A Tribute To Mrs. Meherbano Marker
Dr. Shahida Jaffrey reminisces her relationship with the esteemed Mrs. Meherbano Marker who formed the Quetta Girl Guide and All Pakistan Women Association (APWA) Quetta Wing and worked till her last breath at the age of 103 for the betterment of the underprivileged women.
Mrs. Arnaz Marker, the wife of Mr. Jamsheed Marker, called me from Karachi saying:
“Will you plant 100 Chinar trees somewhere in Quetta to commemorate Mama’s 100th birthday? We will pay for all costs”.
Mama was Mrs. Meherbano Kekobad Marker, wife of Mr. Kekobad Marker, and mother of Mr. Jamsheed Marker, Mr. Khursheed Marker and Mr. Minocher (Minoo) Marker.
Mrs. Marker turned 100 years in the month of August 2001.
Mrs. Marker had dedicated her entire life working for the poor and underprivileged people of Quetta, “The trees will provide shade to the people and also keep the land, and environment of the city
clean and healthy”, said Arnaz.
Sikandar Jamali, my husband, was appointed Chief Secretary Balochistan and later was Federal Secretary Environment. It was the month of August 2001, and Quetta was very hot and dry.
On Arnaz’s request, Sikandar arranged for one Chinar tree through Balochistan Forest and Environment department and a simple ceremony was arranged in the Askari Park, Airport Road Quetta. Mrs. Marker arrived in her chauffeur-driven Mercedes Benz accompanied by her granddaughter, Mrs. Meher Marker Noshirwani, and her nurse. She was in her wheelchair.
All of us – Sikandar Jamali, Director Environment, his staff and I were present.
The tree was planted, photographs taken and prayers said. Unfortunately, the tree soon died: it did not survive Quetta’s August dry heat. Mrs. Marker left for Karachi beginning of winter that year, as was her routine, but was unable to return to Quetta due to illness.
She passed away in her Karachi home in 2004 at the age of 103, with her loving family beside her.
Brief on Kekobad and Meherbano
“Kekobad was the son of Ardeshir, born on February 25, 1896, in the house of his maternal grandfather Mr. Jamshedji Eduljee Chinoy in Secunderabad, Deccan, India.
“He married Meherbano, daughter of Aimai and Dadabhoy Ferozshah Pestonji, on March 28, 1921, at Secunderabad, and Meherbano accompanied her husband to Quetta. The newly married couple settled in an annex specially built for them in the compound of the Marker Cottage on Lytton Road and they have been in Quetta since.
“They lived in a very beautiful house on what was Lytton Road, which was also known as the ‘Thandi Sarak’, (the cool road) as it was lined with huge Chinar trees. A Boot House was built in the compound by Kekobad Marker for his granddaughter Aban in 1958. The unique structure is visible from the main road and is affectionately referred to as the ‘Joote Walla Ghar’.”
The Marker home was and has always been very socially active; with classy lunches, garden parties, and dinners attended by the renowned Quetta families.
It was also a home where Mrs. Marker hosted and held discussions and consultations with her workers and project beneficiaries, women and men who worked on numerous projects, that she personally funded and supervised, under the umbrella of All Pakistan Women’s Association, APWA Balochistan.
APWA Balochistan and Girls Guide Balochistan were established by her at Pakistan Independence, 1947, and she was Life Time President of both.
Initially, some funding was received from small donors, later, all projects were funded by her personal and family monies. Wives of well to do and affluent Quetta families were very actively involved with these organisations, and gave their all. Numerous institutions were established and run; large and small free schools; free health and family planning centers; and many income generation activities.
I remember, once accompanying her to a small mud building, a girls school in Killi Ismail – a small village, on the outskirts of Quetta, with a sparkle in her eyes she said:
“One day some of these girls will become teachers, nurses, and LHVs. I will be very happy.”
Thousands of poor girls have gone through those small schools improving and changing their lives.
Another area she felt strongly about was population planning and always worried about the population growth in the country. Her great contribution was the establishment of the Idara -e- Niswaan, the APWA hand embroidery center, that was the first of its kind, that introduced Balochistan embroideries as a cottage industry.
Prior to that, local exquisite embroideries were created by women for personal and family use only, and there was no concept of selling their embroidery work.
Idara-e-Niswan created table linen of top quality that adorned the homes of upper-class customers and provided income to needy skilled women artisans, trained by APWA. Currently, Quetta markets are loaded with hand-embroidered different products providing income to poor skilled rural women.
I would often remember Arnaz Marker’s request of planting 100 Chinar trees and felt guilty, as I failed to fulfill her request.
The opportunity came when in 2004, I was appointed by Governor Balochistan/Chancellor, Engineer Owais Ahmed Ghani, the Vice-Chancellor of the newly established university for women, the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University, SBKWU, at Quetta. The old TB hospital, Sardar Bahadur Khan Sanatorium with beautiful English style buildings spread over 45 acres of the mountain on Brewery Road, the property of Pakistan Railways, was given to me to establish a university.
As the Vice-Chancellor I was able to execute Arnaz Marker’s tree plantation request.
She had asked me to arrange to plant the Chinar trees and the family will pay all costs of tree procurement, maintenance and care.
The sanatorium and its land were once rich with vegetation: pine groves, fruit orchards, and beautiful flower gardens. Hazara pine trees were brought by the then Medical Superintendent, Dr. Saeed Hai from Abbottabad. Gardens and orchards were watered with fresh water from there on the premises tube wells. After Dr. Saeed Hai left the hospital and Quetta, and the tube wells dried, the area became a sad desert.
The university was able to recharge and sink new tube wells, very good water from the aquifers watered the land, and the soil was very rich. During Spring 2005, I took my personal old Toyota Prado, from Islamabad to a Haripur plant nursery, and purchased 110 young Chinar plants. I was amazed to see, the nursery owner had set aside 1000 Chinar plants to be taken to Afghanistan.
I took my trees to Quetta by road, about 1000 km, and planted them on the campus grounds.
The trees did remarkably well and all survived and flourished in rich healthy soil, abundant clean groundwater, and particularly, attention and care of the team of a university dedicated staff and gardeners.
In a span of three years, the trees grew fast, their tops touching the roofs of the buildings, and today 16 years later, the old hospital buildings are camouflaged by the thick Chinar jungle – trees having wide trunks and their thick foliage provides oxygen, cool shade to the over eleven thousand students, faculty and staff and it is a pollution-free mountain island!
The SBKWU gifted and dedicated the trees, their maintenance, and upkeep to the memory of Mrs. Marker who gave so much to the women and children of Balochistan.
As was my commitment to the Markers, I organized another tree plantation ceremony on campus grounds. The Markers, graciously attended, Mr. Jamsheed Marker, Mr. Khursheed Marker, and Mrs. Arnaz Marker, who specially came to Quetta on my invitation, and planted one ceremonial Chinar tree. Sikandar Jamali too was present.
As the Vice-Chancellor, I lived in a very beautiful house occupied by the Medical Superintendent, Dr.Saeed Hai, which was once a fruit orchard that too had dried.
I planted more than a dozen Chinars and gave the cottage the name “Chinar Cottage”.
Marble Plaque and Inscription
A marble plaque was created by the granddaughter, Mrs. Aban Marker Kabraji and family, and sent from Karachi to Quetta, which was erected at a strategic location in the grounds of Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University campus where 110 Chinaar trees were planted in 2005 – with this inscription:
These trees were planted in memory of
Mrs. Meher Bano Kekobad Marker
August 1901-January 2004 who did her utmost to improve the lives of the poor and unfortunate.
Her spirit remains in the mountains and in the Quetta valley which she loved and with its people.
As Arnaz had wished, “Young women will enjoy the shade of the trees, and Mama will be very happy.”
Arnaz’s wish was fulfilled.
Allah blessed mama with a few more years, and she passed away in January 2004 at the age of 103 – constantly saying, “I miss my work and I miss my Quetta”.
The mantlepiece of her Karachi home often displayed vases full of fresh-cut flowers brought from her Quetta home.
Mrs. Marker taught me a lesson, that I often quote: “When does one stop working?” She worked and devoted her full time to it, till she passed away at 103, even when she was unable to be in Quetta.
She directed Baji Razia, her Quetta based supervisor/employee on the phone, and knew all that was happening, she was fully in control.
She is a role model not only to her family but to all of us.
Mr. Jamsheed Marker passed away, June 21, 2018, And Mr. Khursheed Marker passed away, 11 December 2010.
When Arnaz made the request to plant 100 trees, Sikandar Jamali, commented:
“This noble family thinks and works for humanity. By their request for planting 100 trees to celebrate Mrs. Marker’s birthday, they are thinking of humanity, environment, and the trees will benefit and provide shade and comfort to thousands of people and for several generations; not many people think like this”.
And since I executed this project, I wished to document and share with the world, the humanitarian and noble face of the Marker family.
Dr. Shahida Jaffrey was the first woman Vice Chancellor and founder of the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University in Balochistan. She holds a Master’s Degree in English Literature from the University of Punjab Lahore and PhD in Education from the University of Philippines. She is the Chairperson of Behbud, Balochistan, which provides preventive healthcare to underprivileged women in the rural area of District Mastung. She has also served as the Chief Executive of the largest Rural Support Programme in Balochistan, the Balochistan Rural Support Programme.