Autobiography of the Great Dada Amir Haider Khan (1904-1986)

A new edition of the out-of-print autobiography of Dada Amir Haider published in 1988 titled “Chains to lose: Life and Struggles of a Revolutionary – Memoirs of Dada Amir Haider Khan, Vol 1” edited by Hasan N. Gardezi (462 Pages, Rs. 350, Patriot Publishers, Delhi 1988) is now available. Here is the cover page of the new edition.

Life and Struggles of a Revolutionary, Memoirs of Dada Amir Haider Khan

Chains to Lose – Life and Struggle of a Revolutionary
– Memoirs of Dada Amir Haider Khan

Hasan N. Gardezi, Ed., (Karachi 2007)

The following book review on the 1988 Edition by Shafqat Tanvir Mirza was published almost 20 years back in Weekly Viewpoint, Lahore. Today, i am honoured to post it at Uddari as it brings together at least five individuals who have and are contributing to the enrichment of our cultural and political life in the most magnificent ways.

Dada Amir Haider induces tears of love and respect from anyone in the Punjab with a mention of his name; Shafqat Tanvir Mirza’s life in journalism shows us how to live and work with integrity under oppressive regimes; Hasan N. Gardezi has shaped our ways of thinking with his political and literary writings; Amarjit Chandan reminds us of the best traditions of our poets who fight for revolutionary change; and, Mazhar Ali Khan who brought out Viewpoint and kept it going in Lahore in the toughest of situations.

Because of this, today is a beautiful day at Uddari even when clouds are bearing down on Vancouver.

Dada Amir Haider

Dada Amir Haider Khan
By Shafqat Tanvir Mirza

CHAINS TO LOSE is the life story, in his own words, of a great revolutionary, a father figure, a living legend. Every inch of a rebel from his very childhood, this colossus of a man stands before us dominating a whole era. In these pages, for the first time in print, revolutionary and trade union leader Dada Amir Haider chronicles in graphic detail the class struggle in colonial India. The readers of these memoirs will see the events of an important era in our history from the perspective of a highly refined proletarian consciousness.

Dada Amir Haider Khan 1904-1986

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Dada Amir Haider (1904-1986)

This is how the publisher has introduced Dada and the first part of his autobiography, which was written in English in 1939 when the leader was denied personal appearance in a Bombay court. He was arrested in Bombay under the Defence of India Rules and lodged in the Central Prison, Nasik Road, on a two-year sentence. Dada filed an application in the High Court demanding that he be allowed to plead his own ease against his conviction. His application was rejected. Dada then decided to put down in writing what he wanted to say, and gradually resolved to preserve in writing the entire story of what his life and labour had taught him as a revolutionary activist. The narrative covered the period from Dada’s childhood to 1926 when he, for the last time, bade goodbye to the United States and sailed out for Moscow to get training in revolutionary work.

Dada has narrated the story in the minutest detail in the last chapter of the book. According to him, the C.l. (Communist International) was attempting to help all colonial countries which had industrial workers to develop Communist parties. With this in view the Cl was attempting to help train some revolutionary workers who would become party organisers and political workers m their respective countries. The Indian Communist Party was also asked to select some students. The job was assigned to M. N. Roy, who could not find any in India. Therefore, he asked the American Communist Party for help which in turn contacted the Ghadar Party. The Ghadar Party selected five students of whom Dada was one.

VD Chopra, an old political colleague of Dada in Rawalpindi, writes in the preface: “These memoirs in reality are recollections of the history of this Sub-continent and bring into sharp focus how the revolutionary urge of a peasant youth in the most economically and politically backward region of the Punjab before partition, the Pothohar region in north western Punjab – in Kahuta in particular gripped his mind. This was not an isolated development because from this very region a large number of young men had joined the INA. This fact is being recapitulated to make out that the national movement of united India did leave a deep impact on the common people of the entire country. Dada Amir Haider Khan was a product of this new national awakening who through a zigzag process became one of the founders of the Indian Communist Movement.”

Dada Amir Haider’s memoirs, therefore, are not only a narration of events and how these events moulded his life. They form a rich source material for historians and research scholars. However, the most important aspect of the memoirs is that they reveal how determined efforts were made by him, step by step and against heavy odds, to liberate our country from foreign domination and build a new social order.

The first volume of memoirs covers the first 22 years of the 20th century. Dada had a very, very hard life right from the beginning. He was born to a Chib Rajput family of village Sabbian of Kahuta. This family had its social roots in the Kashmir area. Dada’s first bitter experience was at a very tender age. At the time of the death of his grand father his father and his younger brother were minors. Therefore their brother-in-law was made their custodian. This gentleman cleverly deprived both the brothers of agricultural land left by their father. They were no match to their brother-in-law and therefore avoided confrontation and legal battles. Dada’s father selected a barren, rather stony piece of land and with his hard labour turned it into a small farm.

Dada was still a lad of hardly five or six years when his father died. Difficult days were ahead for him and his elder brother. The circumstances led their mother to marry the younger brother of her late husband. The stepfather’s attitude was almost hostile towards the young Dada who was very fond of education.

Unfortunately there was no school in the village, and the nearest one was four or five miles away. Anyhow his stepfather unwillingly agreed that Dada should go to a maulvi of the village who would teach him the Quran.

That was the beginning of Dada’s hardships. Dada went to many maulvis and then to schools but ultimately had to desert his home. Once he ran away and went to his elder brother, who was in the army at Peshawar. He was brought back but again forced to leave the house. This time he went to Calcutta where his elder brother after release from the army, had joined a gang of drug traffickers. The gang was headed by some Europeans. Dada was recruited in the gang. When this group was smashed he left Calcutta and went to Bombay where he got a job as a labourer on a ship. This assignment took Dada to Europe and America and it was there that his contacts with the American Communist Party and the Ghadar Party were established.

SS Leviathan is one of many ships Dada Amir Haider worked on

SS Leviathan is one of many ships Dada worked on.

What did Dada do after leaving America for Moscow in 1922? For that we have to wait for the next volume of his autobiography.

Ayub Mirza has written a biography of Dada in Urdu in the form of a novel. Both these books make extremely interesting reading. — SHAFQAT TANVIR MIRZA
[November 30, 1989. VlEWPOINT, Lahore]

The New Edition is available from Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi, Karachi-752702007. Price Rs 800 (Vol I-II), Pages 793. Contact the Publisher Syed Jaffar Ahmed at pscuok@yahoo.com, and Editor Dr Hassan Gardezi at gardezihassan@hotmail.com.

More information on Dada, and a review of the 2007 Edition by literary and art critic Sarwat Ali, is posted here: nasir-khan.blogspot.com

Materials provided by Amarjit Chandan