Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Another award for Gopi Chand Narang: Is there an intellectual bankruptcy?

Gopi Chand Narang, the former president of Sahitya Akademi has yet another award to his almost never-ending list. The latest to come is the Akademi's fellowship, which is considered the highest award. In an interview to Outlook, he speaks about the numerous awards he has got for his contribution to literature. But his rather illustrious career has been tarnished by allegations of plagiarism, the biggest sin any writer could commit.

I wonder why is he silent on the allegations that has been brought out by Imran Shahid Bhinder, a scholar based in the UK. In September, 2009 Imran Bhinder in an interview with urdufigures, shows in detail the extent to which Narang has used the work of others without giving proper references in his award-winning book Sakhtiyat, Pas-i-Sakhtiyat Aur Mashriqi Shi’riyat (Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, and Eastern Poetics). In Bhinder's words: "He (Narang) also absolutely lacks the principal intellectual traits, which are essential not only to perform subtle analysis, but also to establish his reputation as an honest writer."

I am also sure that if these allegations were leveled against a writer of English, there would have been a huge furore. The writer would have had to give a lot of explanation. A prominent Bombay-based Urdu researcher told me Narang has a way with words and is a brilliant orator. And it seems like his spoken words are washing away the sins of his 'plagiarised' printed words.

Perhaps it is time for Mr Narang to come out and silence those who believe he is unworthy of such recognition.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Syed Hussain: Man behind Motilal Nehru's 'Independent'

There is an African proverb which says, 'Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters.' The greatness of history lies in the fact that it gets long forgotten personalities and events back into the collective memories of people. But as the proverb said, what about the history of the lions!
In 1918, a gentleman named Syed Hussain, who had studied in London, was chosen to go to England by Annie Besant in connection with the Home Rule propaganda. Unfortunately, Hussain could not reach England, as the British authorities sent him back from Gibraltar. Thus Hussain with Iqbal Naraya Gurtu (the other person accompanying him to England) had to come back to India.
Syed Hussain, who had a flair for writing, got associated with the legendary B G Horniman who was the editor of Bombay Chronicle, the nationalist newspaper. He also worked for the Congress in Bombay and was active in the Khilafat Movement. In February 1919, Motilal Nehru started a newspaper, Independent, from Allahabad and sought help from Horniman. Syed Hussain had already made a mark for himself and with Horniman's backing was made the first editor of Independent.
Motilal had started Independent as he was not happy with Leader, another leading paper of the period in which he was a shareholder. Leader had begun publication in October 1909 with Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya as the editor. C Y Chintamani, who started as a staff member, had with the passing years rose to become its legendary editor.
Leader commanded immense respect and popularity and Chintamani's stature had grown tremendously. Motilal had a difference of opinion on the Montagu-Chemlsford report with Sir Chintamani who had aligned the paper's editorial policy to match his views and that of other leaders, who didn't agree with the senior Nehru.
Syed Hussain was thus directly pitted against Sir Chintamani and the failure of the paper would have meant the failure of Motilal Nehru. Hussain had a stint at the Bombay Chronicle, and under his fiery leadership Independent made its presence felt.
A S Iyengar, another journalist who worked for both Leader and Independent noted: "There was in those days a glamour about Horniman and an aura about Syed Hussain, a particularly handsome East-Bengal Muslim with an Oxford education. What Horniman did not know about journalism was not worth knowing at all. What Syed Hussain could write was, of course, the best. This was the conception in Ananda Bhavan."
At Independent, Syed Hussain carried forward the style and panache of Bombay Chronicle, which was known for its constant run-in with the British Goverment. Hussain did not care about antagonising the moderates or British officers in his stint at Independent.
Asaf Ali, another freedom fighter and Hussain's friend, wrote an article on the British government's elation at suppressing people's uprising in North India in 1919 for the Independent. Syed Hussain titled it 'Devils dance while Angels weep'. This ruffled feathers not just in the official circles but also among the moderate elements in the Congress who thought it was objectionable.

Another famous tagline coined by Syed Hussain was C M G which meant Chelmsford Must Go. It became quite popular and gave voice to several Indian nationalists who were opposed to the Montagu-Chlemsford reforms.
While Hussain was editing the paper, there were rumours in Allahabad that he was having an affair with Vijayalakshmi, Motilal Nehru’s charming daughter. The Nehrus, it seems, were not very happy with this. The wife of another nationalist George Joseph (who also edited Independent and was elder brother of famous journalist Pothan Joseph), who like Hussain was selected to go to England by Annie Besant in connection with the Home Rule movement, acted as a peace-maker.
With the help of Gandhiji, who had a considerable influence in the Nehru household, the Nehrus got Vijayalaksmi married to Barrister Ranjit Pandit in 1921. After around a year of working for Independent, Hussain resigned. Why and under what circumstances is still not clear. In his book, A S Iyengar notes: “The story of Independent is one of a brief and chequered career. The public know what happened to Syed Hussain a few months later, for he had to leave India.”
Syed Hussain apparently went to America on a lecture tour after he resigned. I have tried to find out what happened to him after that, but have been unsuccessful. It is highly unlikely that Hussain, who worked for Bombay Chronicle and Independent, would lie low during those tumultuous days of freedom struggle.
So, if he continued to be actively involved in the movement what role did he play and where was he based? Alternatively, if he became a recluse and shied away from aligning himself with forces working at driving away the Britishers, what could be the reasons for that? It would be great to know how Hussain's life shaped up, and what kept him busy after Independent.
All that I could gather (courtesy a biography of George Joseph) is that Syed Hussain died in Cairo, and Vijayalaksmi Pandit who became India’s permanent representative at UN would often place flowers on his grave.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Father-daughter duo who helped Bapu learn Urdu

Few weeks back, The Times of India had reported that the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha will soon have a portrait of Abbas Tyabji (1853-1936). Tyabji, the surname is quite familiar and is associated with philantrophy and education.

Abbas Tyabji (in pic with Gandhiji) was the nephew of Badruddin Tyabji (1844-1906), the first Indian to be appointed chief justice of Bombay High Court. Like his uncle he too joined the Congress and played a pivotal role in the freedom struggle.

Abbas Tyabji studied in England where he lived for more than a decade and went on to become the chief justice in the former princely estate of Baroda. His life changed when he chaired a fact finding committee of the Congress to look into the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre. His first hand experience of the British atrocities turned him towards Congress and he became an ardent follower of Gandhiji.

He chose to divorced himself from all the comforts when he was in his late 60s - a time when people usually take a backseat. He dumped his 'British lifestyle' and plunged himself whole heartedly into the freedom struggle. One of his daughters, Rehana, too got involved in the affairs of the Congress party and along with her father became quite close to Gandhiji. The several letters between Gandhiji and Tyabji are a testimony to the close relationship they shared.

The father-daughter duo helped Gandhiji improve his Urdu. Rehana, became a disciple of Gandhiji and also learnt Hindi very well. Gandhiji used to write letters in Urdu to Ulemas and poets. He also had an Urdu edition for his newspaper - Harijan.

The Tyabjis were known for their work in the educational field. Badruddin Tyabji along with Mohammed Ali Roghay established the Anjuman-I-Islam in Bombay and the entire Tyabji clan believed in empowering womenfolk through education. Renowned ornithologist Salim Ali and eminent historian Irfan Habib belong to the Tyabji family.

Abdullah Yusuf Ali in his book 'Life and Labour of the People of India' (published in 1907) describes the women members of the Tyabji clan: "One of them on a visit to London won a coveted prize at a fancy dress ball at Covent Garden. Several of them can give a good account of themselves with pen or brush. Music, too, has been cultivated - not only on the hackneyed piano, but on the Bin, an ancient musical instrument of India, the classical Vina of the Apsaras. In conversation, artistic talents, and social gifts, they would hold their own in the most cultivated society of Europe and America."

(Sharifa Begum, daughter of Abbas Tyabji. Pic taken from Abdullah Yusuf Ali's book 'Life and Labour of the People of India')

The decision to have a portrait of Abbas Tyabji in Gujarat Vidhan Sabha is laudable and will help more people know the sacrifice and contribution of the Tyabjis.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Maulvi who blackmailed the Nawab

Blackmailers are an integral part of our society. They work at various levels but when they strike the rich and famous they become or rather create history. We will discuss one such who chose to cause some discomfort to the Nawab Salar Jung III (pic on left), who had a passion for collecting manuscripts and antiques. His collections form the nucleus of the famous Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad.

Maulvi Anis Ahmad, the man who blackmailed Salar Jung, is said to have studied at Aligarh University and Deoband. He had taken upon himself to get Muslims away from Gandhi and Congress. In 1930, he was touring the length and breadth of the country meeting Muslim Nawabs and rulers to impress upon them the need for Muslims not to align themselves with the Civil Disobedience Movement.

He impressed Sir Charles Watson, the then political secretary to the Government of India and secured from him a supporting letter for himself. He made the Britishers believe that he was doing useful propaganda work for them and gained their confidence.

On May 3, 1930 he reached Hyderabad and met T H Keyes, the British Resident in Hyderabad. Keyes introduced him to the nobility and even got him an audience with the Nizam on May 8. Ahmad's logic was that Nizam's donations to Jamia Millia Islamia and Deoband would help the British use Hyderabad to exert pressure on the Ulemas to stay away from the Congress. And who better to convince the Nizam than himself, as he had studied at Deoband and knew the Ulemas.

In a similar visit to the Nawab of Bahawalpur he had managed to get Mufti Kifayatullah of the influential Jamiat Ulema Hind and some others for a meeting to discuss exclusion of Muslims from the freedom struggle. However, nothing came out of it and the Mufti was in fact later arrested for taking part in the Civil Disobedience Movement.

Anis Ahmed was enjoying his stay in Hyderabad. He was put up as a state guest and was paid Rs 300 for his expenses. But he wanted more and had a perfect plan for it.

Living with him at the guest house was a woman who he had brought from Bombay. The woman's daughter had a liaison with Salar Jung and it seems there was some police case in Bombay relating to it (though no documents can be seen on this). He wanted to use the woman in blackmailing Salar Jung. He had already made an impression by meeting senior officers like Sir Akbar Hyderi, Nizam's key minister in Hyderabad.

Anis Ahmed gave feelers to Salar Jung who was at Ootacamund. A concerned Salar Jung got in touch with Keyes and made him aware of Anis Ahmed's conduct and intention. A furious Keyes confronted Anis Ahmed. As he was the one who had introduced Ahmed in Hyderabad he advised him to leave. However, Ahmed was well prepared. He told Keyes that one Lieutenant Russell of the Bombay police had asked him to look into the case. To support his case he showed a letter signed by Russell.

Keyes, however, was least interested. He was convinced that Anis Ahmed was a common blackmailer. He went ahead and also informed Sir Charles Watson. He wrote to Sir Watson that, 'he (Ahmed) brought with him from Bombay well known demimondaine whose daughter had had a liaison with Salar Jung'. An alarmed Sir Watson went on to write to several people that he disowns the letter of introduction given to Maulvi Anis Ahmed.

Keyes himself had wanted to take away Sir Charles Watson's letter from Ahmed but couldn't. Maulvi Anis Ahmed told him he had a 'photographed copy of the letter and had lost the original'. My guess is even Salar Jung, who was a passionate collector of rare objects, would not have been able to locate the original letter.

Interestingly, Maulvi Anis Ahmed was the secretary of Central Muslim Federation, Delhi (he used the organisation's letterhead to market himself) whose President was Shamsul Ulama Maulana Syed Ahmad Sahib, Imam, Shahi Juma Masjid, Delhi.