Memories of Pir Pagaro’s Aligarh days

Syed Sikandar Shah favoured Cafe de Jamil, owned a horse called Sultana.


S Ausaf Husain January 11, 2012

In 1944, my father, who was in the police, was posted at Etah, a district neighbouring Aligarh, while my uncle was deputed as a city magistrate in Aligarh. My uncle’s official residence was in a portion of a large house called Zia Manzil. The other part of the house became the lodgings for Syed Sikandar Shah, who succeeded his father as Pir Pagaro, and his younger brother, Syed Nadir Shah.

The brothers were sent to Aligarh Muslim University from 1943 to 1946 by the British government. Before partition, they were shifted to Liverpool, England, where he was admitted to Major Davis Private School. They were housed under the guardianship of a British professor, Mr Turner, who lived with and was very kind to them.

Syed Sikandar Shah was never seen among students who were childish or immature. On the other hand, his younger brother Syed Nadir Shah was quite liberal, and was always surrounded by classmates and friends.

Sikandar was a very good horse rider. We joined the Aligarh Muslim University Riding School and would cycle to the school for practice on every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. His mare was called Sultana and she was rather naughty. While the other members of the riding school were scared of her, Syed Sikandar Shah easily kept her under control. At one cross-country excursion, our instructor warned all of us to remain alert, especially Sikandar. “Sir, I know Sultana very well,” he replied. “She knows me very well too and I can always feel and sense her movements.”

But as our troop reached the old fort in Aligarh, a wolf suddenly dashed out and crossed Sikandar. The horses dispersed and even though Sultana tried to run, Sikandar confidently remained seated.

He was also a very good shot. In December 1946, we happened to go to Hindu village called Mallahon ka Nagla. Sikandar was tempted when he saw a herd and shot a black deer. We dashed towards the injured deer with knives so we could kill it, but villagers suddenly ran towards us, carrying sticks and axes and shouting ‘Pakro Pakro’ (catch them). But Sikandar bravely warned the crowds to stay away.

Sikandar and Nadir also attended the Aligarh Exhibition, which is still held in India. Sikandar was not extravagant but was very choosy in selecting things to buy. While walking on the exhibition grounds he looked graceful in the Aligarh Muslim University uniform – a black sherwani with the university monogram on the collar.

One winter, he visited a tailor’s shop and was giving measurements for a sherwani made from black serge. He noticed a poor boy of a junior class inquiring about the cost. When the tailor told him the charges, he was rather discouraged, but Sikandar told the tailor to stitch one of the same cloth and charge him. ‘You don’t have to pay anything for your sherwani,’ he smiled and told the boy. ‘We will wear our sherwanis when the university announces the winter dress [code].’

He was also fond of watching English films. We saw Samson and Delilah in the Capital Cinema in January 1946.

His favourite restaurant was Cafe de Jamil, which was located in the building that housed the university swimming pool. After playing tennis, he used to visit the cafe - his favourite snacks were shami kebabs and fruitcake.

When the Pakistan Movement gained strength, Sikandar took lot of interest in it. At a meeting of the Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union he said, ‘If Pakistan comes into being you will have Sindhis sacrificing their lives and we will make Pakistan a dream come true one day, Insha Allah.’ He did not harbour feelings of provincialism, and said that Muslims and non-Muslims should not feel any difference as they will be one nationality: Pakistani.

The contributor is a retired squadron leader and a former Aligarh Muslim University Student (1945-1949)

Published in The Express Tribune, January 12th, 2012.

COMMENTS (2)

habibuddin alavi | 10 years ago | Reply

I am an Alig. and hail from aligarh itself.The name of Pir Pagara would occasionally appear in news.But it was a pleasant surprise to know that he studied at AMU.

Ash | 10 years ago | Reply "But Sikandar bravely warned the crowds to stay away." Sounds like they are either tooting their own horns trying to make themselves sound like heros unnecessarily, or this is just a part of a story that has no historical evidence and remains a part of the myth around this person.
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