Wednesday, October 18, 2023



Sir Syed and his funeral
On March 27, 1898, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan died at the kothi or mansion of his friend Ismaeel Khan in Aligarh. Sir Syed had moved in this house only 10-15 days before his death from the beautiful bungalow—Sir Syed House—his son Syed Mahmood had bought for him from a British army officer. In 1876 Sir Syed took retirement from judicial service and moved from Benares to Aligarh.
Sir Syd House which currently houses Sir Syed Academy was furnished with English-style amenities, living rooms, dinning room, guestroom, office where Sir Syed worked, met visitors and friends. He had to leave that house because drinking had turned Syed Mahmood a bit insensitive towards his father. Sir Syed couldn’t see the once brilliant son going astray like this due to heavy drinking anymore and wanted to live independently, moved to his friend Ismaeel Khan’s house which was also a mansion.
The news of Sir Syed’s death spread like a wildfire. Many admirers of Sir Syed, including Shaikh Abdullah who later founded Women's College at AMU, manufactured a story that Sir Syed’s funeral arrangements were made through chanda or donation by a friend. This doesn’t seem to be true. Iftikhar Alam Khan who has written extensively on Sir Syed writes that many of Sir Syed’s close relatives, all of them well off, were present in Aligarh then and there doesn’t seem to be a reason for an outsider funding the cost of his funeral. More, in a letter Principal of MAO College Theodore Beck wrote that Syed Mahmood had paid Rs 150 to the British doctor who had treated Sir Syed towards his closing days. So, if Syed Mahmood paid the doctor Rs 150, why couldn’t he have paid Rs 50, as some of the chroniclers claimed he had not.
Some like Shaikh Abdullah said Sir Syed’s friend and College’s secretary Mohsinul Mulk donated Rs 50 for the funeral. This seems false. And why did they need Rs 50 for funeral arrangements in 1898? Rs 5 would have been enough. After all, they didn’t buy the land for the grave.
Sir Syed's son Syed Mahmood was a rich man and he would not have let others bear the cost of Sir Syed's funeral. Even if Syed Mahmood was not mentally sound enough to think about it, there were other relatives around who could have done it. But it seems Syed Mahmood was very much alive to the unfolding events after the death of his father.
A teacher Mir Vilayat Hussain writes that Principal Theodore Beck wanted Sir Syed to be buried in the garden in front of the Victoria Gate of the College and had even got a grave dug. Beck was a British and a Cambridge graduate whom Syed Mahmood had hired. Perhaps Beck wanted to build a big mausoleum over Sir Syed’s grave and, therefore, wanted him to be buried at the garden the College’s founder had himself created and nurtured. Sir Syed himself had not left any will regarding his last resting place or its kind. Was he bothered about it? Not at all. The man who had mortgaged his Delhi house and sold furniture and books to fund his stay in England so that he could write rebuttal to William Muir’s devastating book about the Prophet least cared for his own grave. He had seen descendants of the Tughlaqs cutting grass outside Delhi in the aftermath of the 1857 holocaust. He had heard the cries of princesses and nobles inside the Red Fort, desperately seeking food and water. Unlike the Mughals, with the exception of Aurangzeb who willed not to build any structure on his grave, Sir Syed had no dream to be remembered through tombs or buildings or memorials. Only insecure rulers and megalomaniacs want to create memorials, name stadiums, buildings after themselves in their lifetime because they don’t trust that their successors will do it. Over a century after his death, Sir Syed is remembered not only through countless buildings and institutions but he is alive in the millions of hearts across the globe.
So, Syed Mahmood came to MAO College campus the night Sir Syed had died. He told Mir Vilayat Hussain that the grave of his father would be on the piece of land in right hand side of the Jama Masjid and not outside the Victoria Gate. Principal Beck was informed of this and he agreed. He said Syed Mahmood was Sir Syed's heir and Sir Syed should be buried wherever his son wants. And the grave was prepared in the night itself.
Next day, a huge crowd assembled at the cricket ground for the funeral prayer. Beck had so much influence on Sir Syed’s life and the College that, without consulting anyone, he kept the 4 pm next day time for taking out the janaza or funeral procession. Hindus, Muslims, Christians and other communities from Aligarh and neighbouring areas flocked to the campus to say goodbye to the great grand old man of Aligarh. Many British officers, railway officials and police guards too joined the funeral procession. Men and women, including masons and workers who had worked on the College buildings while Sir Syed sat there, putting a stone here, changing the brick there, wept inconsolably. They mourned the death a of man whose replacement has not walked on the subcontinent's land since his passing.
Maulvi Abdullah Ansari, son-in-law of Darul Uloom Deoband founder Maulana Qasim Nanautvi and who had set up Sunni Theology department at MAO College, led namaz-e-janaza. Principals, Theodore Beck and Theodore Morison, too participated in the namaz-e-janaza. A police team gave a guard of honour. Floral wreaths were put on the grave on behalf of the Lieutenant Governor the United Provinces (now UP).
Five more gentlemen who were touched by Sir Syed one way or the other—son Syed Mahmood, friend Mohsinul Mulk, friend Zainul Abideen, grandson Sir Ross Masood who had played in Sir Syed’s lap, student and teacher at MAO College Sir Ziauddin (he had refused to join deputy collector’s job and preferred to teach at MAO College on Sir Syed's insistence and later became its principal and VC too after it became AMU) --later joined Sir Syed at the small patch of land on the mosque's premises. They all, close to each other, sleep peacefully.
Sir Syed's roofless grave is covered with a sheet of green grass. It has been kept like that with a purpose. The man who gave a new life to the Muslims of the subcontinent and who was among harbingers of 19th century renaissance in India continues to serve nature even after death.
Sham dar sham jalenge teri yadon ke charag/Nasl dar nasl dard tera numaya hoga

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