THE HISTORY MAN: The Batala phenomenon —Ihsan Aslam
There are far too many prominent Batalvis for the size and importance of the town. With distinguished persons on either side of the Indo-Pak border, a town such as Batala can bring the people together and lead to greater harmony in the region
It is amazing how a tiny place can produce so many great names. I’m not referring to a well-known place such as Cambridge. Cambridge has produced a very long list of distinguished persons because of its historic university town status. The rather obscure town of Batala on the Indian side of Punjab — only 50 miles east of Lahore — has given us quite a few Batalvis.
Batala has given us greats in the fields of politics, literature, history, poetry, Islam, and law. Someone should carry out a serious study into the Batala Phenomenon. What caused it? Was it just coincidence, of the right sort of people being in the right place at the right time? Was it the early schooling and family training? Or was it the Punjabi ‘hawa’ (air)?
Not content with merely coming from this town, these chaps proudly announce their association with it by using the surname ‘Batalvi’. And wherever they go, they take Batala with them. In Pakistan we even have a Batala Colony in the city of Faisalabad. Pakistan’s famous Batalvis were the prominent historian Ashiq Hussain Batalvi and the legal man Ijaz Hussain Batalvi. Our own distinguished scholar-journalist Khaled Ahmed once reminded me, “Not only was Ashiq from Batala, KK Aziz’s town [more on this later], but also my other great, Ghulam Ahmad Parvez”.
India has given us the Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi, and the list for the pre-partition period includes the following names: Sir Fazl-i-Hussain, the Punjab chief; Allama Mashriqi, the founder-leader of the Khaksar movement; and Maulvi Muhammad Husain Batalvi, the Ahl-i-Hadith leader.
Khaled Ahmed also e-mailed me some years back: “According to KK Aziz, in his biography of his father, Punjab’s strong man Sir Fazl-i-Hussain was a Chauhan Rajput from Batala. His daughter married Manzur Qadir, the famous lawyer and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister”.
The Fazl-i-Hussain family are old family friends of Professor KK Aziz. I gather that KK’s grandfather was a friend of Sir Fazl-i-Hussain’s father, Hussain Bakhsh. It was Husain Bakhsh who had suggested that KK’s father go to England for higher education, which he did. KK himself followed later with a PhD in history from Manchester University.
Another Batalvi is Mian Kifayat Ali (1902-1994), who used the pen name ‘A Punjabi’. Kifayat wrote the well-known book ‘Confederacy of India’ (1939). This book has been referred to as “the most comprehensive and far-reaching scheme aimed at furthering and elaborating the idea of Pakistan”. KK Aziz fondly recalls his early days in Batala and would love to visit the Indian town. Now that the Indo-Pak relations are improving perhaps more and more people will be able to cross over and visit the places of their birth or the places of their youth in the pre-1947 era. And about time, too.
While discussing his early days in Batala, KK Aziz recalled that he had seen Allama Mashriqi during a rally in the town. Mashriqi was a great and fiery orator who had the audience spellbound. Allama Mashriqi (died 1963) was a Cambridge man (Christ’s College).
KK Aziz once wrote a letter to me on the subject of cats and what is interesting is that he also brings in his other love, that is Batala. He writes in his letter: “I was not unfamiliar with having cats as pets in the house. I am a village boy and as a baby had cats sleeping with me. I grew up with them. Later in Batala when I was a schoolboy there were several cats in the house. But later when we moved to Lahore the evils of ‘urbandom’ caught up with us”.
KK Aziz also knew Ashiq Hussain Batalvi’s family in Batala, a “well-educated lot with brilliant conversation skills”. Khaled Ahmed has written: “Ashiq Hussain Batalvi is undoubtedly the greatest historian in my view on the basis of his classic, Allama Iqbal kay Akhri do sal, his three volumes on the Pakistan Movement, and his most entertaining sketches of the personalities of the years prior to the creation of Pakistan”.
There are far too many prominent Batalvis for the size and importance of the town. With distinguished persons on either side of the Indo-Pak border, a town such as Batala can bring the people together and lead to greater harmony in the region. Let there be greater ‘cross-border tourism’ and intermingling for the benefit of the masses.
Ihsan Aslam is a Cambridge based writer interested in biography and history. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or visited at http://www.pakistanhistory.com