Interview Text
| I N T R O |

| H O M E |

Growing UpThe Road to Independence
1 Bhopal11 The Roundtable Conference
2 Bringing up Abida12 Gandhi
3 "The Three Graces"13 Jinnah
4 Sweeping and Driving 14Sarojini Naidu
5 The Women Rulers15Fatima Jinnah
The British16The Changing Atmosphere
6 Pickles in Dover17 Why Pakistan?
7 Chaplin's The Gold Rush18 Mountbatten
8 Polo and The Prince of Wales19 Coming to Pakistan
9 Racism20Utopia?
10 Escaping the Veil

The following text is compiled from seven interviews with Princess Abida made by the Producer of this site, Omar Khan, in 1990 and 1991. It runs about 20 pages, and is formatted for easy printing.

Growing Up

1. What is Bhopal like?

The country is a little bit hilly, if you've been to Portugal, ups and downs and rivers, plenty of water, plenty of greenery. Beautiful jungles, lots of wild animals. Our lives were more a country life.

We had 88% Hindus and 12% Muslims, no feelings at all, never a single riot, never a single killing. There was no difference. The Prime Minister was a Hindu.

For Eid, the first tray of Sehri, it used to be sent by the Hindus to the mosques. We used to go to their Holi and Dassera and all their functions. We used to be drenched in rang [colors] and gowar [grains] and we used to enjoy it thoroughly.

Nawab Qudsia Begum, the first women ruler [from 1819-1837], was illiterate and uneducated, to the extent that she couldn't even sign her name. At the age of 18, her husband was assassinated, and she had a 2 year-old girl. She suddenly took it on herself that this girl was the rightful heir and successor and declared the child to be the future ruler. Then she challenged all the male members of her family to overturn her decision. No one dared.

That's how she ruled, until this child, Sikander Begum, became of age. She also never observed purdah [wore a veil]. She was trained in all the martial arts, she fought many battles. After she died, again there was only one girl, so she too was brought up without purdah.

2. How were you brought up?

I was actually brought up by my grandmother, Sarkar Amman [Nawab Sultan Jehan Begum, who ruled Bhopal State 1901-1926], like her own daughter. My own mother had nothing to do with me. My grandmother had lost her two daughters, so when I was born, she just picked me up, took me to her own room and there I remained for 17 years, until Sarkar Amman died. I was her favorite. She didn't mean to be cruel, she didn't mean to be harsh, it was just this sort of fear that she didn't have enough time to prepare a girl who would come up to her standards of Muslim womanhood.

Sarkar Amman, being nearly 70 when I was born, was afraid that she might die before I had memorized my Quran [the Muslim Holy Book].

I had to get up at four o'clock in the morning. There used to be no electricity in Bhopal in those days, and I had to read the Quran in front of a kerosene lantern. I would have to miss everything else if I didn't learn the portion that I was supposed to have learnt that day.

I used to get stubborn. I used to sit there, crying, not saying a word. When I saw my sisters going out for riding or to other lessons which I enjoyed better than the Quran, I used to get in a sulking mood. I would sit there and Sarkar Amman would keep on beating me and pulling my ears and pulling my hair, trying to make me say something. I wouldn't, I would sit there weeping until it was 11 o'clock, lunch time.

After lunch came compulsory rest in the afternoon in Sarkar Amman's presence. You had to lie down, close your eyes, and then start the Quran all over again at two o'clock. From two until six, seven, eight it was the same story. I sulking, being beaten and not saying a word.

Once the Quran was finished [memorized], when I was six, then the literal translation was started. That was finished before I was eight.

How come your sisters didn't have to do this?

She treated me as her own daughter. The other two were granddaughters. And I was the eldest of her favorite son. She always felt that she wanted to produce a woman that would come up to her standards of education.

3. Tell me something about the "Three Graces."

I have called them the "Three Graces," because they controlled the lives of us three sisters who were the "Three Disgraces."

Because I was Sarkar Amman's favorite, I had a Muslim nurse named Khalu. Then came my second sister Sajida, who had Marie, a Germaness who had accompanied Sarkar Amman to England in 1911. Since 1911, until the time Marie died in 1949, she never left Bhopal. Then there was a Mrs. Burke, an Irish nurse who had been taken from St. George's Hospital, Bombay because my youngest sister, Rabu, was very ill.

Marie was herself a second Sarkar Amman. What she didn't know about the Quran was not worth knowing. She read all the translations, she studied it, and yet she was a Roman Catholic, a good Catholic. So was Maima [Mrs. Burke].

Very strangely, when they joined Bhopal Service, Marie was a widow, Khalu was a widow and Marie never got married. They were free and lived a similar life to my mother, almost in purdah. The whole palace was walled, big area, lots of space, but no men allowed. They didn't miss life with men. In fact, they became so shy that if a man ever spoke to them or came near them, they felt just as embarrassed as a Muslim purdah lady, and they didn't like it. It was Sarkar Amman's Palace, where everything was done by women.

And they would always fight?

They fought on principle. I think the war [World War I] broke out in 1914, and Marie was German, so the British asked for her to be sent to a concentration camp. All the Germans were collected and put into a concentration camp. But Sarkar Amman somehow got around the British Government and said that Marie would not create any problems or mischief, and she was allowed to stay. What mischief could a purdah lady do?

But Maima never forgave Marie for not going to the concentration camp and for being a German. They fought over it all the time, it was on principle only. Then they used to sit and laugh over it. And Khalu was against both of them, because they were not Muslim.

I was always creating situations which made them fight, deliberately.

4. You grew up in a very unique position. Have you ever been able to think about how that made you different from most other people?

Well, I don't know. There was a very strict atmosphere in that we were not allowed to realize that we were something different from another person.

Friday was our holiday. Friday we had to sweep the floors with our own jaru [broom], we had to make our own beds and doing the beds did not mean like doing the beds in the Western countries, tucking things in. We slept outside. It mean rolling up the gaddas, and taking the bedding where it should be. We had to do our own shoes. We had to cook. She [Sarkar Amman] came and inspected. Even the bathrooms we had to wash. That was also the day for sewing lessons. The bandmaster came and taught the harmonium. Then the sitar master. It was supposed to be our holiday, but we were at it all the time.

We were not allowed to feel that we were in any way different to other people, and we girls were not allowed to feel any inferiority on account of our sex. Everything was equal. We had all the freedom that a boy had, we could ride, climb trees, play any game we chose to play, hockey, football, tennis, anything. There were no restrictions. I think there was a lot of British influence in it. The Political-Agent, the I.G. [Inspector-General] Police, were English, our Governesses were Englishwomen. It was all very broad-minded.

I learned to drive when I was eight. I couldn't reach the pedals. I had ten cushions behind and under me. Cars in those days used to be heavy. My grandmother used a Diamler. I preferred the forty or fifty horsepower Rolls-Royce. I mean, it had a huge radiator, huge bonnets. The cars couldn't be turned in small place. My uncles used to get hysterical about it and say our mothers life is very valuable and you shouldn't be doing all this, but my grandmother took no notice. She said you take care of your own children.

She trusted you at the wheel of the car?

Yes, after it was discovered that I had been driving, there was a little fuss about it but then my grandmother said why not, if she can drive, she can drive, and she is going to drive me. Every morning it was her routine that the car used to arrive, this huge black Diamler. The driver would be there, but I used to drive wherever she wanted to go. Now there were not five miles of pukka [paved] roads in Bhopal in those days they were all kucha [dirt] roads. Naturally, I couldn't control the car so well and I was always going into some ditch or something.

My uncles had a different attitude. They had sons, they didn't do anything. They didn't ride, they didn't play hockey, my own cousins. They were brought up like Princes, we were brought up like ordinary people. You see, my father was not in the line of succession. After the two eldest sons died, then he came in. For the first ten years, we were ordinary people except that we were living and being brought up by my grandmother, who was the ruler.

Were there any women you looked up to at that time?

There were none, except perhaps the Maharani of Cooch Behar [another Princely State] who was a very sporting lady, she used to ride and hunt and play tennis and all that, because the Hindu ladies also observed purdah and she didn't. So I admired her a lot.

5. What were Sarkar Amman's qualities?

She was a great administrator, a very good ruler. Qualities which I resented the most was the very strict atmosphere that we had to live under. But she was a great lady.

All she wanted was to have a proper balance between the West and the East, between Islam and between the Western freedoms. And I think she achieved her objective, as far as I am concerned. I am not narrow-minded. At the same time I perform my religious duties. That is all due to Sarkar Amman. Whatever good that you can see in me, my thinking, my actions, my activities, are all due to the early influence of Sarkar Amman.

I am very grateful to her, although then I used to resent it, and I used to feel very hurt and be angry with my grandmother for being so harsh with me, but now I realize what a big favor she has done to me.

How were you taught to administer Bhopal State?

Thoroughly democratically, by meeting the people. We were driving about all over the place without whistles and guards, people could easily approach us.

The first woman ruler, Nawab Qudsia Begum, had a routine every evening after asr [evening] prayers. She would sit under that khirni tree, which is still in Bhopal today, in front of her palace. She would meet the people and allow them the opportunity to let her know what was happening. No one was stopped. Her daughter, Nawab Sikander Begum, and Nawab Qudsia Begum, they used to go out some nights, they would dress simply, they went around places, listening to what people thought of them. They had a password to reenter the palace.

One night Nawab Sikander Begum forgot the password. It was early hours in the morning and she came dressed like a beggar woman. She told the security guard to let her in. He said 'ja, ja, burri, tu qidar jarahee ho iss waqt?" [Go away, old lady, where are you going at this time?] She argued and argued, but he would have nothing of it. He didn't recognize her. He made her sit in the porch. When day broke and the officers and people came and she was recognized, people though that his poor man will be sent to jail or his head would be cut off.

It is said that he came trembling. And his officer even said "Tum nay kya kiya, tum Sarkar ko naheen paichantay?" [What have you done? You didn't recognize Sarkar?] He said how can I recognize Sarkar when she is dressed like a beggar and has a bowl in her hand?

She didn't observe purdah. Never. Anyway, this person arrived at the darbar trembling and thinking that something dreadul is going to happen too him.

She put on a very stern look and said "What happened last night? Why did you not let me in?"

"Your Highness, you didn't know the password, I was on duty and I didn't recognize you."

He got a jagir [a land grant] which his descendants still enjoy, and he was thoroughly rewarded and she told him that he had done his duty very well and that she was very satisfied and she hoped that he would do the same thing again. You see, these are the things that matter.

You grew up with a right to question anyone, anything.

It sort of develops into a kind of self-respect and independence. I may not be right, but I have a right to think what I want to think. I may not be able to convince you, but still I have the right to have an opinion.

The British

6. What was your first visit to England like [in 1926]?

[Sarkar Amman had gone to Britain to plead that her third son, Prince Hamidullah, be made the heir apparent after the death of her first two sons, not the eldest son of the first son, as was British law. Her case had been rejected in India, and then by the highest tribunal, the Privy Council, in London. In her memoirs, Princess Abida describes how Sarkar Amman managed to get a final meeting with the King, who refused to overturn the Privy Council's decision until she fainted in front of him, which so alarmed the King that he reversed the decision.]

When we reached - where was it, Dover, I can't remember exactly where we disembarked - for the first time I saw movie cameras and still cameras and photographers, all these people ganged up together. The band and some British officials dressed in their formal dresses were standing and waiting for us to arrive.

My father was very proud of his service with the Prince of Wales as his ADC [aide-de-camp] and he had arranged everything on similar lines, with ADCs, with uniforms and all that with which we were not very familiar. Sarkar Amman was very, very simple, she didn't believe in this show. There were six ADCs, two in the front and four in the back. We were supposed to first collect on the deck and proceed towards the crowd that was waiting to receive us.

The procession started. We had taken a few steps when suddenly Sarkar Amman turned around to Rahmanullah Khan. Now Rahmanullah Khan didn't know a word of English, he was the kamdar [ valet ] of my father who was stuffed into an ADCs uniform, with tight trousers all white and blue and gold.

Sarkar Amman turned around and said: "Meera aachaar kahan hain?" Where are my aachaars [pickles]? So Rahmanullah Khan, who was absolutely scared of Sarkar Amman like everyone else was, got quite nervous. He said Sarkar, they are quite safe, they are following us. She said no, I said that they would have to go in my car.

My father got embarrassed. The procession had stopped. The bandmaster was standing with his hands raised up with the baton waiting for us to reach a certain specified spot where the Bhopal national anthem would be played, and the guns would start booming. We had stopped in the middle of it.

My father came rushing up and broke the ADC line and everything and said "Sarkar, Sarkar it is very embarrassing. Please proceed and your aachaars will be delivered with the private secretary Mr. Wali Mohammad."

Sarkar would have nothing of it. She said "Naheen, aachaar meeray sath jaingay." [They will go in my car.] So my father turned around to Rahmanullah Khan and said for God's sake get them somehow from the cabin. Rahmanullah Khan ran down to the cabin, and caught hold of the First Steward and asked him to pick up the box of aachaars. When the steward picked it up, he naturally turned it upside down and put it on is head and turned to walk behind Rahmanullah Khan to deliver them. All this was being filmed by the British photographers.

The boxes with aachaars arrived and the procession started moving again.

We had moved two or three steps more when the steward felt something trickling down his face. He touched it and he smelt it and he turned around to Rahmanullah Khan and he said "What it is?"

Rahmanullah Khan, realized that the aachaar box had been turned upside down and some of the aachaar oils were trickling down his beautiful white uniform was all soiled red and yellow with all the aachaar masalas [spices] and everything trickling down and the special smell of aachaars with which the steward was not - he was a European, he was not at all familiar with this.

And Rahmanullah Khan did not know what to say because he didn't know English. He started to laugh.

This steward thought that this is not a very good joke. He thought he was laughing at him. So he got so angry that he threw the box on the deck and gave it a good hefty kick. The box started rolling down the gangway, and Sarkar Amman stood there absolutely aghast that all her beautiful aachaars, and the box and everything was rolling in front of her and eventually he kicked it into the sea. And that was the end of the aachaars.

So we still had to travel, but without the aachaars. I think my father was most disturbed with this incident, because he thought all of his beautiful show with his ADCs and all that had been destroyed.

What were your first impressions of England?

I loved it, I loved England. Everything was so new. We first stayed at 29 Portman Square. It was a very nice house. It was the first time that we had real freedom. Sarkar Amman used to be very strict in Bhopal. Here probably she was too preoccupied. We could sneak out to the cinemas, which were not allowed in Bhopal.

7. Do you remember the first movie that you saw in England?

I think it might have been Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush.

Lady Willingdon, the wife of the first Governor of Bombay, even managed to persuade Sarkar Amman to watch Charlie Chaplin, where there were no love scenes and nothing that would shock her or be against her religious sentiments. Lady Willingdon could bully Sarkar Amman into many things. She loved the film. I think she saw it twice.

8. Did Sarkar Amman get involved in politics like your father?

The ruling Princes were not allowed by the British Government to participate in any kind of Indian politics. We were not allowed to visit any other ruling state without the permission of the British Government. Our neighboring states like Indore and Gwalior could not be visited without permission. Sarkar Amman was a very honest person, so she wouldn't have cheated. We stayed within our state, and we visited Bombay, Calcutta and the British areas, but not Indian states.

My father was so keen on polo, he was one of the best polo players in India, he had a good team, so he went to play polo for the polo season: Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, these were the three main championships that he took part in. Sarkar Amman and all of us used to be there.

She used to enjoy polo?

Oh yes. I remember when the Prince of Wales was in Bhopal. Sarkar Amman watched the [polo] match, throughout, when he played. I think Sarkar Amman was very angry that the Prince lost. He was a guest. He should have been allowed to win, you know, things like that.

But she watched the polo match, and then the three of us [sisters] - we were small - - and we were presented to the Prince of Wales, and I was very disappointed that he only gave us one chocolate each. He picked up a chocolate from the table and gave one chocolate each. We were expecting to get a little more from the Prince of Wales.

He came actually to shoot tigers. Each and every member of his staff got a tiger or two, and the Prince of Wales didn't even get one, he didn't even see one. Just poor luck.

With the British, at a party, how did you think of yourself?

I considered myself as a Bhopali. Attached to the State, the responsibility of the State. The British were not felt as much because we were independent, we made our own rules, our own laws, our own armies, we had our own high courts and everything, so there was a sort of a relationship but there was no compulsion, no force. I never became the ruler but I know my father and all these, they could do what they liked in the state whether it was good, bad or indifferent just as in any other state.

9. How racist were the British?

Yes they were, they were rather stupid in that sense. They segregated and created a lot of bad feelings. But they were not so particular with the ruling class. For instance the Aga Khan, he went to all the white man's clubs and all that. I remember when the British were becoming more sensible [in the 1930's], they were not using all these things although the laws existed. They were not applied. For instance I went to Calcutta not knowing that there were clubs where black people like us were not admitted.

I walked into the Saturday Club and said I want to become a member. They were shocked. When the Club people told me that I couldn't become a member because I was black, I was shocked. What nonsense. By then these things were kept at a very low level and you only came across them by accidents like this. Maybe if I had gone through the proper channels I would never have discovered this law. Maybe they would have accepted me like they accepted many others. They were sort of slowly getting more sensible.

10. Did you ever go into purdah [wear a veil]?

When we arrived in Bombay [in 1926, upon returning from England, there was a lot of protocol and all that because it was a new ruler arriving [Princess Abida's father, Nawab Hamidullah Khan, in whose favor Sarkar Amman had just abdicated].

We three girls, my mother and my grandmother, we had to get ready to walk in a sort of a procession down the gangway. Suddenly my grandmother declared as I was an adult now - I was thirteen - and I had to go into purdah [wear a veil]. That was a shock. To emphasize this, she made me wear my mother's burqah [full veil], and accompany her in this procession.

I have never been through a great agony in my life. I had to put on the burqah and I had to follow my mother and my grandmother in the procession and get down in Bombay.

How did you get out?

I was not kept in purdah for very long. I remember the first Darbar I attended was under the burqah, because by then I had become the heir apparent. But after a few days I couldn't stand it. I started revolting. I started cheating. Whenever my grandmother was not around I used to take the opportunity to go out, play polo, riding, whatever I had been used to doing.

One fine day my grandmother was driving to some place and I was driving my own car without burqah or anything after a polo game. She got hysterical. What a tantrum she went into. She started crying and screaming. She sent for my father.

At that time she also felt that because she was no longer the ruler, her orders were not being followed. My father came down and after several days my father was able to get around her and said that he preferred his daughters to remain out of purdah and that my grandmother should also give purdah. And she also gave it up. The excuse she found was that she was now beyond the age where purdah was necessary for her. Then my mother was released from purdah. Before that I used to have to be the hostess and sit with the Viceroy and attend and all the lunches and dinners. But after a couple of years she took it off and I was very happy I was relieved of this. I hated all these official functions, bows and all these protocols, I couldn't stand it. I was very happy.

The Road to Independence

11. Did you go with your grandmother to the Round Table Conference in 1930?

No, my grandmother had died. When the Round Table conference started my father was the ruler and he was there in his own rights.

I remember having met Mr. Motilal Nehru whom I fell in love with immediately. He was such a sweet person and he was also going to the Round Table Conference. I remember meeting nearly all the people.

The only person that was untouchable was Mr. Jinnah and his sister, Miss Jinnah. They were so austere that I never had the courage to go and talk to him.

The atmosphere was very friendly. There was no sort of prejudice, there was no bias.

Was there a lot of hope that solution to the Hindu-Muslim problem could be found at the conference?

There was quite a lot of hope in that period. In fact, people didn't think that the British would ever leave. They though some sort of a formula would be found to give representation to Hindus and Muslims which would satisfy everyone. The British would still say on and sort of supervise the whole thing, conducting and teaching democracy. Muslims and Hindus have never had democracy. It's no use pretending. They have never had any experience of democracy. The only experience they had was the few years when the British started giving representation to the common people.

12. You once said you didn't trust Mr. Gandhi. Why?

I don't know why. Certain things happen to me instinctively. I can't explain them. There are certain people I take to immediately, and certain people that I become allergic to on first sight. And one of them, unfortunately, was Mr. Gandhi.

I didn't take to Mr. Gandhi. I thought he was not sincere with the Muslims. Lots of people don't agree with me, most people don't agree with me, but that is my own reaction. I never took him to be serious about what he said for the Muslims.

I met Mr. Gandhi on the ship going for the Round Table Conference. The whole 3rd class deck was cleared because Mr. Gandhi was traveling 3rd class. The 3rd class passengers were all in the hold with small stoves, cooking their food in there, where they had no fresh air and no fans. The heat of the Red Sea in that period could have killed anyone on the top deck. And there was Mr. Gandhi sitting with his goat and there were these photographs and journalists and newspaper people taking photographs, showing Mr. Gandhi traveling to England 3rd class. I thought why couldn't Mr. Gandhi share the deck with them? Why was his goat so important? Things like that I couldn't swallow.

Did you meet Patel? [Sardar Villabhbhai Patel, with Gandhi and Nehru one of the main Congress Party leaders]?

I am an admirer of his. He was prejudiced, but he did what he said. He was a good administrator. I don't like these politicians - you know, they make promises which they never intend to fulfill. Mr. Patel may have been very much against the Muslims, but at least you knew where you stood with him. I liked Motilal Nehru too, I just liked him. I liked Mrs. Naidu too. But Jawaharlal Nehru [Motilal Nehru's son], I never understood. His charm never did affect me.

13. If Jinnah had died in 1946, would there have been a Pakistan?

I don't think there would have been a division. There wouldn't have been a Pakistan. Because you see, he was so terribly honest, that he could stand on his demands.

Other people were not honest. Most politicians are not honest at all. Their word is not to be believed. But Mr. Jinnah said what he meant. He was very honest, very straight.

But there was a big age gap between Mr. Jinnah and me, he was much older than my father even. When he came to Bhopal he came on business, once or twice he came for a case he was fighting before he was the leader for Pakistan. I got scared of him. He wasn't a person that you could talk to or that you could become free with. He sort of kept you a distance.

When we were on the boat together going to the Round Table Conference, Mrs. Naidu was very pleasant. The contrast between Mr. Jinnah and her, I mean there was this age difference between her and us also. But she was quite different, very jolly, happy. I felt scared of him.

14. Some say Sarojini Naidu was in love with Jinnah. She once sent him a picture in his family albums at the National Archives in Islamabad . . ..

Not at all. These people were advanced, progressive and they were in the company of men. Such gestures did not mean anything more than what is said.

She was a delightful person. My grandmother used to call Mrs. Naidu her daughter, she adopted her. Mrs. Naidu used to spend months in Bhopal, so we got to know her very well. She was a very charming, very sweet person, She was not at all the type of woman who would flirt and have eyes on Mr. Jinnah or anything. I don't think so.

15. What did you think of Fatima Jinnah [Mr. Jinnah's sister and closest associate]?

She was very much like her brother. That is why I went rushing around campaigning for her when she stood for elections against [Pakistani President and General] Ayub Khan [in 1965]. I became very friendly and was very close to her. People say why? I said I was looking for an honest person, someone I could trust.

She was very honest. She was a very courageous lady. Our functions were at night. After Miss Jinnah arrived, five minutes later the lights would be cut off off, the shamiana [tent] ropes cut, stones would come in from all sides. That was a daily business. But would that lady budge from her seat? The whole place would be empty and only Miss Jinnah would be sitting there. The other leaders surrounding Miss Jinnah, they all ran, leaving her there. I admired her for that. She used to say, "Yahaan maro, main naheen bhagti houn." [Throw them here, I am not moving]. An old lady at her age showing so much courage. I saw it with my own eyes. How could I not admire her? People like that, it is an honor to follow.

But she would not have been successful. If she had won, she would not have been successful with the administration because they were all against her, because she was a woman. Those that are fighting with her were secretly against her.

16. Why did Pakistan come to be in the first place? [In 1947, British India was divided into two countries, India and Pakistan. The eastern half of Pakistan became a third country, Bangladesh, in 1971.]

Pakistan came into being because of the prejudices of the majority community [the Hindus, the religion of the vast majority of people in British India]. When you have a democracy which is normal you don't think on linguistic lines, and ethnic lines and religious lines and all these things, you just think about a secular democracy and everyone there is equal or should be equal. Whereas when you think of democracy which is based upon some religious belief, it is a negation of democracy. Democracy has to be secular or not at all.

What do you mean by the prejudices of the majority community?

Well, if you want to be fair, you have to go further back and find out what the Muslims did and see how the Muslims behaved. After all they were foreigners, they were conquerors. They didn't belong to this country, they came as foreigners or as conquerors. They destroyed their [Hindu] temples, they took all their wealth. Now that leaves a wound. If the Hindus couldn't retaliate then, or didn't realize what was happening, or didn't have the means to retaliate, that doesn't mean that they didn't feel it.

If the Hindus had been a little more patient, a little more diplomatic and not hurried with all those Hindu-oriented reforms [when took over a number of State Governments between 1937-39 after limited elections]. When the British were there was no Muslim-Hindu feeling, there was in some places, but the educated class they didn't think in terms of Hindus and Muslims, they met each other, there were intermarriages. It is Congress which started it. By making laws and showing prejudice against the Muslim [provincial] governments. And as soon as [the demand for an independent Muslim state of] Pakistan was agreed upon, there was another change.

To me it seems that the wounds that were hidden surfaced by the demand for Pakistan [1940]. I don't blame them. I would hate anyone to divide my country. We lived there, we stayed here for hundreds and thousands of years, then we start dividing the country.

The Hindus obviously didn't want their country divided, and the Muslims insisted on dividing it - in a nutshell.

When did you feel that Pakistan was inevitable?

It came as a big, and I must say very welcome surprise. It was I think during 1945 that I started feeling that Pakistan was a reality. Because of what we read in the papers, what the Viceroy said, what Pandit Nehru and Gandhi and all these people said. I thought that now Pakistan has become a reality and I was absolutely thrilled and overjoyed.


Because I too felt the prejudice. For instance, in my own state, motoring along kucha [dirt] roads for purposes of shikaar [hunting], you get two high ghias, and there is a narrow strip of a road on which you travel in your car, and then you suddenly find that you are behind a bhel ghari, or bullock cart. Now for a bullock cart to climb up these mounds of earth is not difficult, and it was usually done when a car was behind a bullock cart. But now [in 1945] they started making us drive for miles and miles without giving way, and saying these are Muslims. These people who used to come rushing to make darshan [blessing] because royalty was among them, these people were treating us that way.

Why to live in a country where we were not wanted? The remarks that came - all of a sudden they started saying about my father Hamidullah Khan Murdabad [Death to Hamidullah Khan].

I felt very hurt that Bhopal State existed for 300 years and there was not single riot, not a single complaint against any ruler [about Hindu-Muslim issues]. But then they started screaming against us. Why? Just because we were Muslims.

Everyone thought Bhopal was the only place that could provide any protection for them. We had a prisoner-of-war camp that was set up for Italian prisoners during the Second World War; thirty thousand prisoners were held in Bhopal. That provided a very convenient shelter for the refugees now streaming into Bhopal. There were trainloads of people.

I remember one incident, that upset me a lot. That was a telegram from the Indian Government informing the Bhopal Government that a train would start coming from somewhere and be bringing in so many Muslim refugees.

Each time we had this type of information, many people, including Hindus, all took huge amounts of food [to them]. People who had relatives in Bhopal kept their own relations. Others who had no one went to the prisoner-of-war camp. It was part of my duty to be present at the railway station when these people arrived.

One of these trains that arrived, after we were warned by the Indian government, had all the people dead. When the compartments were open, they were all dead. Apparently the police or security forces, whoever they were, appointed by the Indian Government, they had turned against them and killed them all.

Whom to trust? What was there to live for? And the number of women that were raped. The number of women that came without their breasts, their ears cut off, that was not a pretty sight. I could not take it anymore. I thought that I had had enough, that I am going. That was the most awful thing that I ever saw. That pushed me out, I thought I had had enough. What was there to live for?

17. What was changing the atmosphere?

Pakistan. The demand for Pakistan, the working for Pakistan, the meetings for Pakistan, the resentment against Pakistan.

Why did your father work for Pakistan?

Because he realized and most of the Muslim leaders realized that it would not be possible to get along with the Hindus anymore. The whole atmosphere had changed. The whole outlook changed. In the end, no one took Gandhi seriously when he preached secularism.

How did the Muslim leaders look towards Mr. Jinnah?

They worshipped him. He was promising a sovereign independent free country and that is what attracted them. He was very honest and he was very determined. Once he said something and he made up his mind about something you couldn't make him change. That gave them the confidence. And what they wanted most was not to be ruled by the Hindus.

It was further supported by the attitude of the Congress. When the time came for Congress to show some sort of an understanding, they became unfair. I don't know why. It's just a mentality of a person or a community that makes you intolerant towards others when you get power. They just couldn't digest their power. It was too much. They wanted to show off. And that upset the minority community.

18. Did the British get scared at the end?

I think Mountbatten was not the right Viceroy for that period. [Viceroy] Wavell [1940-16] never got scared, [Field-Marshall] Auchinleck [Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army] was not scared. I'd rather have had Wavell. At least he was trying to be fair. Mountbatten I don't know, I've never understood his logic.

Why was Mountbatten not the right man for the job?

I think he did a very, very prejudiced job. It was a matter that concerned millions and millions of people. It needed proper thinking out. I mean, you couldn't think out all this within three months. Pakistan was not a reality, Pakistan was a dream.Within a very short period you had to chalk out all the details, but there was not time for it. Mountbatten insisted on take it or leave it. So Mr. Jinnah had to take it. I mean he was given no alternative. They should have allowed some time, instead of causing all that massacre, bloodshed and all that. Lots of territories went unjustly to India, all because of Mountbatten.

What was his personality like?

He was a very good looking, very impressive sort of an officer, but beyond that I didn't go near enough. I was too proud. In the first place, he was too conceited. In the second place he though that every woman who set eyes on him fell in love with him, and I wasn't that kind, I wasn't going to give him that satisfaction, so I just ignored him.

He was vindictive. Jinnah couldn't stand him. And Mountbatten couldn't stand Jinnah.

19. You stayed in Bhopal after 1947?

I stayed in Bhopal because I was President of the Cabinet for 12 or 13 years and I had to hand over to someone. I couldn't just walk out.

But you had decided to leave at that point?

Yes, that was a silent decision. That I had taken when I had seen all these prejudices, these petty mindedness, I thought I can't stick it.

I left once the State was handed over [by her father, following popular protests, to the Indian Government, in June 1949]. A Chief Commissioner came, put the Indian flag up, and everything was handed over to him. I quietly disappeared. Not openly. I would have been stuck. The Mir of Hyderabad [another Muslim Ruler of a Hindu majority state], he was arrested at the airport or something.

I was the heir apparent. Pakistan didn't utilize anything, they could have used people like me for propaganda and things like that. Nothing. They were too busy. It was a big slap on the face of the Indian government. The only heir apparent that left. Left everything. Knowing it would be declared evacuee property, everything would be lost.

I didn't tell my father, I didn't tell anyone. I was very cunning, I planned far ahead. First I got my son out, had him safely in England. Then I made a first attempt to come [in January, 1949], but that very day Mr. Jinnah died.

It was during my son's school holidays. He has always been a great newspaper reader. Early in morning, I was going to the Pakistan Embassy to ask for a passport. I was all dressed up and all that, but as I was leaving he said where are you going, Mr. Jinnah is dead. So it turned into a condolence visit.

Then I got frantic telegrams from Bhopal to return immediately, because my father was supposed to replace Mr. Jinnah in Pakistan and I was supposed to replace my father in Bhopal. I was a little dazed. Why did Mr. Jinnah have to die the day I was supposed to go to Pakistan?

Before coming here I had had Mr. Jinnah sounded as to whether he agreed. He was very happy. That was my main security. His words were we'll have someone to face Mrs. Pandit [Jawaharlal Nehru's sister, then India's Ambassador to the UN]. I felt that Mr. Jinnah was my biggest support. Then he died, and I had to return to Bhopal. But still I didn't tell anyone, marked time until the next summer holidays, then again went to England with only my suitcases.

20. Did you expect Pakistan to be a utopia?

Yes, I had very high hopes for Pakistan. But I am afraid nothing has come true. I had very high hopes. We did come across quite a few Muslims who were excellent administrators, excellent people, like Jinnah, Sir Ross Masud. There was no reason to believe that we would disintegrate and flop like this.

I automatically thought that Bhopal was a little Pakistan, and Pakistan would be something like Bhopal. After all, we were Muslim rulers. We didn't have any prejudices against anyone, up to this day that atmosphere still prevails.

Pakistan is not what I expected, or what many of us had expected it to be. We didn't expect all this corruption and all this chaos. We were expecting democracy. But if democracy wasn't functioning quite properly, they needn't have become so corrupt. There is no excuse for that. They are getting worse and worse instead of improving anywhere.

Mr. Jinnah was not an Islamic theologian and he didn't preach it. The dialog between God and Satan in the Quran is something most beautiful. The way Satan refuses, and the way God gives in and says all right, have your way. I find it very beautiful, and I find it very secular and very democratic. All right, you have your go. In the end we will see who wins. But God was powerful enough to have annihilated Satan at that very moment and not have given him this opportunity. So who am I or you or any other human being to force our will on others? When God doesn't, then who is anyone else? That is my idea of secularism, a secular democracy.

What do you think you left behind in India?

I think the most valuable thing I left behind in India was the atmosphere of freedom, of justice, fairness, tolerance.

But you left India because of there was intolerance towards Muslims.

It had started, it had started, but it wasn't even at the level it is today. It's been developing. Because there is no controlling factor. The leaders can't or don't want to control it.

What have you gained in Pakistan?

Not I have gained, but my son has. That is ultimately what brought me to Pakistan, his future. I saw that there was no future for a Muslim in India, and a Muslim Prince at that.

How do you think the world has changed since you left Bhopal?

I think everywhere it has deteriorated. Even England is not the same England. The values, the attitude, the culture, people are not the same. People have become vulgar robots, only after money.

But in those days people were after money too.

Not quite so brazenly. Everyone needs money, but not at the cost of your conscience, at and the cost of your principles, at the cost of other people. That was not the case then.

© Harappa 1997-2008