Mehmooda Ahmed Ali Shah

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A close associate of former Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi and a well-known educationist of Kashmir, Mehmooda Ahmed Ali Shah took her last breath last week. Syed Asma profiles her illustrated life and career

Mehmooda Ahmed Ali Shah

Mehmooda Ahmed Ali Shah

After talking to a dozen of her acquaintances, the three words that describe Mehmooda Ahmed Ali Shah as a person are – simple, reserved and disciplined.

A good looking woman with long hair and decently dressed who never wore an ear ring, ring or a bangle, is how people remember her!

An educationist, passed away last week at the age of 94 at her residence, a state owned apartment, at Dalgate, Srinagar. Famous as Miss Mehmooda, she is known for the role she played in making the Kashmiri woman literate. It is said that opening up a second women’s college in old city was her idea.

Counted among a few influential Kashmiri women, Mehmooda had an exceptionally good academic qualification.

Born in 1920, Mehmooda has a distinction of being the first girl to pass Class 10th examination from a missionary school. It was the time when woman in Kashmir hardly moved out of their homes. She was part of the then lone missionary girl’s school in Kashmir, now called Mallinson Girls School. It was located on the banks of river Jhelum near Fateh Kadal where Mehmooda’s family resided for some time.

Originally from Teetwaal, Karnah, her father Syed Ahmed Ali Shah had moved from his birth place many years before getting married. He did not want to follow his fore fathers and be a care-taker of their ancestral shrine. After qualifying his Class 10th exam, Ahmed Ali joined a British-Indian wood extraction company. They sent him to Africa. Coming back after 5 years, he was posted in Udhampur where he got married to Dulhan Begum, daughter of the head of Muslim clan in Udhampur.

After sometime, the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir appointed him [Ahmed Ali] as the Forest ranger officer of Jhelum Valley cart road. Ahmad Ali along with his family was putting up in Boniyar, Baramulla till he got retired.

“He [Ahmed Ali] was crazy to get us educated. There were not enough schools then, so he hired teachers who taught us at home,” remembers Dr Naseer Ahmed Shah, Mehmooda’s younger brother.

Each member in their family had been well-educated and had occupied significant positions of their times.

Mehmooda with her family

Mehmooda with her family

Mehmooda’s brothers include Dr Naseer Ahmad-former principal of Government Medical College Srinagar, Syed Ahmad Shah – former Deputy Inspector General of Police, Major Zameer Ahmad and former Sessions Judge, Syed Nazir Ahmad Shah.

Mehmooda was good at studies and was interested to pursue them further, so she moved to Lahore. India was not independent then, Dr Naseer recalls.

Dr Naseer, who is in his 80’s, does not remember exact dates and years.

“Lahore was then the best option available for a girl,” says Dr Naseer.

Mehmooda did her B A, B Ed and M A from Lahore and became the first woman to qualify M A from University of Punjab.

She took an MA in Political Science and later attended a diploma programme in Leeds, UK.

After she completed her masters, knowing her background and interest in academics, Muslim society in Punjab, Pakistan, offered her a job. In dilemma, Mehmooda went to Sir Muhammed Iqbal, one of her close acquaintances in Pakistan, for help in deciding her future.

Dr Naseer remembers as Mehmooda had told him, “knowing her as a well-educated and a visionary woman Sir Iqbal suggested her to return to Kashmir as she would be of great help to the people here.”

Abiding by what Sir Iqbal suggested Mehmooda came back and joined a school in Maisuma, Srinagar. Her first salary was Rs 40. Some years later Maharaja opened up a school in Baramulla where Mehmooda was appointed as its headmaster. She served there till 1954, after which she shifted to Srinagar and was appointed as the Principal of the Government Women’s College, M A Road.

“She was among the most efficient principals of this college,” says Zareef Ahmed Zareef, a historian who in that tenure was a part of Cultural Academy and usually met her while organizing different cultural programmes.

Apart from being a renowned educationist who was keen about women’s education, Mehmooda was known for her links with Indian National Congress. She was close to former Indian Prime Minsiter, Indira Gandhi and former Kashmiri Prime Minister and Chief Minister G M Sadiq.

“She was widely known for being an educationist but was very well politically connected,” says Zareef.

Mehmooda’s family say in 1975 she volunteered her retirement after having a rift with some people in administration from the Government women’s college.

“After that she on request of Indira Gandhi moved to Delhi and joined All India Congress Committee as a General Secretary,” says Dr Naseer, “she was its member till her death, though not an inactive one.”

After Indira’s death she moved back to Kashmir and remained engrossed in her own world. Mehmooda used to spend most of her time reading and sometimes writing as well. Though, nothing has been published in her name as yet.

It is said that she was very close to Sadiq. Living in neighbourhood, Sadiq, Mehmooda and Sadiq’s sister Begum Zainab were very good friends. It is said that Mehmooda and Zainab had great influence over Sadiq’s decisions.

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