Remembering historian KK Aziz: On his third anniversary

By Faheem Khan:

Every year, on 9th July comes of the death anniversary of  Khursheed Kamal Aziz ( KK Aziz). He was a superb historian and a great intellectual. He taught history at Cambridge and Heidelberg. He also served as Chairman of National Commission of Historical Research during the regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

I met him first time in August 2001. I wrote him a letter praising his book, ‘ the Making of Pakistan’. After reading that letter KK Aziz invited me to his home on tea.  In spite of his formidable scholarship and devastating eloquence, he was very accessible and very humble. I became very close to him. As long as I lived in Pakistan, I would occasionally  visit him. After I came to Canada, I would call him occasionally too.

His last completed book was about Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Abdullah Yusuf Alis was a former ICS officer and a great scholar in his own right. He also wrote celebrated exegesis of Holy Quran. It is interesting to note that in December 1938 Abdullah Yusuf Ali visited my city, Edmonton in Canada and founded  North America’s first mosque here. It was named as Al-Rasheed mosque. I supplied him material about it along with some photographs. He mentioned this  in his book.

Some times I  compare my admiration for KK Aziz to that of  Joseph Conrad for Bertrand Russell.  I would like to borrow the  words of Joseph Conrad which he used in his letter to Lord Russell to express his loving admiration for him. Since these words so precisely reflect my own love for KK Aziz, I would also  use them here. I once  quoted them in another letter of mine to KK Aziz. The quotation is as follows,  “A deep admiring affection which, if you were never to see me again, and forget my existence tomorrow, would be unalterably yours usque ad finem.”

Another sad fact has added to the sense of grief of his third anniversary. Just 2 days ago , on the seventh of July his widow Zareena  passed away. I was very close to her as well. I got news of her departure from Raza Rumi  when I was at work in Canada. It grieved me beyond expression. I would sob simultaneously as I worked in my office.

My very first letter to him is given as follows. I hope the readers will find it interesting and informative.


Prof. K.K. Aziz

Dear Sir,

I just finished your book, ‘The Making of Pakistan’ second time. Its elegance and erudition compelled me to write to you. This is undoubtedly one of the greatest books I can ever read. I should tell you that sheer beauty of this book really swept me off my feet, and I lost my balance. Prior to it, only two books caused me to lose my balance: one is ‘Discovery of India’ by Jawaharlal Nehru, and the other is ‘Marriage and Morals’ by Bertrand Russell.
Sir, there are myriads of books available on history of Pakistan, which simply narrate chronology of events. But your book is distinguished by the fact that rather than be a chronicle of events it gives us an insightful analysis of historic factors that led to the inception of Muslim nationhood in India and later to the creation of Pakistan. While reading your book one gets the sense that a very vast erudition has been condensed in a couple of hundred pages.
Sir, I have all along been a lover of literary beauty. Your book is so “shot through and through” with literary beauty that I would shake my head and  linger almost on every sentence to relish the beauty of your style. Your expression is precise and  controlled, crisp and virile. One cannot but appreciate the incredible richness of your words and their ineffable beauty. While reading your book one feels as if he is reading a masterpiece of classical English literature. On page 77  you say, “How could the quondam masters now allow themselves to be ruled by ci-devant slaves” The apt use of “quondam” and “ci-devant” in a single sentence looks intelligent and remarkable.
I would like to reproduce one of the passages from your book which underlines the preciseness and elegance of your style. I have shared this passage with my friends and father. You have written on page 139. “The last among these giants was Iqbal, who sang of the storied past with a lyricism which was strong in accent but soft in tone. He has a message to give—the message of Islamic brotherhood and Islamic purity and gave it well without letting his muse degenerate into dull didacticism. His complaint (Shakwa) to God about the plight of the Muslim is at times impudent, at times supplicatory, yet ever sincere. The general effect is neither of a derisive howl nor of a cringing whimper, neither of gnashing of teeth in impotent rage nor of a maudlin emotion, but of a heart-breaking grief  ‘felt  in the blood and felt all the way’.
Sir, your book is so much instinct with scholarship and literary beauty that if I start mentioning the examples of beautiful style, my letter will consist only of page numbers and passages from your book. All in all, I can safely say that it is a book better than one in million.
Reading your book on gets the impression that you have a very deep and comprehensive command over history of the world, especially Europe. You have written on page 125, “It is not always possible to identify a nation with a language group. The examples of Canada, Switzerland and Belgium are well known. When the peace treaties of 1919 were being framed and the Wilsonian principle of self-determination was being translated into reality, it was generally taken for granted that language was sufficient basis for common nationality and several states were created on this premiss… Some Slavs like Masurians in East Prussia and some Slovenes in Carinthia were opposed to their inclusion in Slav states and wanted to be parts of German-speaking Germany or Austria. The German-speaking Oedenberg, on the other hand, voted in favour of joining Hungary”.
On page 128 you continue, “The Congress policy of imposing Hindi on the whole of India was however, not unprecedented in modern history. A similar attitude was adopted by the Germans in Schleswig, Prussian Poland and Alsace- Lorraine, and by the Magyars in Trasylvania”.
On page 153 you say, “As a national minority three courses wee open to Indian Muslims. They could seek help from their co-religionists in other states extending from Afghanistan to Turkey, as the Sudeten Germans did when, before the Second World War, they appealed to Germany for help…Or, they could secure privileges from the majority group within India, as did Catalans in Spain before the time of Franco”.
On page 154, while accentuating relationship between heroes and concept of nationality you say, “The history of Western nationalism illustrates the connection between the spirit of nationality and the acceptance of common heroes. Heroes have been of several kinds. There were religious heroes or saints, like Patrick of Ireland, St. Denis of France and St. Stanislas of Poland. There were royal heroes, like Charlemagne and Louis XIV (the Roi-soleil) in France and Peter the great in Russia. There were political heroes, like Napoleon in France, Bismark in Germany and Garibaldi in Italy. There were national heroes (‘defenders of the country’) like Jean d’Arc of France, William Tell of Switzerland and Kossuth of Hungary.”
These lines reveal only a few glimpses of your prodigious knowledge of other civilizations and their histories with which your book is distinguished. Your reader is thus educated and edified in a very vast setting of world’s history.
Your book is enriched by your knowledge of literature, philosophy, and mythology of the West, Islam, ancient Greece and ancient India. Here too, you reader is cultured in a cosmopolitan setting of letters. I would like to mention some of your lines that exude your rich knowledge of literature and philosophy of the West. You say on page 139, “French literature began in the eleventh century with the Chansons de Geste ( epic stories recounting the achievements of military heroes )  and later with lyric poetry. At the beginning of the fourteenth century Italian was accepted as the supreme common language of Italy because much creative writing—culminating in the works of Dante and Petrach— was being done in it. But the classical example of a literary urge coming to the rescue of (or serving the cause of) national integrity and awakening is that of the Norwegian literature which instigated the Norwegian people to liberate themselves from the centuries-old cultural and social domination of the Danish national society”.  Later you have very aptly compared Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan’s Tahahzib-ul-Akhlaq with Steele’s Tatler, and have drawn a parallel between Hali and Wordsworth.
You offer in your book very incisive and stimulating analyses of various historical events. Look, how beautifully you have been able to put construction on the period between 1857 and 1905. “From 1857 to 1905 the Muslims had been cultivating the British. From 1906 to 1911 this amity blossomed into friendship. From 1911 to 1922 their relations may be described as ranging from an armed truce to open warfare. This evolution may be may also be expressed in another way. From 1858 to 1905 the Muslims stood outside the political arena; from 1906 to 1911 they were schooling themselves in constitutional politics; from 1911 onwards they, or at least most of them, were agitators preaching with full-throated ease the gospel of disorder and sedition. There is still another way of describing this development. From 1858 to 1905 the Muslims were in a state of neutrality vis a vis the Hindus; from 1906 to 1911 the Hindu-Muslim rift was first marked and later ominous; from 1911 to 1922 the two communities co-operated against what they considered a common enemy-Britain.” [page,33]
Sir, I am a lover of words. I have reveled in your use of words such as ‘sagacious’, mendicant, espy, innocuous, ballast, nebulous, truculent, contumacy, riposte, sui generis, humour (as a verb), fell (as an adjective), cajole, halcyon, raiment, trite, ignis fatuus, gory, ci-devant, phlegmatic, and many others. You have used such rich collection of words in a very apt and intelligent way. For not even a single incident did you style sound turgid. Rather you look to have erred on the side of terseness and precision. And this quality has rendered your book all the more interesting.
Sir, you have a special way of combining adjectives, which, in presence of your characteristic understatement, produces an extraordinary effect on the reader. Look at the following examples. “The two cultures stood side by side, adamant, exigent and inexorable. They met only on the field of battle.” [p. 123] Explaining why Hinduism could not assimilate Indian Islam as it did other religions you say on page 85, “One reason for this (Hinduism’s inability to devour Islam) was their large number. Another was the nature of their creed—militant, stern, and individualistic—of which India had no precedent.” “The debate was peppery and pitiless.” [p.145]
You have also a special way of using figurative sense with which you have regaled your readers on a number of occasions. “A nation could not be born when two opposing forces of such magnitude confronted each other like desperate gladiators.” [p. 78] “In India every step towards a representative goal would be one more rivet in Muslim chains.”[p. 20]
We can enjoy ourselves by the gems of wisdom which you have peppered in your narrative. Take these examples. “Solidarity, born of expediency, could go no further. Moral: my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” [p 37] “Imperialism and pride go hand in hand…Pride is not altogether a bad thing, but when it survives the actual loss of power it creates an unhappy state of mind both in the individual and in the community.”[p 76] “And hate and fear are potent ingredients of militant nationalism” [p 92] “Language affects literature and literature affects national life. A language is made up of words, and words which we habitually use often mould our mould of thinking. Common words make for common thoughts and feelings.” [p 126] “Hatred always implies fear; we hate a man of whom we are secretly afraid, we have a contempt for a man whom we consider our inferior.” [p 141] “In meeting the West Islam had no fear of the unknown—that implacable enemy of confidence as well as courage.”[p 142] “The Muslims accepted the myth (of their being a martial race) like a woman accepting a compliment.”[p 146]
While reading I had the sense that yours is very honest book and you are a courageous historian. You have debunked the official propaganda of Iqbal being first person who first conceived the vision of a separate homeland of Muslims in India. You have attacked Orthodox Islam in these words, “[T]he Muslim community in India was a very conservative body of opinion. The influence of orthodox Islamic teaching killed the spirit of free inquiry. The ulema did not hesitate to invoke the sanction of religion in favour of the status quo.”
Sir, after bringing out so many commendable attributes of your book, I would like to raise some points before you. On pages 102 and 103, you say that Jinnah did not dissemble when he professed that his nationalism was based on Islam, whereas Gandhi professed a secular nationalism while nurturing a Hindu nationalism, and thus was guilty of hypocrisy. Saad Rashid-ul-Khairi takes up a different line, and says that Jinnah never based his politics on religion. He was a secular leader to the core. He never combined politics with religion. And if he raised the slogan of “Islam in danger,” it was foisted on him and fathered on him by his Congressite rivals. Mr. Khairi has proved his point in his original and detailed book, ‘Jinnah-Re-Interpretted’. I would love to refer that book to you for this contention.
You have painted a very grim picture of innate differences and animosity between Hindus and Muslims. And to prove this ‘Two Nation Theory’ you have drawn on your prodigious knowledge and compelling eloquence. If we apply your arguments on post-independence India, we should think of an India in which Muslims would never become part of an Indian nation. We should also think of an India in which Muslims will be relentlessly persecuted and would finally be relegated to status of enemies of state. But today we see that an Indian Muslim thinks himself a true Indian, and is bloody well prepared to fight and die for it. You invoked arguments from history, literature, mythology, education, and psychology to prove Two Nation Theory which destroyed Indian unity.  These arguments  and facts are still operative. So, then, how in spite of  these arguments and facts modern India succeed to assimilate Muslim population in its fold, and why in spite of all these forces did India succeed to create a sense of Indian unity and Indian nationalism?  Does this development weaken your arguments in favour of Two Nation Theory? One point more—your description of Congress high-handedness against Muslims during its rule in Provinces during 1937-39 is very convincing, informed and eloquent. The same Congress got ascendancy in India in Centre and in many provinces after independence. In all likelihood, Congress should go ahead with a vengeance to crush Muslims, especially when Muslims had recently broken their country. Muslims are given equal status in Indian constitution. Their separate traditions are safeguarded by Muslim Personal Law. What explains this contradiction? Were Muslims mistaken when they perceived so many atrocities being committed against then during Congress rule in the provinces? Or, were they misguided in that regard?
Sir, you wrote this book sometime in 1960s. I am very much interested to know what  your present views on Two Nation Theory are. Are they same as they were when you wrote this book? Several developments happened which, to my mind, have undermined Two Nation Theory. They are Indian Muslims’ assimilation in mainstream of Indian nationalism, separation of East Pakistan, and finally Pakistan’s refusal to accept Biharis stranded in Bangladesh after 1971 war against India.
Sir, it is really deplorable that Congress and Jawaharlal Nehru made no effort to understand the “danger of communalism” and grievances of Muslims. You say on page 169 that “The usual Congress-Hindu answer to the danger of communalism was that with the development of economic ideas all Hindu-Muslim trouble would by itself come to an end. This however was no more than wishful thinking or shutting the eyes to unpleasant realities.” This is all the more sad yet understandable, as Stanley Wolpert in his “Jawaharlal Nehru, A tryst with destiny” says that Nehru was well-read in Marxist literature and was wont to interpret every phenomenon in economic terms. Pandit Nehru writes in his “Discovery of India, that delay of one generation in emergence of Muslim bourgeoisie in relation to Hindu bourgeoisie occasioned separatism in Muslims and demand for Pakistan. Very strange! Pandit Nehru, rather than disarm simple Muslim apprehensions about preservation of his civilization and race, invoked far-fetched and irrelevant explanations.
One more point compels attention. Pandit Nehru further contends that at that time, in 1945, there was too much wretchedness and misery and poverty in India that Muslims could naturally think on any option that might be luring in short term but harmful in long term. He says on page 534 in “Discovery of India” that “Many of us are utterly weary of present conditions in India and are passionately eager to find some way out. Some are even prepared to clutch at any straw that floats their way in the vague hope that it will afford some momentary relief…That is very natural. And yet there is danger in these rather hysterical and adventurist approaches to vital problems affecting the well-being of hundreds of millions and future peace of the world”. Nehru earnest feels that this misery and degradation was the result of deliberate British policy of exploiting India. So once that degrading factor were eliminated and India were allowed to function as a free state, its economic potential would be realized and its fruits would reach the poor masses. It will bring hope and prosperity. There will be less and less tendency to attribute their destitution to machinations of other groups, and hence it will detract from rancour that obtains between Hindus and Muslims. So, if the right of secession, Panditji argues  were to be exercised it should be exercised only after India were given a substantial period to function as free country. He continues on the same page, “Before any such right of secession is exercised there must be a properly constituted, functioning, free India. It may be possible that, when external influences have been removed and real problems face the country, to consider such questions objectively and in a spirit of relative detachment, far removed from emotionalism of today, which can lead only to unfortunate consequences which we may all have to regret later. Thus it may be desirable to fix a period, say ten years after the establishment of free Indian state, at the end of which the right to secede may be exercised through proper constitutional process and in accordance with the clearly expressed will of the inhabitants of the area concerned”.
Cabinet Mission Plan in fact gave India opportunity to function as a free country for a fairly long time. There were strong chances that with increased economic output, prosperity would reach the people which would have  detracted from grade between Hindus and Muslims. And yet that opportunity was lost by Nehru himself the person who professed so much confidence in India’s potential as a free country. Sir, I think Nehru would have thought that in a loose federation and three groups envisaged in Cabinet Mission Plan his powers would be diluted. He thus preferred more powers to unity and solidarity of his country. What do you think, Sir?
Another point is that Mr. Gandhi gave Hindu idiom and expression to politics of Congress. He Hinduised Congress politics, which frightened Muslims away from it, as is manifest from its rule in Provinces during 1937 to 1939. He himself has written in ‘Young India’ at 12 May 1912 that in order to wrestle with the snake of politics. “I have been experimenting with myself and my friends in politics by introducing religion into politics.”  Dr. Eqbal Ahmad says Gandhi was an anti-imperial opportunist. He used Hindu expression because Hinduism was religion of majority. He wanted to mobilise masses against British rule. If Muslims had been in majority, he would have used Islamic expression in politics. Sir, what do you think? Was Gandhi a rabid communalist or a mere “ anti-imperial opportunist”?
With the help of hindsight we see that Gandhiji’s tactics of spiritualising Indian politics caused more harm than any benefit for India. If there had been no Gandhi, or else, Gandhiji had not played upon religious sentiments of the masses, India would still have become free, as after the Second World War Great Britain had lost all power to cling on to its imperial possessions. But Gandhiji’s tactics did help creat fissure between Hindus and Muslims which culminated in the partition of India. And we had to witness as its essential corollary the mayhem and carnage of millions in the wake of independence of India and Pakistan.
You wrote this book in a very personal and intimate may. Throughout reading it I felt as if you had been talking to me in person. I also felt you have come very close to my heart and soul. Very seldom does an author comes so close to his reader. Prior to you only two writers came close my heart. They are Jawaharlal Nehru and Bertrand Russell. The third one is you.
I guess I should finish my letter here. To recapitulate what has been said thus far, reading your book has been a sheer delight. My first feelings after reading your book were of regret that I did not get to know your book before. Again my feelings after finishing your book were of regret. And this time I regretted why the book is not at least twice its length. Your book has broadened my horizon and whittled my literary taste. Although I wrote at a considerable length about your book, I feel there is an element of mystic elegance about your book which I felt beyond expression. I could feel it, but could not capture it or define it.  There is a feel of Medieval European scholarship about it. It is impossible to read it and not to be swayed by it.
I trust that your muse will keep turning elegant and learned prose in future, and will keep on educating and edifying us. I have resolved to go through other of your books too. In the midst of mediocrity and conformity and religiosity your writings are undoubtedly a waft of fresh air, so fresh that it relieves the miasma that is asphyxiating all of us.

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