Sir Syed Excellence Award 2020

The Sir Syed Excellence Award 2020 has been announced by the Aligarh Muslim University. The award in the National Category has been given to Anjuman-i-Islam, Mumbai, while in the International Category the award has been conferred on Dr. Gail Minault. The national category award carries a citation and an amount of one lakh India rupees while in the international category it carries a citation and two lakh Indian rupees . The awards was conferred on the recipients during the online Sir Syed Day commemorative function on October 17, 2020 (AMU, 2020)

Professor Minault is a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania (1972) and has taught at The University of Texas since 1972. At present she is Professor Emeritus at the Department of History, The University of Texas at Austin. Her field of research is 19th and 20th century history of India especially focusing on religion, politics, intellectual and social history and women’s movement. She is author of highly acclaimed books such as:

  • The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India (1982)
  • Secluded Scholars: Women’s Education and Muslim Reform in Colonial India (1997)
  • Gender, Language and Learning: Essays in Indo-Muslim Cultural History (2009).

Besides she has edited the following books:

  • The Extended Family: Women and Political Participation in India and Pakistan (1981)
  • Separate Worlds: Studies of Purdah in South Asia (1982)
  • Abul Kalan Azad: A Religious and Intellectual Biography (1988)

She has also translated “Voices of Silence (1986). Professor Gail said that she is “greatly surprised, humbled, and honored to be offered this prize” (The University of Texas at Austin, 2020). During her address in the virtual program conducted to confer the award, she discussed her research on the Khilafat Movement and how important it was for her to find out what the Ali Brothers, Abdul Bari Firangi Mahali, and Maulana Azad were writing, thinking, and saying (AMU, 2020).

Anjuman-i-Islam is a Mumbai based educational conglomerate. It was started by a group of visionary Muslims led by Badruddin Tayabji in 1874. The organisation is the biggest Muslim educational conglomerate of institutions in India providing quality education in varied areas of specialisation. Today the social organisation runs more than 100 educational institutions in the state of Maharashtra, particularly Mumbai. The institutions run by Anjum-i-Islam range from pre-primary schools to Post Graduate courses and caters to around one lakh and ten thousand students. It has provided yeoman service to the nation in the field of education (AMU, 2020). The award was given to Anjuman for “Anjuman-Islam’s exemplary efforts for propagating education among Muslims and other marginalized sections of society” (Wajihuddin, M., 2020). The award was received by Dr. Zahirul Islam Kazi on behalf of Anjuman-I-Islam. While receiving the award he said that “Anjuman Islam follows the teachings of Sir Syed in providing he marginalised sections with the quality education (AMU, 2020).

Congratulations to both Professor Gail Minault and Anjuman-i-Islam for the award. The contribution of Anjuman is immense and deserves a separate blog and hopefully my next blog will be on the history and contribution of Anjuman to the cause of education.

For references and further reading, please see:

AMU (2020) https://www.amu.ac.in/about3.jsp?did=1960. Accessed on 24 October 2020.

The University of Texas at Austin (2020, October 22) Professor Gail Minault Receives Sir Syed Excellence Award. Availabel at: https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/southasia/news/professor-gail-minault-receives-sir-syed-excellence-award. Accessed on 24 October 2020.

Wajihuddin, Mohammad (2020) Anjuman education trust bags national award from AMU. The Times of India, October 10. Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/anjuman-education-trust-bags-national-award-from-amu/articleshow/78588037.cms. Accessed on 24 October 2020.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, KCSI

(Residential Halls of Aligarh Muslim University Series/ Blog 1)

Soorat se ayaan jalaley shahi

chahrey par faroghey subhey gahi

wo mulk pe jaan deney wala

wo qaum ki naaw kheney wala

(Allama Shibli Nomani)

As promised in my previous blog, this is the first in series of blogs on the personalities on whom halls of residence at Aligarh Muslim University have been named. The list includes the luminaries of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It is a veritable who’s who list. But none among them can match the towering personality and lasting impact of Baba e Qaum, Sir Syed Baba. He is lovingly called by this name by Aligarians (Alumni of Aligarh Muslim University). Two halls of residences in University are named after the founder of the University: Sir Syed Hall North and Sir Syed Hall South. These halls of residence contain many heritage buildings associated with the history of Aligarh Muslim University, many of them designed by Sir Syed himself and built under his supervision. Some of the heritage buildings in the Sir Syed Hall compound include Victoria Gate, Jama Masjid, Strachey Hall, Beck Manzil, Asman Manzil, Sami Manzil, etc.

Syed Ahmed Taqvi bin Syed Muhammad Muttaqi, popularly known as Sir Syed, was born on 17 October 1817 at Delhi. His family was in service of Mughal Court for several generations (Bhatnagar, 1969) and his early education of Quran and Science was in the court itself. After the death of his father in 1838, the income from the Mughal Court reduced significantly. to support his family, Sir Syed started his career in 1838 with East India Company and after some training started working as Sadr Amin (Hali, A. H., 1939, p. 42). In 1839, he was called to Agra by Sir Robert Hamilton and made Naib Munshi in Agra Collectorate (Hali, A. H., 1939, p. 43). During his stay in Agra he prepared and passed the competitive exam for post of Munsif and got his diploma (Hali, 1939, p. 44). The material which he prepared for his competitive exam was published by him with his brother as co author to help others to prepare for the post of Munsif by the name of Intekhabul Akhween. It become quite popular and many people cleared the exam of Munsif with the help of the book (Hali, 1939, p.44). During this period he wrote three more books. The first was Jala ul Quloob bi Zikril Mahboob on the life of the Prophet Mohammad ﷺ . The second book was Tuhfah e Hasan and third book was Tasheel fi Jarre Saqeel which was translation of Ibn Sina’s book. It was published in 1844 (Hali, A. H., 1939, p. 45). During this period he was awarded the title of Jawwadud Dawla and Arif Jung in 1942 during a ceremony at the Court (Hali, A. H., 1939, p. 45, Bhatnagar, 1969). After the death of his brother, Sir Syed was transferred to Delhi where he continued to publish the newspaper, Sayed al Akhbar, which his brother started. The newspaper had its own printing press. It was here in 1847 that his book on the historical monuments of Delhi, Asarus Sanadid (Remnant signs of Ancient Heroes ) was published. It was a unique book in the sense that no such book was written on similar lines before. It contained the details of pre 1857 Delhi and its monuments, buildings and people. The book contained detailed drawings and measurements of the monument. It was translated into French in 1861 by Garcin de Tassy and based on the French translation, the Royal Asiatic Society made Sir Syed its honorary fellow on 4 July 1964 (Hali, 1939, p. 50). A highlight of Asarus Sanadid is the four statements of praise (taqreez) which are contained in the book. One of them is written by Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (Naim, 2010). The hard work that Sir Syed put in collecting relevant information for Asarus Sanadid was an indicator of things to come. It was evident that if Sir Syed started a project he would give it all and would go to any length to get quality. To read the inscriptions on Qutub Minar, he would sit in a basket and the basket would be suspended on scaffolding high enough to read the inscriptions thus putting his life in danger (Hali, A. H., 1939, pp. 47-48). This quality of Sir Syed stood him in good stead in later life.

On 3 January 1855, Sir Syed was transferred to Bijnor as Sadr Amin (Hali, A. H., 1939, p. 52). During his posting at Bijnor Sir Syed published an annotated edition of Ain e Akbari. He included a number of pictures which were missing in the Ain Akbari.

In April 1858 he was transferred to Moradabad as Sadrus Sudur (Hali, A. H., 1939, p. 70). In 1859, the British Government constituted a commission to try those involved in the 1857 War of Independence. Sir Syed was made part of the commission in Moradabad. His presence ensured that the work of the commission was done with Justice (Hali, A. H., 1939, p. 71) and not with a feeling of taking revenge. Same year i.e. 1859 he established a Madrasa for teaching Persian at Moradabad (Hali, A. H., 1939, p. 73). In 1860 there was severe famine in the area in and around Moradabad. The responsibility to arrange relief was given to Sir Syed by the Collector of Moradabad, Sir John Strachey. Sir Syed worked tirelessly to provide relief regardless of religion or social status. He personally supervised the relief efforts and even used to wash clothes of people who were sick (Hali, A. H., 1939, pp. 91-92). Sir Syed also ensured that orphans were given for adoption according to their religion to either Hindu families or Muslim families and not to the Christian Missionaries which were working there under the patronage and with the support of the British Government. It was one of his conditions to accept the responsibility of managing the relief efforts which was accepted by Sir John Strachey (Hali, A. H., 1939, p. 93). Sir Syed ensured that none of the orphans was given to the Missionaries. Very soon Sir John Strachey was transferred and replaced by Mr. Power. He was inclined towards the Missionaries and ensured despite protest from Sir Syed that the orphans which were given to Hindu and Muslim families were taken back and given to Christian Missionaries by force. Even the four or five orphans who were living at Sir Syed’s house were not sparred. This incident shook him to the core and decided that very soon he will establish an orphanage for Indians were both Hindu and Muslim orphans will be taken care of and the funding will come from common people through donations. However, he very soon realised orphanage is no long term solution and unless there is education among Indians they situation can not be changed (Hali, A. H., 1939, pp. 91-94).

On 12 May 1862, Sir Syed was transferred to Ghazipur (Hali, A. H., 1939, p. 105). He established a school at Ghazipur in 1863 (Hali, 1939, pp.107-108). By that time Sir Syed was of firm belief that modern ideas, particularly scientific ideas, can not be propagated unless they are available in vernacular languages. To achieve the said goal, he published an appeal “Iltimas ba khidmat saaknaaney hindustaan dar baab e taraqi taalim ahley hind” (Appeal to the residents of Hindustan regarding development of education of Indians) and distributed it in 1863 (Hali, A. H., 1939, p. 106). He appealed to the people to make a society for translating old Indian books and modern scientific books in English language into Urdu language to inculcate scientific temperament. The appeal worked and Scientific Society was formed at Ghazipur in 1864. Sir Syed was elected its honorary secretary. The Duke of Argyll accepted to be appointed its patron. Lt. Governor Edmont Drummond (Lt. Governor of North Western Provinces) and Lt. Governor Sir Donald Friell McLeod (Lt. Governor of Punjab) were appointed Vice Patrons (Hali, A. H., 1939, p. 106). The scientific society was later shifted to Aligarh when Sir Syed was transferred to Aligarh. The society proved to be a milestone and an important pillar in the Aligarh Movement. Membership was open to all. Out of 109 people who accepted the membership 28 were British, 34 Hindu and 47 Muslims (Usmani, A., 2009).

In 1864, Sir Syed was transferred to Aligarh from Ghazipur (Hali, A. H., 1939, p. 108).. At Aligarh, on 10th May 1866, on the urging of Sir Syed, Aligarh British Indian Association was formed at Aligarh (Hali, A.H., 1939, p. 111). By 1867, he was promoted and became Judge at a Small Causes Court. In 1868, Sir Syed wrote a book “Risalae Ahkaam Ta’am Ahle Kitab“. In this book, Sir Syed used Quranic Verses and Hadith to argue that Muslims can eat with Christian and there is nothing in religion which stops them from doing so. It was quite provocative thought in that environment but according to Sir Syed himself people slowly accepted the argument and it became quite common for Muslims to share their dinning table with Britishers after some time (Hali, A.H., 1939, pp. 127-129).

It was the first war of Independence in 1857 and the subsequent suppression of Muslims by the British that shook him to the core and caused him to ponder over the fate of the community. At that time, he was posted at Bijnor and firsthand witnessed the calamity that was brought upon Indian Muslims as revenge for First War of Independence by the British. Although there was participation of every community in the War of Independence, greater blame was put on Muslims and hence the revenge. Sir Syed was so much affected by the large scale destruction and near complete annihilation of Muslim Elite (Shurafa) and was was so pained that he even thought of migrating to Egypt. However, he decided to stay and do something for the uplifting the community. In his own words, it would have been namardi (cowardice) and bemurawwati (disregardful or delinquent ) to leave the community in such a dire situation and find safe haven for himself. He decided to stay back and help his community in those trying times (Hali, A. H., 1939, p. 70). In 1859 he was promoted to the position of Sadrus Sudoor and transferred to Moradabad (Hali, 1939, p. 70). During his posting in Moradabad, he published Tarikh e Sarkashi Bijnor (History of the uprising of Bijnor,). Same year he wrote Asbab e Baghawat e Hind (The Causes of the Indian Mutiny) and submitted it to the British government. Given the times and circumstances, it was a daring and forceful critique of the British, their policies towards Indians particularly Muslims and their heavy handed handling of the revolt.

Meanwhile in 1861, Sir William Muir’s book “The Life of Mohammad” was published in 1861 from England. The book was full of Christian bias against Muslims and Islam as was noted by contemporary scholars. When Sir Syed read the book, he was saddened and wanted to write a rebuttal. He started collecting material for the same. In the meantime he got an opportunity to travel to England. His son Syed Mahmood got scholarship for higher education in England. Sir Syed decided to accompany him to England. The reasons why Sir Syed wanted to travel to England were manifold. Apparently he was going there to see the development of Science and Technology and firsthand learn about the reasons of Britain’s development. The idea was to learn and apply the same for the benefit of Indians so that they can also prosper. Another underlying desire for this journey was to collect references from the British libraries for his rebuttal of Muir’s book. Sir Syed believed that he can get relevant material in British Museum Library and India Office Library (Hali, A.H., 1939, p. 118). Before this opportunity arose, Sir Syed had already started writing rebuttal of Muir’s book. However, he faced paucity of reference material in India. The opportunity to travel to England was too enticing to be missed as Sir Syed and he immediately started his preparation for the all important journey. It is interesting to note that the recommendation of scholarship to Syed Mahmood was given by Sir William Muir himself in his capacity of Lt. Governor of North Western Province. It is also interesting to note that Sir Syed called on Sir William Muir before embarking on his journey to England. On 1 April 1869, Sir Syed left for England. For Sir Syed the journey was so important that to raise money for the same he mortgaged his house at 14 % per annum and borrowed money from his friends so as to meet the expenses of his trip (Naim, C.M., 2011). Besides mortgaging his house Sir Syed sold his personal library for which had so painstakingly collected books (Hali, A. H.,1939, p. 132). Sir Syed’s stay in England lasted for 17 long months. During this time, he was able to meet a lot of dignitaries of British high society. He was invited to many meetings in England. Besides he visited several colleges and Universities. He also extensively used the library of British Museum to collect reference material for his book. He wrote a series of articles in Urdu and got them published in England itself by getting them translated to English. During his stay in England he was awarded the C.S.I. on 6 August 1869 by the Duke of Argyll (Hali, A. H., 1839, p 137). During his stay in England, Sir Syed attended several meetings of Royal Asiatic Society and was present in the last reading of Charles Dickens at the Society. He was also was given membership of Athenaeum Club. It was a huge honour as at that time there was a waiting list of more than 3000 people, some of whom were waiting for 12 years to get its prestigious membership. Sir Syed stayed in England for 17 months and left England for India on 4 September 1870 (Hali, A.H., 1939, pp. 139-144).

Once back in India, the first thing Sir Syed did was to start Tehzibul Akhlaq. The first volume of Tehzibul Akhlaq came out of press o 24 December 1870. Sir Syed was major contributor of articles to Tehzibul Akhlaq in its first inning of six year as can be gauged from the fact that out 226 articles during that period, Sir Syed alone contributed 112 article. These articles covered a variety of topics ranging from religion, education, morality, philosophy etc. (Hali, A. H., 1939, pp. 148-150). Sir Syed’s articles in Tehzibul Akhlaq besides their inherent message were examples of Concinnous (Insha Pardazi) writings of the highest order. According to Allama Shibli, It was because of Sir Syed that Urdu language became capable of expressing a wide variety of topics in the realm of politics, morality and philosophy (Nomani, S., 1898).

To further achieve his goal of uplifting the Muslim community, he started Madrasatul Uloom Musalmanan-e-Hind at Aligarh. The Madrasa opened its doors to students on 24 May 1875 to coincide with the 56th birthday of Queen Victoria (Hali, A. H.,1939, p. 168). Two years down the line it became Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh on 8 January 1887. This was perhaps the first concrete and thought out response of the Muslims of India to the challenges amidst the hostile environment facing them in the later half of the 18th century after the first war of independence 1857.

This inaugural function of the establishment of the College was presided by the then Viceroy and Governor General of India, Lord Lytton, in the presence of Sir Syed and other dignitaries. Lord Lytton laid the foundation stone of the college. The address presented by Sir Syed to the Lord Lytton said that “from the seed we sow today, there may spring a mighty tree, whose branches like those of banyan of the soil, shall in their turn strike firm roots into the earth, and themselves send forth new and vigorous sapling: that this college may expand in a University whose sons shall go forth throughout the length and breadth of the land to preach the gospel of free enquiry, of large hearted toleration and of pure morality ”.

Despite the negative comments and personal attacks against him, Sir Syed had complete faith in what he was doing. Addressing Sir John Strachey during the foundation laying ceremony of the central building of the then college, he said “The central hall of our college buildings, which is to receive your name, and on the basement of which we are now assembled to greet you, will become one day the scene of intellectual contests of youthful ambition and educational honours” (Bhatnagar, 1969). The major problem that was faced by the College committee was to raise enough funds to run the College. Different methods were used for the purpose. Committees were formed which went to different districts to raise funds. Sir Syed even started a lottery for an amount of 30,000 rupees. After distributing the winning amount, 20,000 rupees was saved and used for the development of the College. In response to the criticism for the methodology used to collect funds, he argued that while one does many wrongs for his own personal benefit, what is the harm in one wrong for the benefit of the community? (Hali, A. H., 1939, pp. 176-177). Another innovative method which was adopted by him to raise funds for the College was to draw paintings with message and send them to rich people. The method worked and many new avenues of funding were opened (Hali, A. H.,1939, pp. 182-183).

Despite the paucity of funds, Sir Syed did not compromise when it came to the construction of buildings. While the other members of the College Committee wanted to save money, Sir Syed was of the view that the buildings of College should be grand. He believed that grand buildings will create a positive impact and would last for a long time. It is a fact that “Today it is not even possible to visualize the state of mind of Indian Muslims after the failure of the first war of Indian Independence in 1857. In the life of any community, the road from power to slavery is extremely painful. It is not easy to visualize and start something grand in such an environment. It required vision, indomitable courage and perseverance. These characteristics are very difficult to find in an environment of defeat and helplessness. After seeing Jama Masjid, Strachey Hall and Victoria Gate, who can say that these were built by a community who had just lost everything? This extraordinary effort was a reflection of yearning to regain the lost glory. It was a symbolic indication of trying to move from the present darkness to a bright future and also a pointer to future possibilities. When the political power was lost, Sir Syed laid the foundation of Kingdom of Knowledge and Enlightenment. It was not just an institution where degrees were awarded to get government jobs but it fulfilled many cultural and psychological needs of the besieged Muslim community” (Zilli, I.A., 2018).

1n 1876 Sir Syed took premature retirement after serving in various capacities in the British government to focus on his educational movement at Aligarh. His pension was fixed at 400 rupees per month (Kidwai, S., 2010, pl. 39). While at Aligarh in 1877 he started writing the tafsir of the Quran by the name of “tafsir al quran wa huwa al huda wal furqan“. He continued working on it till he breathed his last in 1898. He was able to complete 7 volumes which cover 16 para (parts). According to Sir Syed there are Muslims who need philosophical proof and logic for everything and his tafsir was an attempt to convince them with logic and it was not for those who already have belief and conviction. However, since its publication it has drawn criticism and negativity from majority of Ulema. As a result even the positive aspects in the tafsir have not been discussed by and large (Azmi, A. A., 2020). What is disheartening is that many have questioned his intention. His intention towards Islam and Prophet ﷺ was clear when he sold his library and mortgaged his house so as to travel to England to write a rejoinder to Sir William Muir’s book and defend the honour of the Prophet ﷺ.

While at Aligarh he was made member of Viceregal Legislative Council at the recommendation of Lord Lytton which was later continued on the the recommendation of Lord Ripon (Hali, 1939, p. 206). It was here that he was honoured with Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India (KCSI) in 1888 through his membership to the Imperial Legislative Council (The London Gazette, 3 January 1888, p. 14). He was also chosen fellow of Calcutta University and Allahabad University by the Viceroy in the years 1876 and 1887 respectively. The 1889 he received an LL.D. honoris causa from The University of Edinburgh on the recommendation of Sir William Muir (Naim, C.M., 2010). Once at Aligarh, he immersed himself into the College project completely. On 27 March 1888 he left this world (Hali, A. H., 1939, pp. 266-67) leaving behind an unmatched legacy and a void that would be impossible to fill. It was almost 22 years after his death that Sir Syed’s dream of establishing a University for the Muslims of India was fulfilled when on 9 September 1920 through a bill passed in the Imperial Legislative Assembly and Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College was converted into a University (Noorani, A. G., 2016).

Sir Syed was a multi faceted personality. Besides being an Urdu writer par excellence, he was educationist, religious scholar, mufassir e Quran, social reformer, historian, judge, community organizer, philosopher and philanthrope all rolled into one. Whatever field he picked up he worked tirelessly and achieved excellence. One of his fiercest critic, Akbar Allahabadi, acknowledged the same at the time of Sir Syed’s death in the following words

hamari baten hi baten hain syed kaam karta tha

na bhulo farq jo hai kahney waley karney waley main

kahey jo chahey koi main to kahta hoon ki ae akbar

khuda bakhshey bohot si khoobiyan theen marney waley main

For more information and references, please see:

Azmi, Altaf Ahmad (2020) Tafsir al quran (Sir Syed): Ek Muta’ala. Maarif (April), Vol. 205, No. 4, pp. 245-253.

Bhatnagar, Shyam Krishna (1969) History of The M.A.O. College Aligarh. Sir Syed Bicentenary Celebrations Aligarh Muslim University. Caxton Press: Delhi.

Faruqi, Shamsur Rehman. (n.d.) From Antiquary to Social Revolutionary: Syed Ahmad Khan and the Colonial Experience. Available at: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00fwp/srf/srf_sirsayyid.pdf. Accessed on 11 October 2020

Hali, Altaf Hussain (1939) Hayat e Jawed. Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu (New Edition). Delhi.

Khursheed, Anwar (2019) Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s Legacy Goes Beyond Securing Minority Rights. 17 October. The Quint. Available at: https://www.thequint.com/voices/opinion/muslim-rights-sir-syed-ahmad-khan-constitution-of-india-amu. Accessed on 11 October 2020.

Kidwai, Shafey (2010) Cementing ethics with modernism – An appraisal of Sir Sayyed Ahmad Khan’s Writings. Gyan Publishing House: Delhi.

Naim, Choudhri Mohammed (2010) Syed Ahmad and His Two Books Called ‘Asar-al-Sanadid’. Modern Asian Studies (pp. 1-40). Cambridge University Press

Naim, Choudhri Mohammed(2011) A Musafir to London. Outlook. 17 October. Available at: https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/a-musafir-to-london/278673. Accessed on 9 October 2020.

Noorani, Abdul Ghafoor Majeed (2016). History of Aligarh Muslim University. Frontline (13 May). Available at: https://frontline.thehindu.com/the-nation/history-of-aligarh-muslim-university/article8523802.ece. Accessed on 14 October 2020.

Shibli Nomani (1898, May) Sir Syed Marhoom aur Urdu Literature. Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College Magazine and Aligarh Institute Gazette. Vol. 6, No. 5., pp. 205-214.

Siddiqui, Mohammad Asim (2015) Man who knew tomorrow. 16 October. The Hindu. Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/sir-syed-ahmad-khan-man-who-knew-tomorrow/article7770311.ece. Accessed on 11 October 2020.

The London Gazette (1888). Issue 25722, p. 14. Available at: https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/25772/page/14. Accessed on 15 October 2020.

Usmani, Afzal (2009). A history of the Scientific Society. Two Cricles. Available at: https://twocircles.net/2009aug25/history_scientific_society.html. Accessed on 16 October 2020.

Zilli, Ishtiyaq Ahmad (2018). Excerpts from speech given while excepting the Sir Syed Excellence Award 2018 on behalf of Darul Musanneffin Shibli Academy at Aligarh Muslim University. Available at: https://mohsinazizblog.org/2019/10/20/sir-syed-excellence-award-2019-2/. Accessed on 14 October 2020.

Residential Halls of Aligarh Muslim University

One of the distinguishing feature of AMU is its residential character and the University is known for its halls of residences. Each Hall is divided into several hostels. Any body who has studied at Aligarh Muslim University can not forget the hostel time. The residential nature of accommodation allows students to live in a diverse environment and greatly helps in the building and grooming their personality. Each Hall maintains a common room with facilities for indoor games, a reading room, library, sports club and a literary society thus providing ample opportunity for students to hone their extracurricular activities along with opportunity for studies. Those who have gone through this experience know that a large part of their AMU nostalgia and memory is somehow or otherwise related to their hostel life. On the occasion of Sir Syed Day I plan to start a series of short blogs on the various personalities on whom the Halls of residences and hostels within them have been named at Aligarh Muslim University. I request the readers of this blog to please forward me if they have access to any article in English, Urdu and Hindi about the said people. Mostly information is available for those on whom Halls have been named. However, there are many hostel names about which I am totally clueless. I shall be highly grateful to the readers if they can guide and help me in this endeavour. It is time consuming as there are about 80 hostels in AMU which are named after some or other personality. From my memory I am listing the Halls of residences and the hostels within. There are many names which I am missing. I need your help to complete my list.

Abdullah Hall

Hamid Manzil Hostel

Aftab Hall

Morrison Court

Aftab Hostel

Mumtaz House

Mac Donnell Hostel

Allama Iqbal Hall Boarding House for Senior Secondary School (Boys)

Begum Azizun Nisa Hall

Mohammad Habib Hall

Chakraverti Hostel

Umruddin Hostel

Haider Khan Hostel

Hadi Hassan Hall

Mohsinul Mulk Hall

Amin Hostel

Saifi Hostel

Hali Hostel

Shibli Hostel

MMA Hostel

Majaz Hostel

Nadim Tarin Hall

Indira Gandhi Hall

NRSC Hall

Ross Masood Hall

Nawab Ismail Khan Hostel

Sadar Yar Jung Hostel

Abdul Majeed Khowaja Hostel

Habibur Rehman Hostel

Saronijin Naidu Hall

Abrar Hostel

Hameeduddin Hostel

Jalil Hostel

Moinul Haq Hostel

Sir Syed Hall (North)

Osmania (North and South)

Central (Lower and Upper)

SME (Lower and Upper)

SMN (A and B)

Sir Syed Hall (South)

East Wing Hostel

West Wing Hostel

Nazir Ahmad Hostel

Sir Shah Sulaiman Hall

Agha Khan Hostel

Hasrat Mohani Hostel

Kashmir House

Jaikishan Das Hostel

Bhopal House

Mahmoodabad House

Qidwai Hostel

Viqarul Mulk Hall

Jubilee Hostel

Marris Hostel

Muzammil Hostel

Nasrullah Hostel

Sir Ziauddin Hall

Bhim Rao Ambedkar Hall

A Block Hostel (Upper and Lower)

B Block Hostel (Upper and Lower)

Begum Sultan Jahan Hall

Bibi Fatima Hall

New Hall

Thanking you all once again in advance for your valuable help.

100 Years of Aligarh Muslim University: The Journey Continues

This month Aligarh Muslim University celebrated its Centenary. Series of events are planned at the University for this joyous occasion. The Story of Aligarh Muslim University started after the first war of independence in 1857. At that time, Sir Syed was posted at Bijnour as Sadr Amin. He saw the destruction brought upon Indians and particularly Muslims after the Colonial Power suppressed the independence movement. Sir Syed was deeply affected by what he saw. He was so distraught that he even planned to migrate to some other country. Sir Syed decided to stay and work for the upliftment for the community as he himself said that it would be an act of cowardice to leave the community in such dire straits at such crucial stage of their history and settle abroad.

To achieve his aim of uplifting the community from the quagmire of poverty and illiteracy that it found itself, Sir Syed worked simultaneously at several fronts. While on the one hand he was trying to inculcate scientific temperament among the Indian Muslims by establishing Scientific Society in 1864 and bringing out magazine like Tehzeeb-ul- Akhlaq (Mohammedan Social Reformer) in 1871. On the other he was urging them to adopt modern education. Naturally he faced multi faceted opposition also.

It was on 1 April 1869 he embarked on a journey of England where his son, Syed Mehmood, got scholarship for higher education. Sir Syed’s stay in England lasted for 17 months. The visit brought major change in Sir Syed’s outlook. Although the underlying factor for his England visit was to collect material to write rebuttal of Sir William Muir’s book on Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him). During his stay in England Sir Syed visited colleges and universities and was inspired to started a “Muslim Cambridge” back home. Back in India, Sir Syed hit the ground running and immediately started working on his plan.

After seeing the advancement in Science and Technology, Sir Syed realised that the only way forward for the community was to embrace the new Science. However, back in India he faced stiff resistance from the community as the community felt that educating their children in English would make them Christaan (Christian). Despite all the adversities Sir Syed showed his character and stood his ground and worked till his death to achieve his purpose. He was lucky in a sense that he got the support of many intellectuals of his times. Similarly many in the landed aristocracy wholeheartedly supported him. Among the intellectual giants who supported Sir Syed in his endeavour are Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali, Allama Shibli Nomani, Nawab Muhsinul Mulk etc. Personally Sir Syed did everything to raise funds for his College. He begged, danced on stage, played lottery, sang on stage and what not. In his last message Sir Syed said that “

To achieve his goal of uplifting the Muslim community, he started Madrasatul Uloom Musalmanan-e-Hind at Aligarh. The Madrasa opened its doors to students on 24 May 1875 to coincide with the 56th birthday of Queen Victoria. Two years down the line it became Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh on 8 January 1887. The inaugural function of the establishment of the College was presided by the the then Viceroy and Governor General of India, Lord Lytton, in the presence of Sir Syed and other dignitaries. Lord Lytton laid the foundation stone of the college. The address presented by Sir Syed to the Lord Lytton said that “from the seed we sow today, there may spring a mighty tree, whose branches like those of banyan of the soil, shall in their turn strike firm roots into the earth, and themselves send forth new and vigorous sapling: that this college may expand in a University whose sons shall go forth throughout the length and breadth of the land to preach the gospel of free enquiry, of large hearted toleration and of pure morality

Later when Lord Ripon, the Viceroy, visited Aligarh in 1884, Sir Syed said: “Some day when our endowments are sufficient, we would request the Government to confer upon us the legal status of an independent University.” In July 1906, Badruddin Tyabji said in an address to the Aligarh College Association in England: “If, as I hope, Aligarh develops into a university it will become the centre of attraction of education for all Mohammedans, not only from the various Mohammedan schools and colleges of India, but also, it may be, from all other parts of the Mohammedan world“. The college later became University on 9 September 1920 through a bill passed in the Imperial Legislative Assembly.

Today Aligarh Muslim University is one of the Central University of the Republic of India and has been consistently ranked amongst the India’s best Universities. The University is spread over 467.6 hectares (1155 acres) in the city of Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh. Presently the University offers more than 300 courses in the traditional and modern branches of education. The University has about 28000 students, more than 1300 teaching staff and about 5600 non teaching staff on its rolls. The University boasts of 12 faculties comprising of 98 teaching departments. Besides there are 3 academies and 15 centers and institutions in the University. However, the heart and the soul of the University is its residential character. Most of the staff and students reside inside the campus. There are 19 halls of residence for students with 80 hostels. Besides the University runs one primary school and seven high schools including one for the visually challenged and two senior secondary schools, one each for boys and girls.

There are ample opportunities for sports and cultural activities on campus thus providing for all round development of students. The University maintains Willingdon Cricket Ground for Cricket, Meston Swimming pool for swimming, Gymkhana, Hockey field with asto turf besides several football grounds, skating rink, basketball, volleyball and Lawn Tennis facilities. The University also has a hiking and mountaineering club. However, the University Riding Club is its crowning glory. It is more than 100 years old riding club with excellent horses and coaching facilities. Riding Club has its own riding ground for practice. Yours truly is a former member of the riding club having earned my horsemanship certificate from Janab Hamid Ansari Sahib during his tenure as Vice Chancellor of the University. For Cultural activities there is General Education Centre which boasts of Kennedy Auditorium. The activities in General Education Centre are organised through Drama Club, Music Club (Hindustani and Western Music), Literary Club and Film Club.

The University also runs three off campus in the districts of Malappuram (Kerala), Murshidabad (Bengal) and Kishanganj (Bihar). These campuses offer MBA and integrated B.A.L.L.B. courses.

Its alumni are spread all over the length and breadth of the globe as envisaged by the sage himself. The alumni of the University have established schools, colleges and universities all over the globe and have advanced the cause of education. However, there is still lot to be done particularly in India. Various reports make it clear that Muslims in India lack behind other communities in education. The situation is even worst when it comes to higher education. It is time for Muslims of India to take initiative and invest all their time, energy and money in raising their educational standards. It is time for them to rededicate themselves to learning and contribute even more to the progress and prosperity of India and humanity at large.

Kirti Chacha

On 13 September 2020 I received a WhatsApp message “Mohsin Kirti Uncle nahin Rahe. Madhu Chachi” (Mohsin, Kirti Uncle is no more. Madhu Chachi). It was from Madhu Chachi, wife of Kirti Chacha. Yes I called him Chacha. Soon after my mother called from Aligarh telling me that “Kirti ka Inteqal ho gaya. Chachi se baat karlena” (Kirti has passed away. Don’t forget to talk to Chachi). The news came as a shock. My family has a long association with the family of Kirti Chacha. So many of our memories are associated with Kirti Chacha and Madhu Chachi.

Professor Kirti Kumar Trivedi retired from Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi. Before moving to Delhi, he was associated with Department of History at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). His wife, Madhu Trivedi, is an alumnus of Department of History at AMU. She did her Ph.D in history from AMU. She retired from Department of History, School of Open Learning, University of Delhi. It was at Aligarh that the friendship between my father and Kirti Chacha developed. Abbu called him Kirti while Kirti Chacha always called him Zilli Sahib.

It was year 2006 and I was moving to Muscat to join my new job at the Ministry of Manpower, Sultanate of Oman. My flight was from Indra Gandhi International Airport (popularly known as IGI), Delhi. The flight was early morning so it was decided to go to Delhi one day before so as to avoid travelling at night from Aligarh to Delhi. The importance of Kirti Chacha and family for us can be gauged from the fact that while many members of our family live in Delhi but we all decided to go Kirti Chacha’s place to spend the night. We reached Kirti Chacha’s house at evening. After dinner, all of us went to bed except Kirti Chacha, Madhu Chachi and Abbu (I call my father Abbu). All three just talked and talked whole night without sleeping or taking rest even for a minute. Chachi ensured that the supply of tea was maintained at regular intervals. Chacha used to smoke at that time. He just smoked and had innumerable cups of tea and all three old friends talked like there is no tomorrow. Now when Chacha is not there, all those memories keep coming back.

There is one small incident which Chacha loved to recount quite often. Chacha liked his kebab. Once he came to our house and on the door itself I told him “Chacha aaj kebab nahin baney hain” (Uncle there is no Kebab today). Listening to this he laughed heartily and said “Arrey bhai kabhi kabhi sirf milney bhi ajatey hain” (Sometimes I come just to meet). When I met him few years back in Aligarh he reminded me of that incident and laughed a lot.

One of my childhood memories is going to Delhi to see off my uncle, Professor Ashfaq Ahmad Zilli, who was going to Iraq. His flight was from Palam Airport, now called IGI. He was working as Professor at University of Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdistan region of Iraq for some time. That was his last visit to Iraq as he soon came back to India due to Iran-Iraq war. Sulaymaniyah was at border between Iran and Iraq and bore the brunt of war. At that time there was no security protocol at the Airport and relatives of people flying out could go almost up to the Aircraft and could see the passengers boarding the plane. That was first time I saw Aeroplane from close quarters. That was also first time I saw automatic door and had quite fun running in and seeing the door open on its own. It was almost like magic. We stayed at Kirti Chacha’s house in JNU. JNU campus is near Palam Airport. When planes land at the Airport they pass over JNU at very low altitude. Those who live there are habitual but for us coming from quite campus of AMU, we kept waking up at night to the roaring noise of landing Aircrafts . In the day time, as a small child along with Kirti Chacha’s elder son Koshu, I found it quite fascinating to see Aircrafts about to land. In Aligarh I was used to seeing Aircraft almost like a toy up above the sky. Here they seemed so big as they were very near to the ground just before landing. I think I spent a lot of time watching with awe the landing planes. Next day Kirti Chacha, Abbu and me went for a short tour of Delhi. It was then that I first saw Jama Masjid and was fascinated by its sheer size. I remember while my father prayed at the Jama Masjid, me and Kirti Chacha sat and waited in the courtyard of the grand mosque. Next day we visited Mehrauli. Climbing Qutub Minar was so much fun and daunting as well. Visitors were allowed upto first level. Later it was closed due to some incident. If I remember I counted 181 or 183 stairs leading to the first stage. Besides Qutub Minar and Ashok ki Laath I dont remember any other details of Mehrauli visit.

Whenever, Kirti Chacha or Madhu Chachi visited Aligarh, a visit to our house was a must. Abbu also tried to meet them whenever possible while visiting Delhi. For last several years during my annual visits to India, I planned to visit Delhi just to meet Kirti Chacha and Madhu Chachi but due to paucity of time I could not. Last time I talked on phone although Kirti Chacha could not talk much. It was only through Madhu Chachi that I talked to him. Of late he developed throat cancer and after surgery it was difficult for him to talk. Now when he is no more, I wish I had somehow found time and visited him.

There are so many things which I want to share about Kirti Chacha. I leave them for some other day. Dear Kirti Chacha, you were an important part of my life. You will forever live in my memories.

The Complete Family

Children are among Allah’s biggest gifts and one of the biggest joys of life. Even Prophets have prayed for this gift. Our society also puts a lot of importance on having children. However, it does not mean that those who don’t have kids are inferior or incomplete in any way or are being punished by the creator. Allah decides in His infinite wisdom whom to give kids and when.

Though kids are a gift, both having a kid and not having a kid is a test from the creator. This month our family welcomed a new member. Our son was born earlier this month. I have a 11 year old daughter. There were lots of congratulatory calls and messages from family and friends. There were many who enthusiastically mentioned that my family is now complete alluding to the fact that now I have a daughter and a son. I have always been intrigued by this logic. Does it mean that those who have only son/s or those who have only daughter/s dont have complete family. Or those who dont have children are incomplete in any way. I believe that every family is complete. Those couples who dont have children for whatever reason are complete family. Similarly those who have only son or daughter also have complete family.

I myself am only child of my parents. I never felt that there was anything missing or that I belong to an incomplete family. One of the most favored women in the eyes of Allah is Hazrat Asiya (May peace be upon her), the wife of Pharoh. Hazrat Asiya (May peace be upon her) had no kids. This did not lower her status. Rather she has been elevated by Allah and has been cited as an example for believing men and women for all times to come. Similarly, those who have only daughters or son are a complete family. Two examples would suffice. Hazrat Maryam (Virgin Marry), Peace be upon her, had only son, Hazrat Issa (Jesus), Peace be upon him. She had no daughter. But who can compete with her when it comes to favours of Allah.

Similarly by this logic the family of our beloved Prophet was also not complete as he had only daughters. This logic is false. By telling those who have both son and daughter we indirectly tell those who dont have kids of both gender that their families are not complete. I have seen people suffering and going through lot of pain because of this. Let us stop this weird logic. Every family is complete irrespective whether they have kids or not and irrespective of whether they have both son and daughter or not. My family was complete when I had no child. My family was complete when I had only a daughter. My family is complete when I have both a daughter and a son.

For those who dont have kids or have kids of only one gender, I would say that dont allow others to belittle you. Allah decides in His infinite Wisdom whom to give and how much to give. Accept the Will and Decree of Allah and you will find peace.

“To Allāh belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female (offspring) upon whom He wills, and bestows male (offspring) upon whom He wills. Or He bestows both males and females, and He renders barren whom He wills. Verily, He is the All-Knower and is Able to do all things [Surah Ash-Shura, 42:49-50]

For those who tell others or question others about their having kids or not having kids, please dont make it difficult for others. If you cannot make others life easy, you dont have any right to make it difficult. Those who have kids must always thank the Almighty and remember that kids are not only a gift but also a big test from Allah.

“O you who have believed, let not your wealth and your children divert you from remembrance of Allah” (Al-Munafiqun 63:9)

Let us be thankful for whatever we have and let us be better human beings. Let us make life easy for others. Let us make a better world.

Book Introduction – Lucknow Boy: A Memoir (Vinod Mehta)

Just finished reading the autobiography – Lucknow Boy: A Memoir, of veteran Journalist Late Vinod Mehta. Vinod Mehta (31 May 1942 – 8 March 2015) was an Indian Journalist and Editor of several Indian newspapers as well as a fine political commentator. Vinod was from a refugee family from Peshawar who grew up in Lucknow. His memoir is divided into six chapters. There are times when Vinod gets too much candid about his and others personal life. Besides that, this autobiography is veritable source of so much about Indian Print Journalism, Journalists, Socialites, Cricketer and last but not least Politics and Politicians.

First Chapter: Hometown

First Chapter of the book is entitled “Hometown”. The chapter gives family details of Vinod. His father was a native of Peshawar. His father short service commission in the Army during World War II. In 1946 his father was transferred to Lucknow. At the time of partition, the family was in Lucknow. Studying at La Martiniere, Lucknow, he has described himself as below average student who would somehow pass and move to next class. In his own words “At school I was a hopeless pupil. Whether this was due to my stupidity or my casual approach, I cannot be sure. I had at that time only one goal: to somehow pass every year. If I failed I’d get a rocket from my parents. They did not seem particularly worried by the low grades I got. They were just relieved to see me move up the ladder one step at a time. The accumulation of knowledge, information, enlightenment, expertise – these attainments did not seem to me to be important or useful”.

He has talked about the hand to mouth survival of the family also “The Mehtas were a bicycle, rickshaw and tonga family. I never got brand new clothes and all my winter wear was hand-me-downs from my grandfather or elder brother. Shorts, generally white, and shirts were the only original items I received. My grandfather’s elegant and stylish suits went first to my father, then to my elder brother, and by the time they came to me they were in pretty bad shape”.

In this chapter, Vinod fondly talks about his school buddies Saeedan Naqvi (well-known Indian journalist Saeed Naqvi), Azad (Buniya) Khan and Ashok Kwatra. There are great details of Ganjing. Ganjing in Lucknow means fooling around in Hazratganj. Hazratganj is Lucknow’s high street famous for Kwality and Royal Café besides other high-end shops. Even today Ganjing is a favourite pastime of young boys and girls in Lucknow. This chapter contains lots of interesting facts as well as stories of people from the Lucknow of 1950’s. Two characters stand out: Safdar and Gianibhai.

According to Vinod “In the Lucknow of the 60’s, we asked some fundamental questions with respect to an individual. Was he a bore or was he funny? Could he spin a decent yarn and keep us entertained? Did he know one or two girls? Could we get a good meal at his house? Was he prepared to make the odd (minor) sacrifice for his mates? Could he be trusted? A human being’s worth was measured by the aforementioned prerequisites rather his father’s name or how and where he prayed, or where he came from”.

Safdar fitted the bill perfectly. He had talent to amuse which was considered vital for anybody in Lucknow. There is a story where a Doctor who used to drive his car very carefully and slowly offered a ride to which Safdar replied “No thank you, I am in a hurry”.

Gianibhai was a tall gentle Sikh who quoted Ghalib frequently and sold open air tandoori food. After partition lots of Sikhs came from Pakistan and settled in Lucknow. The language of the refugees was in stark contrast to the stylized and refined language used in the Lucknow of 1950’s and 60’s. That was too much for Ghalib quoting Gianibhai who lamented that “Saale Sardaron ne Lucknow ko tabah kar diya”. The irony is self-evident and immensely poignant.

For Mehta secularism was a lived reality. He describes himself as “I breathed the secularism they talk of, the composite culture flows in my veins, the syncretic tradition is something, I observed daily as I rode my bicycle from Firangi Mahal to Sanyal Club. I didn’t pick secularism from books or at university or from protest demos. For me it was a lived reality”.

Second Chapter: Passage to England

It was at the insistence of his friend Azad who was in England and encouraged him to come to England. Apparently it the lure of the swinging London which prompted him to finally make up his mind to go to England. Mehta went to England hoping that Azad will look after him. However, he got the shock of his life. Azad fixed a job for him where he had to pick up a load of heavy rods and cut them to size on a machine. It was pure physical work. While describing his first job, Mehta describes as to how he went to his job wearing a suit on first day without realizing that it is going to be a physical work. He describes is disappointment with Azad.

Mehta went on to live in England for eight years before returning to India. The rest of the chapter is about his years in England. There are fairly detailed accounts of how Mehta had several affairs and even a daughter from one of the affairs, a daughter whom he never met and does not know, and this is the only thing in life about which Mehta shows some sadness. The second chapter also details as to how his prowess in table tennis came in handy. He became part of Thames Valley Table Tennis League. This allowed him to not only earn precious money but also allowed him to travel to various parts of the country to play tournaments. An additional bonus was tea and sandwiched which were served after the match. He reports that Kingston won the Thames Valley League for two years in a row.

Third Chapter: Bombay Masala

Third chapter contains the phase of Mehta’s life after return from London. This chapter is all about Vinod Mehta the Editor of Newspaper after Newspaper. However, it does carry a few details of his stay in Bombay. For example, as to how he posed as boyfriend of a prostitute for her sister’s marriage and got paid 200 rupees by the prostitute. The chapter also details about his first book “Bombay – A Private View” and how it sold like hot cake. After the publication of first book he got assignment to write a biography of Meena Kumar who had recently passed away. The chapter also details about how he got his first chance to edit a magazine – Debonair. This chapter also gives us snippets about of Ruskin Bond, Khushwant Singh, Kuldeep Nayyar, Abu Abraham, Iqbal Masood, Anil Dharkar, Girilal Jain, Rafiq Zakaria, Saeed Mirza, Arun Shourie, Satyajit Ray, Ramnath Goenka, Kabir Bedi to name a few. The chapter also gives details about how he ended up writing another biography – this time on Sanjay Gandhi. The biography named ‘The Sanjay Story’ was written without a single meeting with Sanjay Gandhi. The chapter also throughs light on how much Nehru detested Feroze Gandhi. The reason given by Mehta for leaving Debonair is quite interesting. According to Mehta he decided to leave Debonair after Atal Bihari Vajpayee told him that ‘Your magazine is very good, but I have to keep it under the pillow’.

The chapter also gives interesting details as to how he launched Sunday Observer and the scoop about Girilal Jain getting gift of 3000 F-Series debentures of Reliance from Dhirubhai Ambani. There are details of Vijaypat Singhania and the re launch of Indian Post. The details of Mehta leaving Indian Post is interesting read. It was Ramakrishna Hedge who told him about the plan of Vijaypat Singhania to sell the paper. Hedge claimed that Vijaypat gave this information to Vajpayee on a flight and that’s how information passed to Mehta. According to Mehta it was pressure from Satish Sharma and R. K. Dhawan that forced Vijaypat to take the drastic decision. The next job was to launch a new newspaper – Independent. The story about the launch of Independent is quite interesting giving details of inside tussles in the Times of India group. However, he could not continue in the new job for long. It was a piece on CIA having a mole in Indira Cabinet that got Mehta undone. Independent reported that CIA payed $20000 hinted at a mole in Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet selling secrets to CIA. The suspected mole was Morarji Desai. The Independent based on its own sources wrote that it was Y. B. Chawan. However, the political uproar resulted in his resignation within one month of starting the newspaper. Independent had to publish another story saying that they made a mistake by taking the name of Y. B. Chawan.  To resign from two newspapers within such a short time earned him the title of carelessness. The rest of the chapter gives details about the planning by the Tata Group to set up a trust and start a newspaper and how the plan was dropped at the last minute.

Fourth Chapter: Interesting Times

Chapter four is called “Interesting Times” and carries in great details about Mehta starting Delhi edition of Pioneer. The chapter gives in details the circumstances in which he had to leave Pioneer and the launch of Outlook. When Outlook was launched the Numero Uno of English magazine in the country was India Today. To challenge India Today was madness. But Mehta not only challenged India Today but even forced India Today to change a few things in its design and publication. It was finally at Outlook that Mehta was able to work for long and create a formidable magazine. There are many stories about Outlook. My favourite was how Outlook broke the news of betting in Cricket. It was a big story which shook the world of cricket like never before. There are details of Azharuddin, Kapil Dev, Manoj Prabhakar and Ajay Jadeja. Mehta’s assessment given in the book is that Kapil Dev was indeed involved but he was too big a icon to be cut to size.

The rest of the chapter is about India’s Nuclear Detonation and its repercussions. It talks about Arundhati Roy’s article in Outlook on Nuclear Detonation. I remember buying Outlook only to read that piece. It indeed showed the command which Arundhati has over the English language. The chapter also details as to how Nirmal Verma refused to write review of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s poetry calling it work of a well meaning amateur. There are some interesting details about Brijesh Mishra and Vajpayee and how RSS wanted Brijesh out and how Vajpayee resisted and prevailed. Mehta goes on to talk about income tax raids on Outlook and how Yashwant Sinha promised and stopped harassment of Outlook by Income Tax Department. The story of 2004 general elections and Shashi Tharoor shot at UN highest post are good read. The story of Aishwarya Rai’s marriage with tree is also good read.  However, besides expose of spot fixing the other very interesting read in this chapter is about Niira Radia tapes and its expose by the Outlook. The chapter talks in detail about Niira Radia, A. Raja, Kanimozhi, Ratan Tata. It also gives certain excerpts of telephonic talk between Niira Radia and A. Raja, Kanimozhi, Ratan Tata, Burkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi. This chapter is definitely spiciest one.

Fifth Chapter: Sweeper’s Wisdom

This chapter is full of advice for journalist and deals with topics like “should journalists take freebies?”, “Should a journalist always carry a resignation letter in his pocket?”, ‘What should a journalist to if he is put on page Three beat”, “Should a journalist try and be a rebel?” This chapter is good for would be journalists.

Sixth Chapter: Some People

The sixth chapter which is the last one is entitled “Some People” talks about some important people in Mehta’s personal and professional life. In this chapter he talks about his grandfather and Mohit Sen from personal point of view. There are anecdotes about V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Shobha De and Sonia Gandhi.

The book is written in very candid and irreverent style and is a pleasure to read. The language used is very simple and does not require dictionary to go through it. It is definitely a must read for anybody who aspired to be a journalist. There are lot of things to connect for those who have lived through 80’s, 90’s and the first decade of the 21st Century in India or who are interested in Indian Politics. The book also shed light, though in bits and pieces, on the relationship of Journalists to Businessmen and Politicians.

Publisher: Penguin / Viking

Year of Publication: 2011

Hardbound.

Price: 499 Indian Rupees.

Pages: 325

 

 

Hajj 1441: A Unique Hajj

Hajj is one of the five fundamentals of Islam. It is mandatory on every able Muslims once in lifetime. I was also planning Hajj this year. Alas, it was not to be. InshaAllah some other time. This year’s Hajj is unprecedented in many ways. The menace of corona virus has left nothing untouched. The Hajj 2020 is no exception. There have been years in history when Hajj could not take place due to war, famine or other factors. It seemed that this year also Hajj would be cancelled due to the circumstances. It came as good news that Hajj was not cancelled.

However, it was not Hajj as usual. This is dramatically different Hajj due to the global pandemic. Millions from all over the globe converge in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj every year. Last year 2.5 million performed Hajj. However, this year only 10000 people were allowed to perform the five day pilgrimage. These 10000 are the ones who have been chosen through a lottery system. The criteria for selection was giving representation of as many nationalities as possible. People from 160 different nationalities performed Hajj this year. Those from different nationalities selected to perform Hajj this year were from among the foreigners working and residing in Saudi Arabia. Nobody from outside the Kingdom was allowed. The basic criteria for selection was good health. Besides those who were selected were tested for corona virus and were quarantined for one-week prior to Hajj. The pilgrims will undergo a second quarantine after the end of the Hajj. All the pilgrims had to wear mask. One could very well see in live broadcast from Mecca that physical distancing was maintained during Tawaaf, Sayi and Salaat. Kissing or touching the Kaaba or black stone was also not allowed. Even the pebbles used for symbolic stoning of the devil was different this time around. Pilgrims were not allowed to collect pebbles. Pilgrims got special pouches with sanitised stones kept in them.

Hajj is usually a huge media event with press and television channels present from around the world to cover the pilgrimage. But this year the foreign media was not allowed. Usually Hajj costs a lot but this year all the expenses from lodging to food were borne by Saudi Arabian Government. Economically Hajj is estimated to contribute almost $12 billion every year to Saudi coffers. This is lost economic opportunity for the Kingdom. Definitely not the right time for the loss. The Hajj supports a host of economic activities from ticket booking, to hotel, to airlines, to barbers, to gold businesses, to dates businesses, to souvenirs businesses, to restaurant businesses and what not?

It was rightly mentioned in the Hajj Khutba (Sermon) that ‘No matter how difficult circumstances may become in this world, those difficulties do not last forever. Allah’s mercy is always more expansive, and the relief He grants is always near”.

Let us pray that Hajj takes place next year will all its glory and pilgrims from all over the world are able to freely participate in it. Ameen.

For more information and references, please see:

Book Introduction: Lost White Tribes: The End of Privilege and the Last Colonials in Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Brazil, Haiti, Namibia, and Guadeloupe – Riccardo Orizio

We can all become minorities. We are all potentially irrelevant” – Riccardo Orizio.

It was almost 400 years ago that first European Colonialists set foot in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Over next 100 years these places were converted into permanent colonial outposts serving their colonial masters in far off lands. It also meant loss of sovereignty for locals and a life of second-class citizenship for the natives. This process continued till the WWII when one by one these colonial outposts crumbled giving way to independence to the suppressed. At this point the European colonizers were either forced to leave or stayed back because they had no choice. In some cases, they decided to stay back and cling to old system such as in Zimbabwe or even further tighten their hold like in South Africa.

Almost everywhere they have lost the privileges of the past. Today many of them are in neither land. They hang out to their past weaving myth with reality blaming everybody for their fall. Mostly they marry amongst themselves for the purity of race and purity of fair skin. They are torn between the memories and pride of past privileges and the need of the present to accept their fate and integrate with the wider community around them. It is this dilemma of being a member of a fast vanishing post-colonial tribe that Lost White Tribes captures very well. The book covers white Colonizers, Settlers, and Slaves in six different countries.

Sri Lanka: Dutch Burghers of Ceylon

The first chapter takes Orizio to Sri Lanka where he contacted the descendants of the Dutch and Portuguese community. First the Portuguese arrived in Ceylon some 400 hundred years ago due to the possession of world map. a community that arrived in Sri Lanka about 400 years ago with Dutch East India Company, VOC and with Portuguese before that. They are called Burghers.

Ceylon was known all over the world for Nutmeg, Pepper and Cloves. The Portuguese used to trade in these commodities before the Dutch ended their supremacy in the trade in 1602 by forming VOC or Vereenigde Oost-Indische Vompagnie. By 1670 VOC became the richest company that the world had seen by that time. It had 50000 employees and an army of 30000 to safeguard the 200 VOC ships plying in the high seas. For years VOC paid its shareholders annual dividend equal to almost 40 percent of their investment. This supremacy continued for close to 200 years before new colonial power, England, took reigns from them.

At the end of colonialism when Sri Lanka gained independence the most Burghers decided to stay back. However, soon Sinhalese replaced English as the language on radio and government records and the Burghers suddenly started losing out. While they lost their language, they did not learn the Sinhalese, the National language of Sri Lanka. Rather they continued converse in English. Today many of them live in dilapidated mansions which their forefathers built during good days. So many of them survive on small time jobs but they fiercely cling to their proud memories. The burghers were called by the Persian word parangi which means “ugly, disfiguring infection of the skin”. There are many other derogatory terms reserved for them in all the languages spoken in Sri Lanka – English, Sinhalese and Tamil. Despite most of them living a penury and just able to eek out a living for themselves, they are still divided into high class and low class. As the author says that “sometimes the game of insults in played inside the Burgher community, where to define different shades of skin color is essential for denoting social status”.

For me reading the chapter on Burghers settled a few things. Some of the exotic Sri Lankan names always amazed me. Now I know their Dutch origin.

Jamaica: German Slaves

In the second chapter of the book, the author introduces us to Germans in Jamaica. This was most surprising for me. I never thought in my life that Germans were taken as workers from Germany to Jamaica to work on plantations. But here also the common theme is the skin color. Alas how much we are obsessed with skin colour. As somebody points out that Jamaica is “the most ethnically diverse nation in the world. For centuries we’ve been a mixture of white, black, Chinese, Arab. Yet class distinction still persists, and how! All based on the color of your skin….Do you know we have seventeen different definitions for at least twelve different shades of skin, from white white to black black. Each color has its name: Quadroon, Quintroon, Octoroon etcetera. And the destiny of each is predetermined”.

When slavery was abolished in Jamaica, there was a shortage of labour. One Gentleman, Lord Seaford who owned farms established a European settlement by bringing Germans to fill the gap. Today most of Jamaicans with German ancestry do not speak German. However German words have found their way in the language. Similarly, German surnames such as Bunnaman, Gardner, Somers, Wedemeyer etc. have found their usage in Jamaica.

The condition of Germans who first arrived in Jamaica is depicted in a letter published in Germany in 1835 according to which Germans “immediately saw that the firewood was unusable and the water was undrinkable. Over the following weeks we realized that if would be impossible to grow food on these mountains, But we were ordered, nevertheless, to build our huts on that poor, infertile soil. Now we never have enough food to eat. And we continue to suffer”.

However, with passage of time, many traveled further to USA and Canada. Those who were left in Jamaica are today part of the society.

Brazil: Confederates in Deepest Brazil

Third chapter takes the author to Brazil. These days we are hearing news everyday of confederate flags being banned or confederate statues and other confederate signs being brought down all over USA. It all started during American Civil War. In the aftermath of the American Civil War, quite a large number of families in the Southern States decided to move other parts of America. However, there were a number of families which decided to leave America for good. They found the abolition of slavery bothersome. Many Americans from Southern states of Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama migrated further south to Brazil rather than being subject to “damned Yankees”. Brazil was an ideal place. It was prospering under the leadership of Dom Pedro. It had abundance of Cotton, Sugarcane, Coffee and Slaves. Slavery was still legal in Brazil. They sailed from New Orleans to Rio de Janeiro (the river of January). They were welcomed in Brazil. These migrants are called Confederates or Confederados in Portuguese. Confederates mostly settled in Santa Barbara d’Oeste, Americana and Nova Odessa.

Even today in the countryside around Santa Barbara, Confederados still come once a year to celebrate the epopeia norte americana (the epic adventure that bought them from North America). It was reading this chapter that I realised that the word Pao roti or Pao in Urdu comes from Portuguese word Pao which means loaf. One of the most famous mountains in Brazil is Pao de Acucar i.e. Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Haiti: Papa Doc’s Poles

Chapter four deals with the poles who were sent by Napoleon Bonaparte to quell rebellion in Haiti. In 1794 the plantation owners in the French colony refused to accept the decision to abolish slavery in Saint Domingue. On the other hand, black slaves rebelled hoping that France would support them. However, it was too important an asset for France to lose. Half of France’s sea trade was with her colony of Saint-Domingue. Saint-Domingue is what is Haiti now. Many ports in France depended on the cargoes of Coffee, indigo, cocoa, cotton and sugar that came from Saint-Domingue. Because of its riches it was called “Pearl of the Antilles”. France would not let go of this profitable trade so easily. It was to quell this rebellion that soldiers were sent from France by Napoleon Bonaparte which included Poles also. However, as the story goes, the Poles sided with the Haitians. For their help in supporting the locals against colonialists, the Poles were given Haitian Nationality after its Independence. The poles are often referred as Europe’s White Negros. There cannot be any talk of Haiti without Voodoo. This chapter gives numerous examples of how people believe in magic and how voodoo magic has been used by several rulers of Haiti to influence the population.

The author starts his journey from Port-au-Prince in search of Poles in Haiti in August 1996. . His search takes him to Casales. A number of Poles who came to quell rebellion settled in Casales away from the Capital city. On reaching there the found that Haiti’s “Little Lost Poland” is a “village similar to hundreds of others on top of a bare mountain”. There is no road, no electricity, no phone, no running water, no nurse, no cars, no school and no Church. The only Church which was dedicated to St. Michel had fallen by that time. Walls of the houses are made of dried mud or plaited straw while the roofs are made of banana leaves. The author wonders as to “how on earth hundreds of European officers and men with origins in the sophisticated culture of early eighteenth-century Poland were apparently incapable of forming a more advanced rural society”. Still the author found that the villagers were hopeful that one day somebody from Poland would come and help the “Papa Doc’s white negroes”.

It was in 1803 that the French were defeated at the hands of the slaves and many were killed. However, the Poles were sparred. Not only sparred, they were offered citizenship of Haiti. A few requested permissions to go back to Poland which was granted. Overall, the chapter is full of personal details and stories of Poles in Haiti and gives an overview of Polish presence in Haiti.

Namibia: How the Basters Lost the Promised Land

In chapter five, the author takes us to Namibia. The only Namibian names that I knew as child were Sam Nujoma and SWAPO. Beyond this my knowledge of Namibia was next to nothing. Lately when Namibia started playing cricket, names of two cricketers caught my attention. The reason being that they did not sound like typical Namibian names. They are Bernard Scholtz and Nicolaas Scholtz. After reading this chapter, I understand that are German Namibians.

The name Baster is derived from the Dutch word Baster which means Bastard. However, it is taken as a badge of honour by basters and not as a shame. The name was given to highlight the crossbreeding between white Male Europeans and Black Female form South Africa. Basters migrated from South Africa and speak Afrikaans.

The author goes to Rehoboth, the main Baster settlement in Namibia. Rehoboth means “street” in Hebrew. The chapter is full of details of how Germans settled in Rehoboth. Baster’s in Rehoboth established their own governance system with the chief being called Kaptein as early as 1870’s before the Germans came in and established their colonial rule over Namibia in 1885. The German government even entered into an agreement with the Baster’s. The rest of the details are about how the Basters moved from the South Africa and how they established Rehoboth. There are fairly detailed accounts of the various fights that took place and the important tribes such as Herero and Hottentots and accounts of important players such as Abraham Swartbooi and Hermanus Van Wyk, I don’t know why but reading about Basters reminded me of Anglo Indians.

Guadeloupe: Blancs Matignon, the Sugarcane Dukes

In the last chapter, chapter six, the author takes us to the Caribbeans. The Blancs Matignon are descendants of settlers in the Grands Fonds, Guadeloupe. It is difficult for anybody to tell accurately as to why their ancestors came from France. As one of the Matignon says “I know they were escaping from something or someone, but no more than that”. With the passage of time, the Blancs Matignon have moved upwards in the mountains cutting off contact with the rest of the world. In order to maintain their supposedly high society blood purity, they have even resorted to incestuous relationships which puts them at odds with the wider society. The stigma also results in discrimination against them. Orizio finds a group of people who live the past and are presently poor. A group of people who have strict codes of marriage and anybody who dares to marry outside is out caste and may lose all rights to inheritance. They live in their own make-believe world and talk of Aristocracy and high class and do not marry even other whites on the island believing them to be lesser in class. Still Orizio is able to find examples of shackles being broken and slowly but surely change coming their way as the story of Emile clearly shows. It is also true that Matignon’s face discrimination from the wider society as Emile conforms the discrimination he faced as a child.

In the past they used to grow sugarcane but with passage of time land holdings have become small due to inheritance being divided into children and thus the poverty. They are among the poorest on the island but cling to their make-believe world of Aristocratic fantasy. The reality is entirely different. According to Orizio “they create nothing, they possess nothing, not even the colour of their skin. They are happy waking up every morning in the knowledge that they are still children of the high plateau”.

Conclusion:

This is one of the better books that I have read in a while. The narration keeps the reader engaged. It is part anthropology, part history, part travelogue, part sociology all in one. There are places where the explanation is bit prolonged but that often happens in well researched books. Except for the Burghers of Sri Lanka, I found it difficult to agree with the title of the book. The rest of the tribes described do not fit the typical framework of Colonials. Overall a well-researched and well written book. After reading the book one realizes how little we know about this world.

Hardcover: 270 pages

Publisher: The Free Press / Simon & Schuster, First Edition 2001. ISBN 0-7432-1197-9.

Language: English. (Translated by Avril Bardoni).

From Hagia Sophia to Aya Sofya Cami

Just read the news that Hagia Sophia Museum has been reconverted into a Mosque through a Presidential order in Turkey. Hagia Sofia or “Holy Wisdom” is also known as Ayasofya Cami or Aya Sofya Mosque in Turkish. It is one of the most prominent cultural and religious landmarks in Istanbul or perhaps whole of Turkey. My mind raced back to 9 August 2019 when I along with my family visited this historic building along with my guide Serkan. We were part of small group which had only two families, mine, and a British couple. The British couple were with us during the first half of the tour which included visit to Ayup Sultan Turbesi, Pierre Loti, Spice Bazaar and Cruise on Bosphorus Strait. In the second half was included the Blue Mosque, Hippodrome and Aya Sofya. However, the British couple had already been to Aya Sofya earlier, so they decided to give it a skip effectively making my tour a private one. We had a very knowledgeable guide entirely for us. The queue outside Aya Sofya was serpentine but one of the privileges of having a guide in Turkey is that you jump queue, hence we were inside within 2 minutes.

It is one of the oldest standing religious structure in the world. It was the pride of Nova Roma or Constantinople and was a church for whole of Christianity for almost half a millennia before the divide between Eastern Orthodox Church and Catholic Church. It was founded in 537 which makes it almost 1000 years older to St. Peters Basilica in Vatican.  It was built in 537 during the reign of Emperor Justinian I. For centuries it was the largest dome in the world and the largest interior space in the world. It is justifiably considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. It is said that on the completion of the Hagia Sophia when Justinian visited the Hagia Sophia for the first time he exclaimed with pride that “Solomon, I have outdone thee”.

Hagia Sophia was constructed first as a Church in 360 A.D by the Roman Empire. It was burned and reburned several times during uprisings. The present structure was constructed by the Byzantines in the 6th century on the orders of Emperor Justinian I. Over the years it was destroyed several times due to earthquakes and by Crusaders and was rebuilt several times. The structure is witness to the changes in history and its fortunes have also changed with the changes in power structure. It was a Byzantine Christian Church from 537 to 1054. From 1054 to 1204 it was Greek Orthodox Church. In 1204, it was converted into a Roman Church. In 1261 it was reconverted into Greek Orthodox Church and remained so till 1453 when it was converted into an Imperial Mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottomans who also renamed the city from Constantinople to Istanbul. It was given the name of Ayasofya Cami (Mosque of Ayasofya) by the Ottomans and minarates were added to it. It remained a Mosque from 1453 to 1935 when it was converted into a Museum during the time of Mustafa Kamal Ataturk. It has been converted back into a Mosque on 10 July 2020. Today it is also a final resting place for 5 Ottoman Sultans and their families.

After its conversion back to Mosque the entrance fees has been cancelled. It will still be open to all faiths. According to Erdogan “Like all our Mosques, its door will be open to everyone, Muslims or non-Muslims. As the world’s common heritage, Hagia Sophia with its new status will keep on embracing everyone in a more sincere way”. The first prayers in the Ayasofya Cami will be Friday prayers on 24th July 2020. It would not be out of place to remember that it was 24th July 1923 when the treaty in Switzerland’s city of  Lausanne ended the hostilities between the Allies and the Turkish state.

However, the debate continues whether this is a right decision or not from religious point of view and whether this was the right time for this decision? Those who know their history and have sense of today’s geo-politics can only be amused at the assertion of those who believe that the next step is the establishment of Ottoman Caliphate.

For references and more details, please see: