I have just returned from Kasauli after attending the Khushwant Singh literature festival where you obviously run into some interesting, vibrant and intelligent people. However some encounters remain special and for me that was my chat withPakistan’s Fakir Syed Aijazuddin whose three ancestors, Fakir Azzizudin, Nurrudin and Imamaudin had held some of the most important portfolios in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s court.
Fakir Aijazuddin during a session at the recently concluded Khushwant SIngh Litfest at Kasauli. Aijazuddin is an eminent art historian from Pakistan and a well known writer and columnist.
Aijazuddin, who himself is an eminent Pakistani writer and columnist, has from family resources written a very fascinating account of the three Fakir Brothers in the court of Ranjit Singh (The resourceful Fakirs). It may be mentioned that the eldest of the three brothers, Fakir Azzizudin, who had joined as a medical apprentice in the Ranjit Singh’s court had risen to become his foreign minister and most trusted advisor and aide. The relationship is said to have kicked off after Azzizudin had been given the task to treat Ranjit Singh’s only functioning eye for some infection. “Now imagine as a Muslim you are asked to treat the only working eye of a Sikh king. One mistake and you’ve had it?” said Aijazuddin. Luckily, the king’s eye was treated successfully, after which Maharaja Ranjit Singh started placing his trust in Fakir Azzizudin.
We started off our conversation with what did it take for three Muslims to survive in a Sikh court and what did this aspect reflect about Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s personality? According to Aijazzudin, it was Ranjit Singh’s capacity to identify people through merit and not religion which enabled him to have an assembly of people who were talented and could deliver. More importantly, he never let anyone feel that they had been employed because of a certain religion and were being used as a pawn. Ministers knew that they were employed on merit, and delivered accordingly.
The chat soon meandered towards that very definitive quality of Ranjit Singh which was secularism. According to Aijazuddin, whose book throws some very interesting new facts about Ranjit Singh’s personality, “if Ranjit Singh had any religion it was secularism. He treated all humans as equals. In fact secularist is a term that we give him, but he was oblivious of this quality since looking at humans as equals was part of his DNA. He recognised the fact that if he did not treat the other’s religion well, he would be diminishing his own religion.”
So, I asked from our Pakistan guest if Ranjit Singh is the thread which can be held on to bring peace between India and Pakistan? Aijazuddin immediately corrected me by saying that Maharaja Ranjit Singh was not a thread but a permanent cord that binds both the countries. “In Pakistan, Ranjit Singh till date is a very revered figure,” he added. “In the last 5000 years of Punjab’s history, the only time Punjab could become a nation state was under Ranjit Singh. His birth place, his fort and his Samadhi are all in Pakistan,” he added.
Our chat then ambled towards this one question that has always intrigued me -that what is the right way to address Ranjit Singh’s empire? Is it Sarkar-eKhalsa, Lahore Durbar, the Sikh Kingdom, Maharaja of Punjab? According to Fakir Aijazuddin, the accurate description, keeping all the factors in mind was, The Sikh Kingdom of Lahore.
And as the clock ticked away I posed Fakir Aijazuddin my final question. Of how did his family get the title, Fakir? According to him when the Maharaja was distributing titles, he had asked his foreign minister Fakir Azzizudin that what title did he want for his family? Azzizuddin in his humble mannerism had requested that his family be addressed as Fakirs. The logic was that times of riches the title would keep them connected with their family’s motto Fakhar –alfakir (Proud to be a fakit) and if ever in poverty, the title would match their financial condition. This sixth generation Fakir is as humble as his ancestors.?