Iskander Mirza’s only surviving son passes away

Published June 14, 2021
Governor General Iskander Mirza signing his assent on the 1956 Constitution Bill at a ceremony held on March 2, 1956, in Karachi. — The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad
Governor General Iskander Mirza signing his assent on the 1956 Constitution Bill at a ceremony held on March 2, 1956, in Karachi. — The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad

WASHINGTON: Humayun Mirza, the only surviving son of Pakistan’s first president Iskander Mirza, died in a Washington suburb on Sunday. He was 93.

Born in Pune, India, on Dec 9, 1928, Mr Mirza passed away at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, on the night between June 12 and 13. He was the second of six children of Iskander Mirza and his first wife Rifaat Begum. Humayun’s younger brother, Enver Mirza, had died in a plane crash in 1953.

Humayun Mirza was educated at Doon School, India, and in Britain before moving to the US, where he earned his MBA from Harvard. He first married the daughter of Horace Hildreth, the US ambassador to Pakistan. His second wife, Marilia Mandelli, is a Brazilian.

Mr Mirza, a senior World Bank official, retired from the bank in 1988. He also wrote two books, “From Plassey to Pakistan: The Family History of Iskander Mirza” and his autobiography, “Son of a President and Heir to a Throne”.

“My life has been full, I have a loving wife, Marilia, who takes good care of me, and two daughters, Zareen and Samia. I have three brilliant grandchildren,” he writes in his autobiography published in April this year.

“For several years, my doctors have been telling me that I have only a few months to live. So far, they have been wrong. I have lived longer than any male in my direct line, so I feel as if I have been living on borrowed time.”

The Mirzas are from a wealthy feudal family in Bengal, with close ties to the British monarchy. Humayun Mirza’s grandfather, Fateh Ali Mirza belonged to the ruling house of Murshidabad. He was the grandson of Mansur Ali Khan, the first Nawab Nazim of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, “a realm as large as the states of California and Florida combined,” he writes.

Humayun Mirza was also a close friend of former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. “We hit it off immediately. Zulfikar … was about a year older than me and extremely well spoken … tall, flamboyant, good-looking and intelligent. He was very articulate and disarmingly charming,” he adds.

“It was a judicial murder,” he said of Mr Bhutto’s hanging in an interview to Dawn earlier this week. Mr Mirza also claimed to have made several attempts to prevent former president Gen Zia ul Haq from carrying out the sentence against Mr Bhutto.

While mentioning the Partition riots in Calcutta, Mr Mirza recalled how Mahatma Gandhi saved his life.

“My hostel, being in the Muslim quarter of the city, was a prime target. Soon a Hindu mob approached, chanting Musalman Murdabad! … After what seemed like an eternity, the cries of the mob changed to Gandhi Ji ki jai.

“As the mob slowly melted away, … I ran down the five flights of stairs to thank the great man. My name is Humayun, and my father is Iskander Mirza,” I said. “Thank you for saving my life.”

“Oh, I know your father and your grandmother, Dilshad Begum,” Mr Gandhi said. Do not worry, I will see that you leave the country safely.”

Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2021

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