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A Moral ReckoningMuslim Intellectuals in Nineteenth-Century Delhi$

Mushirul Hasan

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195691979

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195691979.001.0001

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(p.260) Appendix II Art II 

(p.260) Appendix II Art II 

A Moral Reckoning
Oxford University Press

Books Submitted to Government by Native Writers Works by Mahomed Nuzeer Ahmud, Settlement Officer, Jaloun

I have received the following MSS. with much satisfaction, as the work of an able Government servant and a sound scholar. He was one of three Native gentlemen selected by the late Sir G. Edmondstone to prepare an Oordoo version of the Penal Code some years ago, and received a khillut for his services, and has since held important appointments in the Revenue Department. The work which I have placed at the head of the list is the most interesting and specially adapted of its kind which has appeared, and I regard it as to style and diction as a good model of Vernacular composition. In this respect it ranks with the recently published correspondence of the late Mirza Nousha (Ghalib) of Delhi, and certainly rivals the Oordoo version of the Alf Laila, and of the Bostan Khial by Badr-ud-deen Khan, also of Delhi, though the two latter are of course greatly more meritorious in the way of sustained effort and literary industry. The production under notice is a readable every-day book, intelligible to common folk, and pure and practical in tone. There is no pandering to the passions or appeal to the marvellous, which appear to be the ordinary passports to popularity among Oriental writers; and I hope the author may find many imitators.

The five remaining books are simply school-books, but each is meritorious in its way, and shows the author to be a man who desires to place his experience and scholarship at the service of the community. He must have little leisure for literary labours, but what he has, he has undoubtedly well employed. Looking to the spirit (p.261) as well as to the excellent quality of his performances, I recommend the full reward of Rs 1000. I have no doubt he will be willing to place his MSS. at the disposal of Government for edition, correction where necessary, and publication.

I. —Mirat-ul-Arus (The Bride's Mirror)—Oordoo MS., 264 pp., prose

This work has been composed expressly for the benefit of females. It is a tale of domestic life in a respectable Mahomedan family. Two sisters of entirely different character marry into the same family; and the father-in-law's household thus supplies the chief matter for incident. The elder bride, Akbari, is described as badly brought up and spoiled, and exceedingly ill-tempered and quarrelsome. She is engaged in perpetual strife with the women of her husband's family, and becomes feared and detested. At last, in a fit of anger, she leaves the house and returns to her mother. The females of both families consult over the emergency, and she is persuaded to return to her husband on condition of his finding a separate home for her away from his father's family. Her after behaviour, folly, and general ignorance of domestic management, which lead her into various troubles, are then depicted at some length.

Not long after these events, the younger sister, Asgari, marries into the family. She is a charming picture of woman as she might be, and perhaps often is, in the veiled recesses of the home-circles of our fellow-subjects. Bred in seclusion, her father's favourite, sweet-tempered, well-taught, and fully accomplished in all matters of household comfort and economy, she comes to her husband's house as a messenger of good. Distrusted at first as probably a second Akbari, she soon wins the love and confidence of all. She learns the ways of her new home, and takes an active share in the management of the household. By-and-by she detects the untrustiness of the family housekeeper, who, relying on her supremacy in domestic matters, and long service, has enriched herself by a secret understanding with the bunyahs and banker, and has brought the family to the verge of ruin and disgrace. Finding an enemy in the new bride, she intrigues to destroy her reputation, and sows evil suspicions in the minds of the husband and mother-in-law. Happily the right prevails. The father of the family arrives on leave, and the housekeeper's misdeeds are exposed, and she is dismissed. Henceforward all goes well. The family affairs prosper under the young wife's care, and she becomes known throughout the town for her virtues and wisdom. Not the least interesting part of this description is a long letter (pp. 68–82) which the bride receives from her father, a tehseeldar, soon after her marriage. He gives her useful advice as to her conduct in her husband's home, and points out how the many trials and difficulties which the marriage system of the country involves may be best avoided.

After a while Asgari's husband, Mahomed Kamil, who is described as a student, enters Government service, and has to leave Delhi, the scene of the story. In his absence, his wife tries her hand at education. She collects girls from the neighbouring zenanas, and teaches them to read and write, &c., and the arrangements she makes, and the happiness she produces, are fully and profitably described. Her (p.262) young sister-in-law, Mahmudah, who has been her close friend through all the family troubles, helps her in the school; and by-and-by they make acquaintance with the ladies of a highborn family, resident in the same quarter, into which, by Asgari's management, Mahmudah eventually marries, to the great honour and happiness of her family and friends.

The end of the tale is sad. Asgari's virtues and nobleness are vividly mirrored in the narrative, and it is a disappointment to find that her children one after other, die in their infancy, and that she is plunged in distress. The story concludes with a letter from her father, who attempts to comfort her with reflections on the nature of life and death, and the uselessness of grief. This is well-conceived and expressed in a certain sense, but one closes the book with a feeling of pity for the poor mother, that the highest consolation her creed can afford her is a string of cold philosophical considerations.

On the whole this tale is told in the words of every-day life in good society, the true Oordoo of the country, and not the high-flown dialect of pedants and poets. The incidents are natural, such as are well known in every father-in-law's house-hold. The ways of the zenana are, as it were, exposed, and for the first time a European reader is allowed some insight into the domestic realities of every-day life among the women of the country. Their language, their likes and dislikes, their fondness for their children, their importance in the family circle, their gross ignorance, their spitefulness and petty intriguing, all receive illustration, and the picture bears no signs whatever of exaggeration. The writer evidently paints from life, and leaves the tale to teach its own moral. He is a scholar of acknowledged ability, but there is no attempt at display, and the reflections he throws in from time to time are those of an earnest and right-minded man. The mothers-in-law, the aunts, and others of the family, move before the reader as persons in a drama, and conversation and dialogue, for the first time so far as I know, are designedly used by a Native author to portray character, instead of the usual verbose description and accumulation of epithet. The book will be read with interest by hundreds, as soon as it becomes known, and cannot but do good to the cause of female education. I shall be able to suggest to the author one or two omissions, and a few emendations.

II. Rasm-ul-Khath.—Oordoo MS., 50 pp.

This is an Oordoo elementary treatise on the art of writing the Persian character. It is original and scholarly, and will be of use in schools.

III. Nisab-i-Khusru, better known as Khaliq Bari

This is a new edition of the ordinary Persian Primer of the country, originally composed by Amir Khusru of Delhi. It is formed on the principle that when a child begins to learn a language he should commit to memory a supply of useful words; and to enable him to do this with greater facility, the words are strung together in metre.

The improvements introduced by Nuzeer Ahmud are (1) the removal of words (p.263) which have become obsolete; (2) additional verses are given; (3) an alphabetical vocabulary is added for the sake of practice; (4) red letters are placed under the words to indicate their origin—whether Arabic, Persian, or Hindee. All Arabic and Persian words which occur in Oordoo are also separately marked. There are 758 Arabic and Persian words, of which 250 are Persian and 508 Arabic, exclusive of Hindee and Oordoo words. This edition ought to supersede the older form, and should be printed at once.

IV. Muntakhib-ul-hikayat, Oordoo MS., 182 pp.

This is a series of selected stories for children, intended to attract their attention and improve their understanding. The author in his preface satirizes the ordinary tales as being commonly after this fashion—ek thi chiriya aur ek tha chira; chiriya lai chawal ka dana aur chira laya dal ka dana; donon ne milkar khichri pakai. His substitutes for the Gammar Gurton style are short fables and stories from Lakman other fabulists, adapted to the comprehension of the young. The language is simple and elegant, though a few mistakes occur which are due to the copyist. The book will do very well for an easy School Reader and prize-book, and is worth publication.

V. Chand Pand, Oordoo, MS., 149 pp.

This is a series of plain-spoken articles on useful subjects intended for youth. The following are the topics:—Cleanliness, food, dress, talking, good manners, society, common sense, concord, health and sickness, anger, avarice, pride—whether of wealth or beauty, or strength—timidity, immodesty, envy, time. These subjects are followed by a short description of the chief phenomena of the globe, physical and geographical, and by an early history of mankind, according to Mahommedan traditions, from Adam to Moses. The last few pages are devoted to the inculcation of religious and moral maxims, and a brief mention of the forms of religion prevalent in India, in which I find nothing offensive or illiberal. The style is simple and elegant, and the work is worth publishing as a prize book for Mahommedan boys.

VI. Sarj-i-saghir—Oordoo MS., 78 pp.

This is an introduction to Persian Grammar for beginners. The author, by way of preface, explains the reasons for the presence of this language in India, and advocates its study solely on the ground of its being necessary for an Oordoo scholar. The work is intended for students who are already fairly proficient in Oordoo, and thus harmonizes with our system, in contrast with the custom of the country, which neglects Oordoo, and begins with Persian. I am glad to find an experienced and independent advocate of the new method in a scholar of Nuzeer Ahmud's stamp and position. His treatise is worthy of publication, and may perhaps be introduced in the upper classes of Tehseelee Schools in which Persian is taught.

From R. Simson, Esq., Secy, to Government, to M. Kempson, Esq., M.A., Director of Public Instruction, N.-W. P.9 No. 1236A.)_Dated Nynee Tal, the 20th August, 1869.

(p.264) Sir, I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of your Docket No. 925, dated the 22nd ultimo, submitting six Oordoo books written by Mahomed Nuzeer Ahmud, Settlement Deputy Collector of Jaloun, with a memorandum containing your opinion on the same.

  1. 2. In reply, I am desired to state that the Lieutenant-Governor has perused the Mirat-ul-Arus, or ‘The Bride's Mirror,’ with the highest satisfaction.

  2. 3. The work possesses merit hitheto (so far as His Honor is aware) unknown in Oordoo literature; and it well deserves the high encomium you have passed upon it. It is true that as a tale there are obvious imperfections in it, judged from an European point of view. The plan has not been laid out, as a whole, with much artistic design; some of the letters, though conveying valuable advice, are hardly appropriate to the occasion; and marks of haste appear in many parts. But the sketches are those of real life, the language is simple and artless, and the inner history of an Indian home is portrayed true to nature. The characters are preserved each in its own individuality: nor are there wanting touches of genuine feeling and tenderness. In addition to its charming simplicity, the work is full of excellent admonition, and every incident is calculated to convey a moral or social lesson. It also brings to light the vast influence exercised by the women of India, and the manner in which that influence may be crowned with the highest results when education is added to intelligence and virtue, rise from its perusal without a strong persuasion of the inestimable benefits to be derived from female education.

  3. 4. The book, moreover, possesses the singular virtue of being admirably adapted for the perusal of the females of India. It cannot fail to interest their imagination as well as instruct their minds. And no Native gentleman need fear to put it into the hands of his family, but with the certainty that they will be profited as well as entertained thereby. There is not a sentiment expressed throughout the work that is not pure and moral; or maxim or principle inculcated which (at any rate from a Moslem's point of view) is not innocent and virtuous.

  4. 5. While it is thoroughly Mahometan in its tone and spirit, the work is at the same time as thoroughly loyal in its sentiments towards the English Government. The episode in which the domestic life of our Queen and the approaching visit of Her Majesty's son are alluded to, shows that some at least of the advantages of English life and European habits can be fully appreciated by the author.

  5. 6. The great merit of Mahomed Nuzeer Ahmud consists in his having broken fresh ground in the right direction, and held out the example of useful and attractive composition in a simple and natural style—an example which the Lieutenant-Governor feels assured will soon meet with many followers. In particular, His Honor trusts that what has now been so successfully written of Mahometan domestic life may be similarly attempted in respect of other circles; and that a picture equally fresh and true may be given us of the Hindoo family and its interior life.

  6. 7. The Lieutenant-Governor has peculiar gratification in awarding to Mahomed Nuzeer Ahmud the full prize of one thousand rupees; and His Honor will add from himself, as a personal appreciation of his authorship, a time-piece bearing an appropriate inscription. His Honor hopes to be able to present these to Mahomed (p.265) Nuzeer Ahmud in public, at some place convenient for that officer, perhaps at Etawah, when the Lieutenant-Governor's Camp passes through the station.

  7. 8. An edition of 2000 copies, lithographed in the best style, may be at once ordered for the use of Government. Mahomed Nuzeer Ahmud may also take any steps he deems proper for securing the copyright, and for the publication of the work on his own account. It will certainly become a popular book, notwithstanding that the plainness and simplicity of the style may at first render it bald and strange to Oriental readers. Nuzeer Ahmud will no doubt be thankful to receive and act upon your suggestions for the correction of some of the defects which you have pointed out.

  8. 9. The Lieutenant-Governor thinks that the work may profitably be recommended to the Board of Examiners, as a suitable text-book of examination. Incomparably superior in its contents to the vapid and often objectionable tales of common Oriental writing, it will not only benefit the student by making him familiar with the spoken language in a pure and elegant yet familiar with the spoken language in pure and elegant yet familiar form, but will import much information in respect of every-day life and habits, which cannot fail of being useful to those whose duties bring them into contact with the people.

  9. 10. The other works of Mahomed Nuzeer Ahmud, though not possessing the merit of originality, will no doubt prove useful in the schools and colleges of these Provinces, and your proposals regarding them meet with the full concurrence and sanction of Government.

  10. 11. Your memorandum and this letter will be printed in the Supplement to the Government Gazette, and in the Selections from the Records of Government. A translation of them will also be printed in the Supplement to Oordoo Gazette.


From M. Kempson, Esq., M.A., Director of Public Instruction, to R. Simson, Esq., Secy, to Government, N.W.P. (Docket No. 925). Dated Nynee Tal, the 22nd July, 1869.