This year would be the 36th year since I started attending the Indian History Congress sessions. The first IHC which I attended was at Kurukshetra in 1982. I had just completed my post graduation the same year. Since then I have missed only two sessions, once when I had a heart attack, and the subsequent year when I was in London. Apart from this I have been always a regular.
The preparations for the Congress, the journey from Aligarh to the Kurukshetra and back, the three day session are still fresh in my mind.
After appearing for the last of my MA exam, I along with my class mate Reena Arya, had gone to meet our teacher Irfan Habib in his chamber to enquire how to prepare for our Grand Viva which was scheduled three days later.
Irfan Sahib after enquiring how our exams went along, pointed towards the corner of his chamber where on chairs were kept some bulky massive tomes. He asked us to pick up certain of them and wrote down for us two themes, one for me, another for my friend.
“These are your topics for the forthcoming session of the IHC which I want you to attend.”
This is what we disbelievingly heard him speak. Since that day in June till mid of December that year we slogged to comprehend and write our respective papers. In between I had to read and take notes from umpteen European sources, travelogues and English records and myriads of Persian sources: thankfully all published, but unfortunately mostly non-translated. By 18th or 19th of December I had my first draft of the paper ready in hand which was then to be typeset on a manual typewriter.
The last week before the Congress was something which I would never forget: the whole department buzzing with activity from early morning till late nights: big halls and classrooms with five or six typewriters manned by typists, with students and researchers as well as teachers milling around. Tea would be served to all. Sometimes Irfan Sahib, sometimes Iqtidar Alam Khan or M Athar Ali Sahib and Shireen Moosvi would come and buy us mounds of peanuts. Hot steaming Qorma and Naan was fed to everyone. And this activity would continue almost the whole night and entire days. The papers after being typed would then be cyclostyled, yet again by a hand operated machine which had to be worked through rotating a crank. Late Khursheed Bhai, the elder brother of Idrees Beg would man these machines. Then would follow the meticulous job of arranging the papers and making sets of volumes of these papers! And this work would be led by Idrees Bhai and Noor Muhammad. The ‘authors’ of respective papers would also chip in, in organising and then mixing the sets. It was only a few hours before our departure by a rickety bus that the volumes were bound and ready!
The journey from Aligarh to Kurukshetra was also interesting and episodic!
We were supposed to start early in the morning and thus all assembled in the Department around 7:00 am in the misty freezing morning. But the bus ultimately departed only in the late night: there was no electricity and the litho-Press of a certain Gupta ji in the city needed one hour of electricity to finalise the volume of the session which we were supposed to take along with us! Even Irfan Sahib’s Presidential Address on Peasants in History was also in the same press, and the electricity had decided to play truant!
The whole day we were in the Department sipping hot tea after hot tea! For lunch we all marched to the residence of Professor M Athar Ali who lived nearby in Tār Bungalow!
By evening when we finally boarded the bus and proceeded to the Litho Press in the city, it started raining! And to our horror we found our rickety bus leaking from all sides!
It was a boring and freezing journey till somewhere near Delhi border where our bus was stopped by a posse of police men who demanded to be shown the list of passengers! Fortunately Irfan Sahib who was sitting in the front had it ready in his bag. A policeman took it from his hand and started calling out the respective names of the passengers. Each of us would register our presence and then he would read the next name from the list:
“Irphan Haviv…Seerin Mooshvi, MDN Sahi, Afjal…” he kept on reading till he called for “Anar Kali!” There was a stunning silence with no one responding. “Anar Kali”!..he shouted again.
Irfan Sahib slowly got up from his seat, went to the policeman who was reading the name in the torchlight from the list… he pored through the list and then chuckled and declared
“Bhai Athar Sahib! Āp ko pukara ja raha hai…Anar Kali nahi, Athar Ali!”
The whole bus was now fully awake and chuckling. From Delhi to Kurukshetra, the journey was full of mirth: Athar Sahib sitting, almost violet in anger, and Irfan Sahib making fun of him!
The whole route it rained and we reached straight to the inaugural venue almost dripping, with the President along with us. The session had started and Irfan Sahib just managed to reach the podium to read his famous “Peasants in History” address. Professor Nurul Hasan Sahib was also attending this session and participating actively ….He presented his paper on the morphology of Delhi.
It was a session worth remembering. And I presented my first paper there: the paper on Muqarrab Khan, the physician, veterinary and subadar of many provinces who was a childhood friend of Jahangir.
One last thing: this trip cost me just ₹00/-. My delegate fees and membership was given by either Irfan Sahib or Shireen Mam. And the ₹50/- which I carried in my pocket remained unspent because one of my senior, Abha Didi, now Professor Abha Singh of Indira Gandhi National Open University deciding that juniors are not supposed to pay. Although we ate much, and even went site-seeing – Shaikh Chilli Tomb, the Sarovar, the excavated sites etc, she footed all bills of her sister Reena and mine! And of yes: I did after all ended up spending ₹5/- ! This was borrowed by another senior but first timer to IHC, Ishrat Bhai, who decades later was to become the Secretary of the Indian History Congress….🤓