Is Sir Syed’s built legacy decaying?
Az Naksh wa nigaar e dar wa deewar shikasta
Asaar e padeed ast sanadeed e ajam ra[i]
The marks and engravings on the ruined walls and gates
(They are) the remnant signs of Persia’s ancient monuments
For the past four years I have been engrossed in translating the two edition’s of Sir Syed’s book on Delhi: Asar us Sanadeed. In pursuance of that I visited each and every monument that he has listed in both. Though he talks only of 130 monuments in the second book, in the first there is a detailed description of almost every building present in Shajahanabad in 1847.
In that he described the haveli of his maternal grandfather Nawab Dabir-ud Daulah Marhoom ki haveli as:
Towards Faiz Bazaar is the haveli of Nawab Dabir-ud-Daulah Amin-ul-Mulk Khwaja Farid-ud-din Ahmed Khan Bahadur Masleh Jung. This haveli used to belong to Nawab Mehdi Quli Khan and was bought by him after his death.
Sir Syed’s mother, Aziz-un Nisa was the eldest daughter of Khwaja Farid. Khwaja Farid’s family originally from Iran had migrated to Delhi two generations earlier.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s grandfather was Mughal aristocracy and was given the title of Jawwad-ud-daula as well as a mansab of 1000 infantry and 500 cavalry in the reign of Alamgir II.
Syed Ahmed Khan inherited this title at the age of 19 after his father, Syed Mohammad Muttaqi Khan Bahadur who held the mansab and title before him, passed away.
Sayyid Muttaqî was a mystically inclined man with an uncertain income as the Mughal Empire was on the decline and his pension would be irregular and at times less than the assured amount. He had been offered the post of wazir by the Mughal emperor but he had declined as he wanted the freedom to pursue his inclinations and hobbies. He was an expert teerandaz and swimmer.
His ancestral mansion was near Jama Masjid and had suffered in the various attacks on Shahjahanabad in the 18th century. At the time of his marriage to Aziz-un Nisa it was unfit for living in and perhaps he lacked the resources to repair it.
Prof Iftikhar Alam Khan in his book Sir Syed: Daroon e Khana refutes the common perception that Saiyyad Muttaqi moved in with his father in law and writes that after his marriage to Aziz un Nisa, he moved in to a new house built for his wife in the precincts of his father in law Khwaja Farid’s palatial mansion, known as Haveli Mehdi Quli Khan. The two havelis were separated by a road.
Sir Syed was born here on 17th Oct 1817.
A typical mansion in 17th c as reconstructed by Stephen Blake would look like:
These mansions were often quite large and could cover an entire block. A high thick wall of stone and in some cases a moat surrounded the haveli. A lofty naqqarkhana housed the daily guard, drummers and trumpeters and other household musicians. A large forecourt surrounded by a row of rooms under an arcade immediately inside. Here were places for the soldiers and servants of the household and for the horses, elephants and attendants attendants of visitors.
To the right and left of the gateway, along the wall fronting the street, were the courtyards that held the men and goods of the great man’s establishment. Here were stables for horse, elephants and camels;apartments for servants, clerks, artisans, poets, physicians, laborers, religious specialists, record officers, treasuries, bakeries , kitchens and workshops for clothing,carpets, goldwork and fine embroidery.
Opposite the forecourt was the gate of the living quarters pf the prince/ amir and his family. The area was divided into two parts : the mahal sara set amidst flowers, gardens, trees, pools and fountains was the private living area. There would be a beautifully decorated shish mahal with Persian carpets and brocade curtains.
The public area of diwan khana was separated by a high wall and here the amir met guests. It would have bright and fine carpets, flowers etc
Near the Diwankhana would be a library
All apartments would be beautifully decorated.
Of course this was during the reign of Shah Jahan and possibly Aurangzeb. Khwaja Farid was appointed the Wazir by Akbar Shah II and the Mughal empire had declined and was living on fumes of its former glory. But he bought his haveli form the famous architect Nawab Mehdi Quli Khan and it must have had some of the features described above.
Prof Iftikhar Alam Khan describes the haveli as having a mardana and a zanana quarter, a jalaukhana or forecourt, stables and apartments for the employees.
Anyway as part of my research I went to Faiz Bazar that is now Daryaganj and into the road named after him, Sir Syed road in Faiz bazar to find his haveli. I had already received many emails from Aligarians living abroad about the pathetic condition of his haveli. SO I was more or less prepared but even then it came as a shock.
The Faiz bazar area was once the pride of the Mughal Empire and that is why Nawab Dabir-ud daulah had his haveli there. It is now as in fact is most of Shahjahanabad little better than a slum with hanging wires and encroachment and dirt.
The entrance to this haveli, which must once have been a grand gateway, is now half encroached by a shop selling bags. The half that was approachable was whitewashed and one could see the lakhori bricks and the grime of ages. If there were any naksh o nigar here earlier they had faded away with time. The entrance was occupied by a number of goats and I had to jump over them to cross over to what must have once been a deorhi. Today it has a couple of doors.
Where was the naqqarkhana? Were the goats today’s musicians?
An open door showed an angan and some arched doorways. The present owner of the house was gracious enough to call us in and offer us tea but he denied that it belonged to Dabiruddaulah or Sir Syed. He himself had bought it from a Jameela Khwaja after partition.
The portion of the haveli, which was on the street, has long been demolished. All one can see after this darwaza are rows of very ugly flats and then another grand darwaza.
This time around the darwaza was not encroached but it had a fruit stall in front of it. When we entered we found similar scenes of encroachment and crumbling heritage.
Hafiz Javed who lives in this part of the house also denied that this was Sir Syed’s haveli and said it was restricted to the part we had entered earlier.
After this darwaza there is a Khadija hospital and then a cut in the lane. Locals tell me that this haveli probably existed all the way till this hospital.
Since everyone denied that this was Sir Syed’s haveli I came back to my trusted source: Waqeat e Darul Hukumat Dehli by Basheeruddin Ahmed written in 1919.
Basheeruddin Ahmed in fact writes about the haveli here as being two. One he identifies as belonging to Sir Syed, which at that point belongs to his grandson Ross Mahmood. They are however one as the house was later inherited by Aziz-un Nisa, who was Sir Syed’s mother.
Basheeruddin Ahmed identifies the house near Auliya Masjid that is near the Phool Ki Mandi. In turn he identifies Phool ki Mandi as near Tiraha Bairam Khan. This is a point where three roads go off in three different directions from an ancient Peepal Tree. [This tree still stands and there are still some flower sellers who have put up their small stalls on its roots].
The first road from here goes to jama Masjid and then Dilli Darwaza, the second goes to Faiz bazar on the left and the third ones goes on to the Phool ki Mandi.
His house is near Auliya Masjid near Tiraha Bairam Khan, which was inherited by his grandson Ross Mahmood.
This is exactly where we were standing.
Basheeruddin Ahmed goes on to write that:
Near the Auliya Masjid is the house of his maternal grandfather Nawab Dabir-ud-daula. He was a very important and wealthy nobleman. He had gone to the Shah of Iran’s court as the ambassador of East India Company. He was appointed the Prime Minister of Akbar Shah II. He was killed during a riot in Bombay.
Tiraha Bairam Khan
Now contrast this to the house that Sir Syed stayed in for seven months in London.
Goodenough House in London bears a plate with English heritage on top of it saying that:
“Sir Syed stayed at Goodenough House in London for 7 months during his trip to England (1869).
While researching I came upon many articles which describe the efforts and meetings of AMU alumni and officers with Delhi government officials to convert the haveli into a museum after Sir Syed’s home. We have sadly failed and seeing the number of pigeon hole flats, shops, people living here I though I don’t hold out much hope of anything happening in the future either, I appeal to Aligarians all around the world to pause and reflect; to see what they can do to set up a library or coaching centre in his name on this spot.
This is the man who had spent so much time in lovingly describing and documentiing Delhi’s monuments.
When post the destruction of 1857, when Sir Syed Ahmed saw the ruins of Akbarabadi mosque which he had glowingly described in Asar us Sanadeed as a “beautiful and heart pleasing masjid. It refreshes the eyes and rejuvenates the spirit,” he is said to have been in tears to see the rubble to which it had been reduced and allegedly said,
“Sahib angrezo ney Akbarabadi masjid ko shaheed kardiya hai
“Sir, the Englishmen have martyred (demolished) the Akbarabadi masjid”.
In the aftermath of the Uprising of 1857 and the sytematic persecution of the Muslim community especially the elite who the British felt were mainly responsible for the ‘revolt’, Sir Syed set about thinking of ways of rehabilitating the community. One of them was to integrate them into Indian society via western education and thus the idea of Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College which later went on to become the Aligarh Muslim University was born.
The foundation of a Jama Masjid or congregational mosque for the College students was laid in 1877 , though unfortunately due to many reasons its construction was delayed and it got ready only in around 1915 after Sir Syed’s death under Nawab Mohammad Ishaq Khan.
The inscriptions of the Akbarabadi Mosque were unique because they had the Surah Fajr inscribed on it and were by the same genius, Abdul Haq Amanat Khan, who did the inscription on Taj Mahal and Sikandra.
According to AMU Gazette, June 19, 1886, these inscriptions were presented to Sir Syed for use in the Jama Masjid by Shahzada Sulaiman Jah Bahadur, who bought them from a scrap dealer in Aligarh who had the rubble of 1857 monuments brought for sale.
These panels connected to the AMU Jama Masjid to the Taj Mahal.
Syed Ali nadeem Rezav, Chairman of CAS says that , “Apart from the fact that this was the last monumental mosque to be built in India with an arcuate true dome its mosque’s uniqueness lies in the fact that like the mosques of Akbar and Jahangir’s this mosque is probably the only mosque in India where it still happens.”
Sir Syed himself lies buried in a simple yet very elegant grave in its compound.
Sir Syed not only recreated the Akbarabadi mosque he laid the foundation of a university to him that many owe their education and career. Yet what are we doing about it?
For me the haveli symbolizes the way we alumni of AMU have nurtured Sir Syed’s built legacy. Just expanding the university and building more departments or new campuses in other cities and countries is not the way to pay respect to his legacy.
Seeing the situation created in the aftermath of 1857 where Muslims were disfranchised, thrown out of ShahJahanabad and generally looked upon with suspicion he decided that education was the only way to rehabilitate them, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan adopted a very pragmatic approach to solving the problem.
With a very farsighted approach and a vision for their future, his immediate concern was to rehabilitate them into the British government by providing a western education that would lead to the Muslim community getting government jobs and a say in administration.
In 1859, he established a Farsi Madarsa in Moradabad but realizing that acquisition of science and technology was essential and that Englsih was the language needed for that in 1863 the Victoria School in Ghazipur, where he was posted. In this school apart from science and history, English, Urdu, Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit were also taught.
In 1864 he established the Scientific Society in Ghazipur for translation of English, Persian and Arabic writings into Urdu.
He was quite willing to take the religious clergy, which opposed scientific education head on and was even called a kafir for his pains. He was ridiculed and ostracized but he forged ahead. As Akbar Ilahabadi said in his famous verse:
Saiyyad uthhe jo gajatt le kar to laakho’n laaye
Sheikh, Quran dikhaata phira, paisa na mila
Syed rose, Gazette in hand and got lakhs in donation
The Sheikh kept showing the Quran and got not a penny
“Call me by whatever names you like.
I will not ask you for my salvation. But please take pity of your children. Do something for them (send them to the school), lest you should have to repent” (by not sending them) he said.
So committed was he that in fact he even performed a skit on stage and recited a ghazal of Hafiz to collect funds for the college. His other friends even sang songs and enacted short plays.
In the first edition of the journal Tehzeeb al-Akhlaq in 1871 Sir Syed, wrote: “The objective of issuing this journal is to persuade Indian Muslims to adopt a complete degree of civilized culture, so that the hatred with which the civilized (cultured) nations view them should go away and they may also be said to be exalted and cultured nations of the world.”
This journal started in 1871 was aimed at social reformation of the Muslims. Sir Syed believed that Ijtihad (re-interpretation with the changing times) was the need of the hour and that taqlid (copying and following old values) should be given up.
He felt that it was the doings of Muslims on which the reputation of Islam depended not on fasting and prayer. For him compassion, kindness, and a genuine drive towards maintenance of a healthy social order were more important.
Sir Syed, felt that there was no end to moral progress as Islam where it is categorically specified that a believer must strive ceaselessly to improve his or her conduct till the last breath.
At a time when the acts of a handful of Muslims who indulge in acts of terrorism are confused with Islam this is an important point.
Instead of just playing the victim card we have to get out of it and face the reality. Once again Muslims are beleagured and are increasingly being made to feel the ‘other’. The only way out of it is again education and a scientific education at that.
The present day UP government by insisting on introduction of NCERT textbooks and making study of math and science compulsory is doing the community a big favour.
The Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College was founded in 1875 to provide a scientific temperament and education to Muslims and the best way to honour the legacy of its founder, Sir Syed is to make an education based on modern values, which will provide voacational skills and avenues of self-improvement and employment available to the community.
The college which as per the founder’s vision gave birth to Aligarh Muslim University was founded on the ‘principles of tolerance and progress’ and ‘to preach the gospel of free enquiry of large hearted tolerance and of pure morality’
Sir Syed’s vision which he said was as strong as ever, despite failing health in old age was of a strong India with Hindus and Muslims being ‘the two eyes of the beautiful bride that is Hindustan’.
He said, “O Hindus and Muslims! Do you belong to a country other than India? Do not you live on this soil and are not buried under it or cremated on its ghats? If you live and die on this land, then, bear in mind, that… all the Hindus, Muslims and Christians who live in this country are one nation.”
In the bicentinnial year of this reformist and propogator of scientific thought we must take up the cause of education once again. Why is it that a community which accounts for 14% of the country’s population only has 4.4% students enrolled for higher education? Simply devoting time to religious studies is not theway forward.
[i] This verse by Urfi gives the book its title