| Kabir, Humayun (1906-1969)
educationist, politician, writer, philosopher. Humayun Kabir was born
on 22 February 1906 at Komarpur village near the district town of faridpur. Kabir was a
versatile man, combining intellectual brilliance, literary talent, and
political acumen with active leadership and a non-communal outlook.
Apart from his other contributions, Kabir is remembered as one of those
Muslims who decided to stay behind in India at the time of partition.
Kabir's given name was Humayun Zahiruddin Amir-i-Kabir. His father, Kabiruddin Ahmad, was a deputy magistrate and a man with a liberal outlook and independent mind. Both Humayun Kabir's father and grandfather were awarded the title of Khan Bahadur by the British government. Humayun Kabir had seven brothers and sisters.
Portrait of Humayun Kabir
Humayun Kabir was an exceptional talent in many ways. He topped the list of successful candidates in the Matriculation examination of 1922 with star marks. He studied at Presidency College for the next two years and passed the Higher Secondary examination, standing third in the first division with letter marks in English. He did his Honours and Masters in English from Calcutta University and set a new record by standing first class first in both examinations. The most brilliant students of the time were his friends among them Shanti Devi who later became his wife.
Kabir decided not to enter government service. He opted for teaching and went to Exeter College, Oxford in 1928 on a scholarship. There he took up Honours in 'Modern Greats', that is, philosophy, political science and economics. Here too he stood first class first in 1931. He also established himself as a student leader and orator.
In 1932, Kabir joined Andhra University as a lecturer in philosophy at the invitation of Dr Radhakrishnan. A year later he joined Calcutta University. From then on he began a very active life. Alongside teaching, he devoted himself to literary activities and became associated with trade union politics. He joined ak fazlul huq's Krishak Praja Party and was elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly (1937-1947). Although an intellectual of high calibre, he was a strong advocate of the rights of peasants and workers. He was president of three large Indian trade unions. In 1946, Humayun Kabir became private secretary to the Congress president maulana abul kalam azad. After Partition, many Muslims opted for Pakistan, but Kabir stayed behind in India. When Abul Kalam Azad became the Education Minister, Kabir served as joint education advisor, education secretary and chairman of the University Grants Commission. The Moulana dictated to him in Urdu his famous book India Wins Freedom.
In 1956, Humayun Kabir was elected member of the Indian Rajya Sabha or upper house. Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru appointed him State Minister for Civil Aviation and, after the death of Moulana Azad in 1958, made him Minister for Education. Kabir was later appointed Minister for Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs. From 1957 until his death in 1969 he was a member of Lok Sabha from Bashirhat constituency of West Bengal. When Lal Bahadur Shastri became Prime Minister of India after Nehru's death, Humayun Kabir was again made Education Minister. When Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister after Shastri's death, Humayun Kabir was offered the governorship of Madras but he declined the post. He quit Congress and became involved with organising the Bengal Congress Party. He played an active role in 1967 in dislodging the Congress government in west bengal and forming a united front government in its place.
Humayun Kabir achieved success in every sphere of his life. This is true about his literary activities too. Although he was a restless person with a constant smile on his face, he was a thoughtful writer and developed an attractive style. He also worked as an editor from his schooldays. In 1920 he edited his high school magazine, in 1926 he edited the Presidency College magazine, at Oxford he edited two journals: Sis and Cherwell. On his return home, in 1932, he started editing Baromashi, a monthly journal. However, in the history of Bangla periodicals, he will be remembered for the high quality quarterly Chaturanga (1939-69). He also edited reports and books for many local and foreign organisations. A collection of Bangla short stories and poems, Green and Gold (1958) deserves special mention.
Humayun Kabir was a poet, novelist, and essayist. He made his literary debut in 1928 with Svapnasadh, Sathi (1930) and Astadashi (1938) followed. The poems in these volumes reflect his romanticism in which he followed the tradition of rabindranath tagore. Equally fluent in Bangla and Urdu, he translated Musaddas-e-Hali into Bangla.
Humayun Kabir was also a fiction writer of some note, writing both short stories and novels. In the thirties, a number of his short stories were published. His novel, Nadi O Nari, was published in 1945. Its English version, Men and Rivers, was also published at about the same time. This novel, which tells about the lives of Bengali Muslims who dwell on the banks of the Padma, was made into a film in Dhaka in 1956.
Humayun Kabir was, however, known primarily as an essayist. He wrote, equally fluently in both Bangla and English, very readable essays on philosophy, literature, education and sociology. Some of his well-known books are Imanuel Kant (1936), Sharat Sahityer Multattva (1942), Banglar Kavya (1945), Marksbad (1951), Naya Bharater Shiksa (1955), Shiksak O Shiksarthi (1957), Mirza Abu Talib Khan (1961), Delhi-Washington-Moscow (1964), Kant on Philosophy in General (1935), Poetry, Monads and Society (1941), Muslim Politics in Bengal (1943), Rabindranath Tagore (1945), The Indian Heritage (1946/60), Science, Democracy and Islam (1955), Education in India (1956), Studies in Bengali Poetry (1964), The Bengali Novel (1968), Education for Tomorrow (1968), Minorities in a Democracy (1969) etc. In early life Kabir also wrote some plays; while these were staged, they have not been printed.
Well-known as an orator, Humayun Kabir was invited to speak by many universities at home and abroad. At Oxford he delivered the Herbert Spencer Lectures on Einstein and Russell. He was the first Asian to have this honour. In 1957 he spoke at the kagmari conference of maulana abdul hamid khan bhasani as leader of the Indian delegation. For his contribution in the field of culture he was honoured with awards by universities such as Aligarh (1958), Annamalai (1959), Khairagarh (Madhya Pradesh, 1961), Viswa-Bharati, Mahishur and Athens. He died of heart attack in Kolkata on 18 August 1969. [Mahmud Shah Qureshi]