22nd death anniversary of Syed Taj Mir Shah (1928 – 1998)
Memoirs of another day
By Syed Ayaz Badshah
With age memory gets affected and in my case the situation is getting worse partially due to the genes from my father’s side as most of my elders suffered from amnesia to a certain degree. Therefore, it is also not less than a miracle that I, in my mind’s eye, have stored most of the memories of my life with my father Syed Taj Mir Shah. Endearing and beautiful, these are the biggest asset of my life as the time spent with him will always be cherished and a source of guidance for years to come, these memories are going nowhere.
It is like a documented footage on celluloid that plays continuously in my mind, event after event, moment after moment, culminating in Cleveland Clinic in US when the oncologist very politely told me and my older brother Syed Niaz Ali Shah that my father had six months to live. Being privy to this information seeing him fading away, shook my entire being. My father passed away on the 6th of February 1998, he was 70 years old, leaving his worldly abode too soon. Not a single day goes by when he is not remembered or someone else reaffirming his good nature excellent mannerism, business acumen, social skill and piety.
They say parents live through their children. My siblings and I may have inherited some of his traits, but frankly, we hardly measure up to his greatness. Now I believe that the generation that preceded us was special – they were the best of the best, bastion of Peshawar traditions and values. Hospitable to the core, they had that basic goodness that makes the stuff of being a decent caring loving human being. Unfortunately, today’s hectic lifestyles promote individualism, subsequently making us more self-centered and isolated.
“Karimi House”, our home, had always been a center of the City’s politics and cultural activities. It witnessed the genesis of the PPP Peshawar City Chapter and was always a middle ground for major parties’ discourse due to my father’s neutral political stance. Prime Minister Imran Khan stayed at the Karimi House when he was trying to put together the party back in the day (he was invited by my older brother Syed Niaz Ali Shah) he even asked my father to head the party in KP but my father declined and introduced him to Nabwabzada Mohsin Ali Khan instead. I remember IK was married to Jemima Goldsmith at the time and would speak to her every night from our landline, there were no cell phones at the time, and the telephone set used to bang in the middle of the house. When my father was diagnosed with lymphoma in the US IK arranged for his chemotherapy at Shaukat Khanum Hospital in Lahore and also attended his funeral prayers.
Those were the days and due to my father’s dynamic and noncontroversial personality the Karimi House was the hub of the major developments of the time. It was due to the legacy that the house entailed that senior journalist M Riaz referred to the Karimi House as ‘milestone’ of Peshawar’s modern history when the last PTI Government wanted to take a chunk of its premises due to a ridiculous road widening scheme.
My father and also my uncles, my father’s older brothers Syed Phool Badshah and Syed Zaffar Ali Shah, had no parallel in hospitality. “Karimi House ka dastarkhwaan” was legendry. Diplomats, bureaucrats, industrialists, politicians, ulema, literati, local elders, in short, whoever visited Peshawar would inevitably end up on our table, and what a spread it would be. The food was sumptuous, specially cooked staying true to the Peshawari cuisine with guest numbers averaging between twenty-five to thirty. Dinners were often back to back – sometimes four every week. All chipped in from trained staff to accomplished outstanding chefs to members of the family, including the youngsters who served and no one including our elders would eat with the guests as the true Peshawari tradition dictated. My eldest cousin Syed Muddassir Ali Shah would confirm the guests’ attendance and receive them at the front gate of the Karimi House ushering them in. The Karimi House was the venue for most of the weddings in the family in an age when there was no concept of generic ugly wedding halls, weddings took place at homes and people of the vicinity would open their doors and hearts for others both in the time of rejoice or sorrow. This local tradition is almost nonexistent now.
Agha Gul, as we would lovingly call him, had a penchant for keeping the family united for which he sacrificed a lot. He made it a point to get all close family together and would be constantly surrounded by them be that in the workplace or at home. It was a family custom for all to pray together on the Taak nights of Ramadan where he would recite the entire Holy Quran in one night from Iftaar to Sehri. Friday prayers were mandatory in Reti Bazaar with his erstwhile neighbors and family. He made it a point that all male members of the family visited weddings and funerals together. He was also aware of the inevitability that after his demise the family ties won’t hold together and used to say that we would all scatter like beads of a rosary. He was the center to which everyone gravitated. How true he was as the same blood ties that bound us together are there for namesake only, the people he trusted most become the perpetrators of the disintegration of the family. It was a blessing he did not get to see the worst in all that he kept so close and dear.
He was instrumental in developing a business base that spearheaded careers for many. From the humble origins of Mohsin Brothers, a hardware wholesale business in Reti Gate in the early Fifties, he started his illustrious career moving on to Nowshera Engineering, the first rolling mill of the province to Sarhad Bank, first privately owned bank, to Sager Jeddah, to Karcon Pvt Ltd, a construction company, to Mashriq Peshawar. This business repertoire is intermittent with his association of the countless organizations – Federation of Chambers and RCD to name a few. Despite his robustness, keen understanding of social and political undercurrent, he never aspired for a public office and we always saw him calling the shots from the backbenches hardly vying for the limelight. He did however enjoy being recognized and respected in public places.
Where family was of profound importance to him, he felt strongly for the extended family as well. His dream was to unite the Sadaat community of Peshawar, work for their wellbeing and connect them with the rest of the country. To achieve this end, he organized the Ahle Sadaat of the inner city to get together on the platform of an august body ‘Jamiat e Saadaat” with likeminded elders and also took Maulvi Ameer Shah Gillani (Maulvi Ji Sarkar) on board. Unfortunately till date the Sadaat have not realized their collective potential and forever remain divided.
My father had certain endearing habits like he would always eat one quarter of a tandoori naan never more, recite the Holy Quran every morning, walk in the garden (reciting Hamd or Naat at the same time), leave home at 9am sharp and almost without fail give a list of his contacts and friends to the telephone operator (each day different names) just to touch base. Once he called Pir Sabir Shah and explained a story that may have run against him in Mashriq newspaper, of which Pir Sahib knew nothing till my father’s phone call.
I am not trying to portray my father as a saint here, God forbid; just recollecting his easy countenance and good nature like any loving son would do for an amazing father. He was after all an ordinary human being just like us all; he was successful in life because he had struck a balance between spirituality and worldly affairs something we fail to do in this time and age. What he stood for and others from his generation is very important same set of values family, fellow feeling is fading and we need to change it
22nd death anniversary of Syed Taj Mir Shah (1928 – 1998)