Chapter 25. My Marriage

AYESHA SULTANA, the eldest of fourteen children of the late Khwaja and Begum Chandni Sudderuddin, was kind and gracious to agree to her parent’s decision to accept a proposal from my parents to be married to me. It fulfilled my keen desire to marry her. My parents had someone else in mind but, I had told my mother very clearly that I did not want to marry any other girl in the family other than Ayesha.

It was the 6th March 1948, when the late Uncle Azad, my mother’s brother, helped me to dress for the wedding. Thus, by the grace and mercy of the Lord Almighty,the Aqd (wedding ceremony} was performed at 4 p.m. in the elegant Hall of Ahsan Manzil Palace after which the guests were entertained to a lavish tea in the garden overlooking the river Buriganga.

A couple of hours later, soon after Maghrib (the evening prayer) we moved to Dilkusha Gardens, Ayesha’a home, where the Ruhnumaee (a ceremony where the bride and groom meet. In orthodox families, they see each other, for the first time, in a mirror) ceremony was held in the presence of a packed house of ladies.

The late Aunty Furrokh, my mother’s first cousin, very tall and fair with piercing blue eyes, controlled the gathering so well that not one person moved from where they were sitting, and everyone had a clear view of the bride and bridegroom on the dias. As per tradition, we were covered with a white sheet of cloth and a mirror was placed for us to see one another. Ayesha looked the ravishing beauty that she was, and still is, and, as soon as we were uncovered, there was thunderous clapping from all present.

Ayesha and I were now legally married husband and wife. There was joy and happiness all round but, the one person who could not hold her tears of joy and happiness, thanking God for something she must have prayed for, was Ayesha’s paternal grandmother (Dadi), the late Nawabzadi Peri Bano Begum, who was now showering her blessings upon us.

Ayesha then took leave of her parents and, accompanied by my mother, we got into the beautifully decorated car, which still had the Calcutta number plate – BLA 1 – driven by Rohi Das, who came to work for uncle Nazimuddin as a teen-ager in Paribagh, before uncle got married, and served him and his family faithfully until his death in 1971.

We drove to “Burdawan House” the residence of uncle Khwaja Nazimuddin. The day’s festivity ended with a grand dinner hosted by uncle and aunty Nazimuddin attended by members of both families and many others.

After two days Ayesha and I left for Calcutta en route to Shillong in Assam to spend our honeymoon. My parents were then living in Calcutta and came to Dhaka for the wedding.

Ayesha was only eighteen when she married a person, such as me, aged 24, who was weak in health, covered with a chronic skin ailment picked up in the jungles of Nias Island, under Japanese captivity, and in the process of recovering from the shock of the sudden change from hardship to the comfort and luxury of freedom and home life.

It was Ayesha’s steadfastness, loving kindness, her thoughtfulness, her sense of humour and zest for living that carried us through the ups and downs of our lives. She has been a devoted wife, mother and the source of helping and looking after me, as we moved from place to place, from one job to another during a long and chequered career.

I thank the Lord Almighty for His grace and mercy in blessing us with a daughter like Nazli, and a son-in-law, Taimur Shah, (a former SSG Major of the Pakistan Army) and two lovely grand daughters, Zeyna and Mona.

As I write, my mind travels back many years to remind me about the time we spent in Shillong, capital of the Indian province of Assam, on our honeymoon. In those early days, after the partition of the sub-continent in 1947 into two countries, there were no restrictions in traveling between East Pakistan and India.

On our way to Shillong we had to spend a couple of days in Calcutta to attend a ceremony organized by the British India Stream Navigation Company aboard their passenger vessel “Karagola”, in the Kidderpore docks, on 9th March 1948. The occasion was the presentation of the Lloyds War Medal, awarded to me by the Committee of Lloyds, London, for my part in the action when our ship s.s. Chilka was sunk by a Japanese submarine on 11th March 1942.

For Ayesha, who came from a very conservative family and lived quite a secluded life, it was quite an experience to find herself in the company of a fairly large number of European ladies and gentlemen who had been invited to attend the function. As I was being “piped” up the gangway two cadets stood at attention on either side of the gangway with their palms facing downwards in ‘salute’, when Ayesha, put her hand out towards the cadet to her right.

He turned red in the face and gradually brought his hand down for her to shake. After the presentation and speeches while the guests were having drinks and eats, the Chairman of the company, Mr. Simon, the Chief Guest, was talking to Ayesha. In her nervousness her hand bag fell on to the deck. Being a gentleman, Mr. Simon bent down to pick it up but, before his hand reached the bag, Ayesha had picked it up. She was quite nervous but carried herself as well as the occasion demanded.

To reach Shillong, a lovely hill station in Assam, we traveled by train from Calcutta to Gauhati and then by car to Shillong. At a stop en route to have lunch, a convoy of cars went past and we had a glimpse of Lord and Lady Mountbatten in a Viceregal car. I did not know then that the Naval A.D.C. Lt. P. N. Parashar, accompanying him, was one of my colleagues in the Training Ship Dufferin.

In Shillong, we stayed in one of the small cottages of Ferndale Hotel which was most comfortable, the food and service were excellent. We used to go for walks, played tennis and made friends with other guests in the Hotel. However, the only thing Ayesha remembers and relates with great humour is that, due to my deep religiosity, at that time, I carried a copy of the Qur’an to our honeymoon..

At the first available opportunity, we called on Mr. & Mrs. S. V. Mukherjee, parents of Swarup Mukherjee, to pay our respects. The Mukherjees, including their daughter Rita, who lived with them, and later became a well-known Indian classical dancer, were so kind and gracious that they took us along with them to all the parties to which they were invited – being an important member of the high social circle of Shillong.

We had the rare privilege and pleasure of enjoying the hospitality of various functionaries of the Government of Assam, including Justice Fakhruddin Ahmed, the Advocate General, later the President of India; and General Habibullah of the Indian Army who was G.O.C. Eastern command.

Little did we know then that we were destined to spend the first two years of our married life in Gauhati, capital of the Indian province of Assam, situated on the banks of the river Brahmaputra, and not too far away from the Hill Station, Shillong.

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