Monday, February 7, 2011

Ilyas Burney, a man lost in translation

Abdur Rahman Khan, who was the principal of 'Osmania College University' in 20s, wrote an interesting book 'My Life and Experiences'. The book details the struggle and the passion of the people behind the Osmania University. It gives an amazing account of the functioning of the institute and how the management dealt with getting the right faculty. However, as the medium of instruction was supposed to be Urdu, a Translation Bureau was established. This Bureau had the mammoth task of translating all books in Economics, Medicince, History, Philosophy and other subjects in Urdu.

Principal Khan's book is gripping for anybody interested to draw a picture of the working of an educational institute in those days. However, I was a bit disappointed as he did not write much about Ilyas Burney, who was heading the department of Economics at Osmania University. A graduate from Aligarh University, Burney was born in Bulandshahr. He had a brilliant record as a student and at Aligarh University won the Strachey Gold Medal.

He had studied LLB and was offered the position of a judge in the Nizam administered Hyderabad around 1915. However, as he was academically inclined he decided to get himself involved with the Translation Bureau. According to another version he was offered to join the Translation Bureau that got Burney to Hyderabad. Whatever be the reason Burney made Hyderabad his home for good and spent his working life enriching the social and intellectual circles of the city.

Burney's services were later utilised by the Osmania University where he joined the Economics department and also worked as the Registrar of the University. His book on Economics in the Urdu language was praised by none other than Allama Iqbal. A multi-faceted personality, Burney did not restrict himself only to Economics. He wrote dozens of books on several subjects and a travelogue that established his identity as a towering intellectual. He was well versed in English, Persian, Arabic and Urdu.

He worked closely with Baba-e-Urdu Maulvi Abdul Haq at the Translation Bureau. In 1934, he was appointed curator of the Translation Bureau. He had replaced the competent and versatile Maulvi Inayatullah. He wrote a book comparing the Urdu and Hindi scripts that earned him praise from several quarters. His book on the Ahmaddiya sect got a huge response. Titled 'Qadiani Mazhab' it was also translated in Arabic and is considered a masterpiece on the subject.

His immense knowledge and ability to get along with youngsters made him very popular. The Nizam appointed him to tutor the young princes. He was also President of the Football Club at Osmania University. He once spoke for two hours to the students at Osmania advising them ‘how to live a wholesome happy life’.

Burney's brilliance got the attention of Jinnah who wanted him, along with scholars from other fields, to work for the planning commission in Pakistan. I do not know the reasons, but he did not go to Pakistan and remained in India. The street where he had his house in Hyderabad is now named Ilyas Burney Avenue. S M H Burney, a civil servant in Independent India, who went on to become the Governor of Haryana and Manipur is related to him. Ilyas Burney died in 1959.