Saifuddin Kitchlew was a barrister, politician and a Nationalist Muslim
leader who fought fervently for India's independence. But very few recall
this giant leader from Punjab, who led the Hindustan Naujawan Sabha in the
aftermath of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, countered the Shuddhi programme
launched by Arya Samaj, and opposed the Partition of India with determination.
Though when writer and activist Anis Kidwai met him, he was no longer
following is an essay by Anis Kidwai on her encounters with
Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew in his final days. The essay has been translated by
Ayesha Kidwai who says,"[The essay] comes with the fervent hope that
we should never lose like this ever again, and that the memories of that
extraordinary generation will serve to inspire and caution."
On 15 May 1973, an article on
Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew, written by Gurmikh Singh Musafir appeared in the
weekly, Al-Jamiat. I was both surprised and happy. Surprised because after all
these years, a long-forgotten commander of the ranks of warriors for our
freedom had been resurrected. And happiness because there were still people who
could recall Dr. Kitchlew's name with love. The fact is that no-one who writes
the history of the Punjab can afford to disregard his name, even though in the
last phase of his life, he had been cast aside just like a fly fished out from
a bowl of milk.
For a few years, I too had the
honour of his acquaintance, even though it was at a time of his greatest
decline and when I was at my most defeated and alienated. Perhaps this was the
reason why I saw only a little, understood less, and didn't become very close
to him. But perhaps it is nevertheless possible that a picture of him can be
completed weaving together incidents and circumstances of his life, so
truthfulness demands that whatever one saw, one puts down on paper.
Call it infirmities of memory or
the effect of the tumultuous, disastrous times, I cannot simply recall whether
Dr. Kitchlew ever came to Delhi before 1947. It was that December or
January that I met him on the dining table. Seated on a table right next to
Rafi sahab's was this old politician, absolutely silent. Whenever Rafi bhai
made some comment directed at him, he would have to cover one ear with his hand
and use the other to bend the other ear, to try to reply to what was said. That
great hero of Jallianwala Bagh, our honoured guest, was solitary, all alone, on
His homeland was Amritsar, but
looted and expelled from there, he had made it to Lahore - his wife and
children were all there then. From his arrival on, he tried to save the lives
of many Hindus and Sikhs and to arrange for their safe transport to India from
Pakistan. This was no easy task, and on one occasion, he was surrounded by a
violent angry mob and was mercilessly beaten. One ear-drum was shattered. Then
his house was gheraoed, and although his family and friends managed to foil the
attempt to murder him, but it became impossible for him to stay on in Lahore
even for a single day. Mridula Sarabhai somehow managed to rescue him and bring
him to India.
Just as in Lahore, where he was
without protector or aide, he was not amongst friends in Amritsar, and
religious Hindustan was certainly not ready for his tolerance and acceptance.
He had no home anymore, and no means of income. He was not a citizen of any
country, and not connected to any political party. Although he had countless
friends in India, but in those days, there were just three who he was in touch
with - Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Rafi sahab.
Gandhiji was martyred, Rafi
sahab was his host, and Jawaharlal was his protector. The Congress was angry
with him because he had unfurled the pennant of the Tabligh and Tanzeem
movement (a movement to organise Muslims in the propagation of Islam and
against the Shuddhi and Sangathan Programme organised by the Arya Samaj).
Muslim Leaguers thought him the greatest enemy of Pakistan. That left the
Akalis, who when they adopted him as their leader ensured that he was exiled
from the Islamic brotherhood forever. And now, his entire wealth and property
had been wrested by Hindus and Sikhs; he was no one's leader any more, even
though all admired his sincerity, amiability, bravery, affection, and humanity.
His injuries and lost hearing
were treated, but the wounds in the heart were not to heal. In absolute
silence, he would only occasionally emerge from his room. At the breakfast
table, he ate sparingly, and then silently picking up a few newspapers and
magazines, go back to his room to lie down.
Dr. Salimuzzaman, along with
several other panaahguziins, was also staying in that room. but even though the
two were in close proximity almost all the time, no words passed between them.
One day, he remarked to me, "I must tell you Anis, that I am exceedingly
disappointed on meeting this great Leader of the Punjab. Whatever I ask him, he
does not give a satisfactory response. Mostly, the reply is noncommittal
prevarication. So much praise for his intelligence and oratory I had heard, but
it seems to me now that there is nothing in him at all. His fame seems all for
This was true. Doctor sahab was
stupefied, and all desire to speak to anyone on any topic had indeed deserted
him. Besides, why would he want to engage in conversation with the younger
brother of the greatest votary of Pakistan, Chaudhury Khaliquzamman?
Very soon, Doctor sahab could be
given a room of his own. soon it came to be thronged by a number of young men
and women, sons and daughters of his friends. Mostly, they were the children of
his Sikh friends, although I think the parents were hardly seen
Since all this was a long time
ago, I don't clearly recall, but once there was some discussion about Punjab,
and Dr. Kitchlew made some soft intervention. Whatever it was, Rafi Sahab
asked, "But doctor sahab, you were also a leader of the Sikhs! In fact it
was you who had organised them."
With great sorrow, Dr. Kitchlew
confirmed his role, but he also said that his objective was to integrate
different sections, and to unite them. "But what can one do, when it all
had the opposite result?"
Soon, a host of people started
streaming into meet him. Some of them came seeking his advice, others to
narrate their ordeals and tales of woe. But not one would ask him to come to
live in Jalandhar, or Amritsar or Ludhiana. Neither Musafir sahab nor Sachar
sahab ever made this proposition, and neither did Gopi Chand Bhargava. Abdul
Ghani Dar and Yasin Khan were themselves homeless. And it was against Dr.
Kitchlew's principles to demand that he be compensated for the loss of his
In 1948-49 when the
rehabilitation of refugees began, the camps were dissolved, and large
neighbourhoods started to be repopulated. In order to promote harmony and
peace, the need for Muslim and non-Muslim volunteers came to be felt. In
response to Shafiq-ur-Rahman's need for eight or nine Muslim volunteers to run
schools and centres in Delhi's neighbourhood (under his scheme "Taalim,
Tarbiyat-o-Taraqqi"), Dr. Kitchlew gathered together a group of young
educated poor Muslims. These were mature and responsible young people, who had
been under his instruction since for many months. But they themselves were
refugees, and it was impossible for them to devote many months in relief and
rehabilitation work without any remuneration. Very soon, all of them had to
become engrossed in the search for employment and further education.
In our programme to save Delhi's
mixed neighbourhoods - Pahari Dhiraj, Kassabpura, Bare Hindu Rao, etc - from
another round of communal strife, Dr. Kitchlew's support too was enlisted. The
first time he went to Kassabpura, the very mention of his name caused a flutter
of speculation in the people gathered. One gentleman even went to the extent of
asking, "Is he really a Muslim? We had heard that he was a Sikh." We
learnt then that this propaganda was one of the several canards that the Muslim
League had spread about him - that he had converted to the Sikh religion.
There was also much debate about
his departure from the Punjab and arrival in Delhi - what meaning did his
leaving the 'hallowed land' of Pakistan to come to settle here have? This took
some time to comprehend. And then his speech satisfied all his listeners. The
passion and the oratory was rejuvenated, and could express its grief and sorrow
at this destruction of humans and humanity. Everyone came to acknowledge the
felt need for peace and unity. And when the speech ended, he was accorded the
greatest honour and veneration, and was bidden farewell with the greatest
But after deploying his
personality in two or four more neighbourhood and village conventions, we all
came to feel that our demand was an imposition. Because the truth was, there
was no longer either that 'flower of lyric' or the 'veil of musical notes'; all
that remained was 'the utterance of mine own defeat'. If we were to play this
broken instrument again, it would fall silent forever.
Rafi sahab tried to arrange his
wife and children to be brought to India. The first to arrive were his
daughters, and Dr. Kitchlew remarked that this means that Apa will also arrive
soon, as soon as we get a house. We thought he was speaking of his elder
sister's arrival - he used to mention her often and in fact, spoke mainly of
Soon after, people from a Delhi
mohalla proposed a scheme by which a house could be extracted from the
Custodian of Evacuee Property's clutches - if Dr. Kitchlew were to get this
house allotted to himself, we would be happy, and so would be our god. But Dr.
sahab said, "My children are not used to living in neighbourhoods with narrow
lanes, they will not be able to manage." None of us were enamoured of this
reply, but we didn't know as yet about the many houses and vast amounts of
property he had left behind in the Punjab.
Finally, 'Apa' arrived, a woman
with a typical Punjabi face. Young girls and boys, all of them highly educated,
also arrived. Everyone was khadi-clad, so much so that even Apa's dupatta was
made of khaddar. Apa turned out to be Dr. Kitchlew's wife and the mother of all
these children. Surrounded by her six to seven grown up children, innocent
Sifat Apa was a great literary enthusiast and was blessed with an extraordinary
forbearance and fortitude. Not once did she ever break down and narrate the
tale of her family's destruction. Let alone ruing the home and household that
she had lost, she never even uttered an anxious word about how the family would
manage, now that age and circumstance had rendered Dr. Kitchlew unfit to
continue his career as a barrister.
That incomparable woman, who was
her husband's sincere wife and affectionate mother to her children, had perhaps
made it her calling to be always content. Never did I hear from her words of
complaints about friends or reproach for enemies, and not even words of
flattery about benefactors.
After a life in one room for
about two years, Dr. Kitchlew was allotted a house near Pandit Nehru's Teen
Murti residence. Pandit Nehru had it done, because Dr. Kitchlew said he
couldn't bear to live too far from him and not see him regularly. While he was
with us though, Dr. Kitchlew hardly met Jawaharlalji personally. The only
person he talked to was Rafi sahab, and it was through him that messages to
Jawaharlalji were conveyed. It was because he didn't have any means of
transport, and it was an offence to his self-respect to ask anyone of this
favour. Asa consequence, he never even occasionally fulfilled his desire to see
Jawahar and hardly visited anyone at all. His friends and companions had all
averted their faces, and the Congressis had all forgotten that he was once our
Apa was even more independent
than Dr. Kitchlew was, although she would always make it a point to attend
literary meetings and religious gatherings in Delhi. But she always came and
returned by bus. Often, meetings went on too late, but she would not countenance
the favour of a lift from someone with a car. Only rarely would she succumb to
insistent pleas of a close friend who couldn't bear to see the hardship she had
After they moved, we met less
frequently. But whenever we did, our meetings were pleasant, full of
light-hearted laughter. At home, Apa lived surrounded by books and newspapers,
and was mostly to be found either cooking in the kitchen, or in washing
clothes, or in cleaning the house. One day, Apa telephoned to say, â€œwe have
invited only a few people - it's our eldest daughter's wedding today. you must
come." We went there to find a gathering of twenty-five to thirty
people. Arrangements had been made for a small little party, chairs had been
set out in the courtyard, and the bride, wearing a red dupatta over light
clothes, was seated amongst the guests next to her bridegroom. The nikaah was
performed, everyone congratulated the couple, and after tea and refreshments
were served, the guests departed. When we reached back home, Rafi sahab
remarked. â€œWhat a lovely, simple wedding Doctor sahab arranged! This is how it
should be." He was always a great believer in simple marriages.
The truth was also that in
Doctor sahab's straitened circumstances, what more could have been done anyway?
I do not know how he managed to make ends meet, how he arranged the marriages
of his other children, because his two sons were still studying and not
employed. Yet no one else outside the house, save for his two friends, ever got
wind of the difficulties he faced.
And when he was ill, it was
Jawaharlalji kept track of his needs. Every visitor to his sick-bed would be
greeted with a smile, as he called out to Apa to come and see who had come to
visit him. But the fact was that even on his death-bed, he found no peace. Once
I asked him, But if you were to actually just go to Amritsar, who could stop
The reply came, "No I will
not go, Those people do not want me there."
Perhaps there is someone who can
unravel this secret for me, because after this he never did set foot on that
patch of earth again. Doctor sahab had himself resolved to forget his past, to
the extent that even mere mention of it was not to be tolerated. Perhaps the
wound was too deep. It's mouth would not close, but it was his own tongue that
was stopped forever.
The children moved towards communism, Apa's religiosity
rose to the surface, and Doctor sahab sank deeper underground, in a strange
kind of captivity. The craft of life was moving, passing from oar to oar, but
Doctor sahab just lay there peacefully reading. This was the end that most
nationalist Muslims came to. Some were driven mad by grief and anger, some were
struck dumb caught between hope and despair, some trained their sights on the
seat of government, and some were left forever exhibiting the woeful memories
in their hearts/their wounded breasts. Only a few could ever steer an even