Trials and travails of a nationalist Muslim

Book: The Life and Times of a Nationalist Muslim
Author: M. Hashim Kidwai
Publisher: Universal Book House, Aligarh
Year: 2015
Pages: 248
ISBN: 978-93-844-34-05-2
Price: Rs 250
Mohammad Adeeb

Reviewing a book, normally, is not that difficult a job, but this challenging endeavour of mine puts me in an embarrassing state, rather, it makes me face a test of  life time. I am immensely charged with emotions, so it seems to be an uphill task for me to review a work of my teacher and guide. Further, what puts me in a dilemma is the fact that the author of the book is the eldest surviving member of our extended family. By virtue of his age and rich experiences, he has donned the robe of the Elder Man of our clan. And as far as I am concerned, I have always seen him around, with a larger than life presence.

Let me assert, first, that Dr. Kidwai has produced a meticulous, scholarly work which is not a mere autobiography. By and large, it is an account of not only his life and career, but beyond that, it encompasses the whole time span he has lived through. His is an eventful life, mainly spent at two prestigious centres of learning, cultural activities and political commotion, namely, Lucknow and Aligarh. And there, he was not only an eyewitness to all the happenings, but, on his own, an active player too.

This is an authentic account of a whole era, spanning over seven decades or so. Not only recording the events, he has immortalised all the major characters of the real life political and social dramas, staged in northern India of those days, and that too, as an intelligent, alert and well-informed scholar who seems to be bestowed with a third eye and an insight to look into the depths of occurrences and fix his sight inside the minds and hearts of the most significant people he has focused on. No doubt, he has a rare quality of analysing all developments in an objective manner and evaluate correctly the main characters of polity and society of our nation.

Above all, he has a remarkable memory. I wonder if he benefited from any sort of notes or diaries because, as per my judgement, he can perfectly tell a true tale, without any reference tools, while recording his memoirs. Naturally, this unique skill makes him succeed in presenting a documentary of men and matters, with minute details and exact figures. His book has no passing glimpses, but finely filmed frames, with masterly perfection. It makes the reader travel through an eventful period of our national history, incorporating all relevant happenings and movements, at work-political, social and academic-during a crucial period. Fortunately, the narrator, himself, has been in the thick and thin of all the affairs he has penned about as an alert watcher of events and people through decades.

The author is an intellectual, thinker, scholar, political activist and a staunch nationalist to the core. He has acted as a think-tank over the decades, showing path to many, including this modest soul. Obviously, when such a versatile person takes pain to record his memoirs, the result automatically is a self-authenticated, well-illustrated and enlightening book, which is before us now.

The author has told us the real life tales of a critical period, spanning over more than seven decades-drastically bifurcated by the worst event of our national history-partition of the country. He has virtually covered all events leading to the partition and later, the nation crossing over the fence and entering a new era along with the warm and enthusiastic strides taken by a free nation while a new India was in the making.

In this first volume of his memoirs, he halts at a turning point of history-the shocking demise of Pt. Nehru and promises to tell the rest of the tale, most probably, till the last moments in the 21st century.

The author, having access to all elite circles, availed the opportunity to watch closely, interact freely and study vigorously many a great man of his time. He was fortunate enough to be in the august company of stalwarts, like Pt. Nehru, C. Rajgopal Acharya, Maulana Azad, Dr. Syed Mahmood, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai and Dr. Zakir Hussain, to mention a chosen few.

In particular, the author has given us two powerful chapters, one on Lucknow, where he had his roots and did spend the first eventful part of his life, as a student and political activist, and another on Aligarh, where he began a new phase of his life and where his role changed altogether. Now, he was a respected don and a light-house for the new generation. Again, he lived through a difficult time, when Aligarh Muslim University was passing through painful days in search of a new identity. If, in Lucknow he contributed with his full might to build a new nation, in the second phase he worked hard in putting all his expertise and resources in re-establishing and strengthening the great institution-AMU.

Let’s now look forward to the second volume of his memoirs, which is bound to enrich the readers about the author’s proactive role, as a seasoned teacher, great scholar and of course a politician, as he would also mention his personal experiences, as a member of the upper house of Parliament.

Here in the end, I take liberty to submit that the physical presentation of the book does not match the stuff within its covers. Let’s hope, the second edition of the book will be in a better shape. Nevertheless, by and large the book emerges as a serious academic and meritorious gem.  

To sum up, this epitome is destined to attract serious readers and prove to be a textbook for aspiring politicians, historians, social activists, academics and of course a reference tool for all those working in the domain. The nonagenarian author deserves all credit and adoration for a scholarly gift with a distinct aroma to the coming generations.

The reviewer is a former Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha)