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Hasan and his-story of Delhi

After completing his stint as Jamia Millia Islamia varsity VC, historian Mushirul Hasan looks back & ahead.Photo by AFP

travel Updated: Jan 04, 2010 17:11 IST

Four months after finishing his term as the Vice-Chancellor of Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University, Professor Mushirul Hasan, 60, is scheming for the afternoon. Sitting in his wife's study, surrounded by books that he wrote, India's leading historian is talking to a friend on phone. HT City overhears him saying, "Let's meet at 2pm... India International Center..." | 

While Hasan has been in Jamia for 30 years, he has lived miles away in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). His wife, Zoya, a JNU professor, has an official residence here -- amid trees, rocks and hillocks. For the professor, this idyllic surrounding constitutes Delhi, apart from the Jamia campus. "

After completing his education, Hasan became Jamia's youngest professor at 31 and went on to serve as the University's dean, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor. In September, he left the office. His plan for 2010: "I may take a break and go abroad." Hasan may choose London. There he walks around without a care; strolling in Oxford Circus, Russell Square, Kings Cross; spending hours in the British Library.

But it was Delhi that turned this bookish man into one of India's most respected historians. Hasan began his academic career as a lecturer in Ram Lal Anand College, Delhi University. He later taught in Ramjas College before leaving for a doctorate in UK. Not long after his return, he joined Jamia.

In the old days
Lecturer Hasan rode on a Java mobike. His adda was the Sapru House library, near Mandi House. "From there we friends would go to Connaught Place cinemas, or to the discos." Since then Hasan has gone places and written several books on a variety of themes. From the intellectual history of Delhi in 19th century to wit and humour in colonial India. Try chatting with him. You won't find him tossing off academic jargon at you. He isn't your next-door intellectual -- dull, drab and a know-it-all haughty. While currently reading a book on Winston Churchill, he also enjoys the airport trash, such as Agatha Christie and John le Carré. Hasan warns that writing books is not a guarantor of financial success. "You probably lose out on what you have earned, but the ability to translate your understanding of the world into prose and reach out to people is very satisfying."

The booklover
As child, Hasan devoured his father's collection of classics, such as Gulliver's Travels and Robinson Crusoe. Thanks to a neighbourhood barbershop, he also got a hang of Urdu, his mother tongue. "There was a detective series by an author called Ibne Safi. It was stocked in hair-cutting salons and you borrowed them for an anna a day. It had romance, comedy and always a murder," he says. Over the years, Hasan's reading interests progressed from fiction to non-fiction though he continued with Urdu fiction. "In her magnum opus Aag Ka Dariya, I liked Qurratulain Hyder's skills in drawing fiction into the historical narrative," he says. "Mixing the voices of the historian and the creative writer is an exercise I also enjoy doing. In my books, you will find this mix. Sometimes it may be jarring or counter-productive, but, I think, it works quite nicely." It is this optimism that will keep Hasan's incredible book factory running.