By Khwaja Sayeed Shahabuddin
“This message is long overdue” wrote Almas Zakiuddin, in her e-mail from Vancouver on Monday 28th November. She continued: “and I am really sorry for the delay. I did not forget in fact every evening I would sit down to write but I could not bring myself to write to you. I know how deeply you will mourn the loss of your dear childhood friend Ikram Mallick.”
”He passed away more than a month ago, on October 24th. I went across to see the family at once and we all met in the Mosque because they had bathed his body and he was lying there, looking at peace. But I could not write to you about it all this time. I don’t know why. Yesterday I went to his Quran Khwani and decided that I would write and tell you. He has left behind a loving family and such wonderful memories and the main thing is, he died peacefully, with his near and dear ones around him.”
Almas, I may add here is a senior journalist and, at one time, was Managing Editor of Gulf News Magazine in Dubai (U.A.E.).
I am deeply grieved and pray: May the Lord Almighty grant his soul to rest in eternal heavenly peace, and grant Khadeeje and all members of his family, the patience and courage to bear this irreparable loss and accept His will with faith and fortitude. Aameen
It was in February 1937, when we were just over thirteen years old, that we met at the All India Scouts Jamboree held in New Delhi. I was in a group of Boy Scouts from various schools in Dhaka, and three Scout Masters, that proceeded to Calcutta (now Kolkata) where 400 Boy Scouts from all over Bengal got together. We left Calcutta by a special train, stopping in Lucknow for a whole day sight-seeing, and arriving in Delhi, if I remember correctly, on 7th February. On our return journey, a week later, we stopped at Agra and visited the Taj Mahal.
An enormous area of the Old Polo ground was filled with tents to accommodate 8000 Boy scouts from all over India. Each province of India had its own camp. Ours had the ‘Bengal Tiger’ displayed prominently at the entrance. Each province had its own programme of activities and, at the same time, competed against one another at various games, including Boxing, and each province had its own Camp fire every night. There was ‘free time’ of two hours every afternoon when we were free to do what we wanted. I was keen on meeting Boy Scouts from other parts of India, so, I spent my ‘free time’ visiting as many camps as I could each day. It must have been the first day that I visited the camp of the N.W.F.P. (now Khyberpakhtunwa) Scouts, where I met Ikramul Haq, and we got to like each other straight away.
Since then he accompanied me to as many camps as we could visit during the week and we exchanged addresses with fellow Scouts from other provinces of India. On the last night a big Camp fire was held which was attended by 8000 Boy Scouts. The Chief Guest was Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts movement, and Lady Baden Powell. The most touching moment, that night, was when 8000 Boy Scouts sang Rabindra Nath Tagore’s “Jana gana mana odhinayaka joyo hei” (Each one of us was given a copy of the song printed in ‘Roman English”). It is now the National Anthem of the Republic of India. Finally, the week long event came to an end and Ikramul Haq and Sayeed, as they came to know each other, said farewell promising to keep in touch.
In March 1937 my youngest brother, the late K. M. Shahed and I were sent as boarders to St. Paul’s School, Darjeeling. He was nine and I was thirteen and a half years old. As soon as I settled down, I started writing letters, which was like my hobby – I even had a girl pen-friend in New Zealand called June Izzard – and the only fellow Scout who responded was Ikramul Haq with his photograph which I still have somewhere in one of my photo albums. We continued to exchange letters even after I had joined the Training Ship Dufferin in January 1939, and we lost touch when the Brirtish Merchant Ship, aboard which I was serving as a cadet, still in my teens, was sunk by a Japanese submarine and I spent a little under four years as a prisoner of the Imperial Japanese Army.
After the end of World War II I had a chequered career which included a Five Year Short Service Commission, in what was then known as the Royal Pakistan Navy, and I was posted as Divisional Sea Transport Officer (Pakistan) in Karachi. Some time in 1953 I went to Chittagong on a tour of duty as Lieut. Commander K. S. Shahabuddin and I was received and taken care of by Commander I. H. Mallick, with whom I stayed and was taken round by him to meet various officials in the Port of Chittagong. In 1971 he was Chairman, Chittagong Port and later, chairman, Port Qasim Authority in Pakistan. However, on the third and final day of my visit to Chittagong, we were being driven in the afternoon to meet an official when, during our conversation, Commander Mallick said something about Peshawar. Suddenly I turned, and facing him asked: “Are you Ikramul Haq?” He answered by asking: “Are you Sayeed?” Just imagine, we spent three days together without knowing that we were boy-hood friends since we met at the All India Scouts Jamboree in New Delhi in February 1937, meeting for the first time as adults after sixteen years.
Many years later, one day my brother-in-law (Hamzulf) Qamar-ul-Islam Abbas (Bar-at-Law) invited me to have lunch at the Marriot to meet a friend of his. There is no prize for guessing. It was Ikramul Haq. Later he told me that Ikramul Haq had moved to the U.S.A. but there was no news where he was.
In April 2002, our daughter, Nazli, along with her husband, Taimur Shah and daughters Zeyna and Mona, migrated to Canada after spending twenty five years in the U.A.E. It was a most generous gift that my wife Ayesha, received from her brother Badar, living in Canada, that enabled us to visit Canada in the summer of 2002. En route, we stopped over in London for two weeks with Hamid and Lucy. Although the Shahs had bought a house in Mississauga, they were not settled. So we spent the first fortnight with Ayesha’s sister, Lal and her husband, the late Najmul Huq, who was lovingly called Ziad. While in Canada we visited Ayesha’s brother, Shams and his wife Nasreen in Seattle, and spent a week with Najma (my aunt, but younger than me by ten days and my friend since childhood) and Rahman Quader Bhaijan, in Irvine, California.
With great difficulty, Commodore Syed Fazle Rab (a former officer of the Pakistan Navy, married to our cousin Shakila Salim) living in Annaheim Hills, about an hour’s drive from Irvine, managed to persuade Najma to let us spend a night with them. After breakfast the following morning, we were talking about our common acquaintances in the Navy when I asked him if he had any idea where I. H. Mallick was, as I had heard he was somewhere in the U.S.A. Fazl promptly took out his cell phone, dialed a number and handed the cell phone to me. What a pleasant surprise it was to find Ikramul Haq on the line from Vancouver. It so happened that Shams and Nasreen had arranged to take us to Vancouver on our return from California, so Ikramul Haq and I made plans to meet. He was so kind and gracious to invite Shams, Nasreen, Ayesha and myself to have lunch with him in a restaurant. Unfortunately, we could not meet his wife Khadeeje who was not well. That was the last time, in August 2002 that we met. Back in Karachi I kept in touch with him via the e-mail until he stopped responding due to ill health.
Finally, Ayesha and I were invited to lunch one day by Binoo Bhabi, wife of my eldest brother, the late Khwaja Zakiuddin, to meet a friend of her daughter Almas who had come from Vancouver. Somehow, I did not get an opportunity to talk to Almas’ friend, Mehryn, and was most disappointed and very angry with myself when I learnt later that she was the daughter of my very dear friend Ikramul Haq. I wish I had known then that Almas knew the family in Vancouver.
I am deeply indebted to Almas for keeping me informed about his health from time to time, and, knowing my feelings for him, it took her a long time to get down to letting me know that he had passed away.
Our friendship will now be recorded permanently in this, the December 2011 issue, which brings to an end the publication of the:
DHAKA NAWAB FAMILY NEWSLETTER