Post independence, they travelled to several countries looking for a better life

My paternal grandparents, Shehr Bano & Syed Ali Naqvi. Bihar. 1947

Image and Narrative contributed by Zinnia Naqvi, Toronto, Canada

This is an image of my paternal grandparents. My grandfather, or Dada as we called him, Syed Ali Naqvi was born in Khujwa, a village located in the Siwan District, Province of Bihar, India, on May 13, 1916. He was the sixth child of his parents. His father passed away when he was about eight years old and his upbringing and education became the responsibility of his mother and his eldest brother.

Dada was educated at the well known TK Ghose School, in Patna. The school has since seen alumni like the first President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, and the first chief minister of Bengal, Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy. Later, Dada attended at the Patna College.
In 1942 he married Shehr Bano Naqvi, my grandmother. She was born in Khujwa too, on January 25, 1925. She was the last of seven children of her parents. Her father was a prominent police officer of the Siwan District. Dadi never attended school but was educated by private tutors at home.

After their marriage, Dada started working for the Government of Bihar. At the time of partition in 1947, he was working in the town of Midnapur, West Bengal. On August 14, 1947, when Pakistan was born, he and his family had to migrate to Dhaka (now Bangladesh) which was declared East Pakistan at the time.

In Dhaka, Dada started his own transportation business. They lived in the Lakhi Bazar neighbourhood of Dhaka and bought a big house abandoned by a Hindu family who had left for India. On May 9, 1949, my father, Afsar Naqvi was born. He was the third child of what would be eight children.

This image of my grandparents was photographed in 1947, after they were newly married. Dada is dressed in a modern suit and bow-tie, along with a Jinnah Cap, named after the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Dadi is wearing a traditional chiffon sari and the symbol of elegance, a pearl necklace.

The generation of my grandparents were forced to travel to all parts of the Indian subcontinent due to war, economic instability, religious conflict, insecurities, fear of life, and other obstacles preventing them from providing the best and safe living conditions for their many children. Similarly, my own parents migrated from London, to Karachi, to Toronto in order to provide the best possible safest opportunities for my sisters and I to be strong, educated, and successful. In the process, both were forced to leave behind many loved ones and memories of the places they once called home.

Today, this photograph hangs in the living room of our family home in Toronto. Inspired by the similarities between my parents and grandparents life, I have been working on a series called Past & Present. This photographic series contains images that are an example of how generations of family history can often repeat themselves. You can view the images here.

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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. admin

    Tareq Aziz

    Do you know the name of the studio?
    The name and location?

  2. Shailja

    Hi, I am interested by your statement that you see patterns in common between the travels of your grandparents and your generation. I am working on a project that sees such patterns of migration as well? Could you say a little more about your thoughts on this?

    1. Zinnia

      Sorry for the delay in response.

      After creating this project I began to see commonalities in the migration of my parents in grandparents more in their willingness to travel in search of a better lives for their children. My grandfather’s career path was fairly unstable and would travel throughout the subcontinent in search of work. Partition and the violence that occurred afterwards was another obstacle that tested every Muslim family, and for the Naqvis the task of migrating was not unfamiliar. Because of the lack of permanent base my grandfather also never owned a property and always lived in a rented home. Most of my father’s eight siblings were born in different cities in the subcontinent. While my Dadi and Dada were able to accommodate to different cities there was a lack of permanence and little stability in my father’s childhood.

      Similarly my parents made the decision to migrate; first to London in search of work and education, then back to Karachi for their parents and extended family, and later to Toronto for security. Myself and my two sisters were all born on different continents as well. Unlike my Dadi and Dada however, my parents sought to make permanent roots and adapt themselves totally to their new environments. My father was the first out of all his brothers to build a house and have a permanent base in Karachi. Similarly in Canada, they whole heartedly adapted themselves to the Canadian system of values and find a permanent job and home for their family.

      I think the trait of adaptability in found in all families who have a history of migration. However there is also the inherent desire to provide for your children what you yourself lacked from your childhood. The moves that my parents made were large, cross cultural and continental moves that were very difficult to make. They did not look back on these decisions the way many families do, because their desire to make that base for themselves overpowered their ties to their homeland.

      I have created two bodies of work that deal with these ideas. The first one involves more images from my own family. It can be found at

      In the second body of work I looked at different families who have immigrated to Canada from various counties all over the world. I used archival images of the migrants and rephotographed their offspring in their new homes. This can be found at

      Thanks for your inquiry and I would love to hear about the work you are doing as well.

  3. Sahana Singh

    What do you mean by “abandoned by India”? Were the Naqvis forced to leave India or did they migrate by choice to Bangladesh?

    1. Zinnia

      Sorry this actually an inaccurate title. The Naqvi’s left Bangladesh because of job opportunities which was their main reason for migration. They were never forced to leave any city but faced the same moral dilemma that all Muslim families in India faced; to claim allegiance to territorial rather than cultural roots. The family already had a history of migration the need to uproot and relocate was not unfamiliar.

  4. Your granddad was born in 1916, and yet the photo is well taken care of. All the photos I have of my grandaprents were fading and getting almost decomposed that I had to scan them and put some make up on them in photoshop. Did you do the same thing?

    1. passerby

      Some old photos survive time and weather well, some don’t. I have family pictures from Hyderabad, Deccan dating from the 1930s and early 40s and they are still almost pristine. My family took pictures in a number of places but the Hyderabad ones are the best preserved.

      1. admin

        You must send us a story then :) indianmemoryproject[at]gmail[dot]com

    2. Zinnia Naqvi

      This photograph is actually a blown up reprint of the original. I’m not sure where the original actually is but this one hangs in our living room and is about 11″ x 14″ in size.

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