As we remember Marhoom M. A. Bakeer Markar, former Speaker and Member of Parliament, on his death anniversary, I think of the lifelong friendship my uncle Marhoom Tuan Anver Jayah (Tony) had with Marhoom Bakeer Marker.
When I was admitted as a student to Ladies’ College, Colombo 7, I had to come to Colombo and live at my grandmother’s home in Kensington Gardens, Bambalapitiya, where my uncle Tony Jayah and aunt Marima Jayah lived.
I vividly remember a regular visitor, whom I later came to know as Bakeer Uncle, from Beruwela. Bakeer Uncle was often accompanied by his cousin Shafie Uncle – Marhoom S. L. M. Shafie Marikar, former principal of Zahira College, Colombo 10.
Bakeer Uncle, Shafi Uncle and Uncle Tony would spend hours in our house chatting. They would be invited to stay for dinner by my aunt Marhooma Marium, whom they called Marium Datha (sister).
A great friendship developed between Bakeer Uncle, Shafi Uncle and Uncle Tony when they were students at Zahira College, Colombo, which at the time was under Principal Marhoom Dr. T. B. Jayah (Uncle Tony’s father).
Bakeer Uncle, a keen member of the All Ceylon Muslim League, would come to Colombo on the last Wednesday of each month, pick up Uncle Tony and go for the working committee meeting in Fort.
After the meeting, they would come back and sit on the verandah and discuss issues concerning the Muslim community. They were often joined by Marhoom M. H. Sufi Ismail, Marhoom A. M. Nazeer, Marhoom A. L. M. Hashim, Marhoom M. H. Amit and A. R. M. Zain and others.
My parents, Marhoom H. M. Khalid and Marhooma Fatima Khalid (Marium Jayah’s eldest sister), lived in Dharga Town, and Uncle Tony and Aunty Marium would go to Dharga Town for the weekends.
Uncle Tony would take us in his black Morris Minor to Dharga Town, and come back to Beruwela to meet up with Bakeer Uncle, Shafie Uncle and Razik Marikkar Uncle.
A few years later, Zahira College, Colombo, an institution close to the hearts of the Muslim community, was taken over by the state. Many discussions relating to the takeover took place at Uncle Tony’s house.
A “Take Back Zahira” campaign was launched and Bakeer Uncle, Shafie Uncle, Tony Uncle and many concerned Zahirians would join in the discussions. They organised protest meetings, filed legal action and finally succeeded in getting back Zahira.
A few months later, Shafie Uncle – an old boy and Principal of Zahira College, Alutgama – volunteered to be the principal of Colombo Zahira.
Zahira College at the time had no funds. Bakeer Uncle and Shafie Uncle would come to Colombo, and with Uncle Tony they would visit Muslim philanthropists and explain to them the need to run Zahira College as a centre for Muslim education.
Shafie Uncle had by then convinced my aunt Marium Jayah, retired principal of Madharasatul Khairiya, Dematagoda, and many others to join the staff of Zahira. For lack of funds, Shafie Uncle and most of the staff earned paltry salaries for years, silently serving the community.
Later, Bakeer Uncle’s daughter Deena came to live at Uncle Tony’s and attended St. Paul’s Milagiriya. Bakeer Uncle would come to see Deena and sometimes take her home for the weekends and the long holidays.
Some years later, Bakeer Uncle was elected to Parliament as the Member for Beruwela. He would come on all Parliament days, dressed in full suit and proceed to Parliament.
On special days, like the opening of Parliament and budget speech days, Uncle Tony would go with him to Parliament.
A few years later, Bakeer Uncle, Shafie Uncle, Tony Uncle and a few others from the All Ceylon Muslim League formed the All Ceylon Muslim Educational Conference. Shafie Uncle was appointed as chairman.
The organisation became a hive of activity, and many of the meetings were held in our house in Bambalapitiya. Bakeer Uncle was an active and vociferous member of the Zahira College OBA. He would come from Beruwela, pick up Uncle Tony and go for the OBA meetings.
It is laudable that the Bakeer Markar Foundation and the All Ceylon Muslim League Youth Fronts – inaugurated by Marhoom M. A. Bakeer Markar – continue to commemorate the death anniversary of Marhoom Bakeer Markar.
Joint Secretary, All Ceylon Muslim