Syed Shah Abdul Hye, one-time chauffeur of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, died at the age of 90s in his Karnataka residence Feb, 2005 with a wish unfulfilled.
The lungi-clad man in his 90s still had a quick mind and was in complete possession of his senses. Though he stutters a bit, he was completely coherent and his memory is infallible, when interviewed last time. Age and health have reduced mobility but there is nothing to suggest that 93-year-old Syed Shah Abdul Hye in his bungalow in the seaside town of Udupi (in the Indian state of Karnataka) has forgotten his past.
Hye was chauffeur to the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, from 1936 to 1940 and was witness to Jinnah’s meteoric rise in the popular imagination.
Hye was originally hired by Jinnah when the statesman lived at “South Court” on Mount Pleasant Road in Bombay.
Hye first demanded a salary of 80 rupees but was turned away by Jinnah’s sister, Fatima, who felt the amount was excessive. Hye had brought all his certificates and medals to show his prospective employer and when he failed to get the job, he forgot to collect them. Jinnah, who later looked closely at all of them, found his own signature on one document presented to Hye some years ago at a school sports day. That decided the matter and Hye was summoned and given the job on his own terms.
Though Hye worked for Jinnah for only four years, he did a number of jobs: personal assistant, driver, accountant and clerk. Jinnah later paid for Hye to be trained as a motor launch driver, which resulted in his moving to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Britain. Now leading a quiet life in the beautiful town of Udipi, he reminisced to Arab News. Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: What kind of cars did Jinnah have?
A: Jinnah had five expensive cars — Chevrolet, Packard, Lassale, Graham Page and Sunbeam. The Lassale was a gift from the Nawab of Jamnagar and the Packard from the Nizam of Hyderabad.
Q: What about Jinnah personally?
A: He was a perfect gentleman. I was not merely a driver; I also served as a receptionist, a phone operator and a clerk. The only ones with direct access to Jinnah were his personal assistant, Mubeenul Islam of Meerut, and I. Any others among the 20 household staff had to deal with Fatima. Jinnah always smoked and always wore a suit, boots and tie; his suits were made in Bombay by Laffan Tailors.
Q: What was Jinnah’s preferred language?
A: Invariably English. He did, however, speak Urdu if the occasion arose but he had a “Bombaiya” accent.
Q: What about Jinnah and the affairs of the Muslim League?
A: Till 1940, Jinnah never had a Muslim League flag on his car. Some supporter put a flag on his car at a rally and he demanded an explanation from me. Since it had been done without my knowledge or consent, we removed it. He roared, “Until we get Pakistan, we will not fix a flag to my car.”
Q: Who were the friends he saw most frequently?
A: The Raja of Mahmudabad, Bahadur Yar Jung, Nawab Ismail Khan, Liyaquat Ali Khan and Abdur Rab Nashtar. Maulana Shaukat Ali also came several times. Twice during this period, Gandhi visited Jinnah and they had closed-door meetings in the house.
Q: How did Jinnah and his sister Fatima get along with one other?
A: Fatima was deeply involved in her brother’s personal affairs and this involvement sometimes bordered on interference. She was a dental surgeon and had a clinic in Bombay but she had a mercurial temperament. No servant could last more than four months. I went on a fortnight’s leave in 1938 but overstayed my leave by a day or two. She ordered my dismissal but Jinnah found out and reinstated me. Fatima would often ask me to park in “No Parking Zones” thereby subjecting me to police anger.
Q: How would you analyze Jinnah’s personal relationships?
A: He was a very balanced person and was always very plainspoken. He tolerated nothing that was illegal or against the law. He had 20 servants, both Hindu and Muslim, and never discriminated between them on the basis of religion. He was a stickler for punctuality. I have several of his letters from Simla and Delhi and they all show his clear-headedness. He was interested in modern education, the scientific temperament and skills. He paid the fees for me to learn English at Malabar Hill Night School. Later when I wanted to get into a ferry driving school, he allowed me to leave his employment and paid for my course in motor launch driving. I owe a great debt to Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Because of his help, I got jobs in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and London.
In an interview with newspaper Indian Express in August 2003, Hye had expressed a desire to meet Jinnah’s daughter Dina and grandson Nusli Wadia, the chairman of Bombay Dyeing. ‘‘When I went to meet my daughters in the US, I tried to meet Dina, but she had isolated herself from the world. I wrote many letters to Nusli Wadia also, but never got a reply,’’ he had said. Hye worked with ‘Bhai’ (Jinnah) from around 1936 to 1940. In the 2003 interview, Hye recalled the elections to provincial assemblies when someone put the League flag on Jinnah’s car. Jinnah blew his top and told Hye: ‘‘Until I build Pakistan, I don’t want any flag on my car’’.