Category Archives: Amazing Feats

Meet Naeem Khan, Michelle Obama’s Fashion Designer


Designer for power women had his life changed when outgoing First Lady wore his gown for a state dinner in 2009.


When he was an adolescent growing up in Mumbai, fashion designer Naeem Khan had just one dream.

“When I was 14 years old, I said to my then-girlfriend in India that one day I am going to design for the First Lady of America,” says Khan, who remembers being enchanted by images of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the now defunct Life Magazine.

Almost four decades later, the designer, now 57, has fulfilled his dream many times over. As one of Michelle Obama’s favourite couturiers, he has dressed her for various state dinners, as well as for more casual occasions, such as during a visit to Brazil.


“[Michelle] likes elegant glamour and loves her arms, so you have to make sure you enhance that.”


Since he launched his eponymous label in 2003, his uniquely glamorous aesthetic featuring figure-flattering silhouettes and lavish textiles have made him a firm red carpet favourite of some of the world’s most famous women, ranging from celebrities such as singer Beyoncé and actress Penelope Cruz to prominent public figures including Queen Noor of Jordan and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

In Singapore to present his Spring/Summer 2017 collection at Singapore Fashion Week, Khan says without hesitation that the moment Michelle Obama stepped out in his strapless, embroidered gown to host their first State Dinner for India in 2009, he knew his life had changed. He was propelled to global fame in that singular moment.

Khan was hosted at the U.S. Embassy by HE Kirk Wagar during his trip – here are the photos.

Mr Naaem Khan, Ms Crystal Meredith Wagar, HE Kirk W.B. Wagar (U.S.A)
Mr Naaem Khan, Ms Crystal Meredith Wagar, HE Kirk W.B. Wagar (U.S.A)

“I have always believed that if you are true to your dream and consistent in pursuing it, it will happen,” he says.


He grew up with a lifelong interest in fashion and honed his sartorial instincts by “osmosis”, thanks to his grandfather and father who both designed luxurious textiles and clothing for Indian royal families. At the age of 20, he moved to New York City to do an apprenticeship with legendary designer Roy Halston Frowick of the label Halston where he rubbed shoulders with Halston’s social circle, which included luminaries like the artist Andy Warhol, actress-singer Liza Minnelli and dancer Martha Graham.

His time with his guru Halston – who coincidentally shot to fame when he designed Jackie Kennedy’s pink pillbox hat which she wore to her husband’s presidential inauguration – laid the foundations for his own label.

He says: “My style is to use textures and luxurious fabrics in a form which is classic, yet relevant to the times. It works perfectly for powerful women because the garments send a very strong message – I am powerful, confident and fashionable. Look at me.”


The business of fashion is of course notoriously challenging, but Khan says he grew his to its current size by sticking to a simple principle. Besides his ready-to-wear business, he also launched Naeem Khan Bridal in 2013, and both lines are sold at over 100 retail outlets around the world.

“I don’t have investors and I’ve grown my business organically by watching the bottom line to make sure we are making money. It is not about having the largest business which is running at a loss,” he says. “Instead, my business philosophy is about having a good life, being profitable and enjoying what I do.”

One of his greatest rewards is having the privilege to develop relationships with movers and shakers of society, like the outgoing First Lady. “She gives full liberty to design for her. We have her form and we’ve create mannequins to drape on so it’s become a simpler process,” he says. “She likes elegant glamour and loves her arms, so you have to make sure you enhance that.”

Certainly, a designer couldn’t ask for a better muse. He adds: “She’s tall and has a great body for clothing so she is the perfect person to design for as she knows how to carry it off.

“She has said to me how much she loves my work. I love that she is so open with her compliments and has such respect for my art, which makes me want to do more for her.”

source: / The Peak, SPH Magazines  / Home> Fashion & Watches / by Karen Tee / November 02nd, 2016

A hero who comes to the rescue of the dead



Until December 2016, UAE-based businessman has helped transport 3,886 bodies to 38 countries

Heroes are often made out to be those who save lives, but here is one who comes to the rescue of the dead and their families. Ashraf Thamarassery, a UAE-based businessman, is credited with helping the final journey of the dead to their home countries.

The 41-year-old, a native of Kerala, was in Bengaluru to participate in the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, an event which saw him being conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Award in the past.

“It was 2002 when I saw the struggle of a family I knew when the father passed away,” he said, recalling how his tryst with the dead began. As he learnt of the money involved in transporting bodies to their home countries, the lengthy procedures, and the large amount of paperwork, he decided to dedicate a significant amount of his time to helping those in similar situations.

Until December 2016, Mr. Ashraf is said to have helped transport 3,886 bodies to 38 countries. Transportation to India is one of the most expensive, he said. This is because Indian airlines charge per kilogram of weight of the body, which often ends up becoming a huge financial burden on the grieving families.

“What if it is a poor worker here? Their families will have to contact around 16 departments and pay hefty airline charge,” he said, advocating for government intervention on this.

Though often perceived as morbid, his family is completely in support of what he is doing, Mr. Ashraf said, making it clear that he will continue to remain a call away for those who want his help at one of the most difficult times of their lives.

source: / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Bengaluru / by K. C. Deepika / Bengaluru – January 09th, 2017

Awarding PIOs in recognition of their services


President Pranab Mukherjee honours Dr. Antonio Costa, Portugal Prime Minister, who received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, as Suriname Vice-President Michael Ashwin Adhin and Union Minister V.K. Singh look on, in Bengaluru on Monday. | Photo Credit: G R N SOMASHEKAR;G R N SOMASHEKAR -
President Pranab Mukherjee honours Dr. Antonio Costa, Portugal Prime Minister, who received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, as Suriname Vice-President Michael Ashwin Adhin and Union Minister V.K. Singh look on, in Bengaluru on Monday. | Photo Credit: G R N SOMASHEKAR;G R N SOMASHEKAR –

Winners of Pravasi Samman Awards include Portugal Prime Minister Dr. Antonio Costa

Her son was three years old when she realised that there was no school she could send him to. British and American schools were too expensive and she didn’t want to send him to a local school.

That prompted Zeenat Jafri to start the second Indian school in Saudi ArabiaInternational Indian School — in 1982 with her husband. She was among the 30 people feted for her achievement on Monday during the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, when the Pravasi Samman Awards were given away by President Pranab Mukherjee.

The 64-year-old MBA graduate from Bhopal, who was given the award for her contribution to the field of education, said she started the school from her house, gradually scaling it up   to now educate 12,000 people.

Another person of Indian origin who was recognised with the award was Ariful Islam, coordinator and nodal point in the Embassy of India in Libya.

The electrical engineer relocated from India to Libya in 1980 following a pact between the two nations. He has seen his adopted country go through the worst of times, but continues to live there alone, though his family has moved back to Aligarh. “I have spent half my life there. We have successfully rescued many Indians,” he said.

The rescuer

The most recent episode he was involved was in the rescue of three abducted Indians from the IS in a dramatic operation in 2016 from the deep Libyan deserts.

Among the organisations that were awarded were the Singapore Indian Association in the category of community service.

The event saw double the number of awardees as it was being held after an interval of two years.

Among the other prominent winners of the award were Portugal Prime Minister Antonio Luis Santos da Costa, Labour Member of the European Parliament representing the West Midlands Neena Gill, British politician Priti Patel and Mauritius Minister of Finance and Economic Development Pravind Kumar Jugnauth.

Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs in the United States Department of State, who was also among the 30 awardees, said persons of Indian origin, who were building bridges and connecting in an “increasingly divided world,” retained strong ties with India, she said.

source: / The Hindu / Home> News> National / by K.C. Deepika / Bengaluru – January 10th, 2017

Ariful Islam

Aligarh, UTTAR PRADESH / Benghazi, LIBYA :


Libya :

Mr. Ariful Islam resides in Benghazi, the second largest city of Libya.

Mr. Islam has been providing selfless service to Indians in Libya and has been instrumental in building trust between the Libyans and Indians.

Mr. Islam helped during the evacuation of Indian nationals from Libya during the civil unrest in 2011 and was amongst the last to leave from Libya.

His assistance in extricating Indian nationals from the eastern region was invaluable and was appreciated and recognized by Indian as well as the Libyan authorities.

He facilitated repatriating 287 Indian citizens from Benghazi by ship to Malta in August 2014.

He again helped the Mission in December 2014 January and February 2015 to evacuate subsequent batches of Indian nurses from Benghazi and arranged for their safe passage till Labrak airport, about 250 km from Benghazi, while the security situation was very fragile.

Although, he does not have active business now due to the civil war like situation and continuous fighting in Benghazi, he returned to Libya to assist in the evacuation of our nationals and to attend to other consular matters of our citizens and to follow up with the local authorities.

source: / Pravasi Bharatiya Divas / Home> Profile of Awardees / 07-09 January 2017, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India

TN girl to receive prestigious national award

Nagercoil  (Kanyakumari District), TAMIL NADU :

Masha Nazeem
Masha Nazeem

For contribution to science

Nagercoil girl Masha Nazeem will receive the prestigious National Youth Award for her contributions to science and technology.

The annual award is instituted by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and is given to recognise outstanding work and achievements of youngsters and further motivate them to excel in the field on National Development and Social Service.

“I am very excited to be selected for this award,” said 24-year-old Masha, who with her father Khaja Nazeemudeen, a government employee, is all set to receive the award from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 12.

Hailing from Nagercoil in Kanniyakumari district Masha is the elder of two siblings. She developed a keen interest in science from the time she was nine years old.

“It all happened because of my father, he would enroll me in every possible contest in school, one of them was a science exhibition. I didn’t even know my name was on the list,” she said. Masha, then a class five student, made a burglar alarm which impressed her teachers and won her the first prize.

From then on, there was no stopping, Masha went on to invent 14 socially useful gadgets such as a flameless seal marker, which is now used by State government officials, hi-tech train toilet system, fuel dispensers, anti sinking alarm amongst others.

Three of her innovations are in the process of getting patented. She has also won several awards and accolades including the State Youth Award 2016.

Innovation centre

To provide free hands on training to young inventors and help them turn their ideas to reality, she setup Masha Innovation Center, a research laboratory and workshop in her hometown.

“There are many students who are creative and have ideas but get stuck in only learning theory taught in schools. While theory is important, they must also be encouraged to have practical experience. This is my aim and I hope more students benefit from it,” she said.

source: / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Tiruchirapalli / by Staff Reporter / Chennai – January 12th, 2018

Maulavi Ahmad Ullah Shah and great revolt of 1857

Arcot, MADRAS (now TAMIL NADU ) /  Faizabad, UTTAR PRADESH :



source: / National Book Trust, India / Home> Books> National Biography

Laurels for the bravehearted prince


The book “Surat” by Moin Mir begins with a truth that will send a chill down anyone’s spine.

Moin Mir
Moin Mir

Breaking all the shackles and bending, actually, even defying all the ‘rules’, the prince of Surat, Meer Jafar Ali Khan fought a battle all by himself. And win he did!

The book “Surat” by Moin Mir begins with a truth that will send a chill down anyone’s spine. “It is about how the East India Company took control of the great port city, Surat. They violated a treaty with the Nawab of Surat which stated that his family would be secure from generation to generation by stopping the family’s income, usurping the palaces, estates, jewellery and all that was part of the private estates of the Nawab, leaving the infant granddaughters of the last Nawab on the brink of destitution. In a counter attack Meer Jafar Ali Khan, father of the two infant girls stood to defy an empire and expose the corrupt practices of the Company in Victorian England. Spearheading a legal offensive that would shatter the Company’s reputation, Khan’s campaign for justice generated great heat and debate in British Parliament. Fighting against all odds this prince won it all back for his daughters and found true love” says Mir.

SURAT FALL OF A PORT, RISE OF A PRINCE by Moin Mir, Roli Books, pp. 250, Rs 495
SURAT FALL OF A PORT, RISE OF A PRINCE by Moin Mir, Roli Books, pp. 250, Rs 495

“Two things that inspired me to write this, one that the lead character was a fathr on a quest to fight for justice in 1844 by planting himself there and defying an empire on its own soil.

The second reason to write this book was the city of Surat which was an important port. I wanted people to know that how this thriving maritime port was brought down by the English East India Company,” he adds.

Wanting to release the book on Meer Jafar Ali Khan’s 200th birth anniversary, Mir thought that 2017, was the right time to release it. The message he wants to give is that it is a story of a man who believed in his cause.  “It’s a story of a city, an individual, a father and an Indian man in London in 1844. That is rare. And not just being an Indian in London but fighting the empire on their home turf. What are the chances of you winning? Zero! As the empire was at the peak of its power,” he signs off.

source: / The Asian Age / Home> Books / by Kavi Bhandari / January 03rd, 2018

Yusuf Meherally, The Forgotten Freedom Fighter For Whom Bombay Once Stood Still

Bombay (now Mumbai), MAHARASHTRA :

Both “Quit India” and “Simon Go Back” slogans were coined by a lesser-known hero of India’s struggle for freedom, Yusuf Meherally. Here’s his untold story.

India’s fight against colonial rule was a long drawn out battle that gained momentum in several phases since it started in the early 20th century. Examples of these phases are the Non-Cooperation movement of 1920-22 and the Civil Disobedience movement of 1930-32. However, the one rallying call that gave the country its ultimate push towards complete independence was “Quit India”.

By far the strongest and most vociferous appeal made by the Indian National Congress (INC), “Quit India” asked the British, loud and clear, to leave India once and for all. Interestingly, contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t Mahatma Gandhi who coined this iconic slogan.

Both “Quit India” and “Simon Go Back” slogans were coined by a lesser-known hero of India’s struggle for freedom, Yusuf Meherally.


The son of a well-to-do businessman, Yusuf Meherally was born in Bombay on September 3, 1903. Fifty years earlier, his great-grandfather had established one of Bombay’s first textile mills and the family had prospered ever since.

As a young boy, Meherally was curious about the nationalist movements developing around him. While he was in high school, he would spend much time reading about the revolutionary movements of the different nations and the role youth had played in them. Having witnessed his family’s upper class prejudices all his life, the sensitive boy was also deeply affected by the struggles of the working class.

Having soon become a staunch supporter of the freedom struggle, young Yusuf was looked upon as an embarrassing renegade by his pro-British family. Unaffected by their disapproval, he joined the movement immediately after finishing his schooling from Bharda High School.

After earning a B.A. in History and Economics from Elphinstone college, he was studying law at the Government Law College in February 1928 when Simon Commission reached Bombay. A group of seven British Members of Parliament, the Simon Commission had arrived in India to suggest constitutional reforms but didn’t have a single Indian member. This unfair and insulting decision had led to much anger and disappointment among Indians.


Having founded the Bombay Youth League the very same year, Meherally immediately organised a protest against the Simon Commision. He had initially planned an ambitious expedition on boats to meet the members at sea itself, but the plan was leaked and the police took stringent steps to prevent it from happening.

Undaunted, Meherally and other young men dressed up as coolies to get access to the Bombay port where they greeted the members of the commission with black flags and the slogan “Simon Go Back”. The resolute demonstrators were lathi-charged thrice but they did not budge an inch. As the news of the demonstration spread like wildfire, establishments across the city began observing spontaneous hartals.

Overnight, Meherally’s courage and slogan were on everyone’s lips, including Mahatma Gandhi’s. Not only had he dared to shout his slogan to the face of a powerful British politician, he had also defied the directions of his political seniors who counselled inaction.

Threatened by his growing popularity and radical views, the British debarred him from practising law to the consternation of his family. The rarity of this action can be seen from the fact that though several nationalist leaders were lawyers, none of them had been barred from practising law.

Two years later, when the Civil Disobedience movement was launched, Meherally and his band of young volunteers worked tirelessly to keep the morale of the public up in face of the severe repressive measures that the British unleashed.

As INC’s prominent leaders courted imprisonment and went to jail during the Salt Satyagraha, Meherally kept the movement running till he himself was arrested in 1930 and sentenced to four month’s imprisonment.

Gandhi during the Salt March, March 1930
Gandhi during the Salt March, March 1930

In 1932, Meherally was again arrested for conspiracy and sentenced to a two-year term in the Nasik prison. It was here that he met and interacted with the radical socialist leaders of the freedom struggle.

After his release in 1934, he joined hands with Jayaprakash Narayan, Asok Mehta, Narendra Dev, Achyut Patwadhan, Minoo Masani and others to found the Congress Socialist Party. The organisation hoped to transcend communal divisions through class solidarity and bring about economic empowerment through decentralized socialism (i.e farmer co-operatives and trade unions).

In 1938, Meherally led the Indian delegation to the World Youth Congress in New York before attending the World Cultural Conference taking place in Mexico. Here, he was struck by the lack of literature on contemporary issues in India when compared to the West. Determined to fill this gap, he authored a series of books titled ‘Leaders of India‘ that focused on current topics and translated them to Gujarati, Hindi and Urdu.

Here is an excerpt from the foreword he wrote:

“The rise of the pamphlet and the booklet as a powerful weapon for the spread of ideas has been truly remarkable. During my visits to these continents (US and Europe) I was greatly impressed by the part that such brochures play in moulding public opinion. In Europe and America there exists a wealth of topical literature that is in striking contrast to its scantiness in India.

The Current Topics Series of Padma Publications is an attempt to meet this need. The idea is to publish every few months a booklet on a subject of topical or special interest having regard to present-day controversies and their bearing on the future. The series will not be restricted to political questions only. Every title will be published in a pleasing format, at a price within the reach of all.”

In the next few years, Meherally was arrested several times for defying prohibitory orders and participating in Individual Satyagraha (launched by Gandhi to affirm one’s right of speech and oppose the British decision to involve India in World War II without the consent of its people).

In 1942, he was still in Lahore Jail when he was nominated by INC for the election to Bombay Mayoralty.This nomination was personally backed by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel who knew that Meherally belonged to that rare breed of leaders for whom personal gratification meant ensuring the well-being of fellow countrymen.


Released from prison to participate in the elections, Meherally won comfortably, becoming the youngest Mayor in the history of Bombay’s municipal corporation. During his tenure, he became immensely popular among the public due to his dedication towards ensuring effective civic service.

One of Meherally’s first steps as a mayor was to introduce a quick dispatch system for files and deal with slacking officials with an iron hand. Other than personally attending to citizens’ complaints on civic issues, he took the unprecedented decision of refusing to pay municipal money for the British Government’s Air Raid Precautions (ARP) scheme.

The ARP scheme was a programme initiated for the protection of civilians from the danger of air raids. It included the organisation of ARP wardens, messengers, ambulance drivers and rescue parties who would liaison with police and fire brigades in case of an air raid.

Earlier, Bombay’s municipal corporation used to pay Rs 24 lakh to the British government for the ARP scheme but an adamant Meherally argued that the defense of the city should be in the hands of those who would remain on the scene no matter what and not the British who would probably withdraw in case of an attack (just like they had done in Malaya and Burma).

This led to the organisation of the People’s Volunteer Brigade in Bombay and the city became the only one in India where the municipal corporation was allowed to run the ARP scheme.

Indian women training for air raid precautions (ARP) duties in Bombay, 1942. IND 1492 Part of WAR OFFICE SECOND WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION No 9 Army Film & Photographic Unit
Indian women training for air raid precautions (ARP) duties in Bombay, 1942.
IND 1492
Part of
No 9 Army Film & Photographic Unit

All this while, he continued being involved in the country’s fight for freedom. On July 14, 1942, INC’s working committee had met at Wardha and demanded complete independence, failing which a massive civil disobedience movement would be launched.

Soon after, at a meeting in Bombay, Gandhi conferred with his closest associates on the best slogan for the movement. C Rajagopalachari suggested ‘Retreat’ or ‘Withdraw’ but it didn’t find much favour with the leader. It was Meherally who then came up with the succinct phrase — ‘Quit India’ — that got Gandhi’s approval.

In preparation for the nationwide movement, Meherally published a booklet titled Quit India (that sold out in a matter of weeks) and got over a thousand ‘Quit India’ badges printed to popularise the slogan. On August 8, 1942, Gandhi delivered his powerful Quit India speech at Mumbai’s Gowalia Tank Maidan. The next day, he was arrested along with practically the entire INC leadership.

Realising that these arrests had created a vacuum in the communication between the leadership and the masses, Meherally immediately mobilized his socialist colleagues –  Aruna Asaf Ali, Ram Manohar Lohia and Achyut Patwardhan – to take charge of the Quit India movement while hiding underground, just before he himself was caught and put in prison.


It was during this last tenure in prison that Meherally suffered a debilitating heart attack. The prison authorities offered to shift him to St George Hospital for special treatment but the principled man demanded that two other ailing freedom fighters should also get the same facilities. When the authorities refused, he chose to remain in prison.

Over the following few months, freedom fighters across India responded with waves of civic rebellion despite the violent backlash from the British authorities. While the Quit India Movement did not result in immediate attainment of freedom, it did indeed create the massive pressure that resulted in India bidding farewell to the British just three years later.

By the time he was released in 1943, Meherally’s health had deteriorated sharply but he continued to contribute to the cause of Indian independence. The selfless leader was over the moon when his beloved motherland finally unshackled the chains of colonialism and awoke to freedom on August 15, 1947.

Independence day of India, August 15, 1947
Independence day of India, August 15, 1947

However, the years of struggle had taken its toll, rendering him weak and bed-ridden, though only physically and not in spirit. Even from his hospital bed, he continued to work to highlight India’s vibrant diversity and rich heritage.

In October 1949, Meherally organised a one-of-its-kind exhibition that displayed more than 200 pictures and paintings that traced the evolution of India’s freedom struggle since 1857. He also organised several cultural and literary events at Bombay’s famed Kala Ghoda, inviting Indian personalities who were legends in their respective fields.

On July 2, 1950, Yusuf Meherally passed away at the age of 47, his death rousing the same passion in the public as his slogans. Shocked at the loss of their beloved leader, all of Bombay was in collective mourning. The next day, as the clock struck noon, buses, trams and trains across the city stopped for a few minutes.

Almost all schools, colleges, shops, factories and mills remained shut. The Bombay Stock Exchange, an iconic symbol of the city’s financial strength, witnessed no trading though officially open for business. The city that never stopped, Bombay stood still in the memory of the man who had literally given his lifeblood for the city’s well-being and the country’s cause.

source: / The Better India / Home> Freedom Fighter> History> Lede / by Sanchari Pai / September 28th, 2017

Remembering Fathema Ismail’s battle against polio

Bombay (Mumbai), MAHARASHTRA :


IN 1942, a daughter was born to Fathema Ismail, the sister of cotton king and Congress financier Umar Sobhani, and Mohammad Hasham Ismail, a government of India trade commissioner posted in Mombasa. She was fondly named Usha – after the Goddess of dawn – in the expectation of a new dawn as the city and the country was immersed in the Quit India movement. Fathema Ismail was closely involved with Kulsum Sayani (the mother of Ameen Sayani) in women’s education and the establishment of All India Village Industries Association. When Usha turned three the family discovered that she had polio.

“Amma was dejected with the news, but at the same time she was determined to get the best treatment for me,” recalls Usha Cunningham who is now based in New York. She recalls the turbulent years where India fought and finally achieved freedom from the British, which ran parallel to her own fight with polio. Patel Manzil at Nepean Sea Road, where Usha grew up was a safe haven for underground activists. “Aruna khaala (Aruna Asaf Ali) and other leaders would live under assumed names in our house. My mother’s nationalist leanings were well-known but as my father was a trade commissioner, we escaped scrutiny.”

In her search for a doctor, Fathema was referred to Dr M G Kini, an orthopaedic surgeon based in Madras. “Dr Kini was a crusty, old man who first declined to accept my case. Amma would literally sit outside his residence and accost him in the morning, afternoon and evening when he would travel between his house and clinic. He ultimately agreed and we stayed in Madras for around eight months,” recalls Cunningham. Under Dr Kini’s guidance Usha showed tremendous improvement.

The Madras visit also marked the beginning of Fathema’s discovery about the lack of facilities for children afflicted with polio. Soon her husband Mohammad was transferred to Iran from Mombasa, but she stayed in India. After Madras, the next stop was Pune, where, Fathema had gathered, there were some facilities for rehabilitating injured soldiers at the British Army Hospital. “There were three British physiotherapists who would treat the injured soldiers with the help of a few trained Indian assistants. Amma requested similar training and after some reluctance was allowed access,” remembers Cunningham.

What worked in her favour was the fact that Fathema had gone to Vienna to study medicine in 1920 after finishing her schooling, but had to return due to a financial crisis in the family. For three years she had stayed alone in Vienna absorbed in her studies. Decades later, those three years of study helped facilitate a better understanding of the process of rehabilitation. More than two years of treatment and therapy changed Cunningham’s life. From “totally paralysed”, she regained remarkable mobility in her right leg. Little did she know that she would soon become an exemplar of how patients with polio need not be confined within the walls of their house – ignored and neglected.

Fathema was now determined to start a facility for the countless poliostricken children and their parents. Her experience and observation in Madras and Pune gave her the confidence to start a clinic in Bombay (as it was known then). But finding a suitable space amidst a financial crunch plus low awareness of the disease were formidable hurdles. She also had to ensure she had enough medical equipment to attend to the children. The war had ended and the imminent departure of the British meant that the Army hospital in Pune faced an uncertain future.

In 1946 she had established the Society for the Rehabilitation of Crippled Children (SRCC) but despite her pleadings, the hospital was not willing to share or sell the equipment. She then convinced two of the Indian assistants to get the various equipment and kits transferred to Bombay while the hospital was winding up. “She promised them jobs and convinced them of the immense good this would do for the poor patients,” recalls Cunningham, the excitement in her voice palpable as she recounted her mother’s exploits.” Not many people know that six truckloads of machinery were taken out from Pune,” she says.

These surreptitiously transported kits formed the base for a polio clinic that was opened in May 1947 in the empty Chowpatti premises offered by Dr A V Baliga, who was going to the United States on a study tour. After few months the Bombay government gave space in the empty barracks at Marine Drive as the clinic’s immense popularity led to a waiting list. In the wake of Independence, Bombay and India, had woken up to the need of rehabilitating the differentlyabled. Medical journals and international aid organisations took note of Fathema Ismail’s enterprise.

Fathema Ismail and Jawaharlal Nehru at the opening of her clinic in the military barrack at Marine Drive in 1947
Fathema Ismail and Jawaharlal Nehru at the opening of her clinic in the military barrack at Marine Drive in 1947

In 1951, she visited the United States on the state department’s invitation for a four-month tour of various hospitals, and the same year went to Europe to attend international conferences. She was now determined to open a full-fledged hospital. “She caused quite a headache to Prime Minister Nehru as she demanded a plot near the race course at Haji Ali. It was a prime location and Nehru would say ‘Fati, why only that plot? I can request the Bombay government to give some other place’. But Amma was insistent. The racecourse was frequented by the rich and the famous and one of the reasons for the request was that she wanted larger society to be fully aware and responsive to the problem of polio.”

The result was a children’s orthopaedic hospital, which opened in 1952 and was inaugurated by Nehru, which continues to operate to this day. After roughly 30 surgeries and years of therapy, Cunningham who is now 75 years old, has no regrets. “I have climbed mountains, ran a business in Delhi, shifted to America, got married, have a caring husband and daughter. This is what Amma wanted. Similarly she convinced several industrialists to offer training for the handicapped at her centres so that they could get employment.” In 2011, India announced that it had eradicated polio but the foundation stone for this incredible campaign was laid by a lady who had the grit and determination to envision a polio-free society over 70 years ago.

source: / Ahmedabad Mirror / Home> Others> Sunday Read / by Danish Khan, Ahmedabad Mirror / August 20th, 2017

‘Baghi Banjara’ traces life, works of Barkatullah Bhopali


Bhopal :

Centered on the life of freedom fighter Maulana Barkatullah Bhopali, a play ‘Baghi Banjara’ was staged at Shaheed Bhawan on Friday. Scripted and directed by Waseem Khan, the play was staged for the first time in the country.

Abdul Hafiz Mohamed Barakatullah, known with his honorific Maulana Barkatullah (7 July, 1854-20 September 1927), was an anti-British Indian revolutionary with sympathy for the Pan-Islamic movement.

The whole journey from birth to death of the great freedom fighter was beautifully shown in the one-hour-twenty-minute-long play.   Barkatullah was born on 7 July 1854 at Itwara in Bhopal.

He fought from outside India, with fiery speeches and revolutionary writings in leading newspapers, for the independence of India. In 1988, Bhopal University was renamed Barkatullah University in his honour. He was educated from primary to college level at Bhopal.

Later he went to Bombay and London for his higher education.  He was a meritorious scholar and mastered seven languages: Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Turkish, English, German, and Japanese. Despite a poor background he topped the list of successful candidates in most of the examinations for which he appeared, both in India and England. He became the Quondam Professor of Urdu at the Tokyo University Japan.

He was one of the founders of the “Ghadar” (Rebellion) Party in 1913 at San Francisco. Later he became the prime minister of the Provisional Government of India established on 1 December 1915 in Kabul with Raja Mahendra Pratap as its president.  He died in 1927 at San Francisco.

The play was presented by mainly young cast of Swabhiman Shikshan Samiti. Suggestive sets, costumes and lights were used.

A patriotic song ‘rang de basanti chola…,’ of movie ‘Shaheed’ (1965) was used in the play. Gaurav Jaat as Maulana Barkatullah, Badra Wasti as Tarik Nigar, Shakeel Chand as Kadar and others  were in lead role.

“For the first time, the play centered on the great freedom fighter is being staged for the first time in India. I don’t know why no play was staged on the tenacious fighter. I wrote the play at the instance of Shriram Tiwari, former director of culture. The writing took one year and the rehearsals lasted for one-and-a-half- months,” said Waseem Khan.

source: / The Free Press Journal / Home> Bhopal / by A Staff Reporter / January 28th, 2017