Remembering Our Mother, Begum Khursheed Khwaja

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A Letter from Prof. Jamal Khwaja (A.M.U.), elder son of Begum Khursheed Khwaja

Our mother, Begum Khursheed Khwaja’s ancestors hailed from the old nobility of Delhi and Hyderabad. For her six daughters and three sons, however, she was a doting mother, just like most Indian women. What distinguished her was the great dignity and grace she radiated as a home builder. She presided like a classical Indian or Chinese matriarch over an extended joint family, first at Aligarh and later at Allahabad. Sisters, brothers, cousins and other close relations all lived, played and quarrelled in a spacious home, but everyone was assured of impartial concern and never failing love from the matriarch. Even more important and noteworthy was mother’s concern for the education and uplift of girl children in the then male dominated Indian society.
Mother had been born and bred in Hyderabad, but her marriage brought her to Aligarh. Her father, Hamied Ullah, and her grandfather, Maulvi Sami Ullah Khan, under the influence of Sir Syed, had already come to terms with British rule in India as a benign presence. But our father, though a product of Sir Syed’s Aligarh movement, and also a Cambridge graduate and Barrister, had already fallen captive to the unique personality and spiritual attainments of Mahatma Gandhi. Mother must have been in a predicament, so I guess. Be it as it may, she rose to the occasion and blended the two streams of influence into her charming personality. I think her close association in Hyderabad with the family of Sarojini Naidu must have been a great advantage for her in reconciling the two streams of influence. She thus became comfortable in both the world of Gandhi, Ali brothers, the Nehrus, Dr. Ansari, TAK Sherwani et al as well as the world of Lady Abdul Qadir, Lady Walker and the ladies of the Nizam’s Court.
At Aligarh during the heyday of the Khilafat movement, she opened and ran a khadi bhandar, took active part in women’s welfare activities and the work of the Jamia Millia Islamia in whose founding and maintenance at Aligarh her husband had a leading role. In 1926, our parents shifted to Allahabad. In the early thirties, our mother founded the Hamidia Girls’ School in the city area to give the weaker Muslim sections easy access to modern education. Many known and unknown women of Allahabad, such as the Zaidi sisters, Begum Muhammad Husain, Begum WaliUllah, Lady Sulaiman, the ladies of the Nehru and Sapru families, all generously helped and supported her.