Skip to main content

The curtain falls

By March 18, 2019No Comments

Source : The Hindu   –   Mohammad Asim Siddiqui



With Masoodul Hasan’s demise, a glorious chapter of Aligarh culture and social grace has come to an end


Masoodul Hasan (1928-2019), formerly a professor of English at Aligarh Muslim University, a polymath, and a public speaker par excellence died this week in Aligarh. His encyclopedic knowledge of different languages and literatures, his sincere concern for the well being of his students and friends, and his self-deprecating wit were defining features of his personality.

“Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure,” wrote J. K. Rowling. Masoodul Hasan’s unsparing wit, an aspect of his honesty and straightforwardness, and sharp one-liners, delivered with a deadpan face, could be acerbic and entertaining in equal measure. Like conceits in metaphysical poetry or in Ghalib’s that he discussed with relish, his wit encompassed different fields and reflected his wide learning and mercurial intelligence. It was Masoodism, all his own, distinct, original, unfailing, always manifested in his speech but not absent in his writings.

Productive phase

His work falls into three distinct phases, with his post-retirement phase being the most productive and illuminating. Deeply devoted to teaching, and not wary of taking administrative responsibilities which sometimes included taking the bullies and the rogues in the University head on, and being a bit publication-shy – factors which can inhibit writing – his publications in the first phase of his career are still quite impressive.



“Donne’s Imagery”, published in 1958, made the argument that images were integral to Donne’s cognitive universe and they constitute “the texture of his thought.” Systematically organised into sections, Hasan’s book gives equal attention to Donne’s images drawn from chemistry, geography, law, war and death and convincingly concludes that “The study of his imagery reveals the untold story of the man”.

Another early work, his doctoral thesis submitted to the University of Liverpool in 1964, was published as Francis Quarles: A Study of His Life and Poetry (1966). This book is an assessment of Francis Quarles, a lesser known 17th century English poet, “with special reference to the English heritage of the genres in which he worked and his likely influence on some later writers”. Hasan takes up both Quarles’ divine and secular poems and is especially attentive to Quarles’s use of rhetorical devices, repetition of words and phrases, his debt to “the better pilots” and his use of epigram and emblem writing.

His middle phase, devoted to bibliographical research, involved a lot of travel and typed-written letters to librarians across the country. He prepared Rare English Books in India: A Select Bibliography (1970) which contained a list of books published before 1800 and available in about 45 different libraries of India. Another book 19th Century English Literary Works: A Bibliography of Rare Books Available in India (1978) followed which focused on literary works published or reprinted between 1800 and 1899.

His third venture Miltoniana in India:A Select Bibliography Including Translations of Milton’s Works in Indian and Other Language (1986) mentions 500 books, 400 articles and about 360 translations including Milton’s translations in many Indian languages like Hindi and Urdu.

Hasan’s career took a very productive turn almost two decades after his retirement, all that vast reading of a lifetime crystallising into cogent ideas and arguments in a number of books. Never one to take himself seriously Hasan, when asked to explain his passion for reading and writing, despite his old age, failing health and personal tragedies like the death of his daughter, shrugged it off with his characteristic self-deprecating wit. “I am trying to justify the hefty amount of pension that the government has been giving me for three decades.”

During this phase he edited, with long and thoroughly-footnoted introductions, a series of anthologies of rare English poems and also progressed from his study of individual poets like Donne and Quarles to his broad-based, longitudinal and ambitious study of English literature in Sufic perspective in his book “Sufism and English Literature”(2007).

There are three clear threads in this potentially ground-breaking book. First, there is a discussion of direct or indirect borrowings of Sufic ideas in English literature. Hasan discusses how Marlowe and Donne could have been aware of the writings of Ibne Arabi or how the influence of Persian mystic poets Sa’di and Hafiz can be seen on the poetry of Thomas Herbert. Secondly, Hasan traces parallelisms, images, and echoes of Sufi thought in the works of English writers.

The most original contribution of Hasan is to offer a poetic of Sufic interpretations and Sufic readings of a number of English texts and opening a novel line of inquiry. His Sufic readings are a result of his love of humanity, his awareness of living in a world marked by conflict and discord, and his own effort to do some damage control as a humanist scholar of literature.

“Epithalamiums: An Anthology of Modern Poems from Chaucer to the Present” (2013), edited with Naqi Husain Jafri, offers a selection of nuptial poetry and

“English Poems on Prophet Mohammad” (2015) puts together biographical, devotional, laudatory, as also some uncomplimentary poems, about the Prophet through a very exhaustive selection beginning from 14th Century poets like Langland and John Lydgate to the present. The historical introduction written by the author places the poems and the attitudes they display about the Prophet in context.

“Anthology of Spousal Elegies” (2018), his last book, is a remarkable attempt at the macro level anthology of the sub-genre of spousal elegies. A long introduction to the subject charts out the period-wise journey, provenance and popularity of the form of elegy not only in its Classical and English context, but also the scope and practice of Sanskrit, Sino-Japanese and Perso-Arabic elegy.

With Masoodul Hasan’s demise, the curtain has fallen on a glorious chapter of Aligarh tahzeeb (culture) and wazadari (social grace).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.