Remembering Omar Khalidi – a rare scholar on India and Hyderabad

Syed Inam ur Rahman. Ghayur.

‘That man Khalidi’ is how he was referred to in the Parliament by L K Advani in the 90s.

Mr Advani was deeply displeased with Omar Khalidi for raising unpalatable questions on the number of Muslims in military and paramilitary services when Justice Sachar was investigating the socio-economic status of Muslims in India.

‘Distinguished member of a scholarly family,’ is how Nasrullah Omer Khalidi – (Muneer), was referred to in his absence by noted historian, litterateur and art critic Dr. Ziauddin Shakeb as far back as 1977.
Khalidi was in his twenties then.

Historian Dr Mohammad Safiullah regards himself as a ‘spiritual student’ of Dr. Khalidi.

On the 29th day of November 2010, death snatched him away in a gruesome accident. Its memory brings tears to my eyes once again. It happened in Boston, US of A. Khalidi was still in his fifties then.

Muneer had done the honour of befriending me way back in 1972. At that time, until probably now, I was given to ‘fun and frolic’ as compared to him. Temperamentally we were quite different and yet he probably saw the potential and cast the shadow of his intellectual on me. I too began the investigative approach to matters of history. He indirectly inculcated in me the need to visit and revisit subjects for getting the proper perspective of matters historical.

Khalidi’s Hyderabad After the Fall of 1988, remains the most well-received publication for its sheer novelty of bringing out for the first time substantial parts of the rather explosive Pandit Sunderlal Report. It highlighted post Police Action large scale massacre of and atrocities on hapless Muslim subjects of the Hyderabad State. But I rate his pioneering work of a Bibliography on Hyderabad as an equally notable contribution of academic importance. Both these works opened up a highway to studies on pre and post Police Action Hyderabad.

The arches of Charminar

While the former work paved the way for fresh, assorted, in-depth and eye-opening scholarship to emerge from the vaults of archives, the later prompted the ‘Spiritual Student’ Safiullah to enlarge the Bibliography list three-fold from 1700 plus to 5000 plus. Celebrated author A G Noorani’s extensive reference to the contribution of Omar Khalidi in his book The Destruction of Hyderabad stands testimony to it.

A prolific writer, Khalidi authored more than 20 books in English and Urdu. Some of his better-known books in English are Romance of the Golconda Diamonds; Muslims in the Deccan, a Historical Survey; Memoirs of Cyril Jones; Muslims in Indian Economy; Khaki and Ethnic Violence in Indian Army and; Police and Para Military Forces During Communal Riots are to name a few. He is credited with a number of in-depth articles published in highly rated journals. Indian Muslims since Independence; Ethnic Group Recruitment in the Indian armyContrasting cases of Sikhs, Muslims, Gurkhas and others; Hinduising India; Secularism in Practice and; Muslims in Indian political Process: Group goals and alternative strategies are some of his highly-rated essays.

Books sold on

His book Suqoot e Hyderabad is his best-known work in Urdu.

Though a highly focussed intellectual, he was a person of jovial disposition. He could crack a joke on anyone with equal ease in both English and Urdu. Wedded to the study of history and current affairs, he was quite at home with Urdu poetry and literature. His taste for Hyderabadi cuisine made him take pains to grow vegetables in his backyard in Houston. He travelled far off lands literally in search of books and to back home Hyderabad just to catch up with the season of mangoes and sitaphul – custard apple.

Son of the illustrious prof. Dr. Abu Nassr Mohammad Khalidi, of the Islamic Studies Department, Osmania University, Hyderabad, he left behind an illustrious daughter Aliya ( Probably named after his school; Madrasa-e-Aliya, Hyderabad). She holds an important position in the American Judiciary. Though she was born and brought up in the US, he made sure that she learnt Urdu as well as Hindi. His wife Nigar, has all through been a great pillar of support to him – especially so in his intellectual pursuits. He never failed to acknowledge her great support to him.

Though endowed with scholarly attributes from his early childhood, he went through his dark patches in his educational carrier. His childhood friend Arshad, an acknowledged educationist himself, helped him out enormously during that phase. Mir Ayoob Ali Khan, the well-known Journalist made the fourth pillar of the foursome that the undersigned went on to make with him.

Time had indeed come when we three were quiet upset with Khalidi for appearing to be rather sold on the rhetoric of the ‘State Department’. To our angry protestations he had very reassuringly explained: “unless you get into the system, you won’t be able to bring about a change in the system”.
Never given to diluting his focus, he had protested strongly for being asked by me to come along to watch movies in theatres. Because I had agreed to accompany him till Bombay when in 1978 he was leaving India on immigration to the USA, he gave in to my demand reluctantly as the film was named “Double Cross”.  Poor fellow nearly screamed in pain a few minutes after entering the movie hall and realizing that the movie was not an English one. “I got double-crossed,” he had said.

In Omar Khalidi, Hyderabad has lost a crusader intellectual of high calibre. He was a product of Wichita State University, Harvard University and an M I T staff member. His incisive, hard-hitting academic outpourings many a time made the administration sit up and take notice. What can exemplify this better than Mr. Advani’s reference to him in the Parliament as; ‘that man Khalidi’!

Syed Inam ur Rahman. Ghayur. is a writer and a research scholar based in Hyderabad.

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