March 21, 2010

Tracing Shahrukh Khans roots in Peshawar

Omer Farooq Khan
PESHAWAR: Peshawar has a strong Bollywood connection. In the bustling streets of Peshawar’s walled city, it takes ten minutes on foot to come across the homes of three greatest legends of the Indian cinema. The genesis of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Shahrukh Khan can be traced back to these narrow alleys. The birthplaces of Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor in Peshawar are known to all and sundry but an accurate account of the family history of the Indian cinema icon Shahrukh Khan has not been reported, the way it deserves.

Shahrukh’s entire paternal family lives in Shah Wali Qataal area of Peshawar’s famous Qissa Khwani (Kahani) bazaar. The Qissa Khwani Bazaar (street of story-tellers) extends from west to east in the heart of the city of Peshawar. The cosmopolitan character of Qissa Khwani Bazaar is lined with its traditional ‘Kehwa khanas’, stalls of Tikka and Chapli Kabab and dry fruit shops. In days gone by, the bazaar was the site of camping ground for caravans and military adventures. The professional storytellers recited ballads and tales of war and love to mobs of traders and soldiers.

Adjacent to Shah Wali Qataal in Qissa Khwani, lies Mohalla Khudadad, where Bollywood legend Dilip Kumar (Yousaf Khan) was born.

Towards west of Shahrukh’s family house, the ancestral home of another Bollywood legend Raj Kapoor is located in Daki Naal Bandi area of Qissa Khwani within 400 metres.

In one of the narrow lanes of Shah Wali Qataal stands a dilapidated four-storey building where Shahrukh’s father Taj Mohammad was born. Taj Muhammad was the youngest of the five sons and daughter of Jan Muhammad, Shahrukh Khan’s grandfather. Taj’s elder brothers were Mian Muhammad, Ghulam Muhammad alias Gama, Allah Bakhsh and Khan Muhammad and his sister’s name was Kher Jan. Kher Jan, Mian Muhammad and Khan Muhammad did not marry. Several members of the family are still living in the same locality. In the ancestral home, Gama’s daughter Noor Jehan, a local councillor, lives with her husband.

Shahrukh’s father Taj Muhammad did his graduation from Peshawar’s Edwards College, an old prestigious institution of Pakistan’s North Western Province, where the legendary Indian film star and Raj Kapoor’s father Prithvi Raj Kapoor also studied.

A diehard Indian nationalist, Taj was active in student politics and had affiliation with All Indian National Congress. After partition, he bid a final goodbye to Peshawar and moved to Delhi in 1948. One of his brothers, Ghulam Muhammad was arrested for being a staunch supporter of the movement “Akhand Bharat” and remained in jail until 1954. On his release, Gama left West Pakistan and migrated to Bengal. After the cessation of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) in 1971, Gama returned to Peshawar and engaged himself in a family business of making ladders from bamboos, which was going on in the family for generations.

“We feel proud of Shahrukh whose fans give us exceptional regard when they come to know that we are his cousins,” said Maqsood Ahmed, the elder among all of Shahrukh’s cousins living in Peshawar. Maqsood runs his small business enterprise of bamboo ladders, just close to his house in Shah Wali Qataal. He said Shahrukh visited Peshawar twice, along with his father. He first came in 1978 when he was 13 years old and then in 1980, when he stayed with his family for a month in Peshawar.

During Khan’s stay in Peshawar, he visited Torkham, a town in the Khyber tribal region on the border with Afghanistan, Maqsood said. “We went to Swat and stayed there for few nights. We also visited Michni where Shahrukh swam in River Kabul. Shahrukh loved Afghan food,” he recalled.

“Although he was too young at that time but he had all the potential to become a great actor. He was jolly, intelligent, cool and could easily trap you in discussion. Endowed with such a gifted personality, anyone would feel honoured to be called his cousin or relative,” he said, adding that the present status he enjoys is due to his exceptional qualities of head and heart. Nevertheless, Maqsood was not inspired from Khan’s acting, saying Shahrukh copies Dilip Kumar. “Indian cinema has so far not produced any actor of Dilip’s caliber. He is a king of tragedy and my cousin copies him.”

Maqsood visited once his cousin’s house in Delhi. “I went to Delhi with my mother in 1980 to offer our condolences on Shahrukh father’s death. We stayed there for a month. My aunt (Shahrukh’s mother) would send me to Shahrukh’s school, St Columbus, to give him the lunchbox,” he recalled.

The last of Shahrukh’s relatives who paid a visit on him from Peshawar was his cousin Noor Jehan (Munni), Gama’s daughter, who went along with her husband Asif to Mumbai some years ago. They were warmly welcomed by their cousin.

However, Khan’s family is no longer in contact with him, said Maqsood. “We expect that Shahrukh will visit us in Peshawar one day,” Maqsood said.



Rajiv said...

I myself have direct family in three continents, so I get very curious when I hear about stories of families separated by life circumstances. Amazing! Thanks a lot for sharing insights about SRK´s roots in Peshawar.

I also came to know that his grandfather was Afghan and that SRK can speak Farsi! What somehow puzzles me is why Indians of Afghan origin never give much importance to their roots the way Indian origin people do for their motherland - India.

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