Professor Abdur Raheem Kidwai
Originally written in Urdu and published in Tahzibul Akhlaq, Aligarh in June 2016, this article has been translated by the author’s 18 years old son, Abdul Sabur Kidwai (email; email@example.com), doing B.A.(English) at AMU, Aligarh
On 4 May 2016, a peerless authority on English and Urdu literature, the ex-Chairman of the Department of English, Aligarh Muslim University, and my affectionate mentor, Professor Asloob Ahmad Ansari (1925-2016) undertook his final journey towards Allah.
His life, full as it was with perfection and an abundance of knowledge, was amazing in every respect. What is more enviable is that a huge procession of mourners were present at the funeral at the Aligarh Muslim University graveyard, despite the blazing afternoon heat of May. This procession of the finest people of the citadel of learning, AMU, was a testament to the departed soul’s scholarship and his commitment to scholarship, for he had retired some 32 years ago, in 1984. He was not a ‘king-maker’, of whom there is profusion in Aligarh. Nor was he a populist sort of teacher who encouraged people to rally round him. Rather, he was a determined and serious scholar who deliberately shunned these antics. He had a limited social circle, and even in that, he moved about seldom, for this would adversely affect his work. He considered the Staff Club and other similar trade unionist activities to be beneath a scholar. He was very selective in his associates, and newcomers had almost no access to him.
Professor Asloob Ahmad Ansari’s sole interest was knowledge and its accumulation. I noticed in him that self abnegation which is most commonly associated with Sufi saints. The outpouring of grief at his death, the huge procession at his funeral, the many impassioned condolence speeches were not only a positive reflection on the academic milieu of AMU, but also was a result of his dedication towards scholarship.
He was drawn towards literature from his student days, and it should come as no surprise that he was appointed Lecturer at the Department of English, AMU immediately after passing his MA examinations with distinction. He was selected by Professor Fielden, an English man, the then Chairman, Department of English, AMU who recognized his talent, and knew that he would contribute immensely not only to literature, but also to his alma mater, the Aligarh Muslim University. The proof of Professor Fielden’s far-sightedness is borne out by the laudable career of Professor Asloob Ahmad Ansari.
Ph.D in English, in particular, was uncommon in 1950s, but Professor Asloob Ahmad Ansari enrolled for a second BA at the University of Oxford with a view to broadening his mental horizon, and he was awarded this degree with honours. Needless to add, that even today in 2016, the level of BA teaching in British universities is very high, and a BA from there can hardly be compared to the vacuous BA teaching in India. The undergraduate course there included not only samples of Middle English, an arcane and seemingly undecipherable form of English, but also masterpieces of Greek and Latin literature.
Professor Asloob Ahmad Ansari was very fortunate in that he was assigned an authority on English literature, Professor F W Bateson, as his tutor at Oxford. This certainly allowed him to establish himself better. He recounted with glee that when the University of Cambridge had to prepare a bibliography of English literature, they approached his teacher, i.e. Professor Bateson in spite of the centuries-long rivalry between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
After his return from Oxford, Professor Asloob Ahmad Ansari devoted himself wholly to the study of English and Urdu literature. The areas of his interest were the works of such leading English men of letters as Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Wordsworth, and Eliot. His critical articles on these authors earned him universal appreciation. His first book, Arrows of Intellect, on the British poet William Blake was brought out by a prestigious American publisher. In most of the books on Blake since, he has been quoted profusely, and in bibliographies, he features at the top of the list not only because of the alphabetical order, but also because of his scholarship.
Till the end of his days, he brought out three respected journals, 1) Aligarh Journal of English Studies 2) Aligarh Critical Miscellany and 3) Naqd o Nazar (Urdu). The inclusion of ‘Aligarh’ in both of his English journals is particularly noteworthy, for it highlights his love for his alma mater. Equally important it is that he continued to publish these journals (out of at his own pension money) even after retiring from the University. Such examples of devotion to learning, and sacrifice of time, energy, and effort are rare. As to the quality of his journals, I found even the most learned scholars of England looking for words to admire it. They, along with American academics, would contribute articles regularly to these journals. They were impressed, rather awe struck that in as remote a place as Aligarh, there existed such a hardworking individual who brought out these journals, that too out of his personal income.
Along with his interest, rather involvement in English literature, he adhered to his Islamic and Oriental values. He wrote profusely in Urdu as well, and the authors of his interest here were Iqbal, Ghalib, and Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi. He held Iqbal in the highest regard not only because of his creative genius but because of his unwavering devotion to Islam and Islamic values. He considered association with religion to be a guarantor of literature, and highlighted how Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Goethe, and Eliot all had borrowed ideas, expressions, metaphors, and allusions from the Bible. Thus, he gave a short shrift to the apologists who wished to explain away Islam in Iqbal’s works.
Another high point of his life was his excellent conduct towards both his students and his teachers. Apart from Professor Bateson, he held in much esteem Khwaja Manzoor Husain, his teacher at the Department of English, Aligarh Muslim University who returned to his native Lahore in 1948. Yet, Professor Asloob Ahmad Ansari held him very dear to him until his last breath in 2016. He inspired the same love and regard from his students in which he held his own teachers.
A few years ago, a gentleman came to his house and introduced himself as Professor Arun Kumar, Vice Chancellor, Gorakhpur University. He added that Professor Asloob Ahmad Ansari had taught him in 1970, and was insistent that Professor Asloob should give his consent for the honorary degree to be awarded at the University convocation. This is a shining example of the exemplary teacher-student relationship prevalent in the ancient India and the Medieval Muslim world. It was indeed gratifying to see it replicated in today’s materialistic world. Another student of his, Professor T R Sharma, University of Meerut organised a seminar in his honour at his retirement and brought out a commemorative volume in recognition of his contributions. Although Professor Akhtarul Wasey, Commissioner Linguistic Minorities, Govt. of India, was not his student, he being an AMU Old Boy still held him in high regard and arranged for him the Bahadur Shah Zafar Award, the most prestigious award that the Urdu Academy confers.
Professor Asloob Ahmad Ansari was a great scholar and first-rate English and Urdu literary critic. More importantly, he was a staunch Muslim, keen on reciting and grasping the Quran. In his later years, he learnt Arabic with the sole purpose to understand the Word of God in its original form. He would often say that placing emotion and belief aside, the Quran is such a marvellous literary masterpiece that all the literature of the world pales before it.
Professor Ansari was a Man among men.
Professor Abdur Raheem Kidwai is the Director of UGC Human Resource Development Centre, AMU