Researcher and writer Omar Khalidi passed away 12 years ago; his legacy lingers on

Omar Khalidi had become his official name.  For his folks and friends, he was Nasrullah who lived in the Osmania University campus.

Today is his 12th death anniversary. He is counted among one of the most uncanny students of Indian (Hyderabad) history and culture. He had already become a name to reckon with when he was in his early thirties.

Born to a professor of Islamic History, Abunnasar Mohammad Khalidi who taught at Osmania University in 1953. As he grew up he began to show extraordinary interest in the history and culture of the city of his birth.  He had already become an established name when he met his accidental death at a railway station in the U.S. That was a freak mishap. He was waiting for a train when he suddenly lost his balance and fell on the tracks. Some of his friends still believe that it was not an accident but they do not have anything to prove that it was not.

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Born in 1953 in Hyderabad, he studied at Alia School up to the Intermediate level and moved to Delhi to join a course at JNU to do a course in French.  But returned without completing the course.

When he moved to Aliya in the sixth standard from Progressive High School he met there with Arshad Peerzada and Syed Mohammad Qutbuddin (Hameed Nawab) of Yousuf Tekri. The three-some remained dearest of friends all through their lives.  In the meantime, he met Syed Inamur Rahman who is popularly known as Ghayur, a political and social commentator.

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Arshad and Ghayur used to narrate strange traits of Omar before I met him somewhere in the late 1970s. By this time Arshad had moved over to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Therefore, Omar, Ghayur, and I used to hit the roads in search of the things that interested Omar. One day he told me that he wanted to meet Vandematram Ramchandra Rao who had struggled against the rule of the last Nizam. He was old and lived somewhere near Begum Bazaar.  I was a bit hesitant in meeting Rao because of his ‘anti-Muslim’ image but for Omar it was business as usual. I do not remember what questions Omar asked Rao but what I recall is that it was a good meeting and Rao showed Hyderabadi courtesies and mannerisms throughout the meeting.

The next stop for us after a few days was to visit Falaknuma Palace. Ghayur knew the then City Police Commissioner M A Shafiullah who got us permission to visit the palace which was locked out for the public. That was a wonderful visit.  Omar kept on asking the workers there what all rare artifacts have been taken away or stolen from the palace.  But the palace staff demonstrated indifference to his queries.

The next stop for us was to visit Bidar. After touring the Fort and the nearby tombs there we visited a relative of mine who offered good lunch. We returned to Hyderabad satisfied.

Then there was a long absence of Omar in my life.  When I went to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia looking for a job in journalism I was staying with my ‘sponsor’ Arshad.  Omar had joined King Saud University in Riyadh as a librarian.

We met there frequently, more so on weekends at Arshad’s place.  Both of us were new and wanted to do Umrah (minor pilgrimage) to Makkah. We started off on a bus for Madinah and then visited Makkah. After carrying out our religious obligations Omar decided to call on at least two important friends of his father—Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqui and Syed Zainal Abedin. When Omar introduced me as a job seeker, Nejatullah Siddiqui immediately took out his visiting card and wrote a note on the back of it to Tariq Ghazi who was working with the Saudi Gazette. That was the beginning of my job with the Gazette which lasted about 17 years.

In the meantime, Omar decided to return to the US. He obtained a few degrees and diplomas including a Ph.D. from the University of London. He got it published for the first time in 1995 as India Since Independence.  Several other editions of this publication followed.

During his visits to Jeddah, he was looking for financial assistance to publish his first book.  He met Sultan Ghalib Al Quaiti of Mukallah in Yemen.  He had a Hyderabadi connection and spoke Urdu well. I think Al Quaiti did give him some financial assistance to publish his first book Hyderabad: After the Fall which became very popular.

When the Hyderabadis living in Jeddah decided to celebrate 400 years of the birth of their city in 1992, I invited Omar as a speaker at one of the sessions of the eight-day-long event. He was very happy as all Hyderabadis in Jeddah were. He relaunched his book there to great applause.  Talmiz Ahmad who was the Consul General then read Omar’s book and appreciated it.  He observed that the present and future of Hyderabad was missing in the series of articles in the collection.  The best part of the book as I saw it was the survey of literature on Hyderabad which was done by Omar himself.

Omar was growing in stature and at the same time getting noticed by the government of India for his critical approach to a lot of developments in the country, especially the demolition of Babri Masjid and its aftermath.

In the meantime, he obtained American citizenship and began working for that government, especially in the aftermath of 9/11.  Once he toured India at the instance of the State Department and spoke about how good the American government was to its Muslim population. Some of his close friends did not like his stint with the State Department and told sso to his face.  That phase of Omar was over soon as he Joined MIT’s Agha Khan Programme for Islamic Architecture.

Once he visited Justice Rajendra Sachar when he was conducting a study of the situation of Muslims in India at the instance of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He reportedly gave Justice Sachar some inputs from his own study.

In all, he wrote about two dozen papers and books on a variety of subjects, almost all of them connected with India.

His books that drew huge attention included Romance of Golconda Diamonds, Khakhi and the Ethnic Violence and A Guide to Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu Manuscript Libraries in India.

His wife Nigar and daughter Aliya live in the U.S. and visit India once in a while.

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