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Prof Hameed Ahmed Khan: a campaigner for Urdu

March 18, 2013

“In our country, someone who works hard creates enemies. Hameed Ahmed Khan worked too much and he created too many enemies for himself,” wrote Mumtaz Hasan in Mr Khan’s obituary published in the April 1974 issue of ‘Urdu nama’, a literary magazine of Karachi.

Prof Hameed Ahmed Khan did everything he could as vice chancellor to make Punjab University stand out among the world’s great universities and, as a result, had to resign.

He was an educationist, teacher, authority on Ghalib, scholar of Iqbal studies, great lover of Urdu, writer, critic and administrator par excellence.

Born in Lahore on November 1, 1903, into a well-known family of journalists, politicians and scholars, Hameed Ahmed Khan preferred knowledge and scholarship to anything else. His father Moulvi Sirajuddin Ahmed Khan (who died on December 6, 1909) was the founder-editor of ‘Zamindar’, the newspaper that was to create waves in the sea of subcontinent’s journalism and politics and whose next editor — his half-brother Maulana Zafar Ali Khan (1873-1956) — was to ride the crest of a giant wave. Hameed Ahmed Khan’s another brother Akhter Ali Khan later became Zamindar’s editor. His real brother Hamid Ali Khan (1901-1995) was a teacher, poet, journalist, translator and editor of ‘Al-Hamra’, a literary magazine published from Lahore. Similarly, his other siblings, too, earned name and fame.

Having passed his matriculation exam, Hameed Ahmed Khan went to Usmania University (Deccan) to earn BA (Honours). Here his real brother Mahmood Ahmed Khan was heading the chemistry department and later was to serve as registrar for some time. At Usmania University, Maulana Abdul Bari Nadvi (who died in February 1976), taught philosophy. He was the figure who captured Hameed Ahmed Khan’s heart and mind. He later used to say that “I am a product of Maulana Bari”. Hameed Sahib got his MA in English from the Government College Lahore.

In 1934 he joined Lahore’s Islamia College as lecturer. Here he taught English, but founded an association for the promotion of Urdu and named it ‘Anjuman Farogh-e-Urdu’.

To further his education, he went to Cambridge in 1952 and completed his MLitt. Despite the insistence of his guide, the well-known scholar Prof Arberry, to work on his doctoral dissertation he could not prolong his stay in England and came back due to some familial affairs. Here he resumed as professor at the Islamia College and was later made its principal.

In September 1963, Hameed Sahib was made the vice chancellor of Punjab University. Here he worked hard and made the university an exemplary educational institution of the country. Although he was a scholar of English as well, unlike some so-called scholars of today, he had no complex about Urdu. Despite having obtained a degree from Cambridge in the English literature and having a command over the English language, when he spoke Urdu, he spoke only Urdu; that is to say that not a single word of English would slip out.

In fact he took pride in Urdu and his love for Urdu knew no bounds. According to some scholars, during Hameed Sahib’s tenure Urdu had almost become an official language at Punjab University, a place where hardly any language other than English was accepted as medium of instruction or for correspondence. He would give approvals or write his comments on files in Urdu and would encourage others to do so. Teachers were allowed to use Urdu or English during lectures and students were at liberty during exams to use either language in their answer scripts.

Hameed Ahmed Khan not only loved Urdu, but he also did not have much regard for the bureaucracy who loved to interfere in the affairs of the university. Another ‘crime’ of his was not to compromise on principles and insistence on following rules.

It was a time when Ayub’s regime ruled the country and student unrest was on the rise. His enemies had decided to punish him for working so hard. So students’ anger was diverted towards him and they began opposing him. Hameed Ahmed Khan resigned in 1969. The same year, he was offered the post of additional director at Idara-e-Saqafat-e-Islamia, which he accepted. When Imtiaz Ali Taj, the director of Majlis-e-Taraqqi-e-Adab, died in 1970, Hameed Ahmed Khan was made the director, a post he held till his death.

At Punjab University, his stress was, among other things, on research publications. Punjab University’s scheme of a 23-volume Islamic Urdu Encyclopaedia got a boost during his tenure and the project was ultimately completed after his death. Similarly, the moving spirit behind Punjab University’s decision to commemorate Ghalib’s 100th death anniversary in a befitting manner was none other than Hameed Sahib. The university published a number of books on Ghalib, some of them compiled by well-known scholars.

A research work that has given Hameed Sahib’s name a lasting resonance is the compilation of divan of Ghalib. In 1938, Hameed Sahib went to Bhopal State Library and compared the original rare manuscript of Ghalib’s divan. Mufti Anwaar-ul-Haq edited and published it in 1921. But Hameed Sahib discovered that there was many a discrepancy in the compilation and by comparing the differences between the original and the published version, he prepared his own authentic version of divan of Ghalib. In 1969, it was published and it is considered even today among the most authentic versions of Ghalib’s divan, though some objections have been raised against it by some scholars.

The problem was that the original manuscript had disappeared from the library and it was impossible for Hameed Sahib, or any other scholar for that matter, to collate. But in the absence of the original, Hameed Ahmed Khan’s compiled version is now the only source left on that particular divan of Ghalib.

It is known as ‘Nuskha-e-Hameediya’ to differentiate among other versions such as ‘Nuskha-e-Arshi’ and ‘Nuskha-e-Sherani’.

Although he did not write much, whatever Hameed Ahmed Khan wrote is worth reading. His other works include ‘Armughan-e-Haali’, ‘Taaleem-o-tehzeeb’, ‘Iqbal ki shakhsiyet aur shaaeri’ and a brief biography of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).

He had also compiled a selection of Urdu prose and poetry. Titled ‘Safeena-e-adab’, it was intended as a textbook. Many of his articles are buried under the files of literary magazines.

Hameed Ahmed Khan died in Lahore on March 22, 1974, and thus silenced a voice that had been advocating respect for the sanctity of Urdu by not mixing it with English.

drraufparekh@yahoo.com