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The 1947 Partition Archive Survivors and their Memories

Oral history with Syed Babar Ali, 2015 June 29.
Oral history with Syed Babar Ali, 2015 June 29.
Ali, Syed Baber, 1926, Bhalla, Guneeta Singh, Jones, Elaine, Farooqui, Khadeeja, and Korwar, Sucheta
Author (no Collectors):
Ali, Syed Baber, 1926, Bhalla, Guneeta Singh, Jones, Elaine, Farooqui, Khadeeja, and Korwar, Sucheta
Syed Babar Ali was born in Lahore on June 30, 1926 to Syed Maratib Ali and Mubarak Begum, both of whom are direct descendants of Prophet Muhammed. His father together with his brother owned a military contracting business that catered to the British Army. He is the 8th child in a family of nine children. In more recent history, his ancestors, the three Fakir brothers, Azizuddin, Imamuddin and Nuruddin, were key members and close confidants in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who ruled Punjab from 1799 to 1849. His family history includes colorful anecdotes and folk memories from the life and times of the three Fakirs and their interactions with Ranjit Singh. He recalls the fascinating tale of the way in which Fakir Nuruddin negotiated and helped acquire the infamous Koh-i-noor diamond from Shah Shuja of Afghanistan. Fakir Nuruddin he recalls, also met with Sir Metcalfe, then Governor-General of British India and negotiated a key treaty that mitigated British invasions of the Punjab.Syed Babar Ali started his education at the Sacred Heart Convent in Lahore and began attending Aitchison College in 1934, when he was eight years old. Ink pens were used in those days with special nibs: the g-nib for English and the z-nib for Urdu. While English was the primary language used in school, Punjabi was the language spoken at home and amongst his friends. He obtained his High School Certificate from Aitchison and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science from the Government College of Lahore in 1945. He fondly recalls the friendships he formed at Aitchison, many of which have lasted his entire lifetime. One such example is his childhood best friend, Harcharan Brar, who went on to become the Governor of Haryana and Odisha states in India and eventually became the Chief Minister of Punjab in India.He tells of family holidays while growing up spent in Murree Hills and Srinagar in Kashmir, and local outings at the Lawrence Gardens in Lahore as well as movies at the Majestic Cinema. They generally drove to their holiday locations in the family car, a Fiat Minerva. In those days, hawkers sometimes came from as far away as China to sell table cloth and beautifully hand embroidered cotton and silk fabrics. He also recalls several Chinese restaurants in Lahore. Puppeteers, or putliwalas, came to entertain the children of Lahore from Rajasthan. Favorite street foods in those days included pooris and sweets, not much different from today. Unique to Lahore were the khatai biscuit, kabobs and kulfas (similar to kulfi).As he grew up, he and his brothers favored the Unionist Party initially and eventually began to follow the Muslim League led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. His best friend Harcharan Brar favored the Congress party, though this difference in political leaning absolutely did not affect their friendship. They had a very tight bond and both friends spent considerable time at each other's homes. In 1944 he was on a trip to Bombay with his brother Wajid, when he had the pleasure of having lunch with Mr. Jinnah. Later in 1945, he was in Delhi when under a completely different circumstance, he ended up having lunch with Mr. Jinnah again, this time overhearing a discussion about their efforts to start a car factory. He was in awe. In 1946 he had a third encounter with Mr. Jinnah when his mother hosted a ladies garden party at their home, to host Ms. Jinnah. Their home was near Mamdot Villa, where Mr. and Ms. Jinnah were staying as guests of the Nawab of Mamdot, who was also the President of the Muslim League in Punjab.In December of 1946 he took off for the United States, where he received admission for a masters program at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He boarded the Sterling Castle, a 200 passenger ship, to London. Some of the passengers he befriended on that ship included K. M. Cariappa (later to become first commander-in-chief of the Indian Army) and Kailas Nath Wanchoo (later to become the Chief Justice of India). His first impression of post-World War II London was underwhelming. London was rather depressing since it had been bombed and destroyed, and was quite different than what he had expected. He did however really cherish his first sight of the Buckingham Palace, which was left unharmed during the War.From London he headed to Canada from where he boarded a night train to Michigan. His mother sent him letters and newspapers from Lahore via mail. He learned about the Partition and the political and civil unrest by reading the materials sent to him, as well as American newspapers at that time. During his time in the US, he describes taking a transcontinental road trip in a Packard car with a number of other South Asian students. They drove the car first to Columbus, Ohio and onto Los Angeles via Route 66. He describes the vastness and the small quaint towns and villages, the Grand Canyon, Salt Lake City, Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills. He then went on to visit his brother in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He recalls paying no more than $2 per night for a hotel stay along the way.On August 14 and 15 in 1947, the Pakistani and Indian students at University of Michigan gathered together to celebrate independence. One of Syed Babar Ali’s Indian friends sewed both a Pakistani and an Indian flag, both of which were raised side-by-side at the celebration at the Reckham Auditorium. There was great jubilation and excitement about independence. His family back home was in Lahore and did not have to migrate. However, his best friend Harcharan's family left for good along with several other friends who were Hindu and Sikh. Later that year, he got the chance to volunteer as a bag carrier for a delegate at the first Delegation to the United Nations in New York. There he got to witness the decision to create Israel. The experience reinforced his interest in international affairs.His eldest brother Syed Amjad Ali was appointed as Pakistani Ambassador to the United States in 1954. During this time he visited his brother and married his wife, Perwin Ali, in a ceremony at the Ambassador's home in Washington DC in July 1955, while she was visiting as a tourist from Pakistan. Then vice president Richard Nixon attended their wedding, which was also photographed for Time Life magazine. In December 1947 he returned to Lahore to carry on with the family business.After 11 years in the family business, he had an idea for which he received much support from his family. He traveled to Sweden and began a joint venture with Akerlund & Rausing, a leading family run packaging company that later began Tetra Pak. Together they began Packages Limited in Pakistan and the partnership is alive and thriving today, 60 years later. The success of the partnership inspired several other partnerships with key multinational companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestle and so on. Babar Ali went on to become a leading businessman in Pakistan.In addition to business developments, Syed Babar Ali has made considerable social impacts in Pakistan via education and philanthropy. For instance, his visit to the field of roses in Sweden inspired the rose garden which he set up in Lahore. He had the opportunity later to attend Harvard Business School, where he really appreciated the education he received and was inspired to bring the same knowledge to students in Pakistan. This inspiration led to the creation of the premier Lahore University of Management Sciences in 1984, where he serves as the first Pro-Chancellor. He later founded the Ali Institute of Education for the education of teachers. He also founded an art school that focuses on preserving the ancient and lost practice of miniature painting, the Naqsh School of Art, appropriately located in the ancient walled city.Other valuable contributions include bringing the World Wildlife Fund (now World Wide Fund for Nature) to Pakistan, co-founding the South Asia Institute at Harvard University among many more, several of which can be found listed on Wikipedia: Babar Ali reminds us of the old Punjabi saying that "one and one don't make two, but 11. Hence if we are together, we can be much greater than two. We, the people of South Asia, especially India and Pakistan, can be 11 if we have the right attitude towards each other."
History and History
Physical Description:
10 video files
Publication Info:
Atherton (Calif.)
Atherton (Calif.), June 29, 2015 - July 7, 2015
Filmed interviews