Jai Hind, Safrani

When we talk of ‘freedom fighters’, we generally think of people who were engaged in the struggle for freedom for India within the country. We tend to ignore many other groups who fought for freedom of the country from the outside. They represented the radicals in the Congress party who broke away from the main line of the Party because they believed freedom could not be won through peaceful methods and negotiations. Quite a number of them went away from the country and lived a life of exile. A number of such people went to Canada. They married local women, mostly of Hispanic origin – and gave them Indian names. Their progeny is now completely integrated with the local inhabitants.

Another part of the Indian community which played a crucial role comprised the Indian expatriates settled in South East Asia. They were the one who helped the greatest of hero of the armed struggle from abroad — Subhash Chandra Bose, commonly revered as ‘Netaji’ in setting up the India National Army. They not only gave moral and material support, but also joined the army in good number. They were from different parts of the country and were drawn from different communities and religions.

One young, colourful and courageous person from Hyderabad became a member of that community by chance. He was Zain-ul Abideen Hasan, commonly known as Abid Hasan and still better known as Abid Hasan Safrani. Incidentally, there is no such surname as ‘Safrani’. Then how did he come to acquire that appellation? Thereby hangs a tale.

Sir Salar Jung I who was the Dewan of Hyderabad from 1853 to 1883 tried to reform and modernize the medieval administration of the state of Hyderabad. For that purpose, he brought a number of educated, English – knowing officials from British India. One such person was Nawab Mohsin-ul-Mulk. His younger brother was Amir Hasan who became a collector of a district. Abid Hasan was born to his Irani wife in 1911.
While most of the well-to-do families of Hyderabad sent their children to England for higher studies, Amir Hasan’s wife did not favour that. She did not like the British. The children of that family were sent to Germany. Abid Hasan went thee to study engineering.

During the Second World War, Bose had escaped to Germany to canvass support for an armed struggle to liberate India. Germany was at war with England and so it was to its advantage to encourage disaffection in India against the British.

Bose addressed meetings of Indian prisoners of war, and others exhorting them to join him in his struggle. Abid met him and was inspired by his patriotism and the spirit of sacrifice. He said he would join him after finishing his studies. Netaji taunted him that if he was worried about small things like that, he could not take up big causes. Stung by that rebuke, Abid Hasan decided to give up his studies. He immediately joined Netaj and became his secretary and interpreter.

From then on he was to be with him. He went with Netaji to Singapore in German in a Japanese submarine. There, after consultations with the Japanese, Netaji set up the Provisional Government of Free India on 21 October, 1943. He also reorganized the Indian National Army originally established by one Mohan Singh, an officer of the British Indian Army.

Abid Hasan became a major in the INA and participated in the march from Burma across the Indian frontier. The army reached Imphal. It was severely handicapped in supplies and armaments and so had to retreat.

Netaji wanted an Indian form of greeting for his army, and for independent India. Various suggestions came. Abid suggested ‘Hello’. He was snubbed. Then he suggested ‘Jai Hind’. Netaji liked it and it became the official form of greetings amongst the revolutionary Indians. Now it is the official slogan of the country. Netaji also established common kitchens for all the soldiers. The Provisional Government of India though fired by idealism, was also riven with squabbles. Amongst the questions which came up for discussion was that of the flag for independent India. The Hindus wanted the saffron colour, while the Muslims favoured green. The controversy was beginning to become acute. At that stage, the Hindu elements gave up their insistence on the saffron. Abid Hasan was so touched by this gesture that he decided to add ‘Saffron’ to his name. That is how he came to be known as ‘Safrani’.

After the collapse of the INA, Safrani along with others was taken prisoner by the British and jailed in Singapore. Meanwhile, his family back in Hyderabad had no news about him and most– except his mother– gave him up as dead. Then somebody came from Singapore and told her that he had met one Irani in Singapore. Abid’s mother then knew that her son was alive.

After the famous INA trial, all the prisoners were released. In 1946 Abid came back to Hyderabad and joined the Congress Party. But here too there were rivalries and groupings and he felt disgusted with the group politics in the organization. He then the joined the Bengal Lamp Company and was posted at Karachi. When India attained independence, and Karachi became part of Pakistan, Safrani came back to Hyderabad.
He was taken in the Foreign Service of India in 1948 and served in different diplomatic capacities in China, Switzerland, Iraq, Syria and Denmark. After his retirement in 1969, he came back to Hyderabad and setup a farm near Dargah Husain Shah Wali.

He remained a bachelor all his life. He adopted three children. One of them is Shahbaz Safrani who is a well known museologist in America. Second is Ismet Mehdi, a scholar in Arabic and a former professor at the English & Foreign Languages University. The third is Maleeha.

He passed away in 1984. How few of his fellow citizens know about this extraordinary man who embodied all that is rich and valuable in humanity!

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