Monday, October 17, 2011

Mohammed Wilayatullah's elephantine memory

Justice Mohammed Hidayatullah's literary flair is well known in legal circles. He also had an abiding interest in poetry, which he had got through his father Khan Bahadur Hafiz Mohammed Wilayatullah. While Mohammed Hidayatullah is known for having occupied the offices of vice president, president and chief justice of India, this post seeks to throw some light on the life of Hafiz Wilayatullah whose elephantine memory resulted in a big plot of land being awarded to the Anjuman School, Nagpur. But more of that later.

Mohammed Wilayatullah's family originally hailed from Benares and his forefathers served in the Bhopal court for several years. He memorised the complete Quran when he was just nine years old. He was a meritorious student and stood first in the 1895 BA examination of the Allahabad University at Mohammaden Anglo Oriental (MAO) college. His industriousness got him almost all the possible awards of the year except one. The Queen Empress Jubilee Medal was given to Ziauddin Ahmed and it was believed that it was done at the behest of Sir Syed Ahmed.

Ziauddin Ahmed was the favourite student of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who was not very happy with Mohammed Wilayatullah getting all the awards. However, the threat of legal action ultimately got the Queen Empress Jubilee Medal to the deserving student. For readers wondering the source, this has been narrated by Justice Hidayatullah in his autobiography.

Mohammed Wilayatullah got a scholarship of £600 to study abroad for two years. However, domestic compulsions meant he could not take the scholarship. While Wilayatullah's family was not poor, they were not prosperous enough to let Wilayatullah go abroad. Syed Mahmood, son of Sir Syed Ahmed, took a liking for the young Wilayatullah and nurtured him to make a career in law. However, a quick job with a monthly salary took precedence over a slow paced career in law.

In the Indian sub-continent, postponing marriage and curtailing studies are some of the most common measures undertaken by youth to ensure the unity and financial stability of the family. This is especially true of joint families where the eldest son takes care of his younger siblings just like his own kids. Mohammed Wilayatullah had topped the BA examination and his father was anxious that his son takes up a job with the begum of Bhopal.

A more detailed study of the life of Khan Bahadur Hafiz Mohammed Wilayatullah will go a long way in explaining the dynamics of the society of those days. The reaons given for his not taking the scholarship was that it would be difficult for him to adjust to the food available in foreign shores. Thus the family chose not to talk about the urgency of Wilayatullah taking a job but instead made his diet a reason!

This reminds me of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. One of the reasons for his not undertaking foreign travel was the crossing of sea and his orthodox food habits. A Time magazine report talking about Malaviya's rare ship journey detailed his accompaniments which incuded a personal cook and gallons of Ganga water!

Mohammed Wilayatullah got a job as the headmaster of a school in Bhopal. However, he did not stay there for long and joined Central provinces and Berar as tahsildar. He went on to become Dewan and administrator of Bastar state. He retired in 1928 from Bhandara as deputy commissioner and district magistrate. After retirement he chose to settle down in Nagpur and struck friendship with Rajaram Dixit.

Mohammd Wilayatullah received the Kaiser-i-Hind and also became a member of the Central Legislative Assembly. When he was a student Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali used to correct his poems. He was called Akbar-i-Sani and wrote two books. He used to write in Persian and later continued in Urdu. However, most of his writings went unpublished.

While Mohammed Wilayatullah could not go abroad for studies, he ensured that his three sons attend Trinity College, Cambridge. A proud father he kept the annual register of Trinity college under his pillow. The register had the names of his three sons: Mohammed Ikramullah, ICS who became Pakistan's foreign secretary; Mohammed Ahmadullah, secretary, Indian Tariff Board and Mohammed Hidayatullah.

Mohammed Ikramullah married Shaista who belonged to the famous and rich Suhrawardy family. Shaista Ikramullah was the first Indian woman to do her PhD from London University. It is believed that it was under her influence that Mohammed Ikramullah went to Pakistan. In his last days Mohammed Wilayatullah longed for all his three sons to be together. When he died in November 1949, Mohammed Ikramullah came down to India and before that kept on visiting his father despite the hostilities between both the new sovereigns.

Mohammed Wilayatullah had plunged into social activities after his retirement and became quite famous in central India. His political opponents attacked him for having accepted the Kaiser-i-Hind and the title of Khan Bahadur. However, he continued with his social work. He was secretary of the All India Muslim Educational Society and was associated with Anjuman School, Nagpur. His friend Rajaram Dixit donated generously for the Anjuman School.

The school authorities once called the chief commissioner to the annual day celebrations. They requested him to give a nearby plot for the school. The chief commissioner promised it in his speech. However, later when a delegation did a follow-up they realised there was no copy of the speech to make the commissioner's promise operational. The chief commissioner too pleaded helplessness as the speech was made extempore.

Khan Bahadur Hafiz Mohammed Wilayatullah offered to reproduce the speech. He gave a copy to the chief commissioner who happily signed after making just a single change. This must have definitely accelerated the administrative process. The plot was released which was used to make a hostel and a school for girls.

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