NAWAB KHWAJA HABIBULLAH BAHADUR, who succeeded his father, Nawab Sir Salimullah, was born on April 26, 1895. He was educated at St. Paul’s School, Darjeeling, and during the First World War (1914-18), he volunteered and was granted an honorary commission as Lieutenant in the 49th. Bengal Regiment and sent to Mesopotamia to serve with the British Indian Army there. He returned home, and took over the responsibility as the Nawab of Dhaka on June 10, 1915.
NAWAB BAHADUR, as he came to be known after the title of “Bahadur” was conferred upon him, had taken an active part in the Khilafat Movement of 1921, and had presided over the Annual Conference of Kashmir Muslim Association at Amritsar in 1930. He had been a member of the Dhaka District Board and the Dhaka Municipality, and the Chief of Dhaka Panchayet. He was elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1937, and served as Minister of Agriculture, Local Self Government and Public Health in the Muslim League/Krishak Proja Party Coalition Government under the Premiership of A.K. Fazlul Haq. That was the time when, in addition to himself and Khwaja Nazimuddin, who was also a Minister in the Fazlul Haq Cabinet, the following family members were elected representatives: Syed Sahib-e-Alam. Khwaja Nasarullah, Khwaja Nooruddin, Syed Abdus Salim, Khwaja Shahabuddin and Begum Farhat Shahabuddin (Members of Legislative Assembly), K.M. Ismail (Membe Legislative Council), and Syed Abdul Hafiz as a member of the Council of State in New Delhi, which was equal to the Upper House.
The Nawab Bahadur did one more stint as a Minister during the years 1941-44. when he held the portfolio of Commerce, Industry and Labour. After the partition of India, and during the time Mohammad A]i of Bogra was Prime Minister of Pakistan, he had been a member of the Provincial Assembly (MPA) and by 1956, he had retired from active politics.
Keeping up the traditions of those times, Nawab Habibullah had several wives, at different times, and had five sons and two daughters – Nawabzadas Khwaja Hassan Askari, Khwaja Hafizullah, Khwaia Abdul Ghani, Khwaja Tufail and Khwaja Khalid Amirullah (Munni); and Nawabzadis Amina Bano (Apoo) and Asmat Bano (Bobo).
The last three children were from his fifth and last wife, Nawab Ayesha Begum, whom he had married in Calcutta in 1932. She was the daughter of His Highness of Chole Udaipur who had adopted the name Abdul Jabbar on becoming a Muslim. His Highness then married Nawab Begum’s mother, Gauhar Jan, in London, the daughter of Maulana Vilayet Hussain of Allahbad. The Dowager Nawab Ayesha Begum remembers him with great fondness, love and affection. The most wonderful being, a loving husband, caring and considerate. A doting father who loved all his children dearly. but was particularly fond of his two daughters. Having seen the best that life had to offer, and living in glory and splendour, Nawab Ayesha Begum had accepted with faith and fortitude her situation, living in a one-bedroom flat on the terrace of a two storied house in Gulshan-e-lqbal, Karachi, devoting herself to the bringing up and education of her twelve-year old grand-daughter. Anita (Shaher Bano) – who lives with her – the youngest child of Bobo and Hitcha.
One great thing about Nawab Habibullah, it is said, was that he was easily accessible to all members of the family, high or low, at all times and he maintained close touch with Ahsan Manzil. His home in Calcutta always remained open for even the poorest member of the family. He had a most colourful personality, a keen sense of humour and was deeply interested in encouraging sporting and cultural activities among the youth in the family. One Sunday, remembers Zaki Bhaijan (Khwaja Zakiuddin), the youngsters had got together in Ahsan Manzil and were playing with mud and sand when Nawab Chacha, as we called him, joined in the fun and later took all the boys upstairs and gave them all a bath himself. It was then he decided to form the “Funny Boys Club” with Zakiuddin, the eldest among them, as President, and all others took turns as secretaries.
The club meetings used to take place on Sundays, once or twice a month in various homes, by rotation, for picnics, playing games, swimming and other activities. One of the conditions used to be that every member must write an essay on a subject of his choice in English, and bring it to the meeting to be read one by one. The youngest three members, I remember so clearly, Hafizullah, Anwar and myself, must have been so small that we were required to write “ABCD” for every meeting. The senior boys. as they were then, as I remember were: Zakiuddin. Wasiuddin, Hassan Askari, K.M- Kaiser. Yusut Reza, Hassan Reza, Ahmed Reza, Rahman Quader, Sobhan Quader, Shah Alam, Wali (brother of Saeeda Kaiser). Amir Ahmed (son of Mirza Faqlr Mohamrnad), Mushtaque and others.
Nawab Habibullah was a very keen sportsman, and was particularly fond of cricket- The team that he favoured most, till his death, was Australia. Nevertheless, he never missed an opportunity to listen to the cricket commentary of a test match. He went to such an extent, says Khwaja Ibrahim, that he used to make his children sit by the radio with pencils and scoring sheets to record the proceedings of the match ‘ball to ball’. They had to remain by the radio through out the match irrespective of whether it was played for the full five days or finished earlier. As President of the Wanderers Cricket Club, he used to take active interest by spending every evening on the playing field, watching the performance of each player, and along with Ibrahim and others, he would select the team for the next match.
He was a man of extraordinary habits and temperament, as Khwaja Ibrahim observed, particularly during the last few years before his death, when he was very close to him. The most amazing thing he discovered about him was that it he lost his temper at any time, a glass of cold water would calm him down immediately. This was actually pointed out to him by his daughter, Apoo, whom Ibrahim eventually married.
After retiring from active politics, and when he was living in the “Green House” opposite the Intercontinental Hotel, as it then was, says. Ibrahim, Nawab Sahib used to be visited every Friday by some members of the family from Ahsan Manzil. They spent the whole day with him playing card games like “Mandila” or “Black Queen”, as they were known, and filling him up with “gossip” and news about happenings within and outside Ahsan Manzil. Their rickshaw fare was paid, and, in addition, each person was supplied with five packets of cigarettes, but funnily enough they were not allowed to use a single ‘match-stick’ from his box of matches. Hell used to break loose if by mistake any one of them had used a single match-stick from his match box. Ibrahim has much more to say, but, lack of space restricts us from adding more interesting incidents from the life of Nawab Habibullah Bahadur of Dhaka.
It was in the early hours of the morning of November 21, 1958, that Nawab Khwaja Habibullah Bahadur left for his eternal heavenly home for his soul to rest in eternal peace. He was succeeded by his eldest son Nawab Khwaja Hassan Askari, the last Nawab of Dhaka.