Memoir: Men Of Yesterday

Memoir: Men Of Yesterday
In the district of Jhang is a tehsil called Shorkot. It is an ancient city once known as Sibipura, although it is also said to have been called Shivipura (the city of Shivi). At Partition, by then the name had evolved to Shorkot.

Today the only remnants of its ancient history are the ‘bhirr’ - located between the Chenab, Ravi and Indus rivers - elevated ruins of a city that had been destroyed repeatedly and where beads and coins from Ashoka’s time were found. There is some belief that it was probably part of the Harappa era or even earlier as recent excavations have shown that Alexander paid us a visit and destroyed the fort there. Even today Greek coins along with iron stamped circular coins with Sanskrit script are found there.

The existing town has spread around the hump, on the North, East and South Sides. But delve deeper and in the midst of it all, there is a beautiful white shrine – it is the tomb of Pir Mahboob Alam Shah Gilani (Pir Mahboob) built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II.

Pir Mahboob was a little boy aged 7 when his parents sent him from Delhi to Iraq to gain an education. When he returned 15 years later he discovered his parents had died. At this time the Emperor Aurangzeb was in the Deccan a fighting the Marathas and there was demand for soldiers.

Consequently, the young man went South and joined the army. During the campaigns he was sickened by the slaughter and joined the Sufi monastery in Gulberga, South India. Having spent time there, he returned to Delhi he was given a sanad and land of 30,000 kanals in Shorkot with additional benefits such as not having to pay any Imperial taxes, not provide soldiers and workers for the King’s army nor be called for military service.

In Shorkot he wrote a number of books – one on the Sufi practice and the various chapters of the Sufic order, a book detailing various prayers, ‘Tawwiz’ recitals and general Islamic rituals for prospective converts. However, the conversion rate was extremely low as upon Partition, Shorkot was almost 80% Hindu. But the local Hindus’ acknowledged themselves to be his mureeds.

When the British arrived, the first exercise was to establish our land holding and this was achieved by my great-great grandfather Pir Gilani Shah. He was honoured by the British and given the right to have a chair when visiting British officers.

Gilani Shah was very keen on education and this set a new precedent when the women of Shorkot became the first in the region to gain an education. When they were married off to neighbouring families’ in Qatalpur and Pir Mahal, they spread education there as well.

Gilani Shah’s son Syed Karam Shah (Karam Shah) retired as Assistant Commissioner and in 1918 was the recipient of the Khan Sahib award for personal distinction by the Viceroy Lord Chelmsford based in Barnes Court, Shimla.

Karam Shah had three sons, one of whom was my grandfather Syed Zahur Husain (Zahur Husain). After graduation from Aligarh College, Zahur Husain worked for the Co-Operative Societies in India. Zahur Husain stayed in this department for over 25 years retiring as the first Registrar of Co-Op Societies for both East and West Pakistan. He established the Co-Operative bank and the Co-Operative insurance companies.

During Partition he was in-charge of evacuee property settlement in Lahore and then later in charge of the allocation of ginning and textile factories in Punjab. After this he was appointed Director State Bank of Pakistan and was involved in the creation of the National Bank of Pakistan and the Agricultural Bank of Pakistan (ABP). In the 1960s, he turned up at the ABP to apply for a loan to purchase a tractor. The manager was totally dumbfounded.

Zahur Husain had three sons, Syed Khurshid Husain (my father), Syed Irshad Husain and Syed Ashfaq Husain. All three started their education in Shorkot in the local madrassa on land donated by their grandfather Karam Shah. The school still exists today as a girls’ school. The boys moved to Lahore to join Government College Lahore as resident students in the Quadrangle Hostel. The youngest, Syed Ashfaq Husain was enrolled in the Central Model School.

Syed Irshad Husain went to join the Maclagan Engineering College and was the first Pakistani to go to Harvard University. Later he worked for Syed Baber Ali to build up Packages Ltd. Syed Ashfaq Husain was the first Pakistani scout to go UK for the international scout jamboree there. He was the recipient of a gold medal from Government College Lahore due to a brilliant academic record. Incidentally one of my paternal aunts also had a brilliant academic record at Government College getting a gold medal in economics whilst wearing a burqa during the whole period. She even drove a car when teaching in Kinnaird College a novelty in Lahore during the early 1960s.

My father, Syed Khurshid Husain, became the swimming, boxing and wrestling champion in Government College. After graduating he went to Aligarh College where he became the all India University swimming, boxing and wrestling champion. During his period in the quadrangle he stood foe elections for the President ship of the hostel. Let me quote his words regarding this election campaign:

“It was the Presidential election of the Quadrangle Hostel Common room. There were first of all five candidates standing for the election. It dropped to four - two Muslims and two Sikhs. The latter were Diljeet Singh and Harbajan Singh and one Muslim was Khalifa Asif Hakim. Harbajan Singh resigned in favour of Diljeet early today and Arif insisted on fighting to the end. Just before polling i.e. At about 9:00pm Arif was kind enough to resign or withdraw in my favour. I must say that my victory in this election was mainly due to the help of Mr. Ved Prakash and his friends. If he had not helped me, there would have been the question of communalism and I would have failed. I won by 80 votes to 61. I may write here that in the history of common room elections there had never been a chance for a Muslim to win an election. Three years ago had also been made a President through the favour of the Supdt of the hostel, otherwise it was always a Hindu elected. I stood on the non-communalist ticket. I succeeded through God’s help and my friends help. I again thank Mr. Ved for it.”

From Government College with a BA degree he went to Aligarh College in 1941. It does not seem to have been a most enriching experience after the glorious experience he had at GC.

“So here at Aligarh, I have not one friend to my taste. To be sincere I have not been able to find a Habib with whom I should have a cup of hot tea at 10p.m.and have an open and frank talk for a quarter of an hour and then be expected to leave him off for studies. I find no Ghani to laugh the whole day out in very light veins. No gravity pregnated with foolishness to represent Iqbal. I cannot hark back to the 3rd year life of Govt. College. I can never have those playful and happy faces of my numerous classfellows in Eng. Geography and Economics.”

Pre Partition, he noted how things were changing and what political issues faced the Hindu and Muslim communities.

“There is no denying the gravity of the internal and external situation in India and the futility of the repeated statements from various political qtrs. stressing the importance of unity at the moment. The leaders today nearly all of them are denying the representative authority of each other. If Mr. Jinnah stands for the vital interests of 100 million of Mussalmans in India, this standpoint is emphatically denied by the Congress, and if Congress claims to represent the Muslims and the Hindus, Messrs. Jinnah and Savaskar are unanimous in vehemently denying it. To add to this is the severe and destructive criticism of the Hindus and Muslim press”

“I can well imagine how many Hindus would select Maulana Azad as their spokesman and how many Muslims would select Gandhi Jee… We have to to trace out the fundamental causes of the present communal disharmony and clear out the position at its root.”

Post Partition, he noted the tribute paid to Sarojini Naidu by the Dawn newspaper. “I was indeed delighted to read such sentiments expressed by the Pakistan’s leading newspaper. The tributes paid by the Hindu press to our Qaid still resound in my ears.”

From Aligarh College he joined the Calcutta Port Trust and during World War II he joined the British army to fight in Burma and after two years, left as a Lieutenant. His words on the war are poignant and deliver a full account of the horrors of WWII.

“My first experience of an air raid was on 23 rd and 24 December 1942. At about midnight all of a sudden all the electric lights went off and the raid alarm started sounding.. I took this to be one of the practice alarms. All of s sudden there was a uproar of a tremendous thunder of explosions and gun fire. An American ship was tied up just opposite my office room and through the door and window gap we could se the fire works of the illuminated A. A bullets being fired from all her guns. A solitary Jap plane had dropped bombs in line of West yard shed no 22.”

“Major Ross and myself were standing on the road side opposite the dock office. As soon as the all clear signal finished Major Ross pulled a long breath and said “Husain, I had one consolation, if we had died today, we had died together. This tribute from a boss and a friend I have never forgotten.”

After Independence he joined Karachi Port Trust where one notable task was working with US Admiral Stark to produce a report for the building of Port Qasim. He was then sent to Australia for further training. On return after a few years he was sent as advisor to Malaysia on Ports and railways. He was also involved in the construction of Port Swettenham (Port Klang).

Due to his efforts, a great deal friendship built up between Malaysia and Pakistan resulting in some Princes of Malay states being sent to Aitchison College Lahore. The local state museum in Kuala Lumpur has its roof constructed by tiles sent by Pakistan. A number of Malays came to study in Pakistan including their ex- Prime Minister Mr. Mahathir who studied in Sialkot Murray College. In Malaysia my father had an impressive work and sporting record and he was the all Malaysian Club Tennis and Chess champion for many years.

Khurshid Husain died at the age of 55.