Chapter 4. Ahsan Manzil and Dilkusha Gardens

Our home in Dhaka, Bait-ul-Amn (the house of peace) was in the northern most part of an area known as Ramna, about half a mile from where Sheraton Hotel is situated at present. It was on Mymensingh Road (now Kazi Nazrul Islam road) moving towards Tejgaon where the airport was built many years later. At that time there was a small strip of a runway between paddy fields in Dhanmandi from where a two-seater Survey plane used to take off every morning and return in the afternoon. Bilquiss, Shahed and I used to get up very early in the morning in the winter and walk up to Dhanmandi to see this plane take off.

Family members living in Ahsan Manzil came to visit our parents, specially mother, and spend the whole day with us. We were also taken to Ahsan Manzil once in a while, particular during festivals, to meet and pay respects to family elders. Our first stop would invariably be “River View”, the home of K. M. Ismail whom we called Ismail Bhaiia. He was the brother of our grandmother (Nani), and we were very friendly with his children Najma, Anwar and Hamid. The youngest, Ibrahim, was too young then. We were all very fond of their mother Obaida Begum, from Benares, whom we called Bhabi.

River View” was situated next to the Eastern Gate of Ahsan Manzil. The other place, where we went more often, was “Dilkusha Gardens” where our great grandmother (Khodeija Begum, whom we called Bari Nano) lived. She passed away much earlier. However, our grandfather (Nana) Nawabzada Khwaja Atiqullah also lived there as also a number of uncles and aunts. He had married several times, the last among them was Aziz Begum whom we called Choti Nano. One of her sons, Khwaja Mashooqullah, was just a year younger than me, and we were good friends.

During our winter holidays we were usually taken to Calcutta where we stayed with Chachajan (Uncle Khwaja Nazimuddin) and family. We spent a lot of time with our first cousins Zafar and Mohiuddin. We also visited and paid our respects to Kalkatta ki Nano ( Grandma of Calcutta as we used to call Nawabzadi Pari Bano Begum) All the children there, including Akhtar and Ayesha were quite small.In  those days Calcutta was known to be the best place in India to spend the Christmas season, and we used to look forward to the New Year parade. One summer we went to Darjeeling to say with Chachajan and family in their house “Glen Eden”. What we liked the most there, was riding horses every morning and going to the Gymkhana Club for roller skating.

In the year 1936, if I remember correctly, Chachajan (uncle Khwaja Nazimuddin)  then a Member of the Governor’s Executive Council, took four month’s leave to perform Hajj, and father was appointed to take his place for four months. That meant father had to spend considerable time in Calcutta and Darjeeling. Mother used to accompany him and took Hushmat, then six, with her. During their absence father’s cousin, Bajia Begum, whom we called Bari Phuppi, came and stayed with us in Bait-ul-Amn. Her grandson, Tajammul, was a good friend of mine. He, along with his brother, Nurul Hasan and sister, Nasera used to come over quite often. Another person who came to stay with us, in fact, a regular visitor, was Zohra Bari Amma, an aunt (Khala) of our grandfather Atiqullah Nana. The main person, however, who took charge of us – Bilquiss, Shahed and myself – was Zaki Bhaijan.

Having talked about Ahsan Manzil and Dilkusha Gardens I might as well reproduce a description of Ahsan Manzil from WIKIPEDIA.

“Ahsan Manzil  was the official residential palace and seat of the Dhaka Nawab Family. It is situated on the banks of the Buriganga River in Bangladesh. The palace became the Bangladesh National Museum on 20 September 1992. It is constructed in the Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture.

“Shyamal Roy says: The palace has enjoyed a varied history, starting from being Rang Mahal (of Sheikh Enayetullah, a Zamindar of Jamalpur pargana (Barisal) during the time of the Mughals) to a French trading centre. Nawab Khwaja Alimullah bought it from the French in 1830 and converted it into his residence, effecting necessary reconstruction and renovations. The final reconstruction was done by Martin. The construction of the palace was begun in 1859 and completed in 1872. Abdul Ghani named it Ahsan Manzil after his son Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah. The newly built palace first came to be known as the Rang Mahal. On April 7, 1888, a tornado caused severe damage to Ahsan Manzil — Andar Mahal, the older part of the palace, was completely devastated. During the reconstruction of the Andar Mahal a good part of the palace was overhauled and repaired, and the exquisite dome of the present Rang Mahal was added. Ahsan Manzil was again damaged by an earthquake in 12 June 1897 and again repaired by the Nawab Ahsanullah.

In 1874, Lord Northbrook, Governor General of India attended an evening function in the palace when he came to lay the foundation of a water works installed by Nawab Abdul Ghani. In 1888, Lord Dufferin also accepted the hospitality offered at Ahsan Manzil. In 1904 Lord Curzon, on a visit to East Bengal, stayed in this palace on 18 and 19 February to win public support for the proposed Partition of Bengal.

“Almost all political activities of Nawab Khwaja Salimullah centred round this palace. Ahsan Manzil was the cradle of the All India Muslim League. With the decline of the Nawabs of Dhaka, Ahsan Manzil also started to decline.

“Recognizing the historical and architectural importance of the Ahsan Manzil, the government of Bangladesh took the initiative to renovate it. In 1985 Ahsan Manzil and its surroundings were acquired. After the completion of the renovation work in 1992 under the supervision of the Directorate of Public Works and Architecture, it was brought under the control of Bangladesh National Museum (20 September 1992). A museum has been established there.”

Following is an extract from a comprehensive description of Dilkusha Gardens by Dr. K. Ismail Sudderuddin (my wife, Ayesha’s brother) in his Booklet “Dilkusha that made me, me.”, with his kind permission.

“The Nawab Family originated in East Bengal and Dhaka was its home base, although from 1915 to 1942 Dadi (Grandmother Nawabzadi Peri Bano Begum) had moved with her family to Kolkata, capital of Bengal where she set up home at 36. Theatre Road. In 1942, she moved back to Dhaka first in Bait-ul-Amn and, finally in Dikusha Gardens where the present day Motijheel Industrial Estate stands. Dilkusha was a vast estate built by one Martin Burns of Kolakata along the lines of an English manor. Nawab Abdul Ghani had bought 15 bighas of land in 1866 to which Nawab Ahsanullah added more land later on.

“The initial estate at 15 bighas equaled 5 acres or some 700 metres long and 140 metres wide, roughly 102,000 sq m. It was on high ground and never flooded even during the worst Dhaka floods. It was enclosed by high walls with a main entrance (“Ghanta pahra” or gong area) manned round-the-clock  Dilkusha mosque, still extant, stood near the main entrance. The mosque minaret boasted a big, white clock but the hourly gongs were sounded by the guards (durwans) with a resounding thump as they struck a solid brass plate with a wooden hammer; the number of gongs denoting the hours. The main building was Bara Andar, a huge, double-story mansion of red brick surrounded by trees and gardens, and the pearl (moti) lake nearby. (The lake was called “Motihjeel”).

Many significant social, cultural and political events took place in Dilkusha Gardens. Nawab Abdul Ghani held a conference of local experts on the occasion of the visit of an Italian pundit who came to study Sanskrit. On 21 August 1888, Nawab Ahsanullah hosted a grand reception for Lt. Governor Sir Stuart Bailey who was visiting Dhaka. And in 1891, he organised an industrial and agricultural fair to mark the New Year. When Ahsan Manzil was damaged by a tornado in 1888, Ahanullah and family moved to Bara Andar for a few years. On 22 July 1902, Nawab Salimullah held a discussion with Governor Woodburn in Dilkusha. He also held a reception here for Governor Lord Carmichael and wife on 20 July 1914. In 1948, H.Shaheed Surahwardy and Abdul Hameed Khan Bhashani sat with Khwaja Nasrullah to discuss poltical matters”.

It will not be out of place here, to add a few lines, written by Dr. Ismail Sudderuddin, about his Dadi (grandmother), as she is also the grandmother of her eldest grandchild, my wife, Ayesha.

“Of the times that I write about, my paternal grandma, Dadi was the matriach, supremo, not only in our household but in the whole of the Dhaka Nawab Family. She was the daughter of the much respected Nawab Sir Ahsanullah and she was the senior-most member of the Nawab family then living.”


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