FALSE SELF THE LIFE OF Masud Khan
By LINDA HOPKINS
Other Press Copyright © 2006 Linda Hopkins
All right reserved.
Chapter One EARLY YEARS IN MONTGOMERY
No matter how much I have translated it all into metaphor and myth, my childhood is still alive and real to me, and my feudal upbringing gives me any virtues I possess. Masud Khan
Masud Khan's childhood home was in Montgomery (now Sahiwal), an area in the northwest part of the United Provinces of India known as the Punjab. The land had been conquered by the British in the latter half of the nineteenth century after a savage conflict in which Khan's father and uncles were allied with the British. After the conquest, his family continued to maintain close military ties: of his eight half-brothers, seven would have celebrated careers in the Indian and then the Pakistani army. In the West, Khan claimed, probably accurately, that his was the first generation in which there had not been a murder. He told a friend: "In my country, life is very cheap. I could have men disposed of for a mere five hundred rupees-that is how we might deal with difficult situations. My people do not feel Judeo-Christian guilt: my people feel vengeance."
As an adult, Khan was always aware of the powerful influence of his "savage" Eastern roots. In the West, he wrote:
[I]n all honesty I have to confess that in some deep dark recesses of my soul I am still hankering after an ideal of heroism which isessentially miltaristic, impersonal and political. The taint of my ancestry. The victory of my imaginative-intellectual sentiments is not yet complete over this dark inheritance. [I have an] inner craving for heroic social battle and a dark fascination with war and soldiery.... That is perhaps why I live away from my country. Because in it I will eventually get seduced into action.
Khan's father, Fazaldad, was a Shiite Muslim who was born a peasant. Because of their alliance with the British, he and his two brothers were richly rewarded, acquiring significant power and wealth. An old photograph shows a tall (6'5"), light-skinned, and handsome Fazaldad, proudly wearing military dress that includes two medals around his neck. Family legend has it that he received one of these for his bravery in carrying a wounded British general to safety in a battle in Mesopotamia.
After the British conquest, Fazaldad's name changed to Khan Bahadur Fazaldad Khan. "Khan" and "Bahadur" are terms of respect for people with power, not family names, and indeed Punjabis did not use family names until after the British came. Fazaldad's descendants use Khan as their last name and it is a name that has become common in Pakistan. This group of Khans, however, is no ordinary family. The wealth accumulated by Fazaldad has been passed on to members of a large extended family, and his landholdings in several different locations in Pakistan, including Chakwal and Faisalabad (formerly Lyallpur), are still held by family members.
As the Punjab settled into peacetime, Fazaldad switched from being a warrior to being a farmer. He specialized in breeding and selling horses that the British used in their army and for polo, and he became a self-taught horse veterinarian. He made his home in the remote countryside of Montgomery and he also owned land in other parts of Northern India. The social system was feudal, and the peasants who lived on his land were required to work for him.
Fazaldad, by the custom of his religion, was free to marry four times, and he did so. His initial marriage was to a first cousin, as was common. When she was unable to bear children, there was a divorce.
His second wife, Badsha (d. 1955), was a Muslim from the Pathan tribe, a fair-skinned group that includes Hindus as well as Muslims. The couple had eight children together, four sons and four daughters. As a Pathan, Badsha did not share the Rajput tradition of contempt for females, and she made sure that her daughters were educated, albeit secretly. These daughters then encouraged their own daughters to be educated. Masud was especially close to Badsha's granddaughters Khalida Khan and Fatima Ahmed, who were his age. "Uncle" Masud and his "nieces" played together as children and attended university together. These two women, both professionals living in the United States, are major sources of information about Khan's early life.
Amir Jan, Fazaldad's third wife, was a courtesan who came to the marriage having already borne an illegitimate daughter. Fazaldad had started the relationship with her while Badsha, who was pregnant, was making an extended visit to her family. Badsha accepted Fazaldad's new wife, even as the two women had children in overlapping years, and Amir Jan's illegitimate daughter was allowed to stay with the family in a kind of nursemaid role. Amir Jan had four children, all sons, with Fazaldad. She died in the 1920s at a young age and Badsha then raised the sons.
Fazaldad's fourth marriage took place in 1923, when he was seventy-six years old-an age the family considered to be inappropriate for infatuation and sexuality. The new bride, Khursheed, was a dark-skinned beauty, and, like Amir Jan, she was a courtesan with an illegitimate child. She claimed to be seventeen, an age considered to be the peak of beauty and sensuality for Punjabi girls, although she was probably a few years older.
After the marriage, Fazaldad insisted that Khursheed's illegitimate son Salahuddin ("Salah," 1914-1979) be sent away. Salah went to live with Khursheed's brother in Jhelum, a town about 100 miles north of her new home. Khursheed had grown up in Jhelum, and her extended family still lived there. She would visit Salah every year, always traveling alone.
This marriage upset the family balance. Fazaldad's oldest son, Akbar, took Badsha to live with him in Lahore, eighty-five miles away, an act that broke with the tradition of multiple wives and their children living together on the patriarch's land.
Khursheed and Fazaldad had three children in quick succession: Tahir (1923-1983), Masud (1924-1989), and Mahmooda (1926-1942). Masud was born in Jhelum, at his mother's family home, on July 21, 1924. He was born with a defect known as an "elephant ear" or "cauliflower ear." It was a deformed and oversized right ear, and it would remain a stigma all his life.
Khan wrote about his childhood: "[L]ife was gloriously feudally phobic. Everything was really simple. No one travelled far or left. Relationships were direct and simple, even though often very violent. No one ever used boats, and planes were science-fiction to us. One's farthest reaches were limited by the abilities and capacities of a horse." As a toddler, he was adored by the servants: "I lived in a benignly autistic stance, closely and warmly environed by the servants. I was perpetually in their care & respected with deep affection in their holding presence." But he was not a peaceful child. Chaudri Nazir Ahmed, whose father Mustaq Ahmed had been estate manager when Khan was young, reports that "from the very beginning" Khan was overly talkative. In a contrasting account, an anonymous friend remembers Khan saying that, as a boy, "he was autistic, enclosed in himself-he felt he existed in the midst of nothingness and he never fit in."
It appears that Khursheed devoted herself to her new husband. She regularly stayed in her bedroom until around 4 p.m., at which time she would emerge exquisitely made up and dressed with bracelets and jewels. Late in my research, I learned that there was a family secret: Khursheed may have been addicted to opium. This would explain her late rising and her remoteness. Fazaldad apparently had a secret bank account that was used to buy the illegal opium, and upon his death the bank account (and the responsibility) was transferred to Masud.
As adults, Masud and Tahir joked about hearing their parents make love on hot nights, when the whole family would sleep outside on the terrace; they remembered their parents as having had a romantic sexual relationship. But the marriage was, from the perspective of others, tainted by Khursheed's history. One of Khan's Indian/Pakistani friends told me: "I think that when Masud was young, he was probably taunted for being the son of a courtesan. I mean, it was better that his parents were married, but it was still very bad. So that experience went into his soul and he carried not only a chip on his shoulder-he carried a rock."
Despite his mother's relative absence, Khan was close to her: "It was in my mother's ambience and sentient presence in my early childhood that I evolved my sensibility." According to Khalida Khan, Khursheed had a gentle disposition and rarely showed negative emotions. Masud was acutely sensitive to his mother's feelings and two early traumatic experiences had a huge effect on him. The first occurred when he was four years old:
Living has never been natural to me, since I saw my mother in an epileptic seizure, at the age of tour, convulsed, with a pathetic local doctor convinced she was going to die. She had just been delivered of a stillborn foetus. I stood crying and praying by her. Maids wanted to take me away, but I refused, and my father, normally a cruel and authoritative feudalist lord, ordered I be allowed to stay. My mother recovered. I do not remember the rest. But the gossip by the maids and sisters was that for three years I did not speak.
One wonders why Fazaldad would have allowed his son to witness such a scene. The fact that Masud developed the symptom of mutism afterward shows that it was overwhelming to him.
The second traumatic experience occurred when he was seven, when Khursheed went to visit her parents and Salah:
This time, my mother betrayed a promise to me. She was going to ... Jhelum and she promised to return in thirty, days. My father didn't believe that she would return when she said she would, but she made me her accomplice in believing her, and I convinced my father. On the twenty-ninth day, a telegram arrived, and she was delayed for fifteen more days. My mammoth and majestic father raved in panic like a child. For fifteen days he made the whole estate a living hell of barbarous cruelty, maudlin self-pity, and abusive threats of vengeance against my mother and her family. "I shall kill, kill, kill," he kept shouting and whimpering. Mother did arrive on the fifteenth day. [But] I refused to drive to the railway station to receive her. When she reached the mansion, she sent for me. I went, but refused to greet her: very insolent indeed. She said, "You have not greeted me." In the most lucid Urdu, I replied: "You have dishonoured my father and let me down." She slapped my face-she, who had never slapped me, ever! I quietly said, "I will never speak to you again, unless you ask for me and order me." I never did, to her dying day.
He was almost certainly exaggerating when he said that he never spoke to his mother again, but he did grow distant from his mother as he grew up. He experienced her as a simple woman prone to "anxious chatter" who could not keep up with him: "My mind as it evolved estranged me from my mother."
Tahir seems to have been always in the shadow of his younger brother, while Masud had a closer relationship with his younger sister, Mahmooda. She was dark-skinned and beautiful like their mother, and she was much adored. Because she was brought up separately from the brothers for her first years, Masud only got to know her when she was four years old and began to come to the family meals. This was also a time when her father first began to see her regularly, and he made sure that she always had multiple gold bracelets to wear, bracelets being a status symbol in that world. Khalida Khan recalled Masud's devotion to his sister:
One Easter when we were visiting, Mahmooda had a pet bird that died, and she wanted to bury him using Islamic rites. Girls weren't supposed to dig graves, so she asked Masud to do it. He agreed because he would do anything for her. We had a ceremony and we all cried.
Masud had to fight hard and be very clever in order to earn his father's recognition, as this story shows:
My father hardly knew me when I was young. But a few days before my fourth birthday, my mother and the governess were talking with me about what to ask for as a birthday gift. I said, "Four million rupees." They cajoled me to ask for less. So when my father came to ask me what I wanted, I said, "A penny." He roared with laughter and produced it immediately. The women were disheartened that I had asked for so little. But later, when I was thirteen, my father handed his estate over to me and he said, "All this goes to you because you were content with a penny." This is how I learned the importance of gestures
Fazaldad marked the significance of his "discovery" of his four-year-old son by changing his name. Masud had been named Ibrahim at birth, but his father renamed him Mohammed Masud. Mohammed was the first name of all four sons born to Badsha, so this gesture may have been an attempt to integrate Masud into the larger family. Names were important, as in a story Khan told a Western friend:
When I was nine, I went for a short time to a school in Montgomery. A teacher called the roll; when my turn came, he asked me to tell my name. I did not answer. The question had never been asked of me before. He sent me home. I asked my esteemed father, "How do I answer someone who wants to know my name?" and he replied with asperity: "He who does not know your name will learn little from your telling it to him."
Fazaldad's favorite child at the time when Masud was born was Mohammed Baqar, a son born to Badsha. Baqar was an intellectual, different from his brothers, who all had military careers. He was a student at Oxford when he was killed in a motorcycle accident at age nineteen, in a family tragedy that still evokes sadness in his family. The accident occurred in 1923, a year before Masud was born. Over time, Fazaldad encouraged Masud to take Baqar's place as the family intellectual.
Mohammed Masud would become his father's new favorite son. From the age of four, he accompanied Fazaldad as he conducted the business of the estate. When Fazaldad presided over the local court, Masud wore a velvet suit as he sat silently and listened. He was being groomed to take his father's place.
Masud remembered Fazaldad as "a gaunt, bleak, monumental presence, either utterly still or raging in wild temper." The sons competed for his affection. Every day, they were required to line up and proceed in front of him and bow, with Masud always last, since he was the youngest. Masud was the only son never punished with a beating. Instead, Fazaldad controlled him verbally and with "sulks & restrictive & punitive gestures." Even as a favored child, however, Masud suffered under his father's high standards:
I recall the long hard years of learning to ride and jump, under father's vigilance, and not being praised for taking all the high fearful jumps on a seventeen hand horse-a very tall horse!-and my father at the end of some seventeen jumps in the ring not recognizing and endorsing the fact that a tiny tot of a boy (I was eleven then) had achieved the critical deed; instead he berated me for not being able to hold the horse still while he was talking to me. Of course, I had at the time burst into tears.
Some of Khan's childhood stories include accounts of violence and sadism. Even if untrue, they carry an emotional truth that is worthy of consideration. The following stories were told to me anonymously by two of Khan's female friends:
Masud used to suffer at school because the other boys would taunt him about his large ear. One day he confided to his father that he was being bullied. Soon after that, a group of his father's servants showed up at the school, and they buggered [i.e., sexually assaulted] the other children as Masud watched.
Masud told me a story about a man who had raped a woman on the family estate. His father had the man hung upside down and he was beaten until he had a brain rupture or stroke. He was never okay after that. Masud told me this proudly, as an example of how his father cleared the estate of crime.
Khan never criticized his father's harsh style. He wrote, "[I was] nurtured by love and care, but apprenticed in cruelty and service," and "I was brought up a much indulged child under an iron discipline, and the chief ideal presented to one was that one should spare oneself nothing. Both in terms of the good things in life and in terms of effort and application." In considering writing a biography of Fazaldad, he said, "I know what I shall write: an epical, lyrical, metaphorical, simple biography of my father. I shall sing this man. It is not often that one meets a person whose whims have to be met and pampered because there is real dignity, virtue and affection in them." An anonymous Western friend remembers that Khan idealized his father and talked about him "as if he were God."
Excerpted from FALSE SELF by LINDA HOPKINS Copyright © 2006 by Linda Hopkins. Excerpted by permission.
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