Born on 5th December 1925 in Amroha (UP) and brought up and educated in Meerut, Professor K A Nizami was one of the very well known historians of Medieval India. He wrote extensively on Sufism and the political history of the Delhi Sultanate. He was a prolific writer and has many books, edited works and research papers to his credit. However his most popular contribution is The Comprehensive History of India, volume 5 which he co-edited with Professor Mohammad Habib, his mentor who had brought him from Meerut to Aligarh in 1947.
In 1953 he became reader in history, and in 1963 he was promoted to the rank of professor. He was the last Head of the Department (1968-84). Before his retirement he also served as Indian Ambassador to Syria. For some time (3 January 1974 to 30 August 1974) he was also the Acting Vice-Chancellor of AMU.
One of the more consequential of his efforts was the publication of the political correspondence of the 18th-century Muslim reformer and philosopher Shah Waliullah of Delhi; this correspondence provided the basis for an enlarged understanding of Shāh Waliullah’s contribution to Indian history. Nizami also had a large number of works devoted to Sir Saiyid Ahmad Khan, the founder of the Aligarh Muslim University and the most important intellectual and political leader of the Indian Muslims in the latter part of the 19th century. In addition to the studies of the life and times of Sir Saiyid and the history of the Aligarh movement, these studies include an illustrated album and a collection of poems about the great Reformer and some of his associates.
As a post graduate student I had the honour of offering two courses which he used to teach, viz., the Political History of Delhi Sultanate, and a course on Muslim Religious Thought. His teaching of the later course was something remarkable: being almost a mystic, he would go into a trance discussing the finer points of Sufic thought, like wahdat ul wujud. There would be pin drop silence in the class as his voice would sometimes soar or choke! He would for minutes be looking out of the window with his sight fixed nowhere and then he would suddenly snap out of the trance and say, “forget it! You won’t understand!”
His handling of the first course however left us wanting for more: for what he would tell, was already written in his famous “Volume 5”!
His aura was such that whether you wanted to or not, you would be awe-struck! We used to call him ‘Balban’! He would arrive in a jeep. The driver, Mr Shareef would blow the horn while the jeep was still near the VC lodge, and hearing that everyone in the department would be alerted that Sultan Balban was arriving!
Once I went to his home to report that some senior students had tried to manhandle me as I had come to the Department wearing a kurta over a jeans. Nizami Sahib tried to cool me down by giving me a steaming hot cup of coffee. As I sipped it sitting in his library, he turned to me and said: ‘When as a student one day I came wearing a T-shirt all hell broke loose. Now you see me coming daily in half sleeves! Times change! A day would come when kurta would be acceptable! But remember to succeed: Do in Rome as Romans do!’ By the time my coffee finished I was thanking him and my anger had disappeared.
A man of noble demeanour and character, Nizami Sahib was a great influence on the campus. Later in life, when I came to occupy the Office where he used to once sit as Chairman and Coordinator, CAS Department of History, the Chamber would always remind me of him. Quite frequently I would imagine while entering the room which now was mine, that with a swivel of the upholstered chair, he would get up and glare at me through his penetrating eyes. Throughout the three years that I remained an occupant of that room, memories of Professor Nizami would engulf me on a daily basis!
I remember one day walking in late to a Friday Seminar which used to be chaired by him for the research scholars. His own research student, Mr Iqbal Sabir, was making a presentation. As I stealthily entered the room, being late, I had a sweater casually thrown on my shoulders. He leaned forward and almost pierced me through his glare. When the lecture was over and I, to make matters up, raised my hand to ask a question, Nizami Sahib with a gesture of his hand brushed aside Iqbal Sabir and shot a counter question towards me: “Miyāñ āp kisi ground me khelne āye haiñ? Ya seminar me? Tak off your sweater from your shoulder! Either wear it or hold it properly”! He was a strict disciplinarian with a no nonsense approach. A man of the old world, he did not tolerate any act of indiscipline or demeanour!
As a favourite student of Professor Mohammad Habib, he was a well known scholar of mysticism and most of his work was dedicated to the development of Sufism under the Delhi Sultans. However, a few of his works also extended until the Mughal period.
The void created by his absence has yet to be filled. Whether one politically agreed with him or not, one can never dispute his high place in the firmament of the sacred pantheon of the Department! He was a giant amongst the giants. He will always be remembered as an Alig and as a historian of the Aligarh School!