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Abji by Fasihuddin Ahmed

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Maulana Salahuddin Ahmed, my husband’s grand father, my kids’ great grandfather, founder and editor of Adbi Duniya, was a man of simple means but unimpeachable integrity. As with my husband, he was also Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani’s grandfather. This article was written by our chachu, his youngest son, professor Fasihuddin Ahmed in 2014.

ABJI

Dr. Fasihuddin Ahmed remembers his fiercely principled father, editor and writer Maulana Salahuddin Ahmed, a man who specialized in speaking truth to power

Rauf Parekh, writing about my father Maulana Salahuddin Ahmed, wondered why people like him were not acknowledged and why no one recalled his death anniversary. I read his piece and was encouraged to write a few words about my father. He was known to us as Abji and was an old style man of modest means but he was as committed to his literary pursuits as he was to his middle class values. This was his greatest strength as he yearned for nothing and was afraid of no one.

Abji was a young widower with six children. My sisters were married well. The eldest, mother of Asma Jahangir was married to the firebrand Malik Ghulam Jilani, the middle one to a successful bureaucrat and the youngest to a charming army officer who died as a serving general. Our elder brother, father of late Justice Sabihuddin Ahmed was a brilliant civil servant. Abji mothered and fathered my late elder brother, another bureaucrat, Muizuddin Ahmed, and myself, as we were in our teens when our mother passed away.

Initially, Muiz and I were his only household companions. Later, our nephew Sabihuddin joined us and was very close to the three men in the house. Sultan was on the staff but part of the bachelor household. Whenever Abji lost it with him he would ask him why he had no common sense. Sultan would defend himself by explaining that he had served in the army. At this my father would mutter that it was our good luck that Sultan was not made a general, otherwise he would have taken over our household “in our interest.”

We lived on Lahore’s Mason Road. Our immediate neighbour was Mrs Christabel Bilquis Taseer, mother of the late Salmaan Taseer. Around the corner was Begum Shah Nawaz and across the road Miss Otto Ram with her grand Rolls Royce which she drove out in every Sunday. There was also the erstwhile Pir Sahib who was frequented by the powerful in the hope that their ambitions would soon be met. Across the road was Lovers’ Lane. I often wondered how it acquired that name. Majid ka khoka was a hangout for the young. A bottle of coke for 5 Annas and a cream roll for another 2 was the worst temptation in those days.

Early mornings were predicable. Miuz started his day with the song, “ye mosam ye rataen”. Mrs Taseer would be seen leaving for Ganga Ram hospital in a crisp cotton sari with an umbrella over her head. My father left for his office on The Mall with a walking stick in hand. The good old dhobi went about collecting jogan from house to house and exchanging the neighborhood gossip. Life was peaceful with little expectations and no prejudices – at least on the issue of faith and belief. Pens rather than guns and money awed those in power.

Maulana Salahuddin passionately believed that literary thought could only flourish in a free atmosphere. It would suffocate under official patronage. In the days of Ayub Khan pseudo-literary figures were busy co-opting writers, journalists and poets. One of the early acts of the Ayub regime was the formation of the “Writers’ Guild” on the recommendation of Mr. Qudratullah Shahab and Mr. Altaf Gauhar, two civil servants who wrote well and had literary pretensions. Ostensibly the guild was to support writers, poets, and thinkers. Abji opposed this idea and openly criticized it. He was convinced that it was a mechanism to control freedom of thought and free expression. He openly protested against it and in the next edition of his magazine, Adbi Duniya, which he owned and edited, he placed a banner headline saying: (rough transliteration): “When self-interest finds it way into literature, literary art disappears.”

To test Abji’s patience the Anjuman-e-Hemayat-e-Islam invited him to speak on Allama Iqbal’s concept of “Mard-e-Mujahid”. To his surprise general Ayub Khan was chief guest at the session where he was to speak. To make matters worse, the fierce Governor of Punjab, Amir Muhammad Khan Kalabagh was also on the stage. A number of speakers eulogized the President through their literary nazraanaas, giving credence to my father’s idea that literary thought gets polluted if brought under the umbrella of dictatorial regimes. My father’s presentation was on Allama’s concept of “Mard-e-Mujahid” (warrior hero). Abji’s concept of Allama’s Mujahid did not fit the army regime’s image of a war hero. This itself had irked the Governor who was going red in the face with anger during the presentation but worse followed. My father concluded his paper by addressing Ayub Khan saying, “Sir, let me assure you that you are no such mard-e-mujahid.”

We were apprehensive that father may be arrested but nothing happened. Either there was still an element of grace in dealing with one’s critics, or there may have been a concern about backlash. However, the effort to woo him did not end. The usual carrot and stick policy followed.

My elder brother’s promotion was put on hold and he continued to be posted in FATA. My father remained undeterred. A year later, Ayub’s trusted Altaf Gauhar came to see my father hoping to convince him to accept the Pride of Performance award from the government. Abji firmly turned it down. My suffering elder brother was approached to talk to our father in accepting the award. Our brother declined on the plea that in our culture fathers “talk” to their children, not the other way round. Somehow, the Governor of Punjab bought his excuse with some measure of appreciation.

A couple of years after Abji’s demise, the government announced a posthumous Pride of Performance award for him without much ado, because the one to decline it was no more.

More here.

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