By Firoz Bakht Ahmed
Tears welled up my eyes, when I was told by my friend, Mohammed Wajihuddin, an eminent columnist, that not a single wreath or even a flower, was laid at the grave of Prof Mushirul Hasan by Jamia Millia Islamia, the institution that the renowned historian and the educationist had nursed as his offspring.
It is shocking to note that Jamia failed to give him the little due at his last resting place – something absolutely unbearable, said, Wajihuddin. Mushir had given the prime of his life to Jamia.
Prof Azra Razzack, who had worked under Mushir in the K.R. Narayanan Center of Dalit Studies and Minorities at Jamia Millia Islamia too felt that the Indian populace didn’t give Mushir his due.
Mushir was an institution in his own self. Having read almost all his books, Razzack said that the one which has stamped its mark on readers of history is that on Jamia Millia Islamia’s contribution in India’s freedom movement “Partners in Freedom: Jamia Millia Islamia”. A thoroughly researched book, it highlights the history of forbearance, companionship and insight within the parameters the historic Jamia Millia Islamia.
It demonstrates how personages lived for and worked towards the attainment of high morals and principles. Razzack thinks a Chair or a building in the name of Mushirul Hasan must be considered by Jamia, where he spent the prime of his life.
Having seen Mushir at close quarters for a number of years, I can state that he was a man of many lives and colours. I had known him for almost three decades. Right from my student days, I was a connoisseur of Mushirul Hasan’s books and lectures since I studied at Delhi University in the 1980s.
Not only was he a man of letters, he lived by each and every word he had written. Being a soft-spoken person, he was known never to hurt even the worst of his critics – a rare quality that Maulana Azad also possessed. Mushir might not live before us in flesh and bbody but the tremendous legacy of historicity he has left for posterity will stamp him as an immortal in the genre of writing books loaded not only with knowledge but most importantly – values and vision.
While manning Jamia Millia Islamia as its Vice Chancellor, Mushir left no stone unturned and brought it on par with the other illustrious institutions like Delhi University, BHU and Calcutta University. During his time, he turned it into a state-of- the-art university besides giving it a designer look.
He had also served as the Director General of the National Archives of India and the President of the Indian History Congress. Wherever he worked, he gave it a touch of finesse and perfection – his hallmark.
Remembering his book, “In Search of Integration and Identity – Indian Muslims since Independence”, M. Atyab Siddiqui, a Muslim thinker and Mushir’s legal advisor for a number of years, stated that he was the architect of the modern Jamia. His legacy of liberal thought and perception for the underprivileged sections of society should be carried forward. It was because of Mushir that in the comity of universities, Jamia carved its niche.
However, Siddiqui was piqued: “Mushir’s mission was to educate the beleaguered Muslim masses in the best manner possible. But it saddens me when today, I note that Jamia is in a pathetic state and requires a visionary like Mushirul Hasan to make it regain its pristine glory.”
The most noteworthy trait of Mushir’s writings was his secular credentials along with his habit of calling a spade a spade. Though the world over, he carved a niche for his books on the vivisection of India. However, his most readable book is on the Nehrus, titled, “The Nehrus – Personal Histories” – his last one.
In it, he has unquestioningly laid out the best of his feelings on Jawaharlal, Indira and Rajiv. Some of the passsages are very touching. Perhaps this seems to be a sequel of “When Stone Walls Cry: The Nehrus in Prison”. As he had a very special place for the Nehrus, he presented them as having a great capacity to gauge the pulse of the times.
Being a suave man of a few words, his magnificence was that each word he uttered had its own music and meaning that the audiences thoroughly acknowledged. Besides, wit and humour were his hallmark.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Mushir was the son of two universities — Aligarh Muslim University (where he had studied) and Jamia Millia Islamia, that he nursed like his own child. By penning, “Aligarh’s Notre eminent contemporain-Assessing Syed Ahmad Khan’s Reformist Agenda”, Mushir paid his homage to his alma mater.
Mushir was a sensible historian. Once when he was hounded by some zealous elements for having stated that Jamia’s students were giving undue publicity to Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”, a sub-standard book, by burning it, he was attacked as he was mistaken by the motivated students. Later, he was able to impress upon them and the same people who went for his jugular became his flowers. That was Mushir’s aura and benchmark.
Today, there’s no one to match Mushir when it comes to the understanding of Islam, Muslims and Partition of India. He had told my father, Nooruddin, that the concept of a book on the 1947 Partition came to his mind when he had heard Maulana Azad state that water cannot be cut in twain egging Muslims not to vie for the so called El Dorado (Pakistan). His mammoth work, “Memories of a Fragmented Nation: Rewriting the Histories of India’s Partition” remains unmatched on the topic throughout the world.
We must continue Mushir’s vision and education for a better India.
(Firoz Bakht Ahmed is the Chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University and the grandnephew of Bharat Ratna Maulana Azad. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)