September 7, 2014
Updated: September 7, 2014 16:46 IST
Community Chronicle: Vestiges of the pastSANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY
The wedding invitation of Wajid Ali Shah’s son, a fatwa by a pundit, nikahnamas embossed in gold, a judgement by Akbar Allahabadi…Khalid Sabir’s house in New Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh preserves remnants of yesteryear Awadh
But with New Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh resident Khalid Sabir, young age never became a deterrent in evoking nostalgia for an age his forefathers belonged to, and he began collecting — and collecting — so many things from the past that most of his two-storey house is now packed with an assortment of things that are clearly rare, precious and deserve space in a museum.
The transformation of Sabir, now 62, into being a hardcore collector rather sprang from a strong sense of documenting history that caught his imagination in his school days in Allahabad. Sipping tea, surrounded by things from his valuable collection spread over a bed, an effervescent Sabir reels back to his first venture at collecting things. “My uncle Ahmad Sabir was the still photographer for Mughal-e-Azam. When the film got released, he came to Allahabad and took the entire family to watch it. It was he who gave me a couple of posters of the film. That triggered in me the urge to collect film posters. Over the years, I had an amazing collection but all got burnt during a fire in the house some years ago.”
Much later, in the early ’80s, work took Sabir to the U.K. but the urge remained. During visits to his home State Uttar Pradesh — to towns like Allahabad, Lucknow, Rampur, etc. — he would check out on the local scrap collectors, the kabari-wallahs. Each time, he would hit upon a treasure from the past. “I have collected most of my things from kabari-wallahs,” says Sabir, displaying for this reporter a judgement given by the famed Akbar Allahabadi, a silk map of Lucknow dated 1884, an invitation sent out by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah for one of his son’s weddings, a judgement by Sir Lawrence Peel dated 1865 in a case involving Bahu Begum of Faizabad; a fatwa proclaimed by a Hindu pandit in 1800, a pre-1857 nikahnama of a princess written in gold with mehr worth 12 lakhs, among other prized catches culled out from the dump yards. Holding the copy of the fatwa, he points out, “Like the maulanas, Hindu pundits also used to declare fatwa. Urdu was the language of the times, so it was used in them. Every fatwa refers to a hadith, so this one also begins with one written in Urdu by a maulana. It is followed by a pandit answering the maulana by referring to a shloka from the Ramayana in Devnagiri before pronouncing the judgement.” Indicating the date written on top of the fatwa, he says laughing, “This one is before Ghalib.”
Sabir reads out from the wedding invitation of Wajid Ali Shah — known for his love for poetry — prodding you to listen carefully to the language. “It was a time when Urdu was emerging from Persian. You can see the mix here,” he says with relish. That marriage went into trouble, leading to the return of the bride’s dowry. Interestingly, Sabir has letters of the fight between the bride and the groom, also the list of her dowry.
Carefully taking out from a plastic envelope a clasp of yellowed papers a judgement given by the famed poet and judge Akbar Allahabadi in 1862, Sabir says, “Read this, not for nothing there is an old saying in U.P. that what is left in Allahabad apart from Akbar and amrud trees.”
In rows of steel almirahs and shelves covering five rooms of his house, there are stacks of old land deeds of thousands of families across U.P., receipts of property tax issued during the British rule, nikahnamas of Hindu nawabs, initial editions of Urdu dailies like Nawal Kishore, Haqiqat, Awadh Akhbar, personal letters of English couples living in that region among other things. “I have the third issue of the Lucknow newspaper The Pioneer too, which I don’t think the company itself has,” he adds.
A compulsive collector that Sabir is, he also has a roomful of postage stamps from across the world collected since his school days. And another room where stacked to its ceiling are old editions of Indian magazines and press clippings on 400 topics. “I have published 13 books after compiling these press clippings on different subjects,” he informs. Till a while ago, Sabir says, he used to subscribe to 30 newspapers across different languages. “I had employed four people to help me out in preserving my collection. But I have slowed down after a heart attack sometime ago,” he says.
So what does he plan to do with this priceless collection? “I had approached Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University, Rampur Raza Library, all the important places that you might think would be interested in keeping this Awadhi treasure. But none seem to be really so. I have spent a lot of money and time on this collection, don’t want it to go waste. So I am saving money, planning to start a museum on my own,” he says. Meanwhile, he has just returned from Dubai “after giving photocopies of some old newspaper papers for digitisation to a Dubai-based organisation. It digitises for free old Arabic, Persian and Urdu documents.”