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Book review: Celebrating Greatness

Book: Saiyid Hamid – Muslim face of India

Compiler: Mushtaque Madni

Publisher: P.A. Inamdar, “Daulat”, 963 New Nana Peth, Pune 411002

Pages: 152+16

Price: Rs 400

Year: 2009

By M Zeyaul Haque,

A festschrift celebrating Saiyid Hamid’s life, lived meaningfully and to the hilt, is a welcome addition to reading material available on the Subcontinent’s men of substance.

It is interesting to mull over what constitutes the ”greatness” of great men (and women). Well, may be extraordinary intelligence. The willingness to work consistently, intelligently, and hard. Physical and/or moral courage, or both. Compassion, wider sympathies that don’t get limited by national, ethnic, racial, religious or sectarian boundaries. Excellence in sports, literature, film, music, scholarship. Any of them, or a combination of some of them. This list could be quite long.

A person meeting Saiyid Hamid for the first time begins to have some idea of his extraordinariness. He/she would tell herself/himself, “Hey, this is not the usual stuff. They are no longer producing this brand.” And, gradually, as days pass into weeks, months, years and decades, his greatness begins to unfold before that person like an exquisite perfume which begins to grow on you only after you wear it.

Educationist PA Inamdar, who shares with Saiyid Hamid his passion for spreading knowledge, took it upon himself to have a celebratory volume compiled and published. The compilation has been done by Mushtaque Madni, described on the book’s jacket as “writer, journalist and scholar of comparative religions.” Twenty eight friends and admirers of Saiyid Hamid have contributed to this book, most of them being familiar names in India’s academic, legal and social circles.

We have Govind Narain and Prof. Amrik Singh, Prof. Mushirul Hasan and Prof. B. Sheikh Ali, Justice Sachar, UC Agarwal, Prof. Vipin Kumar Tripathi, Asghar Ali Engineer and Dr. John Dayal, among other luminaries. Reading this slender volume cover to cover one gets the impression that the myriad qualities of head and heart that Saiyid Hamid possesses are, in some measure, also reflected in the writers.

The headlines of the write-ups are indicative of the qualities that the writers have seen in Saiyid Saheb (and they also reflect on the “worldview” of the authors as they indicate what they value in great persons). Syed Shahabuddin comes on as the cheerleader of this Last Indian Hero. The lusty Syed Sahabuddin headline, ”89, Not Out” seems to pep up the hero for a deep second wind, an explosive burst of muscular energy, to sprint across the next 11 years, before thinking of relaxing or winding down. Let us hope and pray all of us will be around in 2020 to hear Syed Shahabuddin shouting, delirious with joy and excitement, “Well done Old Boy, we stand taller because of you.” Amen.

This is just the beginning of the appraisal of the phenomenon called Saiyid Hamid. He is far greater than the aggregate of all that has been written here. For a proper, more enduring study we would be needing an expert like Prof. Mushirul Hasan, whose work on the 19th-20th century great Muslims of India and the tenor and texture of Muslim lives, is a remarkable feat. Prof. Hasan is here, but only as Sylvester Stallone appearing for two minutes in a Hindi film. Let us hope Prof. Hasan has his eyes firmly set on Saiyid Saheb as he had earlier on Dr Mukhtar Ansari, Maulana Azad, Mohammad Ali or Maulana Mahmood Hasan of earlier generations. But, let our hero first dash across the magic 2020. So heave. Let’s go. Claps. Cheer on, Syed Shahabuddin!

PS: Bring your ears close to me. Look over your shoulders. I hope nobody islistening. You see, this is my 60th birthday. Of late I have not been keeping too well. Don’t count me in for the 2020 party. That is one difference between the patrician (Saiyid Hamid) and the plebian (your’s truly, this reviewer).

(Courtesy: The Milli Gazette)