Professor Hasan was also one of only a few students of the 1940s who was willing to speak about his involvement with the Muslim League in the 1945-46 elections. He frequently made sure that I understood that he regretted his involvement with the League and chalked it up to youthful enthusiasm, a desire for adventure, and naivete.
Irfan Habib is an Emeritus Professor of the Dept of History but he still appears daily in the department where he sits in the office of Professor Shireen Moosvi and interacts with all of the students, other professors, Communist party activists and others who move in and out of the office throughout the day. Irfan Habib always provides hospitality to these guest, endless cups of tea and biscuits.
It was some time before I could convince him to sit down with me for a formal interview about his experiences during the 1930s and 1940s in Aligarh. He was very skeptical of the methodology of my research, being as he is, a historian of medieval India and deeply invested in the investigation of documentary sources. Interviews, he reminded me, would only catch a person’s “bias,” and not “The Truth.”
S.M. Mehdi was surprised to see me, but agreed to answer my questions though he cautioned he could not be considered an expert on Aligarh. He told me, instead, of his experiences during partition as a Communist in Bombay. He worked for thirty years in the Soviet Embassy in New Delhi and has been a lifelong Communist.
Set during the nascent years of the Indian nationalist movement in the fictitious North Indian town of Chandrapore, E.M. Foster’s novel, A Passage to India, follows Adela Quested, a young English woman visiting India for the first time.
In 2009, I spent five months living at the Aligarh Muslim University in the town of Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India. I was there to research the role and experience of Aligarh students in the movement for Pakistan during the 1940s. As part of this research, I actively sought out university employees and former students of the university from that period. I was referred to S.M. Mehdi through a chance encounter with a university official and arrived at his home without an appointment.
Gandhi challenges biographers. The author must confront Gandhi’s prodigious writings, six decades of work as a political activist and social reformer, and importantly, his consecration as “Father of India” and international stature as Mahatma (Great Soul).Perhaps aware of this difficulty, Joseph Lelyveld sets himself a modest goal to “amplify rather than replace the standard narrative” of Gandhi’s life.
We are in the delivery room in Bombay, at midnight on August 14/15, 1947, the moment India and Pakistan are created as independent nations. Two children enter the world simultaneously, one Muslim, one Hindu, and their destinies will be determined by the timing of their birth.
Krishna Kumar’s study of school textbooks in Pakistan and India shows that the discipline of history in South Asia has “come under the strain of nation-building rather more than other subjects.” History teaching in these textbooks seeks to settle political and ideological points and guide children’s responses to present day situations.
Reading this compelling account of the partition of India in 1947, one is moved to ask: What were they thinking? Early accounts of the end of British rule in India concentrate on the high politics of the negotiations between the leaders of the Indian National Congress, the Muslim League, and a succession of Viceroys—ending with the striking and decisive Lord Mountbatten.