A Unique Qasba of Awadh Famous for Sufism& Urdu Literature
Dr. Sehba Ali
Rudauli is a Qasba in Uttar Pradesh which formerly belonged to District Barabanki but now to District Faizabad. It is approximately 91 km from the city of Lucknow. Rudauli is famous for its three main assets : A unique culture, Sufi shrines and it’s literary and romantic people. The suffix “Shareef” to the name Rudauli ia a gesture of reverence to the saints.
There is a difference of opinion as to how Rudauli got its name. Some say that it was named after a former ruler of the area, Raja Rudra Mull and the name got distorted later. Others think its name was “Rud Wali” after the arrival of a saint or “Wali” here. In Urdu script, Rudauli and Rud wali” are written the same way.
Being situated in between the two former Capitals of Nawabs of Awadh, first Faizabad and then Lucknow, Nawabs’ influence on the people of Rudauli was inevitable. Nawabi culture which had its roots in Iran as the first Nawab, Sadat Ali Khan was from Iran, was famous for its “Tameez-o-Tehzeeb, (Etiquette and civility), “Nafaasat-o-nazakat” (Finesse), Sweet-sounding Persianised Urdu, lavish living and indulgence in sensual pleasures.
The Zamindari feudal system provided them with a very comfortable life without lifting a finger. Their lands were cultivated by hired farmers and salaried munshees looked after other zamindari affairs. After the fall of Nawabi Awadh and zamindari abolition, life in Rudauli changed drastically. The landless zamindars could neither maintain their lavish lifestyle nor their “Havelis” (Mansions). Some areas of Present day Rudauli look as if devastated by an earthquake. But every cloud has a silver lining. The fall of the Zamindars gave rise to the status of the much exploited farmers and other low class workers. Thus the gap between the rich and the poor narrowed.
The teachings of the Sufi saints could be summarized as “Simple living and high thinking”. It is said about Rudauli that inspite of the downfall, people have still maintained relics of the old culture of civility, finesse, hospitality and generosity. It must be the influence of Sufi teachings which came to their rescue. Rudauli has been home to several Sufi Saints. But the most revered of them all was, Makhdoom Sheikh Ahmad Abdul Haq “Tosha” Rudaulvi whose “Urs” (Death anniversary) is observed at the greatest scale, Qawwalis (Spiritual songs) are sung throughout the “Urs”. Huge “Melas” (Fairs) are organized which attract enormous crowds of people of all faiths from the villages around Rudauli and also from nearby towns which provide an excellent opportunity for inter-faith interaction. At this occasion, sometimes, Sufis from other countries such as Afghanistan also came. I have a fond memory of one Afghan Sufi who used to be my maternal grandfather’s guest and we called him “Agha Nana”. He was a very impressive figure for us children because he was unusually tall and handsome and above all, very generous as he used to give us a “Paisa” each, every day. We liked him very much but did not like how he smelled. Later, as adults we learned that he used to take an alcoholic drink every evening and called it “Sharab-e-Tahoora” (Holy drink)! The last time we saw him was when he visited us in Lucknow and my mother told us he must have been over a hundred years old as she remembered him from her childhood. I don’t know if Afghan Sufis still come to Rudauli or not as the world has changed so much since my childhood.
The population of Rudauli is predominantly Muslim even after the exodus to Pakistan. According to the 2011 Census, the breakdown of the religious communities is as follows: Muslims – 50%, Hindus – 47%, Jains – 1.7% and others – 1.3%.
The Muharram in Rudauli is observed just like it is done in Lucknow. The magnificent Masjid and Imambara built by a prominent Rudaulvi, Chowdhry Irshad Hussain is beautifully illuminated and there is daily Marsiya Khwani (Recital of Eulogies for the martyrs of Karbala).
Talking of Hindu-Muslim relations in Rudauli, a vivid memory of one Master Purushottam emerges in my mind. A short, plump, middle-aged man in white cotton Dhoti and kurta, chewing Paan, a bulky book tucked under his left arm. He was a teacher of “Hisaab” (Arithmetic) and the book he used to carry was a “Hisaab ki Kitaab” known by the same name as its author’s-“Chakrawarty”. All the children pronounced it as “ChakarBatti”. Master Purushottam used to go to many Muslim homes to teach and came to my maternal grand father’s house also to teach my cousins. I, being poor in Hisaab also joined them during the summer holidays when we spent two months in Rudauli. Master Purushottam was let in to the Zenana like a relative and women did not observe purdah with him. We children were not at all interested in learning Hisaab so he often frightened us by saying: “Agar Buddhee ka istemaal nahi karogey to Buddhoo reh jaogey.” (If you won’t use your Buddhee, you’ll remain a Buddhoo). It was apparent that in Rudauli,Hindu’s were superior to Muslims in Hisaab-Kitaab and Muslims to Hindu’s in Sher-o-Shaeri. Both accepted and respected each other’s superiority in their respective areas.
There were some orthodox Muslim families which did not send their daughters to school but gave them basic education at home. A Maulvi taught them the Quran as well as Urdu and Master Purushottam an orthodox Hindu, taught them Hisaab. He was so well respected and trusted that in those orthodox Muslim homes also, he was let into the Zenana to teach the girls. Mrs. Hameeda Salem in her essay “Jaggan Bhayya”,remembers that the Hindu Munshi who managed their family’s zamindari affairs used to come inside Zenana to discuss zamindari matters with her mother and her aunts took this opportunity to learn to read and write Hindi from him. Rudaulvi’s are progressive, broad-minded and have a literary bent of mind. Apart from some famous poets and writers, many young men write poetry and young women, “Afsanas” (Short stories). Many girls after finishing High School in Rudauli, used to privately prepare for further studies and go to Aligarh University to take exams and after finishing their education taught in school in Rudauli and when there were no jobs available they did not hesitate to go to the nearby villages to teach.
Rudaulvi’s are a romantic lot. There have always been “Laila-Majnoon” affairs going on. There are endearing stories even from our grand mothers’ times. I am taking the liberty of telling the story of my own “Phuphu Amma” (Vakilan-un-Nisa) who refused an arranged marriage with a rich cousin and married her choice, a poor school master (In 1920s). She supplemented his meagre income by giving private tuitions in the Quran and Urdu which she had mastered on her own. She refused any financial help from her family which had disapproved of her choice. The tragic love story of Asrar-ul-Haq Majaz is no secret in the literary world. He remained faithful to her beloved who was engaged to be married when they met and never married.
There have been many prominent Rudaulvi’s who were Urdu, Persian and Arabic scholars, theologians and philanthropists but unfortunately, in Canada where I am now, no facilities are available for research on them. So I am mentioning only the names of some pioneers and nationally and internationally known Rudaulvi’s that I have knowledge of :
Chowdhry Seraj-ul-Haq was the first Rudaulvi to earn B.A. and L.L.B. Degrees, the first zamindar to take up a government job and the first Rudaulvi to send his two daughters, Safia and Hameeda to university in late 1930s
Chowdhry Mohammad Ali was an institution in himself – an original thinker, a flamboyant and dynamic personality, a romantic, a philanthropist, a social reformer and a prolific writer who published a number of books on various subjects. He came from a Shia – Sunni mixed background and was often asked about his personal religion which he always gave as “Humanism”.
Asrar-ul-Haq Majaz, an eminent romantic and revolutionary poet who died prematurely at 44 and left behind a collection of his poems, which earned enormous popularity. He was also famous for his witty remarks.
Safia (Seraj-ul Haq) Jaan Nisar Akhtar was the first girl from Rudauli to go to the University, get a Masters’ degree and teach at the university. Unfortunately, she also died young at age 37 leaving behind a book: “Andaz-e-Nazar”. A collection of critical essays and two volumes of her letters to her husband, “Zer-e-Lub” and “Hurf-e-Aashna” were published posthumously.
Hameeda (Seraj-ul-Haq) Salem also went to university soon after her sister Safia and earned a Masters’ in Economics. She also taught and in her 70’s and 80’s, wrote several books in Urdu. She is 90 plus and in poor physical health but mentally alert.
Zarina (Farid-ul-Haq) Ahmad-Bhatty was the first girl from Rudauli to go to London, England in 1951 and earn one degree from London School of Economics and one from the School of African and Oriental Studies. On her return to India she taught at Delhi university and has been active In the Feminist movement.
Dr. Mussayab Abbas “Sharib” Rudaulvi, served as Professor and Head of the Department of Urdu at Delhi University. He is India’s top literary critic in Urdu and has written more than two dozen books in his subject. He is the recipient of a number of literary awards. Since retirement, he has been running a school in Lucknow.
Zoya Hassan is the first girl from Rudauli to be a Professor of Political Science and the Dean of School of Social Sciences at Jawahar Lal Nehru University, Delhi. She is a prolific writer and is best known for her works on the politics of Uttar Pradesh, ethnicity, gender and identity, and on Muslim women in India.
Javed Akhtar is a poet, lyricist and script writer. He has published two Volumes of his poetry: “Tarkash” and “Laawa”. He is a recipient of a number of awards. He is the older son of (Late) Safia Akhtar Rudaulvi.
Dr. Salman Akhtar is an internationally known Psychoanalyst and Psychiatrist based in Philadelphia, U.S.A. He has authored three dozen books in his subject including” Encyclopedia of Psychiatry”. He also writes Poetry in Urdu as well as in English. He is the younger son of Safia Akhtar of Rudauli.
Freedom Fighters from Rudauli :
- Chowdhry Lateef-ur-Rehman
- Ansar-ul-Haq Harooni( Ansar Harvani)
- Uvais Qarni
- Hassan Ahmad
- Habib- Ur-Rehman
Writer is the first daughter of Rudauli who earned a Ph.D in Applied Linguistics from the University of Illinois, U.S.A., teach Urdu-Hindi at the University of George Town in U.S.A., English as a Second Language at the University of Ottawa, Canada and French through Hindi medium to Indian diplomats in Geneva.