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The 1947 Partition Archive Survivors and their Memories

Oral history with Syed Nizam Shah, 2016 March 3.

purl.stanford.edu/zh412my5515
Title:
Oral history with Syed Nizam Shah, 2016 March 3.
Author:
Shah, Syed Nizam, 1932- and Hassan, Fakhra
Author (no Collectors):
Shah, Syed Nizam, 1932-, Hassan, Fakhra, Hassan, Fakhra, and Hassan, Fakhra
Description:
Syed Nizam Shah was born in Kashmir to a Kashmiri-English speaking family on 25th February 1932. He is from the Naqshbandi family. His father’s family hails from Tashkent and is known to be the founders of the Naqshbandi order of Sufi Islam in Kashmir. There are several shrines of the Naqshbandis still existing in Srinagar today. One of the shrines belonging to his family is the Khankahi Sokhta or Dodmut Khankah [in Kashmiri].Mr Shah’s father was the first Muslim governor of Kashmir at the time of the Punjabi-speaking Dogra Dynasty in the early 1930s. The Naqshbandis enjoyed an elevated position as a prominent Muslim family and had extensive landholdings spanning five villages. Mr Shah’s father was learned and fluent in Arabic and Persian, considered to be languages of scholarship in those days. They had a family library going back to several centuries of hand written manuscripts and literature. Mr Shah’s mother’s family hails from a village 20 miles off of Srinagar. She was a homemaker. Mr Shah was raised with one elder half-brother and one elder half-sister, and two younger sisters at their residence in Srinagar. His mother passed away three years after his birth. For a while, Mr Shah and his siblings were brought up by an Afghan royal family that was settled in Kashmir. “They were exiled after losing the wars with the British and were allowed to settle in Kashmir by the then-Maharaja. We still maintain ties with that family.” Mr Shah’s stepmother was a Christian woman his father had married after her conversion to Islam.Mr Shah says that in those days, people in Srinagar used to live in mohallahs. “In our case, the mohallah would comprise of various Naqshbandi families. In the family enclave, we used to have our own mosque called Khosha Sahib which still stands in Srinagar, named after the Sufi saint Khowaja Shah Niyaz. It’s a very small mosque and used to cater to families living in the mohallah. It has some historic relics of Islam there, one of which is known to be the hair of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, gifted to our ancestors by the Sultan of Turkey, on his spiritual expedition to Istanbul. It is displayed publicly on the birthday of the Holy Prophet. It is only accessible to the trustees of the mosque today.” The upper class Hindus – the Brahmins and Kashmiri Pundits – used to have their own mohallahs. There were very few Sikh families living there, and would dine with the Muslims and vice-versa. There was a school for Sikhs built by Maharaja Ranjith Singh. Shia Muslims lived in their own mohallahs. There was no animosity between people of various sects and faiths. There was a lot of respect for Hindu, Muslim and Sikh festivals and under his father’s governorship, they were observed jointly by all communities, as Kashmiris.Mr Shah was brought up in a mansion in the family enclave with a big garden, he remembers. In childhood he remembers having this love for cars in his family. Most of the growing up years were spent in the gardens. Describing the structure of the mansion, Mr Shah says, “Houses in Kashmir in those days used to have courtyards in between the gardens. My father had built the front portion of the house in the 1920s. My sister, myself, my step grandmother and father used to live in it. My brother and his family had the rear section of the courtyard. Diwali, Dussehra and Eid were celebrated jointly amongst Muslims and Hindus. Wazawan was a special dish made for weddings, cooked only by professionals trained in cooking the dish. White Kashmiri rice with gravy of various types was another popular delicacy.” He says. They had running electricity in Srinagar. They also owned an antique telephone that had the Morse code mechanism. They also owned a radio. The postal system was run by the British. King Edward’s stamp was used on the envelopes for letters. Villages in Srinagar didn’t have electricity.The rice, maize and corn farms and the peach and cherry orchards supplied food for the household. “We had cows and chickens but no buffaloes. There were no buffaloes in Srinagar. Due to my father’s hold on extensive agricultural property and orchards, our family was self-supporting. We used to grow mainly rice, corn and maize. The water for irrigation was channelized from the mountain stream and wells.”Mr Shah says that the lands on higher altitudes four five miles from Srinagar would be given to the British army officials and Maharajas from other States on rent during the summer and they would use them to hunt and play golf etc [nowadays the place is occupied by the Indian army].The famous Nedou’s hotel in Srinagar was owned by his sister. “There was one branch of it opened in Lahore, its name was changed to the Avari Group of Hotels after Partition,” he shares.Mr Shah was fond of hiking on the mountains and fishing with his father. He played hockey and cricket with his friends. “We had three horses. My sisters liked riding. I hated it.” He says. Some of his closest friends were Hindus, especially the children of Maharaja of Jaipur’s family.Mr Shah’s father was one of the first Kashmiri Muslims to go to a missionary school [Church Mission School] inaugurated by the Church of England, founded by Tyndale-Biscoe, a Kashmiri Englishman. “It was considered a big event to be enrolled at a missionary school in those days since it used to be the only school where English was taught. The others were typical schools where Arabic and Persian were studied.” Two of his younger sisters were the first from a Muslim family to enroll in a mission school called the Presentation Convent at Srinagar, as well. “That was run by the Catholics and it was the girls’ first English medium school.” He says.Purdah was not observed in the family which was a breakthrough because of his father’s status. “We were a modern family,” he says.Mr Shah’s early education started at home. He was taught by an English governess and Muslim cleric. At the age of ten, he was enrolled at one of the branches of Biscoe’s school in Srinagar that was run by his son at the time. Commenting on his father’s knowledge of English, Mr Shah says that it considered a mark of honor and respect even though the British Raj was not in Kashmir. Used to cycle to school frequently, sometimes picked and dropped by father. In those days, it was strictly required by law for bicycles to have a rear lamp reflector, and light in the front that would come on after sunset. “If you were well-off, you would have the dynamo light on your bicycle. One day when I was cycling back home in the dark, the traffic police officer stopped me because my dynamo wasn’t working. He reported the incident to my father and he was very angry and reprimanded me for it,” he recounts. Recalling his schooling with children of different religious backgrounds, Mr Shah says that some students faced difficulties adapting to the school activities. “There were many Kashmiri Pundits in the school and they couldn’t play football with us even if they wanted to. One of the tenets of their faith was not to touch leather since they were made out of skins of cows and buffaloes, like the football,” he says.In their house there were three kitchens, one for the servants and the maids, one for the family, and one for the guests from Hindu families with a set of cooking utensils and cooks specializing in their cuisine. “As a matter of strict protocol, utensils in that kitchen were never to be used for cooking meat, only vegetarian food,” he says.Just before Partition, the option available to Mr Shah’s father was to send him to the Doon School at Dehradun in India for higher studies. “He sensed that Partition could stir a lot of trouble because people had already started to evacuate areas amidst rising political tensions. My longtime school friend Karan Singh went on to the Doon School and I was left behind,” he says. In 1946, Mr Shah was sent off to England with a guardian and some Indian students on scholarships. They took to Rawalpindi by road and then took a train to Bombay [now Mumbai]. From Bombay they set sail for Liverpool by sea, and from Liverpool, took the train to London. Mr Shah completed his A Levels from the King Williams College in London.In the meantime, Mr Shah says that after the takeover of Shaikh Abdulla in Kashmir in 1947 and deployment of the Indian army at Srinagar, hell broke loose in many parts of the State. “My father kept me posted on updates who continued to serve as the Governor of Kashmir during the period of Partition maintaining a neutral stance between Jinnah and Shaikh Abdullah. The Poonch area became a hub of refugees who ultimately migrated to Rawalpindi and Wah Cantonment. My brother was in the civil services of Kashmir, and was attacked by Abdullah’s mobs in Srinagar while he was out running an errand. He fled to Karachi after that episode. Jammu became a horrifying example of ethnic cleansing. The whole exercise was unnecessary. In summary, Kashmir was made the victim of two nationalist ideologies.”Mr Shah was cut off from his ancestral home and family income at Srinagar during Partition, and he was soon looking for a job in England. “I had just gotten admission into Oxford and the London School of Economics but couldn’t study in those institutions,” he says. In 1950, he joined the British American Tobacco Group that was doing business in Imperial India and in Pakistan.In 1953, Mr Shah acquired a temporary passport to travel from the UK to Pakistan as a result of his posting at Akora Khattak in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by the British American Tobacco Group (BAT). We were the first batch of Pakistanis recruited selected by the company on the basis of our strong family backgrounds. During my first posting to Pakistan, I was not acknowledged as a Pakistani citizen. I could use that passport for only three months. For years, I was without a nationality, and this applied to all the Kashmiris in exile. We all lived in this foray of hope that the UN resolution will lessen the tensions between the two countries and we could cross borders, take on a 7-8 hour journey from Rawalpindi to Srinagar by car and visit our ancestral homes. This dream never came true. The Kashmiris who had migrated to Pakistan were considered stateless. They weren’t treated like refugees from India but from a disputed territory with no identity. During the plebiscite, the migrant Kashmiris in Pakistan were not allowed to vote,” he says.Starting as their assistant manager, Mr Shah served with BAT for 30 years, and six years as the company’s Chairman. In 1984, he took an early retirement. He was also posted in Dhaka, Chittagong and Karachi. Sharing his experiences of working in Dhaka and Chittagong, he says: “The Nawab of Dhaka was of Kashmiri origin, and because of that association, I received a neutral and respectable treatment,” During his tenure in Karachi, Mr Shah observed the sub-human living conditions of refugees from India in the waterlogged slums of Karachi. “There were hundreds of men, women and children lying around the railway tracks across the slums to relieve themselves. It was one of the most horrific sights of Partition that I could recall. The government paid no attention to that situation until the 1960s,” he says.After his retirement from BAT, he worked as a policy consultant for the World Bank and Asian Development Bank for various years on energy and projects in Pakistan. He continues to take up their projects.In 1955, Mr Shah says his father became the first Kashmiri allowed to visit Pakistan from Srinagar after Partition. In the 1960s, during General Ayub’s government, he says, Kashmiris finally became eligible for allotment of evacuee property on the condition that they would surrender that property if their homeland became a part of India. “During this time, Sheikh Abdullah paid a goodwill visit to Pakistan to improve ties with India, after consulting with Jawaharlal Nehru. One of my cousins was in that delegation. Shortly after his arrival in Pakistan, we heard news of Nehru’s demise, which was an unfortunate blow to the purpose of that visit, which was also lost. In Nehru’s time, Kashmir was given a special status. It retained its position as a State and had its own Prime Minister.”“Kashmiris suffer a perpetual state of statelessness and the government of Azad Kashmir in Muzaffarabad is only theoretical. In order to write a letter to my family in Srinagar, I had to send the letter to a third country for postage. I saw many refugees without any food or shelter from Poonch settling in Wah and Rawalpindi. I could have chosen India but there was this euphoria over having a new homeland and all the promises made, so I opted for Pakistan in a euphoria of hope that we could go home when we want to.”Mr Shah was allowed to visit Srinagar for the first time during Nehru’s government in India when Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad was the Prime Minister of Kashmir, he remembers.He was married in 1958 to his wife through an arrangement by the Afghan royal family they were friends with in Srinagar. He has four children, educated in Karachi and abroad, and settled in the United States and the United Arab Emirates, nowadays. Mr Shah resides in Karachi with his wife nowadays.Sharing his final thoughts, Mr Shah says: “Srinagar to me is paradise on earth. I’ve travelled all over the world but have not found a place like it. I compare the Kashmiris to the Jews, being driven away from their homeland for God knows how long. “Every invader that has come to this land has inflicted persecution upon the Kashmiris and forced them out of their homes. Kashmiris did not get the benefits a lot of other communities did as a result of Partition. The way it was done was most criminal, it need not have been done this way. Partition to me is the largest religious ethnic cleansing and displacement in world history, which was dismissed by the British as a casual thought. I have not seen anything more horrific than this in the history of the world.”
Topic:
History
Language:
Urdu and English
Physical Description:
2 video files
Publication Info:
Karachi (Pakistan)
Imprint:
Karachi (Pakistan), March 3, 2016
Genre:
Filmed interviews
Identifier:
partitionArchive_2197