Sanjay Godbole

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Surayya Glamour of Kabul

By Sanjay Godbole

November 2011

During the first half of the 20lh century, Afghanistan became famous on two counts. The first reason was that it was a nation which achieved independence from the clutches of the British, and the second reason was that Surayya, the queen of Afghanistan, got a huge publicity and fame in the Western world. In the modern history of Asian continent, the name of ‘Surayya’ will surely be recorded and registered as a lady with progressive thoughts, or rather, she or her name has been recorded so. ‘Surayya’ was ethnically associated with the tribe called ‘Muhammadzai’ from the ‘BarakzaiP group of Afghanistan. She proved to be the first lady, who attained importance in Afghan Political life. “Surayya Tarzi” who was known as ‘Malika -e- Afghanistan’ was born on 24th November 1899 at ‘Damascus’ in Syria. Her father was ‘Sardar Mehmud Tarzi’ who was a great thinker, philosopher and belonged to the ‘intelligentsia’ group. He was also a popular Leader. Surayya had her education at ‘Damascus’ only. It is noticed that the modern thoughts and the western ideology which she adopted at her earlier days had an everlasting effect in the rest of her life. On account of political turmoil in Afghanistan, Surayya’s father had to take refuge in ‘Syria’ but when ‘Habibullah’ captured the throne (power) in Afghanistan, ‘Surayya’s father Mehmud Tarzi was one of the many associates of him (Habibullah) who returned back to Afghanistan. This Mehmud Tarzi had the lions’ share in developing Afghanistan as a progressive and modern nation. When Mahmud Tarzi returned to Afghanistan Habibullah the Amir felicitated him in the Royal court. At that time, the prince Amanullah met Surayya Tarzi. Then, in theyear 1913 Amanullah married Surayya. Prior to this marriage, Amanullha was already married to one lady named ‘PariguP from the palace. Amanullah, however, had divorced this lady before he married ‘Surayya’. Amanullah became Amir of Afghanistan in the year 1919 and became the king in the year 1929.

During the period, his wife ‘Surayya’ ma4g a valuable contribution to the evolution and development of Afghanistan. That is why, Amanullah, while addressing the subjects reiterated the fact that though he was their king, his wife ‘Surayya’ was their real queen. Surayya’ used to participate in many public functions , along with Amanullah. She had nurtured two hobbies namely, horse riding and the game of hunting. Not only that, but ‘Surayya’ used to accompany her husband during military exercises. She visited many tents in which wounded soldiered were stationed for medical treatment. Thus she established communication with soldiers and gave away many presents to them. At times, when it was really risky to visit places where insurgent mutinies or revolts were being raised, ‘Surayya’ paid direct visits and established a dialogue with the people. The father of ‘Surayya’ Mehmud Tarzi was against the tradition of ‘polygamy’. He was also very keenly insistent on imparting education to women and granting permission to ‘their right to employment’. ‘Surayya’ was an epitome of this ideology. Amanullah also adopted and embraced the same thoughts and movement of ‘ education for women’ right upto the root levels in rural Afghanistan.

‘Since ‘Surayya’ was also keenly interested in implementation of such novel and radical ideas, she encouraged many ‘Afghan’ girls to take higher education, who in course of time worked as officers in various government departments . In the year 1928 (A.D.) ‘Surayya’ who had noticed some welcome changes in ‘Turkey’ sent some 15 promising and budding girl students to ‘Turkey’. ‘Surayya’ started the publication of the periodical, “Irshad-e- Niswan” exclusively for women. The super specialty hospital for  womenfolk had already started functioning . In all her lectures and public addresses, ‘Surayya’ used to refer to the important issue of absolute freedom to the women at par with men. She insisted on the right of education and access to knowledge for every woman in Afghanistan. In the year 1928 and 1929 Amanullah and ‘Surayya’ visited Europe. The University of ‘Oxford’, conferred upon them the honorary degree. ‘Surayya’ delivered some lectures to the students there. Amanullah was deeply impressed by the western technological progress. He introduced in Afghanistan the equipments of photography and the relative materials. Amanullah and his family members made numerous experiments with the help of cameras and produced some of the unusually exceptional photographs. This makes it possible for us to have glimpses of various events and happening in a royal and elite family up to the year 1927 Since both Amanullah and ‘Surayya’ were under influence of life style of European pattern, their daily chore included shooting, hunting and fishing in a natural way. ‘Surayya’ and her relatives (ladies only) always had a tea party in the ‘Gulkhani’ Tea Restaurant’. Gradually an image of’Surayya was formed in England of that of a lady sporting dresses like the elite class ladies from the times of’King Edward’.

Amanullah and ‘Surayya’ always moved in their chauffeur driven Rolls – Roice car. This is how both of them lived a life, which perhaps, the people of Afghanistan were totally unawares of. On 10th of December 1927 Amanullah and ‘Surayya’ arrived at ‘Chaman’ for a visit to India from Afghanistan. At that time they carried some 50 bundles or parcels of luggage with them There was a train from ‘Chaman’ to ‘ Karachi’ & Two special Boggies were attached to this train in which use of Burma- teak wood and parts made of silver were used. In one of the functions of Karachi, Surayya’ had a meeting with many ladies. The accounts given by those ladies who met ‘Surayya’ gave vivid descriptions of the charm and beauty of ‘Surayya’ and were being continuously discussed in the public for a long time. Then Amanullah and ‘Surayya’ left for Europe where they were received by king ‘Faud’. When ‘Surayya’ arrived In Europe for the first time, she had sported European dress and a hat. During, their tour they visited Paris, Brussels, London and such other famous cities ‘Surayya’ also met some ladies from the Royal families of Egypt and Turkey, /she abandoned her usual Blue and Rose coloured dress and adopted western style attire. She also ordered some 50 pairs of dresses along with new set of ornaments. That time the Europeans compared “ Surayya” the Malika -e-Afghanistan with Elizabeth the first. In the year 1929 the Illustrated London news,’ the famous periodical (monthly) published a special article about ‘Surayya’ At that time, ‘Surayya’ was described as a lady with Black hair but with a fairer skin than that of the women in Spain and Italy. On 13 th March 1929, an article throwing light on the various aspects of Amanullah and ‘Surayya’ and life led by them was published. Even the factories, hospitals and institutes visited by ‘Surayya’ were given a prominent publicity in German print media. ‘Surayya’ had a meeting with King George the 5lh and Queen Mary at the ‘Buckingham palace’. At that time, ‘Surayya’ looked like a lady from the British elite family. Thus, after winning fame as a celeb from all sides, ‘Surayya’ became an’ icon’ in the fashion world like ‘Lady Diana’ today. On account of the clashes, Amanullah had with the British, the relations between Amanullah and the British were strained. During the year 1929 Amanullah had a truce of Cease fire with the British who gave their nod to recognize Afghanistan as a free and independent nation. Amanullah drafted and finalized the constitution of independent Afghanistan. In that Constitution the   nature and the ambit of the new government and the role of the king vis- a vis the subjects were discussed. The reforms brought about by Amanullah and ‘Surayya’ were discussed all over the world. The British, vehemently opposed the reforms for the emancipation of women. They published in Afghanistan the photographs of Amanullah and ‘Surayya’ when they were on the tour of Europe — The Orthodox and the extremists did not approve of the steps taken by Amanullah and ‘Surayya’ when in the year 1929 both returned to Afghanistan, a very strong opposition was in the offing so, to avoid the direct confrontation of the masses, Amanullah and ‘Surayya’ decided to desert their mother land and to take refuge in Italy against the standing invitation from the authorities of Rome. They lived there till the end. Amanullah died in the year. 1960 and ‘Surayya’ expired in 1968 at Rome. Her burial took place at Jalalabad. In the month of July 2006 the famous British author Mr ‘Russel’ Harris had gone to Damascus. He was given a box, smacked in soil by the relatives of ‘Surayya’. Mr Russel was shocked when he opened the box up, only to find a collection of very rare and valuable photographs from the last century. He published some selected photographs from among the above in a periodical named ‘Libas’ International of England. These pictures make you visualize some scenes of 1920 of Afghanistan. Some of the rare photographs of ‘ Surayya’ who was declared as a fashion Icon, in the first half of 20lh century are in this collection. After reviewing these photographs Mr. Russel concluded that even in the times of rule by ‘Qajar’ family such fine photographs must not have been done in the whole of Iran. Such was the excellent quality of Photography made in ‘Afghanistan’ then.

*(The author is a noted Archeologist, based in Pune)

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

  

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