Kalim Bahadur, RIP: Doyen of Pakistan specialists in India

With the passing away of Professor Kalim Bahadur, (July 20), an age seems to have come to an end

Amitabh Mattoo Jul 25, 2020

With the passing away of Professor Kalim Bahadur, (July 20), an age seems to have come to an end. An era of deep scholarship, a gentility that defined engagement with the world of ideas, and a generosity that exemplified the 'guru-shishya parampara' – where you gave without ever asking in return – seems to have at least paused, in the School of International Studies (SIS), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and in the field of Area Studies for sure.

For a generation Venkatramni defined American studies; Anirudh Gupta, Africa; Bimla Prasad: Nepal; Urmila Phadnis, Sri Lanka; Ram Rahul, the Himalayan states; and Kalim Bahadur – Pakistan. And they have all gone, and Kalim’s Sahib’s departure leaves behind no real intellectual successor on the domestic politics of  Pakistan.

My friendship with Kalim Sahib began as I witnessed the violence of the 1990s in Kashmir. I was a junior faculty member at JNU; he was the acknowledged doyen of Pakistan specialists.  My questions were basic: Why did the great leadership of the Indian nation accept Pakistan when even the Jamaat-i-Islami had opposed it (on the basis of the theological belief that the Umma could not be restricted within territorial sovereign borders)?

His answers were profound, scholarly and nuanced. Week after week, we met in the Faculty Lounge (now extinct) at the first floor of SIS and discussed the ironies of partition and the wretched fallacy that Pakistan had been created in precisely those provinces where there was no demand for a separate state.  I wrote a paper, a longish one on Pakistan, which had much to owe to those languid conversations that those times allowed, when JNU was still what it was!

Kalim Sahib was usually critical but occasionally ambivalent about Pakistan's founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, if I remember right. He pointed out that Jinnah was such an unlikely person to lead Pakistan that after his death they commissioned an even more unlikely figure to write his biography: Hector Bolitho, a little known New Zealander. According to Kalim Sahib, the Kiwi had little knowledge about Pakistan, the Indian sub-continent or even Jinnah. While reviewing Bolitho’s unpublished diaries,  Kalim sahib describes an encounter between Bolitho and Jinnah’s sister, Fatima:

A typical example of this was Bolitho’s comments on his first visit to Miss Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Jinnah. ‘Her home—Flagstaff House—is guarded by four rusty cannons. I was kept waiting in a room full of incredible furniture—it looked as if it had been collected from a dentist’s waiting room.’ Miss Fatima was a trained dentist. ‘What nice woman ever wanted to be a dentist’? ‘She has definitely refused to help with the biography, because the government—Liaqat Ali Khan—approached me first without consulting her.’ And further adding insult to injury, ‘she wore native dress and my prejudice being what it is, I saw her as a cross between a vulture and a camel’

I remember when  I once pointed to Jinnah’s historic 11 August 1947 speech in the constituent assembly of Pakistan, Kalim Sahib almost shouted  back (although he rarely  ever raised his voice) “You cannot let the genie out and then want it to go back to the bottle; you cannot create a Frankenstein’s monster and then think it will act like an obedient pet.”

We often  discussed the most colourful character in Pakistani public life, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) and the many accounts of ZAB’s life. Kalim Sahib had greater empathy with (ZAB’s finance minister for a while) Mubashir Sahib’s account than the one by ZAB’s Oxford-educated Special Assistant Rafi Raza. Those days were still young enough for Mubashir Sahib to make an appearance in that Faculty Lounge to defend his own Mirage of Power.

Kalim Sahib inhabited at least three worlds, and cohabited in each one of them with equal ease, with what seemed like unlikely partners.  The first world was the world of the UP Muslim, whose ancestors had fought the British in what we were taught was the first war of independence, reduced by the British to a mutiny and now seems to be increasingly described as the Rebellion of 1857. Like many Muslims and Hindus who fought, many a time together, Kalim’s family paid a heavy price; they were marginalized while the collaborators were empowered.  A descendent of an aristocracy that had seen better days, Kalim Sahib was, in his speech and diction, in his style and even in his kurta and pyjama, a quintessential UP Muslim. And yet he was not.

Aligarh taught him the virtues of modern education, but led him to not walk down the garden path cultivated by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, which believed privileging a separate identity would lead to empowerment, but to become a fellow traveller;  not quite  taking the plunge to becoming a member of the Communist Party, but to be progressive in his thoughts and actions.  His marriage to Kiran Saxena, from a prominent Kayastha family of Bareilly, was a marriage of that progressive thinking and JNU provided intellectual and personal succor as only JNU could to those who had defied social and political norms. Kalim’s politics, as I remember, was not of a firebrand activist, but of a quiet ideologue; his daughter, who I remember meeting once, was a product of that fine syncretic thinking and culture.

Finally, Kalim Sahib, of course,  became the country’s and world’s leading authority on the Jamaat i-Islami and Maulana Ala Mududi and the politics of Pakistan.  A Muslim scholar on Pakistan from India is often confronted with great curiosity, especially when he visits Pakistan.  As my teacher Matin Zuberi once revealed that in Pakistan they want to make a quick decision about whether you (an Indian Muslim)  are a sarkari muslaman; one of their own; an angry communist; or an enemy agent. They have no ideological space to provide for an upright, independent, devout but secular Muslim intellectual who is an Indian by conviction.

Kalim Bahadur was one such intellectual, and it is a tragedy of our times that he is increasingly becoming a rarity. As a tribute to Kalim Sahib, let me conclude with a few lines from the great young poet Hussain Haidry (translated into English):

What kind of Muslim am I, bhai?
I know I’m an Indian Muslim.

I’m from the Deccan, and UP,

I’m from Bhopal, and from Delhi,
I’m Gujarati, and Bengali,
I’m from the high castes and lower,
I’m the weaver and the cobbler,
I’m the doctor, and the tailor.
The holy Gita speaks in me,
An Urdu newsprint thrives in me,
Divine is Ramadan in me,
The Ganges washes sins in me.
I live by my rules, not for you,
I’ve smoked a cigarette or two.
No politician rules my veins,
No party has me in their chains

For I am an Indian Muslim.

(The writer teaches at the School of International Studies, JNU and is a former Vice-Chancellor, Jammu University)


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