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Illuminating An Era

Narayani Gupta

By C.F. Andrews  with Introductions by Mushirul Hasan and Margrit Pernau
Oxford University Press, New Delhi , (first published  by Heffer and Son, Cambridge, 1929), , 2003, pp. ixxv 114, Rs. 350.00


Andrews was an honorary citizen of India,  whose resting-place is in Lower Circular Road, Kolkata. He was a man of many friendships,  who wrote on Gandhi, Tagore, Shraddha-nand, as well as on the North West Frontier and  on the Simon Commission. Between him and Maulvi Zakaullah there was a close friendship, though they were forty years apart in age.       Many truly great people fall through the interstices of history. But there are those rare individuals like Andrews who realize that a school teacher like Zakaullah—with that magic mix of utter integrity, humility, enthusiasm, and a sense of fun—deserves to be immortal as much as do Gandhi or Tagore. He wrote this wonderful memoir and illuminated an era.      This is a book that should be on everyone’s reading-list. It is much more than a biography. It is about a city, a time and a zeitgeist. What a civilized milieu early twentieth-century Delhi was! Zakaullah, a contemporary and friend  of the writers Altaf Husain  Hali and Nazir Ahmed, and of the literary critic, Muhammad Husain Azad, was a widely-read scholar who was passionately interested in mathematics and science. He was one of those who believed that European science should be disseminated through the vernacular, and wrote nearly a hundred and fifty books in Urdu towards this end. Today the problem is reversed—we need to recover the works written in Urdu.  Over the last thirty years, many scholars have worked on nineteenth-century Delhi, and  some of the books of Hali, Ahmad and Azad have been translated. Zakaullah’s books of science do not have to be restored to English, but to recover the person he was is invaluable.      The two new Introductions are a welcome addition. Mushirul Hasan, a prolific scholar whose work includes studies of  nineteenth and twentieth century  north India, draws our attention to the resilience shown by Delhi’s intellectual elite after the tragedy of 1857-8. Margrit Pernau, whose earlier research was on the Khilafat in Hyderabad and is presently working on nineteenth-century Delhi, writes about  the  power of  encounters—between philosophies, ideals, individuals. We need to revive ourselves from this fount at a time when so much is in danger of being dessicated by the acid of communitarianism. Zakaullah passed away in 1911, before he could know that his city was once again to be chosen as the capital of India. But he left a message ...

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