Mukhtar Masood: An Exemplar of Aligarh | Abdul Sabur Kidwai

Abdul Sabur Kidwai | May 04, 2017

 
It is only fitting that we honour the accomplishments of Mukhtar Masood with the following words of Allama Iqbal who greatly inspired Mukhtar Masood throughout his life. While originally written for another stalwart of Aligarh, Sir Ross Masood, Iqbal’s words ring true for him also:
 
 
Born in Aligarh c. 1928 to Professor Sheikh Ataullah who taught Economics at the Aligarh Muslim University, Mukhtar Masood completed his education from primary schooling to his MA in Economics at the Aligarh Muslim University. In 1949 after passing his MA, he along with his family returned to his native land of what is now Pakistan, and qualified the prestigious Civil Service Examination, thereafter becoming one of the foremost civil servants of Pakistan.
 
He left indelible mark on the world of Urdu non-fiction, and his pen is noted for its wit, insights, perception, and an almost tragic quality of what in Urdu is called baaz-afreeni, which could loosely be translated to ‘reminisce’. It is in these reminisces that Masood has immortalized Aligarh, and for that, all Aligarians stand beholden to him. .
 
Scenes from the iconic Students’ Union Hall, from the reception given to Khalida Adeeb Khanam when he was a student of Class III, to his final event, the reception to Sarojini Naidu, the first Governor of UP, in 1949, after he had appeared in his final MA examinations, feature in his memoirs, Awaz i Dost. He writes about the very Aligarian tradition of gul-poshi in Union Hall, where mounds of petals are showered upon distinguished guests from the rafters. Khalida Adeeb Khanam recounts the gul-poshi thus in her travelogue, Inside India: .
 

Another reminder of the English University [AMU] is the serious insistence on traditional ceremonies. They conferred on the writer the honour of membership to the Students’ Union. There were speeches in Urdu, poems recited in Urdu . For the first time I had a sense of the superior beauty of Urdu over Persian. Its harmony, virility, and sonorous strength impressed me. When I rose to speak, I felt flowers raining upon me, so much so that I could not neither open my mouth nor my eyes. After this avalanche of petals ended, I looked up. From the skylight two men poured down tons of petals. A waste on a little old woman, but very beautiful nonetheless.

 
It would be fair to say that Masood has captured the essence of his Aligarh, of the pre-Partition days, of the sweeping and heady movement which resulted in Pakistan. While he writes of activism and fiery speeches, he also creates a frightening spectacle of the situation in Aligarh, especially immediately after Partition. He writes how elaborate schemes had been discussed and planned, of how women, children, and the elderly would seek refuge in the fort-like Sir Syed Hall while the young men would strike out and defend themselves from the attackers. It is easy, in retrospect, to dismiss this as paranoia or a false sense of persecution, but it does bring home this most important point: the Partition was horrible and bloody event, not only for those who actively participated in the mass exodus from both sides, but even for those who chose to stay in the place they had called home. .

Mukhtar Masood was a proud son of Aligarh, the realization of Sir Syed’s dream: an English-educated Muslim Indian youth, active in his studenthood in both the Students’ Union, and sports, being captain of the prestigious Muslim University Riding Club, serving his community and his nation, all the while mindful of his Oriental values, well-versed in Arabic and Persian, committed to the principles of Islam, and representing the cherished qualities of Aligarh.


 
Awaz i Dost details the creation of Pakistan, and how Masood viewed the world, both as a student, and later, as a jaded civil servant, who had experienced the world and tasted its sorrows. Every third page of his memoirs carries some mention of Aligarh, the University, or the great personalities who had been associated with Aligarh. From Maulana Zafar Ali Khan to the Nizam of Hyderabad, to scenes of his house in the residential area of the University called the Tar Wala Bangla. The later part of Awaz i Dost is devoted to recollections of the Aligarh personages, many of whom Mukhtar Masood had seen first hand, and about whom he has penned his views.
 
His style is inimitable, honed as it was under the tutelage of Professor Rasheed Ahmad Siddiqui, Urdu humourist extraordinaire, and sharpened by the company of Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi, undeniably one of the best Urdu prose writers alive. These writers of the golden generation of Aligarh are united by their love for Aligarh, and their individual style: beautifully crafted passages peppered with wit, maxims, and profundity and insight. One such instance in Awaz i Dost is when the 8-year old Mukhtar approached his father asking whose signature he should next have in his newly bought autograph book. His father’s reply was that whether it was the leaf of an autograph book, or the empty page of one’s own life, one should be extremely careful about who one allows to make a mark on it.
 
It is in Awaz i Dost that Mukhtar Masood delivers perhaps the most poignant description of Sir Syed I have read so far: .
 

There was an oil painting of Sir Syed in the Union Hall, and I would often gaze upon it. His broad forehead, his noble bearing, and his immense chest were objects of my curiosity. It pained me much to see his chest draped in medals and insignia of British chivalry, but when I looked deeper, I found a bleeding heart, pining for his community, aching for his people.

 
My rudimentary translation does not, and cannot, do justice to Masood’s original, which is also why I am loth to translate the last chapter of his other, equally magnificent book, Safar Naseeb wherein he writes about his experience of travelling in the world. This too is embellished by memories of Aligarh, and the last chapter is an excellent recollection of the Students Union elections, and also a pen-sketch of Fazlur Rahman who had travelled from Shahdola in Gujrat City, present-day Panjab, Pakistan at the age of 16 and gone to Zanzibar, Tanzania where he progressed from a lowly sentry to the head of personal security of the Sultan of Zanzibar, but retired at the age of 25, in search of new adventures. He came to Aligarh to study, and stayed with Professor Ataullah, Mukhtar Masood’s father, and he left a deep impression on the young Mukhtar Masood, inculcating into him the importance of travel, and instilling into him a passion for newer worlds, and adventure. It is to Fazlur Rahman that Mukhtar Masood credits his desire of travel, and also of analysing things, regardless of their social and cultural sanctity.
 
This quality of analysis marks Mukhtar Masood as a proud son of Aligarh, the realization of Sir Syed’s dream: an English-educated Muslim Indian youth, active in his studenthood in both the Students’ Union, and sports, being captain of the prestigious Muslim University Riding Club (about which he has also written a great deal), serving his community and his nation, forging a new path ahead, all the while mindful of his Oriental values, well-versed in Arabic and Persian, committed to the principles of Islam, and representing the cherished qualities of Aligarh.
 
Mukhtar Masood had served in the Agricultural Development Bank of Pakistan, and later as Secretary-General of the Regional Cooperation for Development, an organization which sought to increase and embetter ties amid Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran. His stint as the Secretary-General came to an end with the Islamic Revolution of Iran, of which an eye-witness, riveting account constitutes his book Lauh i Ayyam.
 
Mukhtar Masood lived an active life, but now rests eternally in Lahore where his funeral prayers were held at Shadman Mosque on 15 April 2017.
 
The sense of loss over the death of this exemplar of the Aligarh Movement can be best expressed through Allama Iqbal’s sagacious couplet: 
 
 
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