By Intizar Hussain

In recent years, Mohammad Ikram Chaghatai has remained engaged in his research on old Delhi College. Last year his work was published under the title Qadeem Delhi College. In it we find a collection of letters written by a number of students and teachers of Delhi College to their Principal, Dr Aloys Sprenger, a distinguished Austrian orientalist. The book contains texts of the Urdu letters along with introductory notes about their writers.

Chaghatai’s research tells us that “after 1857, Delhi College was closed down and its entire staff was loaned to Government College, Lahore to make it the best educational institution in the Punjab.” He adds, “men like Muhammad Hussain Azad, Maulvi Nazir Ahmad, and Maulvi Karimuddin Panipati were among the pupils who played a fundamental role in the educational and intellectual awakening of this part of the subcontinent.”

Soon after Qadeem Delhi College, Chaghatai brought out a volume on Maulvi Nazir Ahmad under the title Deputy Nazir Ahmad, Ahwal-au-Asar. As pointed out by Chaghatai, Nazir Ahmad, while still a student of Delhi College, was dispatched to Punjab at the request of Richard Temple. There he got his first appointment and established a school.

Chaghatai has made a selection from what has been written about the writings and the personality of Nazir Ahmad along with a selection from his writings. This selection is meant to serve as a comprehensive introduction to the man and to the writer.

Of course, here we see quite a large number of articles which bring before us different aspects of his writings. Others introduce us to the man he was. Shahid Ahmad Dehlvi’s article may be read as a fine character sketch of Nazir Ahmad.

But I wonder that Chaghatai has ignored the character sketch written by Nazir Ahmad’s disciple, Mirza Farhatullah Baig. In fact, this sketch has come to be recognised in Urdu’s literary world as one of the best character sketches written in Urdu. In the words of Nazir Ahmad’s son, Munzir Ahmad, it stands as “a masterpiece of murraqa nigari”. But after paying this compliment, he adds that Mirza has at places exaggerated. He is right. Mirza Farhatullah was not writing a research article. He was trying to portray his mentor as he had seen him, possessed with so many human virtues along with certain weaknesses. “I,” Mirza said, “intend to portray him as he actually was.” And he portrayed him in a pleasant, informal manner, which carried the stamp of Nazir Ahmad’s style.

But a biographer of Nazir Ahmad, Iftikhar Ahmad, dismissed the sketch as a non-serious piece of writing. Chaghatai seems to be under the influence of this biographer in choosing to ignore this portrayal altogether.

His selections from Nazir Ahmad are a case in point. Essential Nazir Ahmad is missing from this collection. Nazir Ahmad is primarily known to us as a great prose writer. Poetry is not his strong point. As for his prose, he cares not to speak in an overly serious, scholarly way. With a touch of collegial and references to what is ordinary and commonplace, his prose style stands distinguished from scholarly prose styles and hence is more attractive and more significant. This prose style is best reflected in Nazir Ahmad’s novels. But Chaghatai, while making a selection from his writings, has not taken into consideration his novels. So we hardly come in touch with the great prose writer.

Instead, we find pieces from Nazir Ahmad’s prose in which he is narrating his experiences in life. This compilation goes to make a sustained piece of an autobiography. That provides us some flavour of the prose style for which Nazir Ahmad is known.

For his liberal education Nazir Ahmad felt indebted to Delhi College and said, “If I had not studied in Delhi College, I would have been a Maulvi, narrow-minded and bigoted.”


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