Paul is shocked by the plight of the great grand descendants
of Tipu Sultan, who are lugging rickshaws in the mean streats
Anwar 38, is just another
faceless rickshaw-puller, among the thousand others lugging
their three or two-wheeled vehicles in Calcutta and its
Yet the thin, lanky Anwar is not really a nobody; he is
one of the sixth generation descendants of Tipu Sultan,
the great freedom fighter from South India who laid down
his life in a bloody fight against the British, in the battle
of Srirangapatnam, in 1799.
As ill luck and irony would have it, Anwar and his brothers
have been pulling rickshaws on the very road named after
one of their ancestors, Prince Gulam Mohammed Anwar Shah,
one of Tipu Sultan's 12 sons! Never mind if Anwar or the
members of his family pine for what is not, as their brush
with history is a distant memory now, a tale almost forgotten.
It was from their grandmother that they came to know about
the historical connection, or rather, about the link with
Srirangapatnam and subsequently, Prince Anwar Shah.
Notwithstanding the recent brouhaha by the West Bengal government
over the commemoration of the bicentenary of the glorious
martyrdom of Tipu Sultan, Anwar, Anwar's mother Chamanwara
Bewa and her three other sons and two daughters do not rue
their fate, or the phenomenal indifference towards their
plight by the powers-that-be.
We are ashamed to speak of our past; that we are descendants
of the great man makes us shrink further, because it wont
help to restore our fortune or mitigate our poverty, says
Anwar Shah, as his eyes search for a passenger in the scorching,
humid day. The sad reality is that talking to the correspondent
here about their plight is less important than earning his
daily wages, to fend for himself and the family.
And Anwar Shah is quite candid about confessing it.
We have earlier spoken to many people, narrated our woes
to them; but all in vain. Nothing helps unless we help ourselves,
he regrets. More than a decade ago, when R. Roshan Baig,
the then Waqf minister and a special emissary of the Karnataka
government met his father, the late Mohammed Akhtar Shah
at their godforsaken dwelling in South Calcutta in 1989,
Baig was moved by the wretched living conditions of Tipu's
great grand descendants. Mr. Baig, who had been specially
depicted by the Karnataka government to look for original
descendants of Tipu, for their honourable rehabilitation
in the southern state, urged Anwars father to migrate to
Karnataka and promised all help, once he did so; but for
reasons best known to him, Akhtar Shah declined to quit
the city and pleaded with Mr. Baig to arranged for some
funds to enable him to lead a decent life, Anwar claims,
puffing a beedi.
I feel that my father made a terrible mistake; he ought
to have gone to Karnataka. Perhaps, he was afraid, as we
don't know Kannada. But that was no logic, argues Anwar,
as his brother Dilwar, 36, also a rickshaw-puller, arrives
after a round.
Sheer poverty has prevented them from going to school and
all the four brothers are completely illiterate. Taking
a peep into history, in the aftermath of the death of Tipu
Sultan, during the battle of Mysore, the then British rulers
threw all the dozen sons of Tipu into prison at Vellore,
from where they were shifted to another prison in Calcutta
in 1807, suspecting that they had powered an abortive rebellion
in Vellore jail.
Since then, the descendants of Tipu's dozen sons have been
scattered into various parts of the city. Anwar is the eldest
son of the late Mohammed Akhtar Shah, the direct descendant
of Tipu's eldest son, Nawab Fateh Hyder Sultan.
Anwar only thanks his stars that he was able to quit the
dark life the four brothers had led in their teens, to help
his father run the family, as Akhtar Shah could not ensure
two square meals a day just by running a tiny cigarette
stall. Before taking to rickshaw- pulling, admits Anwar,
they used to earn some fast bucks by selling cinema tickets
in black. Dilwar, sitting beside him, gives a wry smile
of approbation, because it was he who had the longest stint
in the trade. Their two younger brothers - Shanu and Hussain
Ali - make a living by pulling rickshaws and running a ramshackle
tailor shop, respectively.
If their claims are to be believed, more than 500 bighas
of prime land, besides real estate strewn in the city, actually
belongs to the Tipu clan and owing to protracted litigation
and other reasons, it has become a messy affair. Even the
building with the corporate office of Shaw Wallace in Central
Calcutta, which was originally given on a 85 year lease,
belongs to the clan. The lease expired in 1985, but we could
do little about it, Anwar claims.
So, when his mother Chamanwara Begum returns home everyday
after her routine engagement as maid-servant from various
apartments in the posh locality of Prince Anwar Shah Road
in South Calcutta, eyebrows are not raised. Because without
this, it is difficult to arrange money for the marriage
of one of her two daughters, let alone make both ends meet.