Well, well and what am I to do with this?” (Showing me my application). “May I have it back and permission to tear it up, sir”. He pushed the paper towards me, I took it, tore it and put the crumbled pieces in my pocket. As I saluted with a “Thank you sir”, he got up and extended his hand, “You should consider yourself lucky to get away. But you must promise to never act in such a manner again or seek a transfer from the Corps. Serve it well”. “I promise you that Sir, and further promise that if the opportunities are opened to us I shall head the Corps one day”. “Well done, keep it up”. I saluted again and quickly withdrew from his office as fast as possible with a sigh of relief and filled with a great sense of admiration and respect. These officers had outstanding character and their exemplary behaviour was worth emulating and following.

I returned to the classes, where my anxious friends had to wait until the break to learn my fate. I cursed myself for getting embroiled in such a stupid affair. Meanwhile my friend Rattan, I was told, was entangled in a far more very serious situation from which he was finding it difficult to extradite himself. Based on the RMO’s report and the condition of the patient who had been continuously complaining of pain, the Surgeon had decided to open him up and perform the necessary surgery to ensure he was fit and able to perform his military duties. A number of us went along with our RMO friend to visit him that evening. He was being readied for the operation and in a state of utter panic. We all expressed our deep concern; some even advised him to go ahead and get rid of an organ that was useless in any case and could actually cause real trouble in future. The Jat’s courage, however, was failing and we, as friends had to do something. Our Doctor friend had good advice as usual. First, the patient had to stop complaining of pain, and, second, when he was given the consent form he had to refrain from signing on the plea that he found himself feeling a lot better and that he was currently taking an important training course and leave at this crucial time would adversely affect his career. He would, in addition, have to reassure the doctors that he would not hesitate to undergo the operation whenever it was considered necessary. The RMO promised to assist and talk to the Surgeon. Luckily, the scheme worked, and Rattan Singh was discharged from the Hospital. Happily, the Butchery training was over as well.

During the Course, my friend Nayyar Raza and I had jointly managed to purchase a second-hand car. It was quite useful for local running and for weekend journeys to Lahore and back before the morning parade. Besides Subedar Atta Mohammads was always ready to help when expert technical help was needed. We would visit the Rawalpindi Club whenever possible since it was tolerably lively in the evenings, especially at the bar. On one such evening, we noticed a group of officers dressed somewhat differently from the Indian Army Officers, their attire gaudy and altogether rather flashy. After a while, one of them approached us, his red tabs and shoulder straps displayed his rank as a full Colonel, but he appeared much too young to be one. Our curiosity was soon satisfied as he introduced himself as “Colonel Laxmi Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana of the Royal Nepal Army, second-in-command to General Baber Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana, General Officer Commanding the Royal Nepal Brigade Group Camp at Hasan Abdal, here as allies of the British Emperor of India to help him win the war against the Germans”. He gave us two visiting cards each and promptly took it upon himself to most generously order and sign for all food and drink bills that entire evening. His friendliness was irresistible, he was about the same age as we were and very eager to be friends. By the time we had a few drinks and were ready to leave, we were on thoroughly amicable terms. He asked us if we could invite him to our Officer’s Mess, for squash, and tennis. We promised to do so if he would be good enough to stay on for dinner. The next morning after obtaining permission from Mess President we sent a formal invitation. Our new friend came smartly dressed for tennis but was disappointed to learn there were no ladies and soon lost interest in the game. He informed us that he liked the game of tennis only when he could get a lady partner and play mixed doubles. He expressed his desire to go back and return for dinner and had to be told that there would be no ladies at the dinner either. He was happy to meet a few British officer dining in that night but much happier to meet the many Anglo-Indian officers who were attending the Course. He certainly enjoyed the continuous flow of our excellent quality Corps whisky and the company of the officers and generously extended invitations all of them and their families to visit him wherever he may happen to be. After dinner, we had to tell our friend Pandey to explain to the Colonel that due to our morning duties the Mess closed early, and everyone has to leave. As we parted company he made us promise to visit him at his Hasan Abdal Camp as soon as possible. He departed fairly tight but undoubtedly had a good capacity to hold his drink.

A short time later, I had a note from my friend Chatterjee informing me that he was at the Artillery School, Kakul, moreover, he was now a married man. Could I come up for a visit? Chatterjee belonged to a high-class Bengali family and his wife was a granddaughter of Baron, Lord Sinha of Raipur. I told Nayyar I needed the car for a day to go to Kakul, he asked to join me as did Pandey and Osmani. We decided that instead of going straight to Kakul we would stop over at Hasan Abdal to meet Colonel Laxmi and fulfil our promise and then continue on to Kakul. The Nepalese Army camp was a collection of about half a dozen EPIP tents enclosed by kanats[18] with a gate and a guard. We were apparently at a Commanding General’s camp. When we enquired about Colonel Laxmi the guard commander asked us to wait, he ran in and re-emerged with an officer, a Captain, ADC to the Commanding General. We told him that we were friends Colonel Laxmi and had come to visit him. The ADC looked somewhat puzzled and again we were asked to wait for a few minutes while he dashed in. He soon returned with the information that the Commanding General wished to meet us. We followed him in and were ushered into the presence of the General, a well-built, imposing and pleasant gentleman. He shook hands in a very genial and kind manner and invited us to sit down. The tent was sumptuously furnished, and a line of well-liveried servants stood waiting to serve our drinks. Wines, spirits, beer were all offered, and indeed the choice of food and drinks was considerable. The General turned around to us, “I am told you all are Laxmi’s friends. He has been placed under arrest for disorderly behaviour”. We looked at each other, utterly stunned and confused. I whispered to Pandey to ask the General if he would permit us to meet him. The General beckoned the ADC who had met us initially and said something to him in Nepalese and then to us, “Yes you can go and see him, but you will have lunch here before you leave”. We followed the ADC and found the Colonel seated comfortably in his well-furnished tent with a glass of beer in hand He jumped up eagerly like a schoolboy on seeing us and enthusiastically welcomed us. The ADC said something in Nepalese, saluted and left. While drinks were being served we asked the reason for his being under a ‘cloud’. Laughingly he told us, “My uncle the General had gone to Bombay leaving me as officiating Commander of the contingent, I thought it to be a good idea to take things easy. So, I would get up late in the mornings, excused myself from work and also let troops relax. The General, unfortunately, cut his visit short and returned without warning. He was very angry and placed me under arrest. I may lose my rank and be sent away”. We were at a loss and did not know how to respond. Soon the ADC arrived to take us back to lunch. The General had also given permission for Laxmi to accompany us. Lunch was excellent Indian food served in the usual style in silver trays and bowls. Pandey, finding the General in an affable mood, ventured to request the General, on our behalf, to pardon Laxmi. This request was graciously granted much to our relief.

We were now ready to leave on and asked Pandey to thank the General for his kindness, the honour of not only receiving us but also extending us such excellent hospitality. Laxmi had by now come to know the object of our journey was also desirous of joining us and solicited Pandey’s assistance in procuring the General’s permission. But when we reached Abbottabad Club I realised it would be rather unfair to impose a group of strangers on the newly married couple, so Nayyar and I sneaked away to Kakul to meet Chatterjee and his very charming wife and had tea with them. We returned to the Abbottabad Club to find a crestfallen Colonel, upset at having missed the opportunity to meet a charming lady. Pandey and Osmani of course understood and took our escapade in good form. It was quite dark as we made our way back and Nayyar, who was driving, took a wrong turn that unfortunately turned out to be a very steep downhill track. He tried changing gears and out came the handle! With the car in neutral and a great deal of skill and presence of mind, he managed to keep the car under control and finally to come to a stop. It took a lot of effort to get it back on the road and continue driving slowly and carefully. We dropped off a slightly tipsy but happy Laxmi at his camp and were back to our own in good time. Our glimpse of the Nepal Army had shown us the enormous difference between the Nepalese and the British Indian military in terms of order, discipline and general turnout, particularly when one compared them to the British-trained Nepalese Gurkhas in the Indian Army. The Gurkhas were superb soldiers, matchless both on parade as well as in battle.

Colonel Laxmi came to see us before we all dispersed and made us promise to visit him in Nepal whenever possible. Despite my great wish and desire to do so, the promise remained unfulfilled. After the war conditions in India prevented such a visit, then came the upheaval and turmoil of the pre-independence days. After Independence, Nepal too acquired the status of an international state and Laxmi was appointed as the first Nepalese Ambassador to India. Tragically, he died in New Delhi, electrocuted in his bathtub. I really felt sad and sorry at the loss of a genuine friend and a very fine gentleman.

The Training Course was coming to an end. I had enjoyed my stay at Chaklala and made, many friends. Amongst them was Ehsan Ali Malik, a native of Rawalpindi, his father a Khan Bahadur, and a member of the Muslim elite possessed large properties and had considerable influence in the area. He had established a small town for his family off Murree Road called Malikababad. Ehsan was the eldest son and had been gifted a spacious modern house by his father where we had some memorable lunch parties. Nayyar enjoyed horseracing and he and I often attended the meets at the Rawalpindi racecourse as guests of Ehsan. Here we met many of the local gentry and their families including Rais Sardar Sohan Singh whose family owned much of ‘Pindi and were highly refined and cultivated people.

By the third week of February, the Course ended, and we got our posting orders. I was very happy indeed to be posted to 27th Animal Transport Company at Abbottabad and duly reported to that unit on 18th February 1941. The officers who were posted to Singapore were much envied as Singapore was considered to be one of the safest most desirable places to be with no possibility of war anywhere near it. The war nearer home too was not going so badly despite the enormous disparity between the main Imperial British Forces and the impressive Italian army, which was vastly superior in both men and material. Under General Wavell, the British had been inflicting defeat after defeat on the enemies reducing them virtually to a state of annihilation.

The performance of the RIASC during these operations was aptly described, “The RIASC have a job which does not bring them into the limelight”.  My life henceforth was to follow that pattern.

[1] A cord worn as a symbol of a military citation

[2] Viceroy Commissioned Officers

[3] King’s Commissioned Officers

[4] King’s Commissioned Indian Officers of the British Indian Army who held a full King’s commission after training at the Royal Military Academy

[5] Indian Commissioned Officers

[6] Military Engineering Services

[7] Water carrier

[8] Masseur

[9] Gardener

[10] Laundryman

[11] Arrangements

[12] Remount Veterinary and Farm Corps

[13] Supply and Transport Corps

[14] Terrace

[15] Urdu expression of friendship, “Oh, cruel one, where are you?”

[16] Urdu/Hindi Idiom, “If the bamboo is destroyed the flute cannot produce music.”

[17] British Expeditionary Force

[18] Fabric sidings

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The Mall, Rawalpindi

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Rawalpindi Railway Station

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Rawalpindi Club

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Saddar Bazar, Rawalpindi

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Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani in the centre.

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From left to right: Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani, M.A.G. Osmani (later Colonel in the Pakistan Army and General in the Bangladesh Army; referred to The Hero of Bengal)

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Osmani and Kermani

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Osmani and Kermani

The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006) Chapter 6

           The Indian Military Academy – Dehradun

The Dehradun Express branch of the East Indian Railway network from Calcutta arrived at Barabanki station at the convenient hour of five in the afternoon. It stopped long enough for the upper-class passengers to be served tea from the Railway restaurant in the comfort of their compartments. It also provided enough time for the servants to spread out the bedding for their masters on the reserved berths. Rehmat had insisted on coming with me to make sure that I suffered no discomfort either during the journey or later at the Academy. I had a comfortable night of undisturbed sleep and after a shave and a bath and was dressed and ready by the time the train pulled in at Dehradun Railway station in the early hours of the morning. From there it was a short taxi ride to the IMA.

Dehradun has been a familiar name to me from the early days of my life. This was the home of the Imperial Cadet Corps where my younger mamu, Captain Raja Imtiaz Rasul Khan, received his military training and education alongside the sons and nephews of other Maharajas, Rajas, Nawabs, Jagirdars and Sardar of the Indian Empire. Known as the Rajwara Camp, the main object of this academy was to provide military training to aristocratic young men of privilege. Strikingly outfitted in snow-white uniforms with sky-blue and gold trimmings and sky-blue turbans, mounted on black chargers, they formed a spectacular escort for the Viceroy at imperial ceremonies, including the 1903 Coronation Durbar at Delhi. The ICC, however, with its limited goals and opportunities, was closed down in 1914.

In 1922, the Prince of Wales Royal Military Academy, a public school specifically geared towards preparing Indian boys for the Royal Military College Sandhurst was inaugurated on the premises of the former ICC. I very nearly went there for my education but for the intervention of Colonel Haider who talked my father into sending me to Aligarh instead. Interestingly, the Indian Military Academy, established in 1932, where I was now to attend the first war course, was located at the erstwhile Railway Officers Staff College, where my eldest brother-in-law, K. T. Ahmed (An officer in the BNR[1] ) had received his training. My second brother-in-law Waris Ahmed was educated at Colonel Brown an elite boy’s school also in Dehradun before proceeding to Cambridge University.

The Doon Valley was renowned as the abode of Gods and Godlings, Rishis and Sanyasis, and linked to many an Indian mythological tale, but the British made it famous by turning it into a beautiful year-round residential hill station. Along with Mussoorie, which is only about 13 miles away, Dehradun became the most fashionable hill station in North India. They also established some of the country’s premium civilian and military education and training institutes there.

I cherish many happy memories of Dehradun and the times I spent there in my school days. During the summer vacations, I had often accompanied Col Haider and his family, including his mother there. He would hire an entire bus from Saharanpur Railway station and we would be loaded on along with all the servants. It used to be a most interesting journey passing through heavily forested country with the scenery becoming more and more picturesque as we went up the mountain road. The whole region is one of great scenic beauty, and, it produces one of the finest varieties of rice in the world. In our house, ever since I can remember, we always had, at both main meals, two varieties of rice since my father ate only the aromatic Dehradun rice.

After an incredibly beautiful drive through tree-lined avenues and carefully tended gardens, a spectacle of rare beauty and orderliness, the taxi arrived at an imposing building. I was directed to where a good number of young men in civilian dress and a few in uniform had gathered. It was to be the HQ of 1st Special Entry Company and the residential quarters of Officer Cadets; this being the designation of the thirty-five entrants selected on an all India basis. I soon found a good number of my friends and acquaintances. Kunwar (Billy) Arjan Singh was an old friend from Lucknow days so we were indeed happy to see each other and decided to share a room. Billy belonged to a collateral branch of the Kapurthala Royal family. Highly educated and refined, the family produced several outstanding individuals. His elder brother, Kunwar Jaswant Singh was one of the first Indians to obtain a commission in the Air force. Billy himself was a fine gentleman and I was glad to meet up with him again to share both the hardship and enjoyable moments that the rigorous training entailed. It was harder for him as he had no previous army experience. Moreover, he had undertaken serious and intensive bodybuilding that had given him an impressive physique but had made him completely muscle-bound. He found it difficult to perform movements of arms drill and PT that required supple sinews, speed, quickness and flexibility. He could not keep time in arms drill that quite often resulted in a bellow from the Sgt Major, “Mr Arjan Singh! SIR! You will please take an extra drill”. There was nothing he could do out but fill out the required penalty form and present himself at the drill square at the notified time. Inevitably, there were always a few men from the other Companies there as well. It was tough going and there was hardly any time left to oneself. Billy opted for the Artillery and got out of the Army as soon as he could after the war. An avid hunter, he got himself a large property in the wild Terai[2] regions of UP and built a house with the intentions of becoming a gentleman farmer. Some years down the road, he had a change of heart and decided instead to let the wildlife flourish and eventually became an internationally respected conservationist. Many years later, I saw him in a BBC documentary with tigers and leopards wandering freely about, on the friendliest of terms with him, even sharing his breakfast. He became I believe, most aptly, President of the Indian Wild Life Organization[3]. I also read an excellent book he wrote on the subject. A remarkable personality, I last met him after the war in Lucknow where he was staying with his mother Rani Jasbir Singh. His farming venture was still in its early stages of planning and he immediately suggested that I join him in the proposed undertaking. I could if I wanted, get similar lands, but I was by now a truly professional soldier. In fact, I had gone to see his mother to inquire about the daughter of one of the Taluqdars (a Raja) of Awadh whom my uncle, the Maharaja Jahangirabad, was pressurising me to marry, and, whose family Billy’s mother knew intimately.

At the IMA I also discovered several old friends; my class fellow from Aligarh, Azizullah from a distinguished military family, the Nawabs of Dehra Ismail Khan. Another Aligarh friend was Ibne Hasan Shah, from the family of the Nawabs of Sardhana. Choudhry Abrar Hussain was related to the Taluqdars of Subeha with whom we had longstanding relationships. Abrar was a studious, serious-minded young gentleman. During the war, he had the misfortune to be sent off to Burma, taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese, and subjected to their harsh tortures.

Our entire batch was made up of men of varied and interesting personalities, a good representation from almost all the provinces. Quite a few had an army background and training, one was a full Lieutenant from the 11th Battalion 18th Garhwal Rifles and like me had had to resign his Territorial Commission. They came from diverse backgrounds, Anglo Indians from south India, a chain-smoking Parsee and a Thapa Gurkha from Nepal,  a full-blooded Pathan from the tribal area, the son of a chief, who, in fact, had to be rescued by us from a ragging[4] session.

Ragging was practised at the IMA as in all other similar institutions and we were all prepared for it and knew what to expect. However, this young man got instantly agitated,  his dignity had been hurt and the only way it could be regained was by terminating the perpetrator. He dashed off to his room in a rage and speedily returned brandishing a bejewelled dagger and went straight for his tormentor. It took quite a few of us to hold him back and save the life of the offending Officer Cadet. I felt rather sad to see the Khan leave since we had got along rather well prior to this incident.

Although practically all the provinces were represented, so far there were no men from the Indian States. This was soon to be rectified. At the next roll call immediately following the Sergeant Major’s bellow of “Gentlemen fall in!” the Company Commander, Major Price appeared with another uniformed man. This was our first address by the CO. “Gentlemen, I am your Company Commander. We are going to work together for the duration of your time here at the Academy. Your training is going to be not just hard but really tough as you are going to cover within a short period all that took long in peacetime. The tempo will be fast with no holidays, leave or leisure”. Now beckoning to the man standing behind him to step forward he continued, “Here is your Under Officer, he will be your instructor during the course”.

Under Officer Himayat Ali Beg, from the Nizam of Hyderabad State Forces, was the senior-most cadet at that time and in his last and final term. A fine, amiable gentleman, he became our leader and guide and treated everyone like an elder brother would. Himayat was my senior at Aligarh Muslim University Intermediate College and had been held in high respect there. He had organized a bodybuilding club along the lines of the famous American Charles Atlas’s self-dynamic bodybuilding course. I too was a member, not that I attained much in terms of my own bodybuilding, nevertheless, we were good friends, and were both happy to renew our friendship. I met him once again, in 1948, when I went to Hyderabad to get married.

We were now set on a normal routine and followed the prescribed norms of all new entrants. My rituals included a weekly visit to the barbers for my Academy style haircut. I had adopted the style during my college days and always had my hair cut once a week. A visit to drapers and tailors was deemed necessary. We all had to be fitted out in Academy specified uniform. The other essential necessities and clothing included white PT shorts and shirt and khaki shorts and shirts. I liked the shirt design greatly and wore it throughout my army life. I ordered a dozen of each (I never wore the same shorts twice if the crease was disturbed). Khaki pocket-less trousers (since it was considered improper and an act of indiscipline in the army to put one’s hands in one’s trouser pockets). We also had to get shoulder bags to carry books and notebooks. A riding kit, including breeches and boots, was a must. Blue patrol and khaki serge suits had become optional but everyone had them made. I possessed both. We also had to get the tie, scarf and blazer in the IMA colours of blood red and grey stripes, very apt and symbolic, blood, and steel. A single-breasted grey suit was considered optional since one hardly had the time or occasion to wear it, but for form’s sake, everyone got one made. A pair of white flannel completed the immediate wardrobe requirements. Other items would be obtained as the need arose and the course progressed. It was amazing, the speed, efficiency and accuracy with which each and every item were made and delivered within hours.

While all this was going on, the Company had been taken to the armoury and a rifle and bayonet issued to each cadet. These were kept at the armoury and taken out when needed for arms drill and musketry practice. Their maintenance and cleaning, however, was the responsibility of the cadets.  The Quarter Master Stores were located in the same area as the armoury as was the Quarter Masters Office. There we encountered the Quarter Master, Captain Som Dutt of the Baluch Regiment, the very first Indian officer to be posted to the Academy.

Having been fitted groomed, smartened up and briefed, we were marched carrying notebooks in hand to the main building Chetwoode Building and into Chetwoode Hall. Imposing and magnificent both from outside and inside, it was named after the Field Marshal Sir Philip Chetwoode, Commander-in-Chief Indian Army, who inaugurated the Indian Military Academy in 1932. During the inauguration, he gave the immortal and unique credo emblazoned in golden letters in the hall:

THE SAFETY, HONOUR AND WELFARE OF YOUR COUNTRY COME FIRST ALWAYS AND EVERY TIME, THE HONOUR, WELFARE, COMFORT OF MEN YOU COMMAND COMES NEXT, YOUR OWN EASE COMFORT AND SAFETY COMES LAST, ALWAYS AND EVERY TIME.

To me, the first part of this creed was unique as in the entire history of Indian Subcontinent, from time immemorial India had never existed as one country. India was a heterogeneous region comprised of many countries, each inhabited by people of different races, speaking different languages with their own cults and culture. In fact, India was far more diverse than the European continent as a whole. The loyalties of inhabitants of the various countries of India were also dependent on changing borders and ruling powers and personalities. The prevailing notion of soldiering at the rise of British Military power was loyalty and faithful service to the master, to the extent of laying down one’s life for safety and honour of that master; as a sacred duty, an honourable, ever faithful and true “Namak Khawar[5]”. Credit goes to the British that they were able to knit together, hammer and weld the fragmented parts (doubly fragmented due to the demise of the Mughal Empire) into a masterpiece, an efficient administrative unit “India, the Indian Empire, the Raj”. Such a remarkable and unprecedented achievement was accomplished by creating a military machine of matchless, indomitable, unbeatable quality of “Namak Halals[6] who continuously defeated the rabble armies of “Namak Harams[7]”, or of those who erringly refused to, or were still unaware and ignorant of the great benefits of entering the fold of the Raj. Thus, as the country India and the sense and spirit of nationalism, and the creed of patriotism was all created and inspired by the British. It was to be seen as to what extent the ensuing products of this great institution would practice these noble precepts.

As for as the other parts of the statement These ideas were nothing new, all the great military leaders had followed the same practice, Timur, Babar, Napoleon and Ataturk. After dutifully writing down the Academy credo and committing it to memory, we were summarily dismissed.

The next morning, we assembled at the Parade Square to be inspected and talked to by the commandant. We lined up in formation in front of Chetwoode Building and were handed over by the Company Sgt Major to the Regimental Sgt Major. RSM Stannard was a near perfect specimen of a breed only the British Army could produce. He began with a rattling of his RSM pace stick, which was as a baton is to a Field Marshal, but perhaps more effective since the baton does not rattle. RSM Stannard’s word of command, a thunderous sound, did not emanate from the throat, it came from the belly; lions and Sgt Majors never suffer from sore throats. Sssspppshl coy SHUN—you –there—SSIIR- “A number of gentlemen here need a good deal of shaping and trimming, and you shall do that fast and quick”. We were then introduced to Captain Strickland, Gurkha Rifles, Adjutant IMA and the perfect officer to hold that position. The next to arrive was Brigadier Young, Commandant IMA, every inch a Cavalry officer in riding kit, accompanied by the Deputy Commandant Colonel Gilbert, a fairly heavy man, somewhat pompous looking and reputed to a be a fire-emitting terror. The Commandant spoke briefly about how tough this particular course was going to be since we were to receive an abbreviated version but without missing any subject or details, and how we were expected to set a high standard as an example to those who would be following us.

Now began a tight daily routine from six in the morning until ten at night and then finally to sleep. We started with a forty minutes PT, followed by a ten minutes break, forty minutes close-order drill, a half-hour break for breakfast, change for the indoor class unless there was more outdoor work such as weapon training musketry, map reading or tactical exercises. An hour for lunch then indoor again, break for tea then on to riding, swimming, boxing, squash, hockey, or football, varying on different days. An evening break followed by a bath, dress and dinner followed by self-study and preparation for the next day, unless there was some night exercise, and then finally to sleep. We got alternate Sundays off and even then, only till lunch.

Of all the outdoor activities, I enjoyed riding the most. The riding arena was vast and superbly equipped with a number of riding and jumping tracks. There was a long jumping lane, generally dreaded by both the rider and the ride. Most of the horses did not like to get onto the track, so the first obstacle was to successfully manoeuvre the horse inside the lane up to the starting point and then to keep going through to the end without faltering.

Whenever we had riding classes, everyone rushed to choose the best horse. Once I got there somewhat late and found only two horses left in the line. Before I could make a decision, one of the grooms brought up the horse he was holding and said “Sahib, ap isko lain, sab iss say dartay hain. iss ka nam Hitler hai. Zara muonzor hai khial say sbalian bahoot acha hai”. (Sahib take this one, everyone is scared of him, his name is Hitler. He is somewhat difficult but treat him patiently you will find him wonderful) . A somewhat formidable, offensive-looking creature with blood red eyes, and restless temperament, he and I became very good friends, and always went through the lane with ease and dignity well within the prescribed time.

We had some amusing incidents as well. For instance, if a rider was going around in a circle and the instructor would shout “right turn”, the horse’s reaction was quicker than the rider and often resulted in the riders falling. The usual outcome was a somewhat shocked, bruised rider with an undoubtable loss of dignity but increased respect for the horse. The instructor always had some choice, uncomplimentary words for the unfortunate rider but always ended them politely with “Sahib”. Riding instructors were always VCOs and NCOs from the Indian Cavalry.

One of the Cadets hated riding and horses. We all wondered why he had joined the Army, then someone discovered that he wanted to get his value enhanced in the marriage market; despite the war, an Army officer fetched a very rich dowry along with a desirable bride from a wealthy and well-placed family. It so happened that, any horse he ever chose took an instant dislike of him. As is usual in such circumstances, mutual ill will between the rider and the ride guarantees trouble. One evening, the unlucky horse having been ridden for a while, decided he could not take any more of the rough handling. Kicking and bucking he bolted out of the school as fast as he could. As to be expected, this triggered a chain reaction as the other horses too panicked. An anarchic frenzy that is endemic in such situations ensued. Meanwhile, the panicked rider frantically trying to control the frenzied horse noticed a conveniently positioned tree branch under which they were passing and letting go of the reins grabbed on to it with both hands.  He was found in this a sorry state by Major Gimson the Chief Instructor Equitation, who was not amused. By this time, the erring animal has been retrieved by a groom and on the orders of the CI was positioned under the dangling rider who was having a hard time maintaining his hold. The poor man looked down unable to trust the horse. By this time, the entire riding school had been called up to witness the drama. The CI on his charger, his long crop in hand, announced in his crisp voice “Now Dewan” (that being the name of the rider) “Open your legs and come down. Centre of the saddle. Hold the reins. Whatever happens, don’t let go of the reins. Or stay as you are your option. Get ready. Go!” Down came Dewan with a loud yelp and a thud and just about managed to get hold of the reins. The groom moved away quickly as the horse snorting loudly reared up on hind legs. A sharp smack on its behind from CI’s crop and it was off bucking wildly with a cursing yelling rider holding on desperately. A hundred yards along the horse stumbled sending the rider flying clear over his head still holding the reins. The CI calmly rode up, proclaimed “Well done”, and rode off. The riding class was over. The ride was taken to the Vet for a check-up and the rider to MI Room. Both required some dressing for minor bruises and were pronounced fit for duty.

Major Jimmy Gimson, Guides Cavalry, in addition to being the CI riding, taught organisation, administration, and Military Law. He was the embodiment of an aristocratic Cavalry officer, disciplined, courageous, and kind; a superb equestrian, he rose to the rank of Brigadier. He opted to serve with the Pakistan Army after independence and became the first Director of Armour Corps.

At the IMA, I was introduced to a new subject, one which most of us had not heard before, Imperial Military Geography. The Instructor was also the author of the book bearing the same title Major D.H. Cole. Everyone had to possess this book; it was indeed most interesting and so was the author, an ageing, scholarly-looking gentleman from the Army Education Corps, he was the author of many other books, mostly on the strategy of Imperial Defence. I still have his book, perhaps the first edition, published in 1930, “Changing Conditions of Imperial Defence” by Captain D. H. Cole, MBE[8]. The book contains Essays on Military Geography. In his essay on “The Gate Way of the Indian Ocean”, he stated the many factors and considerations that lead to the admirable choice of Singapore (then under construction) as a Naval Base, strongly garrisoned by ground forces. Now a Major, his teaching stressed on his earlier writings with words that in fact proclaimed that the “Singapore Naval Base is Impregnable, it can neither be taken by sea, land or air”.

We had a number of other very fine and able officers as instructors for subjects such as Military History, Strategy, Tactics, Map reading, Social and Military Etiquette and Protocol.

With the rapid modernisation and conversion of the Cavalry to the Armour Corps and its all-around mechanisation, the supporting arms and services also had to be reorganised and upgraded as well. The Royal Indian Army Service Corps, the major component of the army for the maintenance and administrative support, had embarked on a massive restructuring at a rapid pace. To meet the acute shortage of officers direct induction into the Corps had started. Major Waters, MC,[9] RIASC[10] was appointed as Instructor in administration and maintenance of Supply and Transport Services. He had won his MC for his part in the Shahoortangi operations in the NWF[11], he very soon gained considerable popularity and was affectionately nicknamed Pani Waters.

We had now reached the last stages of the course. The final six weeks were spent mostly out in the countryside under canvas on tactical or map reading exercises. This period although the toughest was the most enjoyable as one lived in and with nature in picturesque woodlands and hills thickly forested with pine, and numerous rare trees, plants, shrubs, fragrant grasses and herbs. Large Tea estates abounded in the area and spread over miles and miles like vast oceans in different tones and shades of greens. It was a sheer joy to live in those scenic surroundings. To breathe the air was like drinking wine. During the brief rest-times available I would allow myself fanciful fantasies of owning property and living in such an earthly paradise.

A tactical exercise generally followed a prior demonstration conducted by the instructor of the course. Major D.A. Brett, MC, EGM[12] was the newly placed instructor whose last posting had been as Military Secretary to the Governor of United Provinces. He was to give a demonstration with troops of a Platoon in attack. We were given a rendezvous map reference which we followed correctly. Colonel Gilbert, Deputy Commandant, who supervised all fieldworks and exercises was present, watching every movement, noting every error or omission, alert like a restless hound waiting to be unleashed for the chase. The moment came. Major Brett, holder of two of the highest gallantry awards had been away from the field performing duties considered by diehard professionals as unsoldierly. He was somewhat nervous while conducting the demo and in giving the fire orders, he described the reference mark, a bush as busy bush, obviously a slip of tongue but to the Colonel an unforgivable blunder. No sooner had the demo ended and the Major turned up to report, before he could even salute, a loud thunderous bark emanated from the Colonel. “Hold on Major Brett! Now then where would your BUSHY BUSH be?” Before the poor Major, visibly shaken could open his mouth, “Now then you have been—” The words and phrases shot out like a concentrated battery fire, foul, filthy, unprintable. “And now I am going to—-” He continued in the same tone. The tongue-lashing continued until it changed into a short commentary on how things ought to have been done. As we cycled back, as usual, three abreast, through the beautiful forest woodlands and the superbly laid-out grounds of the magnificent Forest Institute, said to be the oldest such institute in the world established by the British, we all felt a great amount of sympathy for Major Brett. Our respect and esteem for the Colonel meanwhile went down considerably. ThenIMA was considered a nursery for a particular class of men who could proudly be model “officers and gentlemen”. Swearing, and cursing and use of vulgar language were not acceptable or “befitting an officer and a gentleman”. Even the use of words such as “bloody” was viewed unfavourably. Sadly, refined standards of conduct and behaviour changed drastically during the war and almost disappeared afterwards.

Two weeks before the final field exercises, we were told to choose the Regiments or Battalions we wished to serve in. According to service custom, one had to write a letter to the chosen unit addressed to the Adjutant requesting the Commanding Officer and officers to accept one as an officer in their unit. In normal peacetime, a candidate would be called for an interview and asked many questions particularly about his family background and amount of private income that would supplement his pay. To join a cavalry unit a substantial private income was deemed essential. Infantry officers were also known to be privately affluent. Therefore, the amount varied from Regiment to Regiment. Indian officers could only apply to selected Indianised units. Service Corps such as the Royal Indian Army Service Corps and the Ordnance Corps did not take officers directly. Entry was regulated according to vacancies, and then only offered to officers who had completed two or more years of satisfactory service in other regiments, had higher educational qualifications, and were able to pass an entry exam. All the above conditions and requirements were dispensed with shortly after the outbreak of war. I applied to three units the 2nd Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles a Regiment with which I already had close association commanded by Col Ridley, the 1st Battalion 8th Punjab Regiment and the 3rd Battalion 2nd Punjab Regiment with which I had a successful stint as an attached officer while holding a commission in the 11th Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles.

Immediately after I had completed the above-mentioned formalities, Major “Pani” Waters summoned me. A few other men from my batch were with him already and he was discussing the advantages of joining the RIASC since the whole Corps had a centralised roster of officers, controlled at AHQ[13] level. Major Waters had been authorized not only to receive requests and forward names but also to submit the list with his recommendations. My turn soon came, the Major said that he has already put my name on his list, “But Sir I have …”. before I could say any more, he concluded the meeting with a “Well you can make a final decision when we return from the training camp.

The same evening, we proceeded to a camp by a beautiful mountain stream with snow-cool clear waters emerging from a gorge, spreading and branching out into many sub-streams, not very far along the Chakrata[14] Road. From here a series of two week-long exercises were to commence covering mountain and North-West Frontier warfare.

As soon as I arrived at the camp that evening and beheld the delightful vista, like a flash, it came to me that I had seen this place in my dream sometime back. But, something I had seen in the dream was missing, or perhaps I could not discern it in the fading light; a silhouette of a human figure draped in a saffron sheet. I decided to put the thought aside and explore the place early the next morning.

I got up earlier than the Reveille[15] and readied myself for the morning parade. After the parade, I walked out toward the gorge, the source of the stream. The Garhwali guard commander on camp duty immediately appeared on the double somewhat confused and amazed to find me there, and respectfully inquired if everything was all right. When told, “Saab thiek hai ham owdhar puja karna jata”[16], very happily and with great pride saluted “bahoot acha sahib”[17].

I walked on until I came to the mouth of the gorge. There sitting on a smooth bare rock, was what had appeared as a silhouette in my dream; a Hindu Sadhu, [18] a well-built middle age man, shaven and shorn, with his caste-mark on his forehead and eyes that appeared half-shut. He was reciting something on a long big-bead strung mala[19], one hand half raised. He must have felt my presence since he stood up still chanting and faced me. His chanting grew louder though the only words I could make out were “Shanti ho, Shanti, Shanti ho baba”[20]. He lifted his brass bowl dipped his hand in it and sprinkled what appeared to be water on me. This went on for a while. The chanting became louder and now he raised both his hands, mala in one and the bowl in other, and moved them up and down, in what I sensed was a blessing. Before I could react in any manner, with astounding swiftness he lifted his stick, turned around, and disappeared in the bushes, still chanting “Shanti, Shanti ho baba”, leaving me somewhat speechless and dumbfounded. I remained there for a bit admiring the beauty of the place and trying to comprehend the meaning of the extraordinary experience that remains fresh in my memory to this day. I still find the words “Shanti, Shanti ho baba, Shanti, Shanti ho baba”, echoing in my mind and they bring solace whenever I am in a deep state of agitation.

I returned to the camp, joined in for breakfast, and fell in with the normal activities.

We moved along continuing with our mountain warfare exercises until we arrived at an area of a near-barren mountainous country that bore some resemblance to the NWF regions. Here a unit of 18th Royal Garhwal Rifles gave us an excellent demonstration of various tactical operations used against the frontier tribes, techniques and tactics that had been developed entirely by Indian Army.

We were billeted for a couple of nights in an ancient fort on top of a hill reputed to be haunted by the spirit of a beautiful, Rajput warrior princess who was said to appear nightly on the ramparts, fully armed to the teeth. She was rumoured to be unrelentingly merciless to those who encountered her and no one escaped her supernatural blades. A group of us resolved to take on a dare and spend the night on the dreaded ramparts, and although we stayed awake the entire night no eerie Rajkumari paid us a visit much to our relief and a certain degree of disappointment.

After three strenuous weeks, we were finally back in our rooms. The very next morning, I received letters of acceptance from all three Regiments which had arrived in our absence. Now only the submission of a formal request to any one of the three was required. Major Waters also had the Service Corps approved list and wanted our final decision. Two or three men declined and their names were removed. He gave us a short briefing on the requirements and conditions of service, and the life we could expect in case we elected to join the Corps. He talked about how the organisation and size of the corps had been virtually unchanged since the end of the First World War, therefore the changes required in every aspect of the organisation were extensive and the need for rapid expansion in manpower included officers of the right quality and calibre. Until the outbreak of the war, the entry to the officers’ cadre of the corps was by selection from volunteer officers with at least two to three years satisfactory service in other arms. Now, however, due to the acute shortage of officers in that pool, direct recruitment purely for the Corps has been found necessary, and a batch of forty such cadets was undergoing a special training course. Permission has also been granted to a few men of the All Arms Entry Batch to choose service in the Corps. One also had to take into consideration the various positive features of the Corps. Factors such as early advancement in rank, better chances of getting independent or semi-independent command, of holding Corps staff duties, of gaining positions of higher responsibilities. Then there was the choice of serving in the many different branches and obtaining varied experiences as well as chances to display valour and bravery in the field to win at least an MC. Major Waters was himself a fine example of this. To my mind, Corps life would be freer from the intrigue and petty jealousies that arise in group living. The pay was obviously an additional attraction. I also felt my mother would be happier knowing that I would be dealing with horses, motor vehicles, and stores and not a mere “Piadha” or footslogger. thus, after much consideration, I confirmed my choice.

In about a week’s time, after the ceremonial passing-out parade and dinner, followed by the traditional mild ragging from the juniors, we were ready to move out. We were each handed a copy of the Government of India Gazette draft notification granting commission on 21st July 1940. I was also granted six months of ante for my service with Rajputana Rifles thus making me the senior-most in my batch.

I said goodbye to all the instructional and administrative staff of the IMA and bade farewell to so many friends, most of whom I would never meet again.

My good friend and roommate Billy Arjan Singh had opted for the Artillery. We met briefly in Lucknow after the war. He handed in his commission at the very first opportunity and ended up making quite a name for himself as a conservationist and writer on Indian Wildlife. Chatterjee also joined Artillery, I met him and his wife, Lord Sinha’s daughter when I went from Chaklala to the Kakul Artillery School to meet the couple. Hafiz Imam went to the 4th Bombay Grenadiers, we never met again. Chaudhry Abrar Hussain went to 10th Baluch, was taken by the Japs in Malaya as a POW and remained so until the end of the war. He too opted for Pakistan and married Mufti Ismail’s sister Imtiaz. Despite his dreadful POW experience and shattered physical condition he did remarkably well and finished up as a Major General. Mufti Ismail joined the 14th Punjab, was also a POW of the Japs and retired as a Colonel and migrated to the UK. Aziz Ullah Khan Alizai, who belonged to a distinguished elite, military family from Dehra Ghazi Khan, and a good friend from Aligarh days, chose the RIASC. He became a Lt Colonel in the Pakistan Army and unfortunately died young while still in service. There were many so many more friends, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, whose names one’s memory fails to remember.

My servant Rehmat had reached the IMA in time as to take away my kit and baggage as I had planned to visit the shrine of Alauddin Sabir at Kaliyar Sharif as well as the ancient Hindu holy city of Haridwar.

As I was sitting in the first-class refreshment room at Dehradun railway station, having a cup of tea and waiting for my train to Roorkee, in barged in two groups of freshly commissioned Subalterns with whom I had exchanged farewells only a few hours back. Both groups entered the room from opposite doors opposite hurling the foulest of abuses and attacking each other with their fist, sticks, chairs, anything they could get hold. Within a few minutes, the room was in shambles. The poor manager, with folded hands, begged both sides to stop, only to receive a few kicks in return. The parties were led by 2nd Lt Abrar Hussain (Officer Cadet Sgt just a few hours back) and 2nd Lt Ibne Hasan Shah (Until a few hours back an Officer Cadet). Apparently, they had been nursing grievances that had been bottled up until now and were finally being sorted out in this unruly manner. My train had arrived and I left them in their sorry state indulging in conduct grossly unbefitting of gentlemen and officers.

I completed my short and pleasantly satisfying visit to both the pilgrimage sites and arrived home to find an AHQ letter with orders for me to attend the RIASC Officer’s course at Kuldana, Murree Hill beginning in the week of August 1st. Unfortunately, I could not take that course as I got blood poisoning from a cut on my upper lip while shaving and had to put in for leave on medical grounds. Having missed the Course at Kuldana I was posted to ADS &T, HQ Rawalpindi District. Attached to the RIASC Supply Depot, I was to remain in Rawalpindi pending the Officers course beginning 1st Oct at the RIASC Officers School Chaklala. The school used to summer at Kuldana and winter at Chaklala.

The entire family gathered for my visit home; Bhaijan came from Gonda, Baji and Bhai Sahib with the children from Khurdaroad, Hasina, Waris and children from Bandikui, Wahaj from Aligarh. Murshida, of course, was already there. It really was a very pleasant and joyous interlude. It was wonderful to see both my parents content, happy and proud, more so my mother who now knew about the change I had made in my arms of service. Maqbool Mian’s prediction had come to pass in full measure, “Wardee badalgaie, Odha badalgai, Paltan badalgaie”[21], and in the same order as uttered by him almost seven months ago. While I was getting ready to leave for Rawalpindi, Amma was preparing for a Thanksgiving visit to Khairabad.

[1] Bengal Nagpur Railway

[2] Foothills of the Himalayas in UP

[3] He was not the head of the Indian Wildlife Organisation but was awarded the World Wildlife Fund’s Gold Medal in 1976 and the Getty award for conservation in 2004. He was the founder of The Tiger Haven Society for the conservation of wildlife and the Dudhwa National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary.

[4] Hazing

[5]  Grateful

[6] Loyal

[7] Ungrateful or treacherous.

[8] Order of The British Empire

[9] Military Cross

[10] Royal Indian Army Service Corp

[11] North-West Frontier

[12] Empire Gallantry Medal

[13] Army Head Quarters

[14] Cantonment town in the Dehradun district

[15] Bugle call to awaken the soldiers for the morning roll call

[16] Everything is fine, I just want to worship here

[17] Very good Sahib

[18] Hindu ascetic

[19] Prayer beads

[20] Peace, calmness, tranquillity

[21] “Uniform changed, rank changed, platoon changed”.

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deradhun 2

Doon_Valley,_Dehradun,_1850s

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Raja Imtiaz Rasul Khan of Rasulpur in his Imperial Cadet Corp uniform

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Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani 3rd from right

The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006) Chapter 5

                                              Agra

My attachment to the 3rd Battalion 2nd Punjab Regiment had ended. Once more, I returned home to Barabanki. I had reason to be pleased with myself, I had received an excellent report; but after almost six months of constant, strenuous work with hardly a break, I needed some rest and relaxation.

It was the height of the Monsoon season, one of the most enjoyable of Awadh’s three seasons. The verdant mango trees were heavily laden with ripe, yellow fruit and the entire countryside was lush green, in different shades and hues. The ponds and lakes were like sheets of water with many species of waterfowls frolicking and screeching, in constant motion. Some indulged in a dance of courtship and love, others dove into the water fast as a bullet to catch a small fish or a frog. Our home was surrounded by all types of trees, some incredibly ancient and huge. The vast gardens were full of an immense variety of flowering, fragrant shrubs, several in the form of hedges with walkways in between laid-out and planted to enhance the pleasures of a scented stroll at all hours of day and night. They bloomed mostly towards the end of summer and the start of the rains, the North Indian Monsoon season. The rose garden boasted a large, splendid collection of plants including rare varieties of roses.[1] The bird life too abounded. Some with gorgeous plumage, in shaded colours such as the Hariyal, the beautiful green pigeon which continually flitted from branch to branch of the Pipal and Gular trees. It is said that the Hariyal never alights on the ground, and if it has to do, to drink water, for instance, it does so clutching a twig in its claws. It is also highly valued as a table-bird; I always felt bad whenever they were served, yet, I have to confess I found them delicious to eat. Another piece of nature’s art and glory which I loved to watch was the yellow and black Oriole. Later I found out the Skinner’s Horse, an Indian Cavalry Regiment, wore a uniform in identical colours, and wondered if Major Skinner, the Anglo-Indian adventurer who had raised the Regiment had borrowed the colours from this bird. From among the many songsters, the finest to my mind with its rich and melodious voice was the Shama, the Indian thrush, a handsome combination of black and white. Every evening, one would perch itself proudly on the burji[2] on the roof of the veranda where my father usually sat and break into an incomparable full-throated melodious song while dancing to her own music. Two other birds that I found immensely fascinating, and which are often mentioned in the romantic songs of North India, are the Papiha or Hawk-Cuckoo popularly called the Brain-fever bird. Its repetitive call of “Pia kahan” translates as “where you are you beloved”. And the much-revered Koel, the Indian Cuckoo widely associated with love and romance, also widely regarded as the harbinger of rain. A rather shy bird, it is a vicarious fruit eater, favouring the densely luxuriant mango trees where its arrival coincides with the ripening of the fruit. Like all Cuckoos, it does not build its own nest but lays its eggs in those of Crows and Mynas.

Our property also housed an extensive collection of domestic birds and fowl, poultry of different breeds, rooms full of different varieties of pigeons, geese, ducks, turkey, peacock, and peafowl. It was an absolute joy to be up and about early in the morning, to wander in the garden and the watch the birds and animals being fed, or to go for a walk with Abba’s ever-loving fox-terrier Jack. One hardly met a human that early in the day in our part of town, but troops of monkeys wandered fearlessly in search of food and old Jack loved to chase them. One morning as the chase was on, an exceedingly pompous gentleman, red in the face, with an even redder bottom, every bit the master of the troop, decided enough was enough. He resolved to teach Jack a lesson. As Jack chased a young monkey, the old man, with great dignity intervened and enticed Jack towards himself. Jack fell into the trap. Abandoning his young victim, he went for the old man, who kept his dignity and scrambled onto a nearby tree and perched himself comfortably in the fork made by two branches high enough and well beyond Jack’s reach. Poor Jack was left standing on his hind legs by the tree trunk, striving hard to reach the old fellow. He kept failing in his many attempts; running to me to seek help, then running back again while the old man jeered with contempt. This farce continued until in a flash the old monkey caught the poor dog’s ears and physically lifting him off the ground gave him a traffic slap, then dropped him and made a very speedy get-away. Poor Jack howling ran back to me. There was not much I could do; the whole troop had marched off quickly and disappeared. Jack, with his lost dignity, fretted the whole day, every time I related the story he looked at me as if to say you did not help me and walked away in a sulk.

There were so many pleasing distractions, but a journey with my father to Dewa, our ancestral town about 8 miles from our present home, was always interesting. We stopped first at Quluwallahpur, a hamlet off the main Mujeebpur village, located within a thick mango grove adjacent to our large fruit orchard. The seir or self-cultivated lands, the forest and Bareaila Jheel[3] were about a mile away. The whole place was developed by my father to be used as a balda or farmyard with grain and fodder storage sheds and living quarters for the workers and their families. It was also used by travellers as a staging post where men and animals could get free shelter, water, cheap food, and fodder. In addition, the tenants used it periodically as an open community space where people could gather to debate important issues and problems, resolve and settle disputes. It was here that my father had planned a modern farm for me, if and when I would decide to become a gentleman farmer. The idea was so deeply planted in my mind, and perhaps I subconsciously wanted so much to live on the land that it became almost an obsession. Alas, it was destined to remain a dream never to materialise. We would continue our journey to Haji Sahib’s shrine where we performed our customary rituals, paid our respects and returned.

Ever since I had returned home, I had noticed that my mother was somewhat depressed and obviously unhappy. She persistently asked if there was nothing else that I could do other than remain in the army. She had never approved of my chosen army career but this time her disapproval was expressed far more strongly. I soon discovered the immediate cause. It was my servant Rehmat, who had promoted me from Bahia to Sahib and himself from Khidmatgar to Sahib’s bearer, “Lieutenant Sahib’s bearer” as a proof of his newly attained status. At all times, he now proudly displayed a white starched Regimental style pugree with a band in the Regimental Colours of Rajputana Rifles complete with the silver crescent. He also went about relating woeful tales of rigours and hardship, particularly the severity of life that Sahib had to undergo. Such stories when narrated by an Awadhi man in the typical Awadh hyperbolic lingo, liberally and generously embellished, are matchless in their recitation.

It took a lot of explaining on my part, with added help from Abba, to clear up this misrepresentation of my military life. Amma, however, insisted that I take her to Khairabad to see Maqbool Mian a highly respected and pious Sufi Sheikh. Mother visited him often and was well acquainted with his wife. The family also had a distant kinship with our Dewa family. Father reluctantly accompanied us. He knew that the holy man lived a life of near absolute seclusion and very rarely met anyone irrespective of his or her status or station in life.

We reached Khairabad at around noon. Like similar ancient Muslim towns in the region, it was in a state of decay. Finding our destination was easy, as everybody seemed to know Mian’s abode. We stopped at a grove of huge, shady Imli (tamarind) trees and saw in front the ruins of what must have been a sizable house. Now crudely made chapurs[4] held up the falling walls. A throng of people, some apparently well to do, others not, were lounging or sitting, some on charpoys[5], many on the ground. It was a mixed crowd of Hindus and Muslims all waiting for a chance to meet or catch a glimpse of Maqbool Mian. We waited in the car until an old maidservant came up, salaamed my mother and instructed me to bring the car as near as possible to the entrance door which too was in sorry condition but still showed signs of having been the stately deohri of a Muslim Rais. Mother was helped out of the car and escorted inside by a couple of maidservants. The older woman now instructed me to take the car around the corner to the rear and to wait by the back door. As my father and I stood waiting by the ramshackle building the door opened a bit, the same old lady appeared and informed us that we would be called in momentary, and then the door was shut. Almost immediately it reopened, and there stood, what at first glance appeared to be an apparition; a venerable gentleman in a long white kurta[6], his head bound with a white kerchief, an almost white beard, a fair complexion, a gentle, serene face, compelling, somewhat overpowering, yet kindly. He raised his right hand as in greeting, first to my father, and then to me and then placed his hand on father’s right shoulder mumbling something quite incomprehensive which sounded like a prayer. He then placed his hand on my shoulder gently muttering “wardi badal gye, ohda badal gia, paltan badal gye”[7]. He again raised his hand as if to bid us farewell and was gone, shutting the door behind him. Abba and I could not make any sense of this encounter but were happy to find Amma in a more relaxed state of mind.

Nevertheless, world events were moving fast, Hitler’s forces were marching from one country to the other without much resistance or hindrance. Czechoslovakia was easily occupied, and Eastern Europe was at German mercy. All attempts to obtain peace appeared to be failing, but the German attack on Poland was the last straw.

It was the afternoon of September 1st, I had gone for a walk and then tea with Captain B. B. Shah, the head of the District Court of Wards. This was a department set by the Government to look after those Taluqdari estates that were mismanaged or indebted or where the owner was a minor or for some other reason incapable of managing his estate. Captain Shah also held a commission in the 11th Battalion 7th Rajput Regiment based at Fayzabad. As we were having tea, two men asked for permission to enter. One of them was my servant Rehmat, the other a uniformed telegraph personal with an urgent telegram for me. It was from 11th Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles informing me that the Unit was being readied for service and I was to report at Agra immediately. I told Rehmat to go home pack up my things and prepare for my departure to Agra. Captain Shah too called out for his servant to get his things ready, as his telegram was sure to arrive soon.

Thus, on the morning of the 3rd of September, I reported to the Adjutant Captain Digby Powell-Jones in Agra. Britain and France had declared war against Germany. We talked about the war and what it would mean for the British Indian Army. We were both happy to meet again; he asked about my attachment with the two regular battalions and told me that both the units had given me very good reports. I then went in to meet the 2nd in Command, Major Kirkham, a stern, aristocratic-looking man with a very closely clipped moustache, and a monocle on his right eye attached to a black string. I saluted, and before I could utter my name, he addressed me in a crisp accent and tone “I guess you are young Kermani”. “Yes, Sir”. I responded. “Haven’t had much time to yourself after your attachment! Well, now it’s war! I see you are wearing a medal ribbon”. Putting back his monocle back on, he continued “Mine is Coronation you know, it was awarded to those of us with 15 years of service”. I saluted as he waved me out. Next, as I stood in front of CO’s office, a booming voice announced, “Come in. I saluted and beheld an impressive black military moustache on a bespectacled face, studying a file. The CO got up and taking his glasses off extended his hand “You’re our youngest!” “Kermani sir!” I said. “Yes of course”. We shook hands and with a wide beaming smile, he pointed to a chair and indicated I sit down. Lt Colonel Ridley had taken command only a month back. A pleasant, kindly gentleman, he looked genially at me, “Now tell me all about yourself”. After I had spoken at some length, I stopped as I thought I had gone on long enough. “I have seen your papers, and all appears to be fine, but we are at war and we do not know how things will shape out. We shall see. Let’s get down to work”. I saluted and marched out. I went to meet all other officers who had arrived by now and then took a round of men’s and VCO’s lines. Most of them too had reported and some were still coming in. There was an overall extraordinary jubilant mood and a cheerful spirit prevailed, one could hardly feel that we were being mobilised and that the war was on; it seemed we were assembling for some great festivity. At first, I thought it merely expressions of joy at meeting old friends and comrades. But then one realised that the men not only showed but also performed all their duties and worked with much greater gusto and zeal than normal. I soon discovered that they now hoped their Battalion would become Pucca or regular.

We were working according to the Mobilisation Schedule; the unit was to be placed on a war footing and therefore, equipment, arms, and ammunition had to be procured accordingly. The men’s record and field books in which details of their name, number, and other pertinent information was entered, including the name of next of kin, had to be filled out. I think this book was called AB64. While this work was in progress, Captain Hawkins, a newly posted officer, came up to me along with Regimental Quarter Master, Havildar Maula Bux to ask my advice since the Havildar refused to give his wife’s name which had to be recorded in the documents. As I was now working as the Quarter Master I not only knew the NCO but liked him as well. He was a very hard-working, efficient, good, and honest man. Our conversation went something like this, “Maula Bux”. “Sahib”. “Tomarri bivi hai?”[8] “Sahib!” “uska nam?”[9]Maula Bux bashfully looking down at the ground, “Sahib, ap ko mauloom hai nam lena seay nikh toot jata hai”.[10] I was able to persuade him to give Hawkins the required information. I then asked the Subedar Major to get the Regimental Maulvi and the Pundit to speak to men on this matter so as to avoid a recurrence of this nature.

We had hardly been in the camp a fortnight when weather conditions, typical for this time of the year, hit us; a heavy sandstorm followed by incessant rain pounded down unrelentingly. It all started at about midday and by afternoon, the entire area was starting to flood and cause serious concern. The local Station Commander came to see us as we gathered at the officer’s mess situated on slightly higher ground. Aware of our “sorry state”, he had come to offer us help and assistance. Our CO thought the weather might clear up and rains stop before dark. However, the Station Commander, before leaving, said that he had instructed the neighbouring units to come to our help if we needed it. I was particularly alarmed and worried and so with CO’s permission, I started making alternative arrangements and seeking accommodation and shelter for men and their baggage for the night. The water level was rising rapidly and was soon above ankle deep, while the rain continued unceasingly. Our neighbours, the 10th Battalion 19th Hyderabad Regiment was of immense help in our hour of need.

By midnight, I finally reached Laurie’s Hotel, where my CO resided. He had very kindly arranged for a room for me and my servant brought in my kit. I was dripping wet, thoroughly drenched, and very tired. The old lady, a British widow, who owned and managed the Hotel, looked after me like a son. She prepared hot brandy for me and insisted I drink it. She already had a fire going in the fireplace and had a servant assist my man in giving me a thorough rub. She had hot soup and a hot meal brought into my room and made sure that I partook of it. She only left me only after she was sure that she has saved me from getting pneumonia. I shall never forget the kindness, motherly love, and affection she bestowed on me, a total stranger.

The rain finally stopped in the early hour hours of the morning. It had rained 27 inches, a record for many years at Agra. It had caused much damage and devastation. When we arrived at the campsite that morning, the water had started receding. Gangs of labourers arranged by the Station Headquarters and the Cantonment Executive officer were hard at work draining the water. It took us about ten days to clean up and clear the place and to re-lay and re-line the parade grounds and playing fields.

We had barely settled down to routine work when late one evening I felt as I was coming down with a bad sore throat. While brushing teeth that night, I spat out some blood. After spending a restless night with a terrible, painful throat, I had my usual shave and bath and got dressed, but instead going for breakfast, I decided to walk across to the MI Room of the Indian Military Hospital not far from our lines. The NCO IC looked at the throat and was about to apply some throat-paint when we suddenly heard a traffic uproar; the poor medical NCO dropping everything he was holding and jumped to attention in great fright and tried to give a salute to an extremely dark man in officer’s uniform wearing PT shoes. Approaching me in a decidedly menacing manner, he roared, “Why are you here? This is not for you,  go to the BMH. Out!”  I left in great haste and a bad temper. Luckily, he too departed with as great a speed as he had arrived, still muttering and mumbling He was, I later discovered, Lt Colonel Ram Mohan Rao, IMS, Officer Commanding the Indian Military Hospital. I also found out that he was considered the ugliest man in town with the finest car, generally found parked in the Red-Light area late in the evenings. I happened to meet him again at a dinner party, and then several years later at Basra when I was commanding the Base Supply Depot as a Major at the Indian Base Medical Hospital, Shaibah.

Hurriedly, still upset, but anxious to be at the parade in time, I ran into Colonel Ridley heading in the same direction. As I saluted with a “Good morning, Sir!” He stopped and looked hard at me “What have you been doing, what is this swelling on your face?” I had to tell him all that befallen me including my confrontation with the senior Doctor. My CO swearing and cursing the Doctor ordered me to accompany him. He drove me in his car to BMH[11] and walked me straight to the OC’s[12] room. Soon I was being examined by two RAMC[13] Doctors, a Major and a Captain assisted by a QAIMNS[14] nurse. It was decided that I be admitted to the Hospital. My CO bade me farewell with sympathetic, encouraging words and left. A smart, pleasant, and smiling nurse took charge of me; I was tucked into bed with very fresh and crisp white sheets. Since I had had no breakfast she ordered it be served immediately; two half-boiled eggs, toast, and butter. I was administered the very latest, newly discovered miracle drug M&B Sulpha, said to be one of the most effective medication discovered at that time. Except for going to the bathroom, I was ordered complete bed rest. A particularly efficient but friendly nurse, whom I took to referring as my Sergeant Major, kept strict surveillance all the time. A number of days passed in this manner. Colonel Ridley came to see me almost daily whenever he could, as there were no visiting restrictions for him. He was all the times seriously concerned about my health. Other officers visited by turn including the Subedar Major who came on behalf of VCOs and men. In about a week’s time, my throat seemed better, but my face was like a balloon.  When I rubbed any part of the body, that part would swell up like a tumour. The CO, the OC hospital was getting worried. Three senior doctors, all Captains, and specialists from the Eastern Command Meerut were called in to examine me. However, despite all their efforts and intensive examination, they failed to diagnose my illness. Colonel Ridley who had already informed my father about my admittance to the Hospital now sent a telegram. Abba arrived promptly and asked the OC BMH to discharge me from Hospital so that he could take me home. He had to give a letter expressing his satisfaction with the medical treatment and excellent care taken of his son by the OC Hospital and his staff.

I accompanied my father home. A Doctor from Lucknow, an old family friend, examined me the very next day. With minutes, the verdict was given; nothing more serious than “giant Urticaria[15]” caused by an overdose of the M&B Sulpha tablets. He administered a daily regimen of intravenous calcium injections and within a week, I had fully recovered.

I reported for duty immediately after, much to the astonishment of my CO and the other officers, who were under the impression that I was suffering from some horrible, incurable disease. Colonel Ridley was pleased to see me back in good form and health. A few days after my return, he invited me to cocktails at his hotel. I knew he had invited some other officers as well but when I arrived at the time given to me, I found a party in full swing. Thinking I was terribly late I started apologizing; the Colonel with his usual laugh gestured me to be quiet. He then called the attention all the ladies (nurses) of the BMH and the doctors including the OC towards me and asked them if they knew me. There was a bit of confusion; with one exception, none could recognize me. The Colonel in his  hearty manner informed them “This is the young man who lay in your hospital bed for over a week, nobody could diagnose his ailment, well here he is!” There were cheers and laughter all around. Never before had I found myself so popular at a party as on that evening.

I soon settled down to work. I was now Quarter-Master, Account Officer, and Sports Officer and all these duties kept me very busy; luckily, I had a very efficient, hard-working, honest and loyal staff in my Jemadar[16] Quarter-Master Ibrahim Ali Khan, a Muslim Rajput from the Lalkhani clan to which most of the important Muslim Zamindars of Agra provinces belonged, such as the Nawabs of Chhatari, Pahasu and Dhrampur. Ibrahim Ali Khan retired as a Subedar. After the war, he migrated to Pakistan. He contacted me some years later and I managed to get him a job at the Karachi Municipal Corp and later on the District Soldier Board. After my transfer to Karachi, and my eventual retirement, he came to see me often. He was selected to perform the Hajj under a Government scheme whereby retired Army personnel got the opportunity to go for Hajj at public expense, he came to see me before he left for the Holy Pilgrimage and a happier man could not be found.

My staff also included the indefatigable Maula Bux, the QM Havildar. Jemadar Tiwari a good sportsman himself was the Assistant Sports Officer, and Major Keshow Singh ably ran the Accounts Department

While we were still under canvas, an important Regimental event occurred, a visit by the Nawab of Chhatari, Sir Ahmed Said Khan, KCSI[17], KCIE[18], MBE[19]. He was inducted as an Honorary Lt. Colonel in the Indian Army, by the order of the King-Emperor and appointed “Colonel of the 11th Battalion 6th’ Rajputana Rifles”; a great and unprecedented honour for both the Regiment and the Nawab. It was his first formal visit and the Regiment received him with a full ceremonial parade and lunch at officer’s mess. Later that day, the Nawab Sahib gave a Bara-Khana for the VCOs and men. The next morning, he had breakfast with us followed by a tour of the unit at their various exercises. After visiting the Regimental Institutes, he finished off with Khana with the VCOs at their club. He also gave generous donations for the men’s welfare trust. The Officers Mess hosted a guest night in his honour and all the senior civil and military officers were invited. At this event, Nawab Sahib presented a gift of very fine silver to the Mess. Nawab Sir Ahmed Said Khan was one of the most distinguished gentlemen from amongst the landlords of United Provinces. The Aligarh educated Nawab was later Governor of UP; a Hafiz Quran, he would lead the Muslim Tarawih prayers at Government House in Nainital, an exceptional undertaking during the British Raj. When I was introduced to him, he not only graciously recognized me but also turned around to inform the CO that our families were close, my father was his friend and had been his classmate and my uncle Raja Jahangirabad his senior and also a respected friend.

I had had the privilege of meeting him often at the Aligarh University Tennis Club, and on several occasions at Nainital. His eldest son Rahat Said Khan was with me at the school and the University. After partition, Rahat Said joined the Pakistan Diplomatic Service as Chief of Protocol and later held a number of ambassadorial posts.

Nawab Sahib visited Pakistan perhaps for the first and the only time in the early sixties. I met him at a reception given in his honour; as I approached to greet him and pay my respect he insisted on rising (from his chair) and embraced me with great affection. He inquired about my wife, children, and family. He told me that he still had the group photograph with the officers of the 11th Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles taken during his visit still hanging in his house at Aligarh. He was now the Chancellor of Muslim University, an appointment previously held by the Nizam of Hyderabad. He looked old and frail and although he had lost his remarkably straight stately carriage, he had retained his still highly dignified bearings and personality.

The barracks vacated by the British Artillery Regiment were now ready for occupation by our battalion. Ironically, it was the war that made it possible for an Indian Unit to live in those barracks. We also acquired the building that housed the Artillery Officer’s Mess, and the officer’s bungalows, including the ones for single officers. I was lucky to have a fine old bungalow to myself, near the Mess. We soon settled down to a routine. The ranks were comfortable and happy; the Lines had excellent playgrounds, parade grounds, and proper well-laid sports grounds. An Inter-Company sports competition was announced and organised according to military standard. All the necessary equipment was accordingly procured, and the requisite training provided. The entire event was a great success; Major Kirkham, the second in charge, was the chief umpire and Colonel Ridley gave the prizes away. Instead of the usual cups and shields for individual winners of events, I arranged they get such items that could be of use to them and their families such as kitchenware, Moradabadi[20] utensils etc. This was much appreciated by the men.

As Quartermaster, it was my duty to accompany the CO on his daily round of early morning inspections. There was nothing that escaped his review, men’s latrines, bathrooms, kitchens, dining halls, sleeping quarters, kit-boxes with lids open, canteens etc. The CO’s permanent entourage consisted of the Subedar Major and the QMI[21] and AJQM[22]. The respective Company Commanders joined in when the CO entered their lines and accompanied him till the next one joined.

On one such inspection, as we approached the Rajput Company lines, which had previously been occupied by Punjabi Muslim troops attached to the Royal Artillery Regiment the CO stopped at a platform, he asked the Subedar Major what it was and why it was there. The Subedar Major replied, “Hazoor, it is a mosque, Muslim soldiers say their prayers here, it was built by the previous occupants”. The CO responded, “Sahib it must be removed”. The Subedar Major could only acquiesce “Achaa Sahib”[23]. We moved on and continued with our inspection. This incident took place on Saturday morning. Sunday morning, on my way to the Mess for breakfast, I encountered a worried, clearly distraught Subedar Major Keshow Singh. He had come to see me, “Sahib gazaab hogaya, kal jo Commander Sahib nain hukam dia tha uskay mutabic jab chabutra khodnany party lagai, to Subedar Faiz Muhammad Khan kaitha hai yiah Masjid hai esko hatt nahin laga sakta”[24]. I told the Subedar Major that the order had given to him directly and had nothing to do with me, but since I was going to the Mess, he could go with me and report the matter to the Adjutant or second-in-command. While the Subedar Major waited in the Mess veranda, I located the second-in-command, Major Kirkham. I informed him that the extremely anxious and perplexed Subedar Major wanted a word with him. I had my breakfast unaware of what transpired between the two. Monday morning was generally a bad morning as after the weekend the CO tended to be very liverish. During the inspection, he stopped and in angry tone turned to Subedar Major, pointing his cane towards the offending platform. Before he could say anything, the Subedar Major responded with “Hazoor second-in-command Sahib ko report kar dia hai”[25]. After the inspection was over, the CO summoned me. “Kermani that platform I ordered to be demolished is not a mosque is it”? “I do not know Sir, I believe the senior Muslim Sardar claims it is, and once a mosque it’s always a mosque”. I was dismissed immediately. A few hours later, I was ordered to hand over the duties of QM to Lt Hawkins and take over C company (a Muslim company) and proceed along with A company (a Rajput company) to camp at the Army camping ground for collective exercises till further orders.

So, early next morning under the command of Captain Rao Krishana Pal Singh we marched to the camping ground, situated at milestone 13, on the Agra-Delhi road near a village called Tirah. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the camp despite it being the month of Ramazan. The Muslim company was quite happy; they kept their fast and worked hard without showing any signs of fatigue. The neighbouring fields and woods had a great deal of game. Rao Sahib gave me a 16-inch bore cartridge stick gun that could load and fire, one at a time; an excellent weapon for partridge shooting. I managed to get a few daily for our lunch and dinner. A fortnight later, on our last day, we were scheduled for an inter-company exercise under the CO. He arrived in his car with the Adjutant, but due to a heavy rainstorm, the exercise was called off.

Since Eid was either the next day or the day after, we were allowed to return to our lines. Luckily, Eid was the day after, so the men had a day to relax and make their arrangements for the festival. On Eid day, the other officers and I joined the men in their celebrations. Subedar Faiz Muhammad and the other Muslim VCOs seemed to be very happy indeed and came in a group to profusely thank the CO who had not only donated money but had made arrangements to have a proper mosque built. The platform was to be demolished and the material reused in the new building. The resolution of this matter was entirely due to the judicious advice given to Colonel Ridley by Captain Azim the Cantonment Executive Officer. Captain Azim, a veteran of the First Great War, was an admirable personality who despite his age had become a very good friend. Our CO had gone to see him regarding the matter of the mosque. He told the Captain that he had a young officer, a Muslim, called Kermani who claimed, “Once a mosque always a mosque”. Since Captain Azim appeared to be a better Muslim, he had come to check if Kermani was right. The Captain replied that he fully agreed with Kermani but having far more experienced in dealing with such matters, he could offer a solution that would resolve the issue.

This Captain Azim related to me, as he used to relate numerous other anecdotes and stories with a great amount of humour, wit, and laughter. He was wonderful company and extremely hospitable. I came to be a regular visitor at his beautiful bungalow situated on top of a mound.

There were a large number of such mounds dotted all over the cantonment area, particularly near the Taj Mahal, which we used as tactical features during our platoon/company training in minor tactics. I discovered that they were actually the ruins of the residences of the Mughal nobility and the officers posted as guards at the Taj. After the fall of Mughals, Agra had its share of looters and plunderers that resulted in large-scale devastation and destruction. All the gold and silver decorations were crudely removed, the Taj Mahal itself sold, it said for a paltry sum of fourteen rupees. Some British official saved it from further and final destruction at the hands of the Bharatpur Rajputs.

Our Officer’s Mess had by this time had been suitably furnished and we started having our regular guest nights. On one of those nights, the CO and officers of the British Regiment were our guests and 2nd Lt Ali Akhter came in with them; he was doing his course of attachment at that time. A smart, somewhat shy, quiet man, he did not seem to be very comfortable with the British. He chose to go to 5th Maratha Light Infantry Regiment and later got himself transferred to the RIASC in which he had earlier started his military career in the ranks. We met again in Baghdad and later worked together in Pakistan. An extremely religious and God-fearing man, we remained good friends.

One day I received a special visitor; Professor Dorab of English Department of Aligarh came to see me. He had been my teacher and was a highly respected gentleman. His father lived in the Cantonment. A very distinguished looking, refined old man, he was one of the foremost photographers in India at that time, particularly famous in portraiture. He was regularly commissioned by Viceroys, ruling Princes and Princesses and HH the Aga Khan. I felt deeply honoured when he invited me to tea and asked me to sit for a portrait, an offer which I could not refuse. I had a good number of copies made and gave them away to friends and relatives. Only one copy remains now in the possession of my son Faris at his house in London.

Some of the most unforgettable events during this stay at Agra involved big game hunting. A number of the officers, including some VCOs, were landlords of substance owning forests as part of their landed estates and they organized hunting (Shikar) parties on a regular basis. The countryside of Agra was rich in deer and many other kinds of game but there was nothing larger than panthers. Panthers are difficult to shoot, apart from being evasive and cunning, they can climb trees. Therefore, despite my many attempts, I was unable to shoot one during my stay. I did bag a few black bucks and deer a number of times and the men of my company were able to feast on these.

Captain Rao Krishana Pal Singh’s Saturday dinner parties were grand, enjoyable affairs. He had a large, very fine and elegant residence built in the British style, with vast and extensive grounds, and a delightful English garden. The house was called “Castle Grant” and had been the Governor’s House. His father the Raja of Awagarh had purchased it when Agra ceased to be the capital of the Province and was merged into the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. The house was well maintained and tastefully furnished in the British aristocratic style. His wife, the Rao Rani, observed purdah, still prevalent at that time amongst Indian Nobility and so although Rao Sahib entertained a lot, both his dinner and garden parties were males-only functions. Sometimes all the regimental officers were invited to dine with him. The food was invariably superb as he employed an assortment of cooks in his vast kitchens including Hindu, Muslim, and European style chefs.

On one of those dinner nights, a guest turned up, a handsome man in Sherwani with a full black beard who looked like a Maulana to me. I could not help asking how the Maulana came to be on the guest list. Rao Sahib roared with laughter; “Kermani khaitay hain yah Mulla kahan say pakar liay”.[26] The gentleman turned out to be a full-blooded Kashmiri Pundit, a well-known personality. Pandit Raj Nath Kunzru was a gentleman of great charm and refinement. Subsequently, I had the privilege of getting to know him better and enjoyed the choice Kashmiri food that in taste and flavour has no equal other than that produced in the houses of the elite of Awadh gentry.

Rao Sahib also retained a Vaid[27] in his service, who, in addition to providing healthcare based on the ancient Ayurvedic sciences, also had the task of creating local alcoholic drinks. Wines and liquor in a variety of colours, taste, and flavours were produced from the distillation of herbs, fruits, and flowers. I particularly remember the orange liqueur and mahua[28] and palm wine. Vaids were often employed on a hereditary basis by the Rajput nobility and had their own special closely guarded formulas that were handed down through the generations. At the end of one of the Rao Sahib’s weekend dinners, when coffee, cognac, liqueurs, cigars, and cigarettes were being served I was persuaded to try out a very special Vaidic liqueur. Never before, I had tasted such a concoction and resolved never to do so again; it was like a fire raging down your throat.

By this time, the war had come nearer, and Indian troops were fighting in the British Army against the Italians. Indian mobilization plans were proceeding at a great pace. All peacetime military activities and institutions were put on a war footing as were all the training programmes. Even the normal officer training courses at the Indian Military Academy were suspended. Indian politician, taking advantage of the situation, and seeing the allies in a tight spot were trying to heat up the Indian political scene.

Our Unit’s main mission was to act as a 2nd line of defence to relieve the regular Units required in the field and was therefore put on intensive training to effectively operate in aid of civil power. Such duties were of a highly sensitive nature, and a close understanding of civil and police officers working methods was essential. The rules and regulations were of most exacting nature. The drill was laid down and any deviation was prohibited. All our actions were subject to a public inquiry. The principle of minimum use of power was strictly followed and found to be highly effective. On many such occasions, a timely flag march was found to be a sufficient preventive measure.

Despite all the talk of war, normal life continued, and social events and functions were held as usual. Agra was the venue of all the India Music Conference and Rao Krishan Pal Singh, who had been a student at Rabindranath Tagore’s famous Santi Niketan and was a patron of art and culture was one of the hosts and sponsors. Thanks to him, I received an invitation. It was the very first time that I had attended such a function and had the chance to listen to the live performances of some of the greatest exponents of the art; the experience was unforgettable. I could not attend all the events, but the ones I managed were absolutely delightful. Mrs Sarojini Naidu, called the Nightingale of India, was one of the honoured guests, it was my misfortune to have missed her speech but read it later. Commending the choice of Agra as the venue for the Music Conference, she said it was the perfect place for it, as here stood an ethereal, exquisite, dazzling object of art, one of the finest ever created by human beings, referring of course to the Taj Mahal.

I was during this period that I received a teatime invitation from Captain Azim to meet the distinguished guests staying with him, Professor Khana and his wife who were visiting from Lahore. They had come to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and I was asked to enlist the services of the renowned Dr Ansari, the Superintendent of the Taj, to give them a guided tour. Dr Ansari was an authority on the subject; his doctorate thesis from the University of Vienna was on the Taj. Dr Ansari was a fine gentleman; we had mutual friends and I had met him several times since my move to Agra. I went to see him the very next day and made the request. He kindly agreed but prescribed a three days course with specified timings for viewing the monument. Unfortunately, I could not attend all the sessions but gained a great deal of knowledge from the ones I did. I learnt about the technique employed in the decoration and ornamental use of precious stones as well as the remarkable effects of geometrical illusions that were unknown at that time in Europe. Dr Ansari told me that the Aldous Huxley’s comments and critique of the Taj was absurd and based on ignorance, for example, the fact that the minarets are inclined outwards, which Huxley viewed as flaw in the design, was, in fact, deliberate; if they were ever to fall due to an earthquake, they’d fall outwards without damaging the main building.

In short, the Taj is incomparable. One of the wonders of the world. It has been aptly referred to as “A perfect Pearl”, ’Sheer beauty”, “A sigh made in stone”, “Paradise on Earth.”

I never met Dr Ansari again, although he too like many others migrated to Pakistan at the time of Partition. His daughter married a close friend from Aligarh, a naval officer, Khawaja Wasiq Hasan from the distinguished family of Maulana Altaf Husain Hali.

My younger brother Wahaj, who was studying at Aligarh, came to Agra on a short holiday and stayed with me. He was greatly impressed by the army lifestyle and enjoyed his stay thoroughly, he particularly appreciated the superb food produced by the Khansama[29] of the Officer’s Mess.

Another visitor was my good friend and cousin Zamir (known as Gondawalay[30], to distinguish him from my other cousin Zamir Kidwai.) He fancied himself an actor and was on his way to the film-land to fulfil his ambition. He wanted a letter of introduction to Mohsin Abdullah, the chief chemist at Bombay Talkies, whom I knew well since his younger brother was my classmate and friend at Aligarh. In any case, I knew the renowned Abdullah family well since Colonel Haider was married to one of Sheikh Abdullah’s[31] daughters. However, despite all his efforts Zamir had to eventually accept the fact that his destiny did not lie in the film world.

In the last week of January 1940, I was called by my CO and told that I have been selected for the First War Course at the IMA[32]  beginning in mid-February. A round of farewell parties followed hosted by many kind friends as well as by the VCOs and men. The Officers dined me out; Colonel Ridley said many kinds words on his own and on behalf of the officers and expressed his hope that I would re-join the Rajputana Rifles on the completion of the IMA course.

Thus, ended this very interesting and educational period of my life. I was leaving behind many friends and a large number of genuine well-wishers, whom with very few exceptions, I was never to see again, but I shall always carry unforgettable memories of them all.

Several years later two men of the Regiment time displayed an example of their attachment to me in a most unexpected place. It was in Iraq and I was now a Major in the RIASC and on my way to Basra by road. I decided to stop for the night at a transit camp near the town of Hila, on the Baghdad-Basra Road. At the camp, I met a number of officers who were on their way to join their units in Italy. I was walking towards the Officers mess in their company when suddenly I saw two men running towards me shouting at the top of their voices “Hamara sahib! Hamara sahib!”[33] Before anybody could figure out what was happening, they almost fell on their knees in the gesture of touching my feet, kissed my hand, and kept repeating “Hamara sahib” with great emotion. I was deeply touched. They were former sepoys[34] from the company I had commanded and were both now wearing Havildar[35] stripes. They too were on their way to join their units in either the Middle East or Italy.

I took some leave due to me to go home, to discard my kit, my equipment, and servant. These were not needed for my new life.

The call came soon enough. I was to report to the IMA Dehradun on the 20th of February 1940.

[1] A life member of the Royal Rose Society, KB M H Kermani was a connoisseur and avid collector of roses

[2] Tower

[3] Pond or lake

[4]Reed and bamboo construction

[5] Indian beds

[6] Tunic

[7]“Uniform changed, rank changed, regiment changed”.

[8] “Do you have a wife”

[9] “Her name?”

[10] “Sahib, you know that the marriage is annulled by the utterance of her name “

[11] British Medical Hospital

[12] Officer in Command

[13] Royal Army Medical Corps

[14] Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service

[15] Hives

[16] A high military rank in pre-colonial India, downgraded by the British to the lowest rank for a Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer.

[17] Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India

[18]Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire

 

[19] Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

[20] Metal utensils from the town of Moradabad which was renowned for its fine metal craftsmanship

[21] Quartermaster Inspector

[22] Adjutant Quartermaster

[23] Okay Sir

[24] “Sahib, the impossible has happened! Yesterday the Commander Sabib gave orders according to which the platform has to be broken up, but when we assembled a group of men to dig it up, Subedar Faiz Muhammad Khan proclaimed, “this is a mosque, you cannot touch it.”

[25]“Sir, I have reported the matter to the second-in-command “

[26] “Kermani wants to know where I found a Maulana.”

[27] Ayurvedic Physician

[28] Indian fruit used for making wine

[29] Chef

[30] From Gonda, a Qasba in Barabanki

[31] Sheikh and Begum Abdullah were the founders of Aligarh Girl’s College

[32] Indian Military Academy

[33] “Our sahib! Our Sahib!”

[34] Soldiers

[35] Sergeant

 

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13th December 1938, Agra by  B.Dorab

 

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Nawab Sir Ahmed Said Khan of Chattari meeting the officers of the 11th Batallion, 6th Rajputana Rifles after having been inducted as Honorary Lt. Colonel of the regiment

 

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Nawab Sir Ahmed Said Khan of Chattari presenting medals to the men of the 11th Batallion, 6Th Rajputana Rifles

 

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The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006) Chapter 4

                                          Lucknow

My training completed I returned home to Barabanki. My father was pleased with my success at Agra and my mother to have me back, even if only for a short time. Two weeks later, I received a communication from the Commanding Officer 11th Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles that I was to report to the 1st Battalion 8th Punjab Regt. on the 20th of January 1938 at Lucknow for a six months attachment. With this letter was a copy of the draft publication for the Government of India Gazette, Notification No 443/38 of my Grant of Commission (on the 19th January 1938) in the rank of Second Lt in the 11th Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles. Furthermore, I was to report to Lt Colonel White VC, DSO, MC, of the Education Branch, Army District HQ Lucknow for further instructions regarding the Army Special Certificate of Education. I was most eager to get to Lucknow to meet an officer holding all these high awards for gallantry in the field.

My father decided that I should go with him to Lucknow, as he wanted to introduce me to his bankers and to open my account with them; the Allahabad Bank at Lucknow was where most of the Awadh gentry had their accounts.

On our way to Lucknow, it was decided that we would both meet the Colonel. We found him a very pleasant, friendly man. He was well aware of my reason for reporting to him, and after a few minutes of conversation he gave me a brief on the Army exam, the standard required and the subjects I would be tested on. I expressed my lack of knowledge on some these, whoever, cognizant of my shortcomings he had already arranged for me to have several weeks of instructions with a senior VCO[1] of the Indian Army Education Corps. Thus, I was able to take the exam and passed without any difficulty.

The Colonel, an admirable war hero and a brilliant soldier, and my father ended up becoming good friends. He had a remarkable personality, modest, polished and learned; every inch a gentleman.

I was to stay in Lucknow at Rasulpur House, Number 1 the Mall, which belonged to the younger of my two maternal uncles, Chotey Mamu, the Late Captain Raja Imtiaz Rasul Khan and had been lying vacant since my uncle’s premature death. It was one of the most gracious and beautiful houses in Lucknow, and had, perhaps the largest private compound in the city (excluding the Government House); a vast area covered with magnificent, grand old trees of different species, situated next to the exclusive Mohammad Bagh Club which too had extensive and very fine, well-kept gardens. The entire area was at one time was part of Mohammad Bagh Palace, the Hunting Lodge of a former Nawab of Awadh, Ghazi Uddin Haider. His court was extremely Anglicized and he had adopted much of British style of living, thus the Palace and other auxiliary buildings within its area architecturally reflected that popular trend. Rasulpur house was acquired by Raja Tasaduq Rasul along with numerous other purchased properties in Lucknow. Number 1 the Mall being in the Cantonment was placed at the disposal of the army and remained occupied by the General Commanding Officer and was referred to as “Grenellay Kothi[2]. When the army built a new Flagstaff house, this property reverted to the Raja. Chotey Mamoon received it as a gift and it became his Lucknow residence.

And so, I took up residence there with Rehmat looking after me with the able assistance of Darogha Waheed, the steward in charge of the house who had continued to maintain it in excellent condition after his master’s demise.

On January 15th, 1938, I went to meet the Adjutant and found him to be a very friendly, affable gentleman. He welcomed me and said I could move into the Officer’s Mess anytime I wished and they, in fact, already had a room ready in the main Mess building. Since my date of attachment was to begin on the 19th, we agreed that I move in any time on 18th and report on 19th morning. As I marched into the CO’s office on that date and saluted, I beheld a tall, smart impressive looking officer who extended his hand with words “Welcome to my regiment”. Lt Colonel Crocker, Commanding the 1st Battalion 8th Punjab Regiment, waved me to a chair, “Do you know the Sikhs?” “No sir, not the troops”. “I am going to put you with the Sikh company. Work them, and work them so hard that by the evening they can think of nothing but sleep”. Soon, another officer entered with a salute, an older and somewhat tired looking officer of medium height. The Colonel introduced him, “Major— (have forgotten the name) is your Company Commander”. I shook hands with the Major and we were both dismissed with an “Alright then, hope your stay with us is a happy one”. We saluted and left the office. I found the Major a pleasant, soft-spoken gentleman with a long service now due for retirement shortly.  In those days, promotions in the army were very slow and depended on a vacancy falling in that rank. The Major undertook my training in a very serious but kindly manner. He kept me with him on his daily rounds, explaining and instructing me on the handling and tackling of various problems, human resource management, economy, military law and its application as well as the duties and workings of Regimental Accounts. In fact, almost every aspect of administration that an army officer was required to learn to deal with within the Regiment, and if detailed for garrison duties, there as well. Working under his guidance, I learned that peacetime administration was actually very exacting as it was governed mainly by finance and accounts; every bit of expenditure had to be justified and fully accounted for, even items as small as a postage stamp, a bootlace, or a nail. Every deviation from laid down rules or regulations had to be fully explained, corrected and regularised. The old major treated me as if I were his student and him, my schoolteacher. There was nothing that was overlooked, be it the care of arms or stores, looking after men, horses or mules. Field-craft, musketry, tactics were all soon covered.

It was around the last week of January that a major social event, a Ball, dinner and dance took place at the Government House. One of the younger officers asked me casually if I was planning on going, as the invitation was for all officers and their wives. Since I was not married, I replied in the negative. He responded with great glee and before I could utter another word requested if I could take over as duty officer in his place so that he could attend the dance. I of course agreed. That night at dinner, I found myself the only officer in the Mess. Shortly after the old Major entered and seeing me all by myself, shouted for the Mess Havildar, “barman ko bollo ek bottle of Champagne[3]. He turned to me saying, “It is our tradition that if an officer finds himself dining alone because he is on duty, he is entitled to a bottle of Champagne courtesy of all the dining members”. By this time, the barkeeper had brought the bottle and the chit for signing. The Major immediately endorsed it, said good night and was gone.

The winter months have always been the Army’s collective training period. Our Battalion having completed the collective training was in the last stage of the training program, and on its completion, was to participate in the large-scale manoeuvres scheduled in few weeks’ time. Prior to that event, the Battalion had to undertake a physical fitness test, called “The Kitchener Test”. This entailed a long march of about forty miles on a set and marked course to be completed within a fixed period and with the least number of halts. This march operated as an inter-company competition with all ranks in battle order, carrying arms and ammunition, full water-bottles and emergency supplies in the haversack and with the officer’s charger following. Marks were deducted every time an officer rode his horse and for every fall out from amongst the ranks. At the end of the march, the water and haversack were checked to see the amount of water and food consumed, and then the Battalion had to stand and parade in ceremonial order for CO’s inspection.

The day before the event the Company Commander informed me that the test was not obligatory for me; I could if I wanted to skip it altogether or fall-out during the march, or even ride since I was not on the permanent roll of the Regiment. I, however, decided to participate. Long before the sun rose the next morning, the Company Commander, who was also one of the umpires came to check on us and told the senior Subedar[4], “Kermani Sahib eska tajrub nahi rakata, ap sub ka zeemadari hai”[5] and went off. I gave the command to march. On the way, we halted and rested according to the Subedar’s advice. Subedar Sahib was a very efficient, experienced, thoroughly correct and tough Sikh VCO. As we marched, at his behest, the troops broke into Punjabi songs. The beat, rhyme and rhythm, the zest and vigour of the Punjabi folk songs along with the clapping and zeal made them excellent marching songs. We so we marched on. After a while I thought, if I ride or fall out the company has nothing to lose, I had, after all, joined the test of my own accord, but my sense of dignity and self-respect sustained me and my determination to continue to the final end. I was leading about two hundred young stalwart Sikhs, to whom I was a ‘Sahib’ although an Indian; Indians were now replacing the ‘Gora Sahibs’ in many Regiments. It so happened that we were the first Company to finish, the umpires checked the water bottles and haversacks and soon after the others arrived. The Second-in-Command now took over and ordered the battalion to fix their bayonets and slope arms, the officers and VCOs to draw swords and to march in columns. As the Battalion marched smartly past their Commanding Officer Lt Colonel Crocker there could be no doubt about his great sense of pride and satisfaction. In those days, the aspiration and goal of an army officer was to command his own Regiment; any further advancement was an added bonus. At a short distance few yards away, on a handsome mount, was a beautiful, elegant lady watching the parade, undoubtedly sharing in her husband’s pride.

After making sure the men were feed, I cycled back to my room to find Rehmat anxiously awaiting my return with tea, a hot bath and clothes laid out for dinner. It was Mess night but immediately after dinner and with permission of the senior most dining officer, I rushed back to my room, to fall into the deepest sleep I had ever experienced.

 The Regiment was now getting primed up to participate in the forthcoming, large-scale Eastern Command vs. Southern Command manoeuvres in the Jhansi area. It was said that these were to be the largest held by the Indian Army in a long time. It was, I think, around the last week of February 1938 that we boarded the train at the military siding of Lucknow Charbagh railway station. The railway network set up by the British in their Indian Empire was a model of efficiency in all its aspects, as were indeed the innumerable other establishments, organizations, institutions, and in fact the entire administration, civil, military, and commercial. All railway trains were designed to transform into military trains almost instantly; for example, they were fitted with rifle racks and the railway personnel at all levels were well trained and acquainted with military requirements. Most of the garrison towns had Cantonment Railway stations, and most non-garrison ones, military sidings. Military movements by rail or on the march were organized to cause the least amount of disruption to normal civilian life. Military camping grounds marked and maintained on all major roads, were situated well outsides the urban areas.

We reached Jhansi early in the morning and were met by the Officer-in-charge, the VCO and NCOs of the advance party, and the Railway Staff. We disembarked, all had tea and after a short halt marched up some miles to our already well-marked and sign-posted camp. The next morning, the officers and VCOs were given a detailed talk covering all aspects of exercises; the scope and the part the unit had to play, the standard of field-craft and tactical ability expected. Until this time, we had no Regimental Medical Officer, although an area was marked off and tents pitched for the RMO in the officer’s lines. That evening the Medical Officer arrived, an Indian Captain of the IMS, a Madrasi gentleman. The Medical Corps was the first to start accepting Indians in King Commission ranks, and even during the First Great War a number of Indians had reached field ranks, and between the wars, a few had achieved the General officer’s rank. The Doctor had received an antedated commission and as such was a Captain when posted as RMO. By tradition, he was held in special regard and consideration. He wore a sword, but did not draw it out when on parade on the command “Officers Draw Swords”. There was a story narrated in the Mess about a medical officer who taking advantage of this exemption decided to only wear the hilt and scabbard, discarding the somewhat heavy cumbersome sword. On a ceremonial parade, the OC parade gave the order “Officers draw sword” all but one drew. The OC forgetting that that particular officer was a Doctor, shouted “The officer standing there, draw sword”, the Doctor too forgetting his privilege and losing his nerves under the watchful eyes of the entire company, drew out the sword-less hilt.

It was our RMO’s first morning in the camp, and somebody forgot to point out that one particular Kitchener tent was reserved for the CO only. At breakfast, a somewhat irate Commanding Officer addressed the nervous looking RMO “Doctor, the place I put my bottom you put your dirty boots, not very hygienic, is it?”  The commode had to be changed immediately and the Doctor replaced by the evening.

We have been in the camp for about ten days or so when early one morning around breakfast time, the bugler at the quarter guard sounded the General Salute and we heard the guard commander giving orders “Present Arms”. The Adjutant and a few other officers rushed out to see. Some of the VCOs were running towards a rapidly approaching flag car engulfed in a cloud of dust making its way towards the Officer’s Mess. The car came to a stop and by this time the CO had arrived to greet the officer stepping out of the car Major General Nicholson GOC Lucknow District. Shortly after the CO’s bugler sounded the Officer’s Call and all the officers gathered in the Mess tent. The General informed the officers that there has been a tribal uprising in Orissa Province and our Regiment had been selected by the AHQ to move immediately to assist the civil authorities in suppressing the rebellion. The Colonel pointed toward me “Kermani you will have to go to 3rd Battalion 2nd Punjab Regiment. Sorry you are in our care and we cannot send you with the Regiment as much as I believe you would like to go and they would like to take you. You jump into my car, I will drop you off at that unit, they are prepared to take you in.” And so, ended my attachment with 1st Battalion 8th Punjab Regiment. It was though short, a very educative, instructive, and valuable experience.

I found the Commanding Officer of the 3rd Battalion 2nd   Punjab Regiment, Lt Colonel Clarke a cheerful, friendly gentleman who immediately put me at ease. He shouted a name and out came his Adjutant. Pointing towards me, he remarked, “He is the one, whisked away by the General from 1st Battalion 8th Punjab to live with us. He may want to back to say goodbye before they move, and to get his kit etc.” The Adjutant, a tall smart Captain, held out his hand, “Welcome! We shall look after you”. I went back to the 1st Battalion 8th   Punjab Regiment thanked the CO and other officers, the VCOs and men and said goodbye. I did not realize at that time that I would be seeing most of them for the last time. That unit was stationed at Singapore in 1942 and was caught up in the full fury of the Japanese onslaught. Captured and almost annihilated the survivors remained prisoners of war until the end of the War. Many years later, I met two of the surviving officers, Adams and Baxter who were in the Regiment during my attachment. At Partition, this Regiment fell to Pakistan’s share and I believe was re-designated as the 9th Battalion 8th Punjab Regiment.

My attachment to the 3rd Battalion 2nd Punjab Regiment began in a very agreeable and friendly atmosphere. I found Lt Colonel Clarke, his officers, the VCO’s and the men, at all times extraordinarily cheerful and positive. I had not yet experienced such a display of happy and relaxed spirit combined with the highest level of efficiency in the performance of their duties. Here I was to learn the profound effect that the personality of the Commander can produce on all aspect of his Command. From this early lesson, I was able to develop a technique (in the later years of my army life) that enabled me to write and describe with great accuracy the personality and traits of the Commanding Officer, after having merely seen and inspected a unit, without having actually encountered the CO.

After I had met all the officers, I reported to the Adjutant who directed me to CO’s office tent where the CO expressed the hope that my stay in his unit would be of value to me professionally. In the end, much would depend on me, but I was lucky to have joined his unit and given the unique opportunity of participating in such large-scale exercises. To enable me to get the full benefit of my attachment to his Regiment, the CO decided that I would accompany him when he went about his routine and instructed me to always carry a notebook and pencil. The Adjutant was told to give me the time and place for the drills. For all other purposes, I was to be with the HQ CO. This arrangement lasted for about ten days and during this period, I learned far more than I could ever do in another Company. On the first morning, as we watched an exercise, a flank company of the Battalion in attack, the Colonel, in a very informal manner remarked: “Kermani see… don’t you think the men are moving a bit too fast?” Before I could utter a word, he continued “Yes moving too fast, I must curb this tendency. You know we have just returned after a long spell in the NWF, and frontier warfare requires fast movements”. So, my days were spent with an intensely professional soldier, widely experienced and knowledgeable, a model of a Regiment Commander, one of those who were the backbone of the Former British Indian Army.

I next joined a Sikh Company and then, in turn, a new kind of Company, at least for the Indian Army, a composite force formed to round-up and annihilate an enemy formation using parachutes; something very innovative in warfare. It was an extraordinary way of fighting for the Indian Army who were still using horses and mules and had been trying to find a way to keep the animals under cover during an air attack. I do not think many officers and perhaps fewer VCOs and men had heard or seen a parachute and certainly not a man or material ‘airdropped’. It had however been reported that the Germans and Russians, had demonstrated the use of parachutes during their military manoeuvres with considerable success. Consequently, an RAF plane gave us a demonstration by dropping a dummy by parachute. Our own operation was only somewhat successful with the umpires declaring a number of casualties. Included in the lost, missing, and believed killed, was the portion of the Force to which I belonged. This Force had three Infantry Battalions of a Platoon strength each was under the command of a British Captain, who being unfortunately weak in his map reading skills had committed a grave error, thus leading us adrift. It was now quite late and everyone was weary and tired. Luckily, a bugle-call of “stand down” was heard, which meant the exercise was over.

In the meantime, one of the officers had discovered that we were somewhere near the Jhansi Club. We instructed our VCOs to take charge and lead their Units back to their respective camps. We found our way into the Club, which was about to close for the night. As we barged in, literary rushing in, without giving anyone a chance to speak, the Captain announced, “Sorry to barge in like this at this late hour but we are tired, weary, dirty, thirsty and hungry! Please do something!”  The secretary, clearly amused, led us on through the anteroom where an officer’s foursome was playing bridge. These gentlemen stared at us, eyebrows raised in disapproval. We were duly escorted into a large room and the Secretary suggested that “The gentlemen clean up and wash”, as he was going to order some drinks for us, “Perhaps cold beer will do? And whatever food we can rig up will be served as soon as possible”. We fell upon the food and drink, all agreeing that we had not tasted such fare for a long time, especially the generous helping of vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate. Who paid for this importune hospitality and how we got back to our respective lodgings I was unable to recollect and never discovered. Nevertheless, I was up at Reveille[6], and Rehmat informed me that a Sahib in a car had dropped me off.

More demonstrations and tactical exercises followed, but one which drew a good deal of attention was that of a new Infantry weapon the Anti-tank rifle, difficult to carry by a single individual and awkward to fire. The Indian army was far from mechanisation at this stage. The Cavalry’s pride was the horse, the sword and the lance. Pig-sticking, tent-pegging, Polo and the hunt were a gentleman’s normal past time. The most effective tactical move, considered an absolute battle winning factor, was a fierce charge at the gallop, swords drawn, lances at level and the loudest possible trumpet, a blare of the battle cry “Hurrah! Hurrah!” Such was the spirit of the Indian Cavalry that one General resigned in protest when it was decided by AHQ to mechanise.

The 13th Duke of Connaught’s Own Lancers was one the first Regiments to discard the beloved horse in 1938 and it was said that some Infantry units were also likely to be selected to be mechanised. All of the 1st line transport was animal (Mules), the officers’ rode on horses while the men marched on foot.

After a few more exercises, the Finale took place, with all the officers attending seated on the slopes of a hillock and the Generals on top of the slopes balancing their bodies to get a comfortable sitting position on their hunting sticks. A very thorough and detailed professional survey analysis and evaluation of the tactical performance and other military skills displayed was undertaken. All the phases of operation were covered. Some situations got a heavy “ticking off” and some got words of praise and appreciation. The lessons learned were duly recorded. The last announcement sounded somewhat like “Gentlemen the hounds of M-Hunt are here, those interested have the permission to stay on for—- period”. And so, within a fairly short period, the most unforgettable, educative, professionally instructive and valuable experience of my pure army life came to an end.

There was, however, a small social interlude. I was asked to an evening tea by Sir Kazi Aziz Uddin Ahmed. He sent his car with a chit that he had the prior consent of the General in this regard. Kazi Sahib was closely connected to our family through a number of marriage ties and was also an old friend of my father’s. He had been the Chief Minister (Dewan) of the princely state of Datia after his retirement from British Indian Civil Service where he had earned many distinctions, honours and titles. He had been very thoughtful and caring when I was a student at Aligarh and had always invited me to dinner every time he visited the town and stayed with Nawab Muzammil Ullah Khan Sherwani at Bhikampur Palace. I had a superb tea with lots to eat, and the excellent company of his two charming nieces.

I returned to Lucknow with the Regiment. Since I had joined them when they were at camp, I had not seen their peacetime Officers Mess at Lucknow. Situated on Tombs Road, not far from Flag Staff House (the GOC’s residence), it was a newer building designed and built as an Officers Mess. It had a big block of single officers’ quarters, each with a set of two rooms, dressing room, bathroom and a servant quarter. We soon settled down and everything seemed very comfortable after our recent experience of living a life in near-battle conditions. The North Indian summer has set in. The Army spent those months mostly on individual training programs, with men going on annual leave according to a set roster. The officer’s families departed either to their homes in the UK or to one of the many beautiful hill stations which dot the mountainous regions of India. Prior to the departure of the ladies, a number of hectic social activities ensued. Ladies Nights at the Officers’ Messes and dance and dinner nights at the Club. Despite my not being a member of the Mohammad Bagh Club I was invariably taken as a guest by one of the other single officer or by a married officer and his wife. They were altogether very friendly and considerate at all times. Although I had learned a bit of dancing from a Danish wife of one of the younger Aligarh Professors, during my student days, I was never good at ballroom dancing and felt awkward, hesitant and shy. I did however like group dances like the Lambeth Walk and the Scottish Reels. I thoroughly enjoyed those Club parties and greatly cherish the pleasant memories of the hospitality of the officers and their charming wives. Mess life too was all very lively, pleasant and cheerful. On every Guest Night, we had important civil officials and military officers. The Governor, Sir Harry Graham Haig attended one of those nights and on my being introduced, he graciously recalled his visit to Aligarh “Oh! I remember University sports day, delightful afternoon; you helped me to give out the prizes”. Then turning to the Colonel, he remarked, “I know the family well”. For the first time too, I met a KCIO[7] Cavalry officer on one of these guest nights, Captain Yusuf Khan of the 7th Light Cavalry, attached to the 20th Lancers (Training Regiment) permanently stationed in Lucknow. A handsome, pleasant, refined-looking Afridi Pathan, he later rose to the rank of Major General and was the first Commandant of the 1st Corps raised in Pakistan.

One day when I returned to my room before going to the Mess for lunch, I noticed some extra baggage lying in my room. Rehmat very quickly explained “Sahib, as I was standing with the other officer’s bearers at the gate in my livery and puggree, a Sahib stopping his tonga[8], called me up and inquired about you “tomara sahib or ham ek paltan main hain, owr tomara mehman hain, hamara saman apna sahib ke quarter mein la jou. Sahib sa bolow ham lunch ke bad aiga”.[9] When I came back to my room, I found a sturdy, smiling Gurkha-looking officer in the Rajputana Rifle uniform displaying three black stars on each of his shoulders, Captain Lachman Singh Negi, 5th Batallion 6th Rajputana Rifles. I had never met seen or heard of him but he extended his hand in greeting as if we had been lifetime friends. I was soon to learn that he was a KCIO, and had just arrived in Lucknow for his promotion examination. He had been on his way to station HQ, first, to find a place to live as he had made no prior arrangements and second, and to find the venue for the exam. Luckily, on his way, he spied a Rajputana Rifles’ bearer and so decided to invite himself to be my guest. He said all this in such a cordial manner and tone that I could not act in any other way than accept him as a friend. In the morning, he would go for his examinations, lunch out, and in the evenings dine at the Mess. Then to the cinema, we would go where he would pay for the tickets as he insisted was his right as an elder brother and senior officer. He was worried and concerned as he did not think he would ever be able to pass the exam. Neither would many others for that matter. Captain Negi departed after a few days stay convinced that he had failed but hoping that Hitler might save his army career. An interesting personality, unfortunately, I never heard from him again. His expectation of war, however, was fully met. With the outbreak of the Second World War, all rules and regulations such as passing exams for promotion ceased. In fact, ironically, a number of such KCIO’s who were unable pass their promotion exams became Generals immediately after Independence.

Life in the Regiment become routine and normal, but preparations had begun for the Annual Ceremonial Parade of King Emperor’s Birthday on the 9th of June. Such parades were highly colourful shows, really magnificent, and were held at all the capital cities of the Indian Empire and Military Cantonments. Lucknow, besides being the capital of United Provinces of Agra and Awadh, was also a city of great historical significance, thus this parade in addition of paying tribute to King Emperor also fulfilled the promise of a lavish display of Imperial might and power. It perhaps, also, kept alive the legends of Lucknow associated with 1857-58. The units on parade, as far as I remember, were a Horse Artillery Regiment, a British Cavalry Regiment, probably the 10th Hussars, two British Infantry Battalions (one had a goat as their mascot which marched in front of the unit very proudly and drew a good deal of attention from the spectators), and two Indian Infantry Battalions. One of these was the 3rd Battalion 2nd Punjab Regiment with which I was to parade as a Company officer, the other one was a Rifle Regiment, I cannot recall correctly whether Garhwal or Gurkha that had come from out of station for the event.

The march past was a huge spectacle with the Governor taking the salute. However, to those on parade, it was a rather wearisome affair, starting very early and requiring all the men to remain highly starched and polished until the end of the day. It was the month of June and even early morning was not comfortable, particularly for British troops.

The parades that year were probably the last in British Indian Empire as there were none during the war and none after the war. The light was fading on the Empire and soon the Sun would set on an Empire where it had not dared to set for a long time. The dramatic end had begun.

During my stay in Lucknow, I had the opportunity to meet some very charming members of the rapidly emerging fashionable young set of Lucknow elite. Although most of these were one-time, somewhat, formal encounters, nevertheless I found them exceedingly interesting. It was my first chance of meeting and interacting with such a diverse company of men and women from so many walks of life, civil servants, lawyers, doctors, Awadh landlords, and wealthy Hindu Maharajas. All were well educated; some with advanced degrees from a variety of European Universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, London, Paris, Berlin and Heidelberg. In their makeup, dress, demeanour and manners, I found a fascinating intermingling of the east and the west, of the conservative and the modern. Not that I had not known or come across such people before, I was born and grew up amongst them, but now my age and position in society was different. Lucknow had long been renowned for its highly sophisticated society and for the exquisite, polished manners of the people who dwelt in this beautiful city. Throughout India, Lucknowites were famous for their superb taste in food and drinks, perfume and clothing, music, dance, art, poetry, literature, humour and wit. Much later in life, I realized that even the Tonga driver of Lucknow was far, far superior to taxi driver of Paris in simple courtesy and manners.

Lucknow was perhaps the first major city in British India to set up a purely Indian Club in response to the exclusive British Clubs. I was a regular guest at both and met some very fascinating, charming people. It is perhaps a reflection of the times that the conversation invariably drifted towards politics. It was at one of these Clubs, that I met a young lady described as the reigning beauty and the rage of the city. She belonged to the well-known Kidwai clan and was a daughter of perhaps the first Muslim Taluqdari family to give up the purdah. Our families were connected through kinship and marriage, both from the Dewa side and through clanship with the Jahangirabad family. She was indeed beautiful as well as intellectually outstanding, a somewhat uncommon phenomenon. I was to meet her several years afterwards in London with my wife and again, many years later, by then old and ailing. She was Attia Shahid Hosain.

The most enjoyable private parties that I had the opportunity to attend were at the house of Mr and Mrs Haidry where I met some wonderful personalities. Mr Haidry was a senior civil servant, a very amiable and fine gentleman, his wife was a Scottish lady of great charm and refinement and an excellent hostess. She kept an open house on Sunday mornings when friends could drop in for a cup of tea or coffee and agreeable conversation. It was a sheer delight for me to attend her dinner and dance parties and although most of the people I met at such social function happened to be married, there were some single young women and men as well. One of the Haidry’s neighbours was the Cantonment Executive officer, a Captain Nehru, (I cannot recall his full name) whom I met quite often. This gentleman was a close relative of Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru. One Sunday morning when I called on Captain Nehru I met two very attractive and smart young ladies, his nieces, the daughters of Mrs Laxmi Pandit,  I considered myself extremely lucky to have met members of India’s most distinguished family and promptly invited them to tea at my quarters, which they kindly accepted. The whole family came the very next evening, an extremely memorable evening indeed. It is a great pity that I was unable to sustain and further develop these friendships; the turn of events that occurred in the not too far future made it impossible.

The period of my attachment to the Regiment was now ending. Around the first week of July 1938, the CO and officers graciously hosted a farewell dinner for me. I have fond memories of the pleasant, friendly, helpful attitude of all the officers, VCO’s and men. The great hospitality of the officers and their wives and unusual privileges they bestowed have remained with me, and these I shall cherish forever. Saying goodbye to 3rd  Battalion 2nd Punjab Regiment I did not know it was also goodbye to the old peaceful world I had known and that the fury of the storm to come would be so intense that nothing would ever be the same again.

At partition, when the Indian Army was split up, the 3rd Battalion 2nd Punjab was allocated to India to become a part of their newly raised Indian Guard Brigade.

[1] A viceroy’s commissioned officer (VCO) was a senior Indian member of the British Indian Army.

[2] The General’s house

[3] “Tell the barkeeper to fetch a bottle of Champagne”

[4]  A historical rank in the Indian Army ranking below British commissioned officers and above non- commissioned officers. This rank was otherwise equivalent to a British Lieutenant and was introduced in the Company’s presidency, (the Bengal Army, the Madras Army and the Bombay Army) to make it easier for British officers to communicate with native troops

[5] “Kermani Sahib has no experience in these matters; you will be responsible for him”.

[6] Bugle call used to wake military personnel at sunrise.

[7] King’s commissioned Indian officer

[8] Horse-drawn carriage

[9] “Your Sahib and I are in the same platoon and I am your guest. Take my bags to your Sahib’s lodgings. Tell your Sahib, I will return after lunch.”

 

jahangirabad
Jahangirabad Palace, Lucknow

 

Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani

 

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Jahangirabad Palace

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Chattar Manzil, Lucknow Palace of the Nawabs and Begums of Awadh

 

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Chattar Manzil, Lucknow Palace of the Nawabs and Begums of Awadh

 

 

The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006) Chapter 3

                                             Aligarh

My father’s family had no military traditions, they had produced great Sufis saints, scholars and administrators of repute, but the nearest any member of the family ever came to the military was Maulana Abdus Salam who held the high office of Mufti-i-Azam in the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s Army. My father was the first man in the family to hold an Army rank as an Honorary Lieutenant in the British Indian Army, a rank granted to him for his assistance to the Army recruitment authority. My mother’s family, on the other hand, had a long outstanding tradition as Cavalry officers from the early days of the Kidwai clan’s settlement in the region that came to be known as Barabanki district. Various branches of this clan acquired large tracts of land as grants for Military services under successive Muslim dynasties. Sheikh Ghulam Amin, who commanded a Cavalry Division in Nawab Shujaut Dawla’s army received the Taluka of Mailariagunj and the title of Raja. At the battle of Buxar1 1,700 men of Kidwai clan preferred to lay down their lives rather than the indignity of retreat. After this tragic episode, the Awadh Army remained in a state of disarray. The East India Company which took control of the Province made the Mughal Provincial Governor the Nawab, King and elevated the Province of Awadh to a State, from henceforth referred to as the Kingdom of Awadh. Wajid Ali Shah, who was destined to be the last king, revived The Royal army. My mother’s dada, Risaldar Bahadur Raja Mardan Ali Khan held the command of a Cavalry Division in this army. In the aftermath of the 1857 revolt, Awadh was annexed to British India, and the entire Northern Eastern regions were demilitarized, The Bengal Army mainly drawn from Awadh peasantry was disbanded and recruitment from these areas virtually stopped. Lord Curzon, who was appointed Viceroy of India in 1889, was an outstanding administrator and instituted many reforms in the Indian Civil and Military Services. He also introduced measures of social uplift and took steps towards restoring the lost dignity and honour of the people of India at all levels and ranks. One of his acts in this respect was to raise an elite military corps of the highest calibre, the Imperial Cadet Corps which was established at Dehradun and remained at its training centre till it was disbanded in 1914. Only the second sons of the nobility were admitted to this corps d’elite; scions of the Taluqadars of Awadh, Jagirdars of Hyderabad Deccan, Chiefs of Rajputana and the Punjab, Zamindars of Agra Province and so forth. All ranks were Honorary and the Cadets who lived and trained there were required to bring their own mounts and polo ponies as well as their own staff of servants and uniform. There was no pay or perks of any kind. I believe it was the richest, smartest mounted unit in the world at the time. It was purely an Officer’s Corp and provided Honorary ADCs to visiting British Royalty and the Viceroy at the Durbar. My younger Mamoon, Imtiaz Rasul Khan (later Raja of Rasulpur) held the rank of Captain in the ICC. Thus, he was an Honorary ADC in attendance to the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, when he visited India in 1921 and also Honorary ADC to the U.P Governor Sir Harcourt Butler. It is said that my tall, handsome, blue-eyed Mamoon cut an extremely dashing figure in the blue and white, gold trimmed uniform with its sky-blue turban.
After the disbandment of Imperial Cadet Corps, an Army school was opened at the same location in Dehra Dun (the Rajwara camp) called the Prince of Wales Military College. It was meant to provide preliminary education for those who wished to qualify for the Kings Commission in the Army through the Military Academy at Sandhurst and later on through IMA Dehra Dun when the Indianisation of the Indian Army began, and the King Commission was replaced by the term Indian Commission. Raja Imtiaz Rasul was keen that I too be sent to PWMC and so when I reached the age of ten he had my name registered for admission. This he announced on one of his many visits to our house which he visited more than that of any other family member. The sons or close relatives of the officers of the former Imperial Cadet Corps received the highest priority and as such getting admission presented no difficulties. However, before reaching a final decision, my father sought the advice and counsel of his old friend Haider Khan, now a professor and Head of the Chemistry department at Aligarh Muslim University. My father was also keen that Bhaijan be removed from Baray Mamoon’s (Raja Ejaz Rasul Khan of Jahangirabad) indulgent influence and sent off to Aligarh. Haider Chacha arrived promptly at our home and resolutely turned down the PWMC proposal, he insisted that I be sent instead to the Muslim University School at Aligarh along with Bhaijan. He refused to leave Barabanki without us and although he had some difficulty in getting our uncle to agree, he eventually prevailed. A great amount of turmoil and commotion ensued within my maternal family, nobody had gone for schooling further than Lucknow other than Chotay Mamoon’s brief stint in Dehradun. To be sent so far away to a boarding school, to wear a prescribed uniform, and, worst of all to have to live without a private servant was appalling, from their perspective. Special permission had to be obtained if the parents insisted on a servant accompanying a student, and that too only for a brief period. Otherwise, separate arrangements would have to be made for the attendant since he would not be allowed within the boarding premises other than as a visitor in the afternoons or at game-time. Of course, no objections were raised by my paternal family. The Dewa family had a long, proud tradition of learning and scholarship and had produced several scholars of repute. My father himself had studied and graduated from Aligarh with a BA and an LLB. My cousins Munir and Wasi too had been there short periods and several other members of the extended family had graduated and obtained government employment in the Civil and Judicial services. For me Aligarh proved a good choice and I consider myself to be very lucky to have received excellent guidance and direction in every aspect of my life from Colonel Haider Khan, a most remarkable individual who influenced and shaped my life, character, conduct, manners, behaviour, ideas, thoughts and beliefs, in fact even lifestyle and dress code. He did all this and much more by setting a personal example of being always forthright, honest and truthful. He was a brilliant scholar and a superb sportsman, a rare combination indeed.
And so, to Aligarh, we went much to the distress of my older brother. And although I was sorry to leave my mother and sisters, I was quite excited about the prospect of attending my father’s school and college. A very large number of father’s friends came to bid Bhaijan and me farewell. There was, of course, a gathering of the entire family, both maternal and paternal along with the senior servants and even my Nani who was quite angry with my mother for letting us go so far away from home. Both my arms from wrist to shoulders were covered with colourful Imam Zamins with duas embroidered in Arabic, Bhaijan’s arms were similarly wrapped. He cried when embracing the family members, I did not which invoked critical remarks from the elder ladies including Nani Amma such as “Yeh larka bara sakhat dil hai”2 but my Phuppi gave me a “shabash”3 and was very pleased with me. A copious amount of eatables and a sandooq (trunk) full of halwas, sweets, dry fruits and fruits was sent with us. Ahsan Mamoon a distant cousin of my mothers who worked as my father’s Major Domo, Mukarram Chacha, Abba’s Munshi, and Mosahib his Khidmatgar were to go with us and settle us in.
At Aligarh, Haider Khan, whom we called Chacha, was at the Railway Station to receive us along with a couple of other gentlemen to assist him. We drove to his house, which was rented by him, a fine building furnished in a very British style with an excellent garden. Haider Khan was very Anglicised in his dress and style of living. A brilliant scholar he had an MSc from Cambridge as well as a Bar-at-Law degree; an outstanding sportsman, he was a Cambridge Blue and the first Indian to Captain the Cambridge Tennis Team. He could well afford to keep a car but preferred a motorcycle. I had to ride on the motorcycle pillion many a time and always found it most uncomfortable but could never say so.
Bhaijan was admitted to the University Intermediate College in class nine but was soon promoted to class ten. He moved to a boarding house in what was known as the Minto Circle, a complex of four double story buildings with a circular wall supporting a formidable Mughal style entrance gate facing the buildings. My granduncle, Raja Tasaduq Rasul Khan of Jahangirabad, had donated the money for one of these buildings and that block was named Tasaduq Rasul Khan Hostel after him. The upper portion of the building contained the Principal’s Offices and some classes while the lower portion housed the living rooms, dining rooms and bathrooms. Most of the rooms accommodated three to four students There were a few single and double rooms in case two brothers or cousins were at the college at the same time and wished to live together. Bhaijan, of course, would have no one live with him. Since the Principal of the School, Professor Abdul Majeed Qureshi was also a classmate of my fathers and a close friend, Bhaijan managed to not only get a room to himself but also permission to keep a servant. But in spite of all this, he detested his stay at Aligarh and broke all the norms of discipline and college rules whenever he could.; he smoked and kept a hookah, which was prohibited, refused to wear the college uniform or the favoured Turkish cap, and although Professor Qureshi was a stern, strict man, generally feared by the students, he was unable to impose the conventional restrictions on my uncompromising older brother. Bhaijan somehow survived a year at Aligarh, passed his matriculation exam and left vowing never to return.
Haider Khan constantly offered advice and took a great deal of interest in our wellbeing. He got me a place in Zahoor Ward, the hostel in which he and my father had both resided during their student days. It was a rectangular brick building with a courtyard in the centre. A common room in one wing, the dining room in the other and bathrooms and lavatories in the third. The corner in which the dining and prayer rooms were situated had a corridor leading to the Senior Superintendent’s house. Mrs Qaim Hussain who looked after us lived there with her family including her two sons, the younger one was in my class and a friend. Master Qaim Hussain was the Assistant Headmaster and had taught my father when he was at school. He recognised me immediately since he thought I resembled my father when he was the same age as I was now. Since Haider Khan had brought me to the boarding school, perhaps that helped him in placing me. Master Qaim Hussain was a grand old man always very considerate and kind to me. I believe I was one of the few who had the honour of being asked to have a meal with him and his family time and again. He was very fond of the cinema and so we had a projector with films of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy which he liked to play with the assistance of the Senior Boy Nawabzada Iqbal Ali Khan. The Nawabzada was the only boy in our hostel to have a small single room to himself next to the Assistant Superintendent Master Naimuddin Khan.
Master Qaim Hussain belonged to Ambala and after retirement went back to his hometown where he bought and ran a cinema house. When I was posted at Ambala in 1941, I looked him up and went to pay my respect, he beamed with delight and would not let me leave. He was living with his sons but had lost his wife. He promptly invited not just me but all of my friends to his cinema house free of charge. Since Ambala Cantonment where we were stationed was at quite a distance from Ambala town where the cinema house was located I was unable to avail of his generous offer. Many years later, after Partition, when I was posted in Rawalpindi I heard from him again; he had migrated to Pakistan and settled down in Jhelum. The Rehabilitation Commissioner Jhelum was an Aligarhian and had allotted Master Sahib a cinema house, an evacuee property in lieu of the one he had had to abandon in Ambala. This cinema was in Jhelum Cantonment but for some reason, the Station Commander Jhelum had put the cinema house out bounds for Army personnel. Master Sahib not only found out my whereabouts but send his younger son Shakir to see me at my house in Chaklala and seek my assistance. The Station Commander was Colonel Mohtaram, an officer of my Crops, I rang him up at once and the order was immediately rescinded. Master Qaim Hussain had innumerable former students who were occupying important posts in Pakistan including the Governor General Khawaja Nizamuddin who had been my father’s classmate. The last time I met him is when General Rana and I went from Kharian in 1962 or ‘63 to see him at Jhelum, he was by now very old and could not walk. He passed away soon after that, he must have been about a hundred years of age.
Zahoor Ward, my boarding house had eight living rooms, each occupied by four students. I lived in room No 4 with three other boys, each of us had a bed with a small table and a cupboard for books and shoes on a lower shelf. Clothes were kept in iron trunks, (sandooqs) under the bed. Our Turkish coats and caps hung on brackets along the wall. A large, heavy round table with four heavy chairs was in the centre of the room for us to study, a lighted kerosene lamp with a big round globe was placed on the table after the Maghreb azan. When I reached the second year of Intermediate at Aligarh, and after having participated in a number of extracurricular activities, I decided to join the University Training Corps (UTC), a category of British Indian Army’s Territorial Force (ITF) recruited from the staff and students of the University. The members trained all the year with weekly drills and the study of military techniques during the University term and for a period of 15 days at camp. The Units were equipped with a permanent staff of British Instructors and the members wore uniforms like the British Army. The officers were drawn from the professorial staff of the University and held the Kings Commissions; the other ranks were designated by the nomenclature of the British Army such as Private, Corporal, Sergeant and Sergeant Major, the last named being the highest a student could hold. I immediately discovered not only a natural predilection for the Unit but in course of time passed with distinction all tests and examinations prescribed and was promoted to the highest rank of Company Sergeant Major. I also had the unique honour of being awarded the Coronation Medal of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (1937). Only three student members of the UTC in the then British Indian Empire received this award; Aligarh, Bombay, and Rangoon Universities. Captain Haider Khan, who commanded the joint contingent of Aligarh and Agra, and at whose behest I was at Aligarh, was very pleased and happy with me. My father was a very proud man indeed.
Major R.B. Ramsbotham, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Aligarh was very keen that the University provide a greater number of officers to the army and had been encouraging the students to join a special training class for this purpose. No more than a dozen boys were chosen to receive intensive coaching in preparation for the competitive entrance examination. He himself headed the coaching team along with the ablest known professors in the various required subjects.
As one of the select few, I was privileged to join this special class. We worked mostly after the Maghreb prayers and on Sundays and holidays so as not to let this interfere with our normal course of studies. Except for the long vacation, we were not allowed to go home during short breaks. Major Ramsbotham was one of the most capable officers of the Indian Educational Service, an Oxford man, he had served in the Army during the First World War as a Major. After the war, he resumed his career and was subsequently appointed as Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Aligarh.
Sometimes a friend of mine, Sharaf Athar Ali, and I would go for a walk and run on a quiet road leading towards Aligarh fort. Sharaf’s schooling had been at Sherwood, an Anglo- Indian School, where he had acquired a smattering of Anglo-Indian culture. On one such occasion, he spontaneously broke into a vulgar song, sung by British troops, I too happily joined in, as we walked on singing and clapping with gusto, we heard a loud voice “Hurrah! Hurrah! Well, well, well!” We turned around and froze, speechless. We beheld a gentleman fast approaching us, it was Major Ramsbotham exclaiming “Well done, well done! Haven’t heard that for a long, long time! Didn’t expect this tune in the vicinity! Where did you get that from?” Sharaf replied meekly “Sherwood Sir”. “Alright, alright don’t spread it here, doesn’t fit in with us. Now run along, I do not wish to intrude anymore. Carry on”. We run, as fast as we could, quite shaken. Next evening at the end of the coaching class, Major Ramsbotham turned to me “Kermani in the future, whenever possible you will accompany me for a walk, it will be of greater value. We shall arrange time and days”, Henceforth, the evening walks with Major Ramsbotham became a part of my training. On many occasions, they ended with an invitation to have tea with the family. Mrs Ramsbotham, a most gracious lady treated me as part of the family, and I enjoyed my time with them thoroughly, and still cherish those bygone days of my life.
The time had come for me to apply for the competitive entrance examination of the Indian Military Academy. I filled out the necessary forms submitted to the Public Services Commission by the head of the University (Pro Vice-Chancellor) as required. With a superb testimonial from Major Ramsbotham, an equally outstanding record in the UTC, and the intense hard work I had put into my academic studies, I was able to proceed smoothly towards the exam. In March/April 1936 the All Indian Public Services Exams were held at Metcalfe House, Delhi. I went to Delhi and stayed at Aleksandra Hotel, a small private hotel run by an old Anglo-Indian couple, within walking distance of Metcalf House. It was neat, clean, and comfortable, and the food was tolerable. I walked to the examination venue to report my arrival and obtain the necessary, instruction and requirements. My performance before the interview board went off very well and as did the written exams. We had two papers daily, and on the second last day after having completed the afternoon paper (chemistry) satisfactorily, I was feeling very pleased and happy with myself, with only two papers left for the last day; physics (a subject in which I had been intensely grounded by no less a person than Dr Ishaq) and geography (always one of my favourite subjects superbly taught by Dr Ibad ur-Rehman, considered to be the best in that field in the British Empire of India, Burma and Ceylon). As I approached my hotel, I noticed a car parked outside, the chowkidar with wide grin informed me that I had important guests waiting for me in the lounge. My visitor and his son met me with great affection, he was a friend of my father and Haider Khan’s and had come to take me to his home in the old city to spend the evening and to have dinner with his family. Despite all my efforts to wriggle out of this invitation, I could not, and so to their haveli, I went with them. I had a very pleasant evening; the food was excellent, in the usual Delhi style, very rich and highly spiced, with fiery hot chillies. Greedily and foolishly I consumed too much for my sensitive stomach. My host’s car dropped me back to my hotel as I had earnestly begged to return early. Just past midnight I woke up with intense pain and gripe and was compelled to wake up the landlord and his wife. They were very kind and concerned and gave me a mixture which brought some relief. In the morning, I was still in a very bad way, very sick indeed, I totally ruined my physics paper. By afternoon I was better but did not fare as well as I ought to have. The Examination was over, both the Doctor and the Hakim diagnosed my malady as dysentery, curable and short-lived but extremely uncomfortable and agonizing. Unfortunately, this misfortune had negative and lasting repercussions on all aspects of my young life. On my return to Aligarh, Major Ramsbotham, Haider Khan and Dr Ishaq heard my tale of vow with sympathy. I was retested by them in all the papers and all three agreed with my estimation that I would still get a position within the first fifteen candidates. When the results came I did get the fifteenth position but tied with another contender, unfortunately, the other fellow’s name was above my name within the same bracket. There was nothing that anybody could do, just a case sheer bad luck.
My father was now adamant that I pass the BA final and return home, and. then pursue an LLB from Lucknow University and eventually join him in both his Law practice and zamindari. In the meantime, Major Kelley, the senior most instruction staff officer came to Aligarh from his HQ on an inspectional visit and Haider Khan, the OC of the Aligarh UTC Company, and Staff Sergeant Instructor all discussed my case with him. I was called in; after a few words, he said that he was on his way to Delhi, where he would find out if there was some way (other than joining the ranks) for an indirect entry into the army, and that I was to meet him on his return journey. A couple of days later Staff Sergeant Noble picked me up to meet the mail train on which Major Kelley was passing through. This train had a fairly long stop at Aligarh. The Major came down, shook hands, smiled and proclaimed “Well, well! We have found an excellent solution” he turned around to his Staff who gave him some papers, “Here Noble, I have put in all that’s required” to me he said “We will get you a commission in one of the Provincial Battalions of the Territorial Army. It all will take some time, but we will get it done”. Then with a brisk goodbye, he boarded his train and was gone.

Subsequently, I occupied myself fully with my studies and got down to the business of preparing and finishing my graduation. Having done this and obtained my BA, I went home for vacation. During this period, I received a letter from HQ UTC along with a copy of a letter from AHQ that my name has been sent to HQ Eastern Command for consideration of a grant of commission in any of the Provincial-Territorial Battalions located in the area. Shortly afterwards, I was called for an interview by the GOC Lucknow Military District, Major General Milward. I found him a very gracious gentleman, he recounted the time he had ordered the 3rd UTC (while on their annual training camp at Lucknow), to mount the guard at his house (the Flag Staff House), and was very pleased with their efficiency and turn out. When I told him “Sir I was the Guard Commander (Sergeant) and it was an event of great honour for me and all those who were selected from the Battalion to mount that guard”, he stood up, shook hands, and responded “Yes? I am indeed pleased! But why are you not in the regular army yet?” In as few words as I could I explained to him what had befallen me. “Well! We shall get you in! I hope you have better luck in the future. Never accept defeat”. And with a “Goodbye and good luck”, I was dismissed. I rendered as smart a salute as I could muster and returned to the ADC’s room. I gave the officer the few necessary details that were needed, thanked him and went home to tell my father all that had transpired.

Since there was nothing for me to do at home, my father suggested that my time would be better spent if I joined the Law classes at Lucknow University which were held late in the afternoon. He also, very thoughtfully, gave me permission to use his car for the daily round trip from Barabanki to Lucknow which took about two to three hours. I dutifully joined and started attending the classes which I found terribly boring from the start. To make matters worse, the atmosphere was somewhat repelling; the students were ill-attired mostly in dhoti and kurta or pyjama and kurta only and were often not only dirty but foul smelling. I was brought up to be always well-dressed and well-groomed with a strict dress sense and discipline, and could not conceive of stepping out improperly attired. I, for the first time, realised the acute difference between the standard and polish of Aligarh and other educational institutions. Although as a member of the UTC I had come across students from all the five Universities of the Province at the annual training camp, everyone there was in military uniform in intense competition both as individuals as well as representatives of their respective universities, and all took pride in their appearance. The Aligarh Company always received the best turnout award and I the best turned out individual prize. One afternoon as I sat in the class, dressed as a matter of habit in my well-starched white summer sherwani and Aligarh cut pyjamas, with a light touch of Khas Attar, a fellow came by stinking awfully. Even my Khas could not drown out his smell, so I asked him, politely, to move away. He responded justifiably with some anger and told me to do the same. I thought better of it and stepped out and away. For good.
I was trying to figure out what to do next when I remembered that a friend of mine from Aligarh school was now studying at this university and living at the Muslim hostel. I was sure to come across a few other acquaintances as well there. As I proceeded down the hostel veranda, I was hailed by not one or two but about a dozen voices and found myself surrounded and welcomed by a number of old friends. From them, I learned that Staff Sergeant Noble has been posted to the Lucknow contingent from Aligarh and also that he was now a married man. I decided immediately to go and see him. He was genuinely happy to see me, introduced me to his wife and asked me about all that happened since we last met. He insisted that I join the Lucknow Company at the same rank as at Aligarh. I expressed my reluctance as in so doing I would be depriving that promotion to one of the existing cadres which could create problems. The Staff Sergeant, however, did not view this as an issue; it was merely the transfer of CSM Kermani from one company to another, a simple routine matter with a publication in Unit Part 11 orders. From now on instead attending the Law classes, I went to the parade grounds. I was pleasantly surprised at not merely being accepted but welcomed; most of the senior members already knew me and some of them were old friends. One of the great advantages of being a member of such a Corps was that at annual camp you participated and competed in practically every form of normal army activity, close order drill, weapon training, musketry, field exercises both day and night-time, all the field sports, boxing, long and short range rifle shooting, camp discipline, matters relating to good conduct , manners, behaviour, etiquette, and good turnout at all times. The officers (Professors) included Lt Col. Strang now Battalion Commander 3rd UTC, who was the senior most officer and knew me very well. I was now able to attend the annual camp where I met many Aligarh friends. At the ceremonial parade, on the last day of the camp at Allahabad, I along with four officers including Colonel Haider had the unique distinction of being rewarded King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, coronation medal 1937, the only student to be so honoured. This was pinned at my breast by the General Officer-in-Chief, Eastern Command with a kindheartedly, “well done”. The entire camp had terrific celebrations that night. The next morning as the camp started breaking up, I went around thanking and saying farewell to my many friends. Amongst the permanent staff of British Instructors, the Adjutant, Regimental Sergeant Major Johnston had always given me a prominent place and position and held me up as an example for the other members of the Corp. An exemplary NCO, he was an excellent representative of that rank and class, which ultimately laid a solid and sound foundation and gave the British Army, particularly the British Indian Army, an incomparable and unquestionable superiority of performance both on parade ground as well in battle-field over all other armies of the former British Empire, included in the Commonwealth Having said a fond farewell to all and with the permission of OC and the Staff Sergeant Instructor I left to go home by the first available train as I had received orders to report to the 11th Battalion of the 6th Rajputana Rifles (ITF). That Unit had a vacancy in an officer’s rank and was willing to accept me as a candidate for the commission.
I arrived at Agra with all the kit and baggage I assumed was necessary and of course my servant Rehmat. Immediately on arrival, I reported to the Adjutant, Captain D. Powell Jones, a very amiable and cheerful gentleman who gave me a warm and friendly welcome. He immediately sent for the Mess Havildar4 and ordered him to take my servant to the tent in the officer’s line that had been assigned and readied for me. I was told that there were two other candidates besides me, one being a VCO5, a Jemadar6 from the 11th Battalion, 7th Rajput Regiment. When I met him, I realized that I knew his family (also an elite Awadhi family) well. The other man too belonged to a high-ranking family of Delhi whom I knew quite intimately. He had joined 11th Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles in the ranks and risen to the rank of Havildar. Both were striving to get into the regular the Army. They were smart, well educated, and knowledgeable and had better insight in dealing with rank and file of Indian Army of which I had no experience at all. Captain Powel Jones had asked me to wait in his office as he wanted me to accompany him to officer lines. It was late afternoon and there was no one else at work at that time. The Battalion HQ offices and Company Offices were located in an old building specially designed for this purpose, next to it, another building housed the Quarter Master’s office stores and Rifle Kotes. Across the road, the entire Battalion was under canvas including the Officers Mess in four interconnected EPIP9 tents. The officers had one EPIP tent each with a 300 pdr tent for bathroom-cum-lavatory. The officer’s bearers each 10 had a 180 pdr tent.
Captain Powel Jones belonged to 2nd Battalion, 6th Rajputana Rifles and had been commissioned from OTC11 Oxford University. An extremely polished gentleman, the son of a Vicar from Wales, he spoke Hindi and Urdu fluently, without the usual British accent. He had mastered a number of Indian proverbs which he would freely quote on the right occasion. He had also made every effort to learn the correct and polite Indian etiquette and manners and was proud to display these at mixed Indian/ British social functions. I remember him at a reception party given by the Deputy Commissioner Agra where his innocently incorrect greetings to an Indian couple, a “shirman ji namaste7” to the wife and a “shrirmati ji namaste 8” to the husband, was met with great glee and mirth by all gathered, making Powel Jones very popular among the Indian ladies and gentlemen that evening.
I left Powel Jones at his tent after having received all the necessary instructions regarding the initiation formalities, rules and regulation as well as some important information about Regimental customs, traditions, manners and the conduct, etiquette and behaviour expected of a newcomer to the Rajputana Rifles regimental life including conduct in the Officer’s Mess. All three candidate officer cadets, as we were called, were required to wear black sherwanis9, tight white trousers, black patent leather shoes and white “puggrees”10 in the Rajput style.
I now met my two competitors who were sharing a tent next to mine; I have to admit that I was delighted that I did not have to share my tent with anyone else.
As the bugler sounded the call for dinner from the Officer’s Mess, the senior subaltern Lt Nihal Singh arrived to take us to there since this was our first night, and to introduce us to all the officers. When we entered the Mess tent, a few officers were already present and soon the rest came in. It was Mess night and all the officers, other than the three of us were in Mess Kit. In those days, the Rifle regiments wore bottle green uniforms with black piping, facing, and trimmings and red braiding on sleeve cuffs; monkey jackets with upturned collars, black badges of rank, corded black shoulder lapels and silver spurs, very different to normal Infantry regiments. There was one officer, however, wearing the scarlet red mess jacket with the yellow facing of the 7th Rajput Regiment. The CO who lived with his family was not present. We were introduced starting with the senior most officer present, Captain Chand Narain Das a regular officer, KCIO commissioned from Sandhurst, 5th Battalion, 6th Rajputana Rifles (Napier’s), one of the first Indianised battalions. The next was Captain Hukum Singh Yadav, the senior most Territorial officer of the battalion, a leanly built, slender-bodied man of good cheer and friendly manners. I did not know what Yadav meant but soon discovered that it referred to caste of herdsmen or Ahirs an important agricultural caste in the Agra province mostly in the districts of Muttra and Etah. This was the caste of the Hindu god Lord Krishna, famous for his exploits in the area. Hukum Singh was a substantial zamindar from that region. In Awadh, we had a large number of Ahirs as well, indeed all those in charge of our milk animals were from this very fine caste, but up till now, I had not come across an educated, polished Ahir gentleman from the zamindar class. The officer I meet next was a gentleman whose presence could not be ignored, at over six feet in height he was, in fact, the tallest man amongst all those present; well-built with a smiling face wearing the Mess Kit of 7th Rajput Regiment, scarlet with yellowfacing, thus clearly outshining the bottle green and black of Rajputana Rifles, Rao Sahib as everyone addressed him, was a true representative of Rajput nobility. The next morning, I was pleased to discover that he was my Company commander. There were three others, Captain Raja Shankar Dohoj Sinha, a Bundela Chief, Captain Brijraj Singh another Rajput landlord, and Captain Mukherjee, a Bengali civil servant who to my mind did not quite fit in. Captain Mukherjee was a rather well-educated individual and took no time to assert this fact, I could not figure out how he had enlisted in a Unit of rural peasants.
The next morning, I first reported to the Adjutant and then marched into CO’s office and gave the smartest salute I could to Major Bayllis of the 1st Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles who courteously stood up, shook hands, offered a few words of welcome to his command, and pointing to the chair facing him ordered me to sit down. A kindly, soft-spoken, somewhat weary-looking but very pleasant gentleman, he told me frankly that I had a stiff competition to face as two other candidates had more experience, and knowledge of the army having served in the ranks. After a few more questions about my college life, I was dismissed. Back at the Adjutant’s office, I was directed to report to Captain Rao Krishan Pal Singh who had the command of the Rajput regiment and was to be henceforth my Company Commander. He gave me a detailed account about the history, organisation, class composition, scope and the liability of service. This Unit like other similar Units spread throughout India was designed and trained to be the second line and a source of reinforcement for the regular Indian Army and as such had full liability for service overseas. We walked through the office block to meet the Subedar Major, Honorary Captain Subedar-Major Keshsho Singh Bahadur OBI, IDSM. an extremely distinguished looking man with a chest full of medal and ribbons, a fine well-waxed Rajput moustache, an equally well tied Rajputana Rifle Rajput style puggree, big blood-red eyes, and the haughty bearing acquired only by this class of the VCO rank. This old warrior, a veteran of the 1st World War was the first Subedar-Major that I had met in flesh and blood, he reminded me of British Regimental Sergeant Majors but in course of time, I realised that a typical SM of Indian Army was of a much superior breed. As we were talking another VCO approached us and gave a smart salute, a Jemadar, an Indian Adjutant, from a regular Unit, a tall thin smart man with puggree tied in the Jat style. We shook hands and continued on our way towards the men’s lines. After a round of the lines and the kitchen and bathrooms, we came upon the Battalion, divided up in squads doing various training exercises. As we approached the Rajput Company area, the senior Sardar, a VCO Subedar, along with the Company Havildar-Major, marched up to the Company Commander to report the state of the company. From now on I was to join in all the company activities and to carry on with the normal training program. I found nothing that I did not know except that the instructional language used, the Indian Army’s official language, was Urdu. It was obligatory that all British Officers joining the Indian Army learn the prescribed level of Urdu, and pass the examination within a required period. Thus, communication between officers and other ranks including the VCOs was always in Urdu, in fact, it was forbidden for the other ranks to ever speak to an officer in English, just as to use Urdu or any other native tongue in the Officers Mess was taboo. This for me was not an issue in any case. There were also a few other differences as well, for instance, Rifle Regiments marched faster at 140 paces a minute compared to the 120 of normal infantry. They did not slope arm i.e. carry their rifles either on trial or as shoulder arms. They never fixed bayonets on parade or called bayonets swords. The word of command “attention” was never used, as they were supposed to be on alert all the time. After the precautionary word of command, all movements were carried out automatically with fast movements. Their uniform too was different, the officers wore a Sam Browne belt of black leather with silver fittings, sharp-edged buckles, black boots, and bottle-green hose tops. Even the khaki was of a greenish hue, specially manufactured for rifle regiments. The buttons and badges of the ranks were black, they wore black belts over bottle-green kamarbands and their puggrees were tied according to their class so that a man could be recognized immediately as a Rajput. Jat, Muslim Rajput, or a Punjabi Muslim.
A practice in which I had no previous training was the officer’s sword drill, instructions on which were imparted by the Adjutant. The map reading, field tactics at the platoon and company level training was conducted by the CO himself.
Our training and test period lasted over two months and it was the first week of December 1937 that the Adjutant told me to report to the orderly room at 8.30 the next morning. On my reporting, the Adjutant directed me to the CO, as I entered and saluted Major Bayllis stood up, extended his hand, and said: “Well done Kermani, you had a tough time, congratulations, you have been selected to be an officer in the Rajputana Rifles, welcome”. I was told to sit down, as I did so the CO continued “As for your nomination for regular commission, the AHQ has agreed with proviso (1) that you successfully carry out an attachment with the regular army for a period of six month at your own expense, (2) complete two years’ service with a Territorial Force Provincial Unit, however as a special case AHQ has permitted your service with UTC will be counted for the completion of this period, (3) pass the Army special certificate of education. Alright? you will be given all the details by the Adjutant”. I was then dismissed. I had much to do, most importantly write to my father and inform him of my selection. I made my way back to the Adjutant who cordially congratulated me, and handed me a paper saying, “You can go through this later, it contains all details you need to get on to get yourself fitted, and readied to move and join the designated unit who has accepted you for attachment, the 1st Battalion, 8th Punjab Regiment stationed at Lucknow”. I headed straight away to my Company Commander who too congratulated with kind and encouraging words.
When I reached my tent, I found my servant Rehmat beaming with delight, he seemed to know about my selection even before I knew about it as two other candidates had already left the camp earlier that morning. Fully equipped and efficiently fitted with well-tailored clothing and uniform I was now ready to move on. Rehmat too was by now properly fitted out in the requisite wardi (uniform) of an officer’s bearer and trained to serve food, and drinks to Sahib-Log in the Officer’s Mess as well as at all other occasions when the Mem-Sahibs were present. He had also learned to tie the Regimental bearers puggree correctly and had been tested and passed as a suitably trained bearer by the Mess Havildar.
I said goodbye to the Regiment with many, many, thanks to all who had been so helpful. I had made some good friends and learned so many new things about life and the world. Here ends, to some extent, my attempt to put my life back on track after it had been derailed by ill fate.
The struggle against Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos was to continue.
“Fortune or fate decides one half our life; the other half depends on ourselves”.
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery

 

[1] The Battle of Buxar was fought on 23 October 1764 between the forces under the command of the British East India Company led by Hector Munro and the combined army of Mir Qasim, the Nawab of Bengal; Shuja-ud-Daula the Nawab of Awadh and the Mughal King Shah Alam II. The battle fought was a decisive victory for the British East India Company.

[2] This boy is very hard-hearted.

[3] Well done 

[4] A rank equivalent to Sergeant in the Indian Army

[5] A viceroy’s commissioned officer (VCO) was a senior Indian member of the Indian Army

[6] the lowest rank for a VOC

[7]  Greetings  Sir

[8] Greetings Madam

[9] Indian style long coat

[10] Turban

 

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Aligarh University

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Raja Imtiaz Rasul Khan of Rasulpur in his Imperial Cadet Corp uniform

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University Cadet S.A. Kermani

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Col. Haider Khan

 

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Aligarh University UTC S.A. Kermani 3rd from right

Copy of aligarh 8 (1)
Sharaf Athar Ali

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Aligarh friends; second from left Sallu, Mehdi Hasnain

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Aligarh Friends

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Aligarh friends; second from left, Ali Jawad, Ghulam Yusuf Khan, Sallu.

 

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Aligarh Friends

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Sallu with Ghulam Yusuf Khan

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Sallu in Nawabi style at Aligarh

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Camp Guard mounted on the 11th day of November 1933 at Lucknow in Kitchener Lines. S.A.Kermani standing 3rd from left.

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Aligarh University UTC, S.A.Kermani seated 2nd from left

 

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The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006) Chapter 2

Parkview, Barabanki                                         Barabanki

The rainy months in North India called Saawan and Bhadraon coincide with the Georgian calendar months of July and August. In August of the year, 1916 A.D. the rains in the Province of Awadh were heavier than ever in living memory. The two main rivers of the Province, the Gomti and the Ghagra had overflowed their banks for many miles causing immense damage, devastation and misery. The loss of human and animal life, property and standing crops affected all, but those depending on agriculture lost and suffered the most. It was after a tempestuous night of pouring rains, lighting and thunderstorm, on August 14th, 1916 that I was born. This I am told and later found noted and marked by my father in a copy of an almanac kept by him and in which he marked the births of all his children.

It was customary in those days for expectant mothers to go and live in their parent’s home a few months before the birth and continue to live there after the delivery for at least forty days. Thus, it was the Qila (Fort), as the Palace at Jahangirabad was then called, that became my birthplace. Since I was the third male child in the Jahangirabad family, it was a great event for celebration. Amma’s Chacha, Raja Nana his wife Rani Nani were very old and childless; Naushad Mamoon, Amma’s first cousin and heir to the Raj had died issueless; Barey Mamoon although married for several years had no children; Chotey Mamoon was still unmarried.

Khala Amma, the eldest sister had five children, the first born a son, and four daughters. Tragically the son was mentally handicapped and lived permanently at Jahangirabad, where he was looked after by Bibi, our Nani Amma. Thus, my older brother Zainuddin, Bhaijan, Piaray Mian or Piaray Bhai, as he was called, was the apple of everyone’s eye, adored and loved by all on both sides of the family. Amma used to relate that my Dadi prayed daily and loudly “Allah please do not burden my son with any more daughters, two are enough, let them live”. Similarly, Nani prayed for Allah’s mercy for her daughter not to have more daughters. My Dadi believed that “the ground raises itself by a foot when a son is born[1]”. I had two elder sisters, Baji and Hasina and Khalajan, Amma’s youngest sister had a daughter, Chammi who was to become my foster-sister. So, my birth, that of another male child, was an occasion of great rejoicing, marked by thanksgiving prayers and publicly announced by the firing of guns and the thundering of big drums, normally reserved for the announcement of such important events such as the sighting the new moon of Ramazan, Rabi ul Awal, 1st or 10th of Muharram, or, the birth of a son. The musicians in the Naqarkhana[2] played the tune of Mubarak Bashad on the Shehnai. The mirasans in the Zenana, and bands of mirasis outside also sang congratulatory songs. A horse rider galloped post haste with the good news to Barabanki where Dadi and Abba were residing, Sweets were distributed and food given to the poor, Dadi offered the “du rakat namaz” or thanksgiving prayers, and messages were dispatched to Phuppi Amma and other relations in Dewa. Plans were made to go to Dewa, and an auspicious date, day, and time had to be fixed for the mother and newborn to be received. The special rider from Raja Nana arrived with a letter of good wishes and blessings as well as requesting Abba’s immediate attendance at Jahangirabad, whence he repaired to promptly. But, first respects, of course, had to be paid to Raja Nana and both Mamoon’s, then Nani, Rani Nani, and other senior family members before he set eyes on his new-born offspring.

The new arrival had to be given a name, and after lengthy consultations with the elders on both sides of the family, I was named Salahuddin Nishat Anwer Kirmani. Salahuddin by my Phupa, Khan Bahadur Rafiuddin and Nishat Anwer by my mother and Mamoon Raja Tasaduq Rasul.

I discarded the Nishat Anwer very early on and was simply Salahuddin Kirmani when admitted to Aligarh. However, on leaving the university and receiving my first commission in the army I enlisted as Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani. While at Aligarh I once wrote an article in the Urdu weekly where I gave my name as Salahuddin Mahmood Kirmani. This was done at the suggestion of Mumtaz Khan, Colonel Haider Khan’s brother, who thought the addition of Mahmood would help me win a prize since the editor knew my father and would view me favourably once he realised who I was. I did win the prize and a commendation published in the paper. So perhaps Mumtaz Khan had been right, but after that, I did not think much of either the editor or myself.

In any case, tradition and custom demanded a nickname, Achay Mian and Piaray Mian were already taken, so why not Dularay Mian! Abba immediately rejected that as horrid, as did I when I grew up and heard about it and was eternally grateful to my father for having saved me from that awful fate. Khalajan who had by this time become my foster mother started calling me “mera chella[3]”, and so she referred to me her all her life. And that is what I came to be known as, Challu by some in the immediate family, and Challu Mian to the servants and retainers. Haider Khan, Abba’s dear friend who happened to have come on a short visit, thought Sallu from Salahuddin sounded best. Henceforth, Sallu I was and still am to my friends in school, college, university, to my close officer friends in the Army and after my marriage to my wife, and my in-laws. But during those early days of my life, I was actually Maulvi Syed Salahuddin Ahmed Kirmani.

The First Great War was in its third year; brutal trench warfare was raging in Central Europe, and fierce battles were going on in all regions of the Turkish Empire as well as on the High Seas.

During this period of global upheaval, the Indian National Congress’s Independence Movement and struggle for freedom from British rule took a more serious turn as the Muslim leaders of the Khilafat movement joined forces with them. The Khilafat movement was an attempt to save the office of the Caliph, who was the head (though nominal) of World Muslim Community. The Ottoman Sultan, who was also the Caliph, was at war with the British and the French, and was in imminent danger of losing both the Empire and the Khilafat; all this would eventually happen. The British Indian Empire contained the largest Muslim population in the world and they (the Muslims) felt a strong sentimental tie to the Khilafat. With a further impending loss of prestige, the Muslim mind latched on to its past glory; to name their offsprings after the great Muslim warriors of the past, was at this sensitive time, considered to be especially auspicious. Salahuddin had defeated the combined European powers and driven them out of the Muslim land and so that name Salahuddin became very popular with the Indian Muslims; there were five other boys who shared this name with me at school.

I believe shortly after my birth I was claimed by the renowned Ulema House of Farangi Mahal to be bought up by them as an Alim. This claim was based on the contribution of Dewa towards the establishment of Ilim in Farangi Mahal. Mullah Abdul Halim of Sihali, whose son Mullah Qutubuddin founded the Farangi Mahal Madrasah, had received his education from Maulana Abdus Salam of Dewa at the latter’s then renowned Darul-Uloom where the Maqulat tradition of Islamic scholarship prevailed and was then transmitted on within the Nizamiyya curriculum developed at Farangi Mahal. Thus, by my being taken in by the Farangi Mahalis, that early debt of learning would be paid off. The elders of Jahangirabad, my Nani, the Rani Sahiba and others were strongly in favour of this since they were all Murids of the Alims of Farangi Mahal, as were Amma and Khala Amma. However, my father and uncle Raja Imtiaz Rasul, my Phuppi and Phupa Rafiuddin all opposed this proposition as did my mother and Khala Amma. I was thus spared from becoming a Maulana. This story was repeated to me whenever I visited Farangi Mahal with my mother, which was often. Sometimes I went with one my mother’s cousin from the Baragaon Taluqdari who was a disciple and did actually become a Maulana and secretary to Maulana Abdul Bari. I wonder what sort of Maulana I would have made. My destiny was to become a soldier, not a distinguished one, but a simple ordinary soldier, a life I liked and enjoyed right through my career. Given the choice, I would relive that life again but in those times not the current one.

All I remember of my early life is like a dream; I loved to be with birds and animals and wandered all alone in the garden of our house whenever I could. I continued to enjoy those surrounding throughout my life in India. Whenever I visited Jahangirabad I liked to spend a good part of my stay there not at the palace but at my grandfather’s gardens which were about a furlough from the palace. It still remains in my memory as fresh as ever. There was a very fine garden house on that property and a beautiful greenhouse with a fountain; cool, tranquil and peaceful. A large birdhouse with different species of ducks and swans, a quail house, a separate pigeon house and many more. The man in charge was called Darogha Hurmat, a fine old man with a greying beard and a very pleasant, kindly temperament and manners, extremely respectful to me even when I was a very young child. I learned many aspects of animal life and behaviour from him, and also the use of a gunpowder musket. I called him Hurmat Nana, as we (brothers and sisters) called all the old servants of our maternal grandparent’s time Nana or Nani.

The oldest servants of our maternal uncle and aunts were addressed as Mamoon and Khala. So, we had Dai Nani who was my mother’s foster-mother and governess. Shuratan Nani who was my grandmother’s punkha jhalnay wali[4]; Suleiman Nana the family nai who performed all the circumcisions and took care of minor injuries, and even simple surgery. Hafiz Nana the reciter of the Quran to my grandfather. Dina Nana my grandfather’s khidmatgar. Rehmat Ali Nana the senior-most darzi or tailor from my grandfather’s days. Abdul Karim Mamoon, the Darogha of my uncle’s stables. Fahim Mamoon the chief khidmatgar of my elder Mamoon. Irshad Mamoon, my uncle’s chauffeur who ultimately became the virtual manager of Jahangirabad estate and the most influential retainer of the Maharaja Sahib. In fact, Irshad Mian was entrusted with the task of procuring and purchasing the jewellery for the jehaz of the three sisters of the Maharaja. For this, he was sent to Delhi where identical jewellery was ordered for all three.[5]

In the same way, the servants of my father’s family were Dadi or Dada. Bakrindon Dadi was my paternal grandmother’s senior maid. Mosahib Dada my grandfather’s khidmatgar and so on; many more appeared when we went to our Dewa house for short visits.

By the time I was born the family had already moved to Barabanki, where my father had started practising law. He dealt mainly with revenue cases; criminal cases were an exceptional and only taken on when a Zamindar or his immediate family was involved. Within a few years’ time, he had established a flourishing practice. A large number of the local Taluqdars, Zamindars, both Hindu and Muslims became his lifetime clients. One I recall most clearly was the Rani of Kamiar who made my father her brother in the traditional Rajput custom. She used to send him a Rakhi every year, with great ceremony, along with gifts for Amma and the entire family. There were a number of Rajput families with whom we had similar relations, but she was the most important. Some prominent businessmen also became his clients, one whom I believe was the wealthiest was Seth Mathura Prasad, who on his deathbed entrusted my father with the care of his vast estates, huge business houses, his son, and the family. So, great was Seth Sahibs confidence in my father’s integrity.

Our family had no house at Barabanki; Raja Nana, however, had about seven or eight bungalows almost all permanently rented to the Government for the residential use of district officials. There was one, however, called “Masjid Wali Kothi”, because a mosque, (also built by Jahangirabad) was located in its compound. This house was immediately placed at our disposal but Amma refused to live in it. It was too close to the Courts, and crowds of people were always to be found in its vicinity. A house belonging to one of the Zamindars, in a very poor state of maintenance, was taken on rent. It was located in a grove of very big, ancient trees, near the local ravine Jamuria Nadi[6] which during the monsoons turned into a vast, fast river almost reaching the compound of the house. I remember nothing of it. Amma called it “Khandar walla Ghar[7]. The search to find a suitable residence continued until it was revealed that Choudhri Talib Ali, Taluqedar of Kursi was willing to sell his house. It was a substantial complex, a large building containing two great halls and six sizeable living rooms with wide verandas on three sides and two courtyards. There was a kitchen building and a barrack-like building for the maidservants on one side, and bathrooms on the opposite side. The Mardana[8] section of the house was also a very long barrack-like structure with a tiled, broad veranda facing the public road. Along the boundary wall with its two gates, was a line of large shady Neem trees and a big well. The vast open backyard housed a good number of servant quarters along with the horse-stables, poultry houses and cattle sheds. The entire complex was surrounded by very high walls. Amma did not like this house at all; she thought it ugly, ill-planned and truly symbolic of the absurdity of the Kursi people (for which they were well known in the whole region). A few events may illustrate this widely held opinion; when the sale deed of the house was completed, a messenger arrived, carrying a letter from Choudhri Sahib to Abba, declaring that as an afterthought, he had decided not to sell the wells situated on the property, and requesting an amendment be so made in the sale deed. Abba replied promptly, that due to the great respect and regards he had for Choudhri Sahib, he could not deny his request, but he stipulated a condition, that the wells be removed and taken away without delay. No further correspondence took place. Another oft related story was about the time Choudhri Sahib fell ill and the best medical consultant (or so regarded by the Zamindars of the region) was summoned. This was the British Civil Surgeon in Lucknow, Colonel Hunter, who came, examined the patient, and handed a bottle of medicine to Choudhri Sahib’s manager, and instructed (in his best Urdu) “hella kay piliaga”[9].

A few days later, the Colonel returned to check on Choudhri Sahib’s condition “Kaisa hai Choudhri Sahib?[10]”  “Sahib, acaha to hai laqin jora jora darad karta hai, hamray admmi bahout hilata hai.[11]” “Kaisay?[12]asked the Colonel. The two men held Choudhri Sahib and shook him as hard as they could, up-down, left-right. The Colonel roared in rage at the retainers,  “Ullo ka patha[13] dawa hilana hota hai body nahai[14]”.

In the entire district the term “Kursi ki chutney” was proverbial; when people sat down for a meal and a dish was served later than it should have been it was termed as “Kursi ki chutney”. The story goes it that one of the Nawabs of Awadh was dining with then the Taluqedar of Kursi, dinner was over and done with, when large platters started arriving, the host with great reverence and respect, humbly apologized and begged His Highness not to leave without partaking of the unfortunately belated fare. H.H, however, was not amused, and uttered some unprintable remarks; he had witnessed for himself the idiosyncratic behaviour, characteristic of the people of Kursi. There are innumerable tales of this kind, some I have witnessed first-hand, which I shall relate time and space permitting.

The Taluqdars of Kursi were related to us from my mother’s side, by marriage. Amma’s first cousin known to us as Kursi wali Khala Amma, the eldest daughter of Raja Nawab Ali Khan (Amma’s eldest Chacha) was married to Choudhri Manzoor Ali, the eldest son of Choudhri Talib Ali who had sold his Barabanki house to us.

Before our family could shift into the Kursi house, Dadi passed away at Dewa and was buried at the family graveyard beside Dada. Her last days were very happy indeed; she had seen her son established as a successful lawyer; he had managed not only to retrieve all the landed property encroached on by others (after the death of his father) but in fact added on substantially to his existing estate. She had an excellent daughter-in-law, two grandsons, two granddaughters; and above all the Government had recognized her son’s contribution to public service by awarding him with the title of Khan Bahadur, a tribute seldom granted at such a young age and after such short time in public life. Haji Waris Ali Shah’s advice and prophecy had indeed come true!

The family moved to the newly acquired house, but Amma was still not happy, and she did not regard it as home. The house was well situated, within walking distance of the District courts, the main bazaar Nawab Gung, the post office, the Awadh Trunk Road (Lucknow-Fayzabad Road) and the ‘Lakh Pera’[15], a large grove of Mango, Tamarind (Imli), Jammun, Neem, Pipal and other useful trees, all together said to be a hundred thousand in number, providing shade and shelter to the poor during intense summer heat, as well as access to free fruit. These unique groves were provided and donated for public use by the Nawabs of Awadh in all the major towns of the Province. These were also the locations for the various festivals such as Dussehra and Muharram and where public meetings took place.

Right at the back of the house was an old building which housed the poor and the needy, the “Khairat Khana” or House of Charity, an institute also created by the former Nawabs, and now supported and maintained by the local Muslim community. It soon drew the attention of our Nani and the entire family, and donations in every form flowed generously to it; in addition, a large platter of food was sent there every Thursday evening for Iftari throughout Ramazan and gifts at Eid and Bakara Eid. At a short distance was a shrine called Qadam-i-Ali where an annual festival was held in honour of Hazrat Syedna Ali Karam Allah Wajhoo. Beyond were the open grounds, known as Karbala, used for the yearly burial of the Tazias on the tenth of Muharram. This too was a common feature (which existed) in most of the towns and Qasbas of Awadh. Where the Karbala grounds ended one entered a vast Muslim graveyard, and there, situated on elevated ground, stood the shrine of Hazrat Wajhan Shah, a mystic of high repute, held in great reverence by all the local population. It was a square brick platform, with the grave in the middle, surrounded by an approximately four feet wall with a narrow entrance. It gave the appearance of a room without a roof. According to local legend, it originally was a tomb with a roof, but the roof collapsed immediately after it was built, and thereafter the same thing happened every time they put a roof on, and so eventually it was left roofless. In the meantime, one of his most devoted disciples, who had served the Saint over a long time, died and was buried in a kutcha [16]grave next to the platform. Not long after, a Sheesham plant sprouted right out of the centre of this grave and grew rapidly into a stout tree which upon reaching the height of wall bent over the tomb covering it with its dense branches, like a canopy. It was a peculiar phenomenon. No one could stand inside, to recite the Fateha one stood outside, at the entrance. Only the Mujaweer[17] would climb in, to clean the place, which he did in a squatting position, moving on his haunches. We, as a family became quite attached to this Mazar, and remained regular visitors, even after moving to our new and permanent home. I have a faint memory of my first visit there. I am certain Amma must have taken me to many Mazars, most certainly to Haji Sahib’s at Dewa, Syed Sahib’s at Bansa, and to her own Pir, Maulana Naim of Farangi Mahal at Lucknow, before my memory developed. This visit occurred due to unusual and unforeseen circumstances; it was one of those rare occasions, when Amma went to Jahangirabad with Abba and Bhaijan leaving the three of us, Baji, Hasina and myself in charge of Illahi Bux ki biwi or as we all called her Nani (the widow of Nana’s chief Khidmatgar), who managed the house at all times. We found out much later that Raja Nana had passed away. At such events, the presence of young children was obviously not considered desirable. Unfortunately, during their absence, I fell seriously ill. Poor Nani in despair took me in her arms and ran to the Mazar and standing at the entrance and cried out “Mian hamray Bhaia ko acha kar deo[18]”. It is said, that by the evening I had fully recovered. Perhaps this incident remained rooted in my subconscious mind, for as grew I became, in addition to some others, particularly attached to Wajhan Shah as well.

Last time I went to Barabanki, I visited the shrine a number of times in the same manner, as in the past; very early in the morning, I walked up to the Mazar, recited the Fateha and was back home just about the time that others were waking up. Bhaijan’s attachment was much greater as the man who took over the duties as Mujaweer used to work as a water carrier at our house. This individual received spiritual enlightenment, cut himself off from worldly affairs and made the Mazar his permanent abode. Henceforth he came to be known as Bhista Mian and to Bhaijan a trusted and spiritual friend. I met him once, but was not impressed; I found him to be a simple honest man who believed he had become holy.

Some distance from the Mazar was a mosque built by a PWD[19] official, who lived in his own small house nearby. It was at this mosque that I had my first experience of attending the Juma prayers with Maulvi Rahat Ali who took me with him. Although, I did not know either the words or the drill I was told to keep quiet and follow what others did. Maulvi Sahib taught all of us except Bhaijan, he remained with till his last days, much loved and respected, I shall write more on him later.

There were only two other houses in our neighbourhood. Rai Bahadur Thakur Raghunath Singh, Advocate, had a large, magnificent house adjacent to ours, with a fine garden, in an extensive compound. Thakur Sahib was one of the town’s elites and senior most advocates. Abba worked as his junior as required under the legal practice rules. He was very fond of Abba and his entire family became exceptional and enduring friends even after we moved out of Kursi house to our new and permanent home. Several years later, Thakur Sahib’s family suffered an unspeakable calamity; he died tragically under mysterious circumstances. A government enquiry was held with the consent of the deceased’s family and Abba was appointed as the Receiver.

The other house, right across the road had extensive grounds so heavily enclosed by huge trees, that it appeared almost like a forest and could not be seen from outside. Kamiar House belonged to the Taluqedar Rani of Kamiar, who had made Abba her Rakhi brother in the Rajput tradition. All her litigation cases were handled by Abba. The house remained vacant except when Rani or her brother came for a visit, and then the whole area took on the appearance of an army encampment.

During the period we lived in the Kursi house, many events must have occurred affecting the family and the world at large. The few that linger in my memory are perhaps due to them being retold by my elders many times over during my growing years or, perhaps some just stuck in my sub-conscious mind. The duration of our stay coincided with my fifth to seventh years of age. I was five years old when Raja Nana died; Amma used to tell me that he was very fond of me and would often affectionately seat me on his lap, and I, poking my fingers on his chest would ask him “Raja Nana why are you so fat?”  Raja Nana, Raja Sir Muhammad Tasaduq Rasul Khan Bahadur KCSI[20] was a leading Muslim nobleman of Awadh. One of the richest Taluqdars in the district, he was reputed to be a man of acute judgment. He donated very generously to many causes and institutions, such as Aligarh Muslim University, of which he was a trustee and the Farangi Mahal Darul Uloom as well as the Lucknow University. His relationship and concern for his Reyia (peasantry) was outstanding to the point of being proverbial, he was a Zamindar first and a Muslim second. My nana, Raja Fida Rasul Khan, Raja Tasaduq’s younger brother had died while in his early forties. It was said that he had been poisoned at the behest of his half-brother Raja Nawab Ali to ensure that any rival claim to the Mailariagunj would be eliminated.  The fact that Fida Rasul died suddenly, without any discernible cause or illness, at a fairly young age gave credence to this account. Similarly, it was rumoured that Raja Naushad Ali Khan who succeeded his father Nawab Ali as Raja Mailariagunj was also poisoned as he too died suddenly while still in his late thirties thus the Gadis of both Jahangirabad and Mailariagunj was ensured for the sons of Fida Rasul. According to the will of Raja Nana, Ejaz Rasul (Baray Mamoon) succeeded him to the Taluqdari of Jahangirabad, and Mailariagunj. He was to retain the Jahangirabad Raj, and gift Mailariagunj to Chotay Mamoon, Imtiaz Rasul. The will was accordingly executed by the Deputy Commissioner of Bara Banki as the representative of the Government. Mailariagunj was renamed by mutual consent, and sanctioned by the Government as Rasulpur. Henceforth the two brothers were known as Baray Raja and Chotay Raja. The will regarding the non-Taluqedari properties was to be resolved and disposed by the eldest male member of the family, Raja Ejaz Rasul, but according to Khala Amma, Amma’s eldest sister, Ejaz Rasul suppressed the contents of will and deprived his sisters and younger brother of their rightful and legitimate share of the moveable and non-moveable property. All her life, Khala Amma taunted Baray Mamoon for this act of injustice; she was at times very harsh indeed. One of her harshest tirades, a virtual curse was uttered in presence of the entire family including us the children, “On he who deprives and takes away the haq[21] of the true haqdars[22], into his courtyard will Allah shower a rain of burning hot embers ”. Whenever such an outburst of anger was displayed, there was a complete hush, and Baray Mamoon will abruptly get up and walk away. Many relatives and friends advised us to go to court, but the sisters and brother (Imtiaz Rasul) could not even conceive of such a step. To bring about such disgrace on the family went against all the traditions of the Shurfa. Amma used to get very upset if anyone even jokingly suggested such a course of action; her sharp retort was “Ham Dewa walay nahin hain”[23]. Bibi, our Nani, thought that her eldest son could do no wrong and that all the assets, valuables and vast jewellery collection would remain safe only if kept in the treasury and custody of her most trustworthy eldest son. She also thought that Imtiaz should be content for having received the Taluka of Mailariagunj and title of Raja with it. As for sisters, though that they had no rights in the Taluqedari, Raja Tasaduq Rasul has given each of them a generous guzara[24] allowance to be paid in cash on a monthly basis, as well as a daily khana[25] allowance, or equivalent in cash, for herself, her husband, children and all her servants, which could be conveyed to her when not in residence at either of the family Palaces in Lucknow or Jahangirabad. There was a separate monthly allowance for the upkeep of the paandan and hookah, again in cash or kind. Moreover, the three sisters had permanent accommodation in the Zenana portion of the Qila palace where they also kept most of their valuables. In addition, a number of milk animals were also allocated to them; these were looked after by the Darogha who was in charge of the animals belonging to Bibi (Nani). His name, (which I will never forget) was Thakur. Thakurwa, as Bibi called him, used to bring us large glasses of thick boiled milk, with balie[26]. Both milk and balie were pink, almost red in colour, very delicious and tasty with an excellent flavour. They acquired this characteristic by being boiled through the night in an earthenware pot on a slow fire made with cow-dung cake. The only other time and place I had a similar drink of milk was when I accompanied Abba during cane crushing season to our Zamindari villages; there freshly squeezed cane juice was also added and served very proudly by head villager’s family. Thakurwa was responsible not only for supervising and looking after the animals but for the entire dairy operation, from the milking of the cows to the making of Ghee, which he sold at market-rate to the estate Modi Khana (provision storehouse). The Darogha of the Modi Khana then credited the money into the respective accounts of the various beneficiaries. None of us ever knew how much money Amma got from these transactions but it was said to be quite a generous sum.

Throughout the time we were living at the Kursi house, Abba’s law practice continued to flourish and grow; he was an Advocate at the both the High Courts of Oudh, Lucknow and Allahabad. To the taluqdari estate of Sheikhpur, in which he had a major share (and half the Sanat) were added the adjoining lands and village of Mujeebpur, which he owned in its entirety through purchase. It was an ideally situated estate. The lands and villages lay on both sides of the main Barabanki-Dewa road. As one went past the village bathaik[27] the Dhak[28] forest began and continued for about a mile, with the road passing through our property. Although this was a public road, maintained by the District Board, the plantations, their timber, fruits and other products all belonged to the Zamindar and their upkeep and maintenance were his responsibility and duty. The Mauza[29] Mujeebpur was a part of the Taluqdari estate of Mailariagunj inherited by Raja Naushad Ali Khan, Amma’s first cousin, a gentleman known for his extraordinary, unlimited generosity and extravagant living who died childless while still in his early forties. He left a poorly managed, highly encumbered estate which the Government put up for sale to redeem his debts. Raja Tasaduq Rasul agreed to pay all debts so as to retain the estate within the family. However, Shaikh Wajid Ali, Amma’s Phupa, a cousin of her father’s, and also a minor shareholder in the Mailariagunj Zamindari, who was very fond of his niece, and nephew-in-law and well aware that due to their location these lands would be of great value, persuaded them (Amma and Abba) to purchase the property. With the consent and agreement of Raja Tasaduq Rasul, who had, in the meantime, obtained (the Governments) permission to take possession and obtain all rights of ownership (after payment and clearance of all debts and dues) and the disposal of all other claimants, the property was purchased. With it, however, came numerous, very serious problems due largely to prolonged neglect and gross mismanagement.

A family of Thakurs from the village had appropriated all the powers of the Zamindar, and in fact, claimed ownership of the entire village. They had formed a strong criminal gang (of dakoos[30]) which committed grave atrocities on the poor peasants, and along with some other miscreants waylaid travellers on the main road which passed through the forest. Worst still, it was discovered that this band had revived the dreaded old practice of Thuggee.

There was a thick Mango Grove alongside the main road with a well which served as a stopping place for rest and water, and this was the place they used for carrying out their heinous crimes. One of the gang members, perhaps their leader, lived there masquerading as a Hindu priest looking after a small temple. An effective plan drawn up to wipe out this menace was put into operation. Abba mobilized his resources from the adjoining village of Sheikhpur with Ram Bharosay, the Zaildar[31] taking charge of the newly acquired Zamindari as an additional duty. Ram Bharosay was a renowned strongman of the area, an outstanding fighter who had no equal in use of the Lathi[32] and the sword. He has been in our service as the hereditary Zaildar and was an intensely loyal and devoted retainer. He was able to quickly raise a strong band of dependable stalwarts. The District authorities had already been working in this area for some time and now with the support and help of the local Zamindars, the police operation became so effective that the entire gang of criminals was wiped out. Many were killed in the various skirmishes between them and joint forces of the Police and Bharosay’s men. The few who submitted early were let off after short terms in jail; about fifteen (including the priest) were either hanged or given life sentences, which in those days meant deportation to the Andaman Islands, across the Kala Pani (or black waters) as the ocean was popularly referred to.

Having cleaned up the mess not only on his own estate but also the surrounding area, Abba commenced on his scheme of converting his Zamindari into an agricultural model. His British friends, particularly Mr Grant the Deputy Commissioner, who had already had played a major role in the restoration of law and order, enthusiastically extended his help and advice. He also got the British officers at the Agriculture and Forestry Department interested in the project and very soon work began with great zeal and speed; the old Mango Grove (the thugs killing ground) was reclaimed, the Dhak forest was cleared and a very fine new orchard was established, stocked mainly with choice mangoes of high quality. The varieties of Mangoes included Dasehri, Sufaida, Gulabkhas, Langra as well as many special (uncommon) varieties grown as family specialities grown by the Awadh Muslim gentry. There were many other fruit trees as well, such as Falsa, Kathal (Jackfruit) Guava, Mulberry and Tropical Peach. The whole area was served by a number of irrigation wells, with well-planned water channels. On the land adjoining the old Mango Grove, a new hamlet was laid and named Quluwallahpur. The balda (animal yard) was moved from Sheikhpur and new sheds were built both for animals and agricultural equipment, creating a proper animal yard with solid boundary walls and a gate. Houses for all workers and their families were constructed. Within a short time, the place became a thriving staging post, offering all the necessary facilities for travellers, including a small market place which came to life yearly during Haji Sahib’s Mela at Dewa Sharif.

A portion of the Zamindari was covered by a vast lake extending into other Zamindaris including Phupa Mian’s. During the winter months, the lake was a superb place for duck shooting, and it was here that I was given my first ducking shooting lesson by Wasi Bhai. I found it much too easy though; we started off in a boat which proceeded very quietly through the dense reed-ridden water, as we advanced a cloud of bewildered, squawking Murgabis[33] arose, we fired our 12 bore guns and with just four shots each brought down over a dozen birds which our men quickly retrieved from the water. I did not think it very sportsman-like. In later years, I shot and retrieved in a style I will describe in another chapter. Afterwards, Abba had a part of our part of the lake reclaimed and turned into rice fields.

The vast forest was mainly of Dhak also known as Tesu in the local dialect; in English, it is commonly called the ‘Flame of the Forest’ (Butea Frondosa). The forest started as one reached the place at which the road forked off to Jahangirabad, and continued in depth for about a mile. During the month of June, when the Dhak trees were in full bloom, the entire forest appeared to be ablaze. A truly exquisite and awe-inspiring sight to behold. Dhak is one of the most useful trees in our part of the world; the branches are the main source of domestic firewood while the big, broad leaves used singly or woven together are made into food platters, commonly used for eating or serving food by Hindus; they are also used to make baskets and cups (dauna) by the Halvais or Sweetmeat Vendors to carry their goods; paste made from leave stalk is used as an ointment for pimples; the flowers yield a red dye and ropes are made from root fibre. The base of the tree attracts white ants, a favourite food of partridges, which were in those days stocked as game birds. The forest was the preserve of the Zamindar, with wardens to prevent poaching of animals and birds. Neelgai (blue antelope) deer, hare, peacock, and green pigeon and other small game were in abundance. The villagers, however, were allowed to graze their cattle in certain areas specially reserved for that purpose.

It was for the services Abba had rendered in the restoration of law and order that the Government offered him a large tract of land in the newly canal irrigated Lyallpur district in the Punjab. He submitted his inability to avail of this offer due to the distant location, and the Government in lieu of this, made his existing Zamindari revenue-free, a great favour indeed. In the official documents, he was now addressed as Khan Bahadur, Government Grantee. This was similar to the old Moghul Maufidar[34] or Jagirdar.

There were other events of which I have hazy memories and which I can recollect mostly because they were so often talked about at family gatherings. Bhaijan fell very ill with extremely high fever; his illness was diagnosed as typhoid, considered to be a fatal disease in those days. It was a period of grave crisis and despair. The best doctors from Lucknow were assembled, their unanimous verdict was that there was no hope. Chotey Mamoon in the meantime had driven to Lucknow to fetch the finest Hakims and came back with five of them who after a joint examination gave a positive verdict of hope and recovery. They declared aloud to the gathered family members “Doctor log jhak martey hain, InshaAllah bacha acha ho jai ga”[35]. The Hakims began their treatment at once and within a short time, Bhai Jan’s condition improved and continued to do so. The Hakims’ with great pride and confidence declared that Allah has saved his life, and all should now pray for his complete recovery. In a few months’ time Bhaijan was back in good health, and never in his long life suffered from any other serious illness. During this period of angst, Bibi (Nani Amma) came to live with us along with her entourage and took over the running of the house, which was almost always full of relatives from both sides of the family. At her bidding, trusty messengers, both men and women were hurriedly dispatched to all the Dargahs and Mazars of the great saints in the area seeking their prayers, and beseeching Allah to grant her grandson recovery and health. A mannat[36] was made for the presentation of chaddars[37] at the Dargah’s[38] of Bansa, Dewa, Kithori, Farangi Mahal and Wajhan Shah. Amils[39]and Hafizes[40] were also put to the task of reciting prayers around the clock for immediate effect.

Another event I recall was a serious mishap which involved my sister Hasina. This accident occurred on the night of Shab-i-Barat, the 15th of Shaban[41]. On this special and holy night, it is said that all prayers, wishes and supplications to Allah are granted and fulfilled. To celebrate this blessed night a festival of lights and fireworks is held. We used to get large quantities and varieties of Atashbazi [42] every year. The activities began after the Maghreb prayer and went on late into the night; a thoroughly enjoyable affair. Baji and Hasina had a very fine doll’s house; it was quite large and beautifully decorated and a number of doll families resided in it. I had the privilege of attending many a doll marriage, which took place often between their dolls and those of our first cousins, Affo Baji, Rajo Baji and Jammi. These tended to be long drawn out affairs, celebrated with great pomp and show. On this evening, Hasina decided the dolls too had to take part in the fun. After setting up a display outside the dollhouse, Hasina decided to put one inside as well; she chose a Ghanchukkar, a small rotating firework, which after being lit has to be thrown away and upwards. She threw it inside and squatted down to watch the tamasha[43]. Out it came whirling like a boomerang and stuck her on forearm still oozing fire. The entire house was filled with her painful, terror-stricken screams. Amidst the alarm and uproar, she was quickly picked up by Amma and immediately treated with anti-burn remedies. It took some time for her to recover but the scar remained for life. All the requisite thanksgiving rites and rituals were duly carried out with great faith by Amma. Moreover, for good measure, Sadqa[44] was distributed, and Nazar[45] placed at various Dargahs along with prayers to keep her adventurous and high-spirited daughter safe from similar catastrophic events in future. Hasina was by far the most adventurous and spirited off my siblings. Only older than me by a year, she often led me, and the others into minor scrapes and escapades. Jahangirabad Qila was virtually our second home, Nani Amma resided there till the end of her life, and Amma visited frequently. Her rooms were kept aside for her as were her other two sisters, in fact, she kept her most valuable jewellery there. We children had the run of the entire palace along with our other maternal cousins, mostly our older Khala’s four daughters. The beautifully planted grounds were extensive, especially those around our late Nana, Fida Rasul Khan’s lakeside retreat. The beautiful baradari, equipped with swings was a favourite with the girls in particular. Collecting the crystal pieces that hung from the innumerable giant chandeliers which light up the palace rooms was a popular activity for us. No one was aware of it and the crystals were never missed until we were caught red-handed when Hasina took a fall from the chair she had perched on top of a table and climbed onto to reach out for the coveted sparklers. Although she briefly lost consciousness, which terrified us, she miraculously sustained no serious injury.

Amma was very fond of travelling around within the roughly twenty-five miles radius where most of our relatives resided, and she invariably took us with her when we were home. She travelled in great style in her luxurious bullock carriage with the girls and female attendants, while the boys rode on ponies or horses along-side the male retainers.

We were still living in the Kursi house when my youngest brother was born, the only one amongst our brothers and sisters not born in Jahangirabad. The ancient palace (Qila) was being demolished including the Zenana part of it and the new building under construction was not yet ready Bibi (Nani Amma) had to move to Bari Deohri along with Bari Mummani Jan, so there was just not enough room for more people. Chotey Mamoon’s new house too was also being built, and he and Choti Mummani had to live in the small garden house of the late Rani Nani. The old garden house, my Nana’s, had not been lived in since his death was being renovated for Nani Amma, this too was not yet ready. Known as Naib Sahib’s Bagh, it was a really beautiful place, where later I lived with Amma and of which I have many pleasant memories, I will describe those later. In preparation for the forthcoming event, Nani Amma had to move in with us and she promptly took over the complete running of the household for an extended period. Her entourage included almost all members of Amma’s side of the family including her two old Phuppis. Amman had three Phuppis; one was known as Baragaon Wali Phuppi as she was married into the important Kidwai Taluqdars of Baragaon. She had however passed away some time back. The second one was Mialay Wali Phuppi Amma since she was married into the family of Mailariagunj; the third was Dowgaion Wali Phuppi Amma, an extremely versatile personality, very different in every respect from all other members of the family. She was married into the elite Lucknow family of Shaikhzadas, the erstwhile rulers of Awadh who were ousted by Safdar Jung, the Mughal general of Iranian origin, and founder of the last Muslim dynasty of Nawabs of Awadh. Well educated in Persian, Urdu, Arabic and Hindi literature, she could recite and quote Sadi, Hafiz, Rumi and most Urdu masters. She had a deep knowledge of folklore and legends and was an excellent storyteller An experienced interpreter of dreams she was always consulted in matters of prescribing auspicious days, dates and time for undertaking journeys or any other important ventures. Tradition dictated that naming the newborn was also the right of the mother’s family. This prerogative was availed of and Dowgaion Wali Phuppi Amma named the newcomer, with all the prayers, and blessings as Wahajuddin.

Mosahib, Abba’s Khidmatgar, claiming his right as the senior most retainer of the family, presented himself to Nani Amma seeking permission to announce the birth, which on being granted, he immediately went off to load his muzzle-gun. This was loaded, reloaded, fired and re-fired till he was satisfied. Mosahib was a fine example of the Khidmatgars who served the Awadh gentry; a type difficult to describe, a gentleman’s gentleman, refined, correct in manners, etiquette, decorum and dress at all times and occasions; exceedingly devoted to the master, and thoroughly loyal to the family. This breed has now become extinct with the disappearance of the landed class of Awadh nobility, the Shurfa. Mosahib was an orphan who was brought up by Dadi and had looked after Abba since his Aligarh days. He remained a trustworthy servant till his death in a tragic accident; one afternoon, as was often his habit, he loaded his old gun and went out to shoot the green pigeons which abounded in the branches of a big Pipal tree across the road. As he fired the gun, the stock and barrel blew up in his face causing instant death. It was a very sad and mournful event for our family and the household. His duties were taken over by Hurmat, son of Goongi and Goonga, a mute couple also nurtured by Dadi who also had remained in our service. Hurmat had been working as Mosahib’s apprentice for several years prior to this event.

Abba’s old Moharir/Munshi[46], Mukarram Chacha (also a distant relation) had worked with him from the very start of his legal career and took care of preparation of cases and the compilation of various formalities at the lower level; he now expressed his desire to retire due to age and failing health. A new, younger man was brought in, this time a distant relative of Amma’s, Mohammad Ahsan. He belonged to a branch of the family who had lost their fortunes after the war of 1857, having fought against the British. These men were now mostly dependent for their livelihood on their more fortunate relations, who gave them jobs as Munshis, Moharirs, Ziladars and so forth, which entailed working with the law courts, or Zamindari lands. Yet they were treated not as servants, but social equals and lived as part of the family enjoying the respect and dignity of a family member. Ahsan Mian (as he was addressed by the servants and others) and Ahsan Mamoon (by us children) was one such individual. Abba took great pain to educate, train and coach him, so as to bring him up to his highest professional ability, as well to attain the polished social standards of manners and conduct required of a man of the upper classes, the Shurfa.[47] Ahsan Mian in course of time became a very important person in our household. He did not remain just a Moharir but also represented Abba at meetings he (Abba) was unable to attend. During and after Abba’s illness, he was entrusted with the management of the estate. After Abba’s death, my two brothers and I with mutually agreed to transfer our entire patrimony to Amma so that she would remain as financially independent as before. Ahsan Mian was given the status of Mukhtar (Attorney) and management of the entire property, but he betrayed the trust imposed in him and committed the most serious of frauds in disposing, by deceit, the most valuable lands and properties, thus depriving Amma of the ownership and the income she would have got from it in her old age. But more about that later.[48]

Amma had never been happy living in the Kursi house; she could not adopt it as her home or redesign and make suitable alterations. She thought the place was baydhanga [49]in every respect. There was plenty of land within the compound where a new house could be constructed, but the family at that moment in time was suffering from a dreadful, superstitious belief that building a new house brings misfortune and bad luck. Phuppi Amma was the author of this belief based on two tragic incidents in her own life. Her husband had abandoned their ancestral home and built a new house; shortly after the completion of that house, he passed away. Furthermore, soon after moving into the new house she lost two of her four sons within a period of six months; the eldest at Cambridge,[50] just after he had completed his studies and was about to return home. He is buried at the university graveyard. The youngest fell off the horse right in front of his parents and died instantly, She also lost her eldest daughter, and the husband of her youngest daughter within that six-month period. After this series of tragedies, Phuppi Amma never wore coloured garments or a single item of jewellery her entire life after these series of tragedies and she never laughed again. my Phupa Maulvi Khan Bahadur Rafiuddin had demolished the old haveli and turned it into a Piam Bagh[51] adjoining his newly constructed house. The old haveli had a very beautiful gate which I remember from my childhood days as my mother really admired the structure and commented on it each time we passed the gate. That too was unfortunately demolished. Phuppi Amma would not allow Abba and Amma to build a new house, and, so strong was her foreboding in this regard that even many years later when her third son Wasiuddin married Zehra Begum (Meher’s Khala) and wanted to build a new house, he could not do so in her lifetime.

None of the old houses in the town were to Amma’s liking, but she could not go against Phuppi Amma’s wishes as her own mother (Nani Amma) very strongly reinforced the ominous foreboding.  The dilemma was finally resolved, a certain gentleman from the Provincial Civil Service, working as Secretary of local Municipality, had acquired a large tract of land and had begun laying a garden, and building a house on this property which lay between Jahangirabad and Dewa Sharif. Since Amma travelled to both these places very often, she started paying special attention and followed the construction with ever-increasing interest. She waited till the house was almost ready, then one day while passing the house she suddenly stopped reciting the Wazifa/Darood Taj[52] (which she always did whenever she travelled in any type of vehicle) and started praying “Allah grant this place to me and my children to live in permanently”.

She was on her way to Jahangirabad but decided to visit Haji Sahib’s Mazar at Dewa Sharif first, to seek Haji Sahib’s help and blessing. At Jahangirabad everyone liked the idea, and on her return to Barabanki, Abba too approved strongly. He promptly met with Khan Bahadur Choudhri Rashiduddin Ashraf, a good friend of Bari Mamoonjan, and one of the biggest landlords in town, the Taluqedar of Paisar and chairman of the Municipal Board. Through his good offices, the sale of the property was agreed upon and the purchase made with all the necessary legal formalities. However, before moving in a number of modifications had to be made. All the adjacent land too was bought to increase the garden area, a chicken house constructed, a small room fitted to house Bhaijan’s precious and fine collection of pigeons, sheds for the milk animals laid out, horse stables and carriage house built and properly fitted out. There were two kutcha[53] wells on the property; one was to be closed and the other was to be made pucca[54] and redesigned with a ramp so that two bullocks could be used to draw water for the garden’s irrigation. A number of other alterations had to be made to be also made to suit our style of living. While the work was going on, we often accompanied our parents who visited the house most evenings to check on the progress, generally sitting on Mardana side of the Chabutra[55]. On one of those evening, Bhaijan pointed out the marble slab on the top wall of the veranda which was engraved ‘KASHMIRI LODGE’, the name of the house (as the previous owner had a Kashmiri connection) and suggested that the name be changed to “Kermani Lodge”. No sooner had this sentiment been expressed, that we saw Chotey Mamoon’s car enter the gate; he often dropped in to discuss the ongoing progress and to help or assist as he could. As he got out of the car, we all stood up, he asked loudly “ Aray kia ho rahaa hai”[56] Bhaijan pointed his finger towards the slab, “Ghar ka naam badalnay ki bat ho rahee hai[57] Mamoonjan climbed up to the Chabutra, turned around facing the gate and called out “Araay Mahmood, Taqiueen, kaahan etnay nasseebwar lowg hongay jinko shaaher atna acha nazara naseeb hoga, dekoho”.[58] He pointed out the view of the ‘Company Garden’ the park across the road whose boundary ran parallel to the house. He then proclaimed to all present “Ab ghar kanaam angrezi mein PARK VIEW hoga”.[59] The very next day he sent men out to fix a marble slab with the chosen name. Thus, our new home was named by our very loving and adored Mamoon, Captain Raja Imtiaz Rasul Khan of the Imperial Cadet Corp, Taluqedar and Raja of Rasulpur.

We moved into our new home with immense joy and delight and Allah bestowed on our family His blessings. I will, therefore, close this chapter in my life on this note and begin a new one as the next chapter of my life unfolded. The name of the house still remains (as Bhabhi Jan resides there) Park View, Civil Lines Bara Banki. To the public, it was always known as Kermani Sahib Ki Kothi, and so it’s still called.

Before we could take up residence however, a number of important rituals and ceremonies had to be carried out. All the floors including the outside Chabutra, servant quarters, animal houses were washed; the entire house, every nook, and corner cleansed with smoke by burning huge quantities of Loban[60] and Agar[61]. Two Hafiz Quran had to go through each and every room of the house, and then outside, reciting aloud verses of the Holy book. The entire garden area was flooded to flush out vermin such as snakes and rats. A strong dose of potassium permanganate was added to the well water, and Neem leaves mixed with cow dung burned so that the smoke would spread out in the entire area. After the completion of all these preventive measures to ward off evil, infection, and disease as far as humanly possible, the family moved into the new home. The most difficult task was establishing Bhaijan’s pigeons in their new homes; they kept flying back to their old abode. Hurmat Darogha was urgently summoned for help and advice. His first act was to have the feathers of all the birds tied in such a manner that they could not fly. They were then caged and kept hungry by denying them the evening feed. The next morning, he started picking out pairs; he would untie the feather of the male and release it but kept the female’s wings tied so that she was still incapable of flying. In about a week’s time, all had settled well in their new home. Hurmat Darogha was my Nana’s steward in charge of Shikar (hunting). His responsibilities included taking care of the game birds, chicken and a variety of birds including waterfowls, all housed in a park adjoining Nana’s garden house. That property was located in a very beautiful pleasure garden with a Baradari[62] and a large swimming pool. The Baradari was constructed on a big pyramidal shaped mound with a flattened brick tiled top and broad steps all around. From the top one enjoyed an excellent view of the lake and green fields and in the distance the beautiful dome of Haji Sahibs tomb and the town of Dewa. Nanajans’s extremely lavish parties, which he used to hold often were still much talked about even after he had been gone for many years. The older relatives, family friends and servants would describe with profound love and respect, the excellence and exquisite taste with which the Qawalis and the Musahira[63] meetings were arranged by his highly talented nephew Raja Naushad Ali himself a poet of repute. One of his poems in praise of the Prophet was so popular that it became a regular feature at all the Qawwalis held at that time, at least in Awadh, Bihar and other neighbouring areas.

 

[1] “zamin ek baleesh uthi hai”

[2] The place where the musicians sat situated above the entrance gate of the palace.

[3] Side-kick 

[4] The Fan maid.

[5] Note from Rumina Kermani: Over half a century later a gentleman at a wedding reception stopped me to inquire if I was related to the Jahangirabad family. He had noticed my very distinctive turquoise and gold chu -a dati (teeth of mice) bracelet,  his wife he told me had an identical piece; she was a granddaughter of the eldest sister, and therefore my father’s second cousin.

[6] River

[7] The house in ruins

[8] Male Section of a house

[9] Shake before drinking

[10] “How is Ch. Sahib?”

[11] “Sahib, I am better, but every joint in my body hurts, my men shake too hard.”

[12] “How?”

[13] Literally: Son of an owl/Idiot

[14] “You idiots, you shake the bottle, not the body”

[15] A million trees

[16] Unfinished

[17] Custodian

[18] Sir, make him better

[19] Public Works Department

[20] Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India

[21] Right

[22] Rightful

[23] “We are not Dewa Walla’s”

[24] To get by

[25] Food

[26] Cream

[27] Gathering place

[28] Flame of the Forest

[29] Village

[30] Dacoits

[31] Village headman

[32] Martial art based on cane-fighting.

[33] Eurasian Teal

[34] Holder of tax and rent-free land

[35] “Doctors waste time. God willing the boy will recover”.

[36] Vow

[37] Sheet

[38] Shrines

[39] Exorcist

[40] Quranic Scholar

[41] Holy month in the Islamic Calendar

[42] Fireworks

[43] Spectacle/entertainment

[44] Charity

[45] Offerings to protect against the evil eye

[46] Secretary

[47] Assistant

[48] The produce of the orchards were sold on a yearly basis. Ahsan Mian would draw out the contract and Amma would sign it. One year he produced the papers and as usual, she affixed her signature to without realising that the contract was actually a sale deal for all the property, not just the produce. This fraud only came to light the following year when no contract or income from the orchards was presented to her. Other than Piyara Chacha all her offspring were in Pakistan by now, and they did not come to know of this deceit until several years later. No case was filed and therefore nothing recovered.

[49] Unstructured and ungainly

[50] He was a casualty of the influenza pandemic of 1918-19

[51]  Flower Garden 

[52] Prayer for a safe journey

[53] Non-permanent

[54] Permanent

[55] Terrace

[56] “What is going on?”

[57] “The name of the house is being changed”.

[58] Oh Mahmood, Taqiueen who many people in this town are lucky enough to possess such a fine view of the landscape.

[59] From now on the name of this house will be called (in English) Park View

[60] Incense made from the resinous hardwood of evergreens native to South Asia

[61]  Frankincense

[62] A pavilion with 12 doors designed to allow free flow of air used for outdoor entertaining.

[63] Poetic gatherings

 

bbh3
Barabanki house
Amma and Abba
Taqi-un-Nissa Begum and Khan Bahadur Mahmood-ul- Hasan of Dewa Sharif
Piyara Chacha .jpg2
Zainuddin Kirmani (Piaray Bhaijan)
Piyra Chacha
Zainuddin Kirmani ( Piaray Bhaijan)

 

S.Phupi jpg
Sahida (Baji)
Bari Phupijan
Shahida (Baji)
Haseena (2)
Hasina
Image10 (1)
Hasina and Wahaj
777b1cd4-33a0-4038-b95b-cd7ca2a45039
Wahajuddin 
Image17
Wahajuddin
Murshida_phupi_
Murshida

 

KB Rafiuddin
Khan Bahadur Rafiuddin, Taluqdar of Mirpur with his four sons; from left to right Muniruddin, Wasiuddin, Khan Bahadur Rafiuddin, Ziauddin and Iqtadaruddin

 

Taluqdar of Mirpur, Molavi Syed Nasiruddin
Taluqdar of Mirpur, Molavi Syed Nasiruddin
Maharaja Ejaz Rasul Khan of Jahangirabad (seated) and Raja Imtiaz Rasul Khan of Rasulpur
Maharaja Ejaz Rasul Khan of Jahangirabad (seated) and Raja Imtiaz Rasul Khan of Rasulpur

 

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Raja Farzand Ali Khan of Jahangirabad
fullsizeoutput_2214
Raja Nawab Ali Khan of Mailaraiganj
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Wolseley car

.http://digital-libraries.saic.edu/cdm/search/searchterm/Raja%20Jahangirabad,%20Zenana%20Palace%20for/field/all/mode/exact/conn/and/cosuppress/

The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006) Chapter 1

                                          My Family

According to our family tradition, as related to me by my elders and my late father1 (who had a very thorough knowledge of his family history) my father’s family is descended from Shah Ziauddin a descendant of Shah Shuja-al-Faris2, the renowned Sufi Saint of Kerman. It is recorded in the Government Gazetteer of Barabanki3 that Shah Ziauddin came to Dewa at the time when this area was ruled by the Sharqi dynasty of Jaunpur. It was King Hussain Sharqi who granted the villages Alimaw and Niamaw and others in Dewa and Kursi to the Shah.
Shah Ziauddin came to India as a member of Amir Timur’s court (it is said that he was kept as a hostage along with many other important dignitaries of the lands conquered by Timur). After Delhi fell to the Amir, he found that he had far too many prisoners and hostages and so he ordered many of the prisoners be executed. Those aristocratic detainees who gave a pledge, never to return to their home countries, were given their freedom to remain and settle anywhere in India. Amongst them, those who were learned, or scholars were given gifts of money and instructed to spread learning and the light of Islam. Amir Timur invaded India in 1398 AD
Dewa is a very ancient Muslim town (Qasba) lying in Latitude 27.2 and Longitude 81.10 east, off the Nawabganj-Fathepur road, about 8 miles from the Barabanki District Headquarters. The name of Dewa is said to be derived from the name of a man called Dewal Rikh. According to the local traditions, Dewa had been conquered at the time of Syed Salar Masud Ghazi by troops under the command of Shah Wesh. There used to be an old mound in the centre of the town, which we as children were told were the tombs of Syed Kamal and Syed Jamal, the sons of Shah Wesh. We had to recite the Fateha4 whenever we passed these tombs.
to our family tradition, as related to me by my elders and my late father[1] (who had a very thorough knowledge of his family history) my father’s family is descended from Shah Ziauddin a descendant of Shah Shuja-al-Faris[2], the renowned Sufi Saint of Kerman. It is recorded in the Government Gazetteer of Barabanki[3] that Shah Ziauddin came to Dewa at the time when this area was ruled by the Sharqi dynasty of Jaunpur. It was King Hussain Sharqi who granted the villages Alimaw and Niamaw and others in Dewa and Kursi to the Shah.

Shah Ziauddin came to India as a member of Amir Timur’s court (it is said that he was kept as a hostage along with many other important dignitaries of the lands conquered by Timur). After Delhi fell to the Amir, he found that he had far too many prisoners and hostages and so he ordered many of the prisoners be executed. Those aristocratic detainees who gave a pledge, never to return to their home countries, were given their freedom to remain and settle anywhere in India. Amongst them, those who were learned, or scholars were given gifts of money and instructed to spread learning and the light of Islam. Amir Timur invaded India in 1398 AD

Dewa is a very ancient Muslim town (Qasba) lying in Latitude 27.2 and Longitude 81.10 east, off the Nawabganj-Fathepur road, about 8 miles from the Barabanki District Headquarters. The name of Dewa is said to be derived from the name of a man called Dewal Rikh. According to the local traditions, Dewa had been conquered at the time of Syed Salar Masud Ghazi by troops under the command of Shah Wesh. There used to be an old mound in the centre of the town, which we as children were told were the tombs of Syed Kamal and Syed Jamal, the sons of Shah Wesh. We had to recite the Fateha[4] whenever we passed these tombs.

Shah Ziauddin married into a well-established local family; his great-grandson was the celebrated Makhdoom Bandagi-Azam Sani[5], the saint of Lucknow whose tomb is situated at the Teela Wali Masjid and can be seen from many parts of old Lucknow. That holy man’s great-grandson Syed Mohibullah married the daughter of Qazi Mahmood, a scion of an established old Dewa family. Their son, Maulana Abdus Salam (d 1629-30)[6], became Mufti-i-Azam or Chief Mufti of the Mughal army during the reign of the Emperor Shah Jahan. Maulana Abdus Salam’s son was also appointed Qazi-ul-Quzzat at Delhi and remained as such during Aurangzeb’s reign. During this period, the family acquired considerable properties in and around Dewa, as well as numerous villages as Madad-i-Maash[7] Jagirs. Maulana Abdus Salam, a disciple of Mulla Abd al-Salam Lahawri, was a proponent and scholar of the Maqulat[8] tradition of learning. He established a Darul Uloom[9] at Dewa which became famous and established the Qasba as a centre of Islamic learning. The founder of the prominent Farangi Mahal Islamic School, Mulla Abd al-Halim, was a student and disciple of Maulana Abdus Salam[10]. The family remained in possession of their estates and prospered. Henceforth they came to be known as the Khandan-e-Abdus Salam. They remained connected with the Mughal court in one way or the other but no one else appears to have held a VIP status. There was one gentleman, however, who was said to have been a courtier and companion of the Emperor Mohammad Shah Rangeley. He held the title of Nawab and the Jagir of a number of villages. His tomb built in the Mughal style is in a derelict state. It still exists in Dewa, near our family graveyard. His name, I believe, though not sure, was Mujeebuddin, Nawab Mujeeb-ud-Dawla. His immediate family, unfortunately, fell on hard times; the estate disintegrated and was sold off. One of these properties, the village of Mujeebpur was purchased by Raja Mardan Ali Khan Bahadur, Taluqedar of Mailariagunj, my mother’s grandfather; this village was later repurchased by my father after his marriage to my mother. It was adjacent to my father’s Taluqedari estate of Sheikhpur. As a courtier of Mohammad Shah, this relative of ours led a lifestyle similar to his royal master. My father used to relate an anecdote about him; on a visit to Dewa, he (the Nawab Sahib) was reproached for drinking wine; his reply was “yak toothahiy, do toothahiy cheey kardast khandan Abdus Salam[11]. His descendants were all killed in 1857. The last remaining member of his family was hung by the British at Aligarh Fort and the body was dropped into a well along with many others. When I was going to Aligarh for my studies, my father gave me strict instructions to visit this place to recite Fateha, which I did, as long as I was at Aligarh. People from nearby villages and from the city used to light chirags[12] there every Thursday evening.

After the downfall of the Mughals, the royal patronage that the Dewa families enjoyed ended. The province came to be ruled by the Nawabs who had previously been the viceroys of the Mughal Emperors. By this time the British had become the virtual rulers of north India. The East India Company entered into a treaty with the Nawab of Awadh, who now assumed the title of ‘King’. A British officer of high rank resided at the court in the capital city of Lucknow and was known as the ‘Resident’[13], and contingents of Company troops, both British and Indian were stationed at the newly created Cantonments. The Company made itself responsible not only for the defence of the Kingdom but for all matters of external affairs, relationships with other rulers and foreign powers. Eventually, after the Indian Revolt of 1857, the Kingdom of Awadh too was dissolved and made a British province under the Queen of England, who assumed the title of Empress of India. Most of the Dewa families do not appear to have played any significant role during this period. But having lost their more recent patrons, the Nawabs, they now sought service in the British Indian Government.

One of the first to join the British Service was Maulvi (later Khan Bahadur) Hafizuddin Ahmed, my Dadi’s father. He was appointed Munsif at Aligarh and was a contemporary of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. They, in fact, held similar posts during the Mutiny, Sir Syed as Munsif at Bijnor and Maulvi Hafiz at Aligarh. Due to his influence, many of the Zamindars of Dewa kept themselves aloof and did not join the rebellion.

By this time Dewa had ceased to be a place of learning and scholarship, instead, it came to be known for its acrimonious family disputes over property and marriages. The descendants of Abdus Salam did not consider many other families of Oudh as their equal in “hasab-u- nasab[14]. So much so, that Emperor Aurangzeb termed them “Mutakabeeraan Dewa[15] the egotistical of Dewa”, as opposed to “Mudaberaan Kakori[16], “the wise of Kakori”. Qasba Kakori was the home of Abdus Salam’s mother.

Because of these disputes, some family members moved away from Dewa to live in other Qasbas such as Fathepur and Kakori Most of the estates were sold off and many great properties left in wretched circumstances.

Dewa, however, became very famous, and still is, as the birthplace and home of Haji Waris Ali Shah the great Sufi Saint of the 19th century. He is buried there in a magnificent Mausoleum built by his disciples. Dewa, from then onwards acquired the status of Dewa Sharif.

My Dada, Maulvi Aleemuddin Ahmed, who held the position of Deputy Superintendent of Jails, married Bibi Aleem un-Nissa, the youngest daughter of Khan Bahadur Maulvi Hafizuddin and his wife who was a niece of Haji Waris Ali Shah. They had two sons and a daughter. Their eldest son Hamid ul-Hasan was the first member from the family to obtain a BA degree. He was appointed as District Opium Officer, a position held at that time exclusively by British officers. He had great influence within the extended family and encouraged many to take advantage of the new educational system set up by the British Government. The Muslims of Northern India, particularly of Awadh, were still brooding over their lost kingdoms and empires and were resistant to change. My late uncle, as I was told, not only tried to persuade his kinsmen to obtain an English education, he refused to allow the marriage of his only sister to their cousin, Maulvi Rafiuddin Ahmed, until the prospective groom acquired the prerequisite education; at least up to the Matric[17] level. Maulvi Rafiuddin subsequently obtained a BA degree, married my aunt, and was nominated as Deputy Collector[18]. He did well in service and rose to become one of the first Indian Deputy Commissioners[19] in the Province, known at that time as the United Provinces of Agra and Awadh. He also received the title of Khan Bahadur. He was the Taluqedar of Mirpur, and one of the most highly respected gentlemen of Dewa.

I have been unable to obtain any information about my grandfather and grandmother’s marriage dates. It appears that my father was born in 1887, his sister and my Phuppi, Shafiq un-Nissa Begum, was thirteen years older than him. My grandmother had lost many babies at, or immediately after birth, so this time, it was arranged that the newly born be immediately adopted by another woman. Such a woman was found and her terms and conditions for accepting the ritualistic adoption were suitably met. She was given solid gold jewellery, comprising of bangles (karaas), anklets, bracelets (tawak) and earrings. She was also provided with three sets of expensive ‘jooras’ (complete outfits), while her husband was presented with a new outfit and a Kashmir shawl, all this with cash in silver and gold coins. This woman was a Mirassan[20] called Choti. I remember her well as she with her husband and the son appeared at our home at Barabanki quite often, particularly during the various festivals, seasonal or religious. Choti Bi would be decked out with all her ornaments including a huge nose-ring, large dangling earrings and other jewellery. She was given special honour and care by everyone and the servants had to be especially respectful to her and her family. Her husband, a rather ugly and extremely dark man, was mortally frightened of his wife. She called him my Bagarbilla*; and considered him to be a coward. She always had a new tale to tell about his antics of ‘Bahaduri[21] as she called them. I remember her telling my mother one such tale;[22]Dulhan Bibi, abki jab Baragaon say Hameed Mian kay ghar say haam chlallay toaw Ghulam Abbas kahin tum downo jaawo ham kall aiba. Hum khaian tumray aabba kay sath akailay jaat darath hain.Ghulam Abbas kay u sun kay khafay huee gaiay aour boolay, chalaow ham tomka sub aafat say bachawat naheen rahin hai. Hamid Mian kay sipahy say aik bara danda lahin, aagay seena nikal kay khaitown kee pagandi par. Hum chadar orrah pichay, pichay chalay. Ihoowri door giaiy rahan doo admi paas kay khait say hamri taraf pukart, Bhai sonaw, tharaw awaat lagay, jaisay hamray bagarbilay u majira dekhin apna danda aur hamka chowr bhagay. Wah, doonay admi hamray pas bhag kay aigai aur poochin, ey kow hoian jo bhagat hain ham toaw Bansa ka rasta poochan han, ham unka rasta bataidehen uo challaygaiy, ham akalaiy danda autay kay akalay jab chalpary tow Bibi yeh aai aur kahin toaw samjey rahan yeh admi tumra gehna aur toomka cheenow aaut hain”.                                                                                                        

My Chacha, Hamid ul-Hasan died young at Bahraich where he was serving at that time. He is buried in the graveyard adjoining the shrine of Syed Salar Masud Ghazi. I always wanted to visit the Dargah of that great warrior saint and my uncle’s grave, but somehow never made it. Very little is known about him. My aunt always broke into tears whenever his name was mentioned. My father was far too young to know much, except what he had heard from his mother. He must have been a very learned man; this I discovered when I had two big metal trunks opened up (which had been lying around from my grandmother’s time and used as a ‘takht’, with an old ‘duree’ and Fathepuri carpet covering the top). These boxes contained a collection of English books: Shakespeare, Milton, and many others as well as books of Persian literature, poetry and philosophy. In addition, I found a manuscript written by my great grandfather Maulvi Nizamuddin, comprised of Invocation and Benediction Prayers for various occasions and purposes. Since it was very old and in a state of decay, I had two handwritten copies made. Maulvi Rahat Ali who had taught us the Quran and (how to read and write) Urdu, Arabic, Farsi and theology, obligingly transcribed the text for me. Maulvi Sahib taught Baji, (my eldest sister) Hasina, Wahaj and Murshida and me. He lived with us permanently all his life. We had another tutor, a comparatively young man who was a teacher at the local government school who taught us geography, history, mathematics etc. He was a fervently religious Muslim and I remember he always referred to Turkey as Rum. He died while I was away at school at Aligarh. Bhaijan had a different set of teachers, three tutors in all; one for Persian, Urdu and Arabic one for English and one for theology, maths, and the other subjects such as geography and history. His English tutor an old, Christian gentleman also taught me English after I had a serious fall out with my previous tutor Pandit Sher Bahadur who had a fondness for the stick. The one time he tried to cane me I grabbed the stick with my hand and hit him as hard as I could on his face and went mad with rage. There was a terrific uproar and everyone including my mother seemed to be against me. It was however decided he would no longer tutor me and I was to be taught by Bhaijan’s teacher.

In the metal trunks, I also discovered an old parchment with our family tree, complete up to my grandfathers’ names and other branches of the family. Unfortunately, this along with with the manuscript, plus a copy of the Quran, (the first edition of Allama Yusuf Ali’s translation), were all lost when I was transferred on a posting to Karachi. After having failed to obtain another copy from anyone in the immediate or extended family, I have managed to reconstruct our family tree. It took me a long time collecting information in bits and pieces, including many hours in India House Library in London, and then collating it.

It was shortly after my Phupi’s marriage that my Chacha, Hamid passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. A few months later, perhaps because he could not bear the great shock, my grandfather too died leaving a widow with a young son to bring up. My grandmother, Aleem un-Nissa Begum, appears have been a very capable lady judging from the manner in which she managed her affairs. However, despite all her efforts, it was difficult for her to handle the many relatives, who both covertly, and, overtly, tried to deprive her of property, land and other possessions. Some of these people, went as far as to discourage her from educating her young son, as they thought any expense on his education would be waste of money; fortunately, there were a few who stood by her and helped in no uncertain terms. One of these was her mother’s Mamoon, the great Saint Haji Waris Ali Shah, who not only provided continuous, spiritual solace, but predicted a great future for the boy. He advised her against seeking a government service job for him and instead recommended the legal profession, as a Vakil (lawyer). He also predicted that Mahmood would attain such influence and status, that no one else in the family would be able to equal him. The other person, who was a great support to her, was Zahooruddin Ahmed known to all and sundry, as Master Zahoor Sahib, my grandfather’s cousin and a good friend. He was known as “Master” as he had acquired a high-level English education in addition to the traditional Indian/Muslim scholarship. (Such teachers were in those days called “Master” as in previous times they had been referred to as Maulvi).

Master Zahoor promptly took the matter of my father’s education into his own hands. It was decided that young Mahmood would go to Aligarh school, M.A.O. College, and not to a school in nearby Lucknow where most of the young men from upper class Oudh families were sent. There were several reasons for choosing Aligarh; it was by now established as a superior institution of learning; the place for the elite families of India to send their sons in pursuit of progressive, modern education. Maulvi Hafizuddin had been Munsif at Aligarh when Sir Syed started his school there, and he had a large number of close friends among the Rais[23] of that area. He had known Sir Syed’s family well, and my grandmother felt assured that her young son would be well looked after, even though he would be living in the boarding house. Above all, he would be saved from Dewa’s toxic environment of intrigue and quarrels. An example had been set by a distinguished member of the Makhdoom Zadgan of the neighbouring Qasba of Fathepur, Maulvi Masood Ali, who had been a member of the first batch to graduate from Sir Syed’s Aligarh School. He was also one of the first to graduate with distinction, and to write BA(Alig.) after his name. His father Maulvi Ahmed Ali had been ‘Sheristadar’[24] and a close, trusted friend and employee of General Fraser, the British Resident at the Moghul court in Delhi in the mid-nineteenth century. Maulvi Masood Ali was closely related to Dewa family since his Mamoon was married to my Dadi’s older sister. And so, without much ado, my father was sent off to study at Aligarh.

Many years later, a friend of his, on a visit to Barabanki, described my father’s lifestyle as an undergraduate; he had his own personal servant, was outfitted with the complete and essential paraphernalia of Paandan and Hookah, and had special arrangements for food preparation, as he took an immediate dislike to the dining hall food which he seldom ate. Father seemed to have enjoyed reading immensely, as borne out by the large number of books he had in his library. Milton, Chaucer, Shakespeare and many other luminaries of English literature, were to be found, beautiful leather bound, with a large M.A.O. College crest in gold along with the ubiquitous Hafiz, Saadi and Mirza Ghalib. He made some excellent, loyal and devoted lifelong friends. One of them, Mohammad Haider Khan, was a scion of an established Lucknowi military family of Pathan origin, whose members had served in the armies of the Awadh Nawabs. Haider Khan’s father was the Wazir-i-Wizarat[25] in State of Jammu & Kashmir and since it was difficult for him to go there and return during college vacations, he came to Dewa where my grandmother treated him as a son. In Abba’s class, at Aligarh, there were two other boys named Mahmood, a popular name those days, this created constant problems in the college accounts department and so my father added Kirmani to his name. It was becoming fashionable at that time to adopt a family surname, for the most part, due to the influence of the British. The story was told about a member of Gadia Taluqedari family, Shahid Hussain who had gone to Cambridge, and was given some forms to fill out on entering the University, as he submitted his forms to the administrator concerned, it was pointed out to him that he had forgotten to write his surname on an impulse he wrote Kidwai. Thus, the famous clan who knew their identity but never actually wrote it started doing so. Thus, my father adopted Kirmani as his surname and subsequently other members of the extended family followed suit, though the older family members did not. In the course of time, all those families who traced their descent from Abdus Salam, including those in other Qasbas such as Kakoori and Unao, who had migrated from Dewa adopted it as well. We, our immediate family later modified the spelling by replacing the “i” with “e” as it was found to be more in line with the Iranian practice and diction.

As my father approached graduation, he came to be viewed as an extremely eligible young man by all those relatives who had daughters of marriageable age. Once again, his mother came under pressure from the extended family, this time to select a suitable match amongst their daughters. And once again, Master Zahoor came to her rescue, to help and advise her in this matter as well. If she was willing to welcome a daughter-in-law from outside the family circle, he could get her son married into one of the most powerful, influential and wealthiest Taluqedari families of the region. After much deliberation and consideration, she gave her consent. It was agreed that this would remain a secret between the two of till the matter was finalised. Master Zahoor was assistant to the British resident tutor, selected and appointed, by order of the Governor of UP, to educate the two young nephews of Raja Sir Tasaduq Rasul Khan Bahadur, Taluqedar of Jahangirabad. Master Zahoor was also held in high regard and esteem by the entire Jahangirabad family. As it so happened, a search was on to find a suitable match for second daughter of the Late Raja Fida Rasul Khan, the younger brother of the Raja Tasaduq Rasul, who had died while still in his forties, leaving a widow, two sons and three daughters, two of them unmarried, all living under the guardianship of their childless uncle at the Qila, the Jahangirabad Fort, a few miles from Dewa.

Master Zahoor at the very first opportunity, put the proposal to the Raja, who knew the Dewa ‘Shurfa[26]  well, as did his wife Rani Zaib un-Nissa, Rani Amma, the senior most lady in the family, and with whom all decisions in almost all such matters rested. She was a Rani in her own right, having inherited the Jahangirabad Raj from her father, Raja Farzand Ali Khan and now shared with her husband (who was also her first cousin). The consent of the widowed mother Bibi Iqbal-un-Nissa and the two brothers followed. There was no reason for it to be otherwise. No one in the family was as highly educated as the young man in question, and few could equal him in terms of a pedigree of Syeds, Saints, Scholars, Administrators, Taluqdars and above all, the distinction of being from the family of Maulana Abdus Salam, to whom the Ulema of Farangi Mahal, the Pirs of the Jahangirabad family owed their Ilim, learning, and, scholarship. Master Sahib returned to Dewa with the good news. The dates and other details for introducing the proposed bridegroom (Barr-Dekhai) were duly worked out and agreed upon.

Thus, during the Christmas vacation, Mahmood ul-Hasan, in the company of Master Zahoor and the (indispensable) retainers, arrived at the Palace gate of Jahangirabad, where he was received by the two brothers, Ejaz and Imtiaz Rasul Khan and their older cousin Raja Naushad Ali Khan Taluqedar of Mailariagunj, who also lived with his uncle Raja Tasaduq Rasul. It was a two-day stay. The Rani Amma, the Amma, all the aunts, sisters, cousins and other close female relatives, who of course viewed him from behind the chick-curtains, gave their whole-hearted approval. Prior approval had already been given by Raja Abba. All the close male relatives gathered for this special ceremony and an instant rapport was immediately established with all, but most particularly with the younger of the two brothers of the bride, Imtiaz Rasul, which developed into a very strong bond of enduring friendship and brotherly affection. After the formalities were over a marriage date was fixed. The Dewa party returned home and the preparations for the happy event began in earnest on both sides.

And so, one fine Spring morning, with the mustard crop in full bloom and acres upon acres of verdant fields like a billowing green sea of young wheat intercepted by the patches of yellow mustard flowers, a colourful cavalcade, preceded by the beat of the drum and the melodious Shehnai started from the deohri[27] of the Late Maulvi Aleemuddin. His son mounted on a white, garlanded horse, dressed as bridegroom led almost the entire Dewa elite and members of their biradari with their khidmatgars[28]  and their sons (over the age of ten/twelve), along with an assembly of gentlemen from the adjoining Qasbas of Fathepur, Kakori, Amethi, Laherpur and Gadia amongst others. About a dozen classmates and friends from Aligarh College surrounded the bridegroom; Mohammad Haider Khan, Zami ul-Islam Khan, Nawab Syed Hussain, to name a few who remained his closest friends.

The baraat led by the Shehnai band, in the form of a procession, took the cross-country path following the bullock cart lanes, a shorter route than the six miles of metaled road. When they arrived at the outskirt of the Qila they were met by an escort of mounted troops, who led them down a road running through a thick bamboo forest for about a quarter of a mile before reaching the big gates of the Palace. Once inside they were to be led to the Raja Sahib’s pavilion, to be received by him, the bride’s brothers, brother-in-law, cousins and other kinsmen; members the powerful Kidwai clan.

As the gentleman dismounted, their horses were taken away by their attendant syces. The baraatis were led by bridegrooms Mamoon, Khan Bahadur, Maulvi Nihaluddin, and Zahoor Sahib who made the introductions, and Maulvi Rafiuddin the bridegroom’s brother-in-law. The Dhula Mian surrounded by his friends and Shah-e-Ballas and other relatives followed in order of seniority and degree of closeness. After all the greetings, embracing and garlanding was over and the guests seated comfortably in the luxurious pavilion, servants dressed in the estate livery brought forth refreshments; intriguing varieties of iced sherbet extracted from fruits and flowers, unparalleled in taste, colour and fragrance, the embodiment of the polished style and etiquette which the gentry of Awadh had refined to a perfection.

Refreshments were followed by the presentation of bridal gifts which had been carried from Dewa by the family retainers; clothes, jewellery and sweet delicacies, elegantly laid out in trays and covered with skillfully embroidered with gold and silver lace on silk and tasselled brocades. While the celebrations were going on, the Darogha[29] of the stables quietly informed the Raja Sahib, that the senior syce in charge of guest horses demanded fresh green fodder for the Dewa horses, since that was the diet they were used to. So, orders were given by the Raja to allow the guest horses to graze freely in the adjoining wheat fields for the duration of the stay. The guests were then shown to their quarters to rest till the midday meal and Asar prayers, after which the bridegroom was to perform the Dawaray Kachar[30] ceremony. Soon after the Asar prayers, two magnificent thoroughbred bays arrived, led by syces in full livery. One of the horses, with his shimmering coat, splendidly caparisoned with superb saddlery and beautiful silver and gold-plated ornaments in the Ganga Jamni[31] style, was all ready to be ridden. The other one was harnessed to an English style Trap (Carriage). These were a part of the gifts from the bride’s family. The bridegroom, in his brocade sherwani and sehra[32]  duly mounted the horse and surrounded by his friends and younger relatives proceeded towards the Zenana gate of the Choti Deohri, the portion of the palace where the family of the late Raja Fida Rasul resided. The other portion, where Rani Amma lived, was called Bari Deohri. The Baraat was met at the zenana gate by a troupe of singing Mirasans[33] who greeted them with the traditional bridal songs of felicitations and good wishes. Before the bridegroom could dismount, however, a couple of maidservants appeared with a silver pail containing mehndi[34] water washed off the hands and feet of the bride, which they poured at the feet of the horse. After the maids were rewarded with a good sum of money and a shawl each, the Dhula was allowed to dismount. All these activities were viewed with great delight by the ladies assembled within the zenana.

With the ceremonies were over, the bridegroom and Baraat were invited to participate in a Mehfil-i-Milaad held in the large hall of the Imam Bara, presided over by the Ulema of Farangi Mahal, the Pirs of the Jahangirabad family. The Milaad and Maghreb prayers were followed by an elegant and elaborate dinner.

White linen dasterkhwans[35], about four feet wide and covering the entire length of the extensive hall, were laid out on a thickly carpeted floor, with enough spaces in between for the attendants serving the food to move about easily. With the guests comfortably seated, a line of servants entered the hall each man carrying a covered khwan[36] with an array of food dishes, one ornately embroidered, gold tasselled scarlet cloth draped khwan for each guest. Each khwanbardar[37] was preceded by another servant with a neatly folded, printed yellow cloth over his forearm. When the last seated guest had been reached, the line halted and the servers turned to face the guests. They kneeled and the man holding the khwan placed it on the floor. Imagine the following scene: The senior server greets the guest, salaams and with a “hazoor khana hazir[38] removes the cloth from his forearm, lays it in front of the guest, and starts arranging the still covered dishes on the cloth. While this is still going on, another line of servants, again two per diner, appeared behind the guests, one man carrying a lota[39] and a tasla,[40] the other a sabudani[41] and abaysandi[42] with a towel folded over his forearm. The guests turn halfway to wash their hands either with soap or besan and then take the towel to spread on their lap as napkins. After all the hand washing and placing of the dishes is completed, the darogha in charge goes up to the host, salaams with a respectful bow and declares “Hazoor-Bismillah”. Raja Sahib, in turn, says “Bismillah”, then with a flourish of hands, and a “Hazoor-Bismallah” all the khwanbardas start removing the covers. As the “Sir posh[43] are removed, the entire hall is filled with indescribable fragrances and aromas. “Subhan Allah! Wah! Subhan Allah! “is the spontaneous response which echoes through the vast hall. The gentry of Dewa prided themselves on their good taste and refined cuisine, yet nothing could compare to the gastronomic delights placed in front of them that day.

The Jahangirabad family had received, in addition to their wealth and riches, many other Royal favours from Nawabs-Kings of Awadh, particularly the last Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah, during whose rule every form of cultural activity reached its apex. The bride’s grandfather, Risaldar Bahadur Raja Mardan Ali Khan, Taluqedar of Mailariagunj, held a high command in the Royal Cavalry and was one of the Kings courtiers. Even more favoured was his younger brother Raja Farzand Ali Khan, who later became Raja Jahangirabad through his marriage to the Jahangirabad heiress. When the Nawab was forced to abdicate, and exiled by the British, a large number of royal household servants and retainers, experts and specialists in their fields, lost their livelihoods. These rakabdars (chefs), bavarchis (cooks), kababchis (kebab cooks) etc. found employment with the local nobility once the dust of the war had settled, and their descendants continued to practice these crafts in the service of their new patrons and masters. However, very few Zamindari households managed to attain and maintain such the high quality and standard in culinary arts as Jahangirabad. Naib[44] Sahib, the Late Raja Fida Rasul, the bride’s father was reputed to be gentleman cook, an epicurean unmatched in his knowledge and expertise.

After dinner, immaculately prepared paans, scented with Kewra[45] and Sandal[46], covered in gold and silver leaf, studded with cloves, were passed around in Ganga Jamni khasdans[47]. Next came a rally of hookahbardars carrying highly ornamented hookahs, filled with the unparalleled Khamira tobacco. As the guests exhaled, the air was filled with the luxuriant, sweet perfume of this Lucknowi innovation. Dinner over, the guests retired for the night. The Nikah ceremony was to take place the following morning.

At around Chast,[48] the bridegroom, along with his attendants and Shah-e-Wallas was brought into the big hall where all the gentlemen, young and old had already assembled. Also, there to help the Dhula get dressed for the event were a number of Khidmatgars and Nais[49] with the special clothes, the Nima[50] and Jama,[51] for him to change into. This changing of clothes was carried out in the presence of all, with the Nais encircling the Dhula and screening him with large shawls, thus providing some privacy. Properly attired in his wedding clothes he was then seated on the masnad[52]  for the Sehra bandi[53] ceremony; he was now joined by his friends, and an Alim[54] from the family of Hazrat Shamsh ul-Ulema, Maulana Mohammad Naim of Farangi Mahal, his son, and those nominated as Vakils, witnesses from both families. The Maulana and his party had already visited the zenana and received the formal consent of the bride seated behind purdah; a female relative pronouncing “manzoor[55]” on her behalf. The Maulana read the Nikah, the Khutba, and prayers for the happiness of the newlywed couple, with all gathered joining in (the prayers). The canon guns were fired, the big drums boomed, the Mirasis outside and the Mirasans within in the zenana broke in loud songs of Mubarak Bashad[56]. Sweets and dried fruits were distributed all around, congratulations were universally exchanged, and everyone embraced with delight and happiness. The bridegroom was now ushered into the Zenana to pay his respects and receive the blessings of the ladies. This was the Salam ceremony. There, starting with the senior most ladies the Rani Amma and the bride’s mother, followed by aunts and other relatives, the bridegroom was presented with gifts in the form of gold or silver coins, always in odd numbers. Once all the ceremonies, including the Arsi Mushaf [57] were over, preparations for the Rukhsati, or departure and the return of baraat began. The (homeward bound) Baraat procession was far more spectacular than it had been before. Now the bridegroom rode his fully caparisoned, beautifully groomed, magnificent Bay, outfitted with gold plated silver ornaments, led by a liveried syce. The fashionable Trap with the matching thoroughbred Bay was driven by the bridegroom’s friend Haider Khan, also accompanied by a liveried attendant. Two Palanquins lead the way; one resplendent with a covering of crimson and gold embroidered satin and silk accommodated the bride and her two senior maids; one of them was her old trusted Dai[58] who had looked after her since her childhood, and the other equally trusted lady, the widow of her late father’s chief khidmatgar. Both were to remain in her service for the duration of their lifetimes. Various essential items such as her paandan, ogaldan, lota, lotia, katora, sohari, tasla, basandan, sabudani, singardan, attardan zewardan, hookah, all of richly ornamented, gold plated silver, were conveyed in the other palanquin, along with two other maids and boxes of such clothing as would be required by the bride immediately on arrival at her new home. A party of servants had already been dispatched to Dewa with the larger chests, boxes and furniture including the bridal bed with its silver legs, and matching chowki. As the Baraat approached the bridegroom’s home, the Dewa mirasis joined in with their Shehnai, to lead the procession. The bridegroom’s brother-in-law Maulvi Rafiuddin, his sons, some cousins and their retainers broke out of the procession, and galloped ahead, so as to reach home in advance of the rest of the party. When the procession reached the Haveli gates a tumultuous noise arose, guns were fired in the air, the big drums were beaten, and the Shehnai blared. The mirasans singing songs of welcome and facilitations surrounded the bride’s palanquin which was thus escorted into the barotha, the entrance hall of the Zenana. The palanquin bearers placed it on the ground and left. The bride was gently lifted out by her sister-in-law and cousins and led into the zenana. An overjoyed mother-in-law and other older relatives followed this small procession into the house. The bride’s face was to remain covered, at the request by the senior maidservant, till the “Maun-Dekhai[59]” ceremony. She was taken to her room to rest and to refresh herself for a while, after which she was brought back to be seated on a masnad. Her sister-in-law then gently lifted the veil to show her face to the assembled ladies. There was a burst of exclamations of “Mashallah! Mashallah! How beautiful!” Dewa had not seen such beautiful dulhan in living memory. As the ladies greeted her one by one, they placed gifts of gold or silver coins, or jewellery in her hands. The festive mood continued with the Mirasans singing songs in praise of the bride, of her beauty and grace, of the magnificence of her attire and brilliance of her jewellery. They all expected a good measure of inam/ekram[60], which was handed out generously in both cash and kind. While these ceremonies and celebrations were taking place in the zenana, certain events were taking place outside; the bridegroom had been stopped, his way barred, his horse’s bridle seized by his brother-in-law, Maulvi Rafiuddin, who demanded the horse along with its saddlery and ornaments. He also claimed the large, gold plated, richly ornamented, silver platter with all its contents which included a splendid doshala.[61] The demands had to be met; the bridegroom dismounted and handed over the horse, while the attendant handed over the platter and its contents to Maulvi Rafiuddin’s servant. Now a call came from the zenana requesting the company of the close male relatives for the Maun-Dekhai.[62]

Admiration for the Bride was instantaneous within the entire Dewa community. Henceforth she was referred to as Dulhan by all the senior ladies and gentlemen, Dulhan Bibi to everyone else. In due course of time she came to be held in the highest esteem, and respect, even by those members of the family who had opposed the marriage. In fact, she became an arbitress amongst the constantly quarrelling families and was responsible for the restoration of accord and harmony and restitution of many an estranged relationship. She was profoundly loved, almost adored by her sister-in-law, her husband’s only sister many years his senior in age. She became a model to younger women for her polished manners, her elegance and style in her choice of dress, for her high standard and mannerisms. She was held in respectable reverence, almost amounting to veneration by the poor relations and the needy due to her unbounded generosity, religiosity and the strength of her unshakeable faith and belief in Allah, the Prophet, the Imams, and the Saints. She could recite from memory several Surah’s of the Quran, and a number of Masnavis of Rumi, Sadi and Hafiz. Bait-Bazi[63] was one of her favourite pastimes, and she excelled in it. She had a beautiful voice for reciting the Maulud.[64] She became my mother, I worshipped her, still do.

After a few weeks at home, the bridegroom went back to Aligarh, to complete his B.A. On his return, he was immediately nominated as Deputy Collector; this, however, he respectfully declined on the plea that he wanted to continue his studies. After a great deal of deliberations as to whether to go to England, to study law or to Aligarh, the choice was made in favour of Aligarh. He completed his L.L.B. and now as B.A. L.L.B. (Alig.) returned home, this time to be nominated as Munsif. Going against the family tradition, he declined this offer as well, and instead made the decision to practice law in accordance to the advice and decree of Haji Waris Ali Shah and began his legal career in Bara Banki. Within a short period of time, he had an extremely successful practice. He mostly dealt with revenue cases and in exceptional situations, took on a few criminal cases. Most of the neighbouring Zamindars, Hindu and Muslim were his clients. He received the title of Khan Bahadur, Lt Mahmood ul-Hasan Kermani B.A. L.L.B. (Alig.) Zamindar, Government Grantee (Maufidar) King’s Durbari, Rais of Dewa. A large number of rich and poor flocked to his house seeking help and assistance in different ways. He enjoyed the highest respect of both the Government and the public. He became a role model to the younger members of the family; the first to adopt family the surname Kirmani/Kermani, which all who claim descent from Shah Ziauddin now use. He was my revered father.

[1] Also recorded in the Chief Court of Oudh, Lucknow in the litigation of disputes regarding landed properties

[2] There is a discrepancy in this version and the more established version where the family trace their descent from Muzaffarid Dynasty of Iran whose last ruler was also Shah Shuja-al-Faris, and, who was defeated by Amir Timur and whose sons were kept as hostages by Timur. Oddly enough in his hand-drawn family tree, this is the how he actually traced the family line. I believe, the confusion was caused by the not so reputable last Muzaffarid King having the same name as the much admired, 9th century Sufi Saint.

[3] District Gazetteers of The United Provinces of Agra And Oudh, Volume 14… [United Provinces of Agra and Oudh]

[4] Prayer

[5] Ref. “A big institution which produced a large number of theologians was founded by Sheikh Muhammad bin ’Abi Baqa (Muhammad ’Azam-d. 1465)” Source: Sayyid Abdul Hai, India During Muslim Rule

[6] Francis Robinson, The Ulama of Farangi Mahall and Islamic Culture in South Asia, pp.43 (Delhi 2001

[7] Revenue grantees

[8] Rational Sciences such as logic, philosophy and theology

[9] Institute of learning, a college

[10] Francis Robinson, The Ulama of Farangi Mahall and Islamic Culture in South Asia, pp.43 (Delhi 2001)

[11] Needs translation

[12] Oil lamps

[13]Diplomatic official

[14] Lineage and pedigree

[15] Needs a better translation

[16] Also needs a better translation

[17] Matriculation

[18] Administrative and revenue officer of an Indian district

[19] The head of the revenue and development administration of an Indian district

[20] Mirasi: male. Mirassan: female. Belonging to professional singing and dancing caste. They were attached to elite families as household retainers.

[21] Bravery

[22] Needs translation, the language is Purbi

[23]Nobility/ Gentry /Zamindars

[24] The chief officer in Indian court entrusted with the tasking of receiving and checking court pleas.

[25] Minister of Commerce

[26] Nobility, Aristocracy

[27] Portico of a mansion/ Haveli

[28] Servants/Retainers

[29] Superintendent or steward

[30] Needs translation

[31] Gold and Silver

[32] Veil of flowers and/or tinsel worn by the bride and groom.

[33]Female singers who performed for women. They were not Tawaifs or courtesans and were considered “respectable”.

Mirasis were/are the caste of professional singers and performers. Most upper-class households had families of Mirasis attached to them as family retainers.

[34] Henna

[35] Tablecloth

[36] Tray with a dome-shaped lid

[37] Bearer of the tray

[38] Sir, the food is here.

[39] Pitcher

[40] Basin

[41] Soapdish

[42] Dish containing scented besan or chickpea flour used for washing

[43] Covering

[44] Prime Minister

[45] Scented extract from pandanus flowers.

[46] Sandalwood

[47] Covered containers for holding prepared paans

[48] Prayers after sunrise

[49] Barbers

[50] Kurta made from fine material

[51] Robe, similar to an Angarkha

[52] Gold embroidered velvet mat, quilted or padded

[53] Tying of the sehra (veil of flowers and tinsel) to the bridegroom’s forehead

[54] Scholar

[55] Accept

[56] Blessings

[57] First viewing of each other in a mirror

[58] Wet nurse

[59] Literally “the showing of the face”

[60] Reward/compensation

[61] Brocaded shawl

[62] Showing of the face

[63] A literary game involving recitation of poetry

[64] Milaad

15th Century india and Central Asia
India and Central Asia in the 15th Century
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Dargah of Haji Syed Waris Ali Shah, Dewa Sharif
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Jahangirabad Qila Birthplace of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani

Jahangirabad Qila

Jehangirabad Palace 2 - Lucknow
Jahngirabad Qila
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Jahangirabad Qila
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Jahangirabad Qila
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Jahangirabad Palace, Lucknow

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Taluqdar of Mirpur, Molavi Syed Nasiruddin
Taluqdar of Mirpur, Molavi Syed Nasiruddin
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Maharaja Ejaz Rasul Khan of Jahangirabad as a young man
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Maharaja Ejaz Rasul Khan of Jahangirabad
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Raja Imtiaz Rasul Khan of Rasulpur in his Imperial Cadet Corp uniform
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Bullock Cart or Balle
HH, Mir Osman Ali Khan, the Nizam of Hyderabad at tea with Raja Amir Ahmed Khan, Raja Sahib of Mahmudabad and Maharaja Ejaz Rasul Khan of Jahangirabad (extreme right).

The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006) Preface

Distance does not count in love. If you love me, I am with you even if you are a distance of thousands of miles.

Haji Syed Waris Ali Shah

This narrative of the life of my father Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani is the outcome of long years of lengthy conversations and dialogues. Our early morning walks during the mid-nineteen-seventies into the nineteen-eighties through our then sparsely populated neighbourhood and empty roads offered the perfect settings for these father-daughter talks. Our late afternoon chats over tea on the terrace overlooking the beautiful garden that he so lovingly cultivated and tended in spite of Karachi’s horrendous climate and soil, so unlike the abundantly rich lands of his vatan[1] in Barabanki, UP, North India, the erstwhile province of Awadh. My curiosity about his early life opened up a virtual plethora of discussions and interchanges. I wanted to know about the architecture and the layout of the gardens of the houses he grew up in, about the qasbas or towns that housed his extended family (almost all within a twenty-five-mile radius of the fabled city of Lucknow), the clothes, food and festivities, the visits to dargahs and living Pirs. In short, I wanted to picture a world that no longer existed, to catch a few glimpses into a past he cherished and carried with him as an essential part of his being, a world that comprised not of just him but was in a sense an extended memory of all those who came before him. I found it fascinating how deeply rooted his persona was in the family history and the very soil of the place he grew up in, where our ancestors had been buried for the past six hundred years or more. I suppose this personal search for an identity, a sense of comfort, of belonging to a place, which I found lacking in my young life (at that time) drove me to constantly question him about his life, and the course of events that led him to leave it all behind; the result of the catastrophic cataclysm that affected the lives of millions of people in the Indian Subcontinent in the years leading up to and following 1947, and still continues to do so.

My life took a turn in the mid-nineteen-eighties; the task of rearing my own young family took up not only my time and energy but my focus as well, fortunately, my father was always there with his love and support, an integral part of my children’s childhood. As the children grew older, they too were fascinated by their grandfather’s stories and constantly implored him to “write it down Nana”. He began to do so but insisted his “old soldier’s scribble” would be incomprehensible to those attempting to read it. In 1998, we got him a desktop computer, and although he was past eighty at that time, he took to it instantly. He valued the ability it gave him to browse his favourite subjects particularly information about plants and trees. He used the facility of email to connect to his far-flung family, his nephews in Australia, his nieces in India. And of course, it gave him the opportunity to finally record his memories. One-finger typing on the keyboard, he managed to write out twelve chapters before his unexpected and sudden death in January 2006, seven months short of his ninetieth birthday. His aptitude for storytelling came naturally to a man born and bred in a culture where oral history and narration was a fundamental component of everyday life. As he informs us in his memoirs, the document that listed his paternal genealogy was lost during the inevitable confusion of military station changes, but he was still able to recreate the family tree relying solely on his memory. Later he was able to verify the ancestral names through other documents and family sources, but his own memory had been astonishingly accurate.

My father’s paternal family is from a qasba called Dewa Sharif in the district of Barabanki in the present-day Indian State of Uttar Pradesh, or UP, as it is commonly called. The ancestor, a Muzaffarid[2] prince of Shiraz and Kerman, from whom the family trace their story in India (and ultimately their surname) arrived there in 1398, as a prisoner-hostage of the Turco-Mongol world-conqueror Amir Timur. The Dewa family proudly produced a number of scholars and Sufis and were minor taluqdars of the area. His maternal family belong to the prominent and locally powerful Kidwai clan, a family which traces its external roots to Anatolia, to an exiled prince from the Seljuk Kingdom of Rum who arrived in India in the mid-twelfth century during the reign of Sultan Iltutmish, the Mamluk ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. My paternal grandmother’s branch of the Kidwai family were prominent landlords and taluqdars who held two titles, that of Raja Jahangirabad, and Raja Mailariagunj later changed to Rasulpur.

The Ashraf, as the landed gentry of Awadh were referred to, and the class to which our family belonged, more often than not traced their ancestry to migrants from west, south-west or Central Asia and carried the suffix of Syed, Sheikh or Mirza with their given names depending on their family origins. Those who didn’t were usually Rajput converts and were called Khanzadas. Marriages between these groups were common, as were those between Sunnis and Shias. Religious and cultural practices tended to accommodate a wide spectrum of customs and traditions. Thus, families would celebrate the ancient Zoroastrian-Persian Nowruz, or New Year as well as Diwali, the indigenous festival of lights. Muharram would be respectfully observed, and music, jewellery, bright colours and all celebrations were eschewed during this solemn month of mourning and remembrance. Marriage customs and festivities were totally Indian in origin other than the Muslim Nikah or marriage contract. This was the much-vaunted, widely celebrated Ganga-Jumna culture that the populace of North India took such pride in and which disappeared with the division of the country in 1947.

My father’s mind was sharp until the very end, his memory and knowledge of the many families he had encountered or interacted with socially in his long life was phenomenal. One only had to mention an individual from a particular family and he would be able to trace their connections, family networks, and the geographic region to which they belonged in the subcontinent. This, he informed me was a quality people from his class and background were expected to possess, a mark of a gentleman or gentlewoman. I have to admit though, I haven’t met many others like him in this respect.

Through the process of writing out his memories, my father relived his early life, the struggles and obstacles of his youth, the adventures of a young man fortunate enough to remain on the periphery of a war that was ravaging large sections of the world as European nation-states fought for global control, and through their dominance over much of Asia and Africa, managed to draw in diverse populations who had nothing to benefit but much to lose as a result of this power struggle for supremacy and tussle for material resources. It is our family’s personal misfortunate that he was unable to complete the task he set out for himself. Coming to terms with his death was not easy for me, and indeed for the rest of our family, and it has taken me several years to get around to undertaking the somewhat overwhelming project of editing his writings and furthermore of assembling the many anecdotes and family sketches that he related to me that now remain deeply implanted in my memory.

Rumina Kermani,  Karachi,  August 2016

[1] Home/ motherland

[2] Irani/Persian dynasty (1314-1393)

The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006) Introduction

The Kingdom of Awadh (1732-1858), or as the British called it, Oudh, continues to evoke images of a society refined and sophisticated beyond any other. A syncretic melding of the best of Indian and Persianate-Turkic high cultures in all forms of art, architecture, music, poetry and intellect, even food and drink. This all too brief flowering of an elegant blend of cultural traditions was in actuality a long time in the making; the richly cultivated Indo-Gangetic plains were one of the cradles of early civilization, the site of the ancient kingdoms of Kosala and Magadha and the birthplace of Ram amongst many others. Cultural exchanges, trade and commerce with Persia and Central Asia were a constant feature throughout the ancient and early modern periods of history. The legendary wealth of India had always attracted migrants; often adventurers and fortune-seekers, some in search of kingdoms, some with ambitions of world conquests, still other less fortunate seeking refuge and shelter from war-torn homes and natural disasters. India’s abundance of resources was such that she was able to accommodate all. Early European writings about travel in India mention the ease of travel in a country which allowed considerable freedom of movement to foreigners.

Muslims have been a part of the Indian landscape almost from the early days of Islam. In spite of their negative depiction as fanatical aggressors by Colonial British and European historians and more recently by Indian politicians and popular media, India’s early encounters with Islam were peaceful and a mere continuation of the age-long commercial relationship that had flourished across the Indian Ocean from pre-historic times. The first mosque on Indian soil (and still in use) was built in what is now the state of Kerala, at Methala, in AD 629 by an Arab trader. The military conquests by the recently converted Turkic warlords was also a continuation of earlier militant incursions by Central Asian conquerors such as the Scythians, Huns and Kushans. Interestingly, early modern Indians continued to refer to Muslims as Turkusha, a term they had used for over a millennium for the nomadic invaders who came in from the northern passes.

Although small communities of merchants and traders from West and Central Asia had existed in India, pre-and post-Islam and peripatetic Sufis had slowly begun to make their way across the length and breadth of the subcontinent; the establishment of Muslim rule in north India encouraged a further steady and constant flow of scholars, intellectuals, artists, poets along with the merchants and soldiers of fortune. As in the past, war-weary refugees from Central and West Asia, only recently converted to Islam, also sought succour and sanctuary at the magnificent Muslim courts at Delhi.[1] Persian had long been established as the literary and court language at the Imperial courts of West and Central Asia and was so now at the Sultanate court at Delhi and later under the Mughals (1526-1857). As the font of intellectual learning as well as the vehicle for more mundane administrative purposes, its knowledge and mastery ensured instant employment in the vast administrative bureaucracy, as did military skills for displaced or aggrieved Turkic soldiers.[2]

India was the proverbial land of plenty that could embrace and accept all those who came seeking a better life for themselves and their families. This then was the route our ancestors took. Some came as refugees, some were wandering Sufis who laid root in the small towns of North India, others came as adventurers and sought service in Delhi or the many minor Sultanates and kingdoms that came and went with the vicissitudes of time. While some brought their families with them, it is likely that many did not and married into local families.

The antecedents of the Kidwais/Qidwais, the clan to which my father’s maternal ancestors the Jahangirabad family belonged, are fairly well recorded; Qazi Kidwatuddin, from whom the Kidwais/Qidwais trace their lineage is said to have been the brother of the Sultan of Rum,[3] Kaykhusraw, and the Chief Qazi of that Sultanate. A falling out with his brother forced him into exile along with his family. He arrived in India somewhere in the late 1190s and as a Turkish prince was well received at the court of the Sultan of the Ghorids, Muhammad Ghori. Qazi Kidwatuddin is said to have lead a fighting force and managed to win 52 villages in Ayodhya, which became his Jagir and came to be known as Kidwara. This is where he eventually settled down in 1205 in a locality which came to be later known as Kidwai Mohalla. His son Qazi Azizuddin married the daughter of Qazi Fakhar ul-Islam, the Qazi-ul-Quzat of Sultan Iltutmish, thus further consolidating his position amongst the established elites of the court at Delhi.[4] Qazi Kidwa died in 1208 and was buried in a graveyard at Ayodhya which was destroyed in the wake of the 1992 destruction of the Babri Mosque. The Kidwais/Qidwai’s remained firmly entrenched amongst the Ashraf or aristocratic gentry of Awadh, securing substantial estates and power, both secular as well as spiritual, since a number of clan members embraced the Sufi way of life, a tradition firmly rooted in the ethos of Indo-Muslim culture.  Several members of the extended family continued to seek employment at the Mughal courts; a number were appointed qazis and others received mansabs, jagirs and sanads.[5] My father’s great-grandfather Raja Mardan Rasul Khan was a Risaldar or Cavalry Commander in the Nawab of Awadh’s army. His youngest brother Raja Farzand Ali Khan who succeeded to the estate of his father-in-law and kinsman Raja Razzaq Bakhsh of Jahangirabad[6] was a close associate of the last Nawab of Awadh Wajid Ali Shah. According to family lore when Awadh was annexed and taken over by the British in 1856 and the deposed Nawab chose (self) exile in Calcutta, he bequeathed four of his innumerable wives to the widowed Raja along with a Charbagh Palace to accommodate them. My father would relate how he had a vague memory of his mother taking him along on a visit to the youngest remaining Rani at that palace. He recalled her as an extremely pale-skinned, frail old lady; he was around four to six years of age, and the old lady most probably in her late eighties.

The Dewa family, my father’s paternal ancestors trace their origins back to Iran and claim a Syed ancestry. Their ancestor in India was Shah Ziauddin who arrived in India in 1398 as a member of Amir Timur’s retinue. It is said that scions of defeated noble and royal families whose lives had been spared were forced to remain in constant attendance on the emperor and thus under strict surveillance; basically, they were war hostages, albeit of aristocratic lineage. Shah Ziauddin was a scion of the Muzaffarid dynasty, a family of Khorasani origin that ruled Fars, Shiraz and Kerman from 1335 until 1393 when they lost their kingdom to Timur. After the brutal sack of Delhi, Timur realised he had far too many captives and released a number of his earlier hostages on the condition that they remain in India and not venture back to their homelands. The young Shah Ziauddin made his way to Jaunpur, Awadh, where the former Tughluq governor, the Malik-us-Sharq (Master of the East) had set himself up as an independent ruler in the aftermath of Timur’s devastating conquest of north India and the destruction of the Tughlaq Sultanate. It is the Sharqi Sultan who directed Shah Ziauddin towards Dewa with the bequest of a tax-free land grant or Madad-e-Maash. These revenue free properties were generally given to educated people to assist them in disseminating learning, particularly religious knowledge. The Dewa family took great pride in their scholarship and learning and produced several scholars as well as Sufis including Makhdoom Bandagi Azam Sani (d. 1465) the celebrated Saint of Lucknow who established a highly acclaimed madrassah in that city.  In his hand-written noted my father mention that, “His tomb was situated on a huge big mound near the Telay Wali Masjid in Lucknow and could be seen from many places and many views in Lucknow. I hope it is still there”. Perhaps the most outstanding amongst them, the pride of the family, was Qazi Maulvi Abdus Salam/ Abd al-Salam, the Chief Mufti of the Emperor Shah Jahan’s army for many years, and a much-respected scholar and a Sufi.[7] Upon retirement from the court at Delhi he established a Darul Uloom at Dewa where the Maqulat or rational tradition of Islamic learning which encompasses philosophy, logic, arithmetic, geometry and astrology amongst other subjects was taught. Maqulat scholarship had gained momentum in India with the arrival of the brilliant Persian polymath and educationist Mir Fathullah Shirazi at the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar (1542-1605) in 1583. According to S.M. Azizuddin Hussain, “Ibn Sina and others perfected the combination of manqul[8] with maqul[9]. Fathullah Shirazi introduced this legacy in India. It was transmitted by a chain of Fatahullah Shirazi’s students. Mulla Abdus Salam Lahori (b.1540), Mulla Abdus Salam of Dewa, Shaikh Daniyal Chawarasi, Mulla Qutabuddin Sihalvi and Mulla Nazimuddin of Firangi Mahal of Lucknow”.[10] It was at the Dewa Darul Uloom that Mulla Abdul Halim, the father of Mulla Qutabuddin Sihalwi who set up the Farangi Mahal seminary received his training.[11] Abdus Salam’s son also served as a Qazi-ul-Quzat at Delhi during the Emperor Aurangzeb’s reign. Later, Syed Ahmed Khan, the nineteenth-century educational reformist would also prescribe to this rationalist approach in scholastic learning.

The educated families of qasbas like Dewa, Kakori and Fatehpur took great pride in their use of chaste Urdu as opposed to Awadhi or Purbi which was spoken by the masses and the rural aristocracy such as the Jahangirabad family. Most people would, of course, shift seamlessly from one to the other as and when the need arose. My paternal grandmother only spoke Purbi, while all her offspring were equally comfortable in both, at least in their early years. My father and his younger brother who were both educated at Aligarh kept up the Dewa tradition much to their father’s relief.

The Muslim population of Awadh never exceeded one-fifth of the total population of that state. The Ashraf or landed gentry then was minuscule in number and consequently ended up marrying within that limited social sphere. Family lineage counted far more than material riches which explains the marriage between my paternal grandmother Taqi-un-Nissa, a daughter of the affluent Jahangirabad family, to my grandfather Mahmood-ul-Hasan, a scion of the substantially less wealthy but highly respected family of Dewa Sharif. Mahmood-ul-Hasan had the added benefit of being closely related to the acclaimed Sufi, Haji Syed Waris Ali Shah, whose Dargah at Dewa was a focal point of spiritual veneration in the entire district of Barabanki and beyond. Families who shared a bloodline with such Sufis enjoyed an elevated status, indeed some of the spiritual aura of the saint himself. It is therefore not surprising that the Muslim qasbas or market town which dotted the countryside in districts like Barabanki tended to centre around such holy shrines. More often than not ownership of land around the qasba was tied to the land grants gifted to the saint’s progeny and kin. While larger landholdings were often a result of grants handed out to military men, or simply acquired by powerful individuals, the smaller taluqadaris and zamindaris were commonly held by families connected to daraghs. Moreover, the Darul Ulooms that were often attached to these shrines provided the essential education necessary for the advancement of an administrative service class that was the backbone of Imperial and state bureaucracy. Muslim laws of inheritance by their very nature resulted in the eventual fragmentation of landholdings and well-educated aristocratic or Ashraf gentlemen invariably sought employment either at the Imperial court or at the multiple smaller provincial courts that were a constituent element of the overall Empire. It is important to point out that it was not considered essential that the ruler be Muslim and service at the Rajput and other non-Muslim courts was not uncommon.[12]

With the disintegration and eventual demise of the Mughal Empire, many Ashraf gentlemen were forced to seek employment with the British, although reluctantly at first. The battle of Buxar in 1764 virtually ended native rule in India and the 1857 Revolt which also concluded in crushing defeat for the natives rang the final death knell. The reaction of the victors was merciless and brutal and the results were far-reaching and catastrophic. North India at the turn of the nineteenth century still bore visible scars of the 1857 war that had brutally ravaged its population, towns and countryside. The Muslim aristocracy were particularly affected by the crushing ferocity of the British retaliation for what they (the British) perceived as a ‘Muslim inspired’ revolt, although in reality the anti-British movement was far from communal and clearly cut through (perceived) religious lines with a leadership which ranged from Nana Sahib, the adopted son of the exiled Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao II, to the Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, and Hazrat Mahal the Begum of Awadh. Ruins of palaces, forts and palatial havelis dotted the urban and rural landscape, most still inhabited by their now often improvised occupants.

The initial response of the British to the native uprising in Awadh had been to abolish the existing elite structure of the province, the taluqdari system under which the landlords or owners of estates, large and small, ruled as quasi-kings or rajas. Soon, however, the populace’s unremitting loyalty to their overlords and unwilling to change their allegiances forced the British to rethink their policy. The subsequent Taluqdari Settlement Act of 1859 restored the majority of the estates to their erstwhile owners and reinstated the taluqdars as landlords but stripped of their political, civil and military powers; many others, however, lost their lands which were granted to British loyalists from other parts of the subcontinent. This partial restoration of lost status helped, to some extent, in pacifying both the urban and rural elite although the humiliation and wounds of defeat continued to chafe and influence the attitude of the Indians towards their British overlords.

The British colonial objective was to squeeze the maximum amount of capital and resources from what had once been considered perhaps the richest empire the world had ever seen. Towards that end, they had systematically levied crippling and back-breaking taxes on all agricultural produce, and the revenues they extorted from all trade and commerce exceeded by far that levied by any previous native government resulting in an unprecedented number of man-made famines. Awadh, fortunately for its inhabitants, was somewhat of a late addition to the British Colonial Empire along with the erstwhile Mughal heartland. But in the early part of the twentieth century when my father was born and became aware of his surroundings, the British were not just merely in firm control of the province which they had renamed the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, but had successfully managed to convince a substantial number of the native aristocracy of the superiority of western culture and philosophy, even language, over their own. Persian, long the language of intellectual discourse and learning, the vehicle for prose, poetry and history, the instrument of governmental administration, and conduit of knowledge exchange within the wider regional world of Central, West and South Asia had been discarded by the Colonial administration and replaced by the newly bifurcated Urdu-Hindi. Traditional forms of learning at Madrasas and Dar ul Ulooms, the schools and universities that had educated scholars for centuries, were deemed inferior and downgraded to mere centres of religious knowledge and replaced by western-style schools and universities structured on the blueprints of Eton, Harrow and Oxbridge. In fact, the influence of Aligarh Muslim University on the aristocratic elite of the Indian subcontinent cannot be overestimated. Syed Ahmed Khan’s viewpoints and philosophies were deeply ingrained into the intellectual psyche of the men who attended his unique and innovative institute of learning. As a reformist but devout Muslim, his imprint on the young minds who imbibed the essence of Aligarhian scholarship was clearly evident in the views expressed by my father and his peers and widely accepted by members of the generation brought up in that social milieu. My father would often reiterate Syed Ahmed Khan’s pragmatic explanations of miracles as natural phenomena, Syed Ahmed “interpreted miracles naturally, making such an event as the parting of the Red Sea into a simple period of low water; the Prophets’ night ascension into a dream; the jinn into mountain dwellers.” [13]

These new institutions of learning proved to be incredibly successful in attracting the native aristocrats and moulding them into a hybrid mix of British-Indian gentlemen who often looked askance at their own centuries-old traditions and knowledge. This is not to say that everything held sacred was discarded in one fell sweep, but conflict and contradictions gained ground. Age-old manners, speech, clothing and lifestyles only gradually gave way to western norms, and that too largely in the male sphere of activity where interaction with the British was inevitable and necessary. The zenana of the women’s world continued to function more or less as it had done before British rule. My grandfathers on both sides of the family, for instance, continued to wear their traditional garb and were far more comfortable in Urdu as the spoken language, and both Urdu and Persian in their written forms, than in English. For my parents, this was not the case. For the Indian elite generation that came of age in the mid-twentieth century, traditional ways of life were more often than not considered “old-fashioned”, even archaic and undesirable compared to a westernised lifestyle that was considered “modern” and thereby far more attractive. Even everyday clothing and living patterns changed rapidly; the ubiquitous takht gave way to sofas and armchairs, and farshi or furniture-less living-rooms with their stuffed goh-takias, carpets, masnads and floor sheets were looked down upon as antiquated. The silver or gilded bed, which had always been displayed with great pride as prized dowry items only a couple of decades ago were now outmoded. Indeed, both of my father’s older sisters whose dowries had included what had previously been considered indispensable, gilded-silver beds legs, almost immediately discarded these old-fashioned objects in favour of “modern”, European-style wooden bedroom furniture. Men were quick to don European garb and although the women continued to wear their traditional attire, they now favoured European colours and patterns and materials over the brightly coloured silks and cottons of yore.

Through my father’s formative years these patterns were rapidly emerging. In the family homes, the gentlemen now often favoured a western-style drawing-room, amply furnished with highly polished teakwood or Sheesham Anglo-Indian sofas, chairs and innumerable tables. Decorative wall-paintings depicting flower-vases and often wine-bottles and small glasses, or intricate floral arabesque designs gave way to plain walls with western style paintings and large oil-painted portraits of the men in the family. In these spaces, they took pride in entertaining their British guests, the local administrators of the area. Even foreign architects were much sought after: Walter Burley Griffin, the American architect of the Lucknow University Library and a great admirer of Mughal architecture, was commissioned by Raja Ejaz Rasul Khan of Jahangirabad, my father’s maternal uncle, to design a new zenana addition to his existing Qila palace in Jahangirabad. However, the internal conflicts and contradictions persisted. My father often related how this maternal uncle, Ejaz Rasul Khan, an important taluqdar of the area had several European-style rooms in his palace in Lucknow; the crystal and glass drawing-room with furniture imported from Venice, the silver drawing-room in which the sofas, chairs and tables were covered with repousse silver over wood, the massive dining-room which seated a hundred people and had walls adorned with large paintings of his predecessors. All the rooms were lit by dazzling chandeliers and candelabras. Jahangirabad had at one point purchased the entire contents of one of two ships which had anchored at Calcutta, bearing priceless porcelain, jade, wood and enamel artefacts looted from the Imperial Chinese Summer Palace by the British. These were now displayed throughout both the Lucknow Palace and the Qila in Jahangirabad. All these rooms were used almost solely to host British dignitaries including the Governor of the province, yet when the Raja shook hands with a white man, he promptly placed his hand behind his back and availed of the first opportunity he had to wash it. Similarly, my paternal grandmother would shrink from receiving a peck on the cheek from the rare British lady who would visit the zenana section of her house. And while pale skin was considered both desirable and attractive by most Indian Muslims, the underlying pink tones of the European complexion was considered particularly unattractive to those earlier generations, an aesthetic perception that too underwent a change by the early mid-twentieth century.

The harsh treatment meted out to the Indians of North India, particularly Awadh and Delhi, by the British were still raw and those unpleasant memories still painfully fresh for most people some sixty years after the disastrous events of 1857. Oral narratives of the woes that had befallen family members in the aftermath of the doomed uprising were an essential component of regular and oft-repeated accounts and anecdotes that peppered the conversation in the zenana, in particular. These too were the stories told to the children by their maid-servants and attendants who regaled them with the heroic deeds of the male and female family members during and after 1857.

The bravery of the many hundreds of Kidwai men who had laid down their lives in both 1764 and in 1857 was widely lauded and mournfully lamented. The daring yet foolhardy and failed attempt by Raja Razzaq Bakhsh of Jahangirabad to blow up the British Officers lead by General Sir Hope Grant was an exceptionally popular tale and colourfully narrated. By early 1858 the British had consolidated their position in Lucknow at the conclusion of the unsuccessful native revolt; the countryside, however, took longer to subdue and contingents of the British troops undertook the task of ensuring the subjection of the ruling taluqdars and zamindars. When General Hope Grant arrived with his troops at the gates of Jahangirabad and made their way through the dense bamboo forest that surrounded his Qila, Raja Razzaq Bakhsh declared his submission and pledged his loyalty to the British, but a close search of his fortress revealed a couple of cannons well-hidden near the entrance, prepped up for firing.[14] These along with some discriminating letters sealed his fate. The old man had to beg forgiveness, but could not prevent the destruction of his fort by the British. Hundreds of similar mud and brick forts were destroyed by the victors and innumerable families left destitute, deprived of their properties and lands which was the source of their income. As a child, my father and his siblings would accompany their mother on her visits to her relatives, many of whom had been left impoverished in their crumbling mansions. One of the stories he narrated was about an old lady who lived with the remaining members of her family and retainers on one such derelict estate, the grandeur of its past still evident in the collapsing structure. It was widely believed by all that in in her impecunious state with no viable source of income this elderly relative was financially supported by a friendly Jinn who had taken pity on her and her family; every evening, after her Maqrib prayers, when she turned back the corners of her janamaz or prayer-rug, she would find a silver coin or mohar. This daily allowance kept the family reasonably solvent and allowed them to survive without handouts from their more affluent relatives. As an adult, my father figured out that it was not the supernatural visitor that kept them funded, but most probably a hidden hoard stashed away during the upheaval, that the old lady was privy to, the source and location of which she was obviously wary of sharing with anyone else and had therefore fabricated the fool-proof story of the benevolent Jinn. People had resorted to concealing whatever valuables they could in those troubled times, either by burying them in secret places, in bricked wall or floors, or in dire situations, throwing them into ponds and wells. These were age-old practices in the subcontinent. My father would confidently state that if the innumerable ponds, which were an integral part of the rural landscape were dredged and abandoned wells searched, much jewellery and gold would be recovered.

Another narrative that particularly resonated with me was the tragic tale of a foolishly brave young man who with his bravado, and perhaps with an unfortunate touch of arrogance, refused to bow down to the victorious conquerors. The British administration in Lucknow had decreed that if a European and a native found themselves on the footpath at the same time, the native would have to step down and let the white man pass. Our hero, a Sheikhzada, the scion of the old, distinguished family of Sheikhs, the erstwhile rulers and governors of Awadh before the Nawabs, in his crisp muslin angrakha and wide-legged pyjamas, suitably scented with attar, his pure white, starched muslin cap set at a jaunty angle, must have found it below his dignity to step aside for one he perceived as an uncouth, unwashed Englishman and continued his dandified, yet elegant saunter until he was rudely pushed off the sidewalk by a walking stick yielded by a red-faced Englishman. Sputtering and cursing, the Englishman raised his stick and hit our refined young man causing him to stumble onto the muddy street. Picking himself up with as much dignity as he could muster in the face of his mud-spattered condition, ignoble condition, our hero drew his rapier, cunningly encased in his silver-handled walking stick and ran it through the shocked Englishman, then immediately recognising the enormity of his crime fled the scene post-haste. He rushed home to inform his newly-wed young wife about his calamitous encounter. Shouts and loud knocking at the gates confirmed their worst fear; the police along with the troops were at the door. The terrified girl, beside herself in fear, could only suggest he hide himself in her large dowry chest in the vain hope that the soldiers would not enter the zenana. That was not to be, and our young gentleman was hauled away for almost immediate execution. The fate of the widowed young bride is uncertain; some said she pined away for her handsome young husband and went to an early grave, others said she lived on to a ripe old age, telling and retelling her story, never remarrying, faithful to her unfortunate spouse till the end.

The upper classes of Awadh, like those elsewhere in India, eventually developed a love-hate relationship with the British and many sought to emulate their lifestyle and mannerisms. Elephants and horses gave way to the newly developed automobile, adorned and kept in the style of a horse or bullock carriage. There was even a local raja who bought an old, decrepit WWI plane and tied it to his front gates where the elephants had in earlier times been fastened. When asked why it was chained, he responded, “You can never trust those wily Goras and their inventions”. Although a good number of the Ashraf stuck to their age-old traditions, language and culture, material success and social as well as economic advances encouraged the more ambitious to model themselves on the British in as many ways as possible and this proved to be the guiding force which led to the subsequent Anglicisation of Indian society. Undoubtedly, admiration for the British, their perceived discipline, efficiency, administrative and military acumen continued to gain ground; most Indian were naively blind to the motivation behind the introduction of industries and particularly the railways by the British. They tended to believe that all this was being done for their (India’s) wellbeing and were incredulously unable to see that what they perceived as British benevolence was merely a tool to tighten the Colonial grip on Indian economy in a more ruthlessly efficient manner, as was their extremely successful policy of divide and rule along communal lines. My father and many, in fact, most of his peers in the military and civil administration, were amongst these admirers. Echoes of this and the distorted versions of our own histories, written and presented to us by Colonial historians and unfortunately, unquestionably imbibed by us, continue to colour our vision of our past and continue to influence our vision of our future, both in India and in Pakistan.

[1] The Delhi Sultanate was established by Muhammad of Ghor in 1192 and continued to flourish under various dynasties until the last wave of Turkic conquerors, the Timurid Mughals, established their empire in 1526.

[2] Turkic soldiers, especially cavalrymen and artillery gunners renowned for their military prowess, were in high demand in several non-Muslim kingdoms including the South Indian Imperial Kingdom of Vijaynagar.

[3] One of the Seljuk Sultanates in Anatolia, present-day Turkey.

[4] Mushirul Hassan; From Pluralism to Separatism. OUP, Delhi 2007. P 87

[5] Mushirul Hassan; From Pluralism to Separatism. OUP, Delhi 2007. P 89

[6] The Jahangirabad Estate had been conferred on that branch of the Kidwai family by the Emperor Jahangir, hence its name.

[7] … Mullå ‘Abd al-Salåm of Dewa, east of Lucknow, who was made mufti of the imperial army by Shåhjahån but who was also a philosopher. His student Daniyål Chawrasi, also from Lucknow, became, in turn, the teacher of Mullå Qutb al-Din, one of the most renowned Muslim scholars of the eleventh/seventeenth century in India. (Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin to the Present: Philosophy in the Land of Prophecy: Seyyed Hossein Nasr, 2006; pg. 206)

[8] The transmitted sciences such as tafsir (exegesis), hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) and fiqh (jurisprudence)

[9]   Rational sciences

[10]  S.M.Azizuddin Husain; Kanishka Publishers, New Delhi, 2005. P 32