On Friday, 18 June 1926 at about 3 p.m., during the festivities connected with my father’s coronation, we three sisters were seriously engaged in pillow-fighting with some of the ex-Sikandaria girls when Khalloo (Zaheda Begum, a trained midwife who was given charge of attending to me after my birth) came in saying I had to take a bath and get dressed in my ceremonial clothes. Having always hated ceremonies and dressing up, I made faces at her and poking my tounge out in protest said, ” Why am I always singled out for these stunts? What is all this fuss about?” “It is the price you pay for being the eldest,” Khalloo smiled. Taking no notice of her, I resumed the pillow-fight with greater enthusiasm. Presently Sarkar Amman padded in. “Is this how a bride behaves on the day of her nikah?” she growled. “The Qazi Saheb has arrived and you are not even dressed, you are busy pillow-fighting.” “You”, pointing at Khalloo, “what do you think you are here for?” and boxing my ears she pushed me into the bathroom to prepare me for the ceremony…..
Having had no previous warning or information about the nikah, I kept asking Khalloo while she dressed me whose Nikah it was and with whom. Perhaps she was too scared to talk about it and only smiled. “Be a little patient, you will find out.” She said. I was then conducted to the kutchery room (audience chamber). There were hundreds of swarming women and children squeezing themselves into this small room. Some perfumed and bedecked in their finery, others smelling of stale sweat and mustard oil. Pandamonium prevailed. No one had prepared or instructed me on how to conduct myself with result that I walked into the nikah chamber, pushing the gathered women out of my way, my face uncovered, sulking as usual for being chosen again for some new experiment. There were immediate indignant remarks. “Just look at this shameless bride”. I still did not comprehend. Then I saw another bride traditionally bent over and huddled up in a corner, shaking with histerical sobs and alomst fainting in the heat under her heavy bridal brocades. She was my cousin Noor Jahan (daughter of the Late Nawab Nasrullah Khan) whose nikah with Saeed Mian was to take place simultaneously with mine.
Glaring at me and grumbling at my shocking entry, Sarkar Amman covered my face and told me to bend over like a bride. I complied and wasx made to squat next to cousin Noor Jahan. On the other side of the screen, my father, the Qazi Sahab, and other male members of the family were awaiting my arrival. A male voice started reciting the nikah formula, first asking Noor Jahan if she was willing to accept Saeed Mian as her husband. She made no reply. The whole process was repeated, read and re-read, again and again, with Sarkar Amman and several other women pleading and begging Noor Jahan to make the required “Hoon” (yes). But she would not. Finally in exasperation, her aunt, Surraiya Bi, put her head under Noor Jahan’s head covering, and squeaked the “Hoon”. This faked “hoon” was accepted by the males on the other side of the screen as Noor Jahan’s own consent to become Saeed Main’s wife.
I was shocked and outraged at this hypocrisy, so when the Qazi’s voice addressed me, “Do you Abida Sultan, accept Sarwar Ali Khan as your husband” I clearly and promptly said ‘Yes , I Do’ On the very first asking, creating another uproar at my immodesty. Meanwhile cousin Noor Jahan had fainted. Taking advantage of people’s pre-occupation in reviving her, I slipped away without waiting for Sarkar Amaan’s permission and without being escorted by the self-appointed bridesmaids. Later on, at Sadar Manzil the bridegrroms, Nawabzada, Captain Saeed-Uz-Zafar Khan, and Nawab Sarwar Ali Khan of Kuwai gave their consent in an all male ceremony.
There were still about ten weeks before my thirteenth birthday. I was nature’s child, a tomboy, not in the least interested in marriage or aware of sex. Sarkar Ammans stict supervision had kept us ignorant of the facts of life. Therefore, marriage was, for me, a strange custom that I had never tried to analyse. Nevetheless, I was fond of Dadabhai who was the kindest, most affectionate, sympathetic person I knew. The prospect of finding my freedom by living with him away from ‘horrible’ Sarkar Amman was sweet indeed. I looked forward to it with happy anticipation.