By Syed Atiq ul Hassan, Sydney Australia
Some relationships are created by Allah Almighty for humans, some humans form connections with others based on their preferences, and then there are relationships that Allah creates, and
humans further strengthen them with a new bond. Such was the relationship I had with my paternal uncle, (late) Mukhtar Ahmed.
Prior to the creation of Pakistan, ten minutes away from Karachi Cantt Station, there was an empty ground known as “Golf Ground” where the British used to play golf. In 1947, hundreds of families migrated from India and settled here on the very first days of their migration. Among them were renowned poets, writers, storytellers, professors, scholars, artists, and bureaucrats. The famous writer and scholar, Anwar Maqsood, also revealed during a ceremony that his family had spent their initial days at Golf Ground.
The family of the famous film actress, Deeba, also migrated from India with her parents and settled in Golf Ground. My mother used to tell me stories about Deeba.
My (paternal) grandfather, Abdul Ghaffar Ahmed, along with my grandmother, Kaneez Fatima, and many other relatives and loved ones, migrated from the city of Agra, India, in 1947, and arrived in Karachi with thousands of other Indian Muslims. When they stepped off the train at Karachi Cantt Station, they expressed gratitude to Allah, prostrated on the sacred land of Pakistan, and turned their faces towards the next step. Not just Karachi, but the whole of Pakistan was a new homeland for these migrants (Muhajirs). Hence, it didn’t matter which area of Karachi they chose as their place to live; they were all equal to those immigrants. So, my grandfather’s family, along with everyone else, settled in Golf Ground.
The last or first stop of trams was located outside Cantt Station. Back then, traveling on public trams was a common practice in Karachi. At that time, my grandfather had two children, a son named Waqar Ahmed, and a daughter named Bilquees Begum (who was my mother), who had migrated from India with their parents. Later, my two uncles, Iftikhar Ahmed and Mukhtar Ahmed, and an aunt, Sitara Begum, were born in Golf Ground.
Mukhtar Ahmed was born in 1955 at the Golf Ground. My mother, Bilqees Begum, got married to my father, Syed Shafiq-ul-Hasan, in 1954, in Hyderabad, Sindh. I was born three years after their marriage. Mukhtar Ahmed, my maternal uncle, was only two years older than me, so our relationship was more like that of friends from childhood. Our friendship involved shared mischief, games, and storytelling during our childhood. Since my mother’s relatives and extended family also lived there, we had friendships with their children as well. We didn’t feel the need to make friends outside because there were enough kids of our age in the family.
My maternal grandparents’ other relatives also resided nearby in the same area. We used to visit each other regularly, plan our future, and have meals together. My elder uncle, Waqar Ahmed, got
a job at the Nigerian High Commission. During that time, most of the embassies were situated near the Cantt Station, in the adjoining area of Frere Road. There was a famous park called the Frere Hall Park, which still exists today. There was a museum in the park as well, and on weekends, popular Pakistani movies were screened there. My grandparents and other relatives used to go to the park together to watch movies and have a meal together. Mukhtar Ahmed and I used to visit the park during the evenings and befriend the foreign diplomats’ children. Although we didn’t know their language, but our love, kindness, and affection became our common language. We managed to communicate using a few English phrases.
Most of the migrants who had migrated at that period, whether educated or not, understood and spoke English at some level. My elder uncle, Waqar Ahmed, was quite proficient in English, which helped him secure a good job at the foreign embassy.
Since Mukhtar Ahmed and I were almost the same age, our bond of friendship strengthened from childhood. We did everything together, like eating, drinking, sleeping, playing, and various other
activities. I remember there was an iron-made bed in our courtyard or near the grocery store run by my grandfather (Nana). Uncle Mukhtar and I would sleep together on that bed, gazing at the night sky and counting stars. We would tell each other stories, recounting the day’s adventures and laughing until late at night, planning the next day without any notion of when we would fall asleep.
The journey from Cantt Station to the Sadar (in CBD) took about half an hour on foot, while it only took ten minutes by tram. Uncle Mukhtar, my cousin, and I often preferred walking to Sadar. On the way, we would pass numerous embassies, government buildings, and luxurious hotels, where we often spotted foreigners walking around.
Eventually, we would reach the famous Bohri Bazaar in the Sadar area, a place well-known for its many foreign visitors. Europeans used to call that area as mini-London. My uncle and I would attempt to strike up conversations with these foreigners, considering them English and greeting them with a cheerful “hello.” They, in return, would take photographs of us, a sight they found interesting and worth capturing.
In the narrow alleys of Bohri Bazaar, we observed foreigners standing outside shops, gazing at various products. There was a famous Lassi and Halwa restaurant where my uncle and I would indulge in sweet treats. Everything was quite affordable, and we would collect money from grandparents, parents, and uncles to buy food and refreshments in the Sadar area.
There were no restrictions on going outside, and no one was concerned about any crimes during that time. So, my uncle and I would roam the streets freely without any fear, cherishing the carefree days of our childhood. After spending several hours at the Sadar residence, we would return home by tram, and there was no need to buy a ticket as it was free during that period.
In the 1970s, my grandfather’s family moved to the newly developing Green Town area in Karachi. After a while, they shifted to a newly constructed house in the nearby Saleem Housing Project,
which was connected to Shah Faisal Colony. My uncles, their families, and one aunt lived together with my grandparents and one aunt under the joint family system.
In 1978, during my uncle’s wedding, I was just finishing my last year of university. During the holidays, I would often visit Karachi and spend weeks with my uncle. After his wedding, my uncle faced financial struggles. His job did not provide enough income to sustain the household, so we brainstormed various plans to make ends meet.
In 1983, we decided to open a small grocery store called “Ambreen Grocery Store” in PIB Colony (Karachi), which my uncle managed. By that time, he had two sons, Rizwan Ahmed and Nauman Ahmed, and later they were blessed with two daughters, Nazish and Mahwish. My uncle worked hard to establish a stable job, and business and became successful with time.
My uncle was a kind and hardworking person. He never got discouraged by challenges and remained optimistic regardless of circumstances. He used to visit Hyderabad during vacations, and we would play cricket together. Many of my friends also became close to my uncle due to his friendly and jovial nature.
In my life, I have never seen my uncle argue with anyone or have any disputes or ill feelings about anyone. We had a natural bond, shared similar interests, and had common goals for the future.
During my uncle’s wedding, I noticed a girl whom I found appealing. I asked my uncle about her, and he revealed that she was a relative. As time passed by, I came to Karachi after finishing my
master’s degree in 1979. In 1980 I got a job as Computer Systems Officer in Grade 17 at Karachi Port Trust. In those days, I asked Uncle Mukhtar, about the girl I saw in 1978 at Uncle’s wedding, and he asked me why. I realized he understood, he suggested that I must carefully think about it, as marriage is a serious matter. I decided to speak to my mother and, if needed, he would also
discuss it with my mother (that is his sister).
To cut a long story short, thus, in September 1981, I married the same girl Surraya Begum, whose family was related to my mother’s family for the last several generations before partition in Agra India. Today, Surraya (Begum) Hassan and I enjoyed 41 years of marriage.
Today, all four of my uncle’s children are leading successful and respected lives in Karachi. My connection with my uncle’s family is as strong as with my own.
On 1st July 2023, during the celebrations of Eid at around 5 PM, my beloved uncle Mukhtar encountered an unexpected accident. He suffered severe injuries to his neck and spine. After receiving treatment at Agha Khan Hospital in Karachi, he departed from this world on 14th July 2023.
I can confidently say that some people stay alive in the corners of our minds, and my beloved uncle, Mukhtar, is one of them. May Allah grant him the highest place in Jannat-ul-Firdaus. Amen.
(Syed Atiq ul Hassan is a Sydney-based Journalist, political analyst, and anthropologist, his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, mobile is +61 479 143 628 )
Concluded: 20 July 2023