Maktaba Jamia reopens, a victim of gross negligence.

The Maktaba branch at Urdu Bazaar in old Delhi is one of the oldest and has served generations of Urdu writers and lovers. I registered a protest against the closure of iconic Maktaba’s old Delhi branch through FB post which subsequently went to my blog

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Maktaba Jamia reopens

Mohammed Wajihuddin

Kaun kahta hai aasmaan mein surakh ho nahin sakta
Ek pathar toh zara tabiyat se uchchalo yaro

The last few days have been very eventful. And I am not talking about the G20 summit which, received saturation coverage in the media. Never mind if the media was not allowed to ask a single question. Ok, let us leave that issue to the wisdom of our honorable Prime Minister Modi who, in the full glare of cameras, asked media people to vacate the hall.
I am talking about Maktaba Jamia, a publishing-cum-bookselling wing of Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi. I first read about Maktaba’s closure on senior Urdu journalist Masoom Moradabadi’s FB wall. Subsequently, The Inquilab, Delhi carried the news. The news broke my heart. I have been a regular visitor to Maktaba’s Mumbai branch near Bhendi Bazaar and bought countless books from there.

The Maktaba branch at Urdu Bazaar in old Delhi is one of the oldest and has served generations of Urdu writers and lovers. I registered a protest against the closure of iconic Maktaba’s old Delhi branch through FB post which subsequently went to my blog

Maktaba in Delhi’s Urdu Bazaar is now shut: Wake up Jamia Millia

I shared my blog with a senior colleague and Resident Editor in Delhi who deputed reporter Shreya Ghosh to do a story. The story about Maktaba’s closure came in the Delhi edition. The news was shared widely. Subsequently, The Wire too did a story. The decision to close Maktaba faced flak by Urduwallas in India and abroad.

Then a few friends shared writer-blogger Mayank Austen Soofi’s tweet where he said that he was told by the Maktaba’s ‘’peon” that it was closed because of G20 summit and that it would open on Monday (today). God, what this old bookshop situated at the heart of old Delhi had to do with G20? How was it a hindrance to the movement of the delegates and other guests who swooped down on Delhi? If they really wanted to give an excuse, they should have come up with a more credible reason.

Then on Monday (September 11, 2023) Firoz Bakht Ahmed, a retired teacher, former chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) in Hyderabad, grandnephew of freedom fighter and India’s first education minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, personally went to Jamia’s VC office and delivered a letter, requesting the VC to either allow him to serve at Maktaba or appoint him on a princely sum of Rs one per month. “I grew up in old Delhi and remember visiting this bookshop along with my mother since I was in school. I grew up on a number of Urdu children’s magazines, including Payam-e-Taleem which was brought out by Maktaba. Its closure had deeply hurt me, and I offered to work there pro bono,” Ahmed told me. Later in the day he called to say that they reopened the Maktaba.

When Mahatma Gandhi visited Aligarh Muslim University & Jamia Millia Islamia was born

But before Ahmed, it was Masoom Moradabadi who announced on his FB wall that Maktaba had been reopened. He also shared a photograph showing a man pushing the shop’s shutter up.

Lesson from it: Speaking up against injustice does make a difference. This is a small victory of all those who spoke up against the arbitrary and sudden closure of the iconic institution established by the Jamia founders, especially Dr Zakir Hussain. Let me repeat an episode from Zakir Sahab’s life which I mentioned in an earlier post. Only to reiterate how diligently, tirelessly and selflessly the architects of Jamia and Jamia’s Maktaba worked to ensure that the institutions withstood stormy winds which threatened to uproot it.

I had written: “After the Khilafat Movement ended and funds which had also supported the Jamia project in the 1920s dried up, Jamia Millia faced imminent closure. Some senior students and well-wishers of Jamia cabled Zakir Hussain in Germany where he had gone for higher studies. Deeply concerned, Zakir Sahab replied:

“My friends and I are ready to dedicate our lives to the Jamia. Please see that it is not closed before our return.”

They were three friends, Zakir Hussain, Abid Hussain and Mohammed Mujeeb, in Germany and they immediately met and brainstormed on ways and means to save the sinking ship of Jamia. By now, in 1925, Jamia, founded in Aligarh in 1920, had shifted to Karol Bagh in Delhi.

When Guardians of the Jamia Millia Islamia met in Europe

In 1926, teen deewane – Zakir Hussain, Abid Hussain, and Mohammed Mujeeb—returned to India. Zakir Sahab became Shaikhul Jamia or Vice Chancellor (one wonders if Jamia still uses this term at least occasionally ) of the university. Mujeeb and Abid sahebaan too committed themselves to serve the nascent institution. Apart from teaching, they begged, borrowed and did whatever else they could to save and nurture it. Apart from Gandhiji’s blessings, a huge monetary support came from K A Hamied, founder of pharmaceutical company CIPLA in Bomba. It gave Jamia a new lease of life. Zakir Sahab selflessly served Jamia before he was requested to go to Aligarh to save AMU which faced existential crisis in the aftermath of the Holocaust of 1947.

Dr. Zakir Hussains life was an Education : Indira Gandhi

So, Zakir Sahab shaped the destiny of both Jamia and Maktaba Jamia.

Now that his baby Maktaba is being strangulated in broad daylight by those who are supposed to protect it, Zakir Sahab, from his grave at the Jamia campus, must be shedding copious tears.

He must be asking, in poet Shahab Jafri’s words:

Tu idhar udhar ki na baat kar yeh bata ke kafila kyun luta

Mujhe rahznon se gila nahin teri rahbari ka sawal hai. ”

I appeal to Urduwallas to start subscribing to Urdu newspapers and magazines. They should teach their children Urdu and make buying books, including Urdu books, a habit. Speak to school managements and request them to facilitate teaching of Urdu at primary and secondary levels. Where this is not possible, private tutors can be engaged to teach children Urdu. I know many families which hire tutors to teach Quran and Hadees (Prophet’s sayings) to their wards. Urdu too can be included in those sessions. Put pressure on government-funded academies and others institutions to be proactive and responsible and do more than window dressing when it comes to promoting Urdu. There are a lot more that can be done. More suggestions are solicited.

I am ending this piece on a positive note, quoting the poet Shaharyar:

Kahiye toh aasman ko zameen par utaar layein

Mushkil nahin hai kutchch bhi agar thaan lijye

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Mohammed Wajihuddin

Mohammed Wajihuddin, A senior assistant editor with the Times of India, Wajihuddin writes about Muslims, their issues, hopes and aspirations. Committed to upholding inclusiveness, communal amity and freedom to dissent and debate, he endeavours to promote peaceful existence. A passionate reader of Islam, he endeavours to save the faith from the clutches of the jihadists. An ardent lover of Urdu poetry, he believes words are the best weapons to fight jingoism.