Wajid Ali Shah's is a controversial name in the political, literary and cultural history of India. Opinions differ widely about his life, character and achievements with the passage of time, instead of bridging up the gulf, has somewhat obscured the vision or strengthened and exaggerated the legends. An appraisal, or rather a reappraisal, of his life and works was therefore long over due, for every learned treatises is subject apart from the motives and prejudices of their respective writers, were much too handicapped by paucity of reliable data or ignorance of the language in which such data was and is still available. A reading of this thesis will show that the writer has covered a fairly wide field and it is perhaps for the first time that an attempt has been made to review and reconcile major controversies and to reframe, redraft and represent facts in their true perspective and entirety as far as practicable or permitted by the compass within which he had to work.
The thesis is divided into five chapters, the third and the fifth chapter being further subdivided into sections for an orderly presentation of the subject. In the first chapter of the thesis the political, social, literary, cultural and religious background of the life of Wajid Ali Shah has been outlined. No coherent picture of Wajid Ali Shah's life and contributions can be drawn without a discussion of some major issues so lamentably ignore by other writers and it is in focusing attention on these issues that this chapter can claim some originality.
The second chapter dealing with the life sketch of Wajid Ali Shah covers 18 pages. If it were permitted by the title of this thesis this life deserved a more elaborate treatment as it was during this life, covering a period of about seven decades, that the most controversial incidents in the history of Oudh took place. Historians and biographies were so much obsessed with the desire to take in those controversies that important dates such as the dates of Wajid Ali Shah's birth, accession, deposition and departure from Lucknow, or his arrival or death in Calcutta or his confinement in Fort William, to draw attention to a few omissions only, were either not mentioned at all or recorded erroneously. Vague generalizations and more sympathy or animosity in sketching the life of a person can hardly be helpful in evaluating his achievements. What has been dealt with in the second chapter of the thesis is very little in fact but it is something in a compact form which will not be found in any one book, old or new.
With the third chapter, extending over 272 pages, we pass on to the subject proper of this thesis - the literary contributions of Wajid Ali Shah. This chapter is divided into five sections, each section having something original to add. Its first section deals with incorrect and incomplete statements in histories of Urdu literature. After pointing out the fallacies found in those statements, the writer has defined the meaning of 'diwan' in Urdu named seven diwans of Wajid Ali Shah in chronological order. The legendary number is 6, not chronologically arranged, and includes a name which does not fall under this classification.
Section 2 of Chapter 3 reproduces Wajid Ali Shah's own statements about his works. The list given by him has some merits and demerits, and also some interesting features not noticed or pointed out by other observers.
Section 3 is an elaborate descriptive catalogue of published and unpublished, known and unknown books of Wajid Ali Shah, arranged chronologically and with reference to controversies connected with each, scholars and libraries alike were led astray by absence of any name or date on many books or manuscripts and startling conclusions were drawn because of such ignorance. While some took a part of the book for the whole and unnecessarily multiplied their number, others earnestly believed that many books mentioned by Wajid Ali Shah in his list were not extant. A perusal of this section would satisfy all interested scholars that an overwhelming number of books is still available though scattered all over the globe. Ignoring the multiplicity of names for the same book, a handsome total of 42 books (chronological and classified list given on pages 74-76 of the thesis) was scrutinized by the writer of thesis. This figure includes five books (Jawab Blue Book, Tarikhi Badr, Mahiyatul Ghina, Riazul Quloob and Sabatul Quloob) not listed by Wajid Ali shah, perhaps inadvertently. Their chronological order, bibliographical details and other relevant references are the notable original contributions of this thesis.
Salient features of Wajid Ali Shah's prose and poetry based on a close study of all his writings, forms the main theme of the fourth section of Chapter 2, Apart from the necessity of understanding Wajid Ali Shah through his writings, a discussion of this natures was rendered imperative as it helps to refute dogmatic presumptions that the books allegedly written by him were in fact written by other more competent persons. Ishqnama, the autobiography of Wajid Ali Shah in poetry, provides an interesting disputed case of this nature and the writer of this thesis taken up this very book to illustrate his viewpoint. After an exhaustive survey of all misguided and equivocal statements in this respect the writer has pointed out that the evidence in favour of Wajid Ali Shah outweighs the evidence produced against him. That discursion alone can be regarded something original from this section of the thesis but what follows next - the business of identifying a manuscript copy of Ishqnama in Wajid Ali Shah's own handwriting - is some thing unique in the field of Urdu research. The Manuscript of Ishqnama has somehow survived the controversies generated by it and it was the unmistakable stamp of Wajid Ali Shah's ingenuity and authorship to dispel all doubts about its authenticity. Pages 282 to 294 of the thesis and the two exhibits sandwiched between them may profitably be studied for an illuminating discussion on this subject.
Section 5 of Chapter 3 deals more elaborately with Wajid Ali Shah's writing as it is in this writing that his impetuous, ingenuous and artistic trends are truthfully revealed. Unfortunately the specimens adduced so far were based on some misunderstanding. The writer has been successful in bringing to light several reliable specimens and identifying in them the aforesaid characteristics of Wajid Ali Shah's nature. It offers a rich field to any graphologist to enlarge and elucidate the statement.
Wajid Ali Shah's contributions in the sphere of culture have been grouped under various headings of the fourth chapter covering 44 pages. In brief outlines one traces the fusion of Indo-Iranian culture and the steps taken by Wajid Ali Shah to mitigate the evils of the Western impact. His desire to introduce military drill in court language (Persian), his regiments of women soldiers, his efforts in coining names sending articles of indigenous products for exhibition in India are all evidences of an alert mind to hold his own in a transitory age. His efforts in coining names for wide species of flora and fauna are misunderstood today (vide pp.347-348) but no appreciation of his contributory share in advancing the arts and crafts of India can be made without acknowledging that he struggled hard to live upto his reputation was a lot more successful in doing this than his ancestors and he alone was responsible for transplanting this culture for a brief while in Bengal and thereby bringing closer two different regions of India than they ever were in the past. This thesis can well claim to bring these issues in limelight for the first time.
Startling as it may appear to some, Wajid Ali Shah was slightly deaf by nature or accident (p.327) and this deafness produced some interesting results. His interests and contributions in dance, drama and music have one common attribute : they can all be represented by gestures and motions and the refinements and sophistication embodies in them were introduced by or under the patronage of Wajid Ali Shah (Vide PP.327-35). Viewed from this standpoint, the idle pursuits of a good-for-nothing king acquire creative values enriched by an unfortunate, handicapped and resourceful person, and that is what this thesis aims to point out.
Wajid Ali Shah's interests in Urdu drama and stage have received due recognition from scholars but two points were omitted even there. Wajid Ali Shah, at least in his young days, himself took an active role in his plays (p.339) and, secondly, restless and ambitious as he always was in quest of improvement he very soon became interested in sets.
All that talk about his ingenuity in fashioning costumes, modeling buildings and inventing a hundred and one odd and ends becomes easily understood when it is visualized that film producers anxious to produce 3-dimension effects today adopt similar methods and enlist a team of technicians to help them. the setting or scene where the shooting takes place is called a set. and invited guests.
See the acting flesh blood rather than on the screen. The visitors of Wajid Ali shah's 'rahas' were in the same position as the onlookers of film shooting today, and it was the ingenuity, resources and talents of Wajid Ali Shah which enabled him to present his plays with a lot more reality than the western stage of those times could command. This theory is elucidated on pages 335 to 339 of the thesis.
Wajid Ali Shah was an artist of considerable merit and even though his works in this sphere could not be traced, save for a few sketches in Ishqnama, court artists who imitated him in correcting calligraphists' mistakes by meaningful signs have left behind some manuscripts unique in this respect. These illustrations are misunderstood today and the explanation given on page 352 have a claim to originality.
Wajid Ali Shah's contributions to architecture are variously disputed. The buildings constructed by him were demolished long time back. It was he who first conceived the idea of constructing snake-houses and open zoos the writer has illustrated his viewpoint with the help of some rare photographs of such constructions in Calcutta.
The love letters of Wajid Ali Shah and his begums have drawn the attention of many scholars out instead of any one calling to point out that all letters supposed to be written by Begums were in fact written by professional letter - writers, numerous observers have erroneously and arbitrarily drawn conclusions from false premises. In the fifth chapter of the thesis the writer has endeavored to prove his case and this portion is a piece of original research intended to correct established mistakes.
Some published collections of letters have misguided scholars and the writer has been successful in pointing out that two such collections were just fake copies of a third one which in its turn was a draft copy of a professional letter-writer.
The concluding chapter dealing with Wajid Ali Shah's poetry, outlines his contribution in this sphere and pinpoints attention on a pertinent fact that it was largely because of his Masnavis and the patronage extended by him that the Lucknow school of poetry produced some remarkable pieces in Urdu literature (pp.402-404).
Wajid Ali Shah's last and in point of fact most voluminous contribution to Urdu poetry is his Masnavis Sabatul Quloob which though incomplete, contains 48,150 couplets more than twice what any other Masnavis in Urdu can produce. Two other Masnavis, one written about 300 years ago and another soon after the death of Wajid Ali Shah, were believed to be longest Masnavis in Urdu. A perusal of pages 427 to 429 will satisfy any one that the case is very different.
In dealing with these topics the writer has relied on contemporary or acknowledged published records, a select list of which will be found in the bibliography of the thesis. He has taken only those controversies into account which were occasioned by a slip or saying of some reputed or reputable figure in our literary history. The index at the end of the thesis list them in alphabetical order together with the names of persons who have found a place somewhere in this thesis on the literary and cultural contributions of Wajid Ali Shah.