By Najma Rahman Quader
Khwaja Mohammad Ismail was born in Dhaka in 1885, the son of Khwaja Salimullah and Khodeija Begum. His father died when he was only twelve years old and Nawab Ahsanullah brought him up thereafter.
In 1905 Khwaja Mohammad Ismail accepted the position of Deputy Superintendent of Police and served in that role for five years. However, the restrictions and obligations of Government service did not suit him and he therefore resigned from the Police Service. Since he was not in need of money, he never took another job but he had a continued interest in politics. As a young man he worked tirelessly to help Nawab Salimullah in organising the historic Muslim Educational Conference held in Dhaka in 1906, where he had the opportunity to meet important Muslim leaders of the time. He performed Haj in Makkah with his relative Sir Khwaja Nazimuddin, later to become Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Later he became a member of the Railway Board of Bengal (an honorary position) and in 1938 was appointed a member of the Bengal Legislative Council, the second chamber of the provincial parliament, where he served a four-year term. He was awarded the title of ‘Khan Bahadur’, given by the British in recognition of service to the community and country.
Before 1949, the local administration of Dhaka City consisted of 22 Panchayats (local Councils). Khwaja Mohammad Ismail served as President of the Panchayats for ten years. Hardly any disputes went to the law courts in those days as disagreements were settled in the Panchayat meetings, which were held every Thursday. Even very difficult disputes were resolved there. After both sides had presented their case, the President, advised by a committee of elders, would give his ruling. Because of trust, respect and confidence in the impartiality and justice of the President, his verdict was never questioned.
Khwaja Muhammad Ismail was Vice-President of the Urdu Association of Bengal from 1932 to 1942 and did much to promote the Urdu language, often entertaining prominent Urdu writers at his house, River View. He both read and wrote Urdu poetry and took part in poetry ‘Mushairas’. When he became older his main pastime was reading Urdu books, especially the classical ones. He had a substantial library, which he left to a nearby Muslim High School.
In his youth, Khwaja Muhammad Ismail was a good sportsman who took part in wrestling and was a member of the Nawab’s hockey team. Indeed he was one of those who introduced hockey as an official sport in Bengal and later in life was a regular referee for the Dhaka Sporting Association. He was an excellent horseman and played polo regularly. However a serious leg injury incurred in falling from a horse left him with a permanent limp and necessitated the use of a walking stick for the rest of his life.
Khwaja Muhammad Ismail was known for his kindness and generosity towards family members, especially those who were not well off. He helped them financially when they were in difficulty and would regularly invite them to River View for tea and ‘baqarkhani’ (Bread). He never intentionally hurt or harmed anybody and if he ever did so by mistake, he would immediately beg forgiveness. He was extremely well-liked by members of his family and even today they remember him and narrate many stories of his generosity and kindness. He died in Dhaka in 1959 and was buried in the family graveyard in Begum Bazar.