Hyderabad loses a world class luminary in Narendra Luther

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Mir Ayoob Ali Khan

I flew in from Jeddah to extend invitations to honourable guests personally for Jashn-e-Hyderabad or celebration of the city of love that had been established in 1591. Looking at the political infighting over the celebrating the event, we, the Hyderabadis living in Jeddah, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, had decided to pay tribute to our city and its wonderful heritage. I had been given the task of inviting important personalities whose names had been finalized over a series of meetings.

One of my first calls was on Mr. Narendra Luther, an eminent writer and administrator. He lived in a house close to Khairatabad Railway station. This was my first meeting with the well-known bureaucrat of the then Andhra Pradesh. As expected he was warm and accepted my invitation. The other luminaries who had been invited for the function included Hyderabad Member of Parliament Mr. Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi and Mr. Abid Ali Khan, the Editor of Siasat Urdu Daily. In all the organisers had invited about 20 people that included singers and other artists.

Luther sahib was hosted by a couple that was associated with the celebration–Dr Fayazuddin and his wife Dr Amatur Rahim. Luther sahib was happy the way he was taken care of during his stay in Jeddah.

At the inaugural session he read a research paper tracing the origin of the city and its multicultural growth.

I remained in contact with Luther sahib during my later years in Jeddah and after returning to my home city.

One night Luther sahib phoned me.  I was working with Deccan Chronicle then.  He was inviting me to a protest meeting which he wanted to organise against a poem which Siasat Urdu Daily had published. He said that the poem had denigrated the Hindu gods and claimed the superiority of Muslim culture. I told Luther sahib that I would get back to him and put the phone down. Immediately, I phoned up Mr. Zahid Ali Khan, the Editor of Siasat.  Mr. Zahid Ali Khan understood the gravity of the situation. He said the poem had been published without his clearance. He said that he would publish an apology over the mistake. I phoned back Luther sahib and said he should read tomorrow’s Siasat and then decide about the proposed protest.

The matter ended amicably.

Once, All India Radio wanted to do an interview with Luther sahib. The radio producer Imtiaz Ali Taj proposed two names whom he wanted to do the talking with Luther sahib.  He rejected both the names and asked Taj to find out whether I would like to do the interview.  Taj phoned me and I said, ‘It will be a pleasure.’ The unstructured interview went off well. It was more of a chat with the prolific writer than a formal interview. He loved the informal style. So did Taj. Taj has passed away a few years ago.

Coming from Pakistan part of Punjab, he shared with me his childhood memories and also the affection with which his Pakistani friends had received, hosted and showed him his ancestral house.  

I had become a regular visitor to his imaginatively constructed house on road number 12 of Banjara Hills. The ground floor is designed in the shade of a hillock and has been beautifully converted into a drawing room cum study where he churned out stuff day after day. He not only loved Hyderabad’s culture but also its natural surroundings, especially the rocks.  Hence, he worked for the formation of Save the Rocks Society which is now largely defunct.

On his book shelf in the drawing room placed prominently is a copy of the Quran along with copies of Hindu scriptures.

He loved Hyderabad for its culture, the mix of languages people spoke and the traditions they followed.

He wrote several books in Urdu and English.  His areas of interest were history, culture and languages.  He was a leading member of a society that promoted humour. He got associated with a hugely popular conclave on humour organised by leading members of the Hyderabad society.  Almost all the big names in the world of humour of that time had attended the conclave.

I had last spoken to him on the phone two months ago. He was upset that I was not visiting him often.  When I said I want to come over, he candidly said, let the pandemic get over. 

Like many of your admirers, I will terribly miss you Luther sahib.

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