The story of my life
by Sikandar Hayat Khan,
printed by The Army Press,
Islamabad, pages 185
Recollections of a civil servant
The author claims that it were the Pathans, particularly Qasuria Khweshgis, who turned defeat into victory for the Mughal Emperor Babar at the first battle of Panipat
‘The story of my life’ is the autobiography of a civil servant, Sikandar Hayat Khan, who served the Income Tax Department in various executive capacities and retired in 1989. The objective of the author is to write about his self, family, the extended family and the tribe he belonged to. This may be of little or no interest to the public at large but the recollections of past can be an interesting study of the changes in the attitudes, norms, styles, etc, of people and places.
It is a story of how his Khweshgi tribe moved from Arghasan, Kandhar in Afghanistan and spread into various parts of the subcontinent such as UP, KPK and Punjab during the Mughal era while his ancestors settled in Kasur and thus called Khweshgi Kasuris. How whole tribes or families moved from one region to another along with military conquerors is simply unthinkable these days especially when we see the horrible images of tens of thousands of people trying to move out of the Middle East to Europe being stranded or brutalised in their journeys. In those times, if people had martial skills, they had the opportunities to make a name for themselves and move up the social ladder. Not anymore!
The author claims that it were the Pathans, particularly Qasuria Khweshgis, who turned defeat into victory for the Mughal Emperor Babar at the first battle of Panipat. Two things are significant in this regard, particularly in view of present time when issues are looked through theMuslim and non-Muslim prism. One, the Khweshgis being Muslims and Pathans fought in that battle against the Indian King Ibrahim Lodhi, who was also a Muslim and a Pathan. Two, the Khweshgis acted as mercenaries because the bargain they made with Babar for offering their military services was that if he were successful in the battle, he would give them one-fourth of the revenues of Delhi, which he did, however, Akbar the Great not only stopped this practice but also dispersed them from the environs of Delhi to the distant lands because in the opinion of the author, the Khweshgis were suspected to rebel against Akbar’s heretical ‘Deen-i-Ilahi’. Were the Khweshgis the only good Muslims in and around Delhi, some may not agree with this explanation of the author.
The rise of Khweshgis started with Babar in 1526 AD, reached zenith under Nazar Bahadur Khweshgi, who became a grandee, being awarded the title of ‘Umara-e-Azam’ by Emperor Shah Jehan and their downfall set in 1846 AD, however, the author does not tell us as to what happened in 1846 which sealed their fate. Meanwhile, the author asserts that after the death of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, it were the Qasuria Khweshgis who opposed the power of Sikhs in Punjab and later on joined hands with the Afghan adventurer Ahmad Shah Abdali in defeating the Marathas at the third battle of Panipat. Over time, the Qasuria Khweshgis lost their martial trait as fighters and became buyers and sellers of horses. Now, hardly anyone of them can understand or speak their native Pashto language. Such can be the silent transformation of time.
During his posting as the Deputy Commissioner Income Tax at Rawalpindi, he was also elected as a member of the Executive Committee of the Rawalpindi Club whose members included officers from both the civvies and the khakis
More interesting in the book are the glimpses of the past people and places that the author has recollected. During the British rule in the 1940s, the safety of the tourists moving in large numbers into the hill station of Simla was ensured by a traffic management discipline whereby each tourist vehicle had to cover the distance between Kalka and Simla in a stipulated time and the over speeding vehicles were not only fined but also delayed entry in Simla. Can something of the sort be done to manage the swarming of the Murree Hills in summer? During his education at Government College (GC) Lahore as a boarder, he noted that the Hindu and Muslim students ate their meals on separate tables and once there was a strike in the hostel to protest against the substandard quality of food. The most popular eating place in Government College was the Dunnycliff Milk Bar where students could eat a plate full of bananas and strawberries for six annas and a glass of milk shake for just four annas; no wonder its popular Sikh owner was called ‘Milk Bar Singh.’
Time took a turn at the time of partition. While being at GC, the author joined Muslim Students Federation and due to the tense atmosphere, many students began to keep small arms in college. The partition witnessed the worst and the best of the human emotions and actions. Renowned Sikh writer and journalist Khushwant Singh who lived on Lawrence Road in Lahore left his house in the care of the law legend Manzoor Qadir while migrating to India which was returned by him to Khushwant when the situation stabilized, including the stock of imported scotch.
During his posting as the Deputy Commissioner Income Tax at Rawalpindi, he was also elected as a member of the Executive Committee of the Rawalpindi Club whose members included officers from both the civvies and the khakis. When a colourful khaki officer found out that the author abstained from consuming spirits, he said, “It is blasphemy that Sikandar enjoying my company still defies and disapproves of my hurtless and childlike drinking, and from now onwards it is not permissible… order drinks on my account and ensure that Sikandar has his first drink right now and use lawful force, in case it has to, that he takes one small drink, and since I have to be away, inform me of the aforesaid episode next day, not in my office but right here in the club.” In this way, the author was ‘administered’ the first shot of Royal Salute which proved to be the last one as well because he remained a teetotaler throughout his life. (p 162). Those who could not handle the spirits could be quite hurtful. The author has narrated another incident in which an officer lost his balance and broke the musical instruments as well as the portrait of the Queen of England hanging in the main hall of the club but after getting sober tendered apology and agreed to pay the damages. While reminiscing the tenure in Peshawar in the late fifties, the author tells that the city’s cantonment was full of lush green orchards that stretched from Nowshera to Sikandarpura and in the Peshawar Club one could play a variety of games and enjoy live music and dancing in the evenings. As the author served in several senior positions, he was witness to the eccentricities of several and indiscipline and corruption of a few bureaucrats that he came across.
There are innumerable mistakes of language and the quality of book could have been improved had the author employed the expertise of a competent editor. Similarly, there is quite a bit of repetition of information. Surprisingly, there is no ‘chapterisation’ in the book and that is one reason why the matter is disorganised. A family history usually contains a section of the photographs of people, places, relics, etc, that play a significant role in the rise and fall of the family but his book contains only two photographs of the author and, that too, without any captions to explain them. All these deficiencies and flaws could have been easily removed had the author got it published by a publisher. In this case the author has himself been the writer, editor, proof reader and publisher of the book. Whether it has been the case of the author not approaching publishers or publishers refusing to publish his work, the author knows best.