Text of Interview, May 19, 1990|
The excerpts below are from a two hour interview of Ghani Khan at Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, NWFP by site producer Omar Khan. Ghani Khan had recently been shown on Pakistani television for the first time. He was about to be discharged after a minor ailment. The text below runs 18 pages, and can be printed from within your browser.
1. Azad School, Utmanzai
Question (Omar Khan, no relation): Where did you grow up?
Answer (Ghani Khan): I was born 1913, 14 or 15. [I went to school] here in Utmanzai, this little, wretched village.
Father had made a school here [around 1928]. A Khan [landlord] had given his house, one that he had had for his own wives. Two rooms for one [wife], two rooms for another. He gave that house for a high school to be established. And we were brought into it from Peshawar, I and my younger brother [Wali] and later the little one [Ali] too. Father said that people will say he built a wretched school if he puts his sons in a good school. That is why we went to this rotten school. What a horrible little school.
Q: Tell me about it.
A: Well, we were boarders and the boarding house charges were 3 Rupees a month. Now for 3 Rupees/month, what could they give us? What could they give us, even in those cheap days? The boys used to steal, little pieces of left-over bread from their dinner for their breakfast because we got only tea, 2 cups of tea. And they used to be caned for it. We had a chaukidar [guard] and the woman who used to cook the bread. They had nothing to eat. They used to eat the leftovers.
So these boys tried all sorts of tricks, they would have little strings around them with fishhooks on them and they would hang bread under their shirts. It was altogether I think very poor pay for most teachers. If they could not get a job as a munshi [in the courts] they would come to school for 15 or 16 or 20 Rupees a month. The headmaster was an idealist of course in the Khilafat Movement [1919-1920]. He had he left Aligarh [Muslim University] and had an M.A. He was the son of a Khan of Bannu [District in NWFP]. They were two brothers. They were alright, but the rest, we had mullahs and this religious education. There was no science because they could not afford it. And then there was my fathers usual economy. I mean, he used to sit on the ground!
The other day my grandson took me to his school and asked me to look at their hostel. They had a very beautiful bed and a cupboard. On top of the bed and at their feet they had a desk where they studied. On top of the desk there was a little bookcase and a couple of drawers and chairs.
I told him you know how we used to study at your age? We used to sit on a mat and the mullahs used to sit on the ground on a dhurrie [woven carpet] with a danda [stick], and that was all. So it was a wretched school. And our boarding house, we were boarders. It used to be a classroom in the daytime, and in the evening we used to roll up the mats. Found lots of scorpions under it. And then we used to put out beds like this [charpais], and at night it would become a boarding house. There were no bathrooms, at night we had to go outside. It was a wretched place.
2. The Haji of Turangzai
Q: Was this the first school your father founded?
A: No. Before this they had founded about 30 or 40 schools with the Haji of Turangzai.
There was a crowd of them, and the Haji of Turangzai was one of them, my father was one of them, they were mostly priests [mullahs]. And they said that we have to educate the children to be anti-British from childhood. In school they used to make us read ... Ye Badsha Hamara [this King of Ours, a pro-British chant], this sort of thing. They said that from childhood they [the British] teach them loyalty and everything. But we should make a school where we can produce revolutionaries and workers. They made this one big school in our village and little schools here and there and everywhere, usually in the mosques. And the British attacked them, so my father and the Haji of Turangzai, everybody ran away [to the tribal areas of NWFP, outside British jurisdiction].
The Haji of Turangzai was a very handsome man. There was a Pir [holy man] who had died in the tribal territory, and as usual in his old age he had taken a beautiful young girl, and he died, of it I suppose. So then he left this Sajjada [inherited landed estates belonging to a holy man], his whole Pirhood and everything, to this beautiful young widow. And there arrived the Haji of Turangzai. They were related to us. He was a dacoit and that sort of thing in those days. Very violent as it was usual in those days with Hashtnagar Khans at that age. These people had nowhere to stay, these political refugees. So they told Haji Sahib to marry the girl.
She fell in love with him as soon as she saw him. They said become a Pir here and we will have at least somewhere we can stay. So Haji Sahib married her. Then he really gave up all the evil deeds when he saw all these people coming and kissing his hand and feet and offering him gifts. He went to Mecca, and became a Haji, and became famous as the Haji of Turangzai.
Everytime we started a civil disobedience or something here against the British, he would tell the Mohmand tribesmen whose Pir he was, "Come on, the doors of heaven are open!" And they would come and start shooting in all this area. And then the Afridis [in Khyber District] might also get infected and they would start shooting, popping here and there.
With him he [Father] made a school. Then the British told my grandfather [Behram Khan] that we won't put your son in prison if you bring him back. Do not let him stay with the Haji of Turangzai [they said] because it might lead to complications later on. We were a big tribe, and we are quite an influential family. So my grandfather went and brought my father back.
My grandfather was very fond of the English, he was great friends with them. He used to forget their names you know, but never mind. It was a great joke in [British] Government circles [in Peshawar] then to say Khan Kaka, what is my name? He would say the name of some Englishman who had died 50 years ago!
3. Why Red Shirts?
Q: How did you get the name Red Shirts?
Red Shirts because in our village they had this big tanning industry. They tanned leather for soles for these Pathan shoes which were exported to Afghanistan and Kandahar. It was a huge industry. Now there are no tanneries.
The used the tannin water they poured [from working with skins]. The skins, they used to sew them up and they used to hang them from these huge trees, which were put there on the edge of this tank. These skins used to hang all year around, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12. The servants used to pour tannin water into them, outside and inside. The tannin water was there all the time.
So these fellows were asked to dip their clothes into the tannin water tank and get free color. They got a deep red sort of color. Brown red. This is how people began to call them Red Shirts.
After that of course no one put theirs into the tannin tank. They used to get a little bit of color from the bazaar, and color them red.
4. Joining Gandhi
Q: Had your father met Gandhi and gotten into non-violence by this time, 1928 or 1929?
A: No, he did not meet him then. The first agitation they started was to have the right to choose their members for the District Board [of Education]. They were also nominated. They wanted they should be given the vote for the District Board. They were arrested [in 1928].
Gandhijis story starts somewhere around 1929, 1930. Father was in jail and they began to shoot these people, everywhere people began to agitate. Like the Kissa Khani [Bazaar Massacre in Peshawar of April 23 1930]. Father was there. There were others where he was not there, in Thucker and Utmanzai and in Waziristan [District] they killed 60 or 70 people. A lot of operations.
[During these operations] our village was surrounded, for a month you could not get out of it, you could not get into it. The animals were starving, because our fields were out [of commission]. And raiding and attacking people, there were hellish experiences and we had no law here. So two of my fathers [jailed] friends dressed themselves as donkey drivers, because there was some repair work going on in the jail, they escaped with these bricklayers donkeys and told father that these English are just finishing us off, no news is coming. There is no one to help us, there is no news about it in the Indian newspapers. God knows when they are going to stop. It does not look like they are going to stop.
So, Father said go to all the big Muslims in India, there are so many of them. Go to Bhopal and Rampur, they are Pathan rulers, and see all the big people among the Muslims, and tell them what is happening. Even if for heavens sake if you cannot do anything, at least shout about it. They went all over India and nobody agreed [to help them].
The only person who said yes was Gandhiji. But he said you must become affiliated with the Congress. I do not want you to become submerged in the Congress, but you must become affiliated so I have an excuse [to support you]. Then I will send you an Inquiry Committee, I will do propaganda for you all over the world. So they came and told Father. He said Good Lord, we can join the devil provided this shooting stops. Tell him we will join the Congress. So Gandhiji sent Patel over here, the big Patel Committee Inquiry Report [was produced]. He [Sardar Patel] was not allowed into the Frontier so he stayed on that side of the Indus [in Punjab].
But we used to send him people [who had been arrested by the colonial authorities], actually people whom they had castrated. All sorts of things, people castrated, horrible, you would not believe that a civilized nation could do things like that.
5. British Castrations
Q: What did they do?
A: Castrated people, with this castrating machine from the veterinary hospital. Eight people have medical certificates from the civil surgeon here. That they were absolutely castrated. Because the Pathans would not stop, even if they kept on beating them, kept on shooting at them all over [the province].
What was it all over? We wanted to stop the wine shops. We said we do not want whisky in our village. We do not like it. It is against our religion and our boys should not get used to drinking it. Stop this shop. That was all.
So, thats how father joined Gandhi. As soon as he joined Gandhi the Government released him and all of them [because of the propaganda and publicity they got].
6. Birla House
Gandhiji was staying at Wardah at Birlas place. He [Birla] was a multi-millionaire, but also a great idealist and a great patriot. He built a great house there for Gandhiji. I went and stayed there for a couple of months too. Uncle [Dr. Khan Sahib, brother of Ghaffar Khan, Chief Minister of NWFP in 1936] used to stay there. Father would stay with Gandhiji in Sevagram, a couple of miles away.
There were no roads then, just a bullock track. He stayed with him and then they grew to like one another. Gandhiji used to say his Prarthana [prayer] and father used to say his prayers. Then in the prarthana sometimes they would have something from the Veda or one of the Hindu holy books, and then something from the Quran, this sort of thing used to go on. Thats how he got to know Gandhiji and they grew to like one another. He was very fond of Baba [Father] and Baba was very fond of him.
Q: What did he like about Gandhi?
A: Because he said he is so brave. Gandhiji was absolutely a fearless person. And he was so simple. He had nothing. He had no result, position or anything. If you gave him a present, he would give it to somebody else. What did he leave behind? A pair of slippers, a pair of glasses and a one dollar watch. And the dhotis that he had done [washed] himself. And people used to give him lakhs, crores [hundreds of thousands and tens of millions] of rupees .
Once we were sitting with him in Birla house, my brother Wali and I, we were small. One of the Bombay people came out and he had two or three of these wretched fellows with him, they came bending from the verandah. This fellow behind them was Patel - not [Sardar] Patel of the Working Committee of the Congress - but the Chief Congress leader of Bombay.
He was going like this [showing a five with his hands] to Gandhiji. So Gandhiji said kya hai [how much] when they bowed and touched his feet and all that. They said: Teen lakh rupiah Harijan Fund kay leay laiya hai. [We have brought 300,000 Rupees for the Untouchable Fund]. They had heard that Gandhiji was collecting money for the Harijan Fund.
He looked at them and he had seen Patel give him five, so he said bhai, ye tora, tora hai, aur lao. [this is too little, bring more]. Kitna, kitna, [How much] they said? Panch lakh lao. [Bring 500,000]. They said acha hazoor, kal, kal [fine Sir, tomorrow]. And the next morning they came and gave two lakhs more.
Once I was in Wardah when they were deciding whether to take part in the elections or not, and then they said yes. And they sent Sardar Patel to Bombay and said bring some money for the election fund. And in two days he returned with 8 million. In those days 8 million was 8 million. In two days!
The average member could get elected comfortably for 4 or 5 thousand rupees to the Provincial Assembly. Everything was cheap, petrol was cheap, cars were cheap. All you had to do was supply transport to some of your voters, and you may not have had to do that either. So that is what he liked about Bapu [Gandhi]. Thats what we all liked.
7. Hunting and Marriage
In those days I was [working] in the sugar mill, and I had one hobby. I was a big game hunter in those days. All those animals, I feel so sorry now.
Q: You used to be a hunter?
A: Yes, a big game hunter, tiger, panthers, deer, crocodiles I have killed about 40 or 50 of them. Then I got married, and I brought deer home, and my wife looked at it, and she was sick and sick, and she said, Ghani how could you, how could you?
She would not touch it, would not eat it, and I took my rifle and put it in a corner of the room and I have never shot an animal after that. I realized what a beast I had been, but there was nothing else to do. I would do my 8 hours in the mill and then get into the jungle and shoot something.
So I used to tell him [Gandhi] all these stories. Once, I went towards Nepal and I shot a huge spotted deer, a really huge one leading a group of 500 or 600 deer. Terrific. I got him tanned in Madras, a at special place taxidermy place. It had a huge black band on its back and white stomach.
I told Bapu - we used to call Gandhiji Bapu - look here, I want to give you something but you are not going to give it away. If you give it away ,I am not going to give it to you. So he said, lao [bring it]. I said you always give away everything, and I went to a lot of trouble. Bapu, I said, I went to Nepal and there were tigers all around at night. I was in a little bullock cart, and the tiger ran away, but I got the deer he was after. So I have the skin. I had seen these Indian sadhus in paintings, sitting on tiger skins, deer skins, so I thought Bapu would not mind.
It did not occur to me that he was non-violent and that skin was a terrible thing to him. So he said, lao, so I brought it, and there was Miss Slade over there, Admiral Slades daughter, she used to be called Mirabhai. And she said, oh, oh, oh [in disgust] when it was about 50 yards away from the cottage. So I said my dear Miss Slade, even a special dog could not smell it, it has been treated. So Gandhiji cackled - and she of course, she did not like me a bit, I used to give her cheek all the time.
I gave him this skin. I put it in front of his mantle in Sevagram. And after about half an hour these Birla brothers came, two or three brothers with some hangers on. And they are all Jains, they will not kill a mosquito even. Gandhiji said ao, ao, bhaito, bhaito, [come, sit down], Ghani is here. He even made them sit on the skin! Oh, he was a delightful old chap.
8. Cleaning Latrines
The first day when I went to Gandhiji she [Mirabhai] took me to the lavatory and said clean it up. So I said what the hell, I am not a sweeper, I beg you pardon Madam. Besides, I have not been near this blasted place, I go to the fields. Whoever has been there [to the latrines], get them to clean it up. Then she said you can not stay here, you can not stay in Sevagram if you can not clean this up. You have to do it for a week. I said, who in the devil told you I want to stay here. I do not want to stay here.
She said come on to Bapu. So I went to Bapu. I am boiling because she asked me to clean the lavatory. She of course was very angry because I was not agreeing with her. So she told Bapu the whole story, and I said what does she think I am, a bhangi [drug addict, as in sweeper]? I said, Bapu, I go out there into the fields, why should I clean other peoples dirt, they can clean it themselves. So he said alright, leave him to me, leave it, go away.
Father and he went together into the hut and discussed the rebellion. Then Father came and took me aside and told me you know, son, this is to bring humility into your spirit and to take away all these human poisons of pride and vanity from you. All these things.
I said no, I must stay with my pride and vanity, I am not, absolutely not [going to clean the latrines].
Then Gandhiji said alright, but you can not spend the night over here. But you must spend the whole day with me. For the night you can go to Wardah because it is against the rules of this ashram. Unless you clean the bathrooms for a week, you can not stay the night here.
That was very clever, the old boy was very clever. That was also a good way to get rid of unnecessary visitors. Because they all wanted to come and stay over there and they would not let him work. And Gandhiji used to clean once a week. One day I went and saw him. He had this cloth around his nose and mouth, and a girl was throwing water at the pot and he was cleaning it. It was nice, but I would not do it.
Once he was ill, so Jawaharlal [Nehrus] sister Nan, she had a daughter named Rita. So Rita was leaving him with her mother, after having come to ask about his health. She was a little child, about seven. Kiss Bapu, her mother told her. She said no, I am not going to kiss this ugly old man. No! Gandhiji of course cackled, he did not get angry with her. Her mother got angry at her, but he said no, no, no leave her alone.
Later she [Rita] used to sit by the bed and talked to him. It came to such a point that she used to spend all her spare time with Bapu. And then once her mother wanted to take her away, she would not go. She would want to stay with Bapu. And he said, see Rita, I am not such an ugly old man after all!
used to talk to him about my shikaar [hunting], about girls. Once he said to Father Have you been bloodthirsty like him when you were young? Father said no no, he told him a lie and said I have never shot a bird even. Because father used to go for shikaar. Every winter we used to go for shikaar.
9. Wearing Khaddi
Khaddi [homespun cloth], we all used to wear grey khaddi, I mean for years I never used to wear these sorts of things [machine spun cloth]. I mean all the whole family did, and the rest of the family does even now. In winter it is alright, but in summer it is a little too much. He [Father] made lots of other schools, and about 50 primary schools to go with this high school [we went to]. Those were his chief activities. And anti-British propaganda. For freedom.
We have got two feet and two eyes like you have, why should you come from 6,000 miles and rule over you? Simple things that a Pathan could understand. This is why they went for him. In Persian they have this thing called the place that you aim at. That was clear. This Englishman, we want him out of here. Because we are as good as he is, why should he rule over us? It is very complicated today, and these leaders and leaderettes, they can not cope with it. In Fathers time it was very simple.
10. The Mad Philosopher
We had one weekly newspaper [Pukhtoon]which was confiscated and that was the end of the story. For which I used to write a column and another friend of mine used to write another column [Gade Wade]. That was all. That humorous column that I used to write has now become a masterpiece of prose! [laughing].
It is so amusing. I used to work 10 hours [to finish an article]. In the middle I used to come out and there would be a letter from Father abusing me that I could not write ten lines for my country, and that I was a disgrace to the nation and all this, and I would sit down absolutely half asleep and I would write down one of these [columns], Gade Wade, a mixture of prose and poetry , a lot of humor thrown in and sometimes serious things. The name of the column was Nonsense. And I never wrote [signed] my name on it. My pen name was The Mad Philosopher.
Q: What did you write about?
A: I wrote on everything. All sorts of things. I wrote an article against the national poets, and I made fun of myself in that also to hide myself.
Once I was sitting with my father when a delegation of poets came to see my father and said Sir, who is this person [The Mad Philosopher], he is our enemy. Sir, have you seen the last publication? Here it is. Look how he has made fun of us.
I wrote all sorts of things. Like if you want to be a great national poet, then start growing a little beard at the end of your chin. And then keep on writing about Fakhr-e-Afghan, Fakhr-e-Afghan because it is very easy to rhyme. And I said then, my son, go after the Bride of Freedom, chase her all over the place, uphill and downhill, all over the place till you grab her. The Bride of Freedom, they were always talking about the Bride of Freedom.
Then I made fun of myself, so I got away with that. Father said no he is not your enemy, he is just trying to say that you should not write the same sort of stuff.
11. Early Poetry
Then after a month or two my mothers brothers wrote my father a very rude letter and cancelled their subscription and said do not send your damned newspaper to us. So I went to my uncles house, and said uncle what has happened? The three brothers, they all cancelled their subscriptions. They said we have got some sort of a bastard over there. And he has abused everybody. He has written a horrible disgraceful article about Khans [landlords like Ghani Khan's family].
I had written a little skittish poem, that
The great potmaker of fate was sitting in heaven.
This great potter of fate was making a donkey,
when the order came to make a Khan.
So the potter cut off its tail and sculpted its ears,
on its forehead he put a spot of temper
and in the donkeys brain he put the disease
of being ahead of everyone, being a leader, and
then he put a beautiful turban on his head and
shooed him towards the world.
So the Khans of course got very angry about it. And everyone used to laugh at it. I also wrote some serious things.
Q: When did you start writing poetry?
A: When I was very young. I started rhyming and all this thing when I was about 15 . I went on a ship in Bombay, and as soon as I got on I began to write. In school too I had written something, very childish. Then I did not want to get them published.
12. Father in Jail
Q: How did your father survive all those years [40 out of 99] in prison?
A: He was very tough, he was a giant of a man. When they first took him in, they could not find any irons to fit his feet. They used these fetters which used to eat into him. He was a giant of a man, 6 foot 2 inches, and very strong. Even before he took to political work, he used to farm with his own hands. He told grandfather, he told him you give me a piece of land and I will plough it myself and I will plant it myself and I will keep my family out of that. Do not give me any more.
He went to the field like an ordinary farmer in the last part of the night. Then tea and breakfast used to follow him and he ploughed there and he kept his bullocks and he kept his buffalo and in the evening he used to come home. He did that for many years. He was a tough sort of fellow. Even in some prisons, jail people were sympathizing with him in later years. Because he had to grind 30 seers [kilos] of corn a day, hard labor. So they said we will bring you a bag full of atta [flour] and 5 or 6 seers of corn which you can put on the wheel. So if any officer comes you can pretend to grind it. My father said no, I will do whatever I am given. I will not cheat.
Because he said one day in prison somebody came with 4 pieces of gur [molasses], and then the Superintendent came and you were not supposed to have that gur. He said I did not know where to hide them and I got so frightened and I sweated and I put it somewhere in the atta [flour]. But he said afterwards that after spending 15 minutes with him I decided never to do anything sly like that again. Anything which makes a coward out of me and makes me frightened. So he would do his 30 seers.
When we got into the government  we abolished all those hard labors. They used to make old people turn a mill which produced oil, khulu it used to be called, all sorts of things. Persian wheels used to be pulled by old men instead of buffaloes. For the young people there were all sorts of horrible labors. When we used to give them hard labor, we taught them mechanics and pottery in jail. When I was in prison [1948-54], I was the beekeeping teacher.
Q: How did your father survive mentally in jail?
A: It was sort of faith. The feeling that you are doing the right thing, that even by being in jail you are serving your people, you are serving your country, you are giving an example, you are being a hero. In those days you just had to apologize, say I will not do it again, and out you go and the property was returned. But he would not say it. He just would not say it. This was sort of a point of honor with us.
13. Pathans and Non-Violence
Q: How did Pathans adopt non-violence so sincerely?
A: Gandhiji used to say that only a brave nation can become truly non-violent. It takes moral courage. And the Pathan was warrior enough to understand that in this war, you cannot lose. With non-violence, the fellow who beats you gets a nasty feeling. With non-violence several of them [British Indian police] even used not to shoot.
I would talk to several of the Magistrates, all Englishmen. One of them was Secretary to the Governor, Bacon. In those days [1937-39] my uncle [Dr. Khan Sahib] was Chief Minister, and I was member of the Central Assembly, and Bacon used to come to the house. His wife was friendly with our ladies.
He told me, Ghani, I was the Assistant Commissioner in Charsadda [District which includes Utmanzai and Mohammad Naray villages] in 1930. He said this Red Shirt would be brought to me. I had orders to give them each two years rigorous imprisonment. They would come to me and I would say, are you a Red Shirt? They would say yes. Are you against the Government? He would say yes. Do you want freedom? Yes, I want freedom. If I release you, will you do it again? Yes. He said I would want to get up and hug him. But instead I used to write two years rigorous imprisonment.
Boys of 14 and 15 coming up to me and saying, yes I will do it again, you have no right to be here, go back to your country. He said I was absolutely going mad, I used to do nothing but drink until my wife said to the Governor if you do not want Bacon to go mad, transfer him from Charsadda. He just could not stand it.
We knew if you shoot one of them [the British], he will shoot fifty of us. With non-violence, you can never lose. If they put you in prison, you get a light sentence, and when you come out you do it again.
This non-cooperation, not buying British goods, was a terrible thing for the British. The first year that we started Non-cooperation , when we started burning British cloth, in Birmingham [England] eighty mills stopped working. Imagine the unemployment. Eighty! We understood that this was a winning game. Sometimes they [Red Shirts] had arms with them, had a pistol hidden somewhere but they would not use it.
Q: It must have taken incredible self-control.
A: Yes, some people lost it, and they were killed or hanged. I remember one friend of my fathers. He came, and said damn you, damn your non-violence. His name was Fazli Akram. He said damn your non-violence and he banged his pamphlets and things and said I am going to do violence. And shoot all these bastards who are crawling to the British, all these Khan Bahadurs [landlords decorated by the British], all these magistrates, lathi-charge wallas [violent riot controllers].
Father said alright, go ahead, I will not do it. That was his stock reply about violence. He said go ahead, but if you want me to do it, I will not. So he [Fazli Akram] shot one man, and another, he killed 4 or 5 people, of course he was in no way related to them, or even belonged to the same village, so other people got into trouble for it.
Once I remember these people unanimously suggested to Father that we have to break bridges and things to make our movement more effective. Father said I agree. But if you break a bridge you will go to the police station and say I have blown up that bridge. So that innocent people will not be beaten up and tortured by the police. If you are willing to do that, you can do anything you like. Blow up the railway line, blow up the bridges, burn the Post Offices, but you must go and admit in the police station that I have done it, only then. But nobody did. Nobody wanted to blow a bridge.
Some people did, one fellow, I remember, Habib Nur from Charsadda, he took an application to this Englishmen and behind the application was a pistol and he went cruck cruck cruck, and misfired, all blanks. They just grabbed him and hanged him from a tree on the road. No trial, just a telephone to the governor, that he tried to kill me and I have hanged him. Like that there were lots of people, they ran away to the tribal areas, to the Haji Sahib [of Turangzai].
14. Father and the British
Father had a great admiration for the British but that did not mean that they should rule over us. He had a great admiration for the English because he was brought up by missionaries. They taught him this thing of service for the nation, for the people. Dr. Morgan, he was a great missionary, and Father was always talking about him, that he was the greatest man he had ever met. And that when he looked at them, that they had come from thousands of miles and they were serving the poor people over here, and he felt ashamed of himself. And he also was educated in the Mission School in Peshawar, not by the mullahs.
Q:Who was this Dr. Morgan?
A: Morgan, he lived here all his life. I do not know, he died before my time. Anyway Father liked missionaries. We used to go to the convent, my sister was in the convent, my daughters were there [the Convent of Jesus & Mary in Murree]. Whenever Father went to the convent to see them, he used to sit and talk to the Mother Superior and all the sisters. He had great love and admiration for them. He used to say they are wonderful people, they will not get married, they have no ambitions, they just want to serve. He was very fond of missionaries.
15. Coming Back From America
When I returned from America [Ghani spent 1930-1932 in Louisiana to learn about sugar mills], I could not get along with the people in my village. I never lived in the village, I lived in this blasted boarding house [the Azad School]. My father had turned our ladies house into a school. I did not know anymore that Pathan customs were anything. When I was 14 or 15 they sent me to Jesus & Mary [Convent], and then to England and from there I went to the U.S. So whatever I learned about social life and manners I learned in America and England. I did not know anymore what the Pathan way of doing things was.
When I came back I used to go about in suits, and I had on a hat or something. Villagers and elders came and said why do you put on an English hat. I said it is my own damn head and I will put anything on it that I like. I was very fond of horses, so I had brought a very good thoroughbred horse from my uncle and I used to ride on it and go to my grandfathers village. He had ten or twelve villages, and I would go there and look at the fields and look at the tenants and everything. I did not have servants following me, six or seven with rifles, so they thought it was very peculiar that I rode on one side of the horse, why do not you sit like a Khan with 5 or 6 pillows next to you and have all these village elders come to you. They wanted me to be a dignified Khan.
They wrote to my father and said your son has come over here and is irritating the villagers. So he sent for me from Hazari Bagh jail [in Bihar, India], and he took my return ticket and put it into his pocket and he said go to Jawaharlal [Nehru], and he sent me to Jawaharlal. Jawaharlal had just come out of prison [ May 1941]. He told him that I had become Americanized and please teach him the simple life and everything. So Jawaharlal looked at me and said, you look simple enough, damn you. I was about 22.
I went there and he had only Indira, who later became Prime Minister. She was about 14. So I lived with them. He did not have any sons. So I sort of became his son. I lived there for nine months. Then he sent me and Indira to Tagores University, Shantiniketan [in Bengal].
We had the same tutor, Nan Lal Bhose. She went to the girls hostel, the only pukka [sturdy] building there, very nicely made. We went into the arts school, because our tutor was Principal of the Arts School. Shantineketan has three colleges. One is Calcutta University College, where you get a degree which is recognized by the Calcutta University. Then there is a Vishwa Bharati, where they teach you what they think a boy should learn that is not recognized by the government. And then they have Kalaban, the home of art, music and dancing and painting and sculpture and all that. Weaving, everything.
I joined this journalism class in the English Department. They used to give me a subject and I used to write on it and then I had nothing to do. So I went to my tutor and asked what should I do, sir. He said anything you like. So I went round for another day, and asked him again. He said anything you like. He did not know a word of English or Urdu, he was Bengali speaking.
So I got fed up, imagine being 22, strong and healthy and everything, you want to do something. The third day I went to him I said what shall I do? He said anything you like.
I said I like to get a horse. He said get a horse. I said what about a stable. He said there is a plot next to the hostel, make a stable there. Anyhow I made the stable, I got my friends to help. But I did not get the horse, for when the time came to get the horse I had run out of money.
I made friends with a Professor of sculpture. I did not know he was Professor of sculpture. He used to sing and dance about the hostel, a very jolly fellow. So I went with him to this studio and I saw these boys working with mud. I also took a piece of mud and I think I made a frog or a lizard or something.
So the next day I went again with him; when I finished my essay or whatever the teacher had given me, I went again to him. I became more ambitious, I did a self-portrait, then I did Adam and Eve. Then Nan Lal Bhose looked at it and said this is very fine. Then I started sketching, so I went to the shop and bought some cardboard for sketching and some pencils and they would not give me rubber [eraser], no, no rubber, you just could not get it [because of World War II]. So I also started sketching.
When we went on picnics, some of the teachers used to take along these crayon boxes and worked in crayons and I found it very convenient. So I bought myself a box of crayons too and began to work on sort of art things. And they used to say they are good. I thought they were rubbish and that they are mad. I mean imagine getting enthusiastic about this childish stuff. That is how I started.
Q: What did you draw to begin with?
A: I just made faces. From childhood, from the very beginning I have only drawn faces. I do not draw anything else, I think it is all a waste of time. I mean, when I did sculptures of grown up people, I did a big one of a Prophet, it is so big it is in the Shantineketan museum. That one, of course, I did the whole body and everything. But the other things I did were only faces.
Q: What fascinated you about faces?
A: You see I wanted to get the personality of the person into the paper. And that you can show only through his eyes and his face. The big ones that I do, people say that you cannot tell if it is a man or a woman.
18. Criticizing Father
Q: Talking to various Khudai Khitmatgars in the villages during the past few days, I was surprised at how much you have suffered. Yet there is not a negative, bitter sense towards the past.
A: Quite right. Quite right. They are sort of surprised, the old ones, that we have worked all our life, we have suffered all our life. But then they say our chief aim was to get rid of the British and we have. For the rest, they are so fond of Father they do not say anything.
Now I am writing a book now, my memoirs, at the suggestion of some Punjabi friends that I have because they say we do not know anything about what you Pathans have done. Your grandchildren will not know it because there is no literature. I have begun writing things I have told you, and now that I have come to Fathers part, I find it very difficult to write.
A: Because I do not want to criticize him. And now especially that he is dead, if he were alive then I would have. Because with some things I did not agree, that is why I left his [Khudai Khitmatgar] Movement and came and sat at home. He wanted me to become President of the Movement. I said no. He sent me all sorts of people but I said I will not do it.
A: I had had a fight with him. I did not agree with his program. I am a bit of a socialist. I begged him to make an economic program. I told him Sir, there are eighty steps between communism and conservatism. Stand anywhere, choose any mixture, either way, nearer communism nearer conservatism, wherever you like but stand somewhere for heavens sake, and say this is my stand on economics. All these boys, I mean all the fellows who went with him to jail, their grandsons have passed BA and MAs in economics and political science. They keep on asking what is your economic program? And he said nothing.
Coming Soon: Princess Abida Sultan of Bhopal
© Harappa 1996