As Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf battled for life in the United Arab Emirates, one of his most vocal critics, the current Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, offered him a safe passage home, even promising an air ambulance to bring the General back.
“Past events should not be allowed to stand in the way. May Allah help him recover so he can spend his remaining life with dignity,” Mr. Asif said.
It was a healing touch too late in the day as the former President passed away in exile in Dubai on Sunday. Across the border in India, the news sent many in Old Delhi down memory lane, with old-timers recalling the early tales they had heard of his childhood spent on the cusp of Old and New Delhi.
Musharraf had been living in the United Arab Emirates since 2016, when he was allowed to travel abroad on bail by a Pakistan court for medical treatment. He was being tried on treason charges in a Pakistani court at the time. He had seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999, ousting the then-elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
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It was shortly after the coup that the General came to Delhi, the city where he had spent his early childhood. As his wet nurse recalled at that time, Pervez Musharraf spent almost half a decade in Neharwali Haveli in Daryaganj. The haveli was built in the Mughal fashion with arches, niches, lattice screens and a big courtyard. Located in Faiz Bazaar, it was quite an imposing structure with separate section for ladies of the family.
The area itself was favoured by the well-read and the rich. Among those who had lived in the vicinity at various times were the popular Urdu poet Momin and the founder of Aligarh Muslim University Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. While there is a road named after Sir Syed Ahmed Khan today, there is not a trace of remembrance of Pervez Musharraf. Today, there is a parking lot next to the haveli; adjacent to it are eateries.
There is an anecdote though about how little Pervez had made friends with a blue-collar worker and would often chit chat with her, picking her brains on how the Jama Masjid looked like, how big was the Red Fort and how delicious were the jalebis sold at Dariba Kalan. His wet nurse survived for almost 50 years after Musharraf’s family left for Pakistan. She would recount little Pervez’s constant demands to be taken to the local market; how her promises to take him to the market convinced him to finish his food. Her stories were much sought after when the General visited India for the Agra talks.
The haveli itself has changed hands over the years. It was bought by a man named Prem Chand Gola, whose three sons lived there after the partition of India. Today, his grandchildren own the place, which now has houses, shops, restaurants and the good old Golcha cinema. Back in the mid-70s, Golcha played M.S. Sathyu’s Garam Hava which related the angst of a Muslim family left behind in Partition. The story, penned by Ismat Chughtai, moved millions. In 2016, around the same time Musharraf went to the UAE for medical treatment, Golcha called it a day, soon after playing Vidya Balan’s Kahaani.
Today, the haveli, the cinema and the General have all been reduced to footnotes of time. But the old residents of the area don’t fail to remind everybody that the former President, military General and dictator of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf took his first steps in life in our own Daryaganj.