Professor Ahsan Jan Qaisar (1929-2011)

Born in Chhapra (Bihar) on 30 December 1929, Qaisar Sahib did his graduation and post graduation from AMU. He was a throughout a first divisioner and stood first both in BA (Hons) and MA History.

Initially appointed as Research Assistant July 1961, he became a temporary Lecturer in November the same year, a post on which he was ultimately confirmed in 1963. In 1977 he got appointed as Reader in Economic History and then in 1986 as Professor of Economic History. He ultimately retired in 1992 after having served for 31 years. In between he was also a Visiting Fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla during the session 1974-75. In 1977 he was on a research Fellowship to School of Oriental and African Studies, London. He also went to University of Wisconsin as a Fellow.

Academic Works

Qaisar Sahib wrote to books, viz The Indian Response to the European Technology and Culture, 1498-1707 (OUP Delhi, 1982) and Building Construction in Mughal India (OUP, 1988).

The first book deals with selective absorption of European Technology in India during the medieval period in fields like ship-building, armaments, metallurgy, cloth printing and architecture.

The second, on the other hand is an account of building constructional activity as gleaned from miniatures and primary sources.

Some of the papers of Qaisar Sahib are pathbreaking: for example his short paper on mansab, and the one the crisis at the time of Jahangir’s accession.

Later in life, he also jointly edited three volumes on Art and Culture along with his colleague Professor SP Verma. In the first volume, which was a felicitation to Professor Nurul Hasan, he also included one of my papers which was a survey report jointly conducted with late Rajiv Sharma.

Personal Reminences

My relationship with him was dual: he and his wife both had been my teachers! Mrs Zarina Qaisar, his wife had been my class teacher in Class III. He taught me when I joined MA History.

Zarina Apa (as we called her later) was a loving and soft spoken person whom we adored: I remember crying for days when she left school when we were in Class IV. He was curt, sarcastic and suffered no nonsense. When you went to his class he would first try to cut you down to size. He and Dr SM Raza Naqvi were really brutal in their first few classes. And if you survived these early classes, then you were in for an academic treat! What would follow was amazing and satisfying!

Qaisar Sahib used to stammer and thus his lectures were not the usual lectures. First he would write the names of the sources, then a list of important points, the debate and related controversies: all in the form of bullets. He would also give the name of secondary works. Next day or class, each of us was supposed to come after reading these sources and elaborate in the class. Thus you would actually read the books ensuring that you never forget. He would also check our term papers very meticulously and keep putting up question marks!

During those days our department – as always – was divided into two well defined groups. Qaisar Sahib would transcend both! He was neither here nor there. He was a pure and simple critic!

One day while he was taking our class, he took off both his slippers one by one while declaring: one may sit here, the other there! The result was that he was a lonely man!

One other thing which defined Qaisar Sahib was dedication to his subject and his students. He was thorough and meticulous in his research and a great help to his students!

When I was a student, we thought him to be an atheist, in fact a non-conformist and non-believer. But much before that he reportedly had come under the influence of Buddhism. In fact one of his sons he named Rahul! But after his retirement, he turned into an orthodox skull-cap wearing Muslim!

Which of his avatar was better, I don’t know!

I just know that he was a dedicated teacher, good scholar and a great man who left whom so ever he met, impressed!

The last days in his life we were next door neighbours. He lived in an ADA flat which he had bought in front of my rented house! He remained a recluse till the end.

He died in Aligarh on 15 April 2011.

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A history buff interested to unravel the past as it was!

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