Me standing before Azhar Manzil: the house of my birth
Azhar Manzil, the house where I was born. It was a cosy 7 room with a central hall structure with a large courtyard built on the banks of a big pond (tālāb) known as ‘Hāthī Dūbā‘ [Elephant sinking pond] at its back and right side. In front was a large tract of vacant land in the middle of which was an half built kothi, the ‘bhūt bangla’ about which it was rumoured that it was inhabited by ghosts and genies who never allowed any one to build it. It was owned by many who endeavoured to complete it but before they could, they passed away. Its last owner was a certain Mr Loknath Marwaha of Ambala who ultimately sold the plot and the bhūt bangla to a group who ultimately built the present National Colony there. The imāmbāra and mosque [Imamia Hall and Masjid] of the Colony is built where this cursed structure was once located. Now it is a congested overpopulated area with no trace of the large pond!
Google image of the area where Azhar Manzil once stood
Azhar Manzil itself was an evacuee property which was taken on rent by my father in 1954. It is from this house that my father started the majālis of the first ten days of Muharram and started the Julūs-i Shab-i Āshūr ( Alam procession of 9th Muharram). This was the first Muharram Ashra held openly and the first Muharram procession of Aligarh post Independence.
Azākhāna at our residence: Similar Azakhāna was there in Azhar Manzil
In 1961 I was born in the same house. My “Sunnat” and “Bismillah” ceremonies were also organised and conducted by Ayatullah Amini, the celebrated author of Al-Ghadeer, who was visiting us, in the same house.
Me at one of the ceremonies at Azhar Manzil with my sisters and aunts. Also seen besides me is Razmi Rizwan Husain, my eldest sister’s son
I still have hazy but fond memories of this house. I distinctly remember it’s “hall” lined all around by my father’s books and equipped with walnut wood furniture. During the Muharrams, they would be removed to the side rooms to create a large carpeted area to hold the majālis recited by my father. A side room was reserved year round as the azākhāna where I remember every nauchandi jumerāt (new moon Thursday of every month) as well as other occasion nauha would be recited by my mother and sisters. Another thing which stays with me is the whistling of the hot loo blowing through the high raushandāns the Hall during the long and hot summer days.
I also have memories of the house being surrounded by flood waters for days on end during the rainy season. I remember sitting on the window sill facing the huge pond with rains falling day in and day out. Though I don’t personally recall it, but I am told that a small inflatable boat during such days would ferry my father across when he had to go or return from his office. I however remember sitting on the window and looking down at the swirling waters below, big almost yellow toads jumping around and their loud croaking. In the distance the washermen pounding cloths on stone slabs put in a slanting position half submerged in the tālāb and singing melodiously “Yā Allah! De bālāi!” [O God! Raise our status!” : in those days I used to be confused as to why they were asking for “bālāi” (fresh cream!). Also in my remembrance is the vast ground in front of the house where I could ride my tricycle.
Just at a short distance from our house, adjacent to the bhūt bangla was Hamid Lodge, the sprawling red brick mansion of Rāja Hāmid Ali Khan. I remember Hamid Sahib as a slim old man with a long flowing white beard, a la Dumbledore, and always wearing a sherwani with a sleek walking stick (chhari) in hand. He always almost shouted while speaking and was a daily visitor to our house.
Another neighbour and usual visitor to our house was Professor Muhibbul Hasan who lived in Hyder Villa just beyond Hamid Lodge towards Amīr Nishān Chauraha. He along with his four sons, Mujībul Hasan (who later on was to marry one of my sisters, Najmul Hasan, Mushirul Hasan and Najibul Hasan, and daughter Salma would meet us almost daily: either we would go to their house or they would come over. I used to call him Khālu. His wife (Khāla) was a friend of my mother. I still remember her for her typical eastern UP dialect.
The other neighbours were a refugee Sikh family, some Sindhis and a large joint family of tailors having their shops in the nearby market! One of them, Hasīnuddin, had a confectioners store at Amīr Nishān: in fact one of the proper shops there. Beyond the scenic Hāthi Dūba were the dense mango orchards of Noor Manzil and other havelis facing Marris Road: now with the replacing of the Hāthi Dūba tālab, these are all separate and distant areas with no connection whatsoever!
Raja Sahib Mahmudabad, Abba, Prof Muhibbul Hasan & Maharajkumar Mahmudabad at Azhar Manzil,
The last year of mine in this house was when I joined Abdullah Nursery for 6 months. I specially remember an incident: once, my sisters, with whom I used to go to Abdullah Nursery were not going so my mother asked our milkman to take me on his bicycle to school. On reaching the school somebody enquired: “Is he your father?” I remember making it a big issue on returning home. I never ever then went to school with him or anyone else, except my sisters!
I returned to this house for the snap posted on the top, at a time when we had started living in a University accommodation…the photo on tricycle posted below is however of the time when we used to live there. The dilapidated structure behind me is the “bhut bangla” where now the Imāmbāra National Colony is located.
It is now a congested dreary area with narrow lanes and ugly houses. The Azhar Manzil too has disappeared and replaced by a multi-storey housing complex. Hamid Lodge survives, and the Hyder Villa has been sold and replaced by a multi-storey monster. No trace of the old grandeur of the area remain!
I ride a tricycle in the grounds before Azhar Manzil. The structure behind is the Bhūt Bangla, now rebuild as Imāmbara and mosque
• Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi