A memoire from one of the founders of Pakistan

By Syed Ali Asghar “Ali Baba”

About myself

I was born in 1916. I joined the Great Indian Peninsular Railway in 1939 as a mechanic and became a locomotive instructor.

I came to Pakistan in November 1947. We chose to come to Pakistan because we felt we were unsafe where we were in Bhusaval [near Mumbai]. We had heard that lots of people were being massacred and thrown out of trains elsewhere, although nobody was in fact killed in Bhusaval. We believed we would be safe in Pakistan, that there would be no discrimination and that we would have a bright future there.

We came by ship to Karachi and the new government posted me to Quetta. We went there by train. I was promoted from loco mechanic to inspector. We passed life very happily because we felt we were at last among our own people.

In my time, all the locomotives were steam. I believe there are still one or two. I used to work on the trains going to Dalbandin. On Nushki Bank, where the gradient is very steep, we used to need three locomotives to pull the train: one on the front and two on the back to get it up the 1 in 25 gradient. One steam locomotive can pull 170 tons. Now, one diesel locomotive does it on its own. There is another steep gradient at Sibi, with catch sidings to capture any runaway wagons on their way down.

I retired in 1979.

My good old days

In what I regard as the “Good old days”, when I was brought up and first came to Pakistan, the most important thing was to be a gentleman or gentlewoman. A true gentleman was a person who led a moral life free from vice, hypocrisy, jealousy, excessive ambition, hatred, contempt, envy, vanity, deviousness and lust. True gentlemen were not confined to the rich and those of high rank – even a poor person could possess all the qualities of a gentleman.

Life in my good old days was simple and carefree with its own charms. People were content, honest and truthful and tried to earn an honest living.

The elders of the family were given due respect and consulted in decision making and important matters.

The bare necessities of life were plentiful and within reach of the poor. Milk was pure and its adulteration was a sin.

Weddings were simple and mostly arranged by the elders of the family. They were not held in clubs, hotels or wedding halls. Bridegrooms rode on decorated horses and brides were always carried in dolis on the shoulders of the kahars.

People smoked hookas and biris while cigars and cigarettes were the privilege of the rich. Chewing pan was popular among all classes. Men and women who had nothing to do with their time played cards and chess.

Muslims and non Muslims lived together in peace and traded with each other in a very friendly atmosphere.

Even the poorest men did not beg. Female beggars were nowhere.

Horse drawn tongas and ekkas where the cheapest transport in cities for short distances.

Cities had fewer cinemas and provided clean entertainment that one could see with one’s whole family. The poor were satisfied with kite flying, wrestling and fishing. The rich owned gramophones. Snake charmers entertained children.

The bazaar was the most attractive place in the city. Here, young and old, rich and poor, all did their shopping. The shouts of the shop keepers attracting the attention of customers was almost deafening.

At the railway stations, tea was sold in earthen cups. Roti kebab was sold by Muslims and Allo-Puri by Hindus.

Some family history

Our family history dates back to 1429 Hijri. We are descendants of Hazrat Fatima (PBUH) the daughter of our holy prophet Hazrat Mohammad Mustafa (PBUH) so that we are Syeds.

We belong to Agra, where stands the Taj Mahal in all its grandeur and peerless beauty

My parental grandfather was Syed Zahoor Ali. He was born in 1866 and died in 1957 in Agra. He was a disciple of my maternal grandfather Maulana Abdul Karim, a saint and religious scholar of Ganj Muradabad, a rural town in the district of Unnao, India.

My paternal grandfather had five sons and four daughters while my maternal grandfather had four sons and six daughters. The three sons of our paternal grandfather were married to the three daughters of my maternal grandfather, Syed Manzoor Ali.

My father was born in Agra in 1886 and died in Quetta in 1973. He served the Great Peninsular Railway and retired in 1942 as Director Telegraph Inspector at Bhusaval. During World War II, he was appointed as a camp superintendent of military regiment at Jhansi. When Partition took place in India in 1947 he migrated with me to Pakistan and settled in Quetta. He always followed certain principles in life. He was always kind and generous, helpful and cooperative, enduring, encouraging and benevolent.

My mother was a God fearing, pious, very good looking lady with a kind heart. She had an excellent mental capacity. She was loved and respected by all and taught Quran Sharif to all her grand children. She taught us what our duties are toward God and our superiors. She taught us that our religious duties consist of our doing justice, loving mercy and endeavouring to make our fellows happy. My brother, Syed Hasan Shakir was very much influenced by her teaching and by the life his maternal grandfather led. He was born in Ganj Muradabad in 1914.

When my father was working as Head Signaller Telegraph of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway at Agra Cantonment in 1925, we lived together with our grandfather, uncles and aunts and others in a joint family system in a very peaceful and happy manner. The elders of the family were given due respect and decision making was the right of the senior in important matters. The pay of my father and the income of others though scanty, cheered all of us at the beginning of each month and we thanked God for it. The bare necessities of life were plentiful and within reach of all of us. We lived a satisfied and happy life sharing joy and sorrow with one another.

We were three brothers and two sisters. I, Syed Ali Asghar was born at Muthra in 1916. My brother Syed M Zahid was born at Bina in 1919 and died in Karachi in 1997. My sister Umra Bibi was born at Ganj Muradabd in 1911 and died in Hyderabad in 1971. My other sister Suraiyya was born at Agra in 1929.

In 1927, my father was transferred from Agra to Bhusaval on promotion to Divisional Telegraph Traffic Inspector, where he was provided with a bungalow in the Anglo Indian and European colony where we lived until the partition of India. Many unforgettable memories are connected with Bhusaval. Here it was that Bhai Sahib (Syed Hassan Shakir) was wedded to Bhabi Qamar. Bhai Sahib was very handsome and his moral character was flawless. In the marriage market, he was regarded by designing parents as a very eligible match for their daughters. Proposals came pouring in from far and near but there was no one fit to be his life partner. He had only before his eyes Bhabi Qamar’s extraordinary lovable nature that made her fit to be his wife. To the happiness of all, he was wedded to her in 1943. This lasted until he passed away in England in December 1996, and she followed him shortly after the anniversary of his death, a year later.

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