By Abdus Sabur Kidwai
Compiled and edited by Saad Hashmi, Ek Nadir Roznamcha (Highbrow Scribes Publications) is a meticulous and marvellous record of a late nineteenth century North Indian zamindar, Maulvi Mazhar Ali. He maintained a daily diary for over a period of forty-four years, without missing a single day!
This remarkable feat is made all the more astonishing, by the fact that the author did not merely write his personal experiences and anecdotes, but rather recorded the domestic, local, national, and international happenings of the years between 1867 and 1911. There is much of interest for all sorts of readers, scholarly and those pursuing a general interest alike.
The editor has organised the roznamcha (literary diary) into five sections—Events within India, Indian States’ Taluqdars and Their Happenings, International Events, Local Events of Lucknow, and Personal Matters. These sections are recorded chronologically with easy-to-find headings, making it an ideal primary source for historians, sociologists, and those interested in the shaping of modern India.
The author presents a full picture of the urbane life of the cultured elite, the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb, the syncretic traditions for which Lucknow was lauded, questions of social reform, women’s education, Hindu-Muslim relations, and relationships between the ruling British and the ruled Indians. The pomp and ceremony of the British Raj, which may seem to contemporary readers a fable from history or far-fetched tale, is brought to life with humanising detail. One learns of petty rivalries over memberships of the Municipal Board, the correct attire to wear at court, the type of shoes to don at the durbar, visits of British royalty, and the scandals of princely states.
As entries are recorded day-by-day, they present a continuing picture of events, so we are invested the happenings of the time, whether it is about the number of flags in the religious processions, the cost of fireworks at a wedding celebration or the number of newspapers published around the world in 1889 (41,000, of which 24,000 were printed in Europe alone!). More pertinently for our times, the author also goes into detail about the various plagues and epidemics which swept across Northern India, causing famine, drought, and widespread death.
What makes this book so absorbing is that it imparts to its readers the sense that the world is much more inter-connected that we have believed, and that India was not only aware of global happenings, but also contributeed to those events in shaping the world we live presently.
Reading a work like Ek Nadir Roznamcha, we also learn to appreciate the strength of our ancestors, and the privileges of our times. If nothing else, we can at least find something which may tickle our fancy for the diary, though otherwise serious in tone, does contain many humorous anecdotes and stories.
Abdus Sabur Kidwai writes about the books.