Chapter II, Sharif Culture and British Rule
Part One: Growing Up Sharif
As if in a cage a captive bird
still gathered twigs for its nest. --Ghalib
ONE part of a child's initiation into the social categories and relationships of nineteenth century sharif culture was the architecture that surrounded him or, rather differently, her. In a royal establishment, a city ward, an old fortress town, or a peasant village, the living places of the rich and even the relatively poor shared, with varying degrees of elaboration, a common paradigm of rooms and open places, walls and curtains, rooftops and doorways. Learning who might go where and under what circumstances provided a whole structure of assumptions about authority and subordination, group bonds and exclusions. Learning how you yourself fit into this living space had a good deal to do with defining who you were./1/
One grew up into a life contained, centered on a courtyard that was open to the sky but blocked on all four sides from any opening to the world beyond. The courtyard might be large or small, crowded or lonely, squalid or luxurious; the ground might be covered with marble, brick, or a mixture of earth and dung. Often there was a tree in the center and, [] sometimes, a well. On the margins could be broad, handsome verandahs set off with richly decorated columns and delicately scalloped arches; or dingy, sunless rooms made of earthen blocks. The structure rising above the courtyard could be one, two, even three stories high. But in all cases the building was a fortress, closed off and protected from the outside world by blank, windowless walls and a substantial, well-secured entrance way.
Within these boundaries one discovered flexible arrangements for channeling the movement of people so as to prevent some of them from being seen by others-- a heavy cloth curtain, the pardah, hung from the archways, or light bamboo blinds that let in air but shut off light; rooms with doors on three sides so that different sorts of people might come and go without crossing paths; readily moveable bedsteads and cushions to transform the function of a given space; passageways in the walls or over the rooftops leading to a whole network of connected houses within the same muhallah [neighborhood].
Such was the mahal khanah, the palace, as it was called even in modest homes, or more commonly the zananah, the women's place. It was a layout that clearly embodied an "inner space" image of womanhood, something to be protected because it was vulnerable, and also because it was valuable: like food, jewelry, children, and what they all signified-- honor, 'izzat. For it was in terms of these possessions that groups interacted and status or moral worth was assigned. Within these walls a hierarchy of women passed their lives, arrayed in expensive ornaments, the senior wife and mother seated on a masnad, a carpeted throne. Women often spoke special dialects, and sometimes adhered to different sects from the male members of their family./2/ Poor women and [] female servants might have to go out from time to time, covered from head to foot in great white tent-Iike sheets; others were carried by covered palanquin or bullock cart for formal visits on special occasions. But the ideal was to stay at home from marriage to death, visited, not visiting; carried in, as the saying went, in a bridal palanquin, carried out in a coffin.
Men lived in a different world, a big, bad world that required strength and cunning for survival. In contrast to the purported innocence of female life, men stood constantly on the brink of violence and their own evil impulses. Or perhaps women were not so innocent after all; perhaps it was the men who had to be protected from the overwhelming sensuality of feminine sexuality-- such at least was the constant lament of male poets and the admonition of male moralists. Women were the occasion for a man's weakness; they were avoided and frequently resented. Specific rules of female separation, also called pardah, differed from family to family; but the general principle was that a woman might not be seen by any potential mate. That might limit her to fathers, brothers, husband, and sons; in some families even the husband's father and brothers were out of bounds.
But if women were secluded in the mahal, men were excluded from it, permitted to enter only with due warning and required to leave when their presence was inappropriate./3/ If wealthy, a man might have his own divan khanah, a hall of audience suggestive of a royal court, in a separate section of. the building complex or even in a totally different building, across the road./4/ Or it might be a tiny room off the side of [] the entrance way. A poorer man would have to take a bamboo stool out into the street, one of those narrow lanes of blank walls that snaked through any city or town, and there join the ranks of hawkers, beggars, and, at least in poetry, forlorn lovers who continually passed by. The alternative was to go off to a mosque, shop, government office, or brothel to engage in prayer, work, entertainment, or the rich art of conversation, according to the decorum of the time and place./5/
A young boy did not learn about that separate men's world until he was old enough to join it, a gradual transition somewhere between the ages of five and ten, well after acquiring all the preliminary skills of walking, talking, and eating. These he learned primarily in the world of women. And in later years the zananah would remain for him an image of refuge and nurture as well as of childish impulsiveness, often little more than a memory after he had lost his right to be there all the time and was forced to deal with the life outside and sometimes far away.
But the zananah was hardly isolated. It is difficult to fix a concept of "household composition" on the rambling network of courtyards and rooftops within which woman's society operated, but there was certainly a great variety of people coming and going throughout the day./6/ Eating, sleeping, playing, cooking, sewing, and praying were all activities that could go on in one of a number of courtyards, rooms, rooftops, or verandahs, depending on the day-to-day relationships of the people involved. These people included an array of relatives, each set off in an elaborate and well-calibrated system of status positions. In all but the poorest homes there were usually servants, often quite a number of them. Long-term guests and poor but "respectable" personages with [] no place else to go were often put up in a spirit of almost limitless hospitality./7/ A child growing up into this world would have to learn to make intricate distinctions in the hierarchy of people around him; even the language embodied these distinctions in terms of address, verb forms, and formulas of politeness. The variety of configurations possible in this web of domestic relations would probably go some way to explaining the considerable differences of individual personality encountered in this milieu.
Sayyid Ahmad Khan was raised in the house of his maternal grandfather, Khvajah Fariduddin Ahmad, at the southern edge of old Delhi. Such an arrangement was slightly uncommon in a culture where women normally married into their husband's paternal household and wife-giving indicated lower status than wife-taking. In this case, however, Khvajah Farid was able to compensate for relatively lower status-- he was not a Sayyid (descendant of the Prophet) and his grandfather had come to Delhi as a Kashmiri trader-- by wealth, prominence in the Mughal court and Delhi intellectual circles, and especially, a Sufi bond with the father of his daughter's husband. His son-in-Iaw, Mir Muttaqi, was apparently happy to marry into a well-established household in return for freedom to pursue an unconventional life as courtier, mystic, swimmer, and master archer. For Khvajah Farid the arrangement not only meant a little bit of social climbing, it was also a way to keep his favorite daughter at home./8/
That home was not a single building, but a complex of houses, some connected, some separated by a narrow lane. [] Khvajah Farid would come to the mahal for his morning meal when the whole family-- his two sons and three daughters, their wives and husbands and their numerous children-- ate together, each getting personal attention from the patriarch. In the evening his daughters would serve him separately in the divan khanah. Then he would hear his grandchildren recite their lessons and correct them on their manners and dress./9/
Such a household was well stocked with servants: nurse-maids, cooks, grooms, bearers, sweepers, water carriers, washermen, palanquin carriers, a barber; such servants were likely to be attached to the family on a relatively exclusive and long-term basis. Sharafat as opposed to mere wealth entailed treating servants according to rank-- often the terminology was borrowed from coveted positions among the Mughal nobility-- with the proper modulation of authority and consideration. Once when Sayyid Ahmad was eleven or twelve he struck an old family servant; his mother had him turned out of the house. An aunt (his mother's sister) hid him in another house for three days, then interceded on his behalf: he was allowed back only after begging forgiveness from the servant./10/
Sayyid Ahmad grew up in a well-populated world; his maternal grandfather, his mother, his mother's brothers, his older brother, some of the servants and, more distantly, his father, all represented various levels of authority over him. His status among the children of the house is not clear: normally a child visiting his maternal grandfather's house is treated as a privileged guest. His mother is in her own home and does not have to deal with the hostile authority of a mother-in-law./11/ On the other hand, the absence of a household in the paternal line may have represented some kind of [] deprivation, a sense that one's father's line lacked authority and security. Such a background may have something to do with why Sayyid Ahmad sought his career outside Delhi, raising his own children in a whole string of north Indian towns where he was posted for three- and four-year terms.
Such speculations are the stuff of full-blown biography, but the data for interpreting the general cultural patterns of family life for a significant population are sparse and difficult to come by. Even among the handful of available biographical sources, however, there is a wide range of variation with regard to the kinds of people a child would have to deal with as "significant others." Mushtaq Husain, Sayyid Ahmad's co-worker from Amroha, was also raised in his maternal grandfather's house, an only child after his father's early death./12/ Altaf Husain Hali of Panipat, poet of the Aligarh movement, lost his parents at an early age, one to death and the other to insanity, and was raised by his considerably older brother, who was married to his mother's sister's daughter. The same elder brother was "father" to Hali's eldest son; Hali even called the child "nephew" (brother's son)./13/ Agha Mirza of Delhi spent his earliest years in the house of his father's sister. When he died, the family shifted to the house of his father's elder brother, his bare abba (big father); but the boy's mother, a granddaughter of Khvajah Farid, spent much of her time with her own side of the family. The uncle was indeed a magnified father: once when Agha Mirza was hit for disturbing some of his father's work, the uncle came to his defense, brandishing a stick. In 1857, when Agha Mirza was nine, the British captured Delhi; his uncle was shot as a rebel and died a Muslim martyr. The family fled in confusion to the protection, first of the mother's sister's husband in Alwar State, then to another father's brother, a pro-British official in Oudh./14/
[] One is hard pressed to find cases of children raised simply by father and mother, either in this older generation of the first half of the nineteenth century or in the first generation of Aligarh students. Shaikh Masud Ali was one of the first students at Aligarh College. His uncle (father's younger brother), who had two sons of his own, took responsibility for him when his father died during his infancy. Both father and uncle had been in British service in Delhi, but also had some small property and numerous kinsmen in the town of Fatehpur, near Lucknow. For some years Masud Ali's mother stayed in the household of her brother-in-law; she too was from the Fatehpur lineage. But when Masud Ali was six, his maternal grandfather came to get mother and son and bring them back to the vatan [homeland] for an extended visit. For several years the boy traveled with his mother from one rural relative to another, then rejoined his uncle, who was then in service in Dujanna, a small princely state in the Punjab./15/
Sayyid Riza Ali, another student of Aligarh's first generation, was born in 1880 in his paternal grandfather's house, a small two-story building in the qasbah of Kandarkhi, near Moradabad. Apart from that house, there was also a mardanah, a separate building for men. Riza Ali's father was the only child of the grandfather's first wife, who died young, but that wife's mother still lived in a little kacca (unfinished) house next door. When his second wife died, the mother of eight children, the grandfather married a third time. Like the grandfather, all three wives belonged to the lineage of Sayyids that had settled in the qasbah two hundred years before and now lived side by side, visiting each other, sharing meals, intermarrying, and sometimes engaging in bitter disputes. Most of them were cultivators, religious teachers, and soldiers, [] but the grandfather had managed to achieve relative wealth by establishing a modest sugar-processing operation. There is no information about other marriages in the grandfather's household, but Riza Ali's mother came from a previously unrelated family of Sayyids in a distant village near Bareilly. An outsider, she somehow communicated to her son an unwillingness to accept food from anybody but herself, and used that as an excuse not to attend weddings and celebrations or otherwise accept hospitality from her husband's relatives; she had to stay home to feed him. When Riza Ali was six she took him off for a long visit to her native village. The grandfather died two years later, and shortly after that the brothers quarreled, divided the property-- houses, land, and sugar business-- and established separate households. The family of the grandfather's young widow, who was childless, instituted a litigation that lasted for twenty years./16/
Particularly in rural areas, where agricultural land and political consolidation hung in the balance, social bonds based on a shared genealogical identity could be extensive and deeply rooted. In many cases, however, such unity was more an historical memory-- or fabrication-- than a resource to be summoned up in the interests of mutual security and ambition. Aftab Ahmad Khan belonged to a cadet lineage of Yusufzai Pathans, attached to the Navabs of Kunjpura, a defunct little kingdom north of Delhi, dating back to the early eighteenth century. Although living close beside their wealthier kinsmen, Aftab's own branch of the family was landless and derived its income from service outside the qasbah. Aftab's grandfather had been a courtier in Kapurthala State; Aftab's father's elder brother was a sepoy who rebelled and disappeared in 1857. Ghulam Ahmad Khan, Aftab's father, ultimately received high office in Gwalior. He left two younger brothers, a wife, and two sons in Kunjpura./17/ Fakhruddin Ahmad Khan also came from a large rural lineage, [] Lodi Pathans of Jullundhur District, and also had a father named Ghulam Ahmad Khan who held important official posts far away from home, as a Punjab Revenue officer and later an official in Kashmir. But in this case wife and children tagged along on the father's peripatetic career. There was one other difference between the family backgrounds of Aftab Ahmad and Fakhruddin: Aftab's mother came from an unrelated family in Muzzafarnagar District; Fakhruddin's was a cousin (her husband's father's brother's daughter)./18/
From these few examples one discovers numerous variations in household type that were possible within the same culture: the sibling position of one's father; whether or not the paternal grandparents are alive and on the scene; whether one's mother is a close relative on the paternal or maternal side, or had no previous relation with her husband; the proximity of other related households, and the extent to which they share social and economic activities; the presence of elder brothers and their wives and children; the career of the household head, and whether he is absent or present; whether the family wealth can support a large household and many servants. Some of these variations are linked to birth and mortality; others to the economic resources available to a kinship unit. There was room for disagreement about how widely economic resources should be spread and at what point a joint holding in house or land should be divided. One also comes across strong statements for and against marrying cousins./19/ Such controversies were possible within the bounds of sharafat. In the absence of data on the frequency of particular patterns, one can only note scattered biographical variation, and suggest that such variation was itself a characteristic of the culture. Individuals did not grow up in [] identical family contexts. The emergence of significant personality differences in what was supposed to be a group-oriented society may be one reason, among others, for the endemic quarrels and infighting one so frequently encounters.
There was, however, a well-plotted scenario for growing up, designed in the case of male children to lead them from the protection and nurture of the zananah to the battlefield of the outside world of men. "The best time of all in a man's life is that of childhood," wrote Nazir Ahmad of Delhi in 1869. "At that age he has no kind of anxiety."/20/ A child was born into a family after nine months of rituals and omens regarding life and death for mother and child and determination that the child would be a boy. For the mother it was a period of pain and sickness-- she was often just barely past puberty at the birth of her first child-- but the act of giving birth, especially to a boy, was the ultimate fulfillment of her role in life, the ultimate source of her recognition as a person. When a boy was born, the household announced it by shooting off cannons or, at least, an old rifle, by way of expressing proud triumph-- and to accustom the child to the sound of gunshot from the start./21/ A midwife brought the infant out to the men, and one of them-- a religious teacher, a senior member of the family or, sometimes, a boy-- uttered the call to prayer in the baby's left ear and the Islamic credo in the right, this accompanied by a taste of honey./22/
Loving devotion of mother for child was a hallowed ideal, but the particular weight and manner of that relationship was hardly uniform in the culture. A mother like Riza Ali's, who [] came as a stranger to the house of her father-in-law, had few alternative points of focus for her attention and concern. Sayyid Ahmad's mother, on the other hand, had her father, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces all about her. Similarly, a mother who was her husband's father's brother's daughter, like the mother of Fakhruddin Ahmad, or who had some other close kinship tie in addition to marriage, would not be so dependent on her role as mother for recognition as a family member. Furthermore, in many households there were other women to take up and diffuse the mother's role: the child's grandmother, aunts, elder sisters. When a mother died or was unable to nurse, another woman was usually available. For example, a child might be nursed by his father's mother, sharing the breast with the father's younger sister, and the two infants would grow up calling each other brother and sister./23/ In wealthier families there was usually a wet nurse to spare the actual mother the burden of total devotion and special diet; such a wet nurse became a permanent member of the family and object of the child's lifelong devotion, her own children sometimes growing up in the household as lesser brothers and sisters./24/
For at least two years the infant had a mother-figure totally available, at least as a source of nourishment. Whether that availability was accompanied by warmth, playfulness, clinging attachment, or some other personal quality was a matter of wide variation. Male biographical literature portrays mothers as paragons of self-sacrifice, loving devotion, [] and profound religious piety, but there are occasional hints of callousness and neglect./25/
For the first three days an infant was fed on a medicinal mixture prepared by the midwife and sometimes laced with opium; nursing started on the fourth day, inaugurated by a crowded, joyful women's party in the zananah when mother and child were put on display. This was followed by a series of similar gatherings in the zananah for bathing the child, shaving its head, placing the baby in a special cradle, or celebrating his first handclaps, his first nonmilk diet (at seven months) , his first tooth, and the first time he crawled--all accompanied by music, the presentation of gifts, feasting, processions, and food for the poor./26/
All such celebration was hedged, however, with the persistent fear of early death and a large repertoire of techniques to prevent it. The infant was the embodiment of vulnerability, and proper care consisted of sparing him pain and responding to his desires. Dressed only in a thin loose shirt, but wrapped warmly in a quilt during cold weather, the infant spent his first few months reclining except when being nursed. To move him around was considered a cruel disturbance./27/ On the other hand, it is likely that no one interfered in the child's exploration of his own powers of movement, making sounds, regulating his bladder and bowels. So while there was protection from pain there was little social constraint on an infant's search for autonomy.
Many children continued to nurse after growing teeth and into the third or fourth year, while gradually developing alternative nourishment such as rice, lentils, and buffalo milk. But at least in Delhi there was a decisive moment of weaning, and even a ceremony in which relatives from both mother and father's families gathered and the child was [] offered a dish of dates or date-like candies. If he picked up one, that meant his weaning would go smoothly with only one day of fussing; if he picked up more, the household was in for a long siege. The wet nurse, if there was one, got money and a dress, and there were gifts to the other servants as well. So the painful transition of weaning was accompanied by a reaffirmation of family solidarity. Nevertheless, it was the beginning of adversity; the breast wasn't simply denied but covered with the juice of a bitter plant so the child would learn that what was once a source of pleasure could turn in the end to pain. As Nazir Ahmad of Delhi wrote in 1869:
So long as the child is very small the mother nurses it, and carries it about with her wherever she goes. She gives up her whole night's rest, while she is patting the baby to sleep. But when the child is old enough to begin eating "khichri," the mother leaves off nursing it altogether, and that milk which she has gone on giving to it so fondly for many years she now withholds from it persistently and sternly. She applies bitter tasting things (to keep the child away), and if the child is pertinacious she slaps and scolds it./28/British commentators on Indian society frequently complained about "the enervating and stultifying influence of the Zunana" upon the developing character of Indian males. According to Sleeman, who as a man was not in a position to benefit from direct observation, "The sons are tyrannised over through youth by their mothers, who endeavour to subdue their spirit to the yoke...; and they remain through manhood timid, ignorant, and altogether unfitted for the conduct of public affairs."/29/ A contrasting observation was that Indian children were themselves the tyrants, taking advantage [] of a mother's desire to please them and satisfy their every wish. Thus Margaret Morison, wife of an Aligarh professor, complained that children lacked firm discipline and fixed schedules./30/ Indian critics of contemporary social life, whether influenced by British standards or not, often took up the theme that zananah women were inadequate as raisers of children because of undue leniency aggravated by lack of education./31/ On the other hand, there are accounts of mothers, such as Sayyid Ahmad Khan's and Mushtaq Husain's, who are portrayed as firm and skillful disciplinarians./32/ In both those cases the mothers were in their own father's house, and there is reason to believe that the authority of a woman was a function of her security in the household as a lineal member of the kindred.
Sharif child-rearing assumed that a child progressed from helpless vulnerability to arrogant willfulness; it was the role of male society to tame and redirect this development by imposing an adult relationship on the child that played down love and affection and emphasized stern authority. A father would often be addressed by a title such as Huzur (literally, "the presence"), and his authority was supposedly absolute./33/ "No boy ever dared leave the compound without the permission of his father." Such was the norm, if not universal practice./34/
As a young boy began to emerge from the zananah, he [] would at the same time begin to experience the competitiveness and rough and tumble excitement of the world of men and boys. Ceremonies marking the steps in this transition were held in the presence of men, although women had separate celebrations. First came the bi'smi'llah ("in the name of God"), preferably at the age of four years, four months, four days and even four hours, when the child was taught the opening words of the Qur'an, often against the background of lavish feasting and entertainment by musicians and dancers. When the child finished reading through the whole of the Qur'an, there was a similar celebration called hidiyah. In the midst of his schooling, preferably at age seven, or at least before puberty, a Muslim boy would undergo circumcision, honored once again by a great celebration of feasting, gift giving, and procession through the streets./35/ The point of this practice was to place male sexuality within the bounds of God's covenant with the Prophet Ibrahim; circumcision, like discipline and education, was designed to tame a boy's impulses and subject him to divine law.
Teachers, like fathers, were sources of strict discipline and objects of formal respect. But there were different kinds of teachers, designated not only by what they taught, but by their social status in relation to the students. The earliest lessons in Qur'an, the recitation and memorization of the Arabic scriptures without benefit of translation, could be taught at home by a paid employee, called a miyanji or, if female, an ustani. Or the child could be sent out of the house to learn Quran from the qari sahib, the public reciter of a mosque, or to the house of the teacher, who could be doing the work as a living or a philanthropic act. At the hidiyah ceremony the teacher would receive a shawl and money./36/
[] Recitation of Qur'an, often accompanied by chanting and memorization, as well as learning the movements of the body associated with prayer, were all formidable achievements for a young child. He was now able to do what adults could do in this most important aspect of life, and had in his power skills that united him with the great world community of Islam. Interpreting these actions-- learning, for example, the meaning of the words he recited-- was a matter to be taken up in later life, if at all. But for a child of seven or eight it must have been extremely gratifying to stand side by side with the men of the community and side by side to prostrate himself in prayer. Such a child participated only to the extent of his inclination: the full religious obligation of adulthood came only with puberty, as signaled by a boy's first nocturnal emission./37/
After going through the Qur'an, the next step was usually some sort of education in Persian, usually with a few other children in a maktab. The maktab was a makeshift arrangement located on the verandah or in the courtyard of the teacher or some benefactor. Often it was in the home of some of the children, but neighboring students, sometimes from among the poor, could attend as well, paying the teacher a separate fee or just allowed to sit in. There was often a mixture of Muslim and Hindu boys, but not of boys and girls. Maulvi Zain ul-Abdin, a founder of Aligarh College, started his maktab education in the house of a Hindu benefactor in Machlishahar. Before entering Aligarh, Masud Ali had frequently shifted from place to place; some of his education was with village relatives, some with Hindu Khatris in Delhi, some with the sons of the Navab of Dujanna. There is little evidence that there was a feeling of solidarity among the students [] in a maktab, each of whom proceeded separately at his own pace through the course of study./38/
The course seems to have been fairly standardized: first learning to recognize the letters of the Persian alphabet by sight and sound, a task essentially accomplished by a Muslim who had already done his Qur'an, then memorization of passages out of Sa'adi and other Persian classical writers, but without translation. Only after that would a child start writing, spending three to six hours a day at painstaking calligraphy, written first on dirt, then on a wooden slate, finally on paper. Gradually the teacher would introduce the translation of the Persian or, at least, his approximation of it. Next a child would take up Persian composition, imitating models that were often by Indian, even Hindu, authors-- in formal and informal correspondence, petition writing, old Mughal imperial proclamations, shikastah shorthand, and raqm accounting, as well as all the elaborate forms of polite address. Wealthier youths had special tutors for etiquette, and the basic maktab education could also be supplemented by study with a master of calligraphy. Arabic grammar and literature was often part of a child's studies, for Hindus as well as Muslims. This system of education always consisted of reading classical texts with one's teacher; rather than grades, classes, or degrees a person's education was signified by the books he had read and the teachers he had read them with. As for written Urdu, it could be extrapolated from the classical languages, that is, using the Persian script to approximate the vernacular, a task that required no formal instruction./39/
[] Teachers, of course, were of uneven quality, some of them highly learned men, themselves the students of famous teachers; others, sadistic charlatans who knew little beyond the alphabet and the use of a switch./40/ Whether a boy decided to continue with this experience depended partly on the prompting he got from his elders, but also very much on his own inclination or shauq for a particular aspect of learning. If he had such an inclination, he would often go in search of an ustad, the master of a particular area of knowledge or art, and seek to be accepted as his shagird, or disciple. Such a teacher was considered to be a second father./41/ Sayyid Ahmad Khan got his mother's brother to teach him mathematics; then he went to a famous hakim to learn the Arabic tradition of Greek medicine./42/ Hali defied his family and slipped away from Panipat to Delhi to pursue his gift for poetry with the greatest poet of the age, Ghalib./43/ Sami Ullah Khan became a disciple of the famous Delhi mufti Sadruddin Azurdah, who taught him Islamic theology and law./44/ A person's intellectual ancestry became as important as his family background in establishing his claim to honor. Honored teachers might be associated with an endowed institution, a madrasah, like Farangi Mahal in Lucknow, but they were often private persons who received no income from their teaching. Often poor students received stipends, called vazifahs./45/
A religious teacher from among the 'ulama was often revered as a spiritual guide (pir or murshid), whose knowledge touched the disciple with a kind of spiritual electricity passed from generation to generation. Sayyid Ahmad's father was [] part of such a mystical genealogy, called a silsilah. The religious establishment where one entered such a communion and learned its discipline was called a khanqah, and one's murshid, like an ustad, was yet another "father" in a person's life./46/
The relationship of ustad and shagird extended from knowledge, 'ilm, to art or skill, fan. The same uncle who taught Sayyid Ahmad mathematics had studied archery with Sayyid Ahmad's father./47/ Swordsmanship, swimming, horseback riding, and exercises with Indian clubs all represented carefully acquired military skills. Wrestling was another art learned from an ustad in a kind of gymnasium or pit called an akhara./48/ In the same category of fan were music and painting-- Sayyid Ahmad's uncle was a devotee of both-- and here, too, a teacher would only take on a disciple who seemed to have the shauq for learning in a spirit of total devotion and painstaking imitation./49/
In contrast to all this seriously acquired learning, however, there were activities devoted to pure pleasure, in which a man, young or old, could release all those carefully cultivated powers of aggression. A typical pastime was flying kites from the roof of the house: the kite string would be coated with pieces of broken glass, and the object of the game was to get your own kite up above competing kites sent up from the other roofs in the neighborhood, then to pull down fast and cut away as many strings as you could. Even this sport could be a serious enterprise: Sayyid Ahmad's uncle, the devotee of music, also wrote a treatise on kite making./50/ Similarly, many people kept pigeons on their roofs and [] trained them to obey commands: then one would send the pigeons up and try to draw away birds from the neighboring flocks. Board games like chess or parchesi, team games like kabaddi, gambling games like cockfighting, all involved intense and aggressive competition. For the puritanical, for whom such pastimes were frivolous, there were equally fierce competitions in poetry, the musha'irah, and scholastic disputation, the munazarah. In all these examples it was individual virtuosity that was being asserted as the measure of social worth./51/
But if this social environment sometimes seethed with rivalry, there were certainly occasions for warm friendship. The favorite pleasures were those of the mahfil, the social gathering, though they tended to be idealized as the glory of an irretrievable past, a time of emperors and navabs. Such gatherings cut across lines of kinship and religion, but were bound together by an identity of cultural style. Sayyid Ahmad recalled occasions when his mother's brother would hold colorful musical entertainments, or would take him along to the home of a wealthy Hindu connoisseur to listen to the amateur performances of the sharif and the professional singing and dancing of the leading courtesans of the city./52/ Pious Muslims avoided such courtly displays, but still cherished the spirit of the mahfil, a time when friends could be relaxed, sitting together, exchanging witty remarks, philosophic speculations, poetic repartee. The huqqah would be passed around, there would be Mughal cuisine, some sweets, pan, perhaps a special kind of mango. Each remark was supposed to be like pan, an exquisitely folded betel leaf, to be tasted and savored in a rich "flower-shower of conversation."/53/ The spirit of friendship and equality was communicated in a vocabulary of social precedence: one's own house was a hovel, [] the house of another was a palace; one's own remarks were humble submissions, one's partner in conversation issued only commands. But these formulas of politeness were mutual, and a young boy sitting quietly in the midst of such a gathering would only gradually learn the intricate subtleties of social precedence./54/
/1/ I have used a fairly
wide range of sources in this attempt to explore the general outlines of
sharif culture. These sources include general accounts of manners and customs,
biographical literature, fiction, and interviews of descendants of Aligarh's
first student generation. The references given below are intended to be
illustrative rather than comprehensive. Other sources will be found in
/2/ 'Abdul Halim Sharar, Guzashtah Lakhnau [Olden Lucknow] (Lucknow: Nasim Book Depot, 1965 [first published in 1914-1916]), p. 119; for a fictional attempt to reproduce the women's dialect of Agra see 'Ismat Chughtai, "Cauthi ka Jora," Readings in Urdu: Prose and Poetry, ed. C. M. Naim (Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1965), pp. 1-17. The families of Khvajah Altaf Husain Hali of Panipat and the Sayyids of Marehra are well-known examples of Sunni-Shi'ah division by sex.
/3/ Vreede-de Stuers, Parda, p. 43, though the author is quick to add that the burden of isolation remains on the women; see also Hanna Papanek, "Purdah: Separate Worlds and Symbolic Shelter," Comparative Studies in Society and History, XV (1973), 289-325.
/4/ Diagram of the family home of Sayyid Ahmad Khan prepared for me by his great-grandson, Hashim Muhammad Ali of Karachi (September 1969); see also Mohamed Ali, My Life: A Fragment (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1942), pp. 11-12.
/5/ Sharar, Lakhnau, p. 301; see also Ralph Russell and Khurshidul Islam, Three Mughal Poets (Cambridge Harvard University Press, 1968); Mirza Mohammad Hadi Ruswa, Umrao Jan Ada, tr Khushwant Singh and M. A. Husaini (Bombay. Orient Longmans, 1961).
/6/ British census takers were hard pressed to deal with the category of household composition (Ibbetson, pp 40-42)
/7/ Sarvar ul-Mulk [Agha Mirza Beg], Karnamah-i Sarvari (Aligarh: Muslim University, 1933), pp. 2-5; the English version is Nawab Serverul-Mulk, My Life, tr. Niwab Jivan Yar Jung Bahadur (London: Arthur H. Stockwell, n.d.), pp. 12-15; see also E. M. Forster, Abinger Harvest (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, n.d.), pp. 315-318.
/8/ Khvajah Altaf Husain Hali, Hayat-i javid (Lahore: A'inah-i Adab, 1966 [originally published in 1901]), pp. 65-85; Hali's discussion of Sayyid Ahmad's childhood draws largely from Sayyid Ahmad's own biography of Khvajah Farid, Sirat-i Faridiyah (Karachi: Pak Academy, 1964 [originally published in 1896]); I am also indebted to Hashim Muhammad Ali for discussing the family history with me.
/9/ Sayyid Abmad, Sirat-i Faridiyah, pp. 124-125.
/10/ lbid., pp. 136-137; cf. Mubammad Zaka' Ullah, Savanih-i 'umri Haji Maulvi Muhammad Sami' Ullah Khan Bahadur (Hyderabad: Nur ul-Islam, 1909), pp. 20-21.
/11/ See Sayyid Riza 'Ali, A'mal namah (Delhi: Hindustan Publishers, 1943), pp. 21-22.
/12/ Mubammad Ikramullah Khan, Viqar-i Hayat (Aligarh: Muslim University, 1925), p. 2.
/13/ Salihah 'Abid Husain, Yadgar-i Hali, 2d ed (A1igarh: Anjuman-i Taraqqi-i Urdu ), pp. 26-27, 33.
/14/ Sarvar u1-Mulk, Karnamah, pp. 5-6, 11. The English translation omits reference to the martyrdom. A Muslim martyr goes directly to Paradise without waiting for the Day of Judgment.
/15/ Mas'ud 'Ali Mabvi, Kitab-i makhdum zadgan-i Fatehpur ( [Hyderabad?, 1946?]), II, 143-158. I am indebted to Mashfiq Khwaja of the Anjuman-i Taraqqi-i Urdu, Karachi, and Brigadier Kirmani, also of Karachi, for loaning me copies of this privately printed family history.
/16/ Riza 'Ali, A'mal namah, pp. 7-12, 30-32.
/17/ Habibullah Khan, Hayat-i Aftab (Allahabad: Asrar Karimi Press, (1947), pp. 1-5.
/18/ Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, Hayat-i Fakhr (Lahore: Nuqush Press, 1966), pp. 4-12.
/19/ For an argument in favor of marrying outside the family see Nazir Ahmad, The Bride's Mirror or Miratu l-Arus, tr. by G. E. Ward (London: Henry Frowde, 1899), p. 160; for a family dispute on the issue see Mas'ud 'Ali, Kitab-i makhdum, II, 123.
/20/ Nazir Ahmad, The Bride's Mirror, p. 20.
/21/ This particular practice was terminated after 1857, when the British disarmed the population. But people could still use firecrackers.
/22/ For birth customs in different localities, see Mrs. Meer Hasan Ali, Observations on the Mussulmauns of India (London: Parbury, Allen, and Co., 1832), II, 1-13; Jaffur Shureef, Qanoon-e-lslam, 2d ed. (Madras: I. Higginbotham, 1863), pp. 1-4; Sayyid Ahmad Dehlvi, Rasum-i Dehli (Rampur: Kitabkar Publications, 1965 [originally published in 1905]), pp. 42-65.
/23/ Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, Hayat-e Fakir, p. 17; see also Sayyid Hashmi Faridabidi, "Maulvi 'Abd ul-Haq," 'Aligarh Megzin, Aligarh Number, Part II (1954-1955), p. 53.
/24/ Mrs. Meer Hasan Ali, Observations, II, 11-12; for a fictional account involving a Hindu wet nurse and her son in a Muslim home, see Attiya Hosain, "The Loss," Phoenix Fled (London: Chat to and Windus, 1953), pp. 117-133; also complaints about friendships with servant children by Sayyid Husain Bilgrami in Addresses, Poems, and Other Writings of Nawab Imadul-Mulk Bahadur (Hyderabad: Government Central Press, 1925), p. 105; I am indebted to Mr. Sajjad Mirza of Hyderabad, son of Aziz Mirza, for discussing these matters with me (Hyderabad, September 1968).
/25/ For a fictional account of a bad mother, see Nazir Ahmad, The Taubatu-n-Nasuh, tr. by M. Kempson (London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1886); for the more saintly variety, C. F. Andrews, Zaka Ullah of Delhi (Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons, 1929), pp. 53-55.
/26/ Jaffur Shureef, Qanoon-e-Islam, pp. 15-23.
/27/ Mrs. Meer Hasan Ali, Observations, p. 7.
/28/ Nazlr Ahmad, The Bride's Mirror, p. 5; interview with Sajjad Mirza; see also Sayyid Ahmad Dehlvi, Rasum-i Dehli, p. 71; for a critical comment on prolonged breast feeding see the Aligarh Institute Gazette (hereafter AIG), July 2, 1892.
/29/ Sleeman, Rambles and Reflections, I, 332.
/30/ Margaret Morison, "A Conversation," Aligarh Monthly, December 1904, pp. 6-12. Englishmen made similar complaints about American children, so these references may tell us more about the English than about either Indians or Americans (Richard L. Rapson, "The American Child as Seen by British Travelers," The American Family in Social-Historical Perspective, ed. by Michael Gordon [New York: St. Martin's Press, 1973], pp. 192-208).
/31/ Bilgrami, Addresses, p. 35.
/32/ Sayyid Ahmad, Sirat-i Faridiyah, pp. 135-148; Ikramullah Khan, Viqar-i Hayat, pp. 2-3.
/33/ See The Diary of Sahibzada Aftab Ahmad Khan Ahmadi, 1892- 93, ms. in the Aligarh Muslim University Archives, Maulana Azad Library, Aligarh (hereafter the Aligarh Archives will be referred toas AA).
/34/ Bilgrami, Addresses, p. 23.
/35/ Sayyid Abmad DehlvI, Rasum-i Dehli, pp. 71-73; Jaffur Shureef, Qanoon-e-Jslam, pp. 27-34.
/36/ Sayyid Ahmad was taught by an ustani (Hali, Hayat-i javid, p. 86); Aftab Ahmad Khan was taught by a miyanji (Habibullah Khan, Hayat-i Aftab, p. 6) ; Zafar Ali Khan started with his father's father (Ashraf 'Ata, Maulana Zafar 'Ali Khan [Lahore: Caravan, (1962) 1, p. 22) ; Masud Ali and Hali started with a qari sahib (Mas'ud 'Ali, Kitab-i makhdum, II, 144; and Salihah 'Abid Husain, Yadgar, p. 26); for study in the teacher's home see Mir Vilayat Husain, Ap biti (Aligarh: privately published by Sayyid Hadi Husain Zaidi, 1970), p. 23; examples of philanthropic teaching are in Zaka' Ullah, Savanih, p. 14.
/37/ Jaffur Shureef, Qanoon-e-lslam, p. 36.
/38/ Education Commission, Report of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh Provincial Committee (Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Printing, 1884), p. 383 and elsewhere (hereafter EC/NWP); Mas'ud 'Ali, Kitab-i makhdum, II, 150; Qamruddin Ahmad Badayunl, Mahfil-i 'Aziz (Hyderabad: A'jaz Printing Press, 1962), pp. 99-100.
/39/ For a general account see G.D.M. Sufi, Al-Minhaj: Being the Evolution of Curriculum in the Muslim Educational Institutions of India (Lahore: Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf, 1941); see also ECI NWP; William Adam, Reports on Vernacular Education in Bengal and Behar (Calcutta: Home Secretariat Press, 1968 [originally published in 1835, 1838]); Ziaul Haque, "Muslim Religious Education in Indo-Pakistan: An Annotated Bibliography," Occasional Paper Series, Muslim Studies Subcommittee, Committee on Southern Asian Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1972).
/40/ Vilayat Husain, Ap biti, p. 24; Muhammad Sa'id Khan [Navab of ChatarI], Yad-i ayyam (Aligarh: Muslim Educational Press, n.d.), I, 22.
/41/ Jaffur Shureef, Qanoon-e-lslam, p. 33.
/42/ Hali, Hayat-i javid, p. 86.
/43/ Salihah 'Abid Husain, Yadgar, p. 29.
/44/ Zaka. Ullah, Savanih, p. 20.
/45/ EC/NWP, p. 287.
/46/ Jaffur Shureef, Qanoon-e-lslam, p. 33; among Hindus there were analogous institutions in the guru, pathshala, and math, and a sharif Hindu, such as the poetic disciples of Ghalib or several witnesses in EC/NWP, would have Sanskrit along with Persian and Arabic as part of his education.
/47/ Sayyid Ahmad, Sirat-i Faridiyah, p. 133.
/48/ Sharar, Lakhnau, pp. 153-154; Habibullah Khan, Hayat-i Aftab, p.6.
/49/ Sayyid Ahmad, Sirat-i Faridiyah, pp. 129-134.
/50/ Ibid., pp. 132-133.
/51/ Mrs. Meer Hasan Ali, Observations, II, 14-21; Jaffur Shureef, Qanoon-e-lslam, Appendix 8; Sarvar ul-Mulk, Karnamah, p. 22.
/52/ Sayyid Ahmad, Sirat-i Faridiyah, pp. 130-132.
/53/ A recurring motif, for example, in Ralph Russell and Khurshidul Islam, Ghalib: Life and Letters (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1969).
/54/ Sharar, Lakhnau, pp. 300, 314-322