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Ghulam Rasool Mehr’s eyewitness account of history

July 30, 2012

“A war broke out between Sultan Abdul Aziz Ibn-e-Saud, the ruler of Najd, and Sharif of Makkah in 1924. Sharif had betrayed Turks in 1917 at the behest of the British and at the end of the First World War the British rewarded him with the kingship of Hijaz. Sharif’s son Abdullah was made king of East Jordan and his other son Faisal was given Iraq’s monarchy. In the eyes of [India’s] Majlis-e-Khilafat and Jamiat-ul-Ulema, Sharif’s status was that of a traitor who had caused great damage to the centre of Islam at a critical juncture of history”, wrote, or rather said, Ghulam Rasool Mehr (1895-1971) while dictating his memoirs.

These memoirs, titled ‘Mehr beeti’ (and subtitled ‘Mehr’s autobiography’), and edited by Muhammad Hamza Farooqi, have been published by Lahore’s Al-Faisal Publishers.

But the general opinion at that time among Indian Muslims about Ibn-e-Saud’s regime could not have been worse. The common people believed that the regime was following ‘Wahhabism’ and that they had committed an act of desecration by demolishing the domes over some graves in Makkah and Madina. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Syed Sulaiman Nadvi and some other personages supported Ibn-e-Saud, but Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Maulana Shaukat Ali, the ulema (religious scholars) of Farangi Mahal and the ulema of Barelvi school of thought opposed Ibn-e-Saud. Majlis-e-Khilafat tried to pass a resolution against the regime but some of its members from Punjab succeeded in blocking it.

As Mehr has recounted it, in 1925 the forces of Ibn-e-Saud surrounded Madina but Sultan Ibn-e-Saud did not allow his soldiers to either fire at or attack the city. While these sensitive issues were being discussed here in the subcontinent, a telegram received from Madina said that Ibn-e-Saud forces had fired shots at the mausoleum of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In India this news caused an earthquake as Muslim population’s anger knew no bounds. Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar tried to pacify the general public and through his efforts, a deputation was sent to Hijaz and Najd, an area that now largely consists of Saudi Arabia, to investigate the incident and establish the facts.

It was decided that if the news proved to be true, all — including those supporting Ibn-e-Saud — would deplore and condemn the regime.

The deputation included Maulana Zafar Ali Khan and Ghulam Rasool Mehr, as well. During the deputation’s journey from Makkah to Madina, the regime took control over Madina and the deputation entered the city with an ease that Mehr had not expected. As Mehr has described, the accusation of firing shots at the mausoleum was proved as baseless, though he saw a slight mark or scratch on the mausoleum that, according to him, might not have been caused by a bullet. At the most, one could say that a stray bullet could have passed just touching it.

This is just one of the events that keep the reader glued to the book. Although Mehr had dictated it, the book is in a smooth, flowing prose. After all Mehr dictated all these words, an editor who remained engaged with daily newspapers for about 28 years and if only his editorials that he wrote almost daily are put together in book form they would consist of about 80 volumes, each one consisting of 500 pages. Aside from that he translated about 40 books. In addition, a large number of books flowed from his pen, especially when he quit journalism and turned to freelance writing. He had a remarkable command over Urdu and Persian. With his hugely vast reading and a natural talent for writing, he could write almost anything at will.

Ghulam Rasool Mehr was a journalist, historian, biographer, researcher, translator, poet, scholar of Ghalib and Iqbal and an editor who played a very distinct role in shaping the public opinion during an all-important period of pre-independence.

He also took part in politics and today many would not believe that he remained occupied for months with the details of Pakistan Scheme as he was among those who worked out the details on how India was to be partitioned into two independent states.

Mehr and Abdul Majeed Salik, his colleague at ‘Zameendar’ with whom he later founded a new newspaper ‘Inqelaab’, are sometimes criticised for their role during the years just before the independence for they supported the Unionist Party. Mehr had his reservations against the Lucknow Pact and advocated separate electorates for Muslims. Sometimes Mehr appears an enigma, quite a huge one, as he was a giant both in politics and journalism. But his conflicting views puzzle one: he supported Pakistan Scheme but revered Abul Kalam Azad and his views. He held Iqbal and his thoughts in high esteem but at times differed with Muslim League and its policies. He worked for Pakistan Scheme but was deadly against bifurcating Bengal and Punjab provinces. Though his clout waned considerably when he withdrew both from politics and active journalism after the independence, his role in forming and moulding the public opinion through two of the most influential newspapers still remains to be analysed and seen in the right perspective.

This book sheds further light on Mehr’s life and his thought. Mehr has tried to clean some mist surrounding his political role, his religious beliefs and his support for Ibn-e-Saud and Abul Kalam Azad.

This autobiography of Mehr’s was written at the insistence of his children who wanted to know about his early life and their ancestors. He began dictating it but when his daughter Muneera, who used to note it down as Mehr spoke, got married it discontinued. After a lapse of a few years when his son Farooq resumed the job, it was found that much of what was written earlier had been eaten up by worms. So they began afresh but could not finish it. These memoirs covered a period from Mehr’s early childhood in the early 20th century to around 1930. A few years ago, Mehr’s children and grandchildren dug these notebooks up and handed them over to Muhammad Hamza Farooqi, a scholar known for his works on Iqbal, sub-continental history and, of course, Ghulam Rasool Mehr. Farooqi has edited and annotated these memoirs that narrate a torrid and crucial period of the sub-continent’s history.

Farooqi has done a good job by including both the manuscripts, salvaging whatever little he could from the first worm-eaten script. So the book consists of two parts, the first one was written in 1964 and the second one a few years later. As Farooqi writes in the foreword “the portion that could be salvaged contains some important political background information and Mehr’s views on his contemporaries which compelled me to include it despite an apparent repetition in the second portion”.

Farooqi has not only divided the manuscript into chapters and given them titles, but has also added footnotes where ever he felt that some aspect of Mehr’s life needed further expounding.

Muhammad Hamza Farooqi has been doing research work on Mehr for long and has published two books on him before the present one and one is quite justified in expecting that he would have given a full sketch of Mehr’s life and a list of his all published works. But, sadly, despite a good foreword and scholarly footnotes, the book lacks Mehr’s complete life-sketch. The fact that the memoirs end around 1930 makes the sketch all the more important.

But the book makes an absorbing reading and one feels that Mehr was as great an honest, sincere and loving person as a great scholar and journalist he was.

The lapse on the publisher's side has resulted in the wrong pasting of quite a few pages and one page is altogether missing, a fact that mars an otherwise good book a little.