Migration Diaries

Old Dhaka’s finest aristocrat
Authors: Abu Md Jehangir
Languages Known
Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Bengali, English
He lives with his family
Migrated From
Malda, India
Migrated To
Old Dhaka, Bangladesh
Types of Work
Types of work Retired. Used to be chief license inspector of trade.


Reason for Migration


My name is Abu Md Jahangir and I’m usually referred to as A. M. Jehangir. I used to be chief license inspector of trade, profession and college of City Corporation, Dhaka. I retired in 1982. I was in charge of the whole of Dhaka and had ten inspectors working under me.

My pastime now is to read books. I was very much influenced by English literature – my father encouraged me. I love to read novels, love affairs and all that. I’ve always celebrated Christmas in a big way. I also love drawing (he shows me the pictures he has painted).

Where I came from

My great grandfather was Munshi Nur Box and great great grandfather Munshi Alam. They came from Yemen during the great Mughal emperor Jahangir’s time to spread Islam and they established holy shrines (aulia) wherever they went: Delhi, Chittagong, Noakhali, Sonargaon. They came like Shah Jalal baba of Sylhet. Abul Hasnat, my grandfather’s brother, was twice vice-chairman of Dhaka municipality corporation during British times. There is a road in his name, Abul Hasnat road runs from the jail gate to Bangsal road.

My father A. J. Ziaul Haq was affectionately called ‘Nabalok mian’ by everyone – ‘nabalok’ means a newborn and his pir used to say that his heart was as pure as that of a newborn baby’s. He had the curiosity and the innocence of a child and was highly gifted. My father once acted as a marriage registrar – in Mymensingh, Gaffargaon subdivision. He worked there temporarily, we were zamindars, he was an artist and an architect – a genius. Built a mazar which is nearby and which we will show you. Its called the Mazar Shah Syed Yusuf Al Quadery Jilani Rahamatullah in honour of his pir whom we call ‘Kashmir Baba’. He was also my father’s maternal aunt’s husband (khalu) and my own youngest sister married his eldest son’s son. So the pir’s sons are my own sisters’ husbands.

The book ‘Rare photographs of Eastern Bengal (1880 – 1940)’ by Waqar A. Khan has pictures of Jehangir’s aristocratic family. His grandfathers were the landlords of Sonargaon – Abul Khairat owned three areas: Panam, Boddar Bazar and Mograpara. Our history has appeared in various papers. I love reading, especially novels, but unfortunately I couldn’t write anything in my life, I could only be a friend.

Kashmir Baba’s father’s name was Syed Gholam Mustapha Quadery and they are the direct descendents of Abdul Quader Jilani – the great saint or ‘pirani pir’ (saint of saints). They came from Kashmir, his great great grandfather was the prince of Kashmir, and before that Yemen. He married my paternal grandmother’s youngest sister.

Kashmir Baba came in 1901 with his paternal uncle (chacha) Hazrat Shah Syed Nurul Haq Quadery (his nickname was ‘Ala huzoor’) and his mazar is in Kashmir Srinagar. His hermitage or asthana sharif was in Dhaka in Faridabad. His place was called ‘Bagha bari’ because when he used to meditate (zikr korten) two tigers would appear on both sides and pray along with him. There are still urs (celebratory events in honour of saints’s birthdays) done there at the end of the zil haz chand. Ala huzoor chacha settled his nephew here, married him off and returned to Kashmir. Huzoor dada’s grandfather was the crown prince of Yemen but he gave up his worldly kingdom and accepted the kingdom of Allah and became a dervish for the sake of Allah.

Tell me more about yourself, how was it living in the 1940s..

I was born in India, in Malda, but I don’t like saying it because I’m afraid they might not give me a passport. All the people around us were our subjects. Now they’ve become very rich through black money and business. You saw how our porch is being utilized today to cook for an engagement party. We allow them access to these spaces and have their goodwill. In those days we were friends with the landlord class and the officer’s class. Big officers used to educate their sons and mix with the aristocratic families. The British ruled India with the landlord class, they collected revenue from them after the fall of the last Mughal Shah Alam.


Tell me, what are the other aristocratic families of Old Dhaka?

The famous poet Syed Sharafuddin, popularly called Suba Mian. ‘Sharafuddin’ means ‘the aristocracy of religion’, I speak five languages: Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Bengali and English. Shafaruddin was a famous Urdu poet of Dhaka, there is an old aristocracy. His grandfather worked as the jailor of Dhaka jail under the British because good families don’t take bribes and cannot be corrupted by or biased by anyone. He was of my father’s generation.

There was the zamindar of Shripholtoli from Kaliakur in the Savar area. The whole Motijheel area was theirs along with Ahsan manzil.


What was his name and what was his mother-tongue?

His name was Khaleq Nawaz Chowdhury – my uncle and a Bengali speaker, but he also spoke Urdu, he was a man of letters. His father married my paternal grandmother’s sister. They used to possess half of Dhaka. New Town – south of Bangshibazar – was built on their land. The rail line marking the division running north of the veterinary hospital. It used to be called Fulbaria station or Dhaka rail station. It used to stall traffic so later that station was shifted to Kamlapur.


Did anyone in your family work in the railways?

Oh no, nobody.

There was also the zamindar of Boliyadi. I’ve forgotten their name, Bangla-speakers. They were not related to us but had land in our locality.

One of the traditions of zamindars was that they used to intermarry rather than marry outside. There was a tendency to keep family status and money. Now they don’t observe these things.

[after some more genealogy he shows me his letters; I noticed he’s addressed as ‘John’ and signs off his letters with that name. I ask him why.]

I used to love Christian culture. Every year I invite all my friends and relatives here at ‘Yousuf Castle’ for Christmas. We have a big party. I have a big hat collection. My family members know that I have something for hats.

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