Forgotten crusader

Forgotten crusader

The way we were

Forgotten crusader

Idealist leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, Rajendra Parsad, Lal Bahadur Shastri helped India to attain freedom and a sense of dignity. We know a lot about their political lives but few know if their idealism and nationalism affected their families in any way.

Unlike today when politics has become a family business, in those days, these leaders believed they would be doing the country  a great disservice if they promoted their kith and kin.

Probably the leaders of freedom struggle, having experienced the hardships of  turbulent days, knew that their responsibility then lay in nation building. At all costs, they made sure their family members did not take undue advantage of their position, always emphasising on giving their all to the country rather than taking.

For instance, take the much-talked about rift between Maulana Azad and his nephew Nooruddin Ahmed (who was his elder brother Abu-n-Nasr Aah’s  only son and the author’s father). Many believe it arose because Azad did not recommend his nephew’s name for a job at the ICCR (Indian Council of Cultural Relations), as he didn’t want to be accused of nepotism.

Maulana Azad simply abhorred the fact that his relatives should come to him for favours. My father though a graduate from Kolkata’s St Xavier’s College and a man of letters, didn’t do any work.Once it so happened that at the ICCR, the post of the librarian got vacant and Maulana Azad was not in Delhi, so his nephew got the job at a monthly salary of Rs 325 per month at the behest of the secretary SH Burney.

When Maulana Azad came to know about this, he asked his nephew to resign on 5 September, 1956 and  wrote  in a file that the post of the librarian be given to someone else.

Likewise Baquar Hussain, a very distant nephew of Maulana Azad, and distributor of feature films, wanted the allotment of a Bombay distribution company. Maulana plainly refused saying that in his eyes, it was unethical to please one’s relatives.

Frankly speaking, Maulana Azad’s family life was not a priority as he was a man made for the Indian freedom struggle and most of his time got consumed in political meetings with Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali, Aruna Asif Ali and umpteen others.

Besides, he had only one child Hussain who didn’t survive long. Maulana’s wife Zulekha was a very caring, loving and educated lady whose elder sister Hafiza was the wife of his elder brother Maulana Abu-n-Nasr Aah. Aah died at the young age of about 24 in 1906 and his only son Nooruddin Ahmed Sahab (my father) who was born after his father’s untimely death, was taken care of by Azad.

Therefore, Nooruddin was like Maulana’s son. My mother used to frequent the house of Maulana in Delhi at Four King Edward Road (now the official vice presidential residence) and was fond of the pomegranates on trees in the compound.

At his home in Delhi, Maulana Azad used to be mostly busy in his study. One anecdote relates how when Maulana Azad was residing at his Ballygaunge Circular Road house in Kolkata, Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru went to see him.

This was before India had won Independence. At that time he was writing something and his kurta was torn at the shoulder. Gandhiji gauged that something was amiss and 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 Kolkata’s most widely circulated Urdu daily 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 cheap! He avoided lavish feasts. Such a contrast from the politicians of today!

While Maulana Azad was imprisoned in Ahmednagar Fort in the aftermath of the Quit India resolution, he received a telegram that his beloved life-partner Zulekha had passed away on 9 April, 1943.

Maulana recounted in his letter to Maulana Abdul Razzaq Malihabadi, editor of Azad Hind that he had wept when he visited her grave. Incidentally, he also lost his elder sisters Hanifa Begum Aabru and Khadija Begum Aarzu in 1943.

During Maulana’s incarceration, the Mahatma too lost his wife, Kasturba. Just goes to show that the women who worked tirelessly behind the scenes also sacrificed equally or perhaps more than their men for the cause of  freedom.

My father lived with Maulana Azad right from the time of his birth and despite their differences, was a great fan of his and considered him as his ideal. He said that Azad was bold enough to propagate nationalism at variance with the prevalent political consciousness based on communalised politics.

Maulana coalesced with creativity, the Vedantic vision of many parts of  one truth with the Islamic doctrines of Wahdat-e-Deen (unity of religion) and Sulah-e-Kul (universal peace). It is clear that Maulana Azad was not only this century’s most articulate votary of Hindu-Muslim unity but also the only one who claimed divine sanction for his faith in that unity.

My father was much impressed by Maulana’s unshakable faith in India’s credentials as a secular nation. He believed  in India’s  capacity  to  create   a  natural environment for national integration. This  principle was  termed  by  him as   Ummat-e-Wahida. Like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Maulana Saheb struggled against divisive, parochial and myopic politics.

Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad’s mausoleum before the Jama Masjid in Delhi, on the other hand, is not greatly  frequented. The relative neglect of his tomb suggests that we have lost interest in keeping his memory alive. It also suggests that Indian society as a whole may no longer value, as before, and perhaps may not even know the principles for which he stood.

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