Urdu Columnist & Author, Shams Jilani memoirs connected with his mother, & moments from pre- Partitioned India.
Memories & moments spent with parents became an integral part of your life. When they left the material world, the same moments became a beacon for you. When the context is connected with special socio-political events such as Indian partition where hundred of human souls were uprooted from their hometowns, these moments became a bridge with bygone past. Noted Urdu columnist, & author, Shams Jilani shared memories of his mother with these precious portraits from his personal collection. During the days of lock down, he spoke with me from Richmond City, British Columbia that a place his residence from last three decades.
I asked, from paternal side you carried a great literary legacy from the days of your great-grandfather up to your late father. But today I am eager to know about your mother.
The conversation of past pushed eighty nine years old author back to his childhood days in India. Clearing the hoarseness of his voice & overcoming his emotions, he said, did you know that three females has a great role in my life. Today what I had achieved in my entire life from childhood days is due to their support, mentoring & guidance. First one was my maternal grandmother, Hamidun Nisa Begum, then my mother, Fayyazi Begum & then my better half, Quraisha Begum. All three of them has left for heavenly abode. Coincidentally, both my wife & my mother were from a small village, Khamaria.
Its a small village located 11 km south of district headquarters of Pilibhit. This district is tucked on Indo-Nepal border in Tarai plains of Himalayas. You know I had written a biographical account (Seerah) of Prophets, Ahlul Bait, & Rashidun Caliphs. This interest was inculcated by my mother & maternal grandmother (Nani). I still remember bed time Islamic stories interwoven with story telling style by my nani when we spends our vacations at village Khamaria. These childhood stories created a quest for exploring more on these subjects that later concluded as a books. The moral teachings embedded with this formative style learning always remained with me. My mother came from middle class orthodox family of Muslim zamindars. She was born in 1912 & received all her education in a traditional manner. In those days, it was rare from Muslim middle class from rural background to send the females for formal education. As you know my father, uncle, & their cousins were send to Aligarh University & one of them even to England but unfortunately this was not a case for females. She took the lesson of Quran, Arabic & Urdu from her mother. The grand village style haveli of Nana also hosted his Sufi master, Sayyad Meharban Ali Shah who belonged to far off land of Pashtuns & each year visited our district. He was affiliated with Nashbandi Mujaddidi order & his Sufi master was the famous Shahji Mian of Pilibhit who passed away in 1907. It was here in his company I received some most worthy spiritual lessons of my life as four years old kid. The learning from Nani & mother continued in all these days. In 1950 at the age of 19 years, I left for Kishore Ganj (East Pakistan) with my parents leaving behind my Nani. As our district witnessed riots so entire family decided to migrate. In those days, the passport was not required for traveling to East Pakistan. In 1952, I again visited hometown, I got married during this visit & parents stayed back in Pilibhit. My destiny took to me to Karachi in 1954 from East Pakistan. Now at age of twenty, I was away from my entire family. For reading more on this journey & story of his ancestors, please read this article.
Somehow during late 1954, the reunion started in phases. With one year old son, she traveled with her brother, Maqbool Ahmad. Then my mother & nani came in 1956. Finally, the last one was father who joined us in 1958. The village Khamaria of my childhood was divided in two quarters. The more spacious & well build quarter was occupied by middle class Arain Zamindars who were relatives as a member of an extended family of Sheikh Jaan Mohammad who migrated from Punjab in late 18th century. The Baithaks of their old homes in this quarter were place of intellectual discussions on diverse titles that varied from religion & poetry to politics. It was in this background my mother was raised by Hamidun Nisa Begum & her father, Sheikh Fida Hussain. The another quarter of the village was occupied by other communities who resided in the village as cultivators & peasants. This quarter was mainly mud homes lined by thatched roof but they maintained cordial bonds with the residents of another section.
Then he started to describe the portraits of his mother & intervened with a query, Can you find one similarity in all these three pictures. I gently replied, its your resemblance with face of your mother. He replied, yes off course but I am focusing of something else. Can you able to see a small nose pin. She always used to wear this nose pin as I remember from my childhood days to her departure from this world. This was a photograph pasted on her official traveling passport when she came from India in 1954. In second portrait where you can find me standing with mother & my eldest son, Shahid who left this world in 1959. As I could remember this was taken in 1958.
About third one I exactly don’t remember the year. It seems to be a photograph from her early days of life. One can notice age & her aquiline typical Punjabi nose (a physiognomic feature of Arain females) in this portrait. It was a small black & white photograph. In later years when Amma passed away, I got it converted in a colored portrait. You can notice the same simple nose pin adored her face as I told you before. By the time when we shifted to Canada from Pakistan, the original portrait was damaged by termites but fortunately a digital copy survived.
In 1957, my Nani passed away & her grave is located in graveyard of PCS, Karachi. In year 159, my eldest son, Shahid met a fatal accident at the age of six while crossing a road to take a school van. After leaving his hometown in India, my father lived for three years, & in 1961, he left this world. A year later, in 1962, mother left us & was buried at Mirpur Khaas, Sindh, Pakistan, a place far away from her ancestral village Khamaria in Pilibhit, Uttarpradesh. I still remember that on the last night when she was unwell & I was sitting beside her, she said with gentle kindness by concealing her pain, my dear son, please go & take some rest. You will get tired if you will awake whole night by sitting beside me. She was survived by four daughters & three sons.
Now only memories had left in all these decades. We visited India ten times after Amma & Nani passed away. My last visit to India was with entire family in 2012. Every time we used to visit the home of Nani & Amma that was connected with my childhood days. Stories of Nani reverberated my ears whenever I visited those landscapes in Pilibhit. Last year I got the news that the house where my mother was born has been left abandoned by our cousins as their extended families has shifted to city. I was lucky enough to have a chance to visit my home land from Pakistan & then from Canada also. Unfortunately, Nani & Amma didn’t able to go back after they shifted to Pakistan. This is how time flies, & people who experienced multiple migrations cling their memories of bygone days. Adding two verse of short Urdu poetry written by Shams Jilani for mother.
Meri Maan Jannat Nashin Jannat Makan
Sabr ka paikar thin aur azmat ka nishan
Zindigi bhar wo rahin sab par shafeeq
Marte dam mamta hi thi rukh par ayyan
My mother sits in heaven & dwells in heaven
She was portrait of patience, & sign of greatness
For entire life she remained kind to everyone
Motherly reflection predominated her face during time of death