Tile: Education, Gandhi and Man: Select Writings of Khwaja Ghulamus Saiyyadain
Editors: Akhtarul Wasey and Farhat Ehsas
Pages: 218 + xii
Publisher: Shipra Publications, Delhi
Review: Arshad Amanullah
This text symbolizes a dialogue between high ideals of mankind and the problems that may arise in the way of their translation into practical realities. It brings before the readers, as the title suggests, theories of education and visions of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) for culture, good life, nation and religion. More precisely, four out of twelve essays of the volume are about different aspects of Gandhi’s scheme of thoughts while another three of them dwell on education and educational institutions like Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia of New Delhi. Contribution of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958), Badshah Khan (1890-1988) and Mohammad Iqbal (1877-1938) constitute subject of three separate essays. Though almost every paper of the volume has touched upon the theme of good life and the concept of man, two essays exclusively focus on them in great detail.
Before appreciating contents of the volume, it seems quite pertinent to map the career-trajectory of Khwaja Ghulamus Saiyyadain whose some of writings Akhtarul Wasey and Farhat Ehsas have collected in the volume. Born in 1904 in Panipat of Haryana, Saiyyadain belonged to the family of Khwaja Altaf Husain Hali (1837-1914). Hali’s claim to a prominent place in the history of Indo-Muslim intellectual tradition does not rest only on his being a close associate of Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) but also on two of his pioneering works, Moqaddama Sher-o Shayeri (An Introduction to the Literary Criticism of Poetry) and Madd-o Jazr-e Islam (Ebbs and Tides of Islam) or Mosaddas-e Hali (as it is popularly known). Saiyyadain joined M.A.O College, Aligarh in 1919 and later went to the University of Leeds, U.K. for higher studies in Education. Having returned to the Aligarh Muslim University in 1925, he served at the Teachers’ Training College of the university in different capacities. He was also on the Committee on National Education and significantly shaped contours of the Wardha Scheme of Basic Education. Moreover, he remained attached to various Indian princely states as head of educational administration and advisor. He retired as Secretary, Ministry of Education, Government of India.
Apart from being a bureaucrat, Saiyyadain earned his reputation as an educationist as well. He remained devoted to the promotion of educational theory and practices in India and abroad. To his credit are several books in Urdu on various dimensions of education. The first paper of this volume “New Challenges to Education” which indeed was the first Dr. Amarnatha Jha Memorial Lecture organized by All India Federation of Educational Associations, also reflects, though in microcosm, Saiyyadain’s approach to the question of education as “an imaginative and long-term measures”(p4). He does not conceptualize education in vacuum. He is aware of the challenges before the Indian programme to establish a system of mass-education in the country. Intensified intercourse between the social groups and nation-states on the one hand and increasing industrialization and rapid growth of population on the other, have not only added to the complexity of the problems but, according to him, “in some ways altered their basic nature” as well. (p3)
The education system of India, according him, should cultivate such a citizenry which will help in long run to emerge the nation as a secular democratic socialist state. To achieve this goal, India has to pattern its education system as one which will be instrumental in grooming a child into a “creative citizen”. Defining the term, Saiyyadain points out that the creative citizen should have the following features as his second nature: he should be “well-integrated in his social order”; he should have “a reasonable modicum of capacity to think for himself and understand the outstanding problems of contemporary world about which , as a citizen, he is expected to express his opinions and give his vote”; he should “honour all useful and productive work”; he should “ensure the rule of social justice in the collective life and that postulates the cultivation of social sensitiveness, of charity and compassion, in the ethical sense, towards sections and classes which are underprivileged and the adoption of measures which will give institutional forms to this feeling”. (p 6)
An essential element to this enterprise of nurturing creative citizens through the educative work is the agency of teachers. Saiyyadain expects the educators to frequently engage in the introspection as a technique of self-evaluation regarding the result of their work (p 9). Needless to say that such an exercise presupposes the will to honestly respond to the critique of the conscience. With such an approach to the education, the act of teaching transcends the realm of the material and acquires a spiritual dimension of its own.
Though Saiyyadain’s vision of social reconstruction through the agency of education is said to be “very firmly rooted in his own creative genius” (P 213), there is no denying the fact that Saiyyadain has enriched his views on education through his personal contact and ideational exchange with Gandhi. He first came in touch with the latter during preparation of the Wardha Scheme of Basic Education, thanks to Zakir Husain (1897-1969). It was an effort to provide a proper shape to the Gandhi’s vision of education by a committee chaired by Husain. What really moved young Saiyyadain about Gandhi is the latter’s “uncompromising integrity of intellect and character” (p 11). Next three papers of the volume are Saiyyadain’s interpretation of Gandhi’s thoughts on culture, education and religion. It is in this sense that he is also known as a scholar in the Gandhian tradition.
Making the living conditions of the masses of India and the world better has been very central to the Gandhi’s scheme of thoughts. Education, according to him, can play a vital role in this regard but he was not happy with the education system prevalent in the British India. He questioned it as being “out of touch both with the realities of national life and the upsurge of national aspirations” (p 13). His critique threw many questions regarding the purpose of educative process in the face of those who had reconciled to drifting aimlessly with the rushing currents of the times. He wanted to reorder the education system to make it inter-weaved into the immediate milieu in a way that did not only make the system socially relevant but productive as well. He wanted to bring the work at the center of the educative process. To quote Gandhi on the question, “By education I mean an all round drawing out of the best in child and man-body, mind and spirit ……. I would, therefore, begin the child’s education by teaching it a useful handicraft and enabling it to produce from the moment it begins it training. A proper and all round development of the mind take place only when it proceeds pari passu with the education of the physical and spiritual faculties of the child. They constitute an indivisible whole….” (p 13-14). Through such a system of education, Gandhi dreamt of giving a socially sensitive and integrated outlook to the new generations of India.
It has been erroneously said that Gandhi was opposed to mechanization of the mode of production and hence the process of industrialization. It is true that he regarded the human soul as the most precious thing of the universe and was worried about the toll the unchecked application of science and technology to human life would take on it. Though he was not against the use of technology per se, he had questioned the why and how of its use. He had foreseen the implications of mindless industrialization: “Industrialization on a mass scale will necessarily lead to passive or active exploitation of the villagers, and the problems of competition and marketing come in”.
Similarly, some writings of Gandhi leave the impression that he was least concerned about the culture. What is at the heart of the confusion is his unique understanding of the nature of relationship between culture and work as well as his way of attaching priority to certain issues from a range of problems. Despite being aware of the significance of art and culture in the human life, he seems to be so preoccupied with welt-schmerz, i.e. sorrows of mankind, that fine arts and intellectual pursuits can take a back seat in his order of things. He was very clear that “Do not talk about culture till you have at least made sure that people have the necessary material infrastructure for it”. With help of an interesting anecdote about a public debate between Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) on the meaning of culture, Saiyyadain seeks to further elucidate Gandhi’s concept of culture. Tagore, in one of his poems, described how beauties of art and nature could be fountainheads of joy and freshness. Gandhi joined the issue with Tagore: “But I have had the pain of watching birds, who for want of strength, could not be coaxed even into a flutter of their wings. The human bird under the Indian sky gets up weaker than when he pretended to retire…I have found it impossible to soothe suffering patients with a song from Kabir. The hungry millions ask for one poem- invigorating food…..Life is greater than all arts…. There is an art that kills and an art that gives life. True art must be evidence of happiness, contentment and purity of its authors”. (pp. 21-22 & 48)
Saiyyadain sees Gandhi’s concept of culture as a complex and textured set of ideas which can be explained in terms of Gandhi’s approaches to different aspects of human life and his responses to various societal institutions. Firmness in faith and gentleness in speech, insistence of self-restraint and purity of means, etc. were some of noteworthy aspects of his personal culture. He was a great advocate of diversity and peaceful co-existence. Ability of a culture to achieve unity in diversity hence is one of the various criteria which qualifies it as a great one. To Gandhi, inner freedom of a man should be “in direct proportion” to his outer freedom. The latter is acquired through political means while the former flows from the spiritual growth of an individual which liberates him from the loyalties of the fissiparous forces. Only outer freedom, i.e. political freedom cannot maintain unity in diversity for long in the absence of inner freedom (p 26). This theory of freedom illustrates well how vital spirit and ethics have been in the Gandhi’s conception of culture. It is this concern for equilibrium between the inner and the outer empowerment of an individual that his emphatic criticism of some aspects of Western culture emanates from.
March of history across the last few centuries has been witness to the deadly dangers posed by a capitalist economy based on the principles of cut-throat competition, demands, profit-making and advertisements to the human life. Recent studies have uncovered many forms of these dangers but what was a source of deep anxiety to Gandhi was the deteriorating condition of the spirit. It is in this context that he, according to Saiyyadain, agreed with Tagore that “the ‘Thing’<1> stifles the spirit” (p 29). Saiyyadain has shown how western philosophers like Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965), Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), etc. share with Gandhi this protest against the growing materialization as the foundation of the modern culture. He uses verses from the Quran, Urdu and Persian poetry and extracts from teachings of Buddha and other leaders to elucidate Gandhi’s teachings and practices. This approach allows him to place Gandhi at the heart of the intellectual traditions of the mankind as well as universal ethical system.
Truth and non-violence are two cardinal principles of Gandhi’s concept of religion. He views religion, as Saiyyadain informs the readers, as a “perpetual search for truth” and a “force to unite people” (p 56). Gandhi was convinced that various religions when viewed in their purity, shared among themselves a sort of basic unity. Moreover, “a very sensitive appreciation of the intimate relationship between the spiritual and the secular” seems to characterize his concept of religion. He tests worth of virtues against the touchstone of practice and their relevance to the day to day life. Once he observed: “There is no such thing as the other world. All the worlds are one. There is no here and no there. All virtue ceases to have use if it serves no purposes in every walk of life” (p59). His idea of “importing conscience into public life” stems from such a notion of religion. A true man of religion, according to Gandhi, is one who takes his share in the crusades against the forces of injustice and oppression. It is in this sense religion comes to represent a “continuously growing spiritual movement”, as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad has also elucidated it in his famous commentary on the Koran Tarjuman-ul Qur’an (p 66). When religion is conceptualized in these Gandhian terms, it does not pose any threat to the secular ideology to which India is pledged under its Constitution. Rather, it is absence of such a concept of religion that will be detrimental to the functioning of Indian democracy as is obvious in the contemporary political context.
While delineating Gandhi’s views on religion, Saiyyadain deals with the former’s relationship with the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. On the basis of his personal history and acquaintances, Saiyyadain observes that Gandhi had a better understanding of the Muslim people and their religion than he generally has been supposed to have. It is true that his remarks on Urdu, in his early days in the Indian politics, drew some criticism from the Muslim community. However, he revised his position on the question when he became better acquainted with the realities of the spoken languages of the Indian masses. Later, he spared no stone unturned in his advocacy for adoption of Hindustani in both scripts as the official language of India. It should also be kept in mind in this connection that he did not only win hearts of the majority of the Muslim masses of India but some outstanding leaders of the community like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Dr. Zakir Husan, Hakim Ajmal Khan (1863-1927), etc. were also closely associated with Gandhi. All kinds of fanaticism and violence attracted honest criticism of Gandhi. He was opposed to the idea of bifurcation of the British India but when Pakistan became a reality, he advocated for maintaining a policy of goodwill to the neighbouring country and providing protection for those Muslims who chose to stay back in India. Laying down his life he paid the price for the same (pp 75-80).
Originally a lecture delivered in 1970 as the Bhatia Foundation Lectures, “Quest for Good Life” invites the reader to ponder upon some very basic but crucial issues of human existence. The concept of good life cannot be a linear one as it has to respond to the enormous variety of individual differences. Integrity, faith, independence, originality, capacity for dissent and objectivity are the qualities which, according to Saiyyadain, are helpful in cultivating good life if they are carefully transferred into the social domain. These qualities have special significance in the context of the development of science and technology as they make the scientists socially responsible for their work. These qualities also come handy in general in dealing with the problems posed by the technological advancements to the traditional way of living. A proper appreciation of “location of technology and ethics in the economy of human life” seems to be necessary to understand the nature of the changes technology effects in the physical domain and its implications for the moral world of a human being. Technology, as Saiyyadain believes, can reset the problems of mankind by altering dimensions of stage available for human performance, however, it cannot do anything about arresting its spin-offs from entering into the social sphere of human life. As long as implications of the technological changes happen to be social in their nature, the solution seems to come from only one channel: an honest attempt at internalizing and importing the above-mentioned qualities into the personal culture and social behaviour (pp 123-24).
A survey of what eminent scholars like John Dewey (1859-1952), Bertrand Russell, Tagore, Iqbal, etc. has written on the theme of good life, brings out the significance of the qualities like intelligence, courage, sensitivity, vitality and faqr although they may differ in the presentation of their how and why. Not only in its negative sense as absence of physical fear but also as a positive quality, courage has been regarded an essential element for good life. Coined by Russell, the term ‘social sensibility’ stands for “the ability to transcend the boundaries of our isolated ego and merge into the general stream of humanity”. It is from this quality of social sensibility that tolerance and compassion arise from (p 126). Another quality enlisted by Saiyyadain as significant for cultivation of a good life is faqr which has been exclusive to the eastern philosophy and does not invite much attention from the western thinkers. Faqr, as Iqbal has understood it, is “an attitude of mind, a spirit of detachment from the world which man retains even as he tries to conquer it…it is a kind of intellectual and emotional asceticism, which does not need to turn away from the world as a source of evil or corruption, but uses it for the pursuit of worthy ends” (p 130).
Good life, according to Saiyyadain, is “a pattern which has depth and variety” (p 140). He describes the process of quest for such a life as “an open possibility for man” (p 137). In materializing such a possibility, he wants to enlist the service of education and use the faculty of human intelligence to identify points of harmony between roles of natural sciences and humanities in re-patterning the human life and turning those points into mutually overlapping circles of living experiences. He envisages good life neither in absolute ideal terms nor in crude material. In his search for the same he wants to adopt a realistic approach, transcending with aplomb the binary oppositions of optimism and pessimism. The attitude an individual should pursue this quest with is meliorism, to borrow a term from Iqbal. Saiyyadain reproduces these words of the poet-philosopher from his Reconstruction of Religious Thoughts in Islam to explain the nuances of the term: “…We cannot understand the full import of the great cosmic forces which work havoc and at the same time sustain and amplify life. The teaching of the Quran which believes in the possibility of improvement in the behaviour of man and his control over natural forces, is neither optimism nor pessimism. It is meliorism which recognizes a growing Universe and is animated by the hope of man’s eventual triumph over evil”.
This review-article has so far discussed issues that pertain to the realms of matter, mind and spirit. The next in the series is the concept of man. What is the essential nature of man: material or spiritual or a complex of both? Traditionally, the eastern thinkers, including the Indian philosophers, have been arguing for the supremacy of the spiritual on the material. This approach tends to ignore the poverty and squalor which generally characterize social milieu of the eastern hemisphere. Disapproving this nature of the relationship between the spiritual and material in the concept of man, Saiyyadain wants to rectify this pro-spirituality slant in favour of a “tempered ascetic approach” to life. What he means by it is: “asceticism is not for the other fellow but for oneself, where compassion for the suffering of other and effort to ease it is combined with a sense of detachment and a capacity to reject the temptations of the world so far as one’s own attitude to life is concerned” (pp. 149-50). Then, through a reproduction of select passages from writings of Gandhi, Tagore, Iqbal, Azad, Radhakrishnan and Nehru, he goes on to show how his is not an isolated voice on the theme but is woven in the history of ideas of mankind.
Universality of mankind is another element which Saiyyadain considers necessary for the concept of man. Despite the fact that the spiritual and material both enjoy their due place in the social and cultural making of a human being, man is “not essentially translatable” into different categories which horizontally and vertically divide the human society. True, these categories do not represent the human reality in its fullness but are real enough to command attention from the concerned individuals. Man, hence, has to transcend these categories “to view himself a part of the whole of mankind” (p 152) and success in this striving to overflow them calls for a certain deal of creativity on the part of the seeker. Creativity, one of the outstanding characteristics of man, enables him to explore “plural possibilities” of the universe so that he can shape the world according to his needs on the one hand and also adjust himself to the demand of the physical reality on other. In this sense, man himself scripts his destiny and that of the world as well. Saiyyadain mourns that the modern world order tends to “belittle” role of the creative individual and club him together with the mass. He sees it as a by-product of the industrial and technological revolutions and terms this trend as “wrong and immoral” because the individual, to him, is “frightfully important” (p 156).
Creativity effects changes to the status-quo and is required to bring a change. Saiyyadain envisions role of the creative individuals as those who keep re-assessing relevance of certain norms and values to the society at a particular moment of human history. Such appraisals do not only keep vitality of the society alive but also allow people to get rid off the crushing burden of the irrelevant social rituals. Creativity, to perform this function, needs freedom and receptive attitude to the changes that it brings along. A narrow interpretation of the democratic egalitarianism and deep-rooted conservatism in the society, warns Saiyyadain, may be detrimental to ensuring an intellectual climate which cultivates respect for creativity and its critiques.
Most of Saiyyadain’s writings, included in this volume<2> , is comprised of elucidation of the ideas and thoughts of eminent thinkers and writers, both from the by-gone era and contemporary time. It establishes him as an avid reader with an amazing catholicity of interests. Staggering sweep of his knowledge allows him to intersperse his writings with long quotations from his favourite writers and reformers. It is good to locate one’s arguments within the existing knowledge of the mankind but sometimes this criss-cross between his original writings and extracts develops into a maze a reader finds it difficult to keep a track of Saiyyadain’s original arguments. Moreover, if one goes through a number of his writings, one may trace a pattern of reproduction of same excerpts from the same authors time and again. His writings in the volume portray him as a brilliant commentator who seems to have very few original things to share.
This reading of mine regarding the Saiyyadain’s writings draws strength from what he himself says about his interpretation of Gandhi’s thoughts. He discovers that it is “difficult to find something original to say about him (Gandhi)” (p 84), given the volume of literature already available on the different aspects of the activism and thoughts of Gandhi even in 1969.<3> The next sentence further elucidates that what he means by being “difficult” is: “originality of content”. It has its genesis in his realization that “the best commentary on Gandhi is provided by Gandhiji himself”.
This discussion on the originality vs. interpretability in the context of Saiyyadain gives way to another important question: who are those he frequently pulls quotations out from and to what extent they have left their imprints on his thoughts? Views of Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273), Gandhi, Tagore, Iqbal, Azad, Radhakrishnan (1888-1975), Jacob Browneski (1908-1974), Russell and Nehru (verbatim or otherwise) frequently appear in his writings. Though Zakir Husain is said to be second only to Khwaja Altaf Husain Hali in “influencing and shaping Saiyyadain’s thought and action” (p 211), Hali does not find mention in any of the writings this volume contains. One may catch echoes of educationists like Dewey, Kerschensteiner (1854-1932), Adolphe Furrier, Tagore, etc. in what he (Saiyyadain) wrote and spoke on the issues of education before 1937. This was the year when Zakir Husain introduced Saiyyadain to Gandhi who thoroughly impacted former’s mind and heart. Needless to say how much Saiyyadain owes to Gandhi and Zakir Husain in his advocacy for using work as the medium of education. It would be erroneous however to restrict Gandhi’s influence on Saiyyadain only to his thoughts on education, rather the former became a reference point for the latter in almost every issue that his post-1937 phase of life posed to him. Tagore plays complementary to Gandhi in the pattern of Indian culture: the trends they represent are equally precious to Saiyyadain.
Influence of Iqbal on Saiyyadain’ worldview seems to be no less than that of Gandhi. He finds many verses of the poet helpful in explaining the Gandhian thoughts and vice versa. Sometimes, he paraphrases amidst his writings couplets of Iqbal, without even mentioning the name of the poet. In the context of the discussion on good life, the reader comes across the following sentences: “It is only when the drop becomes the ocean that it can acquire the power and majesty of the ocean. Otherwise, it is likely to be lost in the quicksand of self-centredness”(p 131). Those who are familiar with Iqbal’s poetry will not fail to catch in these words an echo of this couplet of the poet: Fard qayim rabt-e millat se hai, tanha kutch nahin/ Mauj hai dariya me aur bairun-e dariya kutch nahin. Saiyyadain’s fascination with Iqbal’s Reconstruction of Religious Thoughts in Islam, also knows no limits. The latter’s theory of meliorism wins almost unqualified admiration from Saiyyadain who does not hesitate in reproducing the concerned portion from the Reconstruction time and again. Apart from Iqbal, couplets of Rumi, the renowned mystic-poet of the Persian literature, also frequently find mention in Saiyyadain’s writings.
Bertrand Russell, among the contemporary western philosophers, has been enjoying a special place in the thoughts of Saiyyadain. He refers to the former as “my favourite writer” (p 137), “dignity of the whole of mankind” (p 100) and finds Russell’s words “stirring” (p 162). It seems that Saiyyadain puts Russell at the same pedestal of respect and reverence as the former has reserved for Gandhi. A passage of Russell in which he underlines power of the human thought, seems to be always fresh and worthy of repetition to Saiyyadain: “Brief and powerless is Man’s life, on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, as the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life; proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power” (p 162).
Had editors included a catalogue of Saiyyadain’s writings in the volume, it would have been added to its value. Typographical errors, in large number, have found their way to the volume. A portion of text which runs into more than four pages (pp 34-38) and is originally from “Biographical Sketch of Khwaja Ghulamus Saiyyadain” (pp. 210-14), has been inserted in the paper on “Gandhi’s Concept of Culture” (pp. 23-53). At many places (like on page no. 148), the text contains references but they have not been typed.
Bringing some important writings of Saiyyadain into the public domain, perhaps for the first time, this volume seeks to restart a debate on many issues of fundamental significance which somehow fail to catch our imagination in the present age of super-specialization and triumphant materialism. Moreover, it will inspire researchers to cast a fresh look at Saiyyadain’s thoughts and serve as a reference-point to study changes the intellectual tradition of modern India has undergone since the time he had thought and written.
<1>In the philosophical lexicon of Tagore, the term “Thing” stands for: the blind accumulation of material goods and riches.
<2>It is noteworthy that the papers included in this edited volume belong to the post-1947 phase of Saiyyadain’s intellectual trajectory. It does not mean that they do not refer to the events that occurred in the British India.
<3>This paper “Gandhi’s Lovable Personality” was presented as the Patel Memorial Lectures in the year of Mahatma Gandhi’s Centenary. (p 83)