New Delhi: Theories abound as to why Sir Syed Ahmad Khan decided to establish an educational institution in Aligarh and not any other city but a new book seeks to offer a definitive response to it.
The reason perhaps lies in the “aab-o-hawa” (water and air), among other factors, offered by the region that the Islamic educationist-reformer found after rigorous research and got convinced about establishing a school that would go on to become the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
Author Huma Khalil brings forth this and several other lesser-known aspects of the city and the varsity in “The Allure of Aligarh: A Poetic Journey into the University City”, a coffee table book published by Hay House and presented by Rekhta Foundation.
Khan had set up the MAO (Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental) School on May 24, 1875 as a seat of higher learning for students that mixed the best of oriental and western knowledge and science. Two years later, it expanded to become the MAO College. It became AMU only in 1920.
But why Aligarh?
“Sir Syed did extensive research before deciding the site for the college he visualised. He consulted doctors and many other reputed persons regarding the various issues related to mental and physical well-being of the wards he was intending to nourish at the college,” Khalil writes.
A detailed account, she notes, was sent to Khan stating that Aligarh’s “aab-o-hawa” is “perfectly suitable” for the intellectual and physical well-being of an individual.
“Aligarh is in the doab region of north India. Its topography is bowl shaped and is situated in between two mounds, making it a highly fertile region. The water levels and the quality of water was reasonably good,” Khalil says in the book.
“Also, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, being friends with the British, was aware that many buildings left by them were lying vacant and can be donated to the college. The present VC and PVC lodges are among such buildings left behind by the English,” Khalil, an AMU alumnus, adds.
The author further says that the trade of salt, pepper and indigo were the main occupations of the inhabitants of Aligarh at that time and the chauhans, the jadavs, khwajas, shervanis, lakhani Rajputs were the main residents of Aligarh.
“The class of people changed after 1947 as many migrated to Pakistan,” notes Khalil, who has previously penned “Many Summers Apart”, a work on contemporary Urdu literature.
With a foreword by AMU VC Tariq Mansoor, the book runs nearly 300 pages and is peppered with legends, myths and photographs, including black and white, associated with the AMU and its predecessor MAO College.
The book dedicates chapters to notable alumni of the university – Akbar Allahabadi, Altaf Hussain Hali, Asrar Ul Haq Majaz, among others, as it also talks about the “tehzeeb” (culture) of the city and its changing ambience over the years.
The book is also replete with couplets and poetries on the city of Aligarh, the university, its culture and the people.