Before he died my father drew me a handwritten map of the family home in Srinagar, with Dal Lake as reference, in case I was able to visit. I now have a photograph of my grandfather’s erstwhile home at 4 Exchange Road, Srinagar; however, a search on Google Earth is the closest I’ve actually gotten. (If anyone knows more about when the building was knocked down and who lived there after 1947, I’d love to know. I should add that my grandfather was given restitution after Partition, so we have no claim.)
I am slowly piecing together the past from my home far away in California, using the enforced leisure that the COVID virus affords. I know that as a young lawyer my grandfather went to Srinagar in 1903; my cousin says he wanted to escape the British Raj. He was Punjabi but his wife was from Kashmir. Grandfather rose to become Chief Judge of the princely state, and then in 1924, Home Minister of Kashmir, until his retirement in 1929.
If anyone has knowledge or has heard recollections of that period, I’d be most interested.
In 1923 in Simla, a Sanad promoted him to Khan Bahadur Maulana Nazir Ahmad. My grandfather worked in Srinagar during the reign of Maharaja Pratap Singh till 1924, and then Maharaja Hari Singh from 1924. He continued to live in his beloved Srinagar after retirement until Partition, when he left for Pakistan.
I now realize that Grandfather ardently believed in educating his daughters; he put the family through considerable disruption to convey the girls safely across the mountain passes to boarding school in Punjab. One daughter, my aunt Kaniz Fatimah, qualified as LSMF (the equivalent of MBBS at the time) and practiced as both a medical doctor and as a surgeon in the 1930-1940s in Srinagar. Her husband was Dr Muhammad Abdullah. A Muslim woman practicing as a medical doctor during that period must have been novel. I would like to learn more from those who have records or memories from that period.
Medicine ran for generations in my family of hakims and my father and uncle also became doctors. My father, Said Ahmad, obtained his FRCS from London in 1931. I am told he was the first Muslim to do so from the sub-continent and it was in record time too. He went on to join the army as a doctor but when he left in 1946, the first place he went was Srinagar, where he’d grown up.
As a result of Partition, my father settled in Pakistan, where he helped lay the foundation for the medical system as administrator of the flagship Jinnah Hospital in Karachi and builder of the Department of Surgery at Civil Hospital. He was also a prolific innovator of new techniques and a teacher, and published extensively and globally. After a distinguished career, at age 60 he built Said Clinic, the premier private hospital in Karachi at the time and which my mother ran as Chief Administrator. He practiced into his 80s, and was reportedly one of just two surgeons at the time (the other was in Australia) to have done surgery continuously for over 60 years. He loved what he did.
He also never lost his love for Kashmir. I remember my father persistently trying to recreate the lush forest of his childhood at our home in the desert of urban Karachi, planting trees and flowers. My niece in London, who helped me edit this blog, says even my house in California - with its wooden deck and hilltop view over tall trees looking towards the water - unwittingly recreates grandfather’s Srinagar house. Can we ever leave history behind?
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Faruq Ahmad left his family home in Karachi aged eighteen and went to the US to study. After obtaining advanced degrees from MIT and Stanford, he made his career in innovation and technology and settled in Silicon Valley, where he currently lives.