Maktaba Jamia, the university press
ADDRESSING the first convocation of Jamia Millia Islamia (hereafter Jamia) in 1921, one of the issues that the then chancellor of the university, Hakim Ajmal Khan, specifically spoke about was the importance of the mother tongue in imparting education and its relationship with nation building. According to Khan, the success of any qaum (interchangeably used for community as well as country and nation) is not possible without developing its mother tongue.
Disapproving the Lord (Thomas Babington) Macaulay’s policy document (1835) which sought to emphasize the need for imparting an English education to Indians, Khan proclaimed that since their objective of education was not to create servants and an obedient class of Indians but to develop an aptitude for seeking knowledge and see its impact on the lives of students, ‘we have decided to reject the idea of imparting education in ghair zaban (English medium).’1
Further, he expressed happiness at the decision to adopt Urdu as the medium to impart modern education in Jamia. The same was reiterated by him in December 1938.2 That same year, Dr Zakir Husain, who served as the Vice Chancellor of Jamia for 22 years (1926-48) stated in his article, ‘What is Jamia’ that, imparting an education in the ghair zaban was such a big injustice to the students, and asked all the supporters and friends of Jamia to join hands with the university’s decision of choosing a desi language as the medium of instruction. He further added that (apart from the course in English) this was why Urdu was adopted as the medium of education in Jamia for all the levels of education.3
The founders of Jamia strongly believed that ‘education was to be free from British control, the medium of instruction to be the mother tongue of the learner, and the curriculum based on religious, moral and cultural traditions be familiar to the students and the teachers. Above all, they wanted the curriculum to be responsive and relevant to the growing nationalist aspirations of the Indian people.’4
While this was a lofty idea, it was equally challenging as quality, and scholarly, textbooks and other literature were not available in Urdu. To meet this challenge, one of the first departments that Jamia started after its inception was the shoba e tasneef wa taleef (or the department of knowledge creation and production) in 1921, and later in 1922, a publishing house was established by the name of Maktaba Jamia.5 According to Zakir Husain, the Maktaba gained quick prominence owing to its publication of high quality literature for the general public, along with scholarly books.6 The Maktaba, which is still one of the largest Urdu publishing houses in India, is essentially a university press, much like the Oxford University Press or the Cambridge University Press. Like the university itself, the Maktaba made humble beginnings but eventually went on to perform all the activities that a university press is expected to.
Over the years, it has published nearly six thousand titles, apart from publishing magazines and journals on a regular basis.7 At one point of time (pre-partition), it had a branch in Lahore, apart from Delhi, Bombay, Aligarh and Lucknow.8 It continues to have branches in Mumbai, Aligarh and Delhi. Of the two branches in Delhi, one is situated in Urdu Bazaar near Jama Masjid, while the other finds itself on the Jamia campus, near Nawab Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi Sports Complex (better, and earlier, known as Bhopal ground). Despite a glowing history of its presence in different regions of the country, a review of literature on the university presses in India would hardly reveal any information on the contribution of the Maktaba Jamia. In fact, the Maktaba has not even been seen or recognized as one of the university presses of India.
According to Anup Kumar Das (2015), university presses are often recognized as torchbearers of scholarly activities of their respective institutions. ‘Their scholarships are well reflected in publications conceived and produced by the respective university presses. They are also considered a publishing department of the university, where dissemination of completed research studies on contemporary issues take priority. They also serve the purpose of widening the university’s outreach to worldwide scholarly communities. Textbooks and self-learning study modules published by university presses widen access to learning and help in training lifelong learners’, notes Das, while mapping out university presses in India and their pattern of knowledge production and dissemination.9
Examined in the context of this characterization of a university press, the Maktaba has met every criteria, in terms of producing a large number of quality literature, scholarly books, textbooks, translations across subjects and genres or outreach. It has not only published books or works of those associated with Jamia, but also of those who have had no affiliation with the university. The Maktaba has had the privilege of introducing some of the works of the world’s finest minds in Urdu. The list includes names like Plato, John Stuart Mill, Prem Chand, Qurratulain Hyder, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, among others. One of the biggest contributions of the Maktaba Jamia has been in rendering and publishing high quality translations. This is quite evident from a cursory glance at the Maktaba’s book list/catalogue. Some of the important books that the Maktaba has published as translations are:
Plato’s The Republic as ‘Riyasat’ by Dr Zakir Husain; John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women as ‘Mahkoomiyat e Niswan’ by Maulavi Moinuddin Sahab Ansari; John Stuart Mill’s Liberty as ‘Aazadi’ by Maulavi Saeed Ansari; Jawaharlal Nehru’s Glimpses of Word History as ‘Jag Beeti’ by Mahmood Ali Khan Jamayee; Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India as ‘Talash e Hind’ by Abid Husain; Mahatma Gandhi’s The Story of My Experiments With Truth as ‘Talash e Haq’ by Abid Husain; Halide Edib’s Conflict of East and West in Turkey as ‘Turki mein Mashriq wa Maghrib ki Kashmakash’ by Abid Husain10; Eduard Spranger’s Psychologie des Jugendalter as ‘Nafsiyat Unfuvan-e-Shabab’ by Abid Husain; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust, and Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (with the same tittle in Urdu) by Abid Husain.
What is worth taking note of is that most of these books were translated and published in the early years of the Maktaba and Jamia. Since the former did not have enough resources to publish all the translations rendered by the teachers, students and other staff members of the university as well as the press, many translations were published by other Urdu publications. For example, Frank Wilson Blackmar’s Elements of Sociology, which was translated by Abid Husain, was published by Jamia Usmania Sarkar-e-Aali, Hyderabad, as ‘Mabadi-e-Imraniyat’. Similarly, Zakir Husain’s translation of Georg Friedrich List’s Das nationale System der politischen Ökonomie (National System of Political Economy) was published by Kitab Manzil, Lahore, as ‘Mashiyat-e-Qaumi’.
Books were translated from English as well as German. Both Zakir Husain and Abid Husain were well versed in German, apart from English and Urdu. The quality of the translations were such that noted writers started seeking members from Jamia to translate their books for them. For example, it is believed that Allama Iqbal had requested Abid Husain to translate his book, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, in Urdu and only after the latter expressed his inability to translate it was the work assigned to another member of Jamia biradari, Syed Nazeer Niazi.11
Apart from Zakir Husain and Abid Husain, Mohammed Mujeeb (who was the longest serving vice chancellor of the university) also contributed to the knowledge creation, and these three members of Jamia wrote and translated nearly a hundred books, if not more. Mohammed Mujeeb also translated books in Urdu from Russian.
Like the Husain duo, many books translated by Mujeeb were published by other publications. For example, his translation of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s India Wins Freedom as ‘Hamari Aazadi’ was published by Orient Longman. He also translated three plays of Rabindranath Tagore in Urdu, which was published as a book by the Sahitya Akademi. In short, the translation work was carried out by members of Jamia in a very planned and sustained manner. According to Abid Husain, who was perhaps the most prolific amongst his lot, ‘in any language, if knowledge and literature has flourished or scholarly and mental development has taken place, its first step has been translation.’12 He was of the view that translations are very important for the scholarly and mental development of any qaum. Hence, both staff members as well as the students of Jamia were often encouraged to take up translation work, apart from performing their primary duties.
What is also remarkable about these translations is that most of them contain long forwards or notes by some seniors in Jamia, or by the translator, to provide a context to the text for its readers. In this regard, Mohammad Mujeeb’s long forward in the translated book of John Stuart Mill’s Liberty and Zakir Husain’s foreword cum translator’s note in Georg Friedrich List’s National System of Political Economy needs special mention. Unfortunately, not all of the books published over the years, especially those during the formative ones, are available today. This is partly because during the partition in 1947, the Maktaba was burnt to ashes and several important books were lost in the ensuing destruction that took place.13
At that time, the Maktaba was still situated and operating from Karol Bagh, while the university had shifted to its present location in Okhla. It is believed that some of the most important manuscripts were also lost during the arson. Thankfully, many of the books which were lost during the partition are available in different libraries, including in the rare books section of Jamia, and their digital versions can now be accessed on the Rekhta website.14 However, since these are scanned copies of rare and old books, it is cumbersome to read from them.
While it is true that the Maktaba published a lot of books in translations, it would be a big mistake to think and believe that this was its only contribution. In fact, translations have never been its main priority or its main contribution. The main priority of the Maktaba and the makers of the university press as well as Jamia has been to produce quality literature for children in Urdu. According to Shahid Ali Khan, who joined the Maktaba in 1951 as junior clerk and retired as its general manager in 2006, ‘over the years, 700-750 titles of children’s books were published.’15 He also mentions that much of the work on literature for children was unfortunately lost during the arson in 1947, and they had to start from scratch. Sarwat Saulat, who spent seven years (1934 to 1941) in Jamia, four as a student and three as a staff member of the Maktaba, recalls in his memoirs:
‘By the time that I had joined it, the Maktaba had already become a leading Urdu publisher in the Indian sub-continent. Although most of the books were written and translated by Jamia’s teachers,’ those from outside of Jamia were also published. Jigar Muradabadi’s Shola-e-Toor was published for the first time by Maktaba Jamia. Similarly, many collections of Josh Malihabadi’s poetry collection were published by the Maktaba, and not many people know that many of the Urdu dramas by Ishtiyaq Hussain Qureshi were also published from here. But in my opinion, the Maktaba’s biggest contribution was in the field of publishing literature for children. I don’t know of any other publication house that has published literature for children which is as good, appropriate and useful, keeping in mind the psychology of the child.’16
According to Saulat, this was because these books were written by Jamia’s teachers on the basis of the observations of students and their teaching experiences. The publication included books related to stories, Islamic history, Islam, science and general knowledge. ‘Those books were designed to develop an aptitude for search and questioning (khoj aur justuju), which in turn would help in personality development and boosting the morale of the students.’ ‘Kainat (universe), Everest ki kahani, Nanga Parwat and books like these were my favourites. These books played an important role in shaping my personality and boosting my morale’, recalls Saulat.17
Staff of Maktaba Jamia in Karol Bagh, 1946. (Courtesy: Jamia’s Premchand Archives and Literary Centre.)
Saulat also talks about how, despite being an ordinary staffer at the Maktaba, he was granted a three month leave with pay when he proposed to write a book. The project was completed in the stipulated period, but the manuscript was unfortunately lost during the partition. However, he eventually went on to become a noted writer and published many books. If anything, this illustrates that the Maktaba played a pivotal role in honing new talent, as many writers who were first published there, went on to contribute in a big way to knowledge creation and production.
In this regard, several journals published by the Maktaba acted as a platform and forum for new and established writers alike. Two journals brought out (which are still being published) by the Maktaba deserve special mention: the Payam e Taleem (Message of Education) and the Kitab Numa. The Risala e Jamia (the Journal of Jamia) is another important journal which was published by the Maktaba almost since its inception and is now published by the Zakir Husain Institute of Islamic Studies of Jamia. What is important to note is that the culture of honing new talent was not just limited to the early or formative years of the Maktaba. Ram Prakash Kapoor, a retired employee of the Bhilai Steel Plant and author of at least two books in Urdu, recounts in his piece (on the general manager of the Maktaba, Shahid Ali Khan) of how the journals published by the Maktaba, especially the Kitab Numa, helped him (early and mid-90s) become an Urdu writer post retirement.18
Kapoor also mentions how he was encouraged to write a guest editorial for one of the issues of the journal. According to him, Khan played a significant role in transforming Kitab Numa from a book catalogue or list of books (Fehrist e Kutub) sort of a publication to a literary magazine. Sahitya Akademi Award winning Urdu writer and translator, Nusrat Zaheer, recounts how Shahid Ali Khan’s persistent demand for contributing to the Payam e Taleem helped him become a fine writer of stories for children. His children’s book Kharraton ka Mushaira, which is essentially a compilation of his stories published in Payam e Taleem, went on to win an award from the Delhi Urdu Academy.19
While Payam e Taleem is a journal for kids, Risala e Jamia is for the college going students and scholarly pursuit. It is worth mentioning that Munshi Premchand’s short story Kafan was published for the first time in the Risala e Jamia in 1932.20 In fact, Premchand happened to write Kafan while he was based in Jamia. Moreover, his celebrated novel Godan was also published for the first time by the Maktaba.21
It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that no research on Jamia and Muslim education in India can be complete without looking into the archives of the Risala e Jamia and books published by the Maktaba. The amount of literature produced by the Maktaba can also be assessed from the fact that a large part of the books published and distributed by the National Council of Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL), an autonomous body of the Government of India, originally belonged to the Maktaba. In 2010, the Maktaba and NCPUL signed a memorandum of understating (MoU) to publish and distribute 400 tittles, originally produced by the Maktaba.22 Over the years, several people have played an important role in its growth and development. Apart from those mentioned earlier, the name of Ghulam Rabbani ‘Taban’, Hamid Ali Khan and Prof Khalid Mahmood need special mention.
Jamia Maktaba is still alive and kicking. In a year or two, it will be celebrating its centenary. Unfortunately, it does not have the appeal nor the professionalism for which it was known until a few decades ago. While there is little doubt that the decline of pioneering institutions like the Maktaba are intrinsically linked to the plight of Urdu in India, there is still much scope to reinvent it, if not completely revive it. As I have argued elsewhere, the future of Urdu lies in moving ahead with the times, and not just thinking of its glorious past.23 And in my view, this applies equally to the future of Maktaba.
One of the things that the Maktaba can do that will contribute immensely to the growth and development of not just the university press but also the Urdu language as a mother tongue, is to commission and publish quality books for children and also, textbooks. Learning from its own glorious past, the Maktaba can once again try and emerge as a leading publisher of textbooks and books for children in Urdu. I suggest this because there is still enough of a market for quality books in Urdu.24
Similarly, in collaboration with Jamia’s Faculty of Education, Mass Communication Research Centre (MCRC) and the Centre for Information Technology (CIT), the Maktaba can create and produce innovative, engaging and stimulating digital education tools and online learning resources. With the new National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) bringing back the emphasis on imparting elementary education in the child’s mother tongue, the importance of such literature and market value can hardly be overstated.
The Maktaba should immediately create a website (which involves bare minimum investment and expertise) that should not only be a platform to showcase what the Maktaba has to offer to the Urdu readership in India and abroad, but it should also have user friendly features like buying existing books and magazines/journals directly from it, and a professional service delivery system. Social media platforms (such as Facebook, Instagram and Youtube) can also be used to popularize, promote and sell the Maktaba’s existing products.
The situation currently is such that unless one visits one of its stores, it is difficult to procure books and magazines published by the Maktaba. One hopes that by the time the Maktaba celebrates its centenary, it will have a new plan of action for its growth and development. By doing so, it will only be advancing the founding sprit of Jamia. After all, as Jamia’s Tarana25 reminds us:
Safar hai deen yahan kufr hai qayam yahan
Yahan pe raah ravi khud husool-e-manzil hai.
* The author would like to thank Dr. Khalid Mubashshir and Prof. Shahzad Anjum of the Department of Urdu, Jamia as their work has been useful in writing this piece.
1. The term ‘ghair zaban’ can be translated as ‘alien language’ and refers to English in this context. See Khwaja Mohd. Shahid and Khalid Kamal Farooqi (eds.), Jamia Millia Islamia: Mustaqbil Ki Taraf. Maktaba Jamia, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 57-58.
2. Hakim Ajmal Khan in Shameem Hanafi, Shahab Uddin Ansari, Shamsul Haq Usmani (eds.), Jamia Millia Islamia: Takhleeq o Tanqeed Ki Dastavez. Zakir Husain Institute of Islamic Studies, JMI, New Delhi, 2006, p. 96.
3. Zakir Husain in Shameem Hanafi, Shahab Uddin Ansari, Shamsul Haq Usmani (eds.), Jamia Millia Islamia: Takhleeq o Tanqeed Ki Dastavez. Zakir Husain Institute of Islamic Studies, JMI, New Delhi, 2006, p. 35-36
4. See Mohammad Talib, ‘Jamia’s Founding Spirit’, in this issue of Seminar.
5. Khalid Mubashshir, Maktaba Jamia: Eik Tahreek, Eik Karvan 8, Mujalla Armughan, Department of Urdu, Jamia, New Delhi, 2019, p. 373.
6. Zakir Husain, op. cit., 2006, p. 35.
7. Khalid Mubashshir, op. cit., 2019, p. 373.
8. Ibid., p. 381.
9. Anup Kumar Das, ‘Mapping of University Presses in India: Pattern of Knowledge Production and Dissemination’, Annals of Library and Information Studies 62, June 2015, p. 58.
10. Halide Edip was one of Turkey’s most famous nationalist and feminist intellectuals and a friend of M.A. Ansari (one of the founders of Jamia). On Ansari’s invitation, she visited India in 1935 to deliver a series of lectures at Jamia (including one chaired by Gandhi) titled ‘Conflict of East and West in Turkey’. See Vedica Kant, ‘Beyond the Row Over Erdogan’s Honorary Doctorate, A Look at Jamia’s Historic Connection with Turkey’, Scroll, 6 May 2017.
11. Shahzad Anjum, Tarjuma Nigari Aur Jamia Ke Arkan-e-Salasa. Mujalla Armughan, Department of Urdu, Jamia, New Delhi, 2019, p. 333.
12. Ibid. Abid Husain translated 24 books from English and German, in addition to writing 18 books in Urdu and English on different topics.
13. Khalid Mubashshir, op. cit., 2019, p. 382.
15. Ghulam Haider, Nuqoosh-e-Jamia. Maktaba Jamia, New Delhi, 2012, p. 181.
16. Sarwat Saulat, ‘Jamia Millia Mein Mere 4+3 Saal’, in Shameem Hanafi, Shahab Uddin Ansari, Shamsul Haq Usmani (eds.), Jamia Millia Islamia: Takhleeq o Tanqeed Ki Dastavez. Zakir Husain Institute of Islamic Studies, JMI, New Delhi, 2006, p. 270-71.
17. Ibid., p. 271.
18. Ram Prakash Kapoor, in Nasiruddin Azhar (ed.), Shahid Ali Khan: Eik Fard, Eik Idara. Arshia Publications, New Delhi, 2017, p. 190-94.
19. Nusrat Zaheer in Nasiruddin Azhar (ed.), Shahid Ali Khan: Eik Fard, Eik Idara’. Arshia Publications, New Delhi, 2017, p. 185-189.
20. See Mujalla Armughan, Department of Urdu, Jamia, New Delhi, 2020, p. 273. Also see, Vivek Shukla, ‘Remembering Munshi Premchand on His 140th Birth Anniversary: The Jamia Connection’, National Herald, 31 July 2020. (available at: https://www. nationalheraldindia.com/india/remembering-munshi-premchand-on-his-140th-birth-anniversary-the-jamia-connection)
21. Khalid Mubashshir, op. cit., 2019, p. 378.
22. Ibid., p. 383.
23. Mahtab Alam, ‘Is There a Future for Urdu?’ in Tanweer Fazal (ed.), The Minority Conundrum: Living In Majoritarian Times. Penguin, New Delhi, 2020, pp. 125-135. An excerpt of it can be read at: https://scroll.in/article/959956/can-urdu-regain-its-place-in-indias-linguistic-landscape-yes-if-it-is-treated-as-a-mother-tongue
24. There are still thousands of Urdu medium schools across India and there is a lack of quality textbooks and other study materials in Urdu.
25. See Uzma Azhar’s piece on Jamia Tarana in this issue of Seminar.