My mother and I shifted out of our house on Nazareth Road soon after Abi, my father, died; forced to vacate the house by the owner – a nephew of the Nizam of Hyderabad – who felt on the day that Abi died that the contract was not valid anymore since it was between him and my father.
Ammi Jan, my maternal aunt, and her husband Abbu Jan (Asad Ali, an All India Hockey player of note, who was also my dada’s youngest brother), had been staying with us, and moved, as we did, to a house in PECHS for several months. Later on we shifted into the Iqbal Town house which was built with Abbu Jan’s pension and provident fund – the way it was in the old days when you retired. My Khala and Khalu were like second parents for me. I always told friends that the Iqbal Town area was named after Iqbal Bano, being a little wary of Allama Iqbal and the number of things named after him everywhere.
I got married at this house in 1970 and had my wife Nuzhat, an avid speaker, lovely actor and fierce activist, sail with me for almost 10 years in the Merchant Navy.
Ammi Jan passed away in 1967 while I was on the “M.V. Shams”. I got to hear of her death as soon as my ship arrived in the dock. It was awful to see a lovely person go. Her asthma had been a big problem all her life and this time she could not beat its attack.
Abbu Jan came with us to my DHA house, my first real home that was built with loans and borrowed money. This was where Ragni, our only child, was born in 1984, and where Abbu Jan expired in 1987. My mother, Ummi lived here until 1989, until she passed away in January that year.
The Iqbal Town house, however, was among the best periods of my life in Karachi. Despite being far away from all our friends’ houses, we had Iqbal Ismail, Salman Kureshi, Muzaffar Ghaffar, Noel Colaco, Joe D’Cruz, Humayun Gohar, Uncle Charlie and his daughter, Umra, and many others visit us there each time I was on leave or my ship was at home port. Closer to the house were Lala Mufti, Captain Anees Jaetapkar and the wonderful author, Ibné Insha, who lived nearly a block away.
Suroor Barabankvi (a wonderful poet and a ‘wonderfuller’ person), whom I had met in Chittagong during a Mushaerah I held on my ship, knocked at my house gate one day and I was thrilled. He said he had arrived the night before and was going to be here for a week. We called him the next day and had him recite some poetry for us and four of my father’s cousins who were his fans: Kamal Mahmood who we called Jan Ammu (singer Talat Mahmood’s elder brother), his wife (Amna Phupi), and her brothers Ayub Chacha and Sulaiman Chacha. The last three were the grandchildren of Ustaad Amir Minai.
I recorded many of Suroor Bhai’s poems that day — and more in the years to come. By the way, Suroor Bhai’s younger brother married Jan Ammu’s youngest sister (Khalida – my Phupi Jania) later on.
Sulaiman Chacha asked me to meet his friend, Syed Nasir Jahan, when I came back to Karachi and settled down, in 1984, from the Merchant Navy. I decided to ‘duck’ the issue, thinking that Nasir Jahan — a regular radio broadcaster with a lovely voice — was unlikely to be great fun for me to meet. His interests, apart from Urdu Poetry, were not likely to coincide with mine (or so I thought). His Naats were, of course, delightful to listen to on Radio Pakistan and his Nohas and Syed Aalé Raza’s Salaam at every Muharram were always something I watched when I could. I had always thought that was what he was about…until I met him later.
My friendship with the Chittagong poets had developed fairly over the years. Most of them were regular visitors to the ships and were always included in the regular Mushaerahs that I held.
[quote]During the Bangladesh war Asghar Gorakhpuri was left for dead under various corpses [/quote]
Bangladesh’s war brought Asghar Gorakhpuri to Karachi – after having been left for dead under various corpses by the Mukti Bahini. His escape tales were worth listening to – as were most tales told by him. He was really a fascinating story-teller. Asghar Bhai was someone I always loved. Along with him, from Chittagong, came Nasir Zaidi (Shohrat) and his friend Kazim ‘Nudrat’ (Kajjoo) Abidi, two young poets.
Every now and then, we’d have Asghar Bhai read out a few of his verses. One of my favourite pieces, recorded soon after Bhutto’s death, was his Tanha Farishtay Ka Noha.
On some occasions we’d have another friend from Chittagong join us: Kavish Umar, who never became popular here. He was a superb poet and wrote often. At one Mushaerah in Chittagong, with Comodore Asif Alvi presiding, the first few poets did not turn up. Each name was called and there was no one to answer. (The reason was a little political problem. We have those in Mushaerahs just as we have them in our Cricket teams being selected.) The crowd was seemingly getting angry.
[quote]We’d all go to meet visiting poets at public gatherings and bundle them into our car to bring them home for the night[/quote]
Asif Alvi Mamooñ – my mother’s second cousin – decided to call Kavish to the microphone in the hope that he would be able to keep the crowd quiet. In the beginning Kavish was upset to have been called to the Mushaaerah – but Asif Mamooñ was his boss! So he came up to the microphone and said, “I have just a qata’ that I wrote a few minutes ago. Here it is.”
(who should we complain to about the pains of bondage
who will listen to the plight of our unhappy heart
Kavish, how many people will you bow your proud head to
there’s one God in the Heavens, but countless on earth)
[quote]He then left the stage amidst tons of people clapping and wanting him to come back[/quote]
He then left the stage amidst tons of people clapping and wanting him to come back…but he left the place to go home. True Kavish!
Kavish was a strong Muslim but had very Leftist tendencies. Yet, he was very anti-Faiz and often wrote verses that were against Faiz’s philosophy.
The day that Asghar Bhai arrived in Karachi, he came to see me. He had a close friendship with Nasir Jahan — and that meant that we were all soon meeting (specially with Shohrat & Kajjoo) at our place.
My first meeting with Nasir Bhai stole my heart. Here was a man who was a wonderful conversationalist, adored classical music, totally in love with Urdu prose and poetry, recited beautiful verses, specially poems and anecdotes of Arzoo Lakhnavi and Josh Malihabadi. He loved many of my English books that I very rarely found other people reading. His wit and sarcasm were superb. And he loved the food at our house!
During my days in the Merchant Navy I was posted to Hong Kong for a while, relieving an officer in Gokal’s GESL. When Eed-e-Meelaad-un-Nabi was a month away I was asked by NBP’s Mushtaque Sahab to help him get someone from Karachi to come and be part of the Pakistani celebrations. Nasir Bhai’s name cropped up in my mind and Mushtaque Sahab was thrilled.
I phoned Nasir Bhai, asking him to come over to Hong Kong. It took a lot of convincing, since he hated flying. “I have been scared of it all the time”, he told me. Finally, three phone calls later, I got him to agree to come over and he was part of the Meelaad celebrations. We also managed to convince him to recite various verses (including a Manqibat to Hazrat Ali – from Ghalib) at a local club, with me reciting a couple of mine in between his readings, too.
A few years later Nasir Bhai, Asghar Bhai, and I had a radio broadcast (called Baat-say-Baat) which was the only piece from the series that Nasir Bhai did that was played twice again by public demand!
There are so many things I recall about Nasir Bhai, Asghar Bhai, Shohrat and Kajjoo. Our wonderful days together. The craziest nights out that lasted until the early hours of the morning. Tons of poetry. Many stories. Asghar Bhai & Nasir Bhai had remarkable memories of the old poets, their writings, their lives, and we were always thrilled to hear not just their verses but also the anecdotes that both told.
We’d all go to meet visiting poets at public gatherings and bundle them into our car to bring them home for the night. One was Muzaffar Warsi. I had met him when he carried a bunch of Currency Notes on the “M.V. Shams” to Chittagong. I was walking past the open door of his cabin when I heard sounds of a lovely recitation. I walked in and told him that it was great and he said “I am a theek thaak poet”.
The first qata’ that he then recited for me was something I always remember:
Zindagi kee qabaa ka har tük?aa
Vaqt kay paérahan meñ taaNkaa haé
Aé zaamaanah, hamayñ düaaéñ day
Tayree üryaanioñ ko dhaaNka haé
Muzaffar Bhai always came to meet me whenever he arrived in Karachi. I miss his voice. Among my favourite pieces from him was his Ya Rahmat-ul Lil Aalameeñ.
Among others who came often to the Iqbal Town house were people whose poems I also recorded there: Himayat Ali Shaér, Mohsin Ehsan, Naseer Turabi, Havi (from Quetta), Mohsin Bhopali, Athar Nafees, and Peerzada Qasim.
Suroor Barabankvi left this world in 1980. We all miss him an awful lot. He reminds me most of all of his shayr that said:
Jin se mil kar zindagi say ishq ho jaae, voh log
Aap nay shaayad nah daykhay hoñ, magar aésay bhi haeñ!
I was in a hospital in London, going through a surgery. During a heavily-dosed period on the first day I saw Asghar Bhai walking in and saying he was there to see me. I asked Nuzhat when I woke up if Asghar Bhai had come, and she said I had obviously been dreaming. I said once I am went back to in Karachi in two weeks I’d ask Asghar Bhai to come every day and keep me company while I am recuperating in bed.
When I arrived in Karachi, my cousin Naz (who was staying at our house) asked me if there are two Asghar Gorakhpuris. I said, “Of course not!” — and she brought out a Jang Newspaper that said Asghar Gorakhpuri was dead! I was dumbfounded. I rang up his Brother-in-Law, a fellow Master in the Merchant Navy, and he said Asghar Bhai had died of a heart attack when Shohrat and Kajjoo were visiting him at home. Nuzhat took the car out and I, lying in the back with great difficulty, went to his house.
Asghar Bhai had died within minutes of the time that I remember seeing him in hospital! Even stranger, he gave some of his writings to Nasir and told him to give them to me, instructing him to write ‘Zaheer’ in the corner “with a zay” because he thought Nasir would write it with a ‘zoay’ like most people. He took a sip of water after that remark — and was no more! (Sadly, despite all this, I don’t ‘believe’ in the Supernatural)
Kavish Umar, for reasons best known to him, disappeared from our lives. He used to live in Orangi Town. I had no idea where he went. Neither did Shohrat or Kajjoo. (Last year I discovered he had had a heart attack and didn’t go anywhere. I visited him and his poet-daughter, Sahar, and called them over to T2F).
Nasir Bhai phoned me from Islamabad and said he was coming to Karachi and that I should ask Nuzhat to make his favourite Kabaabs and Kheer and that he would come with Shohrat. When Nuzhat came back from the office the next day, she asked if I knew about Nasir Bhai. I said he’d be there for dinner tonight and that she had to make some food for him. She said she’d just heard on the radio in the car that he was dead and the body would be coming by the flight he was to come by.
Shohrat and I reached the graveyard and waited for his body that was coming from the airport. We buried him and I cried an awful lot. A lot more than I had for anyone in years.
Shohrat died 2 years ago, just a few weeks after I had attended his child’s wedding.
Kajjoo had been ill for a while. He was bedridden often. One day he phoned me to say he was feeling a lot better and would come to see me soon. “Do you have some old Chittagong Mushaerahs that we could play?” he asked. I said I did have a few. Three days later his daughter phoned me to say that Kajjoo had passed away.
Their recitations that I have on tape are my only connect with a beautiful past.
A version of this post was first published online on Zaheer Kidvai’s blog. It contains audio recordings of many of the poems and poets mentioned in the article. The blogpost can be accessed here: http://kidvai.blogspot.com/2011/12/some-memories.html