I have been happy to meet Fakir Syed Waheed-ud-Diris request for a Foreword to his book, for it has brought back to me many memories of my work in the Secretariat of the old Panjab Province, now nearly sixty years past. It was then part of the duty of junior Secretariat officers to keep in touch with the History of the families which might be entitled to seats in Viceregal or Provincial "Durbars". The main source in information on which we then relied was the work originally compiled by Sir Lepel Griffin, first published, 1 think, in 1865 and entitled "The Punjab Chiefs". This showed that there were then six members of the Fakir family entitled to seats as "Durbaris". I can well remember my own astonishment on learning that the progenitor of this family, who though he was the close friend and most trusted councillor of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, had elected to choose for himself and to maintain for his family the title of Fakir, thus insisting on taking credit for the humility of their origin. It was not less astonishing that he, a Moslem, had succeeded in maintaining his position against the Sardars or other leaders of the different sections of the Sikh community which had so recently succeeded in ousting the authority exercised by local representatives of the Moghul Emperors.
It was obvious that after the death of the Maharaja himself, the family had suffered a progressive reduction in its position, for later editions of Sir Lepel Griffin's work showed a falling off in the number of its members who were entitled to seats as "Durbaris". Looking lately at an edition issued in 1940,1 find in fact that it is stated there that "at the present time there is hardly any gentleman of outstanding importance among the descendants of this historic family."
I think, however, that this must have been an overstatement of the real position, for the Fakir family seems to have remained well off, owing to the liberality of the grants of land, or the "jagirs" which had been made by the Maharaja to Fakir Azizuddin and to his brothers, Fakir Imamuddin and Fakir Nuruddin, who also held important posts in the Maharaja's lifetime.
But the object of Fakir Syed Waheed-ud-Din in his present book has not, I assume, been to seek any enhancement of the position of his family. His object has, 1 think, been to illustrate from his family archives those features of the Maharaja's character and rule for which he has himself so legitimate an esteem, and to justify the importance which historians have assigned to the part played by the Maharaja in the history of the Punjab, at a very critical period of its development. He has no doubt sought at the same time to cast a more intimate light on the relations between the Maharaja and Fakir Azizuddin. On both counts we must, I think, welcome a work which can rely on records so authentic as those which the Fakir family can claim to possess.
This book does not pretend to be a standard biography or a work of historical research. It is a plain and simple pen-portarait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh as my ancestors know him in real life. “The Fakir Family’s Ranjit Singh could well have been chosen as its title.
I owe a debt of gratitude to my late uncle, Fakir Syed Jalaluddin, for the loving care with which he preserved his part of the relevant family papers and paintings and to his son, Fakir Syed Mughisuddin, for his courtesy in making them available.
An equal debt is due from me to my friend , Mr. Hadi Syed Hussain, formerly of the Indian Civil service and the Civil Service of Pakistan, for his valuable advice and help in writing this book, Because of my varied wordly preoccupations, the book may never have seen the light of the day but for Mrs. Hadi Hussain’s co-operating ; and, if this is not more prominently acknowledged, it is only because he maintains that the “vision” informing the portrait presented here is the exclusive possession of the Fakir Family-an argument to which I have no answer.
Ranjit Singh was of the stuff that legendary characters are made of, and legend has claimed him for its own. He continues to live and grow in the people’s imagination, and it has been history’s unceasing task to make his historical personality live up to its legendary counterpart. There was that about him which makes men more memorable than their achievements, which is worth preserving, the memory of mankind sees to it that it is preserved; and it has other means of doing so besides history. History is after all concerned primarily with events and deals with men only as they appear in the events-as counter on the chequer-board of politics and not as creatures of flesh and blood. As creatures of flesh and blood, some of them prove larger than history. Ranjit Singh such a one.
As achievements go, Ranjit Singh’s were remarkable by any standard. Heir to one of many Pretty chiefdoms that had sprung up on the ruins of the Mughal Empire, he rose to be the ruler of a powerful state extending from Tibet to Sind and from the Kyhber Pass to the Sutlej. He was a rival as well as a friend and ally- both feared and respected-to the British power in India, which held sway over the rest of the sub-continent. He aveneged the innumerable defeats, humiliations and depredations suffered by India over the centuries at the hands of Afghan invadres by reconquering part of the Indian territory wrested by them and, more than that, by being an arbiter in the fate of Afganistan herself. These and other achievements of his have been recorded by historians in various ways: by some in an admiring, by others in a derogatory, and by still others-a small minority- in an impartial manner. No two accounts of them substantily agree about facts, places persons, motives, etc. but, however they were recorded, they ceased to have more than an academic significance with the end of sikh rule soon after Ranjit Singh’s death. Since then the mist of distance which veils a large part of their scene from the Sikhs. They have thus became mainly the concern of the professional historian. Not so the man behind them.
Ranjit Singh still lives, large as life, in the imagination of the people. He does so not only where the Sikhs now live, but also where they lived before; for the Muslim village-folk shared him as a legendary figure with the Sikhs and they have not let of a popular king well known to his people through his frequent appearances in their midst, ready to listen to them and to redress irrespective of caste was literally so seems to have been the subject of innumerable good-natured jokes, which it is said, he would not only ask people to repeat in his hearing, but to which he himself contributed. There are even stories of his hearing, but to which he himself contributed. There are even stories of this physical defect of his having been hurled at him with impunity by common people to drive home to him some grievance which they thought he should have not redressed personally. It is immaterial whether these stories are true or false. They can only have gained currency because they fit in with Ranjit Singh’s reputation, and he must have won that of a kindly patriarch rather than that of a conquering hero or a mighty monarch. He was all three, but his humanity has outlived his splendor and power. Meteoric as his humanity career was, the star of his fame as a man shines with a milder and steadier glow; and it has a friendly twinkle in its eye. This book is a response to that friendly twinkle-a response which has been due for a long time from author and his family.
Three of the auhtor’s ancestors were among the men nearest to Ranjit Singh, both in his public and in the private life. Fakir Syed Azizuddin was his Foreign Minister, Fakir Syed Nuruddin his Home Minister and his personal physician, and Fakir Syed Imamuddin one of his principal administrative officers. These men helped him to estabilish his kingdom on a firm footing and were with him till the last. They were among his chief councellors and assistants, not only left documents, paintings and other mementos of the Maharaja and his court. More than all these things, they have left the author a legacy of affection and admiration for the man who was Ranjit Singh. This book is an attempt to discharge as best he can the duty that has for long rested on the author’s, shoulders of adding what is in his possession to the world’s knowledge of that fascinating man. It is hoped that what is presented here will help in the conversation of his popular image into a full-blooded portrait, a true likeness of the man behind the events by which history remembers him.
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