Thursday, March 16, 2017

Prof Dalvi, Urdu and Mumbai


There are very few people who can talk with some authority about Setu Madhava Rao Pagdi and A A A Fyzee. Prof Abdus Sattar Dalvi belongs to a rare group of scholar. He had another visitor at his Bandra flat when I went to meet him. Najeeb Raiba, the son of A A Raiba, the lesser-known contemporary of M F Hussain and K H Ara, who belongs to Konkan (like Prof Dalvi), was there to discuss his father's career. Though primarily Prof Dalvi is an Urdu scholar, his energies and endeavours combine his passion for linguistics with history. This explains the wide array of visitors he gets.

“People don’t know that Mumbai had a very old Versova Cadet school where Hindustani was taught. Such was the popularity of an Urdu textbook by Mohammad Ibrahim Makba that it was in circulation right up to Lahore,” says Prof Dalvi. Western India also had a good number of Urdu/Gujarati newspapers and periodicals. “Sadly very less is known of them as most of them have been lost.”   

In the commercial and glamourous world of Mumbai, the film industry gets a huge credit for the advancement/popularisation of Urdu. And rightly so. But beyond the painful and playful lyrics of Sahir, Majrooh, Kaifi and Shakeel, it was the industriousness of people like Rafiq Zakaria, Khwaja Abdul Ghafoor, K A Abbas, Krishan Chander, Ali Sardar Jaffri and Sikander Ali Wajd among others, which gave a thrust to Urdu in Maharashtra and Mumbai. And Prof Dalvi has witnessed it all, and in fact, has been a part of it.   

The Maharashtra state Urdu academy was established in April 1975 and Prof Dalvi was appointed joint secretary. When a delegation called upon the state chief minister S B Chavan to thank him for his support, Prof Dalvi earned extra attention. He had recently edited the Urdu translation of Sant Ramdas’s Manache Shloka by Shah Turab Chisti which had caught the attention of Chavan.  Chisti was a Sufi Dakkhani poet and his translation ‘Man Samjhavan’ was done way back in 1756. Chavan was already pleased with the Urdu academy’s new joint secretary.

“My inspiration to carry out translation work came from Setu Madhava Rao Pagdi. He has translated a huge body of work from Urdu into Marathi. I realised there is a great need for translations and it is crucial that interactions between people, languages and cultures continue.” Describing Pagdi as having ‘ghair maamooli yaddashth’, he fondly remembered his telephone calls on Sunday mornings. “He was very prolific, and kept himself busy till the last days of his advanced age. He had a special talent to not just pick up but also gain mastery over different languages. He went on to write a grammar of the Gondi language.” Pagdi was also associated with the Urdu Academy. In 2005, Prof Dalvi helped organise a seminar on Setu Madhavrao Pagdi at University of Hyderabad.                    

Prof Dalvi’s stance in his academic career as an Urdu scholar has been one of co-operation and reaching out to fellow academics. This has been due to his own educational achievements and the position of Urdu in Maharashtra. He graduated from Ismail Yusuf College in 1958, and won the St Xavier’s Gold Medal for the highest marks in Urdu. In 1960 he completed MA (Urdu) bagging the coveted Chancellor’s medal. After gaining a PhD from Bombay (on the life of Mohammad Hussain Azad), he studied linguistics at SOAS, and came back to University of Bombay to do his second doctorate on ‘Bombay Urdu – a study in linguistic behaviour’. His love and admiration for languages has not been limited to Urdu and Urdu scholars.   

Despite the step-motherly treatment of Urdu in North India, Mumbai’s civic body has a rich tradition of running schools in Urdu, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi and Kannada mediums. Several civil servants and politicians who studied or hailed from the erstwhile Hyderabad state territories (including S B Chavan) had a genuine affection for Urdu. This ensured that Urdu-medium schools continued to be in existence in post-Independence Bombay. Large scale migration of Muslims from North India swelled the number of interested students. These factors effectively worked to minimise the bitterness relating to the future of Urdu.

In 1983, he was appointed the first Krishan Chander professor and head of the Urdu department, University of Mumbai. Though Urdu was being taught in the city’s colleges, it was only in 1983 that University of Bombay got an Urdu department. Some of his major translations include the works of Sanskrit dramatist Bhartbihari, Sant Dnyaneshwar’s Pasayadan, Vishram Bedekar’s novel Ranangan, P S Rege’s Savithri and Nissim Ezekiel’s Edinburgh Interlude. In the early 1990s at the request of Govt of India, he helped establish the Urdu department at Cairo’s Ain Shamsh University.

Though he retired from the University in 1997, he has been associated with various organisations including Anjuman Islam Urdu Research Institute, Deccan Muslim Educational and Research Institute, Hazrat Makhdoom Ali Mahimi Research Institute and the Urdu Academy. He is currently working on the history of Konkani Muslims and the cultural history of Bombay’s Muslims.

(To be continued)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Rushdie's father's secret humiliation in UK

The eyes have the same intensity as his famously broody-eyed writer son but Salman Rushdie's father Anis Ahmed Rushdie had an almost diametrically opposite reception in the United Kingdom from that of his illustrious son's.

An investigation by this reporter reveals that unlike Sir Salman, knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2007, his father Anis Ahmed Rushdie was shamed and nearly prosecuted in the UK in 1935 after it was revealed that his birth record details had been fudged to allow him to appear for the elite Indian Civil Service.

Despite his protestations of innocence and cultural misunderstanding, Rushdie senior was dismissed from the ICS on this ground.

After graduating from Cambridge University, like his son did later, Anis Rushdie appeared for the ICS in 1932 and cleared the exam. But following inexplicable reasons he was not selected in 1932. He reappeared the next year and was ranked 4th overall.

His troubles began when he was sent to England on the customary two-year probation and the British began scrutinising his records.

'Entry no 587 which relates to Anis Ahmed Rushdie is definitely not genuine"" and were ""inserted at a later date"", says Victor Hodgson, assistant government examiner of questioned documents, in his report of 20 March 1934.

Mumbai Mirror is in possession of exclusive documents relating to the expulsion of Anis Ahmed Rushdie from the elite Indian Civil Services (ICS).

Following Hodgson's observation, D Reynell, secretary public service commission wrote to MG Hallett, secretary to government of India home department, ""Anis Ahmed was in reality too old to appear at the 1933 examination and that he secured admission thereto by submitting to the commission a copy of an entry of his date of birth in the Delhi municipality register which was fabricated and false.""

The upper age limit to appear for the ICS was 23 and controversy was whether Anis Rushdie was born in 1910 which would have made him just 23 and eligible or 1909 which would render him ineligible.

Rushdie was intimated about this and asked to provide an explanation as an inquiry was to be held in Delhi. Rushdie sent a letter to the secretary civil service commission writing he was ""very much surprised"" and denied any knowledge of the entry being falsified.

Rushdie explained that when he registered at Punjab University his date of birth was wrongly given as 7 August 1909. However his school leaving certificate carried his date of birth as 14 June 1910. This discrepancy, Rushdie claimed arose due to his reliance on the memory of his relatives. ""In India the age of the child is spoken of and not his birth date,"" he replied in a letter dated 8 May 1934.

However, he later asked Punjab University to change his birth date to 3 October 1910 and provided municipal birth records as evidence. This was the date he used to apply for the ICS exams in 1933 and the government agreed to consider it subject to further investigation.

Investigations later found that Rushdie's ""real date of birth was 31 October 1909 as is proved by an entry in the register made on that same day"". Hodgson's report further showed that a ""partially blank entry has been utilised for the purpose of interpolating the now existing details in regard to the birth of Mr. Anis Ahmed.""

What it meant was that on 3 Oct 1910, there were two entries in the register as 586 and 587 of twin girls. The details of the first were duly filled in every column and ditto marks were put for the second twin.

These Hodgson believed were used at a later date to fill out birth details of Anis Ahmed Rushdie. He believed that there were visible signs of fabrication where the gender of the child was changed and details were written over the ditto marks.

An analysis of the ink and handwriting found it to be visibly different from the others and thus raised further doubts on the authenticity of the birth records.

Hodgson also found entry 537 in another register to contain similar details as of Anis Ahmed's father, house and such indicating that it could have been the birth details of Anis Ahmed's elder sibling. However, Anis Ahmed claimed he was his father's only son and hence it was assumed that those details were his own.

Just as the UK government gave protection to his son several decades later, they 'endeavoured' to ensure that the inquiry be not made public 'as it might do great harm to his reputation'.

In a lengthy reply to the authorities in his letter dated 1 January 1935, Rushdie refuted all these allegations and tried to prove how municipal birth records were unreliable and pointed out the drawbacks in the government investigation.

Rushdie explained that according to his school records his date of birth of June 1910 could also be used to verify his age making him eligible for the ICS exams of 1933.

""In India a boy's birthday has no significance in the common social life of the family. It does not, as it does in England, stand out distinct from all the other days of the year,"" he wrote in his letter of 11 January 1935.

Correspondence between Rushdie and the government officers continued for the next few months. It shows how the desperate attempts made by Rushdie to convince the authorities that he was born in 1910 failed.

In another letter Rushdie argued that when he sat for the ICS exam in 1932 (where he was eligible even if he was born on 1909) he ranked 18th on the list and 3rd among Muslims. However he said he was overlooked when three Muslims were nominated and no explanation was given why someone with rank 25 superseded him. He then sat for ICS exams in 1933 and was ranked the 1st on the Muslim list and 4th overall. He requested for ""a little sympathy and kindness"".

But on 5 February 1935, the government of India terminated Rushdie's probation. However, he was not asked to refund his probationary allowance which he received until then. Although the government of India found little doubt that the forgery (3.10.1910) in the register was committed in Rushdie's interest, the criminal charge of forgery, or abetment, could not be proved against him and they did not prosecute him.

After his expulsion as an ICS probationer, Rushdie then applied for a research studentship at Kings College, Cambridge University. He submitted the Punjab University certificate with his date of birth as 14th June 1910. His application was accepted.

After Cambridge Anis Rushdie returned to India and settled in Bombay about which his son was to write memorable novels later on.

Salman Rushdie recently tweeted that he had just finished the final revision to his 2,50,000 word memoir. Wonder if this episode will find a mention in it.


(First published in Mumbai Mirror - Nov 11, 2011)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The 'Begum' who was almost famous


Feroza Dulhan Begum. Pic-urdufigures.blogspot.com

On 23 September, 1932 a private and confidential letter written by the Countess of Willingdon, the wife of Viceroy Willingdon was delivered to Feroza Dulhan Begum to her hotel room in Shimla. A runner had hand-delivered the letter straight from the majestic Viceregal Lodge. It assured the Begum that the Countess had spoken to the Nawab of Bhopal who promised to do whatever he could. The 26-year-old Begum was the widow of Prince Habibullah of Bhopal and had requested the Viceroy’s wife to intervene on her behalf regarding her share in estates and maintenance.

Shimla provided the perfect setting to get personal grievances addressed and offered a better chance of eliciting a response from the high and mighty in colonial times. The British summer capital was not just a venue for high politics and tough negotiations, as serious historians would have us believed, but also served as the ideal venue for individuals like Feroza Begum to put pressure on powerful opponents.

The Begum had married Prince Habibullah of Bhopal in April 1930 and after his death in June 1930, went on to become the love interest of the horse-race loving influential Maharaja of Idar. In 1949, she moved to London after marrying Stanley Thomson, dashing Navy captain. But before these romantic liaisons, she had to fight a battle to extract the best possible maintenance from the wealthy Nawab of Bhopal. And this fierce battle made her a regular at the best hotels in Shimla, Delhi and Bombay as she shadowed key officials and prominent journalists to plead her case. 

Her fascinating life, fragments of which come alive through the archives in London, is a remarkable journey of a confident and an adventurous lady. According to her passport, her maiden name was P. Wadia, the full name as we found out was Phiroza Wadia, and she was the eldest daughter of D M Wadia, a Parsi millowner. She was born on Sept 20, 1906; was five feet in height and had a mole on her upper lip. Not much is known about her education, but it can be safely assumed that she attended school in Bombay or was taught privately by a personal tutor.

Prince Habibullah was heir to the throne of Bhopal after the death of his father Nasrullah Khan in 1924. However, in the power struggle and court intrigue he lost out to Hamidullah Khan, his uncle who became the last Nawab of Bhopal. A forlorn Habibullah made Pune his new home and, some accounts suggest, vowed to never return to Bhopal. Unfortunately by the end of 1929, Habibullah developed tuberculosis and it became clear that he won’t live for long.

Despite the knowledge of Habibulla’s imminent death, Phiroza Wadia became Feroza Dulhan Begum and they married in April 1930. The details of the marriage were kept under wraps. Though the father, mother and the sister of Feroza attended the marriage, they had no idea of the venue till an hour before the ceremony. Expectedly, the marriage caused considerable consternation in the Parsi community. This was perhaps the second high profile marriage of a Parsi lady to a Muslim man in Western India after Jinnah famously married Ruttie Petit in 1918. But unlike Ruttie’s parents, Phiroza’s family supported her decision.              

The honeymoon to Mahableshwar was cut short due to Habibullah’s illness. The newly-wed returned to Pune, where Habibullah died in June 1930 at his residence in Bund Garden. After few months, Feroza Begum started inserting notices in newspapers warning public not to deal in estates and shares belonging to her late husband. Very soon she found herself making the rounds of courts in Bhopal where she filed a law suit for a share in Habibullah’s intestate estate.

While her claim to the intestate estate was settled, the officials at Bhopal court refused to give her share in her husband’s estate which he had mentioned in his will. “The widows of Jagirdars in the ruling family are not entitled to an inheritance from the jagirs of their deceased husbands, according to the usage of the State,” is the terse reply she received to her enquiries. She also asserted her right to a widow’s maintenance according to the “family customs of the ruling house of Bhopal” which fell on deaf ears. She then decided to take her struggle to another level.

Diwan Singh Maftoon, the legendary editor of Riyasat, an illustrated Urdu weekly which boasted of an office on London’s Fleet Street, started writing letters to key officials on her behalf. “…this poor lady is not allowed to take a single pie from the very state of her late husband which yields a gross revenue of Rs 6,00,00,000.” One such letter by Maftoon was addressed to Charles Watson the political secretary to the Government. It ends by making an appeal to “…save a human life from starvation and miseries.” Records suggest that she managed to get a lump sum of Rs 35,000 and an allowance of Rs 500 per month but remained convinced that this was nowhere close to the usual Darbar allowance to a widow.


In September 1933, the Maharaja of Idar booked a suite at the Taj Mahal Hotel, where Feroza       Begum too was already staying. This sent the city’s gossip mills into an overdrive. But her constant companionship with the Maharaja soon turned into a headache to the protocol obsessed English administration. After the Nawab of Bhopal, it was the office of the Bombay’s Governor who found her too hot to handle.

The Maharaja used to spend a lot of time in Bombay and would have Feroza Begum by her side even on official functions and dinner. But her not so well-defined relationship with the Maharaja unsettled Roger Lumley, Bombay’s Governor. The Maharaja was an avid race enthusiast and would be in Pune and Bombay for the entire racing season. This further added to the misery of the Governor who recorded “I frequently meet the Begum on the racecourse and have sat next to her on meals. It is therefore becoming increasingly difficult for me to go on meeting His Highness without being able to extend an invitation or to offer hospitality to the Begum.”

A perplexed Lumley and his staff were also unable to come to terms that she continued to use Begum while going around with the Maharaja. “It seems quite out of character for the lady to be recognised as Begum attached to a Hindu ruler,” pointed out the befuddled Governor. However, the fact that Feroza Dulhan Begum transformed into Begum Shri Paswanji Sahiba of Idar didn’t seem to have helped matters.

Unknown to her, she had become a subject of discussion between the Governor and Viceroy. The hapless Governor made it clear that he does not desire to “cast stones at the ‘Paswanji’” but that it would be hardly “in keeping with the dignity of the Governor that he should invite her to Governor’s House.” Even Viceroy Linlithgow (who had succeeded Willingdon to whom Feroza’s case was known) opined that it cannot be possible to recognise a lady as a Begum attached to a Hindu ruler. But the Maharaja had different plans. He kept on raising the issue of the “position of Begum Shri Paswanji of Idar,” and given his loyalty to the Raj, the Governor had to devise a way out. Eventually, Governor Lumley came up with a solution. He suggested that he could establish personal rather than official relations with the Begum which would mean that she could be invited to a private lunch once or twice a year, while still keeping her away from official functions. 

Just after Independence she married Stanley Thomson, a senior naval officer who also enquired into the Bombay naval mutiny. The couple shifted to UK where she was a successful businesswoman and died in 2001 aged 95. Feroza Begum was neither a social activist nor a participant in the freedom struggle, factors that combine to delegitimise stories like hers in colonial India. Her life is in so many ways reflective of the unusual trajectories that brought her in close contact to the corridors of power and aristocracy and yet she remained away from it. 
(First published in Mumbai Mirror)