Begum Viqar-un-Nisa, known as Lady Vicky Noon (1920-2000) was an Austrian named Victoria, who was brought up and educated in London where she got to know Sir Malik Feroz Khan Noon (1893-1970), who was then High Commissioner for India in England. He was recalled to India in 1941 to become a member of Viceroy’s Council and later a member of Churchill’s Commonwealth War Cabinet. Meanwhile Vicky was married to a Sikh and came to India with him where he again met Malik sahib. They had both a second marriage in 1945. She took active part in the independence movement with her husband against the Khizar government in Punjab and was arrested thrice. After independence she looked after refugees and joined the Red Cross. She also became involved in women’s education and founded a girls school in Dhaka and a women’s college in Rawalpindi. She was awarded Pakistan’s highest civilian award, the Nishane Imtiaz in 1959. She held chair of Pakistan Red Crescent till 1972. She served as Ambassador to Portugal (1987-1989). She inherited money in England from her step-sister and brother-in-law who died childless which she utilized along with her own inheritance to create a foundation for Pakistani students to study at Oxbridge. In old age she retired to her cottage in Abbottabad where we last met her. After recurring illness she died on 16 January 2000. Lady Noon was the Federal Minister of Tourism (1978-1987) under General Zia therefore she often came to Karachi often and each time she came she asked us to arrange lunch at our house so that she could meet her friends in Karachi.
The closest friend of Lady Noon in Karachi was Begum Qamar Ispahani who was an Iranian lady married to Mirza Abul Hasan Ispahani, one of the three blue eyed boys of the Quaid-i-Azam and the only one who remained in his good books till his death. Although she was Persian speaking she did not like to be called Persian because according to her, Persians were subject people who had been ruled all through Islamic history by Arabs or Central Asians. We became close because we had the same views on the subject and wrote a book propounding the idea, called “Neither Islamic nor Persian”, which stated, ‘after the defeat of the Sasanian Empire and its occupation by the Muslim Arabs, the Persian Empire ceased to exist and that Persia (Fars) is now the name of a small province in southern Iran, and the word Persian denotes the common language of various Aryan tribes from Central Asia who had settled in Iran about BC 1500. Apart from the two periods of the Achaemenians (BC 550-330) and the Sasanians (226-652 AD), Iran has never been ruled by Persians. Before the Arabs, Iran has also been ruled by the Elamites, Assyrians, Medes, Greeks and Parthians. Since the Arab conquest of Iran in the seventh century, the elite and the ruling families of Iran have been Arabs and Central Asian Steppe peoples - the Mamluke, the Seljuk, the Mongol, the Timurid and the Turkoman. And throughout its history, the Persian language has been written in foreign scripts of Semitic origin. Before the Arab conquest they were written in Aramaic and since then in the Arabic script. It is therefore not surprising that Arabs called Iran Ajam, the land of barbarians, a people without a tongue’. Begum Qamar Ispahani founded an orphanage for girls in Karachi called Kashana-i-Itfal. She represented Pakistan at the Geneva based National Council of Child Welfare and was recipient of Nishan-i-Imtiaz from Government of Pakistan and Italy’s Cavalleri award.
Annemarie Schimmel (7 April 1922 – 26 January 2003) was one of the most well known Orientalists and scholars of twentieth century who wrote extensively on Islam and Sufism. In 1946, at the age of 23, she became a professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Marburg, Germany. She was appointed Professor of the History of Religion at Ankara University, and spent five years in the capital of Turkey teaching in Turkish. She was the first woman and the first non-Muslim to teach theology at the university. In 1967 she inaugurated the Indo-Muslim studies program at Harvard University and remained on the faculty there for the next twenty-five years. She also acted as a consultant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she was famous for her ability to date manuscripts and objects from their style of calligraphy. After leaving Harvard in 1992, she returned to Germany, where she lived in Bonn and became an honorary professor at the University of Bonn. She knew many languages—besides German, English, and Turkish, she spoke Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Punjabi. She published more than fifty books and hundreds of articles on Islamic literature, mysticism, and culture, and she translated Persian, Urdu, Arabic, Sindhi, and Turkish poetry and literature into English and German. She was keen to be buried in Makli were an open grave with her name is still waiting for her. She has received the Sitara-e-Imtiaz, or Star of Excellence, the Hilal-e-Imtiaz, or Crescent of Excellence from the Government of Pakistan. She lived in the same hostel as my son at Harvard therefore she became friends with him and when we were living at Harvard she visited us. She was in the habit of coming over to our house whenever she was in Karachi and talking with her eyes closed to our guests.
One of our best friends was the noted social worker and writer Ms Mumtaz Rashidi (8 March 1934 - 1 November 2004), who was a grandniece of Sher-i-Bengal, A. K. Fazlul Huq, the first Prime Minister of Bengal. She did her MA from Dhaka University and became the first woman press attaché in Paris where she met the famous Sindhi politician Pir Ali Mohammad Rashidi and married him in 1955. She was involved in many social welfare projects for the people of Sindh and worked on them in collaboration with international organisations, regularly writing about them. She had an interesting collection of folios from the British period on Sindh, which Hameed Haroon asked to see but never returned, despite repeated requests by her.