Today was the first day in my life when I received the news of the passing away of two of my childhood friends. One was Chandramohan Agarwal, my classmate all through school in the Hyderabad Public School and the other was Mohammed, the son of Nawab Habib Jung. Mohammed (we called him MP) was a couple of years my junior but we were very good friends and rode his father’s horses.
Nawab Habib Jung finetuned our riding in his old-school way, a very powerful voice with a colorful vocabulary followed by the whip on your behind if you didn’t jump to obey and get it right. It is a tribute to my quick learning that I never felt the whip.
They lived in Begumpet, where Nawab Habib Jung had built his own house on the grounds of his father Nawab Wali-ud-Dowla’s house called Vilayat Manzil (today the Country Club). Nawab Habib Jung’s house was my all-time favorite for its architecture. It had a large central courtyard open to the sky with a lawn in it, in which there was a swimming pool at one end and a low marble platform with inlay work at the other, where he used to pray. All around the courtyard were the bedrooms, the dining room, and the drawing room; all opening onto a wide veranda that ran right around the courtyard. Most of the time we would sit on the veranda and look at the swimming pool and chat because it was so airy and lovely. In the basement was a huge formal drawing room and Nawabsab’s office. Nawabsab was the one who wrote my first reference letter when I applied for a job in the tea gardens. I remember the words exactly, ‘He is keenly interested in saddle seat equitation, has an excellent seat, and shows respect where respect is due.’
Outside the house there was an old well and several huge old trees. At one corner were the stables. MP and I would usually ride near the house in an open area overlooking the Husain Sagar lake. One day I went to see the film ‘The Horseman’ with Omar Sharif as the hero. I was enthralled by the film principally because of the scenes of Buz Kashi and the many sequences of riding on Akhal-Teke horses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhal-Teke) that the film was full of.
I loved horses and riding with a passion. In one scene in the film they showed a riding competition where the riders would pick up a small piece of cloth from the ground with a dagger while riding at a full gallop. My dear friend Anoop (Vicky) Randhawa, MP and I rode our horses to the schooling area. I was thrilled with the display of horsemanship that I had seen in the movie and when we went to ride, I decided to try this maneuver. The problem with this intention, which I discovered too late, was that the Akhal-Teke is 14.3 – 15.5 hands tall, whereas the Thoroughbred that I was riding was a full 17 hands. Also, the gait of the retired racehorses that we used to ride was a hard, pounding run that was very harsh and jolting. It was many years later when I rode an Arab stallion in Saudi Arabia that I realized what comfort in riding was. The Arab is the Rolls Royce of horses and seems to simply float over the earth as it gallops.
To return to my story, I dropped my handkerchief in the middle of the field. I then wheeled my horse, trotted to the end of the field, and the turned around and came straight down at a full gallop. As the horse neared the handkerchief, I went down over the right shoulder and reached down with my right arm for the handkerchief. I picked it up alright but realized by then that I was too far down over the side and the pounding gait of the horse was further throwing me lower and lower. And sure enough, in another two or three strides, I fell. I landed on my arm and shoulder and there was a terrible shooting pain. I tried to scramble up and found that my right arm was twisted at an unlikely angle and my shoulder had dislocated. I was in severe pain. MP and Vicky came running and helped me up. I told them to take my arm and jerk it hard so that the ball joint would go back into the socket. I have no idea why I said that or how I knew that this was the right thing to do, but it was and my arm was back in its normal position though the pain was still severe. The next item on the agenda was to catch my horse which had spooked at my fall and run away. It took us more than half an hour to calm him down and get close enough to him to catch him. Then, one armed as I was, I mounted him and we got home.
Another time MP and I decided to take our horses and go camping. I was riding a black stallion and MP was riding a chestnut gelding. My horse was rather highly strung and as is the way with many stallions, constantly testing his will against mine. We started in the afternoon after the heat of the day was past and rode from Begumpet all the way to the Green Masjid (Masjid-e-Hussaini) on Road # 3 Banjara Hills intending to go on to the gate of Chiran Palace and then ride along the wall and descend the hill to what we used to call ‘Secret lake’. Seeing it surrounded by buildings today it is clear that it is no longer a secret. This lake connects with the lake on Road # 1 near Taj Banjara hotel which used to be called the Banjara Hotel and was the first hotel on Banjara Hills and the first 5 – star hotel in Hyderabad. There was a dirt track from the Green Masjid to the gate of Chiran Palace. As MP and I rode up to the masjid a small boy threw a fire cracker under the hoofs of my horse. The fire cracker literally exploded under us and the horse bolted. I let him run because he was scared and to try to stop him would have been fruitless. He galloped full tilt all the way to the gate and then stopped, foaming and blowing. MP caught up and we continued our ride.
As we rounded the wall and were crossing a flat granite rock on which my horse’s shoes rang like bells, a brace of partridges exploded in flight right under his nose. He was already in a skittish mood with the fire cracker incident when this happened, he neighed and reared then slipped and fell on his side. I fell with him with my leg under him. By the grace of Allahﷻ, I was wearing knee high boots with a very thick and stiff sole designed just for such accidents. The sole protected my foot from being crushed and my helmet kept my head from cracking on the rock. I kicked my feet free of the stirrups and rolled clear of the horse as he scrambled up, keeping a hold on the reins because if he ran away here, catching him would have been nearly impossible.
Once the dust settled I realized that neither of us was any the worse for wear and we decided to go on. We reached the lake a few minutes later. The lake had a dam at one end with a small building at one end of it. The valley floor spread out all around the lake with some Acacia and Tamarind trees dotted on it. We unsaddled and hobbled the horses and put on their halters with long ropes so that they could roll in the grass and graze but would not be able to run away. Then we made our camp. It was a brilliant starlit night with a three-quarter moon and not a human in sight. This was pure wilderness, peaceful and quiet with the occasional ‘chirr’ of the nightjar or the flight of an owl on silent wings floating overhead in search of the unwary mouse. We ate our sandwiches and drank the water from the lake and lived to tell the tale. The water was clean enough to drink. At the time of all this, I was perhaps fifteen and MP was younger.
Almost thirty years later, Nawab Habib Jung passed away and MP came to Hyderabad from California where he now lived. We met twice and had lunch and reminisced about old times. Memories as fresh as the day they were made. It was wonderful to meet him and we promised to meet again. Little did either of us know that it would be our last meeting. As I write this, a lot of it an extract from my book, ‘It’s my Life’, I recall the many other times and incidents that MP and I shared.
A wonderful thing is memory; without it, pain would be impossible, but so would be pleasure. If I had to choose, I would choose what I have; memories of a dear friend, even with the pain of his passing. May Allahﷻ grant him Jannatul Firdous without reckoning.