Book Reviews

Black & White: A Biography of a Banker


We take great pride in talking about our golden past. Our heroes come either from hundreds and thousands of years' history or from the tinsel world and sports. We are more critical about our present and do not believe in creating our own heroes. We do not even like to compare anybody from the present-day life to the heroes of the past.

People might ask why a tributary book was at all necessary about a simple banker. In our culture we have folklores and tales about god men, lovers, fighters and dacoits; while we praise actors, sport stars and politicians to no end. We do not believe in increasing our treasure of heroes from the common walk of life and are content with what we have inherited from the past.

The life of Salim Ahmad Zubairi has the true material for a folk hero. Here we have a child born in simple environments to unsung parents. This child never felt comfortable or satisfied with his circumstances. His little shiny eyes were full of dreams which he wanted to realize. 
This child was part of a large family with four brothers and one sister. Even at a young age he knew how to take decisions. At the time of partition, the elders in the family took a decision to move to new Promised Land with a vision of new life. The child resisted the decision of migrating to Pakistan. He saw his future in his homeland. 

Life in his new adopted country was not easy for him either. His struggle in his student days was nothing less than the characters of Charles Dickens. He had to work as a newspaper boy to pay for his school fees and books. He learnt the lessons of life not from the pages of textbooks, but from the vagaries of life itself. Poverty was the only ornament the child could display to others. 

The hardships of his life left marks on his body, mind and soul. The dreamer and visionary in that child did not accept defeat. He was willing to fight against the odds of life. God had gifted a brilliant mind to that child. This was the only weapon with which he could face the wrath of the world.

The child grew into a handsome young man. He completed his education in highest grades and stepped into the field of banking. Money had always played hide-and-seek with him. The child picked up a career in which he could play with money. The young man has completed golden jubilee as a banker and is reaching the platinum jubilee of his life.

About forty years ago the young boy married a lovely dainty young woman who has been his wife and guiding force, since then. His two daughters and a son are well-settled in life.

Dedication, loyalty and commitment are the hallmarks of the personality of this man. His long association and loyalty with the Bank has been unflinching. His vision as a banker has been responsible for setting up his bank in the United Kingdom. He started the operations of the bank almost from the scratch in tough conditions and stiff competition. Today the bank has many branches in London and other towns of the United Kingdom with a business turnover of hundreds of millions of pounds and profits running into millions. Now the Bank owns its own prestigious and magnificent multi-storeyed building at a prime location in London. Our hero was instrumental in buying this building for the bank in 1996.

Salim Ahmad Zubairi has proved that an ordinary person can become a folk-lore hero. Songs can be written and sung about him. Parents can tell the story of that young boy who wrote his name on the horizon of his banking group ' now a large financial institution.

This book is a modest effort to portray the life and times of Salim Ahmad Zubairi. Here he will himself go through the memory lane and share with the readers his own struggle, hard work and achievements. Also sharing with us their impressions of Mr. Zubairi are the people who played important role in his life and others who have seen him from close angles in different phases of life.

When I accepted the duty of writing and editing Black & White, I was told that I had all the rights to edit or correct any article or message contributed by various people. During the writing of the book, I learnt something new every day. I discovered that people are touchy about their style of writing. They do not like to be told that a little bit of effort could make their language and style more fluid and readable. There are a few articles in this book that have not gone under my editing pen. I am not trying to wash my hands off my responsibility, but only trying to explain my position.

A continual interaction with Mr. Salim Zubairi gave me a chance to discover the child living inside this body of seventy five. Like the skin of an onion, I noticed various layers of his personality opening to me. The bond of mutual admiration grew stronger with the passage of time. I have become an ardent admirer of his patience and perseverance. During the creative process, he tolerated my various moods very sportingly.

Mr. Zubairi's family is genuinely loving and caring. I had time to discuss various matters with Ahmad, Sara and Bilal. Ahmad is a bright young man who is straightforward in his dealings. Bilal is communicative, polite and helpful. A special relationship developed with Sara who is innocent and forthright. She can be a source of happiness just with her presence. Fatima and Nadeem live in Dubai. Therefore, I did not have much of a chance to interact with them.
I also had a chance to communicate with another nice couple ' Kausar and Nahid. They are like members of the Zubairi family. Kausar has been involved with this project from the beginning. I would like to thank him for his help and contribution.

Zakia Jee is a person who can extract admiration out of anybody. My respect for her grew manifolds during this project.

The Boy

On 20th September 1932, in an area called Nai Sadak in Kanpur (India), the midwife excitingly told Mr. Munir Ahmed that his wife Islam Fatima had given birth to a healthy male child. She did not get any reaction from him. In fact, she was expecting a reward for giving such important news to the head of the house. 
Little did the midwife realize that Mr. Munir Ahmed was worried that Allah had sent another mouth to be fed in the meagre income that he earned as a clerk in the local court. The clouds of apprehension and tension were getting thicker. Allah had been generous with Munir and Islam Fatima when it came to producing children. In all Islam Fatima gave birth to about nine children out of which five sons and one daughter had survived.

The boy was fourth among the sons. His sister was also older than him. Munir Ahmed and his family used to live in a rented house. Even as a child, the boy, wondered as to why his family shifted from one accommodation to another so often. By the time the boy turned seven, the family had changed about four houses. The boy till date has memories of all his houses in a predominantly Muslim area of the city.

Munir Ahmed was always busy thinking about how to make two ends meet. Education for children was the last item on his agenda. The boy would feel bemused as to why his older brothers would not go to school or college, though the extended family and the 'Zubairi Clan' were well-known for their educational pursuits and culture in the society. Between the oldest brother and the boy, lay a long-distance of fifteen to sixteen years.

But the boy was enjoying his life since there was no problem of dealing with education and books. The boy was enjoying his surroundings but had still not become a part of it. But his older brother Basheer could not resist the temptations and succumbed to the pressures of bad company.

During this period the eldest brother went away first to Bombay and from there to Hyderabad. The older boys in the area had made life miserable for the boy. He was thin, slim and slender built. The bigger boys would bully him to no end. He was attacked physically, mentally as well as sexually. The boy was terrified of going out in the open.

But inside the household life was no different. Like most of the fathers of that era Munir too was avatar of Hitler. Islam Fatima was always terrorized by the anger of her husband. The boy was witness to many angry scenes at home.

Islam Fatima could not take any more pressure. The boy realized that his parents had started living separately. He was not able to put a logical explanation to this separation. But it was a hard fact that his father was not living with them any more. The boy with his mother and brothers shifted to a house closer to his maternal uncles. It was year 1940 or 1941. There was no source of income for the family. If they tried to cover their feet with the sheet, the face would remain exposed to the cold and if they covered the face, the feet would remain out of the sheet. The sheet could never cover their full body.

The boy's Maamu (maternal uncle number three) had built five houses on his personal land. Each house was built on an area of 500 or 600 square feet. The houses had mud floors and roofs were made of khaprail (crude tiles). Off course, in that era and area, there was no question of any electricity supply. Kerosene Lamp was the only source of light in their dark nights. In the bitter winter months, rainwater would leak through the roof making life miserable.

Since the eldest brother had already left home, the entire load of running the family fell on brother number two - Zameer. He was an honest and committed guy who took his responsibilities seriously. To meet his commitments, he had to give up his education. Worries and miseries of life did not let him rest and his weak lungs could not withstand the hardships. He contacted tuberculosis.

The memories of his brother's worsening conditions haunt the dreams of the boy even today and give him sleepless nights. The boy used to go to the chemist to get medicine for his brother. In fact he was the only one who had to do every little job for the household. One brother in Hyderabad; the other would hardly be available at home and remain busy in the company of irresponsible youth; and the youngest Afsar was still quite young. Eventually the boy was the one who had to perform these duties regularly.

One evening the boy had to rush to get the medicine for his brother. It was getting dark. The boy was feeling scared but the need for the medicine was urgent. The boy ran to the chemist shop and brought back the medicine in a flash. When he came back and entered the house, he saw his brother coughing violently. Gurgling sounds were being produced while he coughed. The mother was patting the back of her son. Tears were revolting against her. She was unable to control her emotions. The son vomited. Even in that darkness and the thin light of the kerosene lamp, the mother and the boy both could see the colour of the vomit ' it was red. The mother asked the boy to get a container so the vomit would not spill on the floor. The boy searched for a utensil and was turning back when the brother vomited again. Islam Fatima's love for her son made her put her hands on his mouth. 22 years ago she had produced this blood in the body of her son; and now she had the misfortune of that same blood oozing out of his mouth. The boy brought the utensil closer to the mouth and the vomit was released into the container. The thick blackish clots of blood looked horrifying against the white colour of the container.

At the age of ten the boy was exposed to the death of his elder brother through tuberculosis. Today the boy wants to reverse the clock so he could buy the best medicine and save his older brother. He still feels strongly for his deceased brother whose gentle nature and boundless affection for his mother and younger sister and brothers brings tears into his eyes. Now four people were left in the house ' The mother, the boy, his sister and the youngest brother. The responsibility of running the household fell on the shoulders of Islam Fatima and the ten-year-old boy.

The boy's Maamu offered a house to Islam Fatima. Maamu used to charge three rupees a month rent for his houses from outsiders. But he was a kind-hearted uncle who did not charge this rent when it came to his beloved sister. A bond of love and affection was obvious between the two. Unfortunately, this good human being died in strange circumstances at a young age of fifty-two only. This was a terrible loss to his beloved sister and her family who had by that time moved to Pakistan.

The memories of his Maammoo haunt the boy till date. Islam Fatima used to do some tailoring work for the neighbourhood. She was the epitome of patience and perseverance. The boy never heard her complain to Allah. Her pet sentence used to be, 'Inshallah, sab theek ho jayega.' (God willing, everything would be sorted out.)

Those days the clouds of the Second World War were looming large and all consumer items were scarce. Wheat was sold on ration. There were no proper ration shops. The boy still remembers the exact cost of wheat ' one rupee for three seers (roughly three kilograms). The shopkeeper would announce the arrival of wheat and large crowds would gather to get some portion of it. Being a slender built child, the boy would slip under the long legs of elders and buy wheat from two or may be three such wheat-shows. The policemen would not pay much attention to such an insignificant creature and this went in the boy's favour. 
Once the wheat was procured from various sources, the difficult job of Islam Fatima would begin. She would clean the wheat, separate the adulterating elements, wash it and dry it. Then the boy would go to the nearby chakki (local wheat-grinding shop) and get his wheat ground into flour. This finished product would then be sold to the neighbours on a handsome profit. But the boy and his family, for themselves, could afford only barley bread.

The boy had to arrange to further augment income of the family. His mother would wake him up in the early hours of the morning to go to collect copies of a daily newspaper from a nearby printing press and deliver them house-to-house in areas close and far. Be it the heat of June, rain of august or winter of December, the boy's day would begin with delivering newspapers in the wee hours of morning.

The boy's Naana (maternal grandfather) also used to live with his son i.e. Maamu. The boy started learning Farsi from his Naana at the age of seven or eight. He had finished learning the Holy Koran at a young age. But still the boy had not stepped in the boundary-wall of a school. He used to enjoy and indulge in the Indian game of Gulli Danda. But he had taken the first lessons of patience and perseverance from his mother.

His Naana got him admitted into a compulsory school. The boy found something of interest even in that boring atmosphere of the pathetically equipped institution where the children would be made to sit on bare floor. Right next to the school was the factory of the business tycoon Padampat Singhania. A small area was allocated there for his elephant. This interested the boy no ends. He would spend much of his time with the elephant and the Mahout. He used to watch the actions of the elephant ' it was a different education that would help him in later life. 
Like any other child, the boy too had this typical knack of playing practical jokes and pranks with his family members. His baaji (elder sister) would be mostly at the receiving end of his pranks. But one of his pranks has left a permanent mark on his own back. The family was sitting together and enjoying the tasty dinner prepared by the mother. Islam Fatima was preparing fresh, hot and fluffy chapattis. The boy quietly picked up a boti (a piece of meat curry) from the plate of baaji and hid it under the chapatti in his own plate. Baaji protested and complained to the mother about the boy's misdeed. Islam Fatima was already tired of the day's work and a bit irritated as well. She almost yelled, 'Listen boy, just give back the boti to your sister.'

'But I have not taken it. She is lying' insisted the boy.

Baaji kept complaining. She pointed out at the chapatti and said, 'Amma, he has hidden the boti under his chapatti.'

The boy was insistent that he had not taken the boti from his sister's plate. Islam Fatima lost her patience and hit the boy with chimta (the fork) with which she was making chapattis. The chimta was hot. A shrill cry came out of the pain of the boy. He left his meal and rushed into his room.

Eventually Islam Fatima's anger died down and she went into the room to calm her son. The boy was still sobbing and was in agonising pain. The mother removed his shirt and noticed the hot chimta had burnt the boy's skin and a boil had erupted at that spot. She applied the balm of love on the burnt part. But the boy refused to eat his food. That night he slept hungry. But the burn mark became a permanent part of the boy's body and the scar remained live in Islam Fatima's heart till her death.

The boy's two other Maamus were rich but would not extend any worthwhile monetary support to their sister. Islam Fatima herself was a self-respecting woman. She did not even approach them for any help, although she used to cook meals for her eldest unmarried brother who would supply to her strictly one person's ration everyday. This maamu had fascination for good food, imported clothes and sophisticated lifestyle. In those days it was rare.

The boy would visit his maamu's house (located about two furlongs) every morning to collect the ration including meat and pure desi ghee from the store. Whenever he got an opportunity he would gulp down one or two spoonfuls. Sugar was another delicacy which the boy would set his eyes on. It was a part of the boy's duty to walk more than three miles to deliver his maamu's lunch irrespective of the weather ' be it heat, rain or cold.

Probably a notice was taken of the boy's activities with the elephant because he found that his school had been changed. He was used to change of accommodation but this was a change of a different kind. Now he had to study. Not just study; but to compensate for the lost years, he had to pass two classes in one calendar year. The boy had a great passion for reading stories. In fact he could cram most of the stories; the stories used to leave a lasting mark on his mind. Till today, the boy's interest in short stories remains as strong as it was in his childhood.

The boy was good at mathematics as well. When he reached seventh standard, he was sent to the senior school. The boy was already terrorised by Hindi language; now in the senior school, for the first time in his life, he had to face the burden of English language. Maamu's children used to study in the private schools. They were brilliant in English and other subjects.

Till the tenth standard the boy always stood first in his class. In fact when he was himself a student of ninth standard, he started giving tuitions to younger children. The boy, even as a child, believed in the dignity of labour. A family friend owned a garment factory. Twice a week the boy would carry a bale of garments on his shoulders to the nearby 'haat' (local weekly market) and would sell them; make some money for the family. He did not feel ashamed in doing such petty work. He even went to the extent of buying a log of ice from the local ice-factory at wholesale price and would sell it in retail to the local residents of his area. A square meal was a luxury those days. Life was learning the art of hand-to-mouth living. Many a nights, Islam Fatima would go to bed without a morsel of food but would make sure that her young children do not have to starve. Her children saw her as a crowning of sacrifice.

Islam Fatima was a caring mother. Within her meagre means she would try to provide the family with the best that she could afford. Strangely though, she would manage decent meals during the holy month of Ramadan and new clothes for Eid festival. During the festive season help would arrive from the rich Maamus and other God-fearing well-to-do Muslims.

Life was going on normally. For the boy the term normal life meant physical labour to earn money to run the family and keep studying in whatever time was available to him. In fact he had to sit below the light of lamp-posts erected in the street to study his course work. In 1947 when the country was going through political and ethnic turmoil, the boy completed his matriculation in first division with distinction in three subjects.

The boy was rushing home with a copy of the newspaper with his result to his mother. On the way he met his Maamu (mother's first cousin) whose son could barely pass his matriculation exam in second division in second try. He stopped the boy and said, 'Which way are you heading, boy?'

'I have passed my matriculation exam, maamu!'

'Have you passed? In the first attempt only!'

'Not only that maamu, I have achieved first division and distinction in three subjects!' The boy was expecting congratulations, love and a pat on the back. Instead, the maamu retorted," How can that be? You must be lying. How can you pass in first division in the first try?' Maamu spat out the paan, which was creating a hurdle in his speech.

The boy's eyes immediately displayed the index of his inner feelings. All his enthusiasm had evaporated. He still tried to convince his maamu and pushed forward the newspaper towards him, 'You can see it for yourself maamu. I am not telling a lie.' It was becoming increasingly difficult for the boy to hold back his tears. He decided to reach the warmth of his mother's lap and give the good news to her. It would be a day of pride for Islam Fatima as the boy had laid a solid foundation for the future dreams of his mother.

In the evening, the maamu (who had provided accommodation to the boy's family) called for the boy. His own daughter had passed the matriculation examination with the boy, in first division. He expressed his pride at the boy's achievement and blessed him for his future. His commerce teacher Prof. Kaushik was deeply impressed by the boy and encouraged him to take commerce as his main subject in the intermediate as well.

India was partitioned on 15th August 1947. The country was shedding tears of blood. The boy was going through a different turmoil. The eldest brother had come back from Hyderabad. Mysteriously, Mr. Munir Ahmed also made his entry on to the scene. He was suffering from Parkinson's disease. The country was divided but the family was united. The elders took a unanimous decision the family must migrate to the newly created country Pakistan ' the land of dreams for Muslims.

The boy was fiercely opposing this decision. He did not want to leave his home country. He had just completed the first stage of his studies and wanted to continue. For generations, his family has had a great tradition in education; but his own family was an exception to this tradition.

The boy's opposition could not hold back the decision of the family to migrate to Pakistan. The boy sat in his room thinking of his life in his area, his city, his country. In one stroke all those who were friends and compatriots would become alien and distant. A film of his entire life; his struggle, his achievements; his losses passed through his closed eyes. Six months after partition, i.e. on 1st January 1948 the family landed in Karachi on a ship that sailed from Bombay. 
While sailing from Bombay, the boy - Salim looked back from the ship. It was the dusk time and the orange light of the sun was making the city of Mumbai a chapter of the past. The entire family was optimistic about the life in their new country. But the boy was thinking about the new struggle that he will have to face in a new horizon where every other person would be an alien. He had already learnt the fundamentals of life that he is going to be the engine of this train. He is doomed to run the train in which there are coaches named Munir Ahmed, Islam Fatima, Naim Bhai,, Basheer Bhai, baaji and Afsar ' the youngest brother. He looked back at his native soil for the one last time and realised that the colour of the setting sun, the city of Bombay and his own tears was the same.


Each member of the family had different feelings and emotions when the ship anchored at Karachi Port. They could feel the satisfaction of reaching the Promised Land and yet the fear of the unknown was lurking large. For the first three to four days the family had to live in a makeshift refugee camp. Life looked confused and unwelcoming.

Munir Ahmed's younger brother Haji Maqbool Ahmad was a well settled accounts executive in Karachi. He came to receive the family and took all of them to his bungalow in Gandhi Garden. He had a loving nature with an excellent sense of humour. One room of the bungalow was given to the new guests. Much later in life, he retired as Chief Accountant of Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation.

On 6th January 1948 riots erupted in Karachi. The city became tense. Getting out of the bungalow had become unsafe. Man had become thirsty of man's blood. The minority community started feeling unsafe and started migrating out of the city. The administration acted swiftly. The riots were controlled and peace restored within a couple of days. By the courtesy and efforts of Salim's uncle his family was allotted a spacious three bedroom flat by the authorities in a central location of the city. Salim's family shifted into this flat.

Same question was staring into the eyes of each member of the family, 'What is to be done now? ... What next?' But life is like a running river. It does not have the right to stop and be still. Colleges were closed. Therefore, Salim started looking for a job. It was not easy to get a job in those days of turmoil. Salim had experienced similar situations back home in Kanpur where he had applied for a job in Allahabad Bank. Maamu read his application and was deeply impressed by the quality of the application itself. Salim remembers with nostalgia the other boys of his area who had already completed their degree in commerce had also applied for the same job while Salim was only a matriculate. Eventually he could not get the job as he was underage.

The luck looked like blessing Salim in Karachi. He was offered a job by an Indian Bank (Exchange Bank of India & Africa) at Rupees seventy a month. The boss Mr. Homie Eduljee Agha was a Parsee gentleman, 'Look son, I know that you have not yet turned eighteen. I think you need the job desperately. The job is yours.' Salim used to write cash book in the bank.

In 1948 India lost father of the Nation - Mahatama Gandhi and the same year, the boy lost his father when Munir Ahmed succumbed to Parkinson's disease. Salim did not have time to lament or shed tears. He was waiting for the colleges to open so he could try for his admission and start studies once again.

The Principal of the college Dr. Ameer Hasan Siddiqui was impressed by the Salim's intellect. He offered to waive his college tuition fee. Salim was insistent that he would accept admission only if he would be offered a scholarship, besides the fee concession already offered. The principal decided to bow before Salim's obstinacy, and the college offered to him not only fee concession but also the appropriate scholarship. The next logical step was resigning from the Bank; and so he did.

The then Agent of the Bank Mr. Abbas Shah came from Madras and was a handsome man. He was popular in Karachi's elite society, especially among the women. In later life, he married a beautiful woman of Iranian origin from the famous Isphahani family. He took special interest in the Salim's career, 'Why do you want to leave the job? The bank pays you seventy rupees a month. How would you survive without this money?'

Salim was surprised, 'Sir, how can I continue full-time study and yet work during the day in the Bank?'

'Well boy, you have not seen my special magic so far. I can do anything. I have made up my mind!'

'I do not understand, sir!'

'There is nothing difficult that you may not be able to understand. You will go to college also and continue working in the bank as well.'

Salim was puzzled! 'But, how sir?'

You will go to your college in the morning; attend your classes and come back to the Bank around 3.00 p.m. I am sure that you can finish your cash book in two to three hours. ' Simple! The matter is sorted.'

Salim could not believe his luck. He was thrilled no ends. Mr. Shah used to check the cash book every day.

With the arrival of the New Year, Salim's good luck took an unexpected turn. His bank had invested heavily in an airline. The airline closed down and as a result the bank failed. The operations of the bank were wound up. Suddenly the income of seventy rupees a month dried up. It seemed as if a small little lamp was fighting against a strong typhoon.

As they say when one door closes another door opens. Salim arranged a job for his elder brother Bashir in another bank. It was Salim's first act as a matured elder. Not just that, he used his skills of typing to his benefit and got a job for himself as a part-time typist. He would manage fifty to sixty rupees a month from his part-time job while forty rupees of his scholarship was a regular income. There were more mouths to be fed while the income was limited. Somehow or the other the family was able to manage two meals a day.

After his final intermediate exams, which he thought he did well, during the summer holidays, Salim took a full-time job as a typist in National Bank of India. At the same time a tussle erupted between the Principal and the owner of the college on a matter of principle. The owner wanted the Principal to refer him as 'Sir Syed of Pakistan'. The Principal refused to follow the instructions of the owner ' an illiterate. The Principal lost his job and in protest the entire staff of the college resigned. The Principal enjoyed a great respect and love amongst his students. Even during the vacations a good number of students assembled and decided to go on an immediate hunger strike at the Mazaar (Memorial) of Qaide-e-Azam against the decision. Salim was always known for his uprightness and honesty and stood with his Principal.

The hunger strike lasted four days. Salim took special leave from the Bank and joined the first batch of the students to sit for the hunger strike. Naimuddin who, later in life, became Chief Justice of Pakistan and Dr. Moin Baqai who retired as a Federal Secretary of the Central Government, also went on strike with Salim. 
The holy month of Ramadan had started. On the first day of fasting, Federal Minister Dr. Ishtiaque Hussain Quereshi came and persuaded the boys to end the hunger strike. The strike failed. The hunger strike had to be abandoned. Salim was not left with any alternative but to change his college after vacations. He went back to his job at the National Bank of India.

After only a few days, Salim's intermediate results were published in the biggest daily English newspaper of the country 'Dawn'. That issue of the Dawn was special as it carried Salim's photograph as the student who had stood first in the entire university. The Bank Manager, an English person, also saw the newspaper, 'So boy, what is your plan for future?'

'What plans, Sir?'

'Will you continue your job with our bank after the summer vacations, or you plan to go back to your studies?'

'Sir, I have not decided as yet.', Salim said sheepishly.

The Englishman brought out the newspaper and showed it to him, 'Now don't tell me that it is not your photograph!'

Salim had not prepared himself for this situation. His cheeks were flushed and he looked embarrassed. He could barely mutter a few inaudible words.

The Englishman saved him from any more blushes, 'I wish you the best in your career my boy. May God bless you! My blessings will always be with you.'
The summer vacations got over; the colleges reopened and Salim moved forward. He sought admission for degree course in another college. Even in this new college fee-concession and scholarship continued to be a part of the deal. But to supplement the income, Salim went back to his part-time job of a typist. 
Studies and family problems went on until the results of the degree exams were announced. To his dismay, Salim found that he could only secure a poor 'second position!' in the list of successful candidates of the University!

Salim had a curious way of preparing for his exams. He would prepare and finish revision of all his subjects a week before the exams would start. After that he would spend his time in helping and preparing with his other classmates. Salim's brilliance continued to be reflected in his results. The boy, who used to play with an elephant in the backyard of his school in Kanpur, had developed into a leading student of the University.

He took admission in M.A. His interest in Economics and overall brilliance were instrumental in his occupying the office of the Secretary of the Economics Society. Salim had simultaneously started preparing for the Superior Services Exams.

Student politics did interest him. Initially he joined the student union of a religio-political party. Salim felt uneasy with the thinking of this outfit. His inclination was always towards progressive elements. It was not surprising at all when he resigned from this union and joined the leftist Democratic Students' Federation which did not have links with any religious group. He was actively involved in the working of the students' federation. Those days Salim was involved in strike, hunger strike, lost the battles; won some but lived the life to full.

His Students' Democratic Federation had swayed the union elections in all the colleges and the University. Students were facing acute problems of their own but their demands were not heeded to. The Federation in early 1953 called for a strike; all the colleges and the University were closed for many days. To put pressure on the Minister of Education and the rest of the Government, huge demonstrations were held by thousands of students every day, which at times turned violent. This resulted into a collapse of governance in Karachi.

Eventually, senior political leaders like Mr. Yousuf Haroon had to intervene in the matter and through their mediation the matter was resolved. A few of the students' demands were met and the strike was called off.

Now the administration became active and surveillance increased against all the office-bearers of the Federation. Intelligence agencies started monitoring their activities. A few of the officials were arrested and sent to jail. Salim went into hiding along with a few others and surfaced only when normality was restored. 
Because of the economic circumstances of his family, and due to the break in studies because of strikes and other such activities Salim decided to take up a full-time job. He was looking for the right opportunity. Salim's search bore fruits. By the end of the year 1953 he spotted an advertisement in a daily newspaper. The advertisers were the famous Habib Bank. The salary offer was three hundred rupees a month. The prospects looked brilliant. Salim put his application in for the job. As expected, he passed the written examination. This led to his personal interview with the Managing Director of the Bank.

It was a strange interview. The Managing Director Mr. Rashid D. Habib did not ask him any questions about banking experience or the academic degree, 'Do you offer Namaaz?'

'Yes, but not on regular basis.'

'Why? Five-times a day Namaaz is imperative for a true Muslim. Why should you not perform Namaaz five times a day, young man?

'Sir, whenever I get time I do. In our family, we do not discuss religion much in particular.'

'Well I think you must offer Namaaz five times a day.'

Salim looked behind the face of Mr. Rashid D. Habib. A portrait of Qaide-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah was hanging on the wall. His eyes lit up bright, 'Sir even he never used to offer five-times a day namaaz. Then what is'

Rashid Habib smiled at Salim's presence of mind. He had made up his mind that he would have Salim under his wings and indeed he became Salim's mentor in his professional career. He asked Salim to wait outside while he made his decision. A staff officer conveyed the decision when he asked the young boy to arrange for a surety of thirteen thousand rupees and a cash security of rupees two thousand, since he had been selected by the M.D.

'Sir, if I had two thousand rupees on me, I would have started a bank of my own! I cannot raise that type of money. I think I would rather let it go.' Salim got up to go but the staff officer asked him to stay back. He went in to discuss the matter further and seek further instructions.

Rashid Seth immediately gave a fifty per cent discount to Salim, 'O.K. man, then just arrange for a thousand rupees.' The staff officer pretended as if he had secured the discount for him.

'Sir I cannot even think in thousands. Paying a thousand rupees as security is beyond my dreams.'

The amount was brought down to rupees five hundred. Salim was amused at the bargaining that was going on; thought for a while and accepted the offer. Salim's present part-time employer stood the surety while his friend Gaffaar Bhai ' a class-fellow from a rich business family of Mammon Community - immediately provided the cash security which was a big sum in those days.

At the age of twenty-one Salim was offered the job of a probationary officer, a coveted position in those days and that too in a reputed bank like the Habib Bank. Mr. Rashid D. Habib returned the cash security of rupees five hundred to him after eight days and became his lifelong mentor. Later in the career a family friendship developed between the mentor and the understudy. Till date Salim holds him in high esteem not only as a great banker but also a great human being. He refers to him as an angel.

Even today Salim feels amused that in 1948 the same bank had rejected him for the post of a simple clerk. Those days Salim's mother Islam Fatima and Zarina Baji took up tailoring jobs in the local area. Baji had also started giving tuitions to the local children. Salim fondly remembers the Singer sewing machine that he had bought for them with the guarantee offered by another banker friend Mr. Y. Amaan Ullah Khan, who eventually retired as Deputy Managing Director of National Bank of Pakistan.

Smiling at his beautiful wife Zakia, Salim admits that during his college days he did meet many young women because his colleges as well as the University were co-educational institutes. Never did he have any time for romance or love affair. In fact his struggle to survive was so intense that romance would look like an avoidable luxury.

Salim had just started preparing for his M.A. examinations when the Bank issued him with transfer orders for Bannu, a town in the north ' N.W.F.P. Leaving Karachi was inconceivable for him. He refused to leave Karachi. He was given a stern warning, 'We have taken a tolerant view of your action this time. If you repeat your irresponsible behaviour the next time, you would be out of the Bank!' 
The tone of the warning was strong enough for Salim to promise that he would comply with the orders in future. But only after eight days of the incident, to his horror, Salim received another transfer order for a Godforsaken and unknown place called 'Harnai'. This town was a part of the undeveloped and most rugged and backward area of Baluchistan. This transfer order explained to the boy the meaning of an old proverb ' from frying pan to fire! Salim was pleasantly surprised as well, because he had been issued the Bank's power of attorney in two weeks only, while normally people had to wait for this authority for over six months. He was now supposed to reach this small-town in about a week.

Mr. Zubairi

Salim Ahmad Zubairi started his new challenge in the severe wintry December of 1953. There, he met Mr. I.H. Burney, the Manager of Sukkur Branch, who had come to Harnai to start the new Branch. Later in life, Mr. Burney rose to become a senior and respectable Bank executive in HBL, UBL and lastly in the BCCI in London. Harnai was a small-town and the branch of the Bank had nothing special to write about. The day's work used to last just three or four hours.

Harnai Woollen Mills, in which the branch of the bank was located, employed a few Japanese engineers. The other Pakistani boys had been trained in Australia. To fight his loneliness Salim Zubairi went to visit Quetta with his new friends. Now his evenings were spent mostly with them. When youngsters got together, Beer-drinking became a habit with all. They offered a glass of beer to Salim Zubairi as well. For the sake of company he took a glass. The first sip was so bitter that he did not know what to do with it.

Salim Zubairi feels thankful to Allah that he did not like the taste of Beer, because his bank had this unwritten law ' No Drinking and No Gambling! Salim Zubairi till date has followed the dictates of the Bank.

Mill's authorities had made a lovely club with facilities such as floodlit tennis court, billiards, table tennis. Most of the officers were bachelors. Thus the boy would spend his evenings with them in the club. He took part in most of the games and it would continue till about midnight. Cricket was his other passion. To play cricket, he would even go to visit other nearby towns.

To add to the fun, sometimes a theatre company would visit Harnai. All the youngsters would enjoy the theatre show together and go to the extent of asking the female cast for a repeat performance of certain scenes including the 'death scenes'. They would have special fascination for the murder scenes. All of them carried their own chairs and sat in the auditorium made of old tent.

The Pakistani Officers in the Mills were fond of playing Bridge. Salim Zubairi had never played cards. These officers were always short of the fourth partner. So they would invite Mr. Zubairi to join them and complete the quorum. The game would start on Saturday night and continue till Sunday morning. The party would end with the morning breakfast of Hyderabadi khichdi and the usual tea. Mr. Ijlal Haider Zaidi, the Mill's Chief Engineer, always opted for Salim Zubairi as his partner. Salim Zubairi could never learn how to play bridge, but for the past fifty-three years Mr. Ijlal Zaidi has been like his older brother and a family member. Mr. Zaidi later passed the Superior Services Examination and was selected for the coveted civil Service of the country. He recently retired as a senior Federal Secretary ' General and Adviser with the rank of a Minister in the Government of Pakistan. Both of them still have close ties with each other.

The Branch Manager in Harnai was Mr. Shamim Kazmi ' his first 'Boss'. Salim Zubairi was posted there as the second officer. Initially there were personality clashes between the two of them but later a bond of closeness and affection developed between the two and even today strong family ties exists between them.

By the end of 1956 Salim Zubairi was transferred to Sukkur with a mandate to open a new branch. He was posted there as sub-agent. In the new branch he, as its first Manager, put in hard work. His style of working and the results were reason enough for people to talk about him. People went to the extent of claiming that the new branch was going to be made the main branch in the city.

Rashid Seth was deeply impressed by the results achieved by Salim Zubairi when he was posted at Sukkur Branch. He called Salim Zubairi to his cabin, 'Zubairi, I am keeping an eye on the hard-work that you are putting in. Never think that we have our eyes closed. Nothing escapes our attention.'

Salim Zubairi did not want the opportunity to slip, 'I hope your attention remains active when the right time comes.'

Rashid Habib Seth retorted, 'Well young man, just wait for the right time. This year when the increments are announced, you will see for yourself.'

Zubairi's eyes were lit with expectations. 'The day of the judgment' arrived when he was travelling in the car with his main-branch Manager Mr. Habib D. Meghji. He informed Salim Zubairi that the list of annual increments had arrived. Zubairi's eyes asked the most important question without giving any trouble to his tongue. His heart would have performed the namaaz ' all the five of the day ' within a span of thirty seconds. 'Look son! I do not have any special news for you. You have been awarded the regular increment of fifteen rupees.'

Salim Zubairi felt cheated and helpless. His eyes could not hold his tears any more. The branch Manager let him go through the process of purgation. Zubairi would not sit back and relax. He confronted Rashid Habib, 'Sir, what about my promised increment?'

'I was keen on giving the promised amount to you Zubairi, but it seems that your luck is not happy with you. Your luck has played truant this time.' Rashid Habib's reply was typical of a business person.

Salim Zubairi did not let this incident dampen his spirits. He went back to his branch and picked up the threads of the work where he had left them before shedding his tears. Usman Kushtiwala, the new manager of the main branch was a jealous man. His big ego was big enough to cause tension between him and Salim Zubairi. He went to the extent of levelling allegation against Zubairi, 'You are trying to hijack the business from my branch. I can see through your designs. If you want to increase the deposits of your branch, go ahead; but be afraid of Allah! He won't spare you.'

Mr. Zubairi was trying his best to keep his cool. He knew that two officers were behind this angry outburst. They had been talking behind his back to the main Branch Manager. He tried to calm Mr. Usman, 'Sir, there seems to be a misunderstanding. Why and how can I even think of stabbing you in the back? Please try to understand that I have done nothing of the sort.'

'Don't try to be smart with me Zubairi! I know you inside out. If you don't control your actions, it will not be good for you. I won't sit quiet'.. And remember, I have been living in the area for some time. It will not be in your interest'!'

'Now shut up Mr. Kushtiwala! I have been tolerating you for long! You do what you can. But if you do not rein your tongue, I will have you thrown out of the branch.'
Mr. Kushtiwala had only heard about Zubairi's temperament; but never had a chance to get the taste of it. Finally he did.

In 1958 Field Marshall Ayub Khan imposed martial law in Pakistan. The dictator's decision taken in the Military Headquarters created some memorable moments for the boy in Sukkur. In his area many Hindu business people used to deal in wholesale business. Almost all of them had personal relations with Salim Zubairi. The Hindu businessmen were scared of the martial law conditions. Many of them brought their hard cash in sacks. Without counting the money the sacks were kept under the safe protection of Mr. Zubairi. For about a year and a half the money remained with him. When he was transferred to Karachi, the businessmen collected back their sacks with gratitude.

1959 was an important year in the life of Mr. Salim Zubairi. He was back in Karachi. The life in Karachi started with a clash of personalities between him and the sub manager - banking Mr. Munshi. He lodged a complaint against Zubairi to the senior manager Mr. Khairati. As usual the boy took a stand that he would not work with Mr. Munshi. The senior manager was a Sindhi Memon, 'Oye Chariya! (O stupid boy!) What do you think of yourself? Do you own the bank?'

'Sir, Mr. Munshi has been unfair with me.'

'Listen my son; always remember the boss is never wrong. Make this the principle of your life. Do not get involved in any controversy. You are a young chap; your aim should be to learn as much as you can. Anger will not lead you anywhere. '

'Yes sir!'

'OK, I am posting you in the Foreign Exchange Department. I do not want any problems there. You should be able to lead the department in six months. Chariya! It is easy to lose temper. Why do you want to lose something? Try to gain and not lose.'

Salim Zubairi became an understudy with Abbas Bhai who was an expert in foreign exchange and exports. Within weeks he mastered the work of this new department and as predicted by Khairati Saheb, Mr. Zubairi was made the head of the department.

This could be called the turning point in the career of Mr. Zubairi. Foreign Exchange was an important department and it gave him an opportunity of being in direct touch with the big bosses.

Mr. Zubairi worked hard in the department. Business increased manifolds. What started as a department of a couple of staff now had strength of four to five officers and twelve support staff. . The Big Bosses were happy - in particular the Managing Director Rashid Seth. Export Department was located in the open on the same floor adjacent to prayer room, where all the big bosses used to sit. All the Habibs, about six of them,


More by :  Tejinder Sharma

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