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The Heritage House
Memorial for Maulana Azad in Kolkata
By Firoz Bakht Ahmed

When there were no schools in villages, and even in cities and towns they were a few and far between, madrasas were gathering children for early education where they were given elementary lessons in religion and the emphasis was on moral and social values. 

Clockwise: Maulana Azad, Maulana Azad haveli at Kolkataís Bally Gaunj Circular Road; oil drums dumped in a corner of the haveli; Prof Mahavir Singh, director Maulana Azad Memorial Museum; Viren J Shah, governor of West Bengal who helped restore the haveli.

More weightage is given to politics than poetry, history or writing, it would seem. Public lavatories are erected on the graves of Emperor Bahadurshah Zafarís poetry guide Ustad Sheikh Mohammed Ibrahim Zauq, Ghalibís haveli changed umpteen hands in the claws of colonizers before it got restored. Thereís no sign of Ustad Daagh Dehlviís grave! Kamala Nehruís Haksar ki haveli is abysmally ruined where Pandit Nehru got wedlocked with her. Not much different is the case of Maulana Asadís house in Kolkata.

The house at Ballygaunge Circular Street, where Maulan Azad spent most of his days of the Indian freedom struggle, has been acquired by the State government and handed over to the Maulana Azad Institute for renovation and the building of a memorabilia recently after a long drawn and protracted legal battle. Dr. Mahavir Singh, the director of the Maulana Azad Institute stated that Maulana Sahab lived here at the request of Hem Chandra Naskar, a renowned Congress leader of Bengal of those times. Mahatama Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose and other leaders visited the building. The draft of the Quit India Movement was formulated here besides many meetings of tremendous importance between the Bengal Congress leaders and Maulana Azad. Maulanaís wife Zulekha died here in the building.

This large house on 22 cottahs was purchased for a song by Ramkrishna Naskar from the Raja of Mayurbhanj in 1892. After that the historic house changed hands through many tenants and companies that never maintained otherwise a very grandiose and graceful mansion. According to Satya Mazumdar, the manager of the Sri Sri Anandamayee trust and Sri Kubereswar Trust, that looked after the building, they could not maintain the building owing to lack of funds. Thatís why they referred the building to the State government. Most of the publications of Azad including the Urdu weeklies Al-Hilal and Al-Balagh, came out from here only. The most well-known interpretation of the Qur'an, Tarjuman-ul-Qur'an, was also compiled here besides many books.

Opines Governor Viren Shah that Maulana Azad was not a pseudo-secular intellectual like todayís politicians but a committed patriot wedded to the principles of communal harmony. Through his fiery eloquence and revolutionary writings first in Al-Hilal and later in Al-Balagh in Kolkata during 1912 and 1916, Maulana Azad roused the Indians from their stupor and political apathy. Although he started his career as an aalim (religious leader), his faith in nationalism, as Mahatama Gandhi described it, was as robust as his faith in Islam. Though born in a family steeped in religious traditions, Azad was singularly free from all traces of pride and prejudice on religious grounds.

"Architecturally speaking," tells Hiranmay Kerlekar, celebrated columnist and a member of the Memorial Committee, "this house of Maulana is a harmonious blend of Greco-Roman, Gothic and Mughlai style." It is in a shambles and its previous masters or tenants seemed to be oblivious of its historical importance and the entire premises is presently being eaten away by the moths and termites. The outer structure resembles more to a Victorian sylvan castle. Unfortunately the elegance, grace and the khandani Muslim family living there is not there. It was in this house that Maulana lived with his father, a Sufi saint and Peer---Maulana Khairuddin Ahmed, wife Zulekha Begum and elder brother Abu-n-Nasr "Aah" Ghulam Yasinís only son and this writerís father Late Nooruddin Ahmed.

Dr. Aziz Burney, editor of Delhiís renowned Urdu daily Rashtriya Sahara recounts, "As Maulana was not from a feudal background, he had no personal accommodation in Kolkata. All the houses that he had lived in the biggest metro in the eastern hemisphere of India, were rented ones at Amartala, Mcleod Road or Ballygaunge Circular Road." Editor of the prestigious Kolkata Urdu daily Azad Hind, Ahmed Saeed Malihabadi whose father Abdur Razzaq Malihabadi was very close to Azad tells, "But it was at 19-A, Ballygaunge Circular Road, where he had spent most of his youth and the period of freedom movement. During the decades in 1920s, 30s and early 40s, the haveli at 19-A, was the hub of freedom struggle activity. The nerve of freedom movement pulsated exactly here in Kolkata (Calcutta of yore!).

The Azad haveli has two main floors with Maulana living on the first floor at a rent of Rs. 200 per month. As he could not bear this heavy amount, he allowed another tenant and his Kashmiri wife and two daughters to live on the ground floor portion renting it for sixty rupees a month. Now almost all the things of Maulana Azad have either been moved by the people and tenants living in the premises or they have been taken into custody by Nooruddin Ahmedís cousins living in old Kolkata who also have kept in possession his "Bharat Ratna" nationís highest award that was sent to Nooruddin Ahmed while he was on his death bed. There was also a pond at the back of the haveli.

While Maulana Azad was residing at his Ballygaunge Circular Road house of Calcutta, Mahatama Gandhi and Pandit Nehru went to see him. This was before the Independence. At that time he was writing something and his kurta (casual wear) was torn at the shoulder. Gandhiji understood and he said, "Maulana Sahab! Agar kuchh mali bohran hai to bila jhijak bata dein" (If there is any economic crisis, kindly tell without hesitation). At that Azad affably smiled and effusively refused the offer. He said that he loved to be a poor man! Maulana Abdur Razzaq Malihabadi, the founder editor of Azad Hind once wrote in his memoirs that Azad relished patli daal (diluted pulses) and bhaat (rice) as his favourite as these were easy to cook and cheaper!

Dr. Mahavir Singh relates that the governor of West Bengal has even conveyed a word to the prime minister Mr. Atal Behrai Vajpayee that within a couple of monthsí time the Maulana Azad museum would be ready and that he should inaugurate it in Kolkata. It goes without saying that Vajpayee readily agreed and it was only after this exchange of views that it was heard that in Shiraz, Iran, a road was named after Maulana Azad. Apart from that, if the memorial is ready at the behest of Viren Shah in Kolkata, that would send a positive message across the secular lines besides pleasing Muslims in the country. The Institute has also accomplished research work in the Asian countries through research by way of many projects. 
q

The author is an educationist, a social and heritage activist and the grandnephew of Maulana Abulkalam Azad. 
All photographs, except Maulana Azadís, by Firoz Bakht Ahmed

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