On entering into the auditorium of the S.P. Colleges, the first thing that greets the eyes is a photo gallery. These are no regular exhibits of college activities but of the principals that have headed this historic institution of the city and enriched the educational landscape of Kashmir. As someone has said it, photo galleries are windows to history; the pictures pegged on the wall also tell their stories. Starting from the photograph of M.U. Moore, the first principal of the college in 1905, the eyes suddenly stop at a picture of Molvi M. Abraham, the first Muslim Principal of the college from 1931- 1934. I could not say with authority if Abraham were appointed head of the college as a result of the people voicing implementation of the 1919 Sharp Committee Report or the British intervention. Next picture at which, the eyes often stop is of Muhammad Din Taseer principal of the college from 1941- 1942. There is also an auditorium in his name in the Amar Singh College.
Why and how he has been part of the 1948 Kashmir narrative. Some of his students living to this day have fond memories of him. Professor Sheikh Mohammad Iqbal, Islamic scholar, author and historian, calls him a "commanding personality." Many important living literary figures, who had been students of the twin colleges of the city, remember him as a pioneering figure who played a pivotal role in the literary movement of Kashmir. In the college, he established Urdu Sabha. On his suggestion, it published a collection of brilliant essays by students. In a way, the collection was a trendsetter in as much as engaging some eminent scholar for replying some contemporaneous objections on the poetry of Iqbal. Taseer himself also answered some questions about Iqbal.
Some scholars might have worked on the contribution of Taseer to education in the state and literary movement in Kashmir but minus an odd article here and there, I have not seen any major work on him by our scholars. It was some ten-year-old bilingual book- in English and Urdu titled 'Taseer on Iqbal', a collection of articles on Iqbal's art and thought edited by Afzal Haq Qureshi on a shelf in my study that attracted my attention. Moreover, made me look through it once again; for his multiple connections with Kashmir, one for closeness to Dr Iqbal greatest benefactor of Kashmiris, two, for his ground-breaking work in education and three, for visiting Kashmir as an envoy with an open mind at a crucial period of our history.
Taseer was born on one June 1901, in a village of Amritsar, and due to plague at the age of three, he had to leave Amritsar for Lahore. Taseer Says:
"I rode 30 miles on horseback from Ajnala to Lahore. On the eve of my journey, all my family, except two, was afflicted with plague. To abandon the habitation when the epidemic was raging, they thought, was an affront to the injunction of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him). All of them gave up their lives, but considering me a trust, they arranged to send me to Lahore.'
In Lahore, Taseer was brought up by his aunt married to Mian Nizam- u-Din, a man of great qualities and friend of Iqbal. It was here that Taseer as a child came to Know the poet of the East. In shaping Taseer's academic and literary viewpoint, Allama had a significant role. In 1924, Taseer was appointed in Islamia College, on the post of Instructor in English. In keeping with his desire, on the recommendation of Iqbal, he was selected in the Information Department of Punjab. In Crescent 39, April 1951 Mohammad Abdullah Chughati wrote that it was he who had taken his application to Allama. In 1934, Taseer went for PhD in English and Iqbal had written a testimonial for him. The testimony contained in the book reads:
"He is the vanguard of our young literati and combines a real ability for literary criticism with genuine creative faculties. He has an extensive range of sympathies for fine arts and is widely read in English and Oriental literature."
Allama Iqbal had 'confidence in Taseer's talent and sound judgment. Whenever he wanted any of his verses translated into English; he asked him to do it. He looked forward to Taseer 's criticism on his poetry and also asked him for a copy. It was not in the literary, but also politics Taseer had the opportunity of working closely with Allama. In early thirties Taseer wrote the proceedings of the All India Kashmir Committee- Allama was the spirit behind the committee constituted for helping the Kashmir movement. 'During election campaign for the Punjab Council, he was in charge of his publicity and office. At the time of death, he was by the side of his bed. On reading his obituary note 'Death of Iqbal', in the Urdu section of the book, my whole body shivered how a man who on death bed talked about global politics and discussed his latest research on Islamic Law and synopsis of a future book on the subject, could have so quickly breathed his last. The English section of the book contains eleven articles mostly published after India and Pakistan had emerged on the world map as two Independent countries. Some time back, in this column, I had written about the first chapter, 'Iqbal Had Compolitinan Callers", hardly any of biographers had reflected on this facet of his life. Every chapter is a book in itself that touches one or other aspect of his works and contribution, that calls for scholarly analysis. That, of course, is not my cup of tea. As Taseer writes:
"Iqbal is a powerful poet and therefore dangerous, says the Progressive Red, who deems religious values to be reactionary. And the approach of the obscurantist and the orthodox are naturally similar. The Communist red with rage at the effectiveness of Iqbal. The Mullah is green with jealousy at seeing a layman stealing his thunder." There are four chapters on literary forms used by Iqbal, 'Iqbal and The Ghazal', 'Iqbal and The Rubai', Iqbal's Theory of Art and Literature' and Iqbal The Poet and His Message.'
The Urdu section of the book comprises about twenty articles, and every article for its lucidness and grip leaves an indelible imprint on the mind.