Mir Ayoob Ali Khan
I DON’T know when my mother was born. Before her marriage to my father she was called Sughra Begum or Sughra Bi which means the Little Lady. After her marriage to my father she became Amena Begum. The day, in fact the year, of her birth is a guess. She must have been born somewhere in the early 1920s. I also do not know when she got married. Our family does not possess that ‘holy’ certificate.
The age of my father Mir Vazeeruddin Ali Khan alias Is’haq Miyan has also been a puzzle. I have never seen any document that mentioned his age, though he worked for the government. The State Excise Department where he worked for several years could have it. I have not tried that source. He must have been born in the 1910s.
It was commonly believed that my father was about eight to 10 years older to my mother.
It would not be an exaggeration if I say that there has hardly been a day when I did not remember her or wept remembering her. My pain is so deep that no one would ever fathom it, not even me.
Remembering her and sobbing silently has become a part of my daily life. It looks like I have mastered the art of hiding my feelings, the rising storm in my heart from the closest relatives and friends. It is about Amanni or Abba or Aapi and now Chhote Bhai and Bade Bhai.
Being the youngest in the family I believed that my elder brothers got more attention and love than me from my mother. But the fact is that I was privileged to have more time of hers than my older siblings.
I slept by her side until perhaps I turned 10 or 12 years of age. I became closest to her after the passing away of my father.
She was a disciplinarian of her own kind. One day she said to me, “When a boy reaches the age of 10 or 11 years he should not sleep by the side of her mother. He should go and sleep at some other place in the house.” I was hurt but I asked no question. From the next day onward I started following what she had said. It did not matter to her much where I was sleeping as long as she could see me whenever she woke up from her sleep in the night or at daybreak.
The quiet bond between me and my mother was sometimes visible and sometimes it was not possible to understand it. However, it became too obvious after the death of my father on December 17, 1971 that we have such a one-on-one relationship which was unique. After the passing away of my father she had put all her hopes of living a peaceful life in me. I was too young to understand it. But slowly, I realised that it was she and she alone whom I cared the most. And she looked with hope filled eyes towards me. That did not mean she would ever give a pass to my follies. She would force me to make amends and follow the promises made to her.
Amanni was born in a village called Bilalpur, a few kilometres from Kohir which itself was separated by about 80 km from Hyderabad.
She had her basic education at home. She knew how to read the Quran. She also knew how to read and write Urdu but spoke only Deccani with an accent which is deeply associated with village folks of that area. Being born and brought up in Bilalpur also gave her the opportunity to master Telugu. She conversed in Telugu like it was mother tongue.
She was fifth among five brothers and four sisters. Since her childhood she was known as an intelligent and headstrong person. Being born in a big household, she learnt everything that a growing up girl had to know. From bailing water from a deep well located in the fore-yard of her home, to cleaning up to cooking. All this in spite of having a sufficient number of servants known as gaudis. No one would dare stand up to her or take chances because she could hit them like a bolt. She was a ziddi, a stubborn person, who hardly let her ground slip away. Since she came from a fairly big landholding family, she had some privileges and also restrictions. Besides cows, bulls, buffaloes and goats and sheep the family also maintained a small stable of horses which were generally used by her father or brothers. Riding a horse for a girl was taboo. However, she did not allow that taboo to restrict her from learning to ride a horse. But no one would go against the family tradition and teach her riding. She learnt it on her own. Whenever she found an opportunity she would sneak away and jump on to a horseback and bolt away to the fields or the farmland of her father. He had khet or farm and also an amraayi or mango garden.
She was married to my father, an Inamdar from his mother’s side in Chilkaypalli village. At that time she was about 20 years old. The families knew each other. They even claimed a distant relationship. That is how the matchmaking went on in those days in villages.
My father was a mansabdar from his father, Mir Abul Mani Khan’s side. He was also an inamdar from her mother’s side. My father took pride in being a mansabdar and inamdar even when his economic conditions hit rock bottom much before 1948. He called himself a doubly privileged person with not much to boast about monetarily.
My mother was fearless. One of the stories I have heard, mostly by her or senior family members, was related to her going after a leopard known in Urdu (perhaps Deccani) as Borbachcha.
The village which is still beautiful was located in a valley. When I saw it the last time in the mid 1980s it had become more beautiful. The hillocks, a valley, a rivulet and vast plains made it an immensely liveable place.
Her arrival in Chilkepalli was marked with both good and bad feelings for her. She was received well by her mother-in-law, that is my Dadi Ma (Maryam Unnisa Begum). She had a daughter that is my phoophi who had been married off and mostly lived in Hyderabad.
As my mother struggled to settle down in Chilkepalli she started hearing stories about a leopard that was roaming in and around the village during the night. She obviously never thought that she would encounter it herself soon.
One night when my father was away from home to the city she heard a newly born calf bawling softly in pain and the mother cow howling. The other animals had also started making noise demonstrating immense restlessness.
One of the cows had given birth to a lovely calf a few weeks ago. My mother woke up to the sudden disquiet and realised immediately that the calf might have come under the attack of the leopard which had been sighted on the outskirts of the village a few days ago. She got up with a club in her hand and a lantern in the other and without any hesitation ran towards the cattle shed. In that dark of the night she realised that the leopard had caught hold of the calf and was trying to drag it away. The poor calf could do nothing but bleat in pain. She started making noise, calling out the names of one servant after the other. At the same time she was running after the leopard. The beast, confused at the sudden burst of uproar and raining of stones by my mother, tried to continue carrying the calf in its jaws a few meters. For some reason, it could not run as fast as he could or should have. It decided to let go of the calf and leapt away in the dark for its life.
During those chaotic few minutes a couple of the servants had gathered. They mustered courage and brought back the calf which was badly rattled, injured and bleeding. Luckily, the leopard had caught the calf by its hind leg and not the neck.
My mother later nursed that calf and it turned out to be a beautiful cow.
The incident had established her as a fearless person in the village who did not mind running after a beast and bring back an innocent little calf from the jaws of certain death.
* * * * *
My father enjoyed considerable respect in the village because of his manly looks, dynamism, courage and ability to settle disputes. People sought his interventions to resolve their problems. They used to approach him to settle their rows. There were also some who were jealous of his stature and looked for opportunities to put down his initiatives and settle old scores.
There was a gentleman who originally came from Kaveli, a village between Chilkepalli and Kohir. He took himself seriously and believed that he was a leader in that area. He was mischievous and had nursed some grouse against my father. Maybe because my father did not give the respect he was receiving from most other people.
Soon that man found a reason to confront my father when someone from Chilkepalli approached him over a land dispute. One fine morning he came to Chilkepalli with a group of people and decided to disturb the standing crop on the land that was tilled by my father. It was early in the morning. My father was at home and mother in the kitchen when a farmhand came running and told my father that so and so person had come with a gang and was trying to disturb the crop.
The gang was apparently armed with sickles, axes and clubs. My father without giving a second thought began rushing towards the khet or the farmland. By the time my mother could make sense of what was going on he was already on his way to the fields. There the Kaveli people were waiting for him. My mother had never shown any emotional weakness. In fact, she turned out to be stronger during adversity. At that moment instead of stopping my father from going alone towards the goons, she picked a club, gave it to one of her servants and asked him to run and hand it over to my father. The whole scenario was being watched by that Kaveli man and his gang. The servant ran to my father and handed him the club. My father gave a couple of swirls to the lathi and continued walking briskly towards the mob. The fearlessness of my father and the daring of my mother to provide him a club had a disturbing effect on the gang. Sensing the mood of my father some of them started dispersing. The man who had come to fight with my father realised that the situation had turned against him. Instead of attacking as he had planned he put down his axe and began pleading with my father for talks. The determination of my father prevailed because my mother had the presence of mind and stood beside him in that precarious situation.
There were many more such jaw dropping incidents in her life.
When I grew up and she was growing older I could see that she did not believe in backing off in difficult situations.
May Allah be pleased with her.
She passed away on October 2, 1992 and laid to rest at my ancestral graveyard in Hussaini Alam.
The piece has been taken from the author’s Facebook page. Mir Ayoob Ali Khan is a Hyderabad-based senior journalist who has worked with publications like Saudi Gazette in Jeddah; and Deccan Chronicle and Times of India in Hyderabad. At present, he is associated with siasat.com, an English language online news portal. His professional journey is long and experiences wide.