I was born at a tumultuous time, just a month after India gained independence. My mother’s family, barring her sister, migrated to Pakistan, while my father’s family chose to stay back. I would often hear tales of separation as a child, like how my father’s close friend and neighbour left his home overnight. In fact, a day after he told my father, “I will see you tomorrow,” the servants came and said, “Syed saab toh Pakistan chale gaye!”
It came as a shock to my family. Suddenly the house next door turned into a place for refugees from Punjab. Despite a lot of sadness around the partition, it was a happy childhood because of my parents, who ensured that my two elder sisters and I would never feel bitter about the split.
I grew up in Patna in a very cosmopolitan neighbourhood. There were lots of children around, and even today, I am in touch with them. Many of them excelled in life, a few became ambassadors, one a famous actor, Roshan Seth, and several others reached the pinnacle of their chosen professions. Patna then was a cosy, comfortable town where I spent some wonderful years. We also had a large ancestral haveli at Arrah, about 45 kilometres from Patna, which we visited every Sunday.
My father, a doctor by profession, was extremely protective of me and I was pampered a lot; and being the youngest of the three, it was perhaps to be expected. I recollect that my school was not too far from where we lived, yet he would escort me to the school gate and stay there till I was out of sight. Even if I sneezed, he would get worried, to the extent that he had my tonsils removed! So, I ended up being a nazuk baccha.
I loved my father deeply, but it was my mother who was the biggest influence in my life. She made sure that I read the Koran and appointed a maulvi to come home daily and teach the scriptures