The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006)

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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Mummy and Daddy 001
Lucknow April 1947

Mummy

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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. If the Emperor dies another can immediately take his place, but if this Mufti dies it will be many, many years before another can (adequately) replace him”. This judicious reply apparently pleased the Emperor who awarded the Maulana appropriately.

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

8 thoughts on “The Memoirs of Salahuddin Ahmed Kermani (1916-2006)

  1. Lovely memories. I still remember the party my parents planned in our home Khiyaban in Lucknow to welcome the newly married couple Sallu and Meher in 1948.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you very much for the interesting last Chapter about Salauddin Bhai Murhoom.May Allah be kind to him in hereafter and grant him a high place in Jannatul Firdous. With lots of Dua Adeel Mamo

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You have done a great service to us all by sharing the life of this remarkable officer and gentleman with us. Truly worthy of an interesting book.
    As a descendant of a Naval officer who migrated, it is uncanny how so many threads which wove our fathers’ lives, are in common.
    The “Jazba” to serve Pakistan despite loss and sacrifice of family and ancestral lands left behind. Yet never looking back. Raising a young family. Serving the armed forces and living a life based on immaculate values and ethics. A life well lived, surrounded by friends. The cane chairs on the lawns never empty of friends each evening. The self planted garden and love of plants. I could go on and on. WE must compare notes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Nighat. Yes those gentleman were the product of a culture that embodied high moral standards and values which they imbibed and which formed the very fabric of their being.
      Yes please lets meet up over a cup of tea and talk.

      Like

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