Memoirs of Three Continents: I Tell You the Truth and Nothing but the Truth

Memoirs of Three Continents: I Tell You the Truth and Nothing but the Truth

by Mirza Saeed-Uz Zafar Chaghtai


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ISBN-13: 9781462056392
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 10/20/2015
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 772
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.70(d)

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Memoirs of Three Continents

I Tell You the Truth and Nothing but the Truth

By Mirza Saeed-Uz Zafar Chaghtai


Copyright © 2015 Atomic Spectroscopist, Aligarh Prof of Physics, French Teacher, Urdu Author and Poet, Reads ten languages, Translated Sartre and Iqbal
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4620-5639-2



DEARER THAN SOLOMON'S KINGDOM (Childhood: Primary and Middle Schools)

The dust of homeland is dearer than Solomon's kingdom
A thorn of homeland overvalues drooping willows and
ocimum pilosum
Joseph, while he ruled Egypt as a king
Preferred himself to be a beggar in Cana'an

One pleasant afternoon when I had grown enough to venture alone outside the house, I returned home after loitering for a couple of hours, f lowers in hand, which I had picked from the back garden of Bara Ghar. In all excitement I called out to my mother loudly on entering the house only to find her lying, fainted, on a cot in the open area of the house under the growing shadows. Phoophi (my father's elder sister) lovingly chided me for my absence while my mother took ill. I sat by her and never had I found her so beautiful and so perfect a woman. She regained consciousness in a while and I learned decades later that she had reacted instantly to a letter some spinster had addressed to my father. She, the lady of the house, opened it in his absence and read it to find that a spinster had sought through it my father's help so as not to marry against her will. Coercion by parents was considered normal, not only then but now in Indian society, even against a son weak in decision, will or socio-economic status living in India or abroad. Only upon my return from Europe could I successfully intervene in favor of a female student of mine with her mother.

Father did not get the letter, but the two isolated ladies found it shocking in itself an unmarried woman writing to a man and on an intimate subject. I remember Trevor Huxley, in his late teens, committed suicide on finding himself unable to act in a similar situation; Julian Huxley has eulogized his younger brother's reaction in his "Memories" in so many words. But, apprised of it at the right moment, whether my poor father, Naazir Mirza, would have kept mum or intervened with the parents of the young girl, I cannot imagine. I remember at this juncture what Qudrat-ullah Shahab has described to have done against a Pir (divine) under his jurisdiction as a Collector in the Punjab when he received such a supplication.

This episode happened in a town of fifteen thousand inhabitants called Daryabad and situated at 81°33' latitude East and 26°53' longitude North, midway between the cities of Lucknow and Faizabad, the ancient capitals of Avadh (Oudh) an autonomous principality in eighteenth and nineteenth century (1728-1859 AD) south of the Nepal Kingdom. Full of monsoon forests, the region was the abode of the nomad Bhar tribe, which gave its name to the district and city of Bahra'ich (Bhar-reich) north of the river Ghagra (Gogra), and to Bharuch at the delta of river Narbada (nar-mada) north of Bombay (now Mumbai).

Darya Khan Lodi was Governor of Sambhal about 1450 AD, when, during the rule of Mahmood Shah Sharqi of Jaunpur, he founded Daryabad and built a fortress around it; a Hindu town called 'Daridravad' existed at this place since well before the end of the first millennium. Bakhtiar Khilji attacked and annexed Bengal to the empire of Delhi in 1246, inciting exodus from Gaur. Of that, a number of prominent Kaesth families settled in Daridravad in the thirteenth century because their relatives had already lived there for more than a hundred years. Most of the settlers left the town five hundred years later; but the old Kaesth families, still living in Daryabad, assimilated the rest and have a long ancestry there.

In due course, the town grew, becoming a center of commerce and communication, with wide roads that multi-storied buildings bordered, along with small houses of cultivators, artisans and craftsmen in abundant variety. Brij Bhookan Mohib, historian of Daryabad, gives its dimensions during the Moghal empire and the Avadh dynasty, when it rose to district and divisional headquarters, as two and half miles in length east-west by a mile in breadth north-south; now it is limited to about one square mile. Mohib enumerates its eight inns, four dharmasalas (ancient rest houses), five wholesale and seven retail markets, fifty mohallas (localities) and thirty-four gates; out of them two extended markets and nineteen localities survive in a way to this day.

The old Lucknow-Faizabad concrete road has turned muddy due to neglect through a century. On it, I have witnessed dilapidated Avadh-styled two-storey gates of the town dug away after Independence, the west gate in 1950's and the east gate in 1960's; probably Roshanlal had built them. Mohib mentions some palaces and mansions too, the most imposing of which stood near the east gate in the eighteenth century, of which the owner, Singaee Sah Jain, was said to possess legendary amount of wealth. The mansion has left no trace, and I do not know whether Sah lived there or whether it was a pure myth.

At present the old 13 x 7m2 hall of the Friday mosque on 1.5m thick robust walls under a solid 10m high dome is the oldest surviving monument, which dates to pre-Moghal period perhaps to fifteenth century; the hall has three low doors on the east. During the last ten years, people have built a four-meter wide veranda in front of these doors and two 5-stage minarets on its east corners, extending the open space east of the veranda further. In old documents it is called 'Mosque of the Fort', implying that the now extinct Fort covered this mosque, possibly along the elevation of about 150x100 square meters west, on which stand the Post Office, the local hospital and the middle school; the latter could have been old Tehsil Bungalow, and the chain of ponds on the west and south of the Middle School terrain, the fort ditch.

Adjacent to the demolished west gate, there are still remnants of a rest house or inn (Sarae) where the poet Mir Taqi Mir finished one of his narratives in verse (Mathnavi). Half a kilometer further up the west side a vast pond, with steps down the four sides and a building on its north west---all in well baked bricks---reminds us of its builder Lala Roshanlal, Divan of Asif-ud-Daula (1750-98), Nawab of Avadh (1775-98).

Daryabad finds mention in many books of history like Aine-Akbari, Tareekh Ghadre Avadh, Bostan Avadh, Afzal-ut Tawareekh and Muntakheb-ut Tavareekh. Waajib-ul Arz Daryabad and Barabanki Gazetteer provide important information on it. At the beginning of the British Empire in North India, Daryabad was still a district. Around 1863, headquarters moved to Nawabganj, and the district was renamed Barabanki about 1872; the sub-division (tehsil) shifted to the newly named Shameargunj, later called Ram Sanehi Ghat in 1882. Atlases listed Daryabad on maps of India until recently; 'Daryabadi' appears on the 'Avadh' map of Col. I.B. Genbil's 1770 Atlas of the Mughal Empire.

The Daryabad, where my mother, Rabia Ummé-Salma Begum (1909-91), gave birth to me on the 13th of May, 1936, was a town of only six thousand inhabitants equally divided between Hindus and Muslims, living together in peace and harmony under the control of coexisting small and medium size feudal communities. Some inhabitants ran small businesses as tradesmen or artisans; a large number of them labored on cultivation or civil construction, or performed household services. There also lived a percentage of the population in abject poverty, looking for small charities to survive.

My father Mirza Naazir Baig (1908-80) inherited three small pieces of agricultural land, totaling in area about 1.3 hectares. In order to make ends meet, he rejoined Raja Aijaz Rasool (d. May 1947) of Jehangirabad Estate as his private secretary, Mukhtar–e Am and/or Zilaidar, after a break of many years; he only stayed home, therefore, on alternate weekends or so. Aijaz Rasool was an aristocrat of rare distinction, keeping very close relations with the British Governor of UP, whoever he may be. To fulfill his wishes without frowning was an unofficial duty of every Barabanki Collector.

After their marriage in 1927, my mother lived in a modest old house with her mother-in-law barely two hundred meters from her parents. Hafiz Khwaja Ali Ahmad (1889-1948) visited his only daughter daily, before cycling to the sub-registrar's office at tehsil headquarters, where he wrote documents, and when he returned home. When I was born, my father was away, and my maternal grandfather bore all his responsibilities.

A neat and clean Government hospital ran in Daryabad under the control of an MBBS doctor assisted by a compounder. But there was no official midwife in those days and a private sage-woman delivered babies with dexterity. Thus I saw the first ray of sun in the afternoon of a Thursday on the 20th Safar 1355 of the Muslim lunar calendar (Hijri). Father gave me the name Saeeduzzafar, by using the numbers assigned to the Arabic alphabets of my birth dates, which total (60+70+10+4+1+30+900+80+200 = 1355.

Khwaja Ali Ahmad was more than six feet tall and lean; his wife Fatima Begum (1891-1961), a first cousin, was a huge figure, very active and dominant despite her bulk. It was the advantage of listening less to her running commentary that drew Ali Ahmad to social service. Their fathers were brothers whose ancestors lived in the village Aidha-Barha of District Gonda but moved to Faizabad/Ajodhya (Ayodhya or Avadh) in the infancy of the two brothers. When their sister married Shahjehan Begum's father, she brought her youngest brother, Ahmad Mir, to Daryabad with her.

My paternal grandfather Mirza Mohammad Baig 'Nadeem' (d 1931) lived in the town of Mahona (Dist. Lucknow), spending the days he spared from his job at Jehangirabad in the house of his in-laws at Daryabad. He was an authority on traditional Persian literature, and composed poetry in Urdu and Persian, often reproducing dates in his verses. I preserved his divan in manuscript form, partly calligraphed and partly written in his elegant handwriting. His uncle left behind for us, among others, a number of elegies (marthiyas) in print. My father was not a poet, but displayed a command of Urdu and Persian as a family tradition, had a good knowledge of the English language, practiced advanced arithmetic and mensuration, and learnt reading and writing Hindi in Nagri script after the independence of India. Aisha Begum (1893–1966), father's only surviving sibling about fifteen years his elder, recited to us extempore, hundreds of Urdu couplets and occasionally Persian verses too. I have described her wits in some detail elsewhere 11. Aisha Begum, as well as her two elder sisters and two younger brothers, one of which was older than my father, left no child, while Shabban, the only child of Aisha Begum, died in infancy.

Aisha Begum used to talk of a certain Mohammad Ali Athar considered the only equal in learning to my grandfather; 'Athar' was his pen name, as Hakim Rafiuzzaman specified to me. He also told me of Athar's rare, though modest, possessions, like a glass bottle inside of which his name was calligraphed beautifully. Ali Athar was a native of some other town and came to Daryabad in the early twentieth century as a tutor for the young Abdul Majid. Then he settled down there never to return. He was, I guess, a bachelor, as the well-known Islamist Dr. Mohammad Hamidullah of Paris had been, of whom I shall talk later.

Regarding our surname or titles, the name of a descendent of Moghol nobles usually begins with Mirza as title and ends with Beg (Baig), but the practice has varied in course of time. Chaghta'i (Çagatay, Jagatay or Chagatayee) constitutes only a particular Moghol tribe with sub-tribes and sub-titles. The oral tradition tells us (because most of our family documents perished in Mahona) that our paternal ancestors were Barlas (Berlas) Chagatayees. Men of our tribe are sparse; families survive in India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Central Asia, of course, of which many newly independent republics call one of their national languages 'Jagatay', where I read 'J' as 'ch'. There are many more people in India who claim to be Moghol and live in isolation, in mixed societies, in pockets or in their exclusive villages like 'Daih' Moghalan, which is now a locality of the town Fatehpur in District Barabanki. For the sake of brevity, individuals drop titles and re-adopt them as they feel convenient. A recent trend consists of putting Mirza at the end of the name as surname.

In my infancy, gran'ma took Mother to Faizabad for some internal treatment leaving me behind in the care of Aisha Begum, Father's fifteen year older widow sister whom he had brought back to Daryabad with a teenage niece of her slain husband from Unnao. Despite the best treatment they gave me, I still remember pangs of separation from my mother till Father took me to her. Remembering that, now I realize what Marcel Proust has described of his childhood experience! Of that visit, I find two glimpses in memory: the clean and peaceful district hospital of Faizabad where mother was under treatment and Zahra Begum, the elder sister of gran'ma, thin unlike her, stately, and kind who gave me a quartz prism, of which I still remember the six cylindrical sides and the two tapering ends. Soon after enjoying its rainbow colors for the first time, I left it somewhere and pined for it all my life. Nor did I see Zahra Begum again!

I do not remember what toys I played with in early childhood. When I was a boy my father brought for me a number of spinning tops of different sizes and shapes. Ones long and sturdy enough to hit the ground hard from a height of a meter or more, in the process unwinding the string from around their cones grooved spirally, before whirling and buzzing wildly like bumble bees. One's low and wide, excavated at the top to increase the moment of inertia, hence the dancing period, exhibiting to their satisfaction the bright multi-color rings on the concave; these we flung horizontally with a jerk to unwind and dance like a colorful little girl or a male peacock. I remember how the peacock, our neighbor's pet, used to come to entertain me as a child of four years or so on the vast elevation (Chabootra) in front of our houses. My ears still cherish the masculine music of his call. In school I was never good in drawing and painting. But earlier I practiced drawing and painted him in color so much that it is a pity some of my childhood peacocks, alive on paper, did not survive. This leads me further to record the obsession As'ad, my son, developed as a school child in 1970's with horses. His brush could vividly paint them in any pose.

At my times in Daryabad I witnessed nothing in the making and f lying of kites comparable in talent, novelty and expertise to what Mirza Ja'afar Hussain has described or what we still witness on or around a bank of the river Thames in London on a bright summer afternoon. I do remember that at the advent of the rainy season, the summer got mild, and paper kites appeared in the sky in numbers, involving air skirmishes to cut the rival under mooring and fall down, like the people of a decadent disarranged country, fighting among them easy prey to the strong. I did not have the age and experience to fly my own fighters, nor had I, on growing less fragile, time to cultivate the necessary skill. Father, however, provided me with a number of kites and a big reel of the appropriate string, so that someone flew one of them for me on a calm afternoon, avoiding an eventual attack from a jealous neighbor. That gave me a feel for aviation: the tension of the string, the sense of responsibility in the open air and the soothing effect it produced on my eyes to gaze into the fathomless blue for a while in leisure. There were often additional living spots of different sizes filling the field of view at their sweet will.

My father had cultivated a few talents for the fun of it like kite making and book binding. Beyond that I remember buying kites from Alli (Ali) Khan's Obi, a phenomenon that lived and died with Alli Khan. Behind Khan's house lay a piece of land where he grew vegetables in abundance. He enclosed it within a two-meter high mud wall without a door or window. Within, he ran his workshop of kites in variety and we negotiated with him through a temporary bridge he had thrown over the wall running inside as a roofed gallery.

Father smoked on average three cigarettes per day of the mild Passing Show, Scissor or Berkley brand. I collected the empty packets to build my 'railway trains' by sewing them sideways to bamboo sticks. Spokes could then be attached transversely at regular distances of length to hold wheels of clay baked in the hot ashes of the house oven. An erect matchbox led them as an engine. With a fastened string I dragged the train smoothly on the ground. That incited the fancy of a fellow boy in the Bara Ghar to produce a homemade steam engine. One holiday, our gang of four or five gathered at the edge of the pond that surrounded our houses beyond the sprawling back (rather than kitchen) garden, called 'Painbaagh', to collect the amount of mud necessary for the project. One of us slipped, sullying his trousers, and we spent the rest of the time returning him safe and unseen by the elders' eyes. This episode I recall with the same thrill as my grandchildren, Haider and Amber, felt from running on circular plastic rails, their metallic train consisting of a passenger carriage and a goods bogie that a battery operated engine pulled at their Columbus, Ohio house in 2004.


Excerpted from Memoirs of Three Continents by Mirza Saeed-Uz Zafar Chaghtai. Copyright © 2015 Atomic Spectroscopist, Aligarh Prof of Physics, French Teacher, Urdu Author and Poet, Reads ten languages, Translated Sartre and Iqbal. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1 Daryabad, 3,
2 Faizabad, 35,
3 Historic Lucknow, 69,
4 Lucknow Christian College, 87,
5 Jehangirabad Palace, 96,
6 Qaazi Khursheed Ahmad, 104,
7 Molviganj and Aminabad, 111,
8 Chowdhary Abd-us-Sattaar, 118,
9 Lucknow University, 128,
10 Summer in Allahabad, 148,
11 Sugarcane Commisioner's Office, 154,
12 Post Graduation in Physics, 158,
13 Dr. B.G. Gokhale and Research in X-Rays, 165,
14 Subhash Hostel, 175,
15 Gorakhpur, 192,
16 Farewell Gorakhpur and India, 204,
17 ELDERS, 206,
18 FRIENDS, 244,
1 First Glimpse of Paris, 267,
2 Mount Saint Michel, 291,
3 The New Academic Year (1963-64), 303,
4 Aix-en Provence, 310,
5 Another Tale of Two Cities, 319,
6 Life in Cité Universitaire, 332,
7 45 Days in USA, 352,
8 Club Des Quatre Vents, 380,
9 On Cinema, 388,
10 Guest in my Own House, 395,
11 Experimental Progress in the Laboratory, 404,
12 My First Five Weeks in Sweden, 411,
13 In Orsay Again, 420,
14 1968 Movement, 429,
15 L'aile De Gabriel, 447,
16 In Lund University, 452,
17 Towards a Renewed Life, 489,
18 Elders, 496,
19 Friends, 508,
1 Early Days, 519,
2 Bangladesh Created, 536,
3 Teachers Association, 550,
4 Salaam ICTP, 554,
5 Vice Chancellors of the 70's, 557,
6 Patiala, 577,
7 Some Family Affairs, 584,
8 Travel To Pakistan, 591,
9 Other Notable Vice Chancellors & Events, 597,
10 Some Practical Experiences, 630,
11 Months in England and America, 638,
12 A Week in Dubai, 645,
13 Affair with Computer, 648,
14 Glimpses of Latin America, 649,
15 China from Within, 655,
16 The Movement Of Muslim Preachers, 668,
17 My Maternal Relatives, 675,
Conclusion, 731,
Family Pictures, 735,
Glossary, 739,

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