Nurul Hasan was one of the most well known scholars of Aligarh who had a major contribution of developing the Department of History, Aligarh. It was during his tenure as the Head that the Department in 1968 was upgraded as a Centre of Advanced Study.
Born at Lucknow, he got his basic education from Sultan ul Madaris, a well known Shi’i seminary. He then shifted to Kolkata where he got admitted at La Martiniere Boys College. He then enrolled at Allahabad in the Muir College and became a student of R P Tripathi. He also brushed up his Persian and Arabic under the tutelage of my father Syed Sibtul Hasan, who at that time was teaching at Ewing Christian College, Allahabad.
After having served for some time initially at School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS), London he joined Aligarh as a Professor. Those were the times when very few would be elevated to this prestigious position. It was under His headship that the department started making rapid progress and started emerging as a nodal point for research in Medieval Indian History. It was his endeavours which resulted in the Department being upgraded as a Centre of Advanced Study in Medieval History in 1958.
Under his able stewardship new vistas were opened and researches in myriad themes started in right earnest. Fields like Urban History were initiated, and later on, when he joined as the Union Education Minister, major projects like the National Project on Fathpur Sikri excavations was launched. Researches on Regional History, like Rajasthan were started. SP Gupta, AR Khan started researching various aspects of Rajasthan, S Shafiullah was assigned to explore Orrisa, Shaikh Abdul Latif was asked to work on Bengal. History of Technology, Maritime History, Urban History, History of Central Asia, Ghaznavids, History of Art and Paintings, Archaeology ….there was hardly any field which was left unexplored.
Nurul Hasan himself wrote very little. His best known work is on the Zamindars. Another is his pioneering paper on the morphology of Shahjahanabad. He had the vision to realise which scholar would contribute to which area!
The three storey building which houses the CAS in History was constructed under his able supervision. But unfortunately before the Department was shifted there, he had joined as the Education Minister.
He entered the building the first and last time when he came after the passing of a Bill by Indira government which allegedly took away its so-called Minority character.
He had barely entered when a mob of ungrateful hooligans surrounded the Department and threw tomatoes which shouting slogans “Go back! Go back!”
Nurul Hasan went back never to return. When his term as Education Minister ended, he was offered Professorship at Delhi University. Ultimately he became the Governor of West Bengal.
Though he never returned to the University, but he always remained concerned about its welfare and the welfare of anyone related with it, especially those related with the Department. He helped in every way anyone and everyone, even those who had bitterly opposed him.
He never forgot that for some time my father had taught him. Though he hardly knew me, but me being the son of his teacher, he would write a letter every year around December to enquire about my progress. I would write back my progress report and send him a copy of the paper I had written that year. He would never reply back, but next year there would be another letter from him asking me about my academic activities!
The last time we met was in Calcutta during a session of the Indian History Congress at the Governor Residence, where he called the Aligarh delegates over high tea!
Nurul Hasan, like Mohammad Habib was one of those who shaped and nurtured this Department: the CAS is a result of his vision!