As rightly wrote John Donne, one is often diminished by the death of a friend. The first time I saw the Princess was in the early 1950s. A friend took me to meet her and as we approached her house, we saw her driving out in her red MG Midget, its hood down.
She stopped her car, leapt out without opening the door, and greeted us. She was wearing a silk shirt and a pair of slacks. We were welcomed and entertained. She was immensely vivacious, full of fun and a most refreshing character.
Later, over the years, she became my mentor on Islam. Whenever I had a problem understanding this great religion as preached by our mullas I would consult her, as I recognized in her a practitioner of true Islam with a profound knowledge of the history and true tenets of her religion.
Abida's grandfather, the Nawab, was the first male to rule Bhopal after four successive Begums, and had partition not come upon the subcontinent, Abida would have eventually become the fifth Begum to rule the state - and a most worthy ruler she would have made. Always correct to the point of perfection, in her bearing and manners she had few, if any, peers in Pakistan. I last met her about ten days before she died. I, and many other friends of hers, will sorely miss having her around.
We now go back in time, to the middle of last century. On July 1, 1947, Hameedullah Khan, Nawab of Bhopal, purchased what is now known as Bhopal House, at Clifton, Karachi, from Seth Girdharilal Moolchand Mohatta, merchant and landlord of Karachi (one of the two properties, the other at 19, Kutchery Road, bought by the Nawab in anticipation of his move to Pakistan) for the princely sum of Rs185,000.
A sale deed was drawn up and the title deed for Bhopal House was duly registered and the mutation recorded in the sub-registrar's office of Karachi district.
On July 6 1947, the "collector and chairman of the Pakistan Government Accommodation Committee," one Mr N A Faruqui, addressed a letter to the private secretary of the Nawab of Bhopal at the Qasr-i-Sultani, Bhopal:
"As you must already be aware, the Pakistan government has selected Karachi as the temporary capital. Their stay in Karachi is at present expected to last from five to ten years. Superior accommodation is immediately required for the honourable ministers of the Pakistan government. I am therefore to request you to place this letter before His Highness and request him to permit his bungalow at Clifton, Karachi, to be used for this purpose. I request the favour of a very urgent reply. "Your obedient servant......"
On July 12, the Nawab of Bhopal addressed a letter to Mr M A Jinnah:
I have recently bought two houses at Karachi - one for certain offices which will have to be opened there when I have received your final instructions, and the other I wish to retain and equip for my personal use. I may have to be in Karachi quite often and I must have a place in Pakistan where my womenfolk may take shelter should things begin to get really hot here. I am, therefore, not replying at once to Mr Faruqui's letter (copy enclosed) and will only do so after I have received your orders.
Needless to add that if you instruct I should place both the houses or one of them at the disposal of Pakistan, I shall do so with pleasure. I shall await your urgent instructions as I do not want the letter of Mr. Faruqui to remain unacknowledged for a day longer than it is necessary.
"The bearer of this letter can bring back your reply if it is convenient to you to write me a line about it. "With respects....."
Mr. Jinnah received the emissary, requested him to return home and express to the Nawab his regrets for the manner in which a member of the yet to be established Pakistan government had addressed him, and tell the Nawab that he should do with his houses as he pleased.
Both properties were subsequently handed over by the Nawab to the government for its use. The house at 19 Kutchery Road was occupied by Chaudhri Khaliquzzaman, one of the 'honourable ministers' of sorts, who later claimed it as evacuee property.
Bhopal House, as of 1948, was occupied by the Foreign Office under an agreement reached between the government and the Nawab, who did not wish to leave the house unoccupied for fear that it also would be claimed by one of the local luminaries as evacuee property - in those early years there being much grabbing of properties whether abandoned by those who had fled to India or occupied by their rightful owners resident in Karachi. Nawab Hameedullah Khan never came to Pakistan.
He died in Bhopal in 1960. But in 1950, when the princes of India handed over their states to the Indian government, his eldest daughter, and his heir, Princess Abida Sultaan, came to Karachi, bought land in the then quiet, peaceful and green Malir, built herself a house and settled down to live her life in Pakistan.
Bhopal House was handed over by the government to the Intelligence Bureau when the Foreign Office moved to the new capital of Islamabad in 1962, and was used as a residence by officers of the IB. Some years later, Princess Abida claimed back her property. The government was unhappy, and the matter of who should or should not have it has been in court for a good few years.
This year the Princess's health declined rapidly. Whilst she was in hospital, literally on her death bed, on May 6 the government in the form of the Public Works Department served her with an eviction notice (her relatives were resident in Bhopal House). Naturally, her lawyer replied to the notice, informing the PWD on May 9 that the Princess was terminally ill.
She died on May 11 and news of her death was prominently displayed in our press. Rather than staying their hand, the matter being in court and it having been agreed between Shaharyar Khan, her son and heir, and the chief of the IB that no action would be taken until the court had come up with a decision, on May 14, one day before her soyem was to be held, PWD men accompanied by a police force invaded Bhopal House, forcibly entered and evicted the occupants, not allowing them to remove their belongings, and then sealed the premises which also contained furniture, fittings and personal belongings of the Princess, her son, and his family.
The sole official of any government to ring Shaharyar to condole with him on the death of his mother was not a representative of the government of Pakistan, which both Abida and her son had served as diplomats, but Digvijay Singh, chief minister of Madhya Pradesh in which Indian state Bhopal is situated.
This of course can neither shock nor surprise nor anger any of us citizens of Pakistan who are so inured to the strange vagaries of our governments and the men who run them. Decency and decorum do not sit easily with officials of Pakistan to whom they are, in fact, foreign substances.
Does this government even know what it is talking about? In one of its rambling clarifications on its disgraceful behaviour, its spokesperson has stated that "the facts are that Bhopal House was an evacuee property by operation of law since March 1, 1947." How come? Girdharilal Moolchand Mohatta sold the house to the Nawab of Bhopal on July 1 of that year, the sale having been legally and duly registered. And, then Faruqi addressed the Nawab on July 6, 1947, on the subject "his bungalow at Clifton, Karachi."
The Pakistani mind does not boggle.
Be it as it may, whoever be right or wrong, my deepest sympathies are with Shaharyar and his family and knowing fully well how the courts in Pakistan operate, my advice to him is that in his own interest he should arrange for his son and heir, Faiz Mohammad Khan of Bhopal, who is now 42 years of age, to have all the legal documentation completed in the name of his son and heir as the rightful claimant.
"The first observation that I would like to make is this: you will no doubt agree with me that the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the state." (Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in his address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, August 11, 1947.) Is it possible for his soul to rest in peace?