Master Altaf Hussain also made clothes for the nation’s founding father and took part in liberation movement
As any soldier who needs a new uniform knows, tailors form a critical part of any military campaign or liberation movement.
But Master Altaf Hussain, a key figure of the Pakistan Freedom Movement, which gave birth to the nation of Pakistan, was not just any tailor.
Altaf Hussain made Pakistan’s first flag.
He was a member of the Muslim National Guards and served as a volunteer guard of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father.
During the days of the Pakistan Freedom Movement and United India he used to run a shop in Karol Bagh, a VIP locality of Delhi at that time. The term “master” is the title of honour generally reserved for renowned tailors in South Asia.
Altaf Hussain was famous for his work and used to sew sherwani (long coat-like garments) and suits for Ali Jinnah.
The shop’s name was Hussain Brothers — they were four brothers, all of them experts in tailoring. They counted most senior leaders of the Muslim League among their regular clients.
“Master Altaf’s picture was first published by LIFE magazine of USA on August 18, 1947 after the emergence of Pakistan,” says Zahoor-ul-Hassan, Altaf Hussain’s son, who lives in Hyderabad, Sindh.
“This picture was photographed by Margaret Bourke-White, who was a famous photographer and documentary maker. She captured the photo of Altaf Hussain while he was sewing the Pakistani flag in his shop in Delhi.”
Recalling his father’s life story, Zahoor, 65, says, “My father was in the Special Squad of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim National Guard.
“As directed by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, my father made the first flag of Pakistan in June 1947 at his tailoring shop, the Hussain Brothers in Quroll Baagh [modern-day Karol Bagh], Delhi, India.”
American journalist Bourke-White came to India in June 1947, when she learnt that Pakistan’s first flag was being prepared in Hussain brothers’ shop in Delhi.
“She visited to get the photographs of my father, who was wearing the dress of Muslim National Guard while preparing the flag, and had the photographs publish in Life magazine on 18th August, 1947,” Zahoor says.
The flag was designed by Amiruddin Kidwai.
Ali Jinnah then asked Altaf, his personal tailor, to sew it.
“It took a few hours to stitch the flag and he only stitched the first one because it was historic,” Zahoor says. “Initially it was made from cotton cloth. At that time it was four feet in length [1.2 metres] and three feet [91cm] wide. He didn’t charge any amount to stitch this flag; it was an honour for him to stitch the country’s flag.”
LIFE magazine also later published the photo of a woman who was helping to prepare the first flag of India, Zahoor remembers.
When journalist Bourke-White visited India to capture the story of the Tehreek-e-Azadi movement, a barrister, Mohammad Samin Khan, accompanied her for assistance, he recalls.
“Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan directed Mohammad Samin Khan for this assignment,” Zahoor-ul-Hassan says. “Barrister Samin Khan was a witness of all these movements of the Tehreek-e-Azadi and is alive and living in Karachi nowadays.”
Samin Khan told journalists of Altaf Hussain’s critical role at the Karachi Press Club in October 2008, Zahoor says.
“There is no doubt or ambiguity over it,” he adds.
Zahoor and his family have contacted the government of Pakistan for official recognition of his father’s role but there has been no response.
“My father got the honour and privilege of preparing Pakistan’s first flag during the tenure of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan in 1947,” he says.
“We are proud and privileged with this honour and will remain so forever. Nobody has the authority to deprive us of this prestige.” The government’s response is “pathetic” Zahoor insists.
“It’s embarrassing to say that, although my father got the honour of making the first flag of Pakistan by the grace of Almighty Allah, the Government of Pakistan has not yet acknowledged it accordingly.”
“I appeal to the democratic Government of Pakistan to officially bestow this prestige to my late father.” Zahoor added.
He said the nations who do not remember their heroes lost glory and honour as well.
“We only demanded of the government to kindly put the name of Master Altaf Hussain, as the first flag-maker of Pakistan on official record,” he insists.
Zahoor is retired. He became a businessman and did not enter the tailoring profession when his father, along with his brothers, moved to Pakistan, since they left the profession and engaged in other business.
Master Altaf Hussain passed on in 1967.