The Test of Time - my life and days
Professional Life and Politics
- Rabea, My Wife
My wife’s original name, Rahatunnissa, was changed to Rabea after our marriage. This was appropriate as she was the fourth daughter of my father-in-law. My father-in-law had three children, all daughters, by his first wife after whose death he married my mother-in-law, daughter of Munshi Tamizuddin Mollah of Kalikapur under the Pangsa Police station of the Rajbari Subdivision. The three elder step sisters of my wife who were much older than Rabea had been married long before. Rabea was the first child and the only daughter of my mother-in-law; her three other children being all sons. Muhammad Abdul Quader was the eldest, Muhammad Abdus Samad, the second and Muhammad Abdul Ghani the third and the last. At the time of my marriage Abdul Quader was about nine years old. Abdus Samad about five and Abdul Ghani only a few months old. As no child was born to my mother-in-law for some years after her marriage, she was probably suspected to be barren and at the desire of his parents, my father-in-law married another wife who hailed from Ujanchar under the Goalundo Police station. At the time of my marriage she had a son named Abdul Hossain aged about five years. Another son Nadu Hossain was born to her later on. My father-in-law had two step brothers Mohammad Kasirudddin and Mohammad Chiniruddin living in the same house with their respective families in different compounds and in a separate mess. The family of another brother who was dead, also lived in the same house. Mohammad Asiruddin aged about 18 was the only son of this brother. Mohammad Ismail, aged about 25 was the son of Mohammad Kasiruddin.
Ishan Chandra Das, a fisherman by caste was rent Collector and clerk to my father-in-law. There was a considerable number of fishermen families in the village and there were also some caste Hindu families. My father-in-law was the most influential man in the village. He was also the Headman of the locality, called Panchayet in those days. Although the term Panchayet indicates a Committee of five headmen, in those days the function of the Committee devolved on one man called the Panchayet. It was a Government recognized honorary office and the “Chaukidars” (village security guards) of the entire area were under his control. My father-in-law who was a qualified homoeopathetic doctor had the reputation of being a good physician but he had given up the practice of medicine as a profession and used to give free advice and also medicine to patents coming to him for help.
Easin Ali Khan, a very meritorious student of a High English School at Rajbari was the private tutor of my younger brother-in-law as well as of my wife. Gradually a close friendship grew up between him and me. After graduation he became the Headmaster of a High School and died at a comparatably young age. After Easin Ali had gone elsewhere on passing the Matriculation Examination another High School student named Afeluddin Ahmed hailing from the district of Dacca was appointed as the private tutor of my brother-in-law but not of my wife, who had grown older now and was not allowed to appear before strangers, After Matriculation he took up a clerical job under the Government and has now retired.
After my marriage I availed of each College vacation to pay visits to my father-in-law’s house and I was treated with affection and respect not only by the members of the families living in that big house but also by the neighbours. My cousins-in-law, Mohammad Ismail and Asiruddin and their wives became particularly friendly to me. The rest were either elderly people or youngsters. My brothers-in-law who were mere children and other cousins-in-law of similar age became very devoted to me.
Rebea had a cousin named Massi of about her own age, who was a younger sister of Mohammad Ismail. They were close friends.
I had seen Rabea only at the time of marriage and naturally there was a yearning in me to see her. But hardly any such opportunity occurred, as, according to village tradition she was ever watchful to elude my presence and even my eyes. About a couple of years after the marriage she was caught unaware in the big westerns house and I had a full view of her countenance. But it was momentary since Massi seeing me enter the house alerted her by giving out the startling cry,¾ “Chatoo (my wife’s nick name) run away, you are done for”¾ and she fled away with lightening speed.
I also felt a great urge to communicate with her, but no ordinary mode of communication was available to me. To speak to her was out of the question as we never met. If I wrote to her it was more than certain that she would never reply on account of fear of exposure. Moreover, local tradition would be outraged if such communication was discovered and Rebea would be the laughing stock of her friends. So an ingenious mode, far removed from the direct objective suggested itself to me. Rabea occasionally used to go by train to her maternal uncle’s house near Pangsa. I invented a fiction that a Hindu girl named Monorama had met Rabea in a railway compartment during one such journey and as Rabea looked exactly like Monorama’s younger sister who was dead, the latter felt an instinctive affection for Rabea and the two became very friendly during the journey. I developed this central idea with circumstantial details and from my hostel in Calcutta I wrote a series of long letters with my left hand to avoid detection, to Rabea, posing myself as Monorama. I came to learn later on that repeated letters like this made Rabea believe that she had actually met such a girl in the train. The letters were seen also by others including my father-in-law who wrote to Nasir on the subject. Nasir in his turn wrote to me about it and for a time I mentally enjoyed the fun. Ultimately I confided my secret to Nasir. Nasir could never keep a secret, and, as on several other occasions he exposed me to my father-in-law, and the little episode ended in embarrassment.
Rabea’s vigilance to elude any possible encounter with me was apparently due to the disapproval of society of any exhibition of conjugal love. This disapproval probably had its origin in parental jealousy, conscious or sub-conscious. This explains the innumerable instances of inhuman torture of young wives by their female in-law relations, particularly mothers-in-law.
Rabea’s shyness urging her to avoid being observed in my company was intensified by the circumstance that she was a mere child, unaware of the significance of conjugal life, whereas in the case of an adult wife conscious of the rewards of marital life such shyness is more or less simulated only to shield herself from the poison of malign eyes.
Some period after the marriage there were occasions when I met Rabea and I was successful in being friendly with her by talking with her on such subjects as her cats, the family dog, her friends and playmates and so many other trifles in which she was interested. The “letter of Monorama” were written to her after I had succeeded. In disarming her fears and suspicious about me, whatever these might have been, and after I had won her full confidence.
It is not to be supposed that only the seemingly softer sex was influenced by the social grimace at daylight evidence of conjugal love. It was a scarecrow also to the opposite sex. I was particularly susceptible to it being naturally of an exceptionally mild disposition. This induced me one day to resort to a course which no other male would have thought of. I was on my way home from my father-in-law’s house. I had walked to the Rajbari Railway station at about mid-day to avail of the train for Khankhanapur, my home village. Through an act of mis-judgement I missed the train. The obvious course for me was to go back to my father-in-law’s house and postpone my departure for home by a day. But I thought the people of my father-in-law’s house, particularly the wives of my cousins-in-law, might take it that I had purposely missed the train for the sake of my wife, and I preferred to walk home, a distance of about eight miles, scorched by the burning sun.
This hide-and seek game continued for several years and contributed largely to the deep mutual devotion that developed in the course of time. When she was mature in years her figure was tall and slim. Her physical charms faithfully reflected her inner qualities of head and heart. I considered myself fortunate to have her as the companion of my life. My devotion was intensified by their feeling of gratitude to my father-in-law, but for whose financial assistance my educational career might have been prematurely cut off. My mother-in-law was also very affectionate and out of her own savings she occasionally gave me some extra-money to supplement my pocket expenses, during the years of my studies after the marriage.
During the years of my studies whether at Cooch Behar or in Calcutta all communications between me and my family used to take place through Nasir. One tragic event took place in our family while I was studying for M.A. and Law in Calcutta. Nasir wrote to me that my youngest brother Tafazzal had died of dysentery. It was a great shock to me. I came to learn later on that the poor child was not given proper treatment.
After passing the Entrance Examination and having failed to secure a Government appointment in the Police Department on account of his conviction during the anti-partition agitation, Nasir took up appointment as a teacher in the Khankhanapur H.E. School and began to study law privately with a view to appearing at the “Mukhtarship” (legal profession below that of a lawyer) examination. While thus engaged Nasir was involved in a serious family quarrel which affected home so much that he refused to have meals in his own house and made an arrangement to have his meals at our house. This was no doubt a botheration for him to come to our house and go back several times every day defying sun and rain, but he was of a very obstinate and tenacious nature and he did this for a year or so; He acquired the reputation of a successful teacher. He was however a very stern teacher and was a terror to his pupils. In due course he passed the Mukhtarship examination and joined the criminal bar at Faridpur in 1914. He took up residence in a mess located at a house belonging to Moulvi, (later on Khan Saheb) Wahidunnabi, adjoining the house of Moulvi Abdur Rahman, B.L., a very reputed and the only Muslim lawyer then of the Faridpur District Bar.
- Faridpur Zilla School
After having sat for the final law examination in July or August, 1914 I returned home from Calcutta. I saw in a newspaper an advertisement for a teacher in the Faridpur Zilla School, a Government institution, and sent in an application intending that I would work as a teacher pending announcement of the result of the law examination and preparation for joining the Bar. Thereafter I went to the house of my father-in-law.
My cousin-in-law Mohammad Ismail had lost his loving and charming wife and he was to marry again. The date of the marriage had already been fixed I accompanied the bridegroom’s party to the house of the bride’s father near Bheramara Railway station in the district of Nadia. While I was there our domestic servant Meghu unexpectedly went to the house with a telegram for me. The telegram said that I Was appointed as a teacher in response to my application and was asked to join immediately.
I went to Faridpur at the earliest opportunity to join the appointment, but I found that the Headmaster, Ishan Chandra Ghosh, was reluctant to allow me to join on the plea that he had received no information from the Department. Ultimately I gave him a covert threat and asked him to tell me in writing that he could not allow me to join unless informed by the Department. This had a miraculous effect and he quickly allowed me to join; My qualifications and my work very soon made me popular amongst the students and the staff. The Headmaster however, on account of the confrontation I had him at the time of joining, seemed to be unfavourably disposed towards me, I fought him successfully on a second occasion in respect of my right to be the examiner of candidates for a scholarship examination.
I began to reside at the same mess where Nasir was staying. I made the acquaintance of Moulvi Abdur Rahman, pleader, Moulvi Abdul Ghani, Abdul Aziz Choudhury, Faizuddin Qazi Kaloo Meah, all Mukhtars and of many other gentlemen of the town. The Government took several month in fixing my salary and I drew my salary all together after about four months at the rate of seventy five rupees per month as settled by the Government. All the money given me in silver rupee coins,¾ one rupee paper notes not yet having been invented¾ in a cotton net bag. It was a heavy load and never before I had handled so much money together. When I took the load home in due course my parents and aunts were very much pleased to see the money. The money was given to my aunt Sabja who was the treasurer of the family and she remarked that she now realised why her palm had been of late itching !
While I was in the school the result of the law examination was out. Moulvi Abdur Rahman who became very affectionate towards me was very glad to see that I was placed fairly high in the list of successful candidates. Another Muslim candidate Harunar Rashid, who belonged to the same district and who was then a Sub-Inspector of Schools, also passed the law examination the same year.
Some months passed in making preparations for joining the Bar and it was in January, 1915 that I actually joined after resigning my position as a teacher.
The first world war had already broken out. When the teachers used to assemble together in the Teachers’ Common Room the main topic of conversation was the progress and fortunes of the war. Even at this early stage of the war, it was evident that public sympathy leaned towards Germany.
- I Join the Bar
Some months passed in making preparations for joining the legal profession and it was actually in January, 1915 that I joined the Bar. I had to resign my job as a teacher about a couple of months before to be able to apply for a lawyer’s license.
After I had joined the bar, Nasir and I together rented another house belonging to Moulvi Wahidunnabi, which adjoined the Kotwali Police station and faced a big Municipal tank to the north.
The first few years of my professional life were years of great struggle. No Hindu lawyer would patronise me, although many of them appeared to like me very much personally. Moulvi Abdur Rahman, the only senior lawyer amongst Muslims was an invalid. He had been crippled by gout and had to be lifted by two men into and out of carriages and also carried to and from court-rooms where he used to conduct his cases sitting down either in his chair or on the table. The circle of his clientele was therefore, necessarily limited and he could only help me with his sound advice when sought for. Nasir who had joined the criminal bar earlier could sometimes help me with small briefs. Somewhat spectacular success in some cases both civil and criminal and the fact that I was the only promising Muslim lawyer at the Faridpur Bar gradually established my position. Moulvi Harunar Rashid also joined the Bar sometime after me, but he could not make any headway and after some years, succeeded after a great struggle in securing an appointment under the Court of Wards.
Less than a year after my joining the Bar, when my income had somewhat increased, I shifted to an independent pucca house of late Kazi Hassanuddin, which I rented. Soon afterwards my wife came to that house. My brother-in-law Muhammad Abdul Quader who was a school student had come to stay with me even while I was living jointly with Nasir. After I had shifted to my new house, I brought my younger brother Abu Ahmed Khan to my place and got him admitted in the Faridpur Zilla School. As my reputation was increasing I began to be looked upon as a prospective Government Pleader. The then Government Pleader, Srish Chandra Banerjee, expressed his opinion to this effect to a friend of mine.
It was probably towards the end of 1915 that I received information about the recruitment of a Munsif and rather in a half-hearted mood I sent in an application. Munsifs were in those days appointed not he recommendation of the High Court. According to rules I had to append with my application a certificate from the District Judge. Raibahadur Sarada Charan Sen was then holding this office at Faridpur. Although I had successfully appeared in a number of cases before him he gave me a most disappointing and colourless certificate which could hardly be of any help to me. Apart from the general prejudice against Muslims, I heard that Sarada Babu had a relation as a candidate from another district and since only one appointment was to be made, this was supposed to be the cause of his giving such a disappointing certificate to me.
I am reminded of a curious happening in the course of my pursuit of Munsifship. Many respectable clients, mainly for want of suitable accommodation at the ill-equipped Faridpur town used to be my guests. One frequent guest was Moulvi Abdul Quader, a Mukhtear of Gopalganj, who was also a member of the Faridpur District Board and had to come to Faridpur almost every month to attend meetings of that body. At the time I had to go to Calcutta for the purpose of an interview before a Committee of two High Court Judges, Moulvi Abdul Quader was a guest at my Faridpur house. The night before the date of my starting for Calcutta I had a long rambling conversation with him, in the midst of which one of the subjects discussed was the habit of some old people traveling by train to go to the railway station concerned an unusually long time before the scheduled time. I characterised such habit as foolish particularly on the part of educated people who have watches to indicate the proper time whereas Moulvi Abdul Quader supported the opposite view, observing that it was a wise practice since sometimes unforeseen obstacles intervene. In my youthful exuberance, I doggedly maintained my own point of view and the discussion ended inconclusively. The next night when I had to start by the train then leaving at about 10-30 P.M. Moulvi Abdul Quader was at my house. A little before 10 P.M. I sent my servant to fetch a hackney carriage. After an unusually long time he returned unsuccessful and said on account of some Hindu festival no carriage was available. Then I sent my clerk and he succeeded in fetching one. I hurried to the station only to see that the train had already left. I had only a handbag as my luggage as my intention was to stay in Calcutta only for a day. While I was getting down from the carriage with the bag in my hand, the cabman who knew me asked if I would not go back to my house and I said, ‘no’ giving him an evasive excuse. I had not the courage to encounter Moulvi Abdul Quader with the stigma of such an ignominious defeat. I would be too late for my interview if I failed to reach Calcutta next day and I forthwith decided to walk along the railway truck to my home at Khankhanapur, a distance of 10 miles and avail myself of the midday train next day to be able to reach Calcutta in the evening. A few miles from Faridpur I encountered a most critical situation involving danger to my life. At Gandia I had to cross a long railway bridge on the river Kumar. I was horrified to find that the planking on the bridge providing a foot-path for pedestrians was absent and it was an impossible proposition for me to attempt jumping over the slippers. The alternative of going back to Faridpur was unthinkable. The other alternative was to risky my life. After some deliberation I devised an awkward but a less risky method. I decided to walk over the bridge in a sitting posture. With the bag in my right hand and supporting myself with my left and gripping one of the two lines of iron rail, I laboured my way forward from slipper to slipper, and completely exhausted I halted several times on my precarious perch almost despairing of success. When I found myself on the otherside of the bridge I was on the verge of collapse, soaked from head to foot with perspiration and my heart was pounding so violently as though it might stop any moment. The rust that my left palm gathered from the iron rail took several days to obliterate. After about half an hour’s rest I felt greatly restored and resumed my forlorn journey under the glorious blaze of the full moon, it being the night of Dol-Purnima, a Hindu festival. I was extremely thirsty. Luckily, when I reached the Shibrampur Railway station, about 7 miles from Faridpur I found that the station master, who was a Muslim, was still at his desk at the station and he gave me refreshing filtered water to drink. I reached home at about 3 A.M. and to my father’s question about the reason for such untimely arrival I gave the simple reply that I had missed the train.
Next day I reached Calcutta and appeared for the interview the day after. I was asked one or two laconic questions and was sent away with one of the Judges remarking “Well, Mr. Khan, we wish you well at the Bar.” This was indicative enough, but there was hardly any sense of disappointment in my mind.
Shortly after joining the Bar I was nominated by the Government as a Commissioner of the Faridpur Municipality. The majority of the members were elected on a restricted franchise. There was a keen struggle for the Chairmanship between Babu Mathurnath Maitra and Babu Purna Chandra Maitra both of whom were top ranking lawyers of the Faridpur bar. The Commissioners of the Municipality including the nominated ones were almost equally divided in this contest. As one single vote might decide the issue, as the only uncommitted Commissioner I was subjected to great pressure from both sides. In this regard Mathur Babu stole a march over Purna Babu by arranging to take me one day to Babu Ambica Charan Majumdar his patron, who requested me to support Mathur Babu and further suggested that I should stand for the Vice-Chairmanship on assurance of support from their party. I had no such ambition at all so early in my professional career and was hesitating to stand for the Vice-Chairmanship though I was inclined to support Mathur Babu whom, on account of his amiability and catholic outlook I liked better than his rival. Ambica Babu, however, went on arguing that he had great expectations in me and wished that I should agree because it would give a good start to my career I agreed.
The other side was not to be easily out-bidded. They approached me through various channels with a similar offer and not seeing any sign of success ultimately managed to influence my father-in-law who sent his clerk Ishan Chandra Das to me with a personal letter asking me to support Purna Babu. This placed me in an embarrassing position though I knew that I could never go back on my word of honour. Mathur Babu, coming to know about this pressure on me, adopted, though certain Zemindary agencies, counter measures so as, ultimately to induce my father-in-law to write me another letter saying that I might support whom-so-ever I liked in the contest. In due course Mathur Babu was elected as the Chairman and I as the Vice-Chairman. Shortly afterwards, I was elected as a member of the Faridpur District Board also by the Goalundo Subdivisional Local Board. I paid due attention to the public duties which thus devolved on me, though this meant a substantial cut from the time which I might otherwise devote to my profession. The office of the Municipal Vice-Chairman, notwithstanding the prestige it carried was not a bed of roses. I was in charge of finance and conservancy. It was a difficult job to keep the sweepers under control. They were all addicted to liquor and as such hopelessly unprovident. I found that they were all indebted to a money-lender who charged exorbitant interest and like a dreaded demon used to be invariably present on pay day and take almost the entire salaries of these unfortunate men and women in satisfaction of his dues, and make cash advances almost immediately afterwards.
Tax assessment and collection was another difficult and disagreeable task and I incurred the displeasure of several influencial persons on account of my strictness in this regard. On one occasion I issued warrants for collection of dues from some confirmed defaulters amongst whom was a prominent member of the Bar and created for me a veritable hornet’s nest. I was badly mauled, but I got the tigers to pay up their arrears !
- Tragedy in the Family
It was probably in 1916 in the Bengali month of Bhadra that my dear aunt Khodeza passed away. During her illness she showed me secretly a spot in the western hut where she lived, where she had some money buried in the ground. After her death, to the surprise of the family, the money amounting to Rs. 300 or so was dug out. The money was supposed to represent her savings from her earnings, earlier in life, from spinning cotton yarn. In her I lost a second mother and my grief was deep and prolonged.
In 1916 Rabea gave birth to twins a boy and a girl at her father’s house. I was at that time at Faridpur and it so happened that my father-in-law wrote to me about their birth after the babies had died. The elder one, the boy, died on the 2nd day and the other the day following. I went to my father-in-law’s house on receiving the sad news and found my wife completely devastated. The babies turned blue and expired.
Rabea told me of a startling incident while she had been in an advanced stage of pregnancy. While she was crossing the inner courtyard from one house to another in broad daylight a snake suddenly emerged from somewhere and turned itself around her legs. She screamed in horror and jerked her legs whereupon the snake unloosed itself and crept away. Snakes are believed to suck milk from milch cows during night time by twining round the hind legs of the animals and leave evidence of such sucking in bloody pricks on the teats of the cows. The snake that tormented Rabea probably had the same purpose in mind, but superstition builds up various theories around such strange happenings.
Rabea went to Faridpur after her recovery and some months thereafter Nasir’s marriage took place. Nasir left the entire arrangements to me. The bride, a beautiful young girl, was the daughter of a railway officer who was then posted at Kalukhali Railway station. The ceremony took place at my house and Nasir’s entire family including his mother and widowed sister was at my house in that connection for about a couple of months. Rabea had a very hard task during the entire period. My father and Nasir’s maternal uncle, Khandkar Rahman Ali came to my house on the occasion. Nasir’s marriage was a very happy one. But his wife died three or four years after the marriage of ‘kalaazar’ leaving a son only about a year old. About a couple of years thereafter he married again the eldest daughter of Munshi Zainuddin, a rich a respectable gentleman originally coming from the district of Dacca and settled in the town of Barisal. Nasir had two daughters by his second wife, Suria and Nuria.
Our third child, a daughter was born at my father-in-law’s house in June, 1920. In his letter giving me this happy news my father-in-law described the baby as “Sarbangasundar” (beautiful in all respects). I went there immediately to see the child. When the baby was a few months old Rabea went with her to my Faridpur house. She was named Shamsun Nahar and was also given the nick name Champa.
While Champa was in her mother’s womb a mishap occurred again. The clothes Rabea was wearing had accidentally caught fire and she was badly burnt. Her life itself was endangered and it took her about three or four months to recover from the burns.
Shortly after I had joined the Bar my younger brother Abu Ahmed Khan and my sister Jobeda alias Kamala came to live with me at Faridpur. Abu was admitted at the Faridpur Zilla School. Jobeda studied privately at home. She grew up to be a maiden of extraordinary beauty and on an exceptionally sweet disposition and was an object of joy to the entire family. We were all anxious for a suitable marriage for her. At length through Nasir’s good offices her marriage was settled with Mohammad Rafiquddin Khan, a civil Court clerk hailing from Fukura, a village in the Gopalganj Sub-division of our district. The marriage was celebrated at our house at Khankhanapur. Rafiq proved to be a very affectionate husband to Jobeda. A warm friendship grew up between him and me. But the happiness was shortlived. After about there years of the marriage one day information reached me that Jobeda was seriously ill at our house at Khankhanapur. Taking Rafiq with me I started for home by the next available train and when we were hurrying homewards, a fisher-woman we met on the way near our house gave us the shocking news that Jobeda was no more. My heart sank within me. At home I learnt that she was attacked with a virulent type of cholera.
Rafiq several years latter, married a widowed cousin of my wife.
In September, 1919, the greatest cyclone I ever saw took place. It was not at its severest in our locality, but even then it was a terrible experience. Although I was living with Rabea at a pucca house, the fury of the wind and rain kept us awake during the dismal night of the storm. I had great apprehensions for the family of Nasir living in a katcha house. My apprehensions proved to be true. Early next morning the entire family shifted to my house, because Nasir’s house had collapsed. Luckily no one was injured. They lived at my house until their house was re-erected by the owner Moulvi Wahidunnabi.
The strict religious discipline under which my father brought me up in my childhood has already been described. I passed through a distressing period of great doubt while I was a student of the two topmost classes in the High School. The doubts were gradually dispelled and while I was at Cooch Behar the piety of my patron Choudhury Amanatullah and Moulvi Abdul Halim made a great impression on me. I did not however observe the rituals very much either at Cooch Behar or in Calcutta.
While in Calcutta one day I casually met my old Persian teacher Moulvi Mohammad Ismail at College Square. He took me to his Pir (spiritual guide) Shah Barkatullah Saheb who had his ‘Khanga’ east of the Square and abruptly asked me to be initiated as a disciple of the Peer Saheb. My mind was not at all prepared for it, but having not the heart to disoblige my teacher for whom I had great respect, I went through the simple process of initiation. Immediately afterwards, in apparent hurry the Peer Saheb enjoined upon me in a perfunctory way certain practices which did not then appeal to my reason and nothing came out of it. Shah Barkatullah Saheb was one of the few most reputed Pirs in Bengal.
When I joined the Bar, as during my College life, I was a clean shaved youngman. About a year after joining the Bar I felt tempted to grow a beard. When the beard was a few weeks old I had occasion to preside over a religious meeting which was addressed, amongst others, by Moulvi Khabiruddin who was a powerful speaker. He lavished exuberant praise to my beard before the large gathering and further said that he was fervently praying that I might be steadfast in this matter. I was greatly influenced by this and became thence forward a confirmed beardedman! It was later on that I had a better realisation of the spiritual significance of wearing the beard.
I attended many such meetings and amongst the prominent preachers of those days, besides Moulvi Khabiruddin, with whom I became particularly familiar, were Moulvi Wazuddin of Talena who died prematurely, Moulvi Syed Abdul Ghani surnamed “Hafez-e-Masnawi” who also died young and Moulvi Shamsuddin Ahmed of Baira, Dacca. I became particularly friendly with Moulvi Habibur Rahman, Khandkar Abdul Aziz, both of whom were good speakers, Munshi Abdur Rashid of Kamarpur, who was a most enthusiastic, sincere and public spirited man, though greatly advanced in years, Hafez Mohammad Ibrahim, a staunch supporter of all good cause, Khandkar Abdul Gaffar, Mohammad Osman Khan, Khandkar Abul Kasem nick named Nawsha Meah and many others.
Early in my career as a lawyer I attended an educational conference at Barisal. My father-in-law was also a delegate. The Conference was presided over by the veteran Muslim educationist Moulvi Abdul Karim. The prime mover was Moulvi A.K. Fazlul Huq and Choudhury Mohammad Ismail was the principal host. I took an active part in the proceedings of the Conference.
The Praja Conference at Faridpur was organized by me at the advice of Khandkar Naziruddin Ahmed of Pangsa, a good speaker and then a Praja leader. This was the first time that I attempted to organize a conference like this. The Conference was planned on an ambitious scale. I was the Secretary of the Reception Committee with Babu Dinesh Chandra Sen, a prominent lawyer as the Chairman. The Conference was to be presided over by Mr. J.N. Roy, a Barrister of the Calcutta High Court. The announcement of the conference created great enthusiasm amongst the tenants and their supporters. I removed my family to Nasir’s house to make my house available to delegates coming from other districts. But our plans met with an unforeseen disaster. It was the moth of March. The day previous to the conference a severe storm, a norwester blew away the pandal and dislocated other arrangements. The weather was bad also no the day of the conference, which was held in a smaller and a half-finished pandal. A large number of delegates including hundreds of Namasudra tenants attended. Besides the President of the Conference, amongst those leaders who came from Calcutta was the renowned literature and humourist Babu Panchcowrie Banerjee, editor of the Bengali daily called “Naik”. His speech was very much appreciated.
One of the persons who sincerely helped me in piecing things together after the have of the storm was Moulvi Ahmed Ali Mridha, B.L. pleader of Rajbari. Thenceforward he became a particular friend.
Though the conference proper was a success there were shortcomings in many other respects mainly due to the untimely storm. It was ultimately found that the expenditure had exceeded the collections made and there was no means of paying outstanding bills for about Rs. 200¾ I had to borrow the money from Moulvi Abdul Aziz Choudhury, the most prominent Mukhtear of Faridpur at the time, on a bond to be able to pay up the bills. I repaid the money gradually in a number of monthly installments.
- I Join the Muslim League
After the establishment of British rule, the first and for two decades the only political organisation in India was the Indian National Congress which was established in 1885, about five years before my birth. It is an irony of history that the illustrious Muslim leader Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who successfully advised Muslims to keep aloof from the Congress, gave, through his writings in his book named “The causes of the Indian Revolt” (The Sepoy Mutiny) the inspiration that resulted in the birth of that organisation. In this book he deplored the conditions then prevailing in the country, under which the people “had no means of protesting against what they might feel to be a foolish measure or of giving public expression to their own wishes” and “no real communication between the Governors and the governed”. Allan Octavian Hume, who played a conspicuous part in the establishment of the Indian National Congress admitted that it was after reading Sir Syed Ahmed’s book that he “first felt the need for having a forum of public opinion in India and eventually the Indian National Congress came into existence.”
Sir Syed Ahmed however had no faith in a common organisation for Hindus and Muslims. His rare insight convinced him that the Hindus and the Muslims were two separate nations, as he said in so many words in the course of a speech in 1883, and further observed that supposing that the Britishers withdrew; these two distinct nations could never rule India jointly and it would be necessary “that one of them should conquer the other”. A common political organisation had no prospect of ultimate success and Muslims generally kept aloof from it. In 1906 amongst the 756 members of the Indian National Congress there were only 17 Muslims. Nor was the attitude of the then British Government conducive to the idea of Hindus and Muslims entertaining a common objective for the attainment of which they might work together in a joint organisation.
The Partition of Bengal in 1905 had taken place under the aegis of a British conservative Government. In 1905 the liberals came into power in England with Sir Henry Campbell. Bannerman as Prime Minister and Mr. John Morley as Secretary of State for India. This new Government was pro-Hindu and pro-Congress in its sympathies and there were evident indications of a move “to appease the Indians” by undoing the partition of Bengal. These forebodings naturally alarmed Muslim leaders who saw in the partition of Bengal the only substantial measure in favour of the Muslims since the meeting. In these circumstances they were convinced of the imperative need for a separate organisation for the Muslims.
The main initiative for the establishment of such an organisation was taken by Nawab Salimullah and on December 30, 1906 the All India Muslim League was formed at Dacca.
After my participation in the anti-partition agitation I took no active part in politics till I joined the Bar. While I was still a fledgling in my profession, in the autumn of 1915 I got a letter from the Secretary of the All India Muslim League informing me that I had been elected as a member of the organisation and that I should send as soon as possible the annual subscription of Rs. 20 I felt elated at this distinction,¾ there being no other member at the town of Faridpur and probably none in the entire district¾ and sent the subscription by money order though it was hard for me in those days to spare such a substantial amount. In those days members were elected to the Muslim League at meetings of its Executive Committee.
For many years however I was to all intents and purposes only a national member of the Muslim League, not having the means to attend its annual sessions. They only part I took was to express my opinion in writing about draft resolutions sent to me for the purpose, from time to time. Neither the Muslim League nor the Congress was a mass organisation in those days.
The Muslim League had no district branches in those days. At least there was none at Faridpur. Local interests had to be looked after though other organisations.
The urge that was responsible for the establishment of the Muslim League was present in the minds of the Muslim intelligentsia throughout the country. The British and the Hindu attitude towards the Muslims had convinced them of the necessity of collective and concerted action in their own ranks for the sake of self preservation and this consciousness resulted in the establishment of Muslim Associations under the name of Anjuman-i-Islamia almost in all the districts of the Province even before the formation of the All India Muslim League.
There was an Anjuman-i-Islamia at Faridpur also and Moulvi Abdul Ghani who was later on made a Khan Bahadur was the Secretary of the Organization. He was a Mukhtear and was the foremost amongst the few Muslims at Faridpur, who had an urge for active public work. He was in ultra loyalist and his loyalty stood him in good stead in the advancement of his worldly future.
Early in my career as a lawyer I had a discussion with him about the Anjuman-i-Islamia which had no constitution nor even any rules of business. The office-bearers were more or less permanent incumbents. Nor was there any register or list of members. Wen necessary Moulvi Abdul Ghani used to ask a few prominent Muslims to assemble in his bungalow for passing resolutions on certain matters generally at telegraphic requests from Nawab Salimullah, who was the recognised leader of the Muslims. I pleaded with him unsuccessfully to bring about necessary reforms in the Anjuman so as to make it a more broad-based and representative body. He was extremely conservative in his views. He also rejected my suggestion that the prominent Muslim shopkeepers of the place should be taken into the organisation, on the plea chat the presence of such lowly people would reduce the prestige of the Anjuman !
As I was very eager to do some public work and as I found that it was not feasible to do so effectively through the Anjuman-i-Islamia unless certain reforms were made, which seemed to be a forlorn hope in view of the attitude of the Secretary who was the life and soul of the body, I consulted my friends including certain shopkeepers about the formation of a new organisation. I got a very encouraging response. Moulvi Abdul Ghani came to know about this somehow and apparently asked for help form the Sadar S.D.O., Babu Nabagopal Chaki, who sent for me and had a long talk with me on the subject. He was a very well-educated and tactful man. He expressed the view that it might be harmful if a separate rival organisation was set up and that if I joined the Anjuman, knowing Moulvi Abdul Ghani and me, as he did, he was sure that I would succeed in bringing about necessary reforms in the body from within I took his advice and joined the Anjuman.
Nabagopal Chaki was perfectly right and within a couple of `year’ not only the contemplated reforms were carried out but the Anjuman became a very popular and influential organization and I was unanimously elected as the Secretary with Moulvi Abdul Ghani as President. These changes were brought about in a smooth and peaceful manner and rather than any ill feeling arising between Moulvi Abdul Ghani and me, the former began to look upon me as an asset and I too had a reciprocal respect for him. The membership of the Anjuman spread over the entire district and in all the four Subdivisions, branches of the Anjuman were established. Apart form that annual sessions which were very big shows, periodical public meetings were held, in which prominent speaks of all-Bengal reputation were invited to deliver lecturers. The prophet’s day was celebrated under the auspices of the Anjuman on a grand scale.
I found that there was a great need for a mosque near the courts, for want of which Muslims were greatly suffering and I heard that all previous attempts for the establishment of a mosque had failed. The question was taken up through the Anjuman, but the main stumbling block was that there was no private land in the vicinity of the courts and the Government was not prepared to grant any land for my religious purpose. Efforts however were not given up.
In later years when the influence and prestige of the Anjuman increased further, the Government gave that body the unique privilege of nominating candidates for appointment of Muslim marriage Registrars and Kazis. I had an unfortunate clash with Moulvi Abdul Ghani over this matter. One year, there was amongst the candidates a person who belonged to the weaver community. It is an unfortunate fact that the shadow of Hindu caste system overtook the Muslim society of India atleast to the extent of ostracizing the weavers and a few other classes, though Muslims in respect of the privilege of intermarriage. Since the weaver candidate had the adequate qualifications I took up the stand that to dispel any suspicion that he was discriminated against on account of his bright in a particular professional group he must be given a nomination. Moulvi Abdul Ghani vehemently opposed the proposition on the plea that it would mar the prestige of marriage Registrars as a class. I staked my position as Secretary on this grave issue and through the grace of Allah I succeeded.
- The First World War and Ourselves
The anti-partition movement (1905-6) had made the people, particularly, the Hindus bitterly anti-British. So, when the First World War began in 1914, the Hindus in general, in their heart of hearts gloated over British reverses and desired victory for the Germans. A series of Allied reverses had generated a belief that the Kaiser and his Germany were invincible. The declared policy of the Hindus however, as expressed through their national organizations, the Congress, did not accord with this popular feeling. Political considerations induced the Congress to declare its support for the British war efforts, but at the same time passed a resolution demanding that in view of this support the British Government should take ‘such measures as may be necessary for the recognition of India as a component part of a federated Empire, in the full and free enjoyment of the rights belonging to that status.’
The Muslim League also promised to help the Government. Throughout the decades the Muslims were being used as a shuttle cock by the Britishers. The early period of British rule was a period of ruthless Muslim suppression. When the pampered Hindu Community began to show its teeth, a second period of an attempt, mostly half-hearted, to help the Muslims catch up with the Hindus commenced. The climax of this period was reached during the regime of Sir Bambfield Fuller as Lieutenant Governor of the shortlived Muslim majority Province of Eastern Bengal and Assam. The reverse gear was applied to this policy in December, 1911 when King George V at the pompous Darbar at Delhi dramatically announced the annulment of the partition. The Muslims took this as a death-below. It was a bolt from the blue because on October 1, 1906 when apprehending that the British Government might appease the Hindu Congress by annulling the partition of Bengal, 35 leading Muslims headed by the Aga Khan went on a deputation to Simla to the Vice-roy Lord Minto and secured an assurance to the effect that the ‘political rights and interests’ of the Muslims, “as a community will be safeguarded in any administrative reorganisation with which I am concerned.” Though the language of the assurance was equivocal and it received a seeming respect in the establishment of a University at Dacca and in adjusting the boundaries of the new province of Bengal in such a way as to give the Muslims a slight numerical majority. The Muslims saw in the canceling of the partition the breach of a solemn assurance and their new found loyalty to the British Raj received a severe shock. The Muslim League modified their earstwhile policy and began to seek avenues of cooperation with the Congress in the common cause of winning self-government, (Swaraj). All the same the Muslims were more sincere in their avowal of support to the British war efforts and amongst the 1,200,00 men combatants and non-combatants who went abroad from India to the different theaters of the war, the proportion of Muslims was far higher than that of any other community.
But there was no dearth of shocks for the Muslims. They were stunned when they found Turkey listed amongst the enemies of the British. They were thenceforward completely be-wieldered, but some-how sailed with the current listlessly. Their confidence was later on restored to a large extent by the assurances given to them by Mr. Lloyd George and they continued their support to the allied cause.
The renowned Hindu leader Ambica Charan Majumdar was from the beginning of the war, a staunch supporter of the allied cause, so much so that he was carrying on a campaign urging the youth of the country to volunteer their services to the army as combatants or to join the labour force. At an early stage of the war he was one day to address a recruitment meeting at Rajbari. I was then at my father-in-law’s house, about a mile and half off from Rajbari. Hearing about the meeting I attended it. Ambica Charan Majumdar who was presiding, finding me present asked me to address the meeting, which I did and when I had finished he congratulated me heartily on my speech.
When the war ended in 1918 and the Armistice was signed there were great jubilations and it appeared for a time that everybody had desired an allied victory. At Faridpur tow thanks giving meetings were held. One, intended for the intelligentsia was held under the presidentship of the District Magistrate and was to be addressed by two selected persons, one of Hindu and the other a Muslim. I was called upon first to speak and when I did I received great appreciation. The Hindu speaker was a young lawyer who did not make much of an impression. The speeches were in English. The second meeting which was meant for the general public was held in the Town Theater Hall. I also spoke there and did so, like other speakers, in Bengali. I was well-prepared and my speech was greeted with enthusiastic applause. One official, the Postal Superintendent who amongst other congratulated me remarked, “I did not know that you are so proficient in Bengali also.”
As already stated disillusionment at the annulment of the partition of Bengal made the Muslim League realise that the future of the Muslims mainly depended on self-help and inclined it towards co-operation with the Congress. It was most probably this changed outlook of the Muslim League which encouraged Mohammad Ali Jinnah, till then an out and out Congressman, who had earned great reputation as the “Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity”, to join the League. At his instance the Congress and the Muslim League met at the same place, viz., Bombay in December, 1915, and top-ranking Congress leaders like Dr. Annie Besant, Mrs. Sarojini Naidoo and Mr. Gandhi who had lately returned from South Africa, attended the Muslim League session. This Hindu-Muslim rapprochement was further strengthened when the Government of India Act, 1915 was found to fall far short of Indian expectations. A big step forward in this direction was taken in December, 1916 when both the Congress and the Muslim League held their annual sessions at lucknow. The Muslim League session was presided over by Mr. Jinnah and the Congress session by the veteran leader of Faridpur, Babu Ambica Charan Majumdar. Both the bodies agreed as to the “irreducible minimum” of demands to be made from the Government, and the Congress also made a pact with the Muslim League on the basis of “separate electorate” for Muslims and weightage of Muslim representation in certain provinces in which the Muslims were in a minority. The main credit for this settlement was due to Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
The Congress¾ League Pact made an impression upon the British Government and on August 20, 1917, Mr. Edwin Samuel Montagu, the new Secretary of state for India made the famous Declaration of Policy of the British with regard to India, in the following words” “The policy of His Majesty’s Government is that of increasing the association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire …………..” The working of the minds of the British Rulers of India at about the time of this declaration can be gleaned from what the Vice-roy Lord Chemsford wrote to the King on October 4, 1918. He wrote:
We have here an educated class 95 percent of whom are inimical to us and I venture to assert that every student in every university is growing up with a hatred for us. These are, of course, at present a mere fraction of the population, but each year sees the numbers augmented, and it may well be imagined that their potentialities for mischief is infinite. If we can win these men over to our side, I am convinced that we can only do it by inviting and enlisting their cooperation.”
The declaration was hailed with general satisfaction in India. The war was drawing towards its close and indications of an allied victory were evident. Expectations were raised high and hope of great things to follow the conclusion of the war filled the entire atmosphere. But certain disquieting events sounded a jarring note. Whatever might be the outward signs of Hindu-Muslim unity which the Congress and the Muslim League were then attempting to patch up, the causes of disunity were so deep-rooted that the smouldering ashes underneath the smooth crust of amity were likely to flare up the slightest spark. In 1918 bloody anti-Muslim riots took place in many parts of India over the question of cow-killing. Attempts were made by the votaries of unity to heal the wounds of the riots and luckily the conclusion of the war, which was hailed with a feeling of universal relief helped people forget the bitterness of the riots, for the time being.
The Test of Time – my life and days
MAULVI TAMIZUDDIN KHAN