52nd death anniversary
M D Taseer: a literary giant
Dr Riaz Qadeer
Dr Taseer was the first Indian to get his Ph.D. in English Literature from Cambridge University. His thesis was a critical and analytical study of five hundred years of English literature. This is a great literary thesis which still awaits publication
Dr M D Taseer was an omniscience figure of Urdu and English literature. He was a first rank Urdu poet, a distinguished essayist and a creditable critic of his time. His Urdu poetry and prose have been highly appreciated by literary circles. However, most of his literary work is not very well known. In fact, few people know of his unpublished Eng Lit thesis captioned “India and the Near East in English literature from the earliest times to 1924”.
As a research scholar of English literature Taseer was keen on higher studies. Dr Mohammad Allama Iqbal encouraged Taseer’s eager kind. Iqbal loved Taseer, was happy to give him free access and also took keen interest in his well-being, promotion and intellectual advancement. Indeed it was Iqbal who was instrumental in persuading and patronising the young Taseer to go to Cambridge University in the UK, not least because Iqbal too had been a student at that famous seat of learning. In 1932, Taseer was Assistant Professor in English at Islamia College, Lahore. Iqbal enthusiastically recommended the young Taseer to Cambridge:
“I am glad to learn that Mr. M D Taseer, M.A., Assistant Professor of English Islamia College (University of the Punjab) Lahore, intends to go to Cambridge for a Ph.D. in English. He has already won a name in the domain of Arts and Letters in his own country, and a young man of such exceptional parts is bound to make his mark wherever he goes. He is the vanguard of our young literati and combines a real ability for literary criticism, with genuine creative faculties. He... is widely read in English and oriental literatures. He is just the man for Cambridge and is pre-eminently suited for post-graduated research work in English. Considering his brilliant academic career, his experience as a teacher of Degree and Honours classes in English, the quality of literary work already done by him, he deserves preferential treatment and should be granted every legitimate concession.” (The Crescent April 1951, Lahore, Page 56).
Taseer reached London in late 1933 and got admission in M. Litt at Pembroke College, Cambridge University. Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, Professor of English Literature, was his research guide. Professor Arthur Quiller Couch was an authority on English literature and realised that Taseer’s background was sound. He persuaded the University Senate to allow him to take his Ph.D. rather than M. Litt and the Senate duly agreed. This was the first time that a student of an Indian university was allowed to do his Ph.D. without first sitting for his M. Litt in Cambridge University.
After toiling day and night, Taseer completed his vast subject thesis in three years and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Dr Taseer now became the first Indian to get his Ph.D. in English Literature from Cambridge University. His thesis consisted of the critical and analytical study of five hundred years of English literature. The subject matter extended to such a lengthy period is tackled very skilfully. In the foreword to his thesis, Taseer observes, “This is not a study in origins but attitudes. How have the countries of India and the near East (North Africa, Turkey, Arabia, Persia) been representative in the imaginative literature of England? This is the question we have tried to answer. It is rarely safe to generalise but a progressive tendency in view is easily discernible. From hostility to admiration and familiarity, from familiarity to contempt and understanding, such is the general sequence of attitudes. A corresponding change in technique from romanticism to realism, from propaganda to verisimilitude, is inevitable. Though the period under review ends with the publication of “A Passage to India” (1924) references have been made to later periods... As our values are purely literary we have except when dealing with the beginning of a particular phase of tendency, confined ourselves to the study of only those works which deserve attention on the ground of literary merit and present some significant development in attitude.”
Taseer was an instable reader with a broad perspective. He would at once grasp the crux of a matter and then put it in proper sequence. He was endowed with an analytic mind, synthetic comprehension and clear vision over a vast field of arts and literature in its historical and evolutionary context. His method of treatment of his subject was scientific. He took up the literary eras of England in an ordinary way, one by one, studied their trends and then proceeded to discern the attitude of the West as reflected towards the East like a true scholar of literature and philosophy.
Dr M D Taseer’s thesis is a treasure-trove of analytic literary information. It also reflects Taseer’s literary prowess. The thesis remains buried in the archives of Cambridge University since 1936. It is the only permanent research work of Dr Taseer and is the real essence of his intellectual abilities. Due to its literary worth, Professor Arthur Quiller Coach was of the opinion that it ought to be published. This is what he had to say on the subject: “In my opinion this thesis for its thoroughness and originality, be printed and published. It is real contribution to knowledge.” (“The Crescent LHR Memorial Issue, Feb, April 1951, Page 57).
In 1994, the Bazm-e-Iqbal Lahore thought about publishing it. But sadly we are still to see it in print.
Dr Riaz Qadeer is Associate Professor at Government College of Education for Science, Township, Lahore