People and Homes of Aligarh

Meher Ali in Himal Southasian:

AftabI have always had a fascination with old homes. I grew up in one – Abid Manzil in Aligarh, built in 1935. Well-known as the home of Aligarh Muslim University, the town in western Uttar Pradesh saw many Indian Muslims migrate there in the early 1900s from different parts of the erstwhile United Provinces. This included the Muslim zamindar elites who came from neighbouring principalities as well as working-class and middle-class families from eastern Uttar Pradesh. Many wanted to give their children the chance of a good education at the university. These people brought their cultures and histories with them, blending with the Islamic yet liberal intellectual philosophy propagated by AMU and spearheaded by its founder, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. The homes of these people, mostly built in the 1930s, are evidence of this syncretic tradition. On my most recent visit to Aligarh I realised that these pre-Partition houses were gradually disappearing. I met with some of the remaining families, who wanted to talk about the rich history of their homes, the culture and ways of life they embodied, and the measures they were currently taking to secure a future for their homes and themselves. This photo essay tells the story of these homes and the people who live in them.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was Scheherazade Alim’s paternal great, great-grandfather. She spent her childhood in Aftab Manzil, named after her maternal great-grandfather Aftab Ahmed Khan, who built the house in 1904. Scheherazade Begum studied law at Oxford and became a barrister and has taught law at AMU. After two decades of living and working in Dubai, Scheherazade Begum and her husband Abdul Alim Khan returned to Aligarh and to Aftab Manzil in 1997, and have lived there since. Aftab Manzil saw the comings and goings of influential men and women. One of them was E M Forster. Scheherazade Alim’s grandfather Sir Ross Masood was a close friend of the writer, who dedicated A Passage to India to him. Masood became the Vice Chancellor of AMU in 1929, a position he held for three years. The photograph on the right was taken in Italy in 1911. The photograph on the left shows Scheherazade Begum with Forster. It was taken in England in 1962. She herself cultivated a deep bond with the writer, calling him “Forster Chacha”.

More here. (Note: In memory of our mother, Begum Ali Raza, who grew up in Aligarh, the hub of activity for nineteenth and early twentieth century enlightened Muslims dedicated to modernizing and making higher education available to the common Muslims for the first time)