Memoirs of a dying era


Book: Shah Mohammad Hashim ‘Bahaar’ Husainabadi, Sakaraat: Qissa-e-Aalaam-e-Jahan
Compiled by Jabir Husain
Publisher: Bihar Foundation and the Urdu Markaz-Azimabad. 247, MIG Lohianagar, Patna 800020
Year: 2014
Price Rs. 1000
Pages. 432

Mohd. Sajjad 

This memoir is basically a narrative of the fall of a landlord (zamindar) with multifaceted cultural details. Thus this is a useful account of the economic and cultural history of the late 19th and early 20th century. This is a dispassionate description of the interplay of the colonial modernity impacting quite adversely upon a landed elite and sharp fall of its fortunes which makes the reader a bit emotional though a historian is incapable of capturing in its entirety.

The land-related litigations in the colonial law courts in various districts of Bihar namely Monghyr, Gaya, Patna and Muzaffarpur, where his zamindari was spread, are described in great detail.

Hashim records his gripping yet lucid narrative reflecting upon litigations, borrowings from the professional money-lenders at exorbitant interest rates.

The issues like the intrigues and perfidies of the kinship networks  figure in a kind of prose which hardly betrays any bitterness on the part of the suffering narrator.

The narrator, Shah Mohammad Hashim (1864-1929), seems to be conscious of the material basis of history-making to the extent that he is able to see the colonial context of deteriorating Hindu-Muslim relations particularly the Shahabad riots of 1917 which he locates in the economic ravages of the ongoing First World War. Floods (more particularly the ravages of the floods of 1916 in Patna and Monghyr), famine/food crises, epidemics, theft, robberies, fire destruction of the human lives and belongings, diseases and (Unani system of) medicines and even the shaking foundations of the colonial rule as a result of the First World War have all been narrated in an engaging simple language full of insights.

The cynical administrative responses of the colonial state in letting the communal riots happen and, under certain exigencies, in preventing these by punitive actions like large-scale arrests of the rioters, lumpens and criminals, are all recorded in this diary of an apparently simple human being in an amazing way. The narrative progresses as annual reports in perfect chronological sequence.

Hashim of Husainabad (in Sheikhpura, Monghyr, Bihar) was a considerably accomplished poet in Urdu and Persian which attracted attention of quite a few researchers and critics of Urdu literature. On Hashim’s poetic accomplishments, Patna University assigned a research and awarded a PhD degree to Zeeshan Fatmi.

Hashim’s prose work is his memoir, “Sakaraat” which literally means pains at the time of death which he claims to be an indeed truthful sample or testimony of his life and of the age in which he lived.

The title and sub-title of the book may suggest that this is rather a pessimistic account of his age. But in reality it is not like that. How? The diary concludes on an optimistic note: it ends with a big hope, as the concluding entry (of 1917) in the diary narrates the author’s observation about the visible beginning of the fall of the British, “Sarkaar-e-Inglishiya Ke Zawaal Ke Aasaar”. He records that in 1917 the Muharram and the Dussehra coincided and communal tension reached its peak in Bihar: there were instigations, conspiracies to the extent of mixing poison with the sweets by the sweet-sellers killing a few people. However, soon after that the Sonepur mela went off peacefully as many leaders made proactive interventions mounting enough pressure on the colonial state to put the rioters behind the bars. An incredibly large number of such anti-social elements were thrown into jails across Bihar. He attributes all this deterioration in law and order and rise in crime to the wilful role of the colonial state which was becoming desperate and restless in the face of the First World War.

Hashim’s narrative testifies that despite his frustrating preoccupations with his own affairs, he had penetrating eyes watching  international developments as he comments upon how the British roped in the USA which was till then apparently staying aloof. He also comments upon as to how sustaining the war would be economically an unviable proposition for the imperialist powers, given the geographical distance of the USA and the costs incurred in keeping the War going. Through newspapers he was able to calculate that the British had to bear a daily expense of Rs 12 crores on the War.

Prof. Jabir Husain has done a great service to the researchers of history by publishing this memoir/diary. Prof. Jabir Husain (b. 1945) has compiled and published his maternal grandfather’s personal memoirs, the manuscript of which he has retrieved from his cousin Syed Saifuddin (1904-85), of Kamra Mohalla in the town of Muzaffarpur (Bihar). Earlier too he published field survey reports about some of the poorest communities of Muslims. He also discovered the role of an unsung hero, Batakh Miyan Ansari (1867-1957), the cook of the District Magistrate of Champaran, who was forced to add poison to the milk to be served to Mahatma Gandhi in 1917, but Batakh Miyan secretly alerted Gandhiji about this conspiracy. Enough of the white-man’s burden of civilizing us! This milk was therefore left untouched by Gandhiji. An unfortunate cat, however, happened to have consumed it to death. Another such discovery of him is an unknown hero of Gopalganj who suffered tribulations because of having slapped a British officer having hurled abuses on Gandhiji.

Prof. Jabir Husain, an alumnus of the LS College, Muzaffarpur (established in 1899, as an outcome of the movement of modern education launched during 1868-99, by the Bihar Scientific Society of Muzaffarpur, a regional response to the Aligarh Movement), where he became enamoured with the Socialist movements of Lohia-JP; taught English literature in the colleges of Monghyr and Patna, served as Health Minister of Bihar, 1977-79, and as Chairman of Bihar Minorities Commission, Chairman of Bihar Legislative Council, and Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha, 2006-12). As Chairman of the Legislative Council, he worked a lot towards making government implement the decisions pertaining to the Second Official Language Status of Urdu including recruitments of Urdu teachers and translators. Currently, he is engaged more in retrieving valuable manuscripts and publishing these from his missionary cultural organization, “Urdu Markaz- Azimabad”. He has written quite a lot and has got Sahitya Academy award (2005) for his creative, “Urdu Katha Diary”, “Ret Par Kheema”.

Dr Mohd. Sajjad teaches history at AMU. He may be contacted at

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 October 2014 on page no. 21

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