This great scholar of Medieval Indian
history and one of the iconic historians to have been produced by
the AMU’s famous Department of History breathed his last on Friday,
15th April 2011.
Thanks to my teacher Mr. M. K. Zaman, I received the news of
Qaisar's sad demise. It was barely two hours before his burial, and
I immediately sms-ed, besides others, some of those batch-mates of
mine who had been taught by him an optional course on Mughal Economy
in the MA final year. Most of those students are highly placed now:
two are Deputy Secretary in the Union ministry/ Parliament
secretariat, another one is an author of an acclaimed book on 18th
century western India and is teaching in an American university, and
Not many colleagues/ students of the late Prof. A. J. Qaisar
(present in Aligarh ) participated in his last rites. The AMU’s
Deptt. of History, in terms of the number of teachers, research
scholars, and other students has got quite a huge strength. Then,
why this small participation in his burial, despite the fact that
the Muslim (emphasis intended) University claims to be a gehwaarah
(cradle) of a particular kind of culture- tehzeeb, tamaddun? Was it
because Prof. Qaisar was a reclusive as well as a bit eccentric man?
Was it because he was not a power-wielding academician who could
indulge in manipulations of recruitments, promotions, ghost
authorships, award of lucrative research projects regardless of the
merit,…? Was it because Prof. Qaisar was not among those who run or
follow lobbies of the unscrupulous power politics within the kingdom
of AMU ?
In short, this kind of treatment meted out to the death of the
historian of such a high repute throws many questions about the way
we the AMU people are living. We have been ‘witness’ to other such
“frailties”. We are told that the death of somebody’s elephant was
given the space of obituary in a well meaning newspaper and this was
done by spacing out the obituary of a great historian, Jadunath
Sarkar. We are also told that in AMU the death of a teacher’s
daughter had failed to receive as many condolences as the death of
the dog of another colleague. If that is so, then, we must admit
that in the industry of knowledge, power-play has got strange and
In AMU, teacher and student politics operates with considerable
regional saliency. On these primordial bases, the regional satraps
expect/ demand favours, privileges, votes, administrative
assignments. But even these people were conspicuous by their
absence, even in this election season. Probably because, such a big
historian was free from all such narrowness, chauvinism and bigotry.
While teaching us, as asides, he had shared with us, “I am a votary
of a specific kind of Sufism whereby I have cocktailed it with a
happy dose of Marxism”.
Gayee woh baat ki ho guftagu to kyon kar ho;
Kahey se kuchh na hua phir kaho to kyon kar ho
In the MA I yr, he was my tutor of the then compulsory course of
Historiography and Historical Method. He assigned me to write a Term
Paper on “Causation in History: a Case Study of the movement of
1857”. He made me show him 3-4 drafts of the Term Paper, only then
it could be approved by him, that too only with inadequate
satisfaction of the rigorous task-master that Prof. Qaisar was. As
was his temperament, on showing each draft, he scolded me, but,
needless to say, that made me learn a lot. In the MA II yr, it was
this thing about him, which prompted me to opt for a course taught
by him: Mughal Economy. I was a student of Modern Indian history, so
he enquired a lot about my choice of a course of Medieval Indian
History, apparently, only apparently, discouraging me to opt it. I
stood firm. Other friends of mine followed, and the “dead” optional
course became “alive” after a long time.
It was he who persuaded me to opt for a course on the Working Class
Movements in Colonial India, taught by Dr Ishrat Alam, currently,
Member Secretary, ICHR. He had great expectations from Dr Alam.
If memory serves me right, he had already retired and was teaching
us on post-retirement employment/ extension. He shared a lot about
the regressive factional politicking within the Department. Soon, he
had to forego the extension to quit in angst and disgust. He warned
us that in the ‘bad’ world of academics, self-respect is an
impediment in the way of one’s rise, yet one must take care of one’s
self-respect. It is too valuable. He had a little of stammering, but
that did not come in the way of good communicator in him. One person
he admired a lot was Prof. Nurul Hasan and his begum, who according
to him showered a lot of affections. Qaisar had great regards for
the couple. He co-edited a felicitation volume for Prof. Nurul Hasan.
This was his tribute to the teacher he was so fond of.
He convinced us to develop and refine the habits of reading novels
in order to comprehend and articulate history in a better way. He
gifted us a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover.
He did his schooling from the prestigious Zilla School of Chapra
(Saran), Bihar, and then did his Intermediate Science from the Patna
Science College , and then in graduation he switched over to History
in AMU. As a Fulbright scholar, he got the opportunity to visit
better provisioned universities of the Western world, and produced
highly acclaimed works on the history of technology, published his
book from the Oxford University Press. Besides the conventional
sources, he made extensive as well as intensive use of the Mughal
paintings to reconstruct history, meticulously dissecting the
technological devices shown in the paintings. Despite all his
accomplishments, he regretted that he could not put in as much of
labour as to reach somewhere the stature of Prof. Irfan Habib.
He used to share anecdotes of the labour and genius of Prof. Irfan
Habib, as a student, in order to inspire us.
Prof. Qaisar was nostalgic about his roots. He missed the specific
dishes of Bihar like a pakwaan called thekuwa. He led a very simple
life. Once, on Baqr Eid, we visited his residence in Zakir Bagh
behind the Faculty of Arts, AMU. The only thing he could offer us
was honey. It was a great disappointment for us, but that is what
Prof. A. J. Qaisar was.
He claimed to be a descendent of the clan of Dr. Rajendra Prasad,
whose grandfather’s brother had converted to Islam, and settled in
Motihari (Champaran). This is corroborated by Prof. Shakeelur
Rahman’s Urdu autobiography, Aashram. They belonged to same clan.
Prof. Rahman is a big name in aesthetic criticism of Urdu
literature, was the vice chancellor of two universities of Bihar,
where he took on a Congress bigwig, Nagendra Jha, who was a teacher
in the Mithila Univ. Darbhanga, and the then Education Minister of
Bihar, and Rahman, the VC, refused to bow down before the politician
in 1988-89; then Rahman was elected to the Lok Sabha from Darbhanga
in 1989, and went on to become Union Minister of Health in
Chandrashekhar’s cabinet. It is a lesser known fact that Fatmi is
Rahman’s successor in the non-Congress politics of Darbhanga.
Another member of Qaisar’s clan, Prof. Najmul Hoda, author of some
books on Urdu literary criticism, is also a poet. He taught in the
Bihar University , Muzaffarpur, as well as in the Madras University
. Now lives in Muzaffarpur, and he is a highly respected scholar in
Muzaffarpur. They have been mentioned in Aashram.
The late Prof. Qaisar is survived by his wife Zareena (who taught
History in the Senior Secondary School of AMU), and two sons, both
settled abroad as successful professionals.
Dr Mohammad Sajjad is
Centre of Advanced Study in History,