Personal Diary, 1935

ذاتی ڈائری Translated by: Daniel Majchrowicz. Original language: Urdu
Muhammadi Begum and Syed Jamil Husain in England.

January 1, 1935

Thanks be to God on high, by whose mercy the year 1934 today came to a happy close, and the year 1935 began. I offer my ardent prayers for an excellent year ahead. May God accept them. Amen.

The New Year festivities began sometime around twelve o’clock, because of which there was a clamor out on the streets that could be heard inside the house. Everyone at home shook each other’s hands and wished one another a happy new year. I went to sleep around two in the morning and woke up at ten. Annie brought tea at eight. I drank it and fell back asleep. I woke up filled with positive prayers for the year to come.

It’s Jamil’s birthday today, too. I congratulated him. For the first time in a while, I offered a qaza prayer for my morning namaz, and then offered some additional prayers. This had a profound effect on my heart, which now found a tranquility that had not been forthcoming for quite some time. Thanks be to god.

I changed and then Jamil and I went to see how Rasheed sahib was doing. We got back home around two and had lunch. Madame gave Jamil a tie for his birthday. I said the mid-day and afternoon prayers together. After that, we both went out to visit Mr. McEwan. We stopped by the Harrod’s in Knightsbridge to buy some flowers for Mrs. McEwan, where we unexpectedly bumped into Mr. and Mrs. McEwan themselves.

Mrs. McEwan stayed back at the store while we returned home with her husband. We met Mrs. McEwan’s daughter there. The three of us were having a chat when she came home. Mr. McEwan still hasn’t heard anything about our allowance, but he generously declared that if no word regarding it should come from Hyderabad within the week that he would take the personal responsibility of withdrawing three months’ worth, or 75 pounds, from the bank for the purpose. This set my mind somewhat at ease. Thanks be to God for His kindness. From the moment I met him, McEwan sahib struck me as a good, humble, sympathetic and capable person. Mrs. McEwan seems to be a good person, too. They invited us for tea on Sunday.

We had dinner back at the house. I listened to Sir Samuel Hoare’s speech on the radio. Also, today the newspapers printed a list of those who are to receive titles. One Hyderabadi, Saleh Akbari, has been selected. Samuel Hoare’s speech was on the subject of Hindustan. I felt grieved as I listened. I was able to follow most of it.

I read a few pages of the Forsyte Saga today. I offered the sunset and evening prayers at the same time. I also prayed half of a vazeefa. I will offer my prayers regularly from today on, inshallah.

January 2, 1935

Annie woke me for tea at eight, and I didn’t go to back to sleep afterwards. I got dressed around 9:15, washed up and offered my prayers. Jamil is fasting today. I read the Forsyte Saga from about 11 to 1:30. At some point, I prepared a list of the items to be washed and had them sent to the laundry. I prayed the midday prayer and had lunch. Then Madame and I prepared the iftari for Jamil. There was no pulse flour (besan) for the phulkis so we made them with peasemeal instead, plus papar, kebabs, fried bariyan and kachalu. I prepared some sweets by adding some milk to the deserts that mother sent from Hyderabad.

Once I was finished with my tea and my afternoon prayer Jamil and I took the number 31 bus to South Kensington to do some shopping at Barker’s. Madame and Khala both had good things to say about the store. They told me that you can find good deals there. These days there are countless advertisements and notices for sales because of the New Year. There are displays everywhere. At the Barker’s sale I bought myself a wollen jumper and a pair of shoes, and Jamil got a pair as well. Then we came home.

I still haven’t become the slightest bit familiar with London. And I’m beginning to think that I may never know my way around. I certainly know the names of all the famous places, markets and neighborhoods, but when I am sitting in a bus I only know that we have arrived at my destinations by listening to the conductor as he calls out the names of the stops. In Oxford, I can now go many places on my own. The Worcester College gardens, Magdalen College, Car Junction, the Macredin Hotel, the Randolph hotel, the French teacher’s house, Blackville bookstore, Balliol College.

After dinner I sat and chatted with madam for a while. Then I said my evening prayers and also read a vazeefa prayer. As of yesterday Jamil has decided to be regular in his prayers, too.

The sea mail will arrive tomorrow. I have a lot of letters to write. I was planning to write this evening, but I wasn’t in the mood. I started writing a letter to Miss Pope but then left it halfway through. I’ll write tomorrow, inshallah. I hardly have any time to study these days, which I am unhappy about. Once I’m back in Oxford’s [more academic] environment I’ll be able to study regularly, inshallah.

It must be around one in the morning now. Jamil just had his pre-fast meal for tomorrow. Tomorrow is the 27th of Ramadan, which makes tonight shab-i qadr. I wish that I were able to fast tomorrow. May God forgive me. Amma jaan sent me editions of Zubair, ‘Ismat and Shahjehan magazines from home. I received a letter as well.

Jan 3, 1935

Since I went to sleep at two last night, when Annie came to give me tea I managed to wake up but I was very tired and feeling a little weak. I went back to sleep and didn’t come to again until noon. I quickly performed my morning routine, got ready and ate some fruit. The bell for lunch rang around 4:30. I went downstairs to eat. Today is the day for sea mail, and there were so many letters I was supposed to write. I am so afflicted with the disease of detail that few of my letters are ever brief. I wrote long, thorough letters to Amma jaan and to Muhammad miyan. Muhammad miyan specifically asked that I write detailed letters. I also wrote to Tasneem and Miss Pope. Three days of every week are taken up with writing letters.

The sea mail leaves for Hindustan on Thurdsay. Airmail is on Friday and Saturday. The wait for letters begins on Saturday evening. In other words, the entire week is spent either in writing letters or waiting for them. Most people find it a taxing exercise to read and write so many. I should really write fewer letters, or at least be more concise. But I just can’t write a short letter. Amma jaan and most of the others are excited to read them. Plus, if they collect all of these letters together then I will have a complete set of my impressions. Otherwise, who can write so many minute details day after day? And, finally, I do not want my friends and family to remain unaware of our experiences or the life that we are living here. I want to keep them informed about what we are doing.

I often end up writing a long letter just answering all of the questions that are sent to me about this place. At any rate, I cannot write them as quickly as I ought to. I scribble them out and don’t even have time to read them over. The moment I have finished Jamil must take them and sprint over to the post office. Otherwise, the mail would go out and my letters would be left behind. On more than one occasion he has had to run so fast that he became dizzy. He’s even gotten sick.  Of course, another reason that I write lengthy letters is so that I get lengthy replies in return that keep me informed about what’s happening at home, in my extended family, in Hyderabad, and in Hindustan. All things that we are constantly thirsting for here. If I don’t write a long letter, then others won’t either.

At four in the afternoon Jamil broke his fast with a date. Then we had tea downstairs. Parathas were cooked at Madam’s request. After eating we walked over to Swiss Cottage. There is a shop here that sells sweaters, cardigans and jumpers made by the blind. Khala said that they were cheap and well-made. And they really are great. There are also beautiful and elegant baskets of willow or recycled paper woven by the blind. There were also vases, chairs, and more.

After having a look around we took a bus to Baker Street. From there, we went [window shopping] until we reached Oxford Street. I walked a lot today, so much that I was exhausted, even a little ill … Everywhere we went the stores were advertising New Year’s discounts. Everything was on sale. We have already got just about all we needed, and that too from Harrod’s, which is considered a very expensive store.

When I got home I had Ovaltine and regained my bearings. I prayed the morning and midday namaz together, and later the afternoon, sundown and evening namaz together. Then I read a vazeefa prayer. Jamil will fast tomorrow. By God’s grace, we are both now saying our prayers regularly. I am going to sleep late again tonight. It must be one in the morning by now.

September 4, 1935 [on traveling by train and boat from Bonn, Germany to Oxford, England]

… As the train began to move I took Anwar into my lap and said goodbye to Jamil. He stayed on the platform as the train pulled away, but because I had an infant in my lap I had to take my seat right away. Anwar slept on and off throughout the journey. Masha allah, he’s such a good baby that he didn’t once give me any trouble. May God keep him safe from all harm. Everyone who sees him praises him. Truly, if he were not so good then the journey might have been very difficult.

I passed the time catching up with my diary. I was sad to be leaving Germany. Germany, this little slice of heaven, with its well-mannered, welcoming people. They helped us everywhere wherever we went, whether to carry our luggage or board a train. With anything and everything. Laughing and speaking pleasantly with us on the train. Always being sure to say an informal goodbye whenever we parted. Always offering a seat with a smile, etc.

Germany’s beautiful countryside flashed by. It wasn’t the Rhine river, but there was plenty of magnificent forest. Sometimes we were above ground and sometimes in a tunnel. The sun was shining and, because it had just rained, everything looked fresh and vibrant. The train stopped at Düren and we were asked to show our passports and tickets. The train stopped again at Aachen, and we were again asked to show our passports and tickets. This is the last city in Germany. Beyond it lies the Belgian border. Here they wanted to see both our passport and the money that we were carrying with us. You are not allowed to export more than eight German marks. This is not Hindustan, where ships pull away loaded to the brim with gold. If a German wants to travel abroad then they may only take this nominal amount. How can a German who wants to go abroad get by with so little money? Of course, there are special exemptions for any foreigner that wants to visit Germany. Those who pay with Registered Marks are given a 60% discount on railway fares.  Once this is taken into account, Germany becomes a very cheap place to live. And then the country is so beautiful and the people so wonderful. Dorset is sad that he is too poor to leave Germany, since other foreign countries have not made similar discounts for foreign visitors.

Once we reached Herstal Station there were no more German faces to be seen. And signs at the station were now in French, which meant that we were now in Belgium. The Belgian guard and ticket collectors appeared. A restaurant car was added to the train. The girl traveling with me was hungry. I offered her a sandwich and some fruit but she refused them. A meal [on the train] cost 29 francs. This part of Belgium is nearly as beautiful as Germany. Cows and sheep could be seen calmly grazing in the green grass. There were chicken farms surrounded by beautiful forests. As it had just rained, there were streams and waterfalls everywhere. And rolling fields with streams running through them. Trees reflected in the pristine water. Natural springs surrounded by lines of free-growing trees. … country roads … ads for newspapers even in the wilderness …

…[From the coast of England,] the train was delayed and we didn’t get to London until after 10:30. The 9:25 had already left. I didn’t have much of a chance of making the 11:00 either. There weren’t any porters around. I couldn’t leave the child to go find one, either, for the train was empty. One finally showed up. I had him take my luggage… and call a taxi. When I got to Paddington I learned that the 11:00 had departed and the next train wouldn’t leave until 12:00. It arrived soon thereafter. I had the luggage put in it. There was an elderly woman who was traveling to Liverpool. Seeing that I was traveling alone she asked me to come and sit in her compartment. She was nothing less than an angel. She spent the whole time patting my child on the back. She held him and told me that I should get some rest. Even still, I kept waking up to check on him.

We got to Oxford at two a.m. It was cold outside. I would wrap Anwar up, but he would just throw the covers off. I asked a porter to call a taxi. He kept returning to say that he couldn’t find one. Finally I gave up and went to the waiting room with the baby and my luggage, since … I couldn’t make it home, and even if I could there would be all sorts of problems there. I’d have to get the keys from Mrs. Harrison and wake everyone up. There will be the a great disturbance, and if the baby cried everyone’s sleep would be ruined. … So, I took Anwar with me into the waiting room and laid down…

We got to Oxford at two a.m. It was cold outside. I would wrap Anwar up, but he would just throw the covers off. I asked a porter to call a taxi. He kept returning to say that he couldn’t find one. Finally I gave up and went to the waiting room with the baby and my luggage, since … I couldn’t make it home, and even if I could there would be all sorts of problems there. I’d have to get the keys from Mrs. Harrison and wake everyone up. There will be the a great disturbance, and if the baby cried everyone’s sleep would be ruined. … So, I took Anwar with me into the waiting room and laid down, but I wasn’t able to sleep.

September 5, 1935

The station master came to the Waiting room at a quarter to six. I don’t know if it was because he was trying to wake me up, or if it was because he thought I was a Hindustani, but he started talking to me in slow, broken English. I was still sleepy and I couldn’t tell if this was a German who was trying to speak to me in broken English. I was tired and confused and didn’t know if I was in Bonn or Oxford. I thought that the inspector must be German and concluded that I must therefore be in Germany. But then I slowly began to remember the events of yesterday. My trip, and all of that. And so I said to myself, no, this is Oxford! The waiting room was decorated with pictures of all of the famous touristic places in England. If this were Germany then why would these pictures be here?

I became angry at the inspector. He woke up my dear child, who hadn’t gotten to sleep all night. And now he was crying. I gave him milk. Outside, a pale-complexioned man was making tea on a simple cart. I was given tea in the waiting hall without any saucer. Well, I really liked his spirit. Then I asked him what I owed him for the tea he refused to take any money, but I insisted. The bundles of various newspapers for distribution started to arrive. One person brought them into the waiting room table and began to put them in order. A taxi came and I got in to go home. The driver brought down my luggage and placed it all in the hallway. He took the baby basket and put it by the upstairs bedroom door. He took a shilling and left. I went up and knocked at Mrs. Harrison’s door. Once, twice, three times. I heard the dogs bark. Both of Mrs. Pearson’s dogs sleep on her bed. She came to the door arranging her nightgown. On seeing me she looked half happy, half surprised. She said she would bring me tea and toast and a hot water bottle, and told me to go and rest. I insisted that she need not but she wouldn’t listen. I was very happy to see her affection. Mrs. Harrison is a good, pious woman…

Further Reading

Source: Muhammadi Begum, “Personal Diary for the year 1935.” Original copy in the private collection of Zehra Masroor Ahmad. Transcription by Mavra Ahmad Azeemi.