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Muslim Culture in the Last Century

Girish Mathur

By David Lelyveld
Princeton University Press and Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1978, pp XXVI 380, Rs. 190.00

VOLUME IV NUMBER 3 November/December 1979

The undivided Bengal with its Muslim majority had a Muslim problem which was not exactly the same as the Muslim problem of another Muslim majority province of the pre-Partition days, the Punjab; in fact, the Punjab's was more a problem of the sense of insecurity felt by its Hindus. The largely coastal presi­dencies of Bombay (which then included Sind and also Kutch) and Madras (inclu­ding Malabar district), far removed from the Hindi- Urdu- Hindustani heart­land of the country, had pockets in which they had their own Muslim problems. But what became the all-India Muslim prob­lem resulting in the Partition of the sub­continent was really the problem of the Muslim elite of the Hindi-Urdu-Hindus­tani areas consisting of Delhi, U.P., Bihar and parts of the then C.P., and the prob­lem persists even after the Partition. By giving an account of the evolution of this elite out of the higher formations of the social set-up under the last Moghuls, David Lelyve1d has provided new insights for the better appreciation of the psychological and cultural factors behind the Muslim problem. Lelyveld regards those chapters of his book as the ‘heart of the work’ which deal with the intellectual experience of the first generation of the students of the Aligarh M.A.O. College. But, as he himself says, the fortunes of Aligarh's first generation graduates have been explored by him in an attempt ‘to understand what it meant to be an Indian Muslim in the nine­teenth century and how that cultural identity may I have changed in the context of a colonial restructuring of political institutions’. He has relied heavily on Urdu, sources which few scholars interes­ted in that period do, and he has made extensive use of biographical, historical and fictional accounts to reconstruct the cultural context and the social milieu in which the Muslim elite sought to come to terms with new political realities. The result of this exploration of a hitherto neglected area is not merely a contribu­tion to sociological literature but also a pioneering effort in the field of the social history of the Hindi-Urdu-Hindustani speaking areas in the nineteenth century. Particular mention should be made of the author's vivid account of the sharif culture and the kutchehri subculture—literally translated, sharif means the gentry for which the Bengali word Madralok would be the most appropriate Hindi ...

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