Getting to know Karachi and Waheed Murad

Javid Ali Khan on how his family, that of Pakistan’s first PM, settled in Karachi during Partition – and how he made a new friend

Getting to know Karachi and Waheed Murad
Having got some proper temporary independent accomodation in the form of a small flat in the Baluch Officers Mess, courtesy of a kind military officer, my mother’s attention turned to her next most important priority, the children’s education. This – as well as most other ‘tedious’ matters to do with us kids – had been left to her by our father. Her brother, our youngest maternal uncle who managed my father’s estates and was also an aide and guide to him in his personal matters, being a ‘pukka’ English-type gentleman, advised and managed our education also. So in January 1948 at the start of the school year he went to the Grammar School’s principal to get us admitted, replete in his bespoke tailored suit with shoes (spats) covered with the cloth of the same material, so as to match the suit, and speaking English copying the accent and manner and style of Mr. Jinnah, his ideal and role model. He had been appointed a ‘sipah silar’ in the Muslim League Razakars and was present as a guard on the occasion when, at a public function, a failed attempt had been made by a young man to stab Mr. Jinnah while delivering a speech. This was his main claim to fame and we had to hear that story ad nauseum until we were grown up!

In any case, he was promptly shown the door by the real English gentleman, who, it seems, took an instant dislike to this pretentious dandy dropping big names – of his connections with Mr. Jinnah and the Prime Minister etc. He returned in a huff, abusing the principal.

Waheed and I at my second sister's wedding

Amma knew him well and must have guessed what transpired, so she got my brother and I all dressed up the next day and took us to the Principal (I think it was Mr. Peppworth) herself. He was as polite and courteous as possible and apologised profusely. He said that he understood that we were the Prime Minister’s nephews, but further asked Amma “Begum Sahib, please understand my predicament” – which was that the school was beyond full and he had turned down so many gentle people, so it would be unfair to them and himself if he now took us in. (Can any school Principal dare do that in today’s VIP culture?). Amma, instead of throwing a tantrum – like her brother probably had the previous day – said that she understood and asked his advice for the next best option. He said he would get us admitted for the time being in the school opposite, Marie Colaco, which was a sort of subsidiary of Grammar School at that time, and as soon as he could make space, he would take us in, but that it might take some months. Amma agreed, but on her return, her brother was still fuming. He insisted she call “Bhai Liaquat”, complain to him and get him to call that “stupid” Principal. Amma told him bluntly that “Bhai Liaquat” had other matters of the highest urgency and importance to the country occupying him. She said that she would put us in Marie Colaco for the time being, as agreed.

So, we were tested by the Principal of Marie Colaco herself, a very refined and gentle Hindu lady, Mrs. Thadani. I was sent to the class I had qualified for. When I entered it I found, to my horror, that it had boys much bigger and older than me. Except for just one little boy sitting on one side on the teacher’s chair, as there was no desk for him. I, too, was asked to sit on the same chair and share it with him until a desk could be found for us to share.
We sat together in class right up until 1962 – when we did our MA in English together

That boy was Waheed Murad. And that, as in the famous Humphrey Bogart line from Casablanca, was “the start of a beautiful friendship” which lasted until the day he died.

Waheed’s father, Nisar Murad, came from a well known, well-to-do, well educated family of Sialkot. Amongst the family’s friends and neighbours was Faiz sahib. The Murads were of Turkish background and their ancestor, Murat from the Ottoman Empire, had been in the Mughal army. This ancestor had settled in Punjab after the demise of the Mughal Empire.

Nisar Murad was a very good looking man, tall, fair and handsome and always very smartly dressed. He was the third of four brothers – the eldest a senior officer in the navy and the second a lawyer in Lahore. He came to Karachi seeking a good job and ended up working for a Hindu film distributor who was one of the two biggest film distributors servicing the area which was to become Pakistan (Sindh, Lahore, Peshawar). The other distributor, another Hindu, Jagdish Seth, was also based in Karachi and his business still exists, run by his son. At the time of the creation of Pakistan, Nisar Murad was the manager and junior partner with the Hindu owner, who opted for India and migrated to Bombay to set up his business there, leaving the Karachi office to Waheed’s father. So Waheed’s father stepped into the shoes of the second biggest film distributor in the newly created Pakistan.

Sailing on a boat in Karachi Harbour, 1958

When I first met Waheed – or Wido as he was called at home and also by myself and very close friends – they were living in a flat opposite the then Light House cinema on Bunder Road (now M A Jinnah Road), the main road and artery of Karachi. His father had rented the flat next door to be the office of his business. Wido had been sent to boarding in Lawrence College, Ghora Gali near Murree. But being the only child, the parents were missing him too much, so he had been called back to Karachi and admitted to Marie Colaco, not finding place in Grammar school much like us. Waheed’s mother, Auntie Shireen, was from Puna – also from a good family and well educated, speaking English fluently. She was very strong on milads, khatams, sadqas and all the Muslim rites and rituals, so Waheed had a strong religious upbringing. And he was provided with the best education possible at that time.

On admission, both of us – frightened and insecure, facing and looking at all the other boys in class so much older and bigger than us – were thrown together for comfort. At recess time we would stick to each other as if our lives depended upon it, walking holding hands for security. And in class we would both be sitting on the same chair. After about a week or so a desk was found for us. As all the desks were meant to be shared by two students each, we shared one. This became a natural habit and we sat together in class right up until 1962 when we did our MA in English together. Waheed told his parents about his new very dear friend (myself) as I did to mine. So it became a custom for me to go to his home after school, as he was all alone, and for him to come to ours once or twice a week.

In Nathiagali with my sisters and I - just before Waheed Murad entered film production and then, 2 years later, acting

In March Amma had managed to sell the little jewellery she had on her person and put a ‘biyana’ on an under construction house on the then outskirts of Karachi, on a street where mostly new houses had been and were being built. On the “outskirts” back then, Guru Mandir would now qualify as the very centre of Karachi. But in 1948 Saddar was the centre of Karachi and the area where the Quaid’s mausoleum is located now was just an uninhabited wilderness on the outskirts. Our house was even beyond that and the new houses being constructed there were for the Mir of Talpur, the Nawab of Junagadh, Shaheed Surawardy and a huge house complete with swimming pool for one of the richest Hindu families in Karachi, the Mahtanis. The house that Amma bought was also being built by a Hindu initially. Now that he was migrating to India, the incomplete house was for sale.

Having given the biyana, Amma waited anxiously, debating what to do next. Then, joy and celebrations! A remittance came from Abba in Delhi. He was sitting in Delhi trying to dispose of some pieces of his estate for whatever he could get (“distress sale”) and had obviously managed some deal. After his death, in his papers I found a typed list of all his urban and agricultural property and villages, which he had sent out to Rajas and Maharajas to try and sell whatever he could to them. The total value given to all the separate items on that list was 11 crore rupees. The bulk of Amma’s jewellery he had left in a box with a Hindu friend of his in Delhi. Abba was accompanied back to Delhi by his protege, “bodyguard” and favourite, one of my maternal cousins, Munir Jan. Munir bhai, my role model and mentor, many years later in Toronto where he had migrated to, recounted that trip for my benefit. In fact, most of the memories of Delhi in my previous articles (Nehru’s visit to Abba in Abbasi sahib’s house, etc.) were from him. Munir bhai said Abba gave him a note to his Hindu friend and said, “Go and collect your ‘phuppi’s jewellery box.” Munir bhai was skeptical, saying that surely that Hindu would have appropriated it by then. But as ordered, he went, and when the door opened, he introduced himself and said “I have come to collect a box.” The Hindu gentleman, Amrit Kaul, beamed and said “Thank God you have come. I was so worried that if something happens to me, who will protect this ‘amanat’”. He promptly handed over the box. Amrit Kaul would come to Karachi as High Commissioner for India, where Abba took me to meet him, but that is another story.

In 1956, the International Freestyle Wrestling Show in Karachi inspired us to try. Here, Waheed practices on his favourite 'guinea pig' - me! - on a mattress

So Amma got her money to complete the sale and finish her house. It was just a cement structure with a roof at the time and needed plastering, painting, plumbing, electricity, etc. – all the usual finishing work. This she did in record time, going to the site every day and supervising the work herself, well into the evening. In the meantime we had been moved to a half portion of an evacuated property on Sidhwa Road off Jamshed Road, and commuting between there and Bunder Road for Wido and I to meet had become even more difficult, although we did now have a car. About Sidhwa Road, Col. Ismail, Chief of Protocol in the Foreign Office and my immediate boss for some time, related this story while reminiscing once.

He received an urgent message from Amma that she wanted to see him immediately. Fearing something bad had happened, he rushed to Sidhwa Road. Amma informed him that she had heard through the servants that the Muslim households there and new refugees were planning to attack and loot the Hindu houses next morning and kill or drive them out. She said “You have to save them.” He sent for and posted soldiers all over the area and went around in a jeep, announcing on a loudspeaker that any person attempting to loot and kill would be shot at once. The attack never took place. A few days later a delegation of our Hindu neighbours came to Amma to thank her and said that they were leaving. They were migrating to India as they feared the worst when Amma left.

Our house having been completed, Amma left the portion on Sidhwa Road to my maternal uncle and we moved to our own place, very much larger and closer to our school and Waheed’s father’s flat. Now Wido and we could be together after school more often, but the problem of commuting still remained.

By now, Wido’s father’s business had taken off in the new country with a budding film industry – in which his financing played an important part. His business was expanding. Wido was growing into his teens, so their flat and office were proving inadequate. In their search for a new place, Uncle Nisar Murad found another incomplete house further down the street in which we lived. He snapped it up and finished it magnificently and luxuriously and they moved there, leaving their flat to be part of the growing office. The commuting problem had been resolved admirably. Now we, Wido and I, could be together every evening and we could even go to school together.

I became a constant feature at their home, so much so that Auntie Shireen started introducing me as her second son, “doosra baita”. Just as “Wido bhai” became a constant feature of our household and part of our family (two brothers and three younger sisters) and to my chagrin, my father and mother’s favourite. We could not enter my father’s room without prior permission, but Wido would calmly walk in and say “Uncle paan kahan hain ?” (Uncle where are the paans?)

This childish prank, unfortunately would evolve into a paan chewing habit and play an important part in his premature demise.