A lone Chinar lives where Sheikh Abdullah’s house once stood

  • UBEER NAQUSHBANDI
  • Publish Date: May 6 2019 3:58AM
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  • Updated Date: May 6 2019 4:01AM
A lone Chinar lives where Sheikh Abdullah’s house once stoodPhoto: Kashmir Ink

A lone Chinar tree stares at some debris that is all that remains of the ancestral house of the once legendary political figure of Kashmir, Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah, in Soura. 

It takes a lot asking around the shopkeepers and the neighbourhood before you can find the spot which was the center of politics in Kashmir until the late 1960s, the home Abdullah lived in at the peak of his popularity. 

Now a lone Chinar stands where the missing house once was.    

It was in 1930’s Abdullah moved back to his native area Soura from Fateh Kadal, where he used to reside in a rented accommodation, after gaining prominence standing against Dogra autocracy of that time.  

According to conservationist Saleem Beg, convener of INTACH’s J&K chapter the house was built around 1935-36.

The political climate of Kashmir has undergone so much change since its tall occupant left the house that it is hard to get people living in the area to talk about their memories of its hey days.

It took this reporter a lot of searching and coaxing before one Mohammad Sidiq Wani agreed to speak.

“I have got fond memories as a teenager with the place. I used to play cricket in the lawns of the house with Dr Farooq (Abdullah). The Chinar which is still there inside the lawn has grown alongside me,” Wani, 58, said.

“My mother and grandmother used to spend time with Begum saeb (referring to Begum Akbar Jahan, wife of Sheikh Abdullah) in the house. Suddenly, one fine day somewhere during the 70s the family left from there. 

“We lost touch with the family since then.”

The house now gone was then the address of the only power center in Kashmir and hosted many prominent personalities including educationist Mohammad Din Taseer—brother-in-law of revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Samad Khan Uchakzai—tribal leader from North Western Frontier of Pakistan, Mian Amiruddin—then among the known affluent men of Lahore, Sheikh Sadiq Hasan, Maulana Azad, Gaffar Khan known popularly as frontier Gandhi and many other historic figures.

“He (Hasan) was there at the behest of Mohammad Ali Jinnah in 1947. He had come with the proposal of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. It was here the discussion took place between Sheikh saeb and him. Besides, there was one of Sheikh sahab’s advisor Ghulam Ahmad Ashai, who also participated in the meeting,” said former Parliamentarian and Congress leader Saiffudin Soz, who got his political grooming under Abdullah.

Soz remembers the first time he had a formal meeting with Abdullah in 1966 at the house.

“It was at the place along with Sahibzada Hassan Shah (then principal of MAM College Jammu) and Prof. GN Sidiqi to discuss draft the economic policy which was to be presented two years later in 1968 during the convention of all parties meet at party headquarters at Mujahid Manzil,” Soz said. 

“I remember that meeting with Sheikh sahab under that Chinar tree.”

Many elderly people from the area remember people thronging the place to meet Abdullah while he lived there.

During late 1960s, Abdullah shifted from Soura to reside at MA Road in the property of his father-in-law who owned a once famous chain of hotels od Nedous brand. 

In 1984 the house was gutted during a night blaze. It was again set on fire during the early years of armed militancy in Kashmir in the 1990s.

While the house weathered away all these years in wake of no renovation undertaken of the historic building, police used to guard it until 2017. People living in the vicinity say police vacated the house following frequent incidents of stone throwing at the property.

Soz claims that Mahatma Gandhi visited the house in 1946 when Abdullah was in jail to express solidarity with his family. However, Beg of INTACH says there is no documentary evidence of the visit.

Now with nothing left to conserve at the spot, million dollar question raised by Beg is: “The house cannot come within the ambit of Archaeological Survey of India. However, it can be preserved under heritage. But now the question is what will state protect if there is nothing left there now?”