The Doctor At 24 Marris Road, Aligarh

The Doctor At 24 Marris Road, Aligarh
In 1947, my mother Tahirah and her eldest sister Amina were the only two members of their family who migrated to Pakistan, leaving behind their parents, two brothers and a sister. Their parents continued to live alone in the university town of Aligarh. During the 1950s and early 1960s, my mother, with her children in tow, paid her parents a yearly visit, taking off from Walton at Lahore, landing in Delhi and then catching a train for Aligarh. My grandfather, whom we called Baba Jan, did not own a car and took us home from the railway station in a small cavalcade of cycle rickshaws. Near the Civil Lines, the cavalcade turned off Station Road onto Marris Road, which was flanked by large houses and the one at 24 Marris Road was built by my grandfather. My father was a senior officer in the Pakistan Army and for as long a duration that my mother was visiting her parents, a man from the government security masquerading as a fruit seller placed himself next to the gate.

Ataullah Butt (inset right bottom) established a clinic after he retired as Principal Tibbiya College (Image Courtesy - Muslim Saleem)

Most of the large houses in Aligarh were called either Manzil, Haveli or Kothi – preceded by the name of the owner. However, my grandfather’s house was named Ashiana. It was constructed during the 1930s and based on typical bungalow typology, having an arcaded porch in the front with a verandah on a raised plinth, high ceilings, and a long central corridor with sitting, dining and bedrooms on either side. The 3-acre compound was neglected because Baba Jan was not well-off after his retirement, but the most attractive feature of the house for us children was an adjoining mango orchard, a Persian Water Wheel that still drew water, and a large enclosed patio at the rear of the house along a deep verandah where we slept in summer.

Baba Jan’s name was Ataullah Butt. His parents migrated from Kashmir to Sialkot, where he was born in the same locality as Allama Iqbal. He graduated from Lahore and was married around 1910 to Ameer-un-Nisa whose parents lived in Mochi Gate, Lahore. Her brother was Khalifa Abdul Hakim, who received his doctorate from Heidelberg University in Philosophy. For his degree in medicine, Dr. Butt went to the Friedrich-Wilhelms University in Berlin, which was established in 1810 and was one of the largest universities in Germany. Its archival records show that Ataullah Butt was registered on 30 April 1923 under registration number 4790/113. On 2 May 1924, he received his doctorate with the dissertation "On tuberculosis of the lacrimal gland." That same year his brother-in-law Khalifa Hakim received his doctorate with a dissertation on the “Metaphysics of Rumi.” He was appointed as one of the founding professors of the Department of Philosophy at Osmania University on the recommendation of Dr. Allama Iqbal and remained as head of the department from 1925 till 1943.

A picture of the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin taken in 1915, from where Ataullah Butt received his doctorate in 1924

The British disliked employing Indians who had been educated in Germany. One of the leading personalities who was associated with establishing the University in Aligarh was Sahabzada Shehzad Ahmed Khan, the brother of Sahabzada Aftab Ahmed Khan. The university was in need of a medical officer and when Dr. Butt returned to India, Shehzad Ahmed arranged for him to be appointed to this post in 1925 - and Dr. Butt established a first-class medical department for the healthcare of the students. The Pathan boys at the university often carried knives, and once a while, injured each other. They then had to come to Dr. Butt to be patched up but were very frightened in case they were reported. It would have led to them being expelled. However, Dr. Butt used to reassure them by saying, “It is not my job to report you but to repair you!”

Dr. Ataullah Butt was the first Principal of Tibbiya College, where he served for 22 years. The college was subsequently renamed after the great physician from Delhi, Hakim Ajmal Khan - seated on the left

That same year, the government of U.P. decided to establish a department of the Ayurvedic and Unani systems of medicine at Aligarh and, in 1927, awarded a recurring grant of Rs. 50,000/- per year. The charge was given to Dr. Butt and the department made rapid progress. A laboratory with X-ray equipment and a collection of pathological specimens enabled the students to receive training in the latest methods of diagnosing diseases. A museum of anatomy was established with a large collection of models from Europe covering all the systems of human anatomy and the department of Physiology was also well equipped.
The British disliked employing Indians who had been educated in Germany. One of the leading personalities who was associated with establishing the University in Aligarh was Sahabzada Shehzad Ahmed Khan, the brother of Sahabzada Aftab Ahmed Khan. The university was in need of a medical officer and when Dr. Butt returned to India, Shehzad Ahmed arranged for him to be appointed to this post in 1925

In 1930, the department was upgraded to a college and the post of principal was created, separating the medical department from Tibbiya College. Concurrently, Dr. Butt was given exclusive charge of the college. Like many others, he would cycle to the college - but on a Raleigh that was the Cadillac of bicycles and envied by the students. Many nawabs and landed gentry had settled in Aligarh and one of them gifted Dr. Butt an Indian Chief motorcycle. It was a powerful machine that was built in America with a 4-stroke V-twin engine generating 1,000 cc. It probably also had a sidecar because my mother remembers that the entire family of two adults and five children used to ride on it.

The entrance to the Tibbiya College, Aligarh Muslim University. The building was constructed under the supervision of its first principal Dr. Ataullah Butt and completed in 1945

By 1931-32 the syllabus of the Tibbiya College had matured into a five-year program that in the first year taught the fundamental principles; the second year covered the study of the origin and properties of simple drugs used in the practice of Unani medicine; the third year covered pathology, and in the fourth year, symptoms and treatment of diseases. The final year was devoted to the study of different types of fevers and the Unani medicine/cures contained in the book The Canon of Medicine by Ibn-e-Sina, the Persian polymath who died in 1027 AD. In addition, pharmacy classes were regularly held in which compound drugs were prepared and examinations were conducted by the Board of Indian Medicine. 1932 was a defining year for the college when 14 students of the first batch completed the 5 years course. That same year, a Tibbiya College Hospital was also created.

During his tenure as pro-vice-chancellor during the 1920s, Dr. Ziauddin Ahmed provided wholehearted support in establishing the department of Unani Medicine. When he returned to the university as Vice Chancellor in 1935, one of his top priorities was the construction of a new building for Tibbiya College but due to a shortage of funds, it took nearly ten years to be completed. A major milestone was achieved in 1939 when the government of the United Province appointed 25 Hakims qualified from the Tibbiya College for rural dispensaries in the province. That same year, the foundation of a new building for the Tibbiya College Hospital was laid. Another milestone was in 1943 when the government allowed courses of study and examinations to be regulated and controlled by the Academic Council of the university.

The first batch of students of Tibbia College who passed the final examination in 1932 with the Principal Dr. Ataullah Butt, Vice Principal Hakeem Abdul Lateef Falsafi and Warden Dr. Shah Ovais Junaidi

Dr. Butt was the longest-serving principal of the college and ultimately retired in 1949. He then devoted his life to serving the poor and needy. Writing on his connections with Aligarh, Muslim Saleem says in his blog that Dr. Butt loved humanity as a whole and kids in particular. He remembers a septuagenarian Dr. Butt with a smiling visage often distributing ‘lemon drops’ to the locality kids. He was also a great philanthropist and after retiring, scores of people were given alms by him when he opened a clinic at Baradwari, near the landmark of the Ghanta Ghar.

A cousin who was more than me in age and maturity recollects that his “[…] maternal grandfather was a devout man, who said his prayers five times a day throughout his life, and made the pilgrimage to Mecca. He was also a man of infinite sweetness, tolerance and patience, who taught his brood of grandchildren that there were to be no limits, in his presence, on what could and could not be discussed. ‘Baba jaan, I’ve decided I don’t believe in God,’ a serious little boy could say to him, and he would reply, ‘Is that so? Come and sit down here beside me and explain to me how you arrived at such a foolish conclusion.’ His tone might have been gruff, but his eyes were twinkling. Openness: it was always openness with Dr. Butt. And we learned from that twinkle in his eyes that it was all right to push, and test, and try to open the universe a little more, even before we knew how.”

The residence of Dr. Ataullah Butt at 24 Marris Road still existed in 2005, when the author's sister Shama Husain visited the subsequent owners

It seems Dr. Butt had mellowed with age like many of us do, but in his early years at Aligarh it was a different story. He had a heavy voice that carried far when he was scolding a student and most were afraid of him. During the 1950s, when my grandparents came to stay with us at Rawalpindi, General Ayub Khan, who had been a student at Aligarh in the 1920s when Dr. Butt was the Medical Officer, came to pay his respects. He later confessed to my mother that, “Abhi bhi doctor sahib ki awaz sun kay dar jata hun.” [“Even now when I hear the voice of doctor sahib, I get frightened”]. My father’s sisters first met my mother while she was studying at Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi and told my father that they had met this lovely person who would make a good match for him. However, when he came to know who her father was, his first reaction was, “Mein Dr. Butt ki kisi beti se nahi shadi karun ga.” [“I am not going to marry any daughter of Dr. Butt”].

My father was from Lucknow but had strong links with Aligarh. Apart from having studied at AMU, his grandfather Syed Jafar Husain who was an engineer was an associate of Sir Syed and had supervised much of the initial construction of the university buildings. Sahibzada Aftab Ahmed Khan, another associate of Sir Syed lived in Aftab Manzil. As a Trustee of the Aligarh Muslim University, he also supervised the construction of many of its charming buildings and hostels, and from 1924 to 1926 was its second Vice-Chancellor. His daughter was married to Sir Ross Masood the grandson of Sir Syed and his son Anis Ahmed Khan was married to Razia, the eldest sister of my father. Zafar Omar the author of Neeli Chattri, the first detective novel in Urdu, gave his house the same name as his book. His son Shaukat Omar was married to Jamila, another sister of my father.

The first edition of the magazine of the Tibbiya College published in 1932

My grandparents migrated to Pakistan in 1967 as well as all their offspring except the youngest son Mahmood Butt. After Independence, he transferred from the Royal Indian Air Force to the ICS and was honest and upright. While serving as administrator of the Municipal Corporation at Allahabad, he recovered the arrears of electricity and water bills from Anand Bhavan, the family home of the Nehru Dynasty which were outstanding since Independence. He ultimately became the first Muslim chief secretary of U.P. and after four-and-a-half successful years in the office, he relinquished the post due to differences with Sanjay Gandhi. Mahmood inherited the house at 24 Marris Road but sold it when he moved to Bangalore.

Dr. Ataullah Butt passed away in 1969 in Rawalpindi and his funeral was attended by many old students of Aligarh University.