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A chronicler of 1857 par excellence

Khwaja Hasan Nizami, though born nearly two decades after the 1857 revolt, devoted his life to chronicling the event, as sedulously as a journalist and a historian.

books Updated: May 05, 2007 16:59 IST

It was towards the close of the 19th century when the teenager heard about the 1857 revolt for the first time. In no time Khwaja Hasan Nizami began to find out what really happened. In the years to come, he wrote 15 fine books on the Mutiny. Sadly, few of those survive with his family, here.

By the time he breathed his last in 1955, having almost gone blind, Nizami had authored over 500 books, all in Urdu, including those related to India's first war of independence. All through his eventful life, he remained a Sufi teacher, earning a large following both in this city of 1857, and far beyond.

"He was not just a Pir, he was a historian and investigative journalist par excellence," says his 76-year-old son Khwaja Hasan Sani Nizami with visible pride. The younger Nizami, too, is a man of religion, and considered an expert on Delhi's history and heritage, as well as Sufism.

Speaking at his house, which is sandwiched between his father's grave and the dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin, Sani Nizami told IANS that his father was perhaps one of the first comprehensive chroniclers of the revolt of the British Indian troops that eventually turned into a mass rebellion.

Khwaja Nizami, born "sometime between 1876 and 1878", heard the first stories about the march of the mutinous soldiers from Meerut to Delhi, the crowning of Bahadur Shah Zafar as the emperor of India and the gory violence that followed from some of his classmates whose parents had survived the British revenge.

The tales interested him immensely. And Nizani wanted to know more.

The 1857 revolt had taken place - and got crushed - a good 20 years before Nizami was born. He was advised that the best way to know what really happened was to go to those who were part of the struggle - and outlasted the British military victory.

Someone told him that one of the members of the former Mughal royalty now lived as a beggar near Old Delhi's Jama Masjid. He met him and took down notes.

Someone else directed him to a woman, also formerly from royalty. She too helped him to fill the pages.

The younger Nizami cannot remember when the first book on 1857 by his writer-publisher father came out. He does know that he wrote 15 books on the subject, his undying hunger for knowledge and ability to dig up facts driving him from one source to another.

"Whenever he heard there was someone who could provide him something about 1857, he would rush to that person with his pen and notebook," said Nizami's son, the only one among five brothers still alive.

"He never missed a chance to know more. He even spoke to the man who cleaned the toilets of Bahadur Shah Zafar's court."

One of the finest pieces of history that flowed from Khwaja Nizami's pen was Gadar ki Subah aur Sham (The Mornings and Evenings of 1857). He also wrote a Ghalib's Diary - chronicling everything the famed poet wrote about the event.

He published the Diary of Bahadur Shah Zafar. This related to the emperor's life pre-1857. Another book was about the king's humiliating trial after he was deposed. There was also a collection of letters - written by just anyone - about the great Indian revolt.

A nationalist to the core, Nizami was perfectly impartial when it came to writing history. In as much as he denounced the brutalities of the Raj, he also recorded the atrocities committed on the English by the Indian soldiers.

But 1857 was not his only passion. Besides bringing out and being involved with dozens of Urdu newspapers and magazines, Nizami wrote books on theology, religion, fiction, history and Delhi's heritage.

"To be frank we don't have an exact count of how many books he wrote. This number we got from a Pakistani scholar of Karachi who wanted to do a PhD on my father," says the younger Nizami.

"Believe it or not, even now we are discovering books written by him we were not aware of earlier. He was truly a great writer."