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Jamia Turns 102: Remembering Niamat Hussain, Its First Registrar and my Nana Pa

Nana Pa often said, “Main jo bhi hu, Jamia ki wajah se hu (Whatever I am today is because of Jamia).”

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Hindi Female

As Jamia Millia Islamia marks 102 years since its foundation stone was laid, I can’t help but remember my grandfather, Niamat Hussain. Lovingly called Nana Pa by his grandchildren, he was the first registrar of the reputed educational institute, set up on the heels of the Non-Cooperation Movement.  

The year Jamia turned 100, I tragically lost my Nana Pa to the dreadful COVID-19. He passed away on 5 June 2020 at the age of 83.  

Nana Pa was a man of principles, and it was these principles that landed him a job at Jamia – one that he held on to for 45 years. Newly married and all of 18, Nana Pa moved to Delhi from Uttar Pradesh’s Marehra in search of a job, sometime in the '40s. 

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    Nana Pa sitting with the Lifetime Award given to him by Jamia and received by his daughter on his behalf.

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    Lifetime Award given to Nana pa by Jamia Millia Islamia in the year 2017.

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    Mr Niamat Hussain and Mrs Nayab Fatima (My nana nani).

Now, this is a story I have grown up hearing but have never grown tired of repeating it. 

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20.9 Kms – Nana Pa Cycles to Jamia for a Job 

One fine afternoon, Mohammad Mujeeb, the-then Vice-Chancellor of Jamia, was leaving for Russia – a big deal in the ‘40s. Nana Pa got to know about it, and reached the airport, like many others who were eager to bid Mujeeb goodbye. 

While everyone was seeing off Mujeeb, Nana Pa went to offer zuhr namaaz (afternoon prayer),and bumped into Saeed Ansari, the-then principal of the Teacher's Training Institute (TTI) of Jamia. The two got talking, and Mr Ansari – probably out of politeness – invited my grandfather to Jamia the next day.  

Now, the distance between Jamia and Palam, where my Nana Pa lived at the time was 20.9 km. Determined to make it to Jamia, my grandfather picked up his bicycle (which was anyway in a poor condition) and rode for at least four hours to make it there. 

There were blisters on his thighs, he told me.  

Arre, tum toh sach mein aa gaye. Humne toh aise hi kaha tha. (You actually made it. I had invited you in passing),” quipped Ansari, taken aback by my Nana Pa’s dedication and obedience.  

Ansari asked my Nana Pa to run an errand of getting a bundle of pages spiral bound. Within 20 minutes, the job was done. Impressed, Ansari hired my grandfather as the office assistant in Jamia the same day.

This is how Jamia and Nana Pa became inseparable. 

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He Shared Stage with Indira Gandhi, Giani Zail Singh at Jamia

Nana Pa was also the controller of examinations before he became the registrar. In 1989, my mother and my aunt were giving their final class 11 exams and my grandfather was the controller of examinations at that time. 

To avoid any kind of chatter in the family and outside, he sent a letter to the-then V-C, Dr Syed Zahoor Qasim , requesting him to change his department in order to avoid any kind of speculations of him helping out his daughters in the exams.  

Whenever prominent leaders and figures visited Jamia, my grandfather used to be in-charge of the programs. In the ‘70s, Indira Gandhi, who was the prime minister of India at the time, visited Jamia for Convocation Day. The degrees of students had my grandfather’s signature on them as he was the controller of examinations at the time. 

Nana Pa often said, “Main jo bhi hu, Jamia ki wajah se hu (Whatever I am today is because of Jamia).”

Indira Gandhi, then prime minister of India, addressing students of Jamia on a Convocation day event.

In 1987, when Giani Zail Singh, the-then president of India, visited Jamia for Convocation Day, Nana Pa shared the stage with him.   

The maternal side of my family is a product of Jamia. From Jamia school to the university, everyone has studied here. I grew up listening to stories of Jamia. I have also lived near Jamia all my life.

In 2016, I applied for Jamia’s Bachelor of Fine Arts, and that’s why this has always been more than just an institution for me.  

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A year before Nana Pa’s retirement in 1998, he was awarded the Mumtaz Shehri Award (Best Citizen of Delhi) by the Delhi government. I am a proud granddaughter. 
Nana Pa often said, “Main jo bhi hu, Jamia ki wajah se hu (Whatever I am today is because of Jamia).”

Nana Pa giving a speech after receiving the Mumtaz Shehri Award (Best Citizen of Delhi) in the year 1997 by the Delhi government.

He was more than just a grandfather. He was an idol and a friend – a very good friend at that. Losing him in 2020 felt like heartbreak. My last conversation with him on 23 May 2020 was also about Jamia. I had promised to take him to the campus once he recovers. I promised to sit in the canteen with him and talk over chai and biscuits. He left us before we could do this one more time.  

The Cruel Summer of 2020 

Nana Pa loved Jamia. It was more than his workplace. He often said, “Main jo bhi hu, Jamia ki wajah se hu (Whatever I am today is because of Jamia).” Nana Pa always spoke of Jamia as his greatest accomplishment. 

He believed that Jamia was a product of powerful minds and dissent. He believed Jamia moulds people to be democratic and secular, and helps them distinguish between right and wrong. Nana Pa said that Jamia teaches academics, and also gives lessons on life.  
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Two years after his demise, however, I am unable to make peace with a few things. In May 2020, when he died of COVID-19, he was buried near south Delhi’s Safdarjung like several others who too died of this virus. It was a government diktat at the time. As his family, we couldn’t decide his final resting place.  

He should have been laid to rest inside Jamia campus, as he had desired. After all, he was a significant member of the institute.  

Nana Pa often said, “Main jo bhi hu, Jamia ki wajah se hu (Whatever I am today is because of Jamia).”

My last ever picture with my beloved Nana pa.

No Longer the Jamia of my Nana Pa’s Memories

Nana Pa often took me on tours of Jamia when I was a child. He would talk to me animatedly as I sat behind him on his scooter and stared at every tree, every building and every student in awe. I was fascinated by the place and most of that fascination came from his stories, and his memories of every nook and cranny of Jamia 

I have imbibed these stories. They are a part of me now. But the Jamia he knew and the Jamia he told me about is no longer there. It has morphed into a product of the times we live in. Jamia, a place that had always been a familiar friend to me, is slowly turning into an uninviting stranger.  

The security forces outside, the banning of a student inside, the clamp down on protests – this is not Nana Pa’s Jamia. If he was alive today, he would not have been happy about all that’s unfolding.  
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The authorities have tried to alter and damage the foundational ethos of Jamia, and this a disservice to all the men and women – including my grandfather – who spent decades nurturing the institute. 

Despite all this, every time I walk past the campus, I think of Nana Pa, the first registrar of Jamia. I think of his stories, his memories as I cross the canteen or an old tree he once sat under. I see him in Jamia’s spirit even now. 102 saal mubarak, Jamia.

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