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Ali Madeeh Hashmi TFT Issue: 22 Nov 2013
Ali Madeeh Hashmi traces the remarkable life story of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s father who rose to positions of great prominence in the Afghan court from humble beginnings as a shepherd boy
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Faiz's father, Sultan Muhammad Khan
a little over 100 kilometers to the northeast of Lahore. However. a lawyer from Cambridge and then a gentleman of leisure back in Sialkot. who had a far more colorful life than I’ (Culture and Identity: Selected English Writings of Faiz ). the home town of ‘Allama’ Muhammad Iqbal. then his ambassador to England. 1984. travelled far from his land of birth and made his name and fortune in exotic foreign lands. . Sultan Muhammad Khan ‘…a nineteenth century adventurer. Ishq say sahib farogh” “Love nourishes the action of the True Man” – Iqbal Faiz Ahmed Faiz died on November 20. Pakistan’s national poet. and will continue to be written about him and his poetry. a little known aspect of Faiz’s life story of his father. From the remote village of Kala Qadir (Now Faiz Nagar).“Mard-e Khuda ka amal. Sultan Muhammad Khan. Much has been written. Sultan Mohammad Khan travelled all over the world becoming by turns the ‘Mir Munshi’ (Chief Secretary) of the Ameer (Ruler) of Kabul. near the town of Narowal.
Ameer Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan .
Much has been made of the fact that Sultan Muhammad Khan was born into a poor family. Into this stormy age.Abdul Rahman Khan (1840 or 1844-1901). Faiz’s father. one who succeeded in suppressing (or buying off) all opposition to his rule and who created the first ‘central’ government of Afghanistan albeit at a great cost in bloodshed and mayhem. Afghanistan was the natural buffer between the vast Russian Empire to the North and British India. . had fought several fierce battles of succession for the throne of Afghanistan since the death of his grandfather. the only light in the household was lit for just a short time each night. Abdul Rahman Khan was such a ruler. It was thus a useful pawn in the ‘Great Game’ betw een the two Imperial powers. that in order to conserve money. Ameer of Afghanistan. a kerosene lamp. Sultan Muhammad Khan was born into a landless peasant family in the village of Kala Qadir. He had lived in exile for several years in Tashkent. this state of affairs was by no means an exception in the colonial times of British India. part of Russian Turkestan at the time. Any ruler of this area needed to carefully balance between the interests of his own people and that of the two Empires. As many have pointed out though. so poor in fact. Dost Muhammad Khan in 1863. until he reclaimed the throne in 1880 with the help of the British.
Because his father was a landless peasant he was employed by people who had some land to tend to their cattle. . leave them a while. Sultan Muhammad Khan then came to Lahore and found shelter in a local mosque. His teacher at the village school must have recognized his innate intelligence immediately and encouraged him to continue his studies. melodious voice and soon began to receive requests for public recitations of the Quran. His later photographs from London testify to this. a not insignificant sum in those days for a poor family. For several years. This then became his daily routine. His rapid progress persuaded his village school teacher to allow him to sit for the final examination of his primary school which he passed with flying colors ahead of all the other children. there was no college or any other institution of higher learning there. He was. he was intelligent. a good looking young man. He would take the cattle out to graze. a little distance from the village. just the sort who could easily make friends and make himself at home in any company. He had a special affinity for languages and was soon fluent in English and Persian. would go to the Railway station to earn extra money as a ‘coolie’ (labourer) that he would send home to the village. Faiz quotes his father on one occasion ‘I used to take the cattle out of the village and I found there was a school.The secular-minded Ameer Habibullah Khan laid the foundation of the Habibia School Most of what we know about Sultan Muhammad Khan’s early life is from the later writings and speeches of Faiz himself. his passion for studying was undimmed. This was as far as he could go in his village. In spite of this exhausting routine. well spoken and polite. This earned him a scholarship of two rupees a month. and go back to his cattle. he would return to the mosque to do whatever chores were assigned to him and in the evening. After his studies. He had a pleasing. He was thus able to get admission into the local high school situated some distance from his village. the two dominant languages of the region besides the local Urdu. Culture and Identity: Selected English Writing of Faiz). In addition. go to the school to have his work from the previous day checked and get the work for the day. I would leave the cattle to graze and attend the school” (‘Faiz on Faiz. by the descriptions available. he would walk back and forth to school undeterred by the long distance or inclement weather until he passed the high school examination with flying colors as well.
During this same period. And in fact. He was soon appointed the Chief Secretary and then a Minister to the Ameer. He saw this young boy and rather liked him and said. this was the position that Sultan Muhammad Khan eventually assumed when he became the Mir Munshi (Chief Secretary) of Ameer Abdur Rahman himself. Sultan Muhammad’s friend at the Afghan court Faiz himself described what happened next ‘When he (Sultan Muhammad Khan) was living in this mosque. He was brought to Kabul by the same official who had met him at the Lahore mosque. it so happened that an Afghan grandee was Counsel to the Government of the Punjab. intercede in the negotiations with the British would be considered a valuable ally by the Afghans. This was the time that the Afghan Ameer was trying to forge closer links with the British rulers in India to consolidate his own rule in Afghanistan and anyone who could help further that aim was a useful friend. dividing ethnic Pashtuns (Afghans) on both sides of the border and lies in what has been described as one of the most dangerous places in the world. Lillias Hamilton. The Afghan official offered Sultan Muhammad Khan an immediate appointment as his tutor in English in his own household. A joint British-Afghan demarcation survey took place starting from 1894. therefore. He had the same pleasant effect on the Ameer as he had on the official and was immediately appointed Royal interpreter and put in charge of all correspondence with the British. . ‘Look. an event of momentous significance was taking place. we want an English interpreter for Afghanistan’’ (ibid). that anyone who was fluent in English and could.A painting of Dr. It has never been accepted by the Pashtun tribes living on both sides of it and remains a matter of dispute to this day. This poorly marked border cuts through the Pashtun tribal areas. covering some 800 miles of the border. The resulting Durand Line established the “Great Game” buffer zone between British and Russian interests in the region. It would be safe to assume then. His duties included translating all letters and correspondence from the British into Persian and all letters from the Ameer into English to be sent to the British. He used to come and pray in this mosque.
Sultan Muhammad’s stay in London was. Sultan Muhammad had already worked on the Persian version of the Ameer’s biography which the Ameer had partly dictated to him personally. While there is general agreement that Sultan Muhammad found favor with the Ameer soon after his arrival in Kabul as evidenced by his eventual authorship of the Ameer’s biography. Lillias Hamilton (18581925). he also enrolled at Cambridge University and acquired a law degree. intelligence and sincerity. the Ameer appointed him his Ambassador to England. especially given that he was not an ethnic Afghan and had no family or other connections within the court. by all accounts. a period of carefree prosperity. headed to England where. She agreed to transfer his accumulated wealth to London in her name and Sultan Muhammad secretly fled Kabul for Lahore where he was promptly arrested as an Afghan spy and placed in custody in the same Lahore fort where Faiz was to be imprisoned many years later. surrounded with the luxury of the most refined and cultured intellects in the world”. . Sultan Muhammad left Kabul and after a brief stay in Kala Qadir. Lillias Hamilton warned him of these intrigues and advised him to flee before he was arrested or worse. ‘The Life of Amir Abdur Rahman’. the Ameer’s court physician. the jealousy and envy against him also grew. it was “A period of repose. in addition to being the Ambassador of the Ameer to the English court. sometime before 1898. One version. Whatever the circumstances. more widely circulated but probably inaccurate goes thus: with the increasing favors that the Ameer was bestowing upon his Chief Secretary. there are divergent opinions about his departure from the Afghan court. A more likely explanation for Sultan Muhammad’s departure from the Afghan court seems to be that due to his diligence.He was arrested as an Afghan spy and placed in custody in the same Lahore fort where Faiz was to be imprisoned many years later It was at the court of the Ameer that he met and befriended Dr. As Lillias Hamilton noted. The English version was published in 1900 and was finished with some haste since the Ameer was seriously ill by this time.
He had already been awarded the title of ‘Khan Bahadur’ and must have been one of the most prominent and respected citizens of Sialkot. Ameer Abdur Rahman died and was succeeded by his son Habibullah Khan. was pursuing a law degree at Cambridge and was. He accepted British help and money in instituting many of these reforms but staunchly refused their offers to build railways or telegraphs in the country suspecting that it would lead to increased influx of both British and Russian travelers. at that time. Sultan Muhammad continued serving as Ameer Habibullah’s ambassador from 1901 till 1905. followed three years later by the birth of Faiz Ahmed and then two more sons. Sometime in 1905 or 1906. near Sultan Muhammad’s ancestral village. his sons rose to positions of prominence in the professions. In Sialkot. Tufail Ahmed rose to become a judge. Iqbal arrived in Cambridge in 1905 and their companionship was likely brief since it appears that Sultan Muhammad returned for good to India around the same time. a brilliant young student from Sialkot. reform-minded ruler who attempted to modernize his country while continuing the precarious balancing act between the British and the Russians. Faiz became a teacher. the daughter of a landowner in the nearby village of Jessar whom he married after his return to Sialkot. a relative unknown although his poetry had already begun to capture the imagination of his countrymen. Iqbal. was physically and mentally disabled from birth. too. barely older than some of his daughters was Sultan Fatima. In 1908. Acutely aware of the 2% literacy rate in his country. Bashir. in 1904 Habibullah founded the Habibia School which educated several generations of Afghan leaders as well as a military academy. he returned by the same route from England by ship to Bombay and thence to Lahore and to Sialkot. Tufail Ahmed was born. the younger son Inayat became a Major in the Army while the youngest. a journalist and world renowned poet. Sultan Muhammad’s Afghan wives finally joined him. Inayat and Bashir. . His first wife was a niece of Ameer Abdul Rahman and his last and youngest wife. It was also during this time that he met and probably befriended Muhammad Iqbal. Habibullah was a relatively secular. Endowed as they were with Sultan Muhammad’s genes and his thirst for knowledge. Sultan Fatima’s first son.In 1901.
Ali Madeeh Hashmi is a Psychiatrist and a trustee of the Faiz Foundation Trust. in addition to possessing an indomitable spirit which has been a feature of his Rajput ancestors since times immemorial.See more at: http://www.Sultan Muhammad Khan. He is currently working on a full-length biography of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.com or on twitter @Ali_Madeeh .thefridaytimes.dpuf . he chose his land of birth as his home and never entertained thoughts of leaving again. This was how Sultan Muhammad and his household lived till the end of his days. After his adventures in Afghanistan and then England. He had come a long way from his days as a young shepherd boy with his dreams of a better life for himself and his family. He can be reached at email@example.com/tft/fantasy-unto-reality/#sthash.EQRK5SXi. was also a true son of the soil.
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