For the man who rebuilt Jamia, his knowledge was his strength
Before a road accident in 2014 forced him to give up his public life, Mushirul Hasan was working on yet another book. This time it was on Jawaharlal Nehru—he’d told Hindustan Times during an interview in 2012 at his book-lined residence.
Indisposed for a long time, Hasan died Monday morning. He was nearing 71. He is survived by his wife, Zoya Hasan, an academic and political scientist who devotedly looked after him during his final years.
“Professor Hasan was a fine scholar, upstanding liberal and an institution builder,” said Bangalore-based historian Ramachandra Guha. “He would be remembered for his courtesy and civility.”
Historian William Dalrymple said, “I knew him best when he ran the National Archives where he did wonderful work, modernising it and making it a place that was exciting to be in rather than a chore.”
British writer, historian and academician Patrick French described Hasan as “a big figure in the writing of history in independent India”. “I first met him in London, and thought he was an open-minded man and an expansive thinker. As well as his prolific academic writing as a scholar who worked from Urdu and English sources, he was an innovative university administrator. Mushirul Hasan represents a plural aspect of Indian intellectual life that is disappearing,” French said.
Author Sadia Dehlvi who frequently hosted Hasan in her drawing room gatherings in Nizamuddin East said, “He was a close friend. His commitment, contribution and books highlighting the histories of Indian secularism and composite culture will always be cherished. A much-needed voice of sanity in today’s political and social turmoil has been lost.”
After completing his Masters from Aligarh Muslim University and PhD from Cambridge, Hasan became Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia’s youngest professor at 31 and went on to serve as the university’s dean, pro-vice chancellor and later, its vice-chancellor from 2004 to 2009.
Remembering Hasan for “re-building” the university in the first quarter of the 21st century, retired professor Azeezuddin Hussain who served in the history department at Jamia Millia Islamia, said, “He built several centres for research, including the centre for Dalit studies and north east studies. He organised international seminars at the university and invited scholars from various countries such as the US, the UK and France to give his colleagues and students a global experience. It was Jamia’s first tryst with global education system.”
Hasan began his academic career as a lecturer at Ram Lal Anand College, Delhi University. He later taught in Ramjas College before leaving for a doctorate in the UK.
As a young lecturer, he rode across Delhi roads on a Java bike. His “adda” was Sapru House library, near Mandi House “from there, we friends would go to Connaught Place cinemas, or to the discos. There was one in the Regal building. Another was in GK”, he had said during the interview.
Historian Mohibbul Hasan’s son, he launched into a life of reading by first devouring classics, such as Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe. Thanks to a neighbourhood barbershop, he got a hang of Urdu, his mother tongue. “There was this popular detective series by an author called Ibne Safi. It was stocked in hair cutting salons and you borrowed them for an ‘anna’ a day. So, I tried finishing it quickly and I often would. It had romance, comedy and always a murder,” he had said.
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 Darya, I liked Qurratulain Hyder’s skills in drawing fiction into the historical narrative,” he had said. “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 counterproductive, but, I think, it works quite nicely.”
It was this optimism that kept Hasan’s writing life productive.
“You can fight the whole world simply on the strength of what you have received as knowledge in the course of your research and during the crafting of your history books,” he had said in the interview. “And I believe this is what it has done to me.”
Hasan was buried in a graveyard abutting Jamia Millia where he spent 30 of his most productive years. The graveyard is also home to many other stalwarts, including Qurratulain Hyder.