October 17th, 1999
© Akhilesh Mithal

What Makes an Intellectual?


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What or who is an "intellectual?" Those who mock such people call them "eggheads, boffins, highbrows" and use other such deprecatory diminishing and derogatory remarks. As we tend to favour them we shall quote Aldus Huxley in support of the intellectual being a rare, sentient and, even, on occasion, a lovable being.

"Books and a coloured skein of thoughts was mine
and magic words lay ripening in my soul
till their much whispered music turned a wine
whose subtlest power was all in my control.
These things were mine and they were real for me
As lips and darling eyes and a warm breast
For I could love a phrase, a melody
As a fair woman worshiped and possessed.—"

The intellectual thus can live with notions, ideas and concepts as if they were real live persons. A part of existence occurs inside the spacious, well appointed mansion which is his or her head. This is as rich and variegated as anything outside.

Those unable to access and relish this dimension look askance at the minority who can and often become the victims of negative emotions such as envy and jealousy. This breeds fear and distrust and can lead to violence. Especially if the intellectual is action oriented and successful in making a mark in the world of practical affairs.

To include Abul Fazl in the category of intellectuals we shall recount an incident from the time he was in power.

"It is said that when the Shaikh was Prime Minister and Plenipotentiary Wakeel-I-Mutluq he had many important callers. The Khan-I-Khaanaan Mirza Abdur Rahim brought the erstwhile
ruler of Sind, Mirza Jani to visit the Shaikh.

In view of their standing the visitors were rapidly ushered into the study of the host. Abul Fazl was lying stretched out on his diwan perusing a copy of the court chronicle, the Akbarnama. So engrossed was he in his reading that he did not rise up from the bed to greet his most distinguished visitors. All he could manage was to say ‘Do enter . Come in Mirza Sahebs and pray be seated.’ Mirza Jani Beg erstwhile ruler of Sind had not quite lost the expectations of near servile courtesy he thought due to his station. He was appalled and disgusted and left in a huff. Mirza Abdul Rahim stayed on to talk.

A few days later Rahim entreated Mirza Jani to let bygones be bygones and accompany him on a repeat visit to Shaikh Abul Fazl. After much protest, humming and hawing the erstwhile Sind king listened to his friend and accompanied him to the Shaikh’s mansion.

This time round things were different from the very beginning. As soon as their names were announced the Shaikh came right out and upto the front main gate. He was all courtesy and attention. To Mirza Jani he said ‘We are from the same place (Sind) as your highness. We are your servants’.

Mirza Jani was astonished at the change in the attitude of the Shaikh and enquired of the possible reason from Rahim.
Rahim responded,

‘Do you remember what Abul Fazl was doing when we entered? He was reading the chronicles of the reign of his master. He was deeply embroiled in the narrative. He was hardly aware of the world around him. In the circumstances he responded as best as he could. No offence was intended as he was just not there but in the text he was reading.’

Today he was his urbane and courtly self. Fully aware of what was happening around him. There is no mystery to the difference in his conduct on the two different occasions !"

The reader may well ask "How then was Abul Fazl a success in the practical world of men and affairs?" We can give an example of the Shaikh’s practical wisdom from the arrangements he made during his most successful campaign in the Deccan.

At every halt a very large tent chahal raawati was erected wherein a deewaan/masnad of considerable magnificence and splendour was set out and spread for Shaikh Abul Fazl. In the kitchens accompanying the army camp (Urdu) one thousand plates (portions /thhaalees) of food was prepared for distribution to all officers accompanying. A separate nine yard marquee (Nau guzee) was also erected to cook khichhree in enormous cauldrons and throughout the day so that food could be distributed throughout the day to whoever wanted

Food is an essential for civil or military government. Today, the heads of state presidents and governors invite prominent citizens on occasions like Independence day and Republic Day. They usually come in cars with drivers official or personal. The masters get tea and snacks. The drivers nothing. This must change.
We shall return to Abul Fazl and more gracious times in a future column.


© Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1999. All rights reserved.
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