Contact Us

The 1947 Partition Archive Survivors and their Memories

Oral history with Maryam Babar, 2015 November 18.
Oral history with Maryam Babar, 2015 November 18.
Babar, Maryam, 1941- and Hassan, Fakhra
Author (no Collectors):
Babar, Maryam, 1941-, Hassan, Fakhra, Hassan, Fakhra, and Hassan, Fakhra
Maryam Babar [name at birth Maryam Haqqani] was born on December 6th 1941 at Hyderabad Deccan to a Scottish-Indian political family. Maryam was called Munni at home by her family when she was small. Her father, Mohammed Intisaruddin Haqqani was a powerful landlord, cousin of Laiq Ali, the prime minister of Hyderabad Deccan at the time, and brother-in-law of physicist Raziuddin Siddiqui. Her mother, Eva Matthew Watt was a homemaker, niece of Sir Robert Watson Watt, well-known for his invention of the radar during World War II.Mrs Babar’s parents met at the Glasgow University and were married a few months later. Narrating the tale of their marriage, she says: “My mother was from a deeply religious Church of Scotland background, and her parents’ only child, and my father was a practicing Sufi Muslim. My mother left Scotland in 1935 and married my father in 1936. She married a Muslim Indian against her family’s wishes and it took them a while to accept their marriage,” she recounts.Sharing the story of how Mrs Babar was named Maryam by her mother, she says: “My mother had a dream that she was pregnant with me and in the dream she was instructed to read the Chapter of Maryam [Mary] from the Qur’an until the day she delivers the baby. Without telling anyone, she picked up the book and started reading the chapter, and I was therefore named Maryam,” she says.Mrs Babar was raised with an elder sister and younger brother at the Goshamahal in Hyderabad. Her family, she says, were the jagirdars of the State with their own coins and currency, system of slavery, judiciary and postal system that were independent of the political apparatus of the government of the Hyderabad princely state.Sharing her earliest memories of growing up in Hyderabad, Mrs Babar says that the smell of jasmine invokes her childhood. “In the summers, our beds would be covered in jasmine flowers to keep the room fragrant and cool. Every time I see or smell jasmine, I’m taken back to those nights in Hyderabad, just before bedtime,” she recounts.Another memory of her life in Hyderabad was taking walks with their aya in the evenings and playing in the vicinity of one of her father’s textile factories and witnessing work at the gigantic sugar plantation near the factory. “We used to make footballs out of the massive lumps of sugar in the plantation,” she recounts. Breakfast used to be the favorite meal of the day for Mrs Babar. The breakfast menu included khichdi, square parathas, khagina [egg and onion curry], ghee-fried minced mutton, with khatta [imli paani and fried onion dip].Maryam’s maternal grandfather and maternal uncle fought in the First World War and Second World War respectively. Mrs Babar vaguely remembers watching her mother glued to the radio listening to the BBC for news during the Second World War. “It used to be a very tense time for her since her brother was fighting in that war. We were not allowed to utter a single word when the radio was on,” she remembers. The languages spoken at home before Partition were Deccani Urdu, Persian and English.Mrs Babar and her siblings had no idea about the implications of Partition. “From 1947 until the police action in Hyderabad in 1949, we didn’t notice any change in our lives but our elders did and that may have affected us at some sub-conscious level,” she says. Recalling the game she used to play with her cousins, called Pakistanis versus Indians [modeled around the American game of Cowboys versus Indians], she says: “Everyone would want to be an Indian, not a Pakistani. Pakistanis were the enemies and they would always lose,” she recounts. “One day, my father saw us play and say demeaning things about Pakistan. He sat us down and told us that Pakistan, is a country for Muslims, it is not our enemy. That was my first realization of Partition and after that, it felt okay to be on the Pakistani side of the team but it continued to lose in the game,” she remembers.In 1947, Mrs Babar and her siblings were taken to Scotland by their mother to meet with their ailing grandfather. Her strongest memory of stay in Scotland was her refrain from taking any sugar when offered. “During World War II, there was shortage of food supplies and everything was being rationed, including sugar supplies. Our mother strictly forbade us to waste lumps of sugar in tea and milk. Her lectures had such a profound impact on us that we’d refuse to take even one lump of sugar at our grandfather’s house,” she remembers.In 1949, Mrs Babar returned to Hyderabad and was enrolled at the Mehboobia School that was run by the British. “It is during the time at school I began to feel some tension in our city. Firstly, we were appalled at having to learn Sanskrit and Hindu greeting phrases at school when main spoken languages of Hyderabad used to be Urdu and Persian. Secondly, we started hearing news of “police action” and of “Hyderabad going under siege,” recounts Mrs Babar. “I heard many horror stories of the gorkhas wreaking havoc, raping, killing and looting women and children,” she says.One night, thousands of rioters gathered around the Goshamahal and started chanting ominous slogans. Mrs Babar and her entire family were inside. Mrs Babar and her siblings were instructed to sleep on the mattresses at the landing of the mansion, the only place that did not have any windows. “We were huddled on to the mattresses and made to keep quiet. I heard my parents talking with each other about a pistol my mother was carrying. I remember my father asking her how she is going to defend herself with one pistol against thousands of angry people outside. She’d told him that the pistol is not for them but for killing the children just in case the mob breaches the mansion. I don’t want my children to die at the hands of the rioters,” Mrs Babar recounts her mother saying. “I asked my mother about the pistol decades later and she was quite surprised to know that I’d heard her intentions to kill us at some point if things went bad,” she says.Back in 1949 in the meantime, Laiq Ali, the prime minister of Hyderabad Deccan went under house arrest. “My mother was out shopping one day and her maid’s son met with her and told her to inform my father not to go home as the police is on its way to arrest him,” she recounts.Mrs Babar’s uncle managed to escape his house wearing a burqa and was flown out of Hyderabad Deccan by the Australian explorer and pilot Sidney Cotton. Mrs Babar’s mother after hearing the news of her husband’s pending arrest went to the post office and sent a telegram to her uncle Robert in Gaelic to intervene and help them leave Hyderabad safely. He had a great deal of influence because of his famed invention of the radar. He’d immediately contacted Krishna Menon, the newly appointed Indian high commissioner in the UK and advised him to help his only niece and her family to leave Hyderabad unharmed. Krishna Menon rang up Jawaharlal Nehru and Nehru rang up General Chaudhry, the Indian army chief in charge of the Hyderabad siege, who gave him special instructions to pick up our family and escort us to Bombay,” Mrs Babar recounts. “The General personally came to pick us up, and he told us that things were so bad that even his own regiment didn’t know that he is helping us escape Hyderabad. We left India with my father’s briefcase only. He drove us to the railway station, and boarded us on a special train to Bombay where we checked in at the Taj Hotel for a day. From Bombay, we took the evening flight on one of the Dakotas and flown to London. The year was early 1950,” Mrs Babar recounts. Mrs Babar and her family stayed in London for two years and then relocated to Karachi in 1952.“As Hyderabadis, we were living in this fantasy bubble that India is one country and Pakistan is one country but Hyderabad will always remain Hyderabad since it was the largest and independent princely state in India at the time. It wasn’t a question of us leaving India and coming to Pakistan. In our heads, we thought that we have left Hyderabad and settled in Karachi. When our father announced [in London] that we are going to Karachi, he didn’t say we are going to Pakistan, instead he told us since we had a fairly good time in Karachi, we are going to go settle there. From a child’s point of view, we were not leaving our country to be in another country,” Mrs Babar says.Mrs Babar resumed her schooling in Karachi at the Saint Joseph School, completing her O levels in 1957 followed by Senior Cambridge in 1959 from Saint Joseph College. Her father was elected the chairman of the Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) and he built the Karachi Shipyard with the help of German engineers in the 1950s. He also set up textile mills in East Pakistan and sugar mills in Nowshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.Sharing thoughts of settling in Karachi, Mrs Babar says that it was fairly easy for her father to get over the nostalgia of leaving behind Hyderabad. “He took giving up his homeland as something that was inevitable and he strongly believed in letting go of the inevitable. My mother on the other hand, couldn’t get over it all her life. She used to compare each and every aspect of life in Karachi with what we used to have in Hyderabad,” she says. Sharing the effects of leaving Hyderabad on herself, she says: “I haven’t been able to have a hearty breakfast ever since I left Hyderabad with my family.”Mrs Babar met her future husband, CSP officer Bashir Babar, during German language classes in 1960 and married him three months later in December 1960 at Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where she lives with him nowadays. They have three daughters and a son [who passed away a decade ago].Mrs Babar gave birth to her second daughter in an Indian army jeep in New Delhi during the war in September 1965. “For our own safety, the Pakistani diplomats were incarcerated during the war in New Delhi where my husband was posted in 1962. It was our first international posting. I was helped in the delivery by Dr Mohini through an emergency C-section. She was shocked to see my condition. My daughter was due on the 6th of September but my body had become numb and non-responsive. I couldn’t register any labor pains. I’d lost a lot of weight in only a month’s time,” Mrs Babar recounts.When her daughter was three days old, Mrs Babar was allowed by the Indian government to fly to Karachi as a result of an unexpected opportunity. “There was a Pan-American Airline that was scheduled to make a brief stop at Karachi. There was an Indian national that had to be picked up from Karachi as well, so I was sent off on to the plane. When the plane started to move, the pilot made an announcement that the plane would go directly to Beirut and will not be stopping at Karachi. I went in a state of panic with my three-day old daughter and immediately got myself off the plane. I ended up spending another six weeks in Delhi after that incident,” she says.After her return to Karachi in 1967, Mrs Babar and her family travelled to Brazil, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran, Australia, Germany and then finally India in 1992. She vividly remembers her husband’s posting in Beirut and escaping several assassination attempts and bombings in the city during their stay. “For three years, we lived through the Israeli occupation and the intifada, and witnessed many families we knew lose their lives as their homes were blown to bits. My husband was almost assassinated with a bomb planted under his bed that we managed to find out about well in time. On many days, we didn’t know whether he was alive or dead,” recounts Mrs Babar.In 1996, Mrs Babar settled in Peshawar permanently at her husband’s home. She started her own farming business in 1988 and continues to do so today. “We built a farmhouse in 1988, located about 2 kilometers from the city. I learnt to speak fluent Pashto and carry out all affairs of family and business in the Pashto language,” she says. Mrs Babar’s father passed away in 1972 and her mother in 1994. Both her parents are buried in Karachi.Sharing her final thoughts on Partition and being a child of the diaspora, Mrs Babar quotes her father: “We are a victim of our own spite. Partition is a result of our own personal and racial prejudices.” She adds: “My mother was conscious of the fact that her people would never accept us as Scots so she’d made a conscious decision to raise us as Indians. Now, when I say that I’m from Hyderabad Deccan, people automatically assume I’m from India since I can’t possibly be from Hyderabad Deccan if I’m not an Indian national. This is the dilemma we face. It is a terrible thing to be a refugee. When you are forced to leave what has been your family’s home for generations, for centuries, the place where you were born and made to think it’s yours forever, you remain a refugee for the rest of your life. It never goes away. I’m living in a home that I absolutely love but I’ll always know that this is not where my roots are, as we say in Urdu mitti bulati hai [the motherland beckons],”
Physical Description:
2 video files
Publication Info:
Peshawar (Pakistan)
Peshawar (Pakistan), November 18, 2015
Filmed interviews