When Dast-i-Saba came out Abba was in jail and the dedication was to Kulsum. Who was this Kulsum? There was a sort of slight consternation among friends. Nobody was willing to broach the subject and people delicately inquired my mother about this mysterious lady. I remember that me and my sister went to play at the Hashmi house who was principal of training college and I remember Uncle Hashmi very delicately asked me if I had a phuppi called Kulsum. I was very indignant and I said, “No, that’s my mother’s name!” I still remember the look of relief on his face, and he told his wife, “Are bhai woh Alys ka naam hai.”
But even till now that dedication still retains an air of mystery around it and people wonder who this lady is. But there’s a story behind how my mother came to be named Kulsum. When the nikah was to take place she was informed she had to assume a Muslim name. She had already selected a couple of fashionable names. She wanted to be called Rehana or Surraiya or Shehnaz, but when it came to brass tacks my Dadi, who we used to call Bebejee, had already selected Kulsum which my mother was not very happy about. But for a smooth passage to the signing of the nikah she agreed to be called Kulsum; she never used the name after that until Dast-i-Saba appeared.
I travelled with Abba when he went to receive the Lenin Peace Prize. He had been ill in Lahore and I was on my way to study in England in the summer of 1962, and we decided to travel by ship as he was advised against air travel due of his health. There we were in a very luxurious cabin and I think it was the S.S. Victoria. But we had a very difficult takeoff from Karachi because at the last minute, the CID and police decided something was not in order even though there was a letter from the President of Pakistan, Ayub Khan, which allowed Abba to leave the country. But we were still given a very hard time at immigration.
Once we boarded the boat they kept coming back and insisted on re-examining his passport to the point that he was highly irritated. He finally said, ‘If you come back you better bring a warrant otherwise I wont show it to you.’
After they left, Abba sat me down and briefed me about the possibility of them taking him off the boat. I was frightened beyond my wits because I had never been anywhere alone. He said he would sign all the travellers’ cheques so that I would have money and would ask mother to fly to Naples where the boat was headed. And then we were to travel together to Moscow to receive the prize on his behalf.
Luckily that did not happen. The boat left and we were on our way. We had a very hard train journey from Rome to Moscow which was quite a rare journey at the time in 1962. Three days and three nights, and there was nothing to eat on the train; we were quite the unseasoned travellers. We did not know what we were letting ourselves in for. We didn’t even have an idea of how long the train journey was going to be. That was because it was Faiz and his equally unaware absent-minded daughter with him.
As soon as we arrived in Moscow they packed us off to Sochi, to the sanitarium by the Black Sea. The whole building was for writers and poets and musicians and among other people staying there was the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and his wife Matilda. For Abba it was an absolute bonus finding Neruda staying with him. So we used to meet on the beach. I was an avid camera user and was able to take photos of the two of them together with Matilda. One night Neruda gave a banquet for Abba. It was a very balmy summer night and so there was just Abba, Neruda, Matilda, myself and our translators. As the evening rolled on, Abba and Neruda recited to one another. The translators did their bit and translated from Spanish into English and Urdu into English but as the night wore on both poets dispensed with the translators. Abba was reciting to Neruda in Urdu and he was reciting to Abba in Spanish and I think both of them understood one another perfectly.
My earliest memory with Abba goes back to when I was possibly a little over two years old and Abba was in the army; we were probably stationed in Rawalpindi. That particular time is very sharply etched on my mind because I had fallen down and hurt myself and was taken to the hospital, which is why that period is very vivid. I remember there was a beggar boy who used to be somewhere outside the house and I was fascinated as he was on crutches and he used to hop on one leg. Probably for a child of two or two and a half this was a very vivid memory of seeing another child hopping.