Keeper of the lost culture

- November 15, 2023
| By : Mohd Shehwaaz Khan |

Zillur Rahman, a professor, poet and hakim, has established a museum-cum-library in Aligarh to preserve books and artefacts that tell the story of Delhi of yore

PIONEER: A bust of Ibn Sina, a physician and philosopher, who lived over a thousand years ago, at the Ibn Sina Academy in Aligarh

Nestled in the heart of the city of Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, is Ibn Sina Academy of Medieval Medicine and Sciences, named after famous scholar of philosophy and medicine Abu Ali Ibn Sina (980 -1037), who lived over a thousand years ago. 

Located at Tijara House, the non-profit, non-government and non-political academy was established in the year 2000 by Professor Syed Hakim Zillur Rahman, an academic and a litterateur from Aligarh. 

A one of its kind museum and library, it was aimed at encouraging and promoting researches and studies in medieval sciences, especially Ibn-Sina’s, as well as arts, culture, poetry among other subjects. 

Notably, Ministry of Ayush, Government of India gave accreditation to the academy in 2004 and promoted it as a Centre of Excellence in 2008. The professor had a mammoth personal library that he had established in 1960s. After Ibn Sina Academy was born, the library became a part of it.

The specialty of this museum lies in its varied collection that includes sofas, crockery, jewels, armours, stamps, mirrors, outfits of princesses, queens and kings as well as turbans worn during battles by historical legends. 

The Zillur Rahman Library houses 32,000 rare books and magazines, 1,100 manuscripts apart from paintings, sketches, citations, artefacts and much more.

RARE: A collection of books on Delhi

The Delhi connection 

There are 7,500 books on Delhi of yore in the library, including on poet Iqbal, dictionaries as old as 150 years, authentic diwaan on Ameer Khusrau, books dating back to 1893, on and by the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, British Raj–Victorian Era with pictures in lithographs and more. 

But considering Delhi is dry without the ‘zikr’ (mention) of the poetic legacy of Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’, the library has dedicated a special space for the poet: “Ghalib Study Centre”. 

A galaxy in itself, this part has 1,350 rare books in Urdu, Persian, English and Hindi on Ghalib apart from several special issues in different magazines (called risala in Urdu) which are now available only in this museum. 

For instance, an important old publication called Sooraj (meaning sun) had special Ghalib edition. 

One of the books has illustrations of most of the ghazals he had penned, while in his own Deewan (collection of his authentic shayri) there, Ghalib’s original ghazals had no pictures or illustrations. 

MASTERPIECE: The translation of the book written by Hakim Zillur Rahman

One of the most important collections here is a book by renowned author Shakeel ur Rahman called Mirza Ghalib aur Mughaliyaat, which has illustrations from Muraqqa-i-Chughtai, an illustrated selection of Ghalib’s work by AR Chughtai, a renowned artist of early last century. The illustrations are based on an important topic or issue that the poet raised in his couplet (sher)

Rare books with names like Jihad-e-Ghalib, Ghalib Satrung, Soz-e-Ghalib, his letters in Persian and many more ornate the archive. 

Additionally, a book called Naqsh-e-Rung from Pakistan which was brought to India by scholar Urdu litterateur and poet professor (late) Shamsur Rehman Farooqui enriches the book shelves. 

Tehqeeq-nama Ghalib, Ghalib’s ghazal in Persian called Ghazaliayat-e-Farsi, Ghalib, few rare and special issues of magazines like Shama, Nuqoosh, Hunoon, Taar-e-Nau, film magazines, Al-Ilm, Shayar, Kaarvaan with special edition on Ghalib are the other charms.

A rare pocket-sized edition on Ghalib is a popular one.

Travels to Delhi  

Another section on Delhi consists of travels and trips done in Delhi by the authors, travellers and poets of old times. Rare books like Safarnama Dehli and Sair-ul-Manazir provide an inside view of Delhi in the 18th century. 

LEGEND: Bust of a renowned Indian physician Charaka at the academy in a section dedicated to physicians and medicinal plants

Also, over 200 rare books on Delhi’s poets (shayars) in Urdu and important personalities form another gallery here. For instance, there is Aslam Parvez’s award-winning book on Bahadur Shah Zafar, and his another one called Meri Dilli. There is also a book on Hamare Zamane Ki Dehli, Charagh-e-Dilli, Dilli Wale by famous author Salauddin, Aalam mein intekhab-e-Delhi among others.  

Rare and significant books on personalities include those on Hakim Ajmal Khan, Sir Ross Masood, former India President Zakir Hussain, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Raja Mahendra Pratap and many more. 

An entire unit is also devoted to all the journals that came out of Delhi during the War for Independence “and those from late 17th century to beginning of 19th century. The Delhi College was established in 1824, with it, all these journals rose to a great height. These form an enticing collection in the museum,” apprises Aftab Najmi, the coordinator and convener at Ibn Sina Academy.

On enquiring why such a large collection in Urdu finds space here, Professor Rahman adds, “Our own language and culture is much better described only in Urdu and Persian. So, it was very important to have a different section on Urdu to give a peep into what Delhi was in olden times.” 

However, countless notable oldest books in English and Hindi on Delhi also enrich the collection on the Capital.

A legacy himself 

Professor Zillur Rahman has 56 books to his credit. The subjects are related to Tib (Unani medicine) and Urdu literature. His books on medical sciences with oldest references (100 to 200 years old) are immensely popular. He is also a poet and an ardent admirer of Urdu poets of yore. He has also edited Diwan-e-Ghalib and many books on Urdu shayri. So far, 11 books have been written on him by students from different parts of India and globe in Arabic, Urdu and English. There are two academies, in Meerut and Bhopal, named in his honour. A part of the library has books on Zillur Rahman’s own family and their contribution to academics, medicine, poetry and culture. 

For the next generation

On why he decided to make such a rare museum and library under one roof, Rahman says, “I was just a teacher at AMU. I had no money like businessmen to construct roads and hospitals so I decided to build this museum and library to help those who want to study but have neither books nor a place for the same. I want the current generation to know that books on all our glorious histories and personalities were penned in Urdu before 1947. 

ICONIC: A portrait of Mirza Ghalib at the library, which boasts of rare works on the Delhi-based poet

“So, our generation has to know Urdu to understand their buzurgs (elders) and what charismatic works they had done. Our current generation, which doesn’t know Urdu, is like a blackboard. Anyone can write anything on it and it doesn’t impact them because they are so ignorant of legacies of their own language.”

Professor Rahman has travelled abroad 44 times. He visited Greece, including its capital Athens, Samarkand and Bukhara in Uzbekistan, Spain, Turkey, Germany and other countries. 

“I went to Iran 11 times to gather books and study how it has preserved its arts and culture, literature, medicine and environment,” he says adding that children of every country know their mother tongue and can read and write in it. 

“India’s children, especially the new Muslim community, is ignorant of its own legacy in Urdu.”

The Ibn Sina Academy has a tremendous collection of Islamic sciences and Islamic medicines. The professor has procured them from across the globe. 

“Some are bought, some gifted and some requested and begged for. Hamaare 3,200 hazaar kitaabon mein, Ghalib ka collection jo hamaare paas hai vo duniya mein kisi ke paas nahi hai (No one in the world has the rare collection on Ghalib that we have among our 32,000 books). Even Delhi’s own Ghalib Institute and Ghalib Academy visit us and take photocopies of the rare material they require. We have made our academy work on Delhi’s poets, littérateurs, historical buildings and monuments,” he adds. 

Most books, he adds, are from Iran, Samarkand and Bukhara. 

“The richest in education, philosophy, medicine and culture is Uzbekistan but it could not present it to the world, the way Iran did.”

Why Delhi in Aligarh?

Why Delhi forms a special section at his library, has its reasons. 

“Delhi was always the capital of India, be it during the Mughal, British eras or post-Independence period. So, it has always been not only a melting pot of cultures but also an abode for the best of poets, authors and travellers. The number of academics, authors, sufis, litterateurs, shayars (poets), lovers of arts and music and academic institutions that Delhi had, no other capital in the world has it till date,” he reasons with pride. 

To know Delhi better, he suggests books penned by the renowned Dehlvi family. 

For instance, there is Dilli jo aik shahar thaa by Shahid Ahmad Dehlvi, who was born in Delhi in 1902. 

He wrote extensively on vanishing culture of Delhi which was a symbol of Indo-Muslim culture ruined by violence and blood of the War of Independence. Post Independence, he went to Pakistan and died in 1967.

Waqyaat-e-Darool Hukoomat in three volumes by Bashiruddin Ahmad Dehlvi published from Urdu Academy, Delhi in 1990, and books on 1857 revolution are also there in the academy.

Delhi just got richer by another book by Zillur Rahman — Dilli aur Tibbi Unani which has just come out in Urdu. It is translated in English by Toronto-based Zakaria Virk, titled ‘History of Unani Medicine in Delhi – 17th Century to 20th Century – Biographies of 261 physicians’.