The late husband Afsar Ali , advocate of Allahabad High Court, where I too was practising, was my friend. Every Eid he would invite me and a few other lawyer friends to his house in Daryabad, Allahabad for dinner.
Afsar Ali was a conservative Muslim, and his wife observed strict purdah, so I never saw her as long as he was alive. She would prepare the delicious non vegetarian food inside her house, but sent it outside through a servant to the courtyard where we sat and ate.
Shortly after I became a High Court judge in 1991 Afsar Ali died of a heart attack. A few days thereafter one evening his widow Naseem Zohra came to my residence with a relative to meet me. She had 4 children, and now left with no income, and did not know how her family could make two ends meet, now that the sole bread winner was dead.
She said that her brother in Rampur had asked her to come with her children to Rampur and stay with him. Her brother was married with children.
I advised her not to go to Rampur. I said that if she goes there she would soon be made unwelcome by her brother’s wife, who would think that a burden has come in her house. There is a saying in English ” A fish and a guest start smelling after 3 days ”.
Instead, I said she should remain in Allahabad, and I would get her appointed on a class 3 ( clerical ) job in the High Court, which would give her a reasonably good income. But I also told her she must give up burqa ( which she always wore ) as she has now to come into the wide world to survive.
Thereafter I spoke about the matter to the Chief Justice, who appointed her on compassionate grounds ( under the High Court rules, a class 3 appointment can only be made through a competitive examination, but the Chief Justice has discretion to appoint directly without an examination ).
After she was appointed I told the Registrar of the High Court that she should be posted in the Judges Library, where the work was lighter, and she should be allowed to go home early, so as to look after her children.
She bought a scooter, and started coming to the High Court on it. I met her occasionally in the Judges Library, and enquired about her welfare and her children. Every rakshabandhan day she would come to my residence with some sweets, and a rakhi, which she tied on my hand, saying ” Aapne bhai ka farz nibhaaya ”.
In 2004 I was appointed Chief Justice of Madras High Court, in 2005 as Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, and in 2006 as a Supreme Court Judge, but she remained in touch with me throughout.
While doing her job in the Allahabad High Court she enrollled in the Allahabad University, and got a masters degree, as well as a degree in library science. She was promoted as bench clerk, and her income increased. She also started her own private primary school, which supplemented her income.
Now she has retired ( after working in the High Court for about 30 years ), and gets a pension. All her children are well settled. One of her married daughters lives in Noida, near Delhi ( where I too live ) with her husband and children, and Naseem stays with them when she comes on rakshabandhan day to tie rakhi on my hand.
It is about 30 years since I helped her, but she still says when tying rakhi on my hand ”Aapne bhai ka farz nibhaaya ”.