Remembering a Personality

Dr M D Taseer Was A Great Educationist And A Poet With Kashmiri Connections

Muhammad Din Taseer popularly known as M D Taseer was born at Ajnala, Amritsar in1902 from a peasant named Mian Atta ud Din. His father died when he was a small child and he was brought up by his maternal uncle Mian Nizam ud Din in Lahore who gave him a good education. The child grew up and became one of the most brilliant men of his times. He became an educationist, intellectual, prominent scholar of Urdu and English literature and a great poet whose Urdu poetry and prose has been highly appreciated by literary circles. M D Taseer completed his education with M.A. in English Literature and in 1932 he became Assistant Professor in English at Islamia College, Lahore.
In July 1933 when M D Taseer left for Cambridge for a Ph. D. program, the great poet Dr Muhammad Allama Iqbal gave him a letter of recommendation which reads as “I am glad to learn that Mr MD Taseer, MA, Assistant Professor of Islamia College, University of the Punjab, Lahore, intends to go to Cambridge for a PhD in English. He has already won a name in the domains of arts and letters in his own country and a young man of such exceptional parts is bound to make his mark wherever he goes….. Considering his brilliant academic career, his experience as a teacher of degree and honors classes in English and quality of literary work already done by him, he deserves preferential treatment and should be granted every legitimate concession.”
One can imagine the great man’s concern for M D Taseer. In 1934 when M D Taseer arrived at Cambridge University he had to go for M. Litt before Ph.D. but his advisor was highly influenced by his sound background in literature and he recommended him for direct admission to Ph.D. without M. Litt. He completed his thesis “on critical and analytical study of 500 years of English literature” and became the first person in the subcontinent to get his PhD in English Literature from Cambridge University.
On his return from Cambridge M D Taseer joined Muslim Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College Amritsar as its principal. During his days the college became a hub of literary activities. A lot of academic activities like Mushairas, debates, milads and sports were held. M.D. Taseer and Faiz ahmad faiz  were the shining stars and founder members of Urdu’s (leftist) Progressive Writers Movement which was a literary movement consisting of a few different writers groups who were against imperialism and left -oriented and sought to inspire people through their writings advocating equality and attacking social injustice and backwardness. Even today people in Amritsar remember Taseer as a very famous principal of the College.  

There is an interesting love story about MD Taseer at MAO College. It was the summer of 1937, one day MD Taseer –a bachelor, went to a shop in the Hall Bazaar area of Amritsar- a busy commercial area. After purchasing some articles at the shop Prof Taseer went back to his college but he forgot his purse at the shop. A British young lady by the name of Christable George, tall and slender, picked up the purse and went next day to return it to MD Taseer. To his surprise professor found a beautiful English young lady in his college the next day, who approached him with ‘his wallet’, which he had left in the shop a day before. Christobel had also been a student at Cambridge, therefore an instant friendship started. It was love at first sight. Christobel had come to Amritsar as a tourist in those times and the common connection of Cambridge succeeded to bond them. A year later in 1938 they both got married in Lahore with the marriage ceremony being solemnized by none other than the famous poet Sir AIlama Iqbal who himself drafted the marriage-deed (nikahnama) for the couple. This nikahnama received a great publicity because it included the right of divorce for Christable. Allama Iqbal was perhaps the most enthusiastic advocate of this right that the wife at the time of marriage is at liberty to ask for the power of divorce delegated to her on stated conditions and thus secures equality of divorce with her husbands. Christobel accepted Islam and became Mrs Balquis Taseer. The couple gave birth to three children – two daughters followed by a son Salman Taseer (Pakistan PPP leader) who became the Governor of Punjab in 2008 and in January 2011 he was assassinated by his body guard.
In 1934 Faiz Ahmad Faiz the famous Urdu poet and intellectual became a lecturer of English at MAO College Amritsar where MD Taseer was principal and Faiz was under the literary influence of MD Taseer. Christobel‘s sister Miss Alys started visiting her sister in Amritsar where she met ‘Faiz Ahmed Faiz’. The younger sister developed a liking for Faiz and married him. Alys too embraced islam and became Mrs. Kulsoom Faiz. Their Nikah was solemnised by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in Srinagar in 1941 at Peri Mahal which was Maharaja Hari Singh’s summer palace where M D Taseer the then principal of S P College was living in its one part, on temporary basis.
Prof Dr M D Taseer had special connections with Kashmir. We are really proud and privileged to have this giant personality connected with our academics and with our politics. Dr M D Taseer was very close to Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. There are records which show that at the time of partition in 1947, when question of state’s accession with India and Pakistan arose both the leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Quaid-e-Azam utilized the services of intellectuals and writers with left leanings for convincing the kashmiri leadership to join their domain. Pakistan deputed Dr. MD Taseer and Faiz Ahmad Faiz and others to discuss the future of Kashmir with Kashmiri leadership particularly with Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Maharaja. They repeatedly traveled to Kashmir to galvanize support in favor of Pakistan. M D Taseer was also associated with the drafting of Naya Kashmir manifesto for national conference in 1944.
Probably a small number of people in Kashmir also know that M D Taseer had remained principal of our two prestigious colleges and they are S P College and Amar Singh College both in Srinagar. He served the S P College during 1941 to 1942. At that time the S P College was the second largest college affiliated with Punjab University. The majority of the students as well as teachers were Hindus. When M D Taseer was appointed as S P College principle he won over his worst adversaries by his behavior and kindliness and they all joined to admire his intellectual superiority and administrative capability.
When the role of students in S P College increased tremendously a bifurcation scheme was conceived by the then director of education and principal M D Taseer and Amar Singh College was formed in 1941 at Gobji Bagh. It was an unpremeditated event and all arrangements were made in some days. The technical institute housing the buildings of A S College had to get vacated. M D Taseer was appointed its first principal. And he remained there from Sep 1942 to March 1943 i.e. for a very brief period; perhaps this was not a sufficient time for him to take it on the lines of MAO College. 
Dr Taseer left A S College in 1943. As per the college events mentioned in the Lalla –Rookh, the college magazine issue 1943, when the college opened on 08 March 1943, which reads “a shocking revelation. Dr Taseer borrowed without permission. Every face stands askance. Some murmur for a handful of gold he left us. Others feel happy that their principal has been selected for such a position of honor and usefXZulness in the war-effort.” But during his short span at A S College, Dr Taseer became a great friend of students, an accomplished teacher and a great administrator. He will always be remembered as its founder principal and his name will remain in the annals of college history as are his two photographs hanging, one each in principal’s chamber and other one in Taseer conference hall, besides in S P College too. These photographs have always been inducing curiosity of the bygone era. 
Dr Taseer was taken by Govt of India for a prestigious post which was non-academic but he was not happy their and he begin to yearn for a life of letters, where he could read, write and publish books. He was in Simla and later shifted to Delhi. At the time of partition, the things became different and he arrived in Srinagar deposited his family at some rented house and himself departed for Lahore to begin a new life there. After the partition he became the principal of Islamia College in Lahore. 
MD Taseer was a unique teacher endowed with analytic mind and scientific approach. He was witty and lively. He was deeply influenced by Dr Iqbal and he wrote extensively on him. He initiated the literary and artistic journal Nairang-e-Khayal in July 1924. In October 1932 he laid the foundation of the Bazm-e-Farogh-e-Urdu in Islamia College lahore. He also published artistic and literary journal Caravan in 1933 and pioneered a liberal publishing house called Sangham Publishers in 1947, before the partition. He would certainly have crossed many other heights had he remained alive. The destiny played a cruel joke on him. He lived a short life like a lily flower. This humble soul died untimely of a heart attack in 1950 at the age of 47 which shook the academics and the literary world. (I am extremely thankful to Salma Mahmud eldest daughter of M D Taseer for helping me of doing some little research on Dr M D Taseer)

The author is HoD physics Amar Singh College, Srinagar. Feedback: