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Taking Stock
Kanpur was ‘Khanpur’
By Rizwan Ullah

Rizwan UllahAabrood-e-Ganga has drained countless memory bytes down the stream to be consigned to the ocean of oblivion, thus there is the obvious need to reconstruct history, old and the recent, and renaming places is one of the tools for that reconstruction. As all good and bad deeds in free India, from providing prime ministers to the demolition of the places of worship, originate in Uttar Pradesh, the process of renaming also began there. Banaras being at the top of the list was reverted to its original name Varanasi. Next in queue was Allahabad to be converted to Pariyag. But Pundit Nehru was strongly against the conversion of his birth place so it was postponed and the job was left for the future generations of the state leaders, for they too should have some work in hand to keep them busy. Unfortunately for them, they had to wait for about four decades until the Nehru dynasty was forced to vacate.

However, Prof Shabbir Ahmad reminds us that Kanpur was Khanpur. He mentions this while narrating the foundation of two madrasas in Kanpur – Madrasa Faiz-e-Aam and a year later Nadwat-ul-Ulama which was shifted later to Lucknow. This narration occurs in his exhaustive work ‘Talim Ki Kahani’ which covers the Islamic philosophy of education, various Indian philosophies through the ages, manipulations of the British rulers in the field of education and later days syllabi. However, in our school days Kanpur was spelt as Cawnpore. As for its origin, we were taught that there were military camps in the area so the place was called Campo and the British officials spelt it as Cawnpore. Thus it continued until some time after independence when it dawned upon the leaders of free India that they had achieved every thing and that there was no more work left to be done except renaming some places.

Anyway, who is Prof Shabbir Ahmad? He is the living example of our immoral forgetfulness and ungratefulness of the beneficiaries of his selfless service to the people of Kanpur who declared him deceased years ago without bothering to confirm it. That is the subject matter of this writing today.

Maulana Mohammad Ali Memorial Higher Secondary School is located in Beconganj, Kanpur. A report of its managing committee dated January 14, 1946 is before me. It says, inter alia, ‘In memory of Maulana M.A. Jauhar a primary school was opened in 1939 by three persons, Late Shabbir Ahmad Sahab, Late Rashid Ahmad Sahab and Late Iftekhar Ahmad Sahab. The MMA Memorial Society was established in 1943 with nine basic members (all of them have been mentioned as deceased including Shabbir Ahmad Sahab). The society acquired a plot of land in 1945 for the School from the development board. The deed for the purchase of the land bears the signature of Shabbir Ahmad Sahab the then secretary of the society. The construction of the school building on the newly acquired plot began in 1950. After the completion of the building the school was shifted from the rented building (in Humayun Bagh).

Every thing has a limit but perhaps the forgetfulness and ungratefulness of our people is simply limitless. We may offer Fateha for the dead that too with a purpose, but cannot glorify the living for their worthy deeds. The oblivious members of the said society do not know that Prof Shabbir Ahmad retired from the Sindh University, Hyderabad, Pakistan in 1978, he is still alive and authoring books in Urdu and English on the subject of education. I was surprised to see the above mentioned report of the society for I had met Prof Shabbir Ahmad in 1988 in Karachi and I found him then in a sound health condition and after that I never heard of his passing away. This raised my curiosity but I did not know his present whereabouts. However, Mr Raihan Siddiqui a writer and literary critic in Karachi came to my rescue. On my request he traced Prof Shabbir Ahmad and met him sometime last April. Now let me narrate what Prof Shabbir Sahab told him.

He was born in 1920 (18) in village Sumbhi, Azamgarh, UP. His father Molvi Ahsanullah Ahsan Sumbhi (d. 1928) was one of the editors of the famous literary journal Zamana, Kanpur of Munshi Daya Narain Nigam. He matriculated from Haleem Muslim High School, Kanpur (1933), FA from Christ Church College (1935), gave up studies due to financial difficulties, did BA, private from the Aligarh Muslim University (1944) and BT (1948), MA (Urdu) from the Agra University (1946). He founded MMA Memorial High School in 1939. He was both the secretary and the Head Master of the school. A co-founder was Molvi Abdus Salam. He was a convert, he left the school suddenly after two-three years without telling anybody, after that he was never heard of, later it was found from the school records and accounts that he had embezzled school funds. After that Prof Shabbir Ahmad ran the school single handedly.

He migrated to East Pakistan in September 1950. Became Principal Ghaffar Gaon College in Mymensingh in 1950 and served for two years. Later served as Principal Nitraknoa College in the same district for one year thereafter became Principal Government High School, Dhaka. He went to West Pakistan in 1957 and served as a teacher in Central Government Model School in Islamabad. The same year he got an American scholarship for a course in advanced education in Beirut American University. He returned in 1960 and joined the Sindh University as lecturer in 1961 and retired as a professor in 1978.

While returning from Beirut he had traveled by bus and train thus he could visit various famous cities en-rout including Damascus, Ankara, Tehran, Tabrez and Mash had.

To add: He had breathed in the progressive air of Kanpur, the Lancashire of India, which had groomed leaders like Maulana Hasrat Mohani and Kaifi Azmi. He lived a very simple life, single and single mindedly devoted to the development of the school which he had left behind under the custodianship of a managing committee appointed by him. Wish him enjoy many more useful years of life.

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