Cam Diary: Pak history in Leicester
Moulvi Munshi Mahboob Alam came up with the idea of Paisa Akhbar in 1888 as a cheap way of providing news to the masses
(An account of a trip to Leicester with Prof KK Aziz on August 29, 1999.)
Outside Leicester’s Campbell Street Railway Station is a statue of Thomas Cook, the founder figure of British travel, who in 1841 started the “first known major excursion from Leicester to Loughborough”. The name is now more famous for global travel than the initial ten-mile run north of Loughborough.
To get my bearings right in the city, I stopped to consult the map. By chance the road we stopped at — our only such stop — was Humberstone Road! Humberstone Road in Cambridge, you may recall, is the place from where Rahmat Ali first published the name “Pakistan”.
We reached Asaf Hussain’s place in the afternoon. It is from Asaf that Prof KK Aziz had borrowed Syad Muhammad Latif’s (1851-1902) classic “Lahore: it’s history, architectural remains and antiquities” during our visit last year. This book is a must read for anyone interested in the city, the capital of the Punjab.
Asaf’s ever-so-cultured, softly-spoken other half, Fareeda, is the headmistress of a local school. Her secret is that her great grandfather is the renowned journalist Moulvi Munshi Mahboob Alam (1863-1933) who founded the Paisa Akhbar. The titles “Moulvi” and “Munshi” denote that he was a respected scholar, a scribe. “Moulvi” in those days did not mean a mullah-type, but a scholarly person. “Munshi” is from the Persian “insha”, used more in the sense of a “clerk”.
This Gujranwala man came up with the idea of Paisa Akhbar, or Penny Newspaper, in 1888, as a cheap way of providing news to the masses. KK emphasised that Mahboob Alam’s greatness lay not only in providing political-social news coverage for the Muslims of the sub-continent, but coming out with a paper of high quality. Mahboob Alam may be titled the founding father of Muslim journalism in the subcontinent.
At the turn of the century Mahboob Alam went to Europe. He arrived by ship at Trieste, Italy and travelled around Germany, France and England making detailed observations as he went along, which were published in the Paisa Akhbar. These unique articles, observation of the colonials through the eyes of an eastern native, were later compiled as Safarnama Europe.
The Asaf Leicesterwalla’s may not fully appreciate it but they are connected with Rahmat Ali in a way as well. Asaf’s wife is related to another prominent pre-1947writer: Mian Kifayat Ali (1902-1994), who is her “phupar”(father’s sister’s husband!). Originally from Batala in India, Kifayat wrote the book “Confederacy of India” (1939) under the pen-name of “A Punjabi”.
KK has described this book as “the most comprehensive and far-reaching scheme aimed at furthering and elaborating the idea of Pakistan”. KK asked how the book came about and Kifayat explained, “The idea was suggested to me by the late Ch. Rahmat Ali’s writings and I developed it to an extent to which no one had done earlier” (letter to KK, September 5, 1968).
Furthermore, Kifayat was closely associated with the Majlis-i-Kabir-i-Pakistan, which was established in 1938 under the inspiration of Rahmat Ali. KK writes, “Barring the Confederacy of India, all the books and pamphlets written by Punjabi during these years were distributed by the Majlis. On most points the Majlis’ stand was the same as Rahmat Ali’s, particularly on the creation of a sovereign Pakistan in the north-west” (A History of the Idea of Pakistan, p536).
Impressed with Rahmat Ali’s ideas, Kifayat even titled his 1939 book “Pakistan”, but the backers of the book, primarily Nawab Sir Shah Nawaz Khan of Mamdot, received a telegram from Jinnah that this name must be dropped. Kifayat explains, “Just to give it another name, I prepared an outline of a confederal constitutional scheme for the sub-continent and incorporated it in the introduction to the book. Hence the name ‘Confederacy of Pakistan’. In fact I had been told to present my spade as a spoon.” He further admits that “The title Pakistan, as was originally conceived for the book under discussion, was later given up at the instance of the Quaid-i-Azam”.
While we were chatting over a warm cuppa, Mrs Asaf got up and reached for the telephone. She dialled an international number. “Professor [KK] Sahib, there’s Kifayat’s son at the other end of the line”. Kifayat’s son, Zaheer, is settled in the US. Mrs Asaf had mentioned how Zaheer had got excited on reading about his father in KK’s “A History of the idea of Pakistan”.
KK has indeed devoted a fair number of pages to an analysis of Kifayat’s Punjabi scheme (pages 488-537, in fact). Zaheer felt honoured in speaking directly to the good professor. KK requested Zaheer to send him further biographical data on his father. Kifayat, incidentally, was related to Sir Fazl-i- Husain, the Unionist chief of the Punjab (Sir Fazl was his father’s first cousin).
— Sir Cam, Cambridge, England