An inspiring autobiography

Book: My LIfe
Author: B. Sheik Ali
Publisher: Knowledge Society, Mysore
Year: 2009
Price: Rs 250
Pages: 493+24
Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander   Human life, from cradle to grave, is so complex that if we start scribbling it down from the day one till death still many vital experiences, incidents and lessons would be left out! Writing about one's life is the most difficult form of writing when it comes to objectivity because frequently they are either exaggerations or self appraisals with little for others to inspire from! But the present autobiography under review by the academician, activist, educationist, historian, scholar and social activist is truly awe inspiring and exceptional in its tone and lucidity.

The author nostalgically traces his childhood and the days when he struggled hard to attain a good education and how he overcame the obstacles on his path. He recalls how his own relatives let him down and strangers came to his rescue. Moharrum would remind him of the “Ganesha Festival of the Hindus and Shab-e-Barath was celebrated as Diwali Day with crackers and other fireworks. All those rituals have now disappeared but they were very much in vogue in my childhood”(P-14-15). This speaks about the fraternal, pluralistic and joyous culture prevalent in those grand old days which now have been replaced by materialistic, competition driven and consumerist culture.

As a student the author chose history as a subject for his specialization and he thinks that history is liquid philosophy which is in motion, and he very well deliberates about his struggle to secure a place in History Department which was ruled by Brahmins, but he still made his way and proved his mettle. He relates his experiences during his research scholar days at England and America, though critical of their materialism, immorality and ungodliness, the author is all praise for their manners, culture, scholarship and student-teacher relationship. The author is a prolific writer who hasn't forgotten his native land and wrote extensively about Haider Ali, his son Tipu Sultan and their role in the struggle against the British colonialism. It has been generally observed that scholars and academics rarely come out of their cozy cocoons and spend their entire lives engaged in scholarly debates, discussions, hair splitting and penning down tomes but Sheik Ali is truly an exception to those cave-dwelling scholars who, despite his busy schedule as a teacher-scholar, has done extensive job as an Institution Builder. He continues to write in addition to his scores of books. He is vein with Sir Syed who built numerous chain of institutions and livelihood generating centers where education and vocational training are imparted to the deserving. He was the source behind the proper consolidation of two new universities as he assumed the charges of Vice-Chancellorship of newly formed Manglore and Goa Universities and depicts how many obstacles and road blocks he had to overcome while assuming and discharging this difficult job, though at times circumstances and environment were against him but he wasn't cowed down.

Indian universities, in contrast to the Western ones, are still in their infancy when it comes to scholarship, teaching and research. Our Vice Chancellor, being a student of western universities, can well understand this fact because the Team Spirit, Motivation, Inspiration and Student-Teacher sacred bond are completely missing in our highest seats of learning. “The most important function is to motivate the faculty to do creative work. This is also a very difficult task in an environment where university system is a white elephant consuming enormously and producing little of effective output.  Elephants are either in the temples or in palaces for show purpose. To put these massive animals to good use requires great skill. Our faculty, by and large, believes in counting thirty days, draw the salary and count thirty five years to draw the pension. Of course there are a few notable exceptions, as everywhere but majority do not size up to expectations. Our universities have become white elephants, ivory towers, with high qualifications but the net result is, they dig a mountain and bring out a mole. In such a situation to motivate the staff to creative work and bring about an intellectual ecology was a hard job”(p. 331). This clearly depicts the plight of the university faculty which can well be understood by this verse of Akbar Allahabadi:

Hamare Hazrat Bhi Kya Kaarhaee Numayan Kargaye
BA Kiya, Naukar Huwe, Pension Ley, Aur Mar Gaye

(Our Man did a wonderful job
Passed BA, was employed, got pension and died.)

This quality to inspire, motivate, and make others work brings out that the author is a great administrator too. After retirement from active life, every person dreams to spend the last days of his life in peace and solace but the deplorable condition of his people and the writer inside the author didn't let him opt so. He initiated  a series of social and educational activities under the Sultan Shaheed Educational Trust, in a mature age which people think is good for rest and meditation only, but this author proved that social service is the highest form of meditation and first step while bringing oneself nearer to Allah. Though he laments that Muslims don't pay much attention to these causes and at times he was coerced to step down but still his indomitable spirit didn't let him to opt so.

Inspite of having struggled for more than eight decades, the author is still carrying on, and being a prolific writer he is bringing out more volumes from his pen despite having written scores of books in both English and Urdu on diverse topics, he still continues to write as he believes that “the life is a gift of God, but good life is the gift of the good use of intellect”.

The autobiography is a worth read, as it inspires one to soar higher and higher in life not for his own good but for the good of entire humanity. This unique book portrays the amalgamated life depicting how to add and balance administration-education-research-scholarship-social service-teaching-writing and many more apparently diverse fields. Overall the book will prove a worth inspiring readers for hues of all shades though cultural critiques may at times find the author being swayed away by the dominant discourse. One may find some of his views hard to digest. “Forget the politics of the English, as a race they are a gem of people. All qualities of high character are concentrated in them, that is why they ruled over the world for quite a long time, nearly for two centuries” (P-67) “They are certainly superior and they are conscious of their superiority which they use to overpower and dominate others. If you ignore this weakness of the British, they are a gem of people” (pp. 200-201). Also the spelling mistakes at times too sour the taste of reading this unique struggle of a common man who made it to the top, making him immortal.

The reviewer is a student of Political Science in Kashmir University