By Rashmi Talwar
Amritsar January 2011————-
While social networking sites went into hyper mode, minutes after the news of assassination of Pakistan (Punjab) governor Salmaan Taseer and peeved Amritsaris due the ban on onion export to India and spiraling prices of the ‘curry king’ took out their ire on Pakistanis over lawlessness in their country, no one knew that the late governor had a ‘strange connection’ with not only India but with Amritsar !
It is a ‘little known fact’ that the assassinated Governor Taseer has his roots in the city of Amritsar. The late governor’s father Prof Mohammed Din Taseer was a resident of Amritsar. It is here that he fell in love with an English lady by a strange coincidence, their love bloomed and he was married to her here. Thereafter they had three children including Salmaan Taseer and two daughters.
Prof Taseer, the father of the late Governor of Pakistan, popularly referred to as ‘MD Taseer’, was one of the rarest of the rare intellectuals of Amritsar and this region. A famed poet , he had a Ph.D degree in English at the time in the 1930s, from Cambridge University, UK.
Although his birthplace is in Batala about 30 Kms from Amritsar, The Professor came back to Amritsar and resided in the locality of ‘Katra Ahluwalia’ and headed ‘Muslim Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College’ as its principal which at the time was housed in DAV educational institute situated in the walled city.
While talking from Chandigarh, an IAS officer, Mr R.K. Kaushik Principal secretary, Revenue Punjab, who has done painstaking research on events in subcontinent from 1801 till after the Indo-Pak partition and has a library of over 20,000 books and ancient periodicals/ newspapers and an ‘elephantine memory’ about his 21-year research says –“It was in the summer of 1937 that MD Taseer –a bachelor ,went to shop in the Hall Bazaar area of Amritsar- a busy commercial area which also has three surviving masjids presently and is a transit route to the golden temple. After purchasing some articles at the shop Prof Taseer went back to his college. To his surprise he found a beautiful English young lady in his college the next day, who approached him with ‘his wallet’, which he had left in the shop a day before.
Her name was Miss Christobel and had also been a student at Cambridge. It was love at first sight. Christobel had come to Amritsar as a tourist in those times and the common connection of Cambridge succeeded to bond them. A year later in the April of 1938 they both were married in the city with the marriage (nikaah) ceremony being solemnized by none other than the famous poet Sir AIlama Iqbal –of ‘Sare jahan se Acha’ fame, who was a close friend of Prof Taseer.
Later Christobel‘s sister Alys too started visiting Amritsar where she met the most famous urdu poet ‘Faiz Ahmed Faiz’ and later married him.
Chrsitobel was rechristened and came to be known as Mrs Balquis Taseer and had three children including Taseer who was born in 1944 in Simla .Subsequently, following the 1947 Indo-Pak partition Prof Taseer left with his family including baby boy Salmaan Taseer, to settle in Lahore while the institute ‘Muslim Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College’ too shifted to Lahore which is still housed in the DAV college, Lahore. Prof Taseer became the Principal of Islamia College, Lahore, post partition and died early at the age of 50.
While the daughters settled in England after marriage in Muslim families the son, Salman Taseer, became a chartered accountant who later joined Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s (former PM Pakistan), PPP party and became the Governor of Punjab province in May 2008.”
Significantly, only last year in March late Governor Taseer had stood up for ‘Basant’-a kite flying festival’ denoting the composite culture of the ancient twin cities of Amritsar-Lahore as part of Punjabis cultural heritage, defying the Punjab (Pakistan ) Government and ‘ban order’ of ‘Lahore High Court’ on Basant festivities in Lahore . It can be safely deduced that his adolescent years in Amritsar followed by many tales about this city may have brought about this defiant stance and produced a liberal outlook in both word and action.
The Governor had the announced in open defiance- –‘Not only would I celebrate Basant but would also open the gates of Governor’s house for the people for celebrations.’ At the time Guv Tasser not only defied the government and the courts but also muslims fanatics who termed the festival as that of Hindus and Sikhs.
Also many other Hindu –Sikh festivals including Diwali, Holi, Janam Ashtami, Gurpurabs were celebrated by a minuscule Hindu and Sikh population residing in Lahore during his tenure.
Another surprise for Amritsar came six months prior to the assassination of Taseer. It was on June 25, 2010 Taseer handed over the ‘Queens Baton’ for the Commonwealth Games hosted by India, to Indian counterparts at Wagah –Attari -Indo Pak Joint Check Post, which saw a cultural extravaganza by both neighbouring countries with ‘Aman Ki Asha’ by TOI and Jang Group and the feast of melodies by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan from Pakistan and Wadali Brothers from Amritsar. His presence was not listed in the invites for the event. and this became his last visit to Amritsar.
His India connection of the flamboyant variety is now of course an open secret about having a son ‘Aatish Taseer’ by noted Indian Journalist Tavleen Singh. But Mr Kaushik in a tongue-in-cheek remark claims that Salmaan Taseer with six children from two legal marriages and the seventh -an Indian son whom he disowns was considered ‘colorful’. He had a rollicking affair with a top graceful Bollywood actress Simi Garewal, who later became an anchor for the most polished TV interview programme ‘Rendezvous’ interviewing top celebrities and filmstars.