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  The mystery mansion — 2  

  Vol IV : issue 4

  Cover page
  David Lelyveld
  Joginder Paul
  Antara Dev Sen
  Evald Flisar
  Amrita Pritam
Nirupama Rao
  Only in Print

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David Lelyveld

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

In June, on the way back to India, I had the opportunity to visit the British Library in London and managed to find a few more bits relevant to my inquiry. For one thing, I discovered that Syed Mahmud was living at a different address, 7 Elgin Road, in 1879.[6] Furthermore, I came upon an annual publication called Thackerís Directory on the open shelves in the India Office reading room. For every year after 1882 and well into the twentieth century, Thackes Directory provides names and addresses of people living in the Allahabad Civil Lines. I discovered from this source that Syed Mahmud did indeed live at 1 Church Road in 1885 and 1886; then again in 1891, and 1893 and 1894. It is listed as vacant the following year, then from 1896 to 1899 was occupied by Kunwar Permanand, Pleader of the High Court. It was then vacant again in 1900, but occupied continuously after 1901 by Motilal Nehru, also a Pleader of the High Court. So there definitely was some connection, via the son, between the Nehru home and Syed Ahmad Khan, though it still was a good distance from the claims of M.J. Akbar, B.N. Pande and the inscription at the entrance to Swaraj Bhawan. When Syed Ahmad Khan himself came to Allahabad in 1886 to serve on the Public Service Commission, however, he stayed in a different house with another relative, though in the same area.[7] There was still no evidence that the land and house had been given outright to Syed Ahmad Khan in the late 1860s or early 1870s.

It was, finally, at the Nehru Library in New Delhi that I found documents that provide solid evidence about the history of the house at 1 Church Road that came to be known first as Anand Bhawan and, later, Swaraj Bhawan. It turned out that there were two very fat and complete files in the private papers of Motilal Nehru.[8] It is a long, complex story, but briefly here is the relevant information about the connection between the house and the family of Sir Syed:

In 1858, the Allahabad Collector issued a parwana that authorised Shaikh Fayyaz Ali of Allahabad to receive an "estate" with an annual income of Rs 1,000 in compensation for losses sustained during the "Mutiny". The UP and National Archives have hundreds of such cases of land confiscated and awarded in the aftermath of the rebellion, and this is one of them. Incidentally, Syed Ahmad Khan turned down such an estate and received instead his monthly "political pension".[9] Shaikh Fayyaz Ali, like many other Muslims, did not have to wait for the British to change their policies and attitudes to get such an award. What he finally got in 1861 was property of over 16 bighas in a village called Fatehpur Bishwa at the eastern edge of Allahabadís large military establishment. The land was revenue-free. In addition, he received an adjoining piece of 2 bighas 9 biswa in Mauza Hashimpur. On this property he built a bungalow, known as Bungalow Fatehpur Bishwa No. 1 Church Road. When he died in 1873, his children were still minors, so his property was administered by the Court of Wards. In 1888, at the request of his heirs, the Court of Wards authorised the Allahabad Collector to sell the property. It was under these circumstances that Syed Mahmud, a Justice of the Allahabad High Court, purchased the house for Rs 9,000 in 1888.

On the basis of the information in Thackerís Directory, we can surmise that Syed Mahmud had lived there previously as a tenant. Six years later, in 1894, Syed Mahmud sold the property to Raja Jaikishen Das, a close family friend, for Rs 13,250. The sale deed gives details of alterations and additions that Syed Mahmud had made while he was owner. Kunwar Permanand, a former student of the M.A.O. College, Aligarh, was Jaikishen Dasís son. Bas! There is, however, one remaining mystery: where do the quotations come from that B.N. Pande cites to establish his alternative story about the origins of the house? I regret to say that I have searched and searched in the National and Uttar Pradesh Archives as well as the India Office Records, and cannot find anything like ĎSir W. Muirís Confidential Despatches, Imperial Recordsí. Muirís papers are in Edinburgh, and maybe some day Iíll take a look. Dr Avril Powell of the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, who knows these papers best of all, has expressed her doubts that such a document could be found there. As for the quotation from The Pioneer for July 18, 1871, Iím afraid it isnít there (Both the Nehru Library and the British Library have full microfilm sets of The Pioneer). I can only conclude that if such documents and quotations exist at all, they must be about other people, other property and on other dates. Anyway, I canít find them. This leads us to, probably, the most interesting question: why has this story been concocted and so prominently displayed? What purpose does it serve? One might start with the seeds of truth that could make the story plausible. For one thing, the house was indeed owned, if only briefly and certainly not originally nor as a gift at the hands of the British authorities, by Syed Mahmud, the son of Syed Ahmad Khan. It may have been called Mahmud Manzil, although I have seen no contemporary documentary reference to such a name. The house that Syed Ahmad Khan lived in at Aligarh, which had no special name, was originally owned by Syed Mahmud, purchased in 1876 when he was still the only Indian practising as a High Court advocate in Allahabad. It was given as mehar (brideís portion) to Syed Mahmudís wife, Musharaf Jahan Begam, when they were married in 1888, the year Syed Mahmud purchased the house at 1 Church Road.

It is also certainly true that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was a firm supporter of British rule, though in this respect he was hardly unique in the late nineteenth century. The founders of the Indian National Congress were equally enthusiastic in their support of the British Empire and their wish to be a part of it. On the other hand, Syed Ahmad Khan, particularly in the decade following the 1857 Rebellion, had made a number of enemies within the British ruling establishment for his forthright criticism of a number of British policies and attitudes toward India and Indians. His writings after the Mutiny were controversial in British circles. His account of the rebellion in Bijnore, for example, was considered by some to have been written to protect his British mentor, the Collector of Bijnore, Alexander Shakespeare, at the expense of Nawab Mahmud Khan of Najibabad, who, according to some officials, was unjustly convicted as a rebel.[10] His book on the causes of the Indian revolt received a sharp retort from Richard Temple, who considered parts of the pamphlet to be "rancorous," and characterised by "some kind of spite or enmity".[11] In 1867, the year the British supposedly offered him the property in Allahabad, in fact he was officially reprimanded for the disrespectful tone of his publication, the Aligarh Institute Gazette.[12] In 1869, Syed Ahmad devoted much of his time in London to writing a refutation of Sir William Muirís book on the Prophet Muhammad. On the other hand, he certainly had good friends in high places among the British, including Muir himself, as well as Sir John Strachey.

It is also true, as Iíve mentioned, that Syed Ahmad was a beneficiary of British largesse in the form of a political pension, although here again he was one of many and hardly among the most prominent. His friend, Raja Jaikishen Das, who also owned the Nehru house, received the title of Raja and an estate in Moradabad "suitable to support the dignity of the title."[13] He also got a large house in Moradabad city, given to him as a matter of "sound policyÖ to locate in the midst of a large and restless Mussulman population, such a staunch supporter and loyal servant of Govt., and to strengthen the hands of the Hindoo Community..."[14] There are hundreds of such cases of confiscations and rewards with both Muslim and Hindu victims and beneficiaries, a redistribution of land and power that would be worth detailed research.

What about the idea of the house as a "cementing centre" for the permanence of British rule in India? This is the quote attributed to Sir William Muir and if not by him, then perhaps uttered by someone else on some other occasion. There is an event that might be considered similar in spirit, if not in detail, to the still undiscovered house-warming at 1 Church Road. When Syed Mahmud returned from England in November 1872, his father hosted a dinner in his honour in Banares, where Syed Ahmad Khan was posted as Principal Sadr Amin. Syed Mahmud had eaten his dinners at Lincolnís Inn and been called to the Bar, though he had not quite finished a Cambridge degree. The following month, he moved to Allahabad where he became the first Indian advocate to practice before the High Court, a position that was then restricted to barristers, that is, legal practitioners who had been called to the bar in Britain.

p. 1 p. 2 p. 3

David Lelyveld, author of ĎAligarhís First Generation: Muslim Solidarity in British Indiaí, is Professor of History and Associate Dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, William Paterson University, New Jersey