Remembering Saiyid Hamid

By Naved Masood,

The news of the passing away of Sayid Hamid has generated many messages rightly recalling his many contributions for the betterment of the community and his many qualities of head and heart. I notice, however, that so far there are no comments on his personality beyond the stray observations about his suaveness and being a highly cultured individual. I am sure there will be many such reminiscences of a personal nature in the fullness of time – let me set the ball rolling with this tribute which is in the nature of personal recollection of someone who had the privilege of enjoying his affection and confidence for well over three decades without being in his close circle of admirers and followers.

As I recollect that around 1975 Hamid Sahib and a few others working with the Government of India started visiting Aligarh roughly once a month to encourage students to appear in various competitive examinations for government services. Interactions with students would generally take place in the Kennedy House complex (to be precise in the library of the General Education Centre).

File Photo of Saiyid Hamid (Courtesy: The Hindu)

Hamid Sahib appeared to be the youngest of the lot – the ‘baby’ of the team as it were. It took some time for the people to realize that the youngest was the oldest as Hamid Sahib was in his mid-50s even at that point of time.

The agitation for ‘restoration of the minority character of AMU’ was then in full bloom and it was generally believed that the Government of the day wanted to defuse the situation by making various overtures to the University community. In that context the frequent visits of officers from Delhi aroused suspicions of the activists; during one of the interactions a few bold souls confronted the ‘delegation’ with the demand to explain the motivations of ‘Delhiwalas’ making a beeline to Aligarh every now and then. Members of the ‘Delhi party’, other than Hamid Sahib, started offering explanations to the effect that they are actuated by a desire to pay back to their alma mater and that they pool money to hire a cab to meet with more cynicism from the interlocutor and so on.

During this inquisition Hamid Sahib kept quiet with his head bowed deep as if he was the guilty party. Suddenly, he straightened up and in a firm voice with repressed anger said “aap kee yeh jurrat kaise huee; hum aise behooda sawalatt ka jawab dene kee matlaq zuroorat nahin samjhte; hum asie hee aate raheinge aur mujhe ummeed hai keh aayenda aap hazraat apnee tafteesh nahin kareinge” (How dare you! I don’t feel like replying to such absurd queries; we propose to continue coming here and I hope that you gentlemen will refrain from conducting such investigations) or words to similar effect.

The intruders retreated and did not continue their inquisition during the subsequent visits of the people from Delhi and the momentum generated by the group yielded significant results for the next decade or so till it petered out for reasons which need to be recounted later. The episode sums up the personality of Hamid Sahib – an amiable and forgiving temperament which could give way to fierce responses if undue liberties were taken.

File Photo of Naved Masood

Over the years we had many differences of opinion, but as I look back I realize that when we differed he never felt unhappy or flustered; he would either yield or go ahead with what he proposed to do only to consult me again. Though it may sound rather out of place on an occasion like this, he more than once explained to me that he sought my opinions as others were either too polite or too enamoured of him. It is a rare quality to find in people who have a large circle of followers and ardent admirers.

Hamid Sahib had a rare quality – he was a great conversationalist without speaking much as he was a very patient listener. This conundrum would require some explaining. He would listen with rapt attention and speak only as much as would be necessary to keep the ‘other side’ going without being put off by long silence of the listener.

Only when he would know that the ‘speaker’ did not have much more to add that he would speak supplementing or extending the conversation. This art of conversation is not easy to practice and quite difficult to emulate. When it came to recounting anecdotes he was a raconteur par excellence if the ‘other side’ was someone with whom he felt comfortable. An example would suffice. We were discussing Khan Bahadur XYZ, one of the authors of Zamindari abolition in UP and reckoned amongst the finest Revenue officers of the state.

His comments were pithy and telling – kyonkee jooey mein taaq the lihaza mulzmat pooree diyanatdari se kee – as he was an ace gambler, he could maintain absolute integrity in performance of his duties! His sense of humour, though understated, was quite telling. When I once told that the family of a student arrested in connection with the agitation against him in Aligarh received a telegram from the Provost which read, ‘son in jail, come for bail’. He not only had a good laugh but remarked that after all the family may judge him a little less harshly thanks to the rather rhyming telegram!

As one of the condolence messages appearing in the media pointed out, later in life he evolved as an accomplished writer of Urdu prose. His writings would often carry Persian verse. It is a very annoying practice of many authors to reproduce the couplet without translating in the unfounded belief that if you know Urdu you should be deemed to be familiar with Persian also.

His early writings carried lot of Persian verses almost never translated. We once had a discussion on the subject and he readily conceded the point that he will invariably translate a quote from Persian as no one can be expected to learn Persian to fully understand what he intended to convey. To my knowledge he scrupulously adhered to this practice.

He had a magnetic personality despite his shyness with strangers and a generally reticent demeanour. There was hardly anyone who remained unimpressed after meeting him. In the last couple of years his health deteriorated as he was on strict liquid diet following occlusion of intestinal passage which could not be corrected surgically owing to the age factor. Despite strong willpower there was physical deterioration and he became a man of fewer words. Yet every time the Gastroenterologist of AIIMS would speak about him he would refer to Hamid Sahib as Sajjan Purush or a thorough gentleman. That I am sure will be the abiding memory of all those who had the good fortune of knowing him.

(An alumnus of AMU, Naved Masood is a 1977 batch IAS officer of Manipur-Tripura cadre)


Saiyid Hamid, Mard-e-Darvesh

Jamia Hamdard chancellor Saiyid Hamid no more