Published in Madras Musings, March 16 - 31, 2010
Edward Balfour, who came to India in the 1830s and retired in 1876 as Surgeon General, heading the Madras Medical Department, was a polyglot, fluent in Urdu and Persian. He acted for some time as the East India Company’s Agent to the Court of the Nawab of the Carnatic. This enabled him to play a significant role in the affairs of the Muslims of the city, including the Nawab.
It was during his tenure as Agent to the Court of Nawab Ghulam Ghouse Khan that two of the oldest Muslim institutions in the city, the Madras Muhammadan Library (Muhammadan Public Library) and the Madrasa-e Azam, were established. The present Muhammadan Public Library, earlier known as the Kutub Khana-e-Am Mufeed Ahl-e-Islam, came into existence at the instance of Dr. Balfour, a fact he proudly proclaimed while listing his noteworthy accomplishments in his monumental work, the Cyclopaedia of India (first published in 1857).
In 1849, Balfour gathered several prominent Muslims of Madras, including Abdul Wahab Kazi Irthiza Ali Khan, Sahabuddin Azam Ul Mulk, Khan-e-Alam Khan Farooq, Mushir Ud Dawla, the Chief of Nobles Shireen Sakun Khan Mirza, and Abdul Baghi Wafa, and impressed upon them the need for the community to have a library. This resulted in the founding of the library in 1850. Nawab Ghulam Ghouse Khan, his uncle Nawab Azeemjah, and Balfour himself made financial contributions. The library also received 240 unique Arabic and Persian books as a gift from the King of Egypt. The Governor of Madras, Sir Henry Pottinger, gifted 75 books. At the request of Balfour, the Council of Education, Calcutta, donated 106 books. The founding members too gifted 513 books. With the available funds, 164 books were purchased and a house was rented on Wallajah Road at Rs. 9 a month. Within four months of it being established, the library boasted of a collection of about 1,500 books. The Madras Muhammadan Library located at the junction of Wallaljah Road and Triplicane High Road was closed for renovation in the 1980s and was reopened to the public a couple of years ago.
In 1851, the year Balfour founded the Government Central Museum in Madras, the royal Madrasa of the Arcot Nawabs was, with prodding from Balfour, turned into a modern school, the Madrasa-e-Azam. It was thrown open to the public, but still preference was given to those coming from noble families or those attached to the court of the Nawab. Under orders from the young Nawab Ghulam Ghouse Khan, the services of the teachers serving in the old royal Madrasa were transferred to the newly established institution. Imamul Ulama Qazi Badruddowlah was appointed as the Chairman of the managing Board of Directors. Thanks to Balfour’s influence, the Madrasa curriculum was, for the first time in this part of the country, “loaded with secular sciences and vernacular languages, Tamil and Telugu,” Md. Yusuf Kokan records in his Arabic and Persian in Carnatic 1710-1960.
Qazi Badrudowlalah resisted the changes in the curriculum. At the end of the first academic year, the Qazi was asked in a note sent by Balfour (along with two other joint signatories) to give reasons for not cooperating in running the new Madrasa in the manner recommended. The Qazi wrote back to say he could not support a cause advocating education as a means of earning a livelihood rather than for supporting the religion. He tendered his resignation and a new Board of Directors was formed, with Salarul Mulk as Chairman, and Moulvi Yousuf Ali Khan, Moulvi Syed Ishaq Tirazish Khan Bahadur, Mohammad Nadeemullah Khan, Dr. Edward Balfour, Lt. Col. G. Balfour, Col. W.P. Macdonald, E. Maltby and Itimaduddowlah as members. Itimaduddowlah was elected Secretary. By the end of 1854 the Madrasa had 305 students.
With the passing away of Nawab Ghulam Ghouse Khan in 1855, bringing an end to the title ‘Nawab of the Carnatic’ and the power that went with it, Balfour pressed for far more radical changes in the school. Says Kokan, “…the Government agent was not in favour of providing instruction in religious studies.” So it was decided to dispense with the services of the old teachers of the Madrasa by granting them gratuity or pension according to the period of their services. In 1859, the Madrasa was declared a high school.
Having founded two institutions for the Muslims of the city, Balfour was determined to set up an institution of higher learning for Muslims, a Society of Arts and Sciences. Ever since 1852, Edward Balfour had convened several meetings in his house, the school and the Madras Muhammadan Library for this purpose. Finally, in 1854, under the joint signatures of Balfour and such prominent Muslims of the city as Nazim Jung, Mustaqeem Jung, Sirdar Jung, Mirza Abdul Baqi Khan, Muhibbi-e-Ali Khan, Jan-e-Jahan Khan, Mohammad Khairuddin Khan, Ahmad Ali, Qadir Hussain, Mohammad Abdul Qadir and Murtaza, an invitation in Persian was sent to 275 selected people to assemble at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, March 14, 1854 at the Madrasa-e-Azam. About 110 of the invitees and some spectators from the teachers and students (of the school) attended the meeting. There were a number of notable absentees, prominent among them being Qazi Badruddowlah. As Balfour was the convenor, Rashiduddowlah, son of Nawab Azeemuddowlah, proposed him for the chair.
Balfour made a passionate appeal in Urdu to the gathered Muslims, a remarkable speech that harked back to the glorious days of the Abbasid caliphate, scientific advancements, improvements that had taken place in Madras city in the previous few decades of British rule, and frank assessment of the current state of Muslims. Invoking Allah, Balfour urged those present to mend their old ways and get back to the world of knowledge. After his forceful speech (see box), several resolutions were moved, seconded and passed. However nothing came of the meeting and Balfour’s dream of a higher institution for learning remained unfulfilled for decades.
Ironically it was left to Balfour, the man who founded two noteworthy institutions for the benefit of the Madras Muslims, and desired to establish one more, to bring the curtains down on a major political institution that till then played a big role in the affairs of the Muslims of the city, the Nawabocracy of the Carnatic. As Government Agent to the Court of the Nawab, it was Edward Balfour who, after the death of the last Nawab of Arcot (Nawab Ghulam Ghouse Khan died without an issue), sealed all the offices of the Nawab on November, 22, 1856. A few months later, on January 18th, all the records of the Big Chamber were removed and taken away by him. From 1858 to 1861, Edward Balfour served on a commission to look into the debts of the Nawab.
A knowledge to be got back
Edward Balfour delivered this speech to a select gathering of prominent Muslims of Madras on March 14, 1854 at the Madrasa-e-Azam after he was appointed the President of the evening when the first dignitary could not come and the second arrived late.
The purpose of this meeting, as you all know, is to start a Society of Arts and Sciences. Such an endeavour has not been made by us before. You think that your habit will get changed by starting such a Society. You think that this world is ever changing. Man, since his birth, has been trying to increase his knowledge and thus make the conditions of his people better. Nothing is constant in this world. Everything goes on changing at every moment. You all know that some fifty years ago there was not a single bridge on any river in the city of Madras. Now in every place you find the bridges.
Twenty years ago the ships took 15 to 18 months to go to England and come back. Now you get the reply from England within fifty days. Twenty years ago one could reach Bangalore from Madras in a palanquin in six days and that too with strenuous labour. Now you can reach it within one and a half days by fixing two to four horses to your carriage. You are aware that the railway lines have been built connecting Madras with Bombay and Calcutta and many more are under construction. Now a person can easily travel fifty to sixty miles in an hour. Our progress does not end with this. You know and see that we can send our messages to Bombay and Delhi within the twinkling of the eye by means of electric bronze wires called electric telegraph.
If, in spite of all this progress, you conclude that this world is only ephemeral and always changeable and that the people should not change their notions and habits and should continue to maintain the old status, they will certainly lag behind those who want to run the Government on firm and wise lines and thus they will be deprived of the useful and sound benefits of the times. But you are not stagnant. By the Grace of Allah, to whom all of us are thankful, I have seen several changes in you during the last four years.
During this short period a nice library has been established, which has 15,000 books and 150 members, with a good income. A school has been established at Royapettah by Ameeruddowlah Bahadur and Samsamuddowlah Bahadur where 300 students are studying. Haider Jung has taken the responsibility of running a school at Mylapore on his expense. This big building, where you are conducting the meeting, is the repository of Madrasa Azam for which His Highness the Nawab has granted Rs. 12,000 per annum. All these things have taken place against your old habits. You have derived several benefits during the last four years. A big library has been established. Several schools have come into existence. And now a Society of Arts and Sciences is to be started, which will serve as a complement to all the other activities mentioned before.
In the olden days, when nobody knew about the English people, there arose a long line of great scholars, during the period of the Abbasid Caliphate, who made their name in Arts and Sciences. The English people took this knowledge from you. They not only disseminated this knowledge among themselves, but also advanced it further by their indefatigable researches. It is regrettable that you did not advance further and thus lagged behind others. Now you have to learn the same from the English people. The people in England are accustomed to meet together in cities, towns and villages and discuss with each other to increase and advance the knowledge they possess. Knowledge is a treasure. It will remain useless as long as it is not spent, or conveyed to others. If the knowledge of any person from you is limited to himself, how could we know that he is a learned man and possessed of so much knowledge? He himself does not know the extent of the knowledge he possesses. As long as he is sitting in his room he will be thinking of himself as a great learned man. He can know the amount of his knowledge only after meeting and conversing with others. In addition to the knowledge he possesses he may derive a great amount of knowledge from others. You can yourself realise the benefits you are going to derive by starting such a Society of Arts and Sciences. I hope you will all join together in starting such a Society, which will continue to be a source of unlimited benefits to you and to your posterity for generations to come.
Note: A copy of the speech, a part of the report of the meeting, is to be found at the Diwan Saheb Bagh Library, Madras.