A recent biography of scholar, writer, statesman and leader of the freedom movement, Syud Hossain, brings to the fore the significant achievements of a man who was a little-known hero of the Indian independence struggle.
An outsider to academia, the book’s author, Bengaluru-based NS Vinodh, is a civil engineering graduate from IIT Madras, and an MBA from IIM Lucknow. In 2018, during a family holiday in Cairo, he visited Hossain’s tomb. Intrigued, he read more about him. “Born of an elite pedigree, dashingly handsome, erudite, articulate, a mesmerising orator, an outstanding writer, and a secular patriot but with an equally prominent wild side”, is how he describes him.
In 1888, Hossain was born to a distinguished and aristocratic family in then-Calcutta. At an early age, he was exposed to the beauty of Persian and Urdu poetry. Thereafter, he studied law in England, where he worked as a journalist for seven years. In 1916, he returned to India and worked for several influential newspapers. Recognised as a journalist of substance whose pen effectively articulated the nationalist sentiments, Hossain joined the Congress and became a prominent member of the Home Rule League. The book narrates episodes of his life against the backdrop of the Indian independence movement.
The book is filled with interesting anecdotes. According to the author, Sarojini Naidu and Jinnah shared a more intimate relationship than what was publicly revealed. Further, Hossain was secretly married to Motilal Nehru’s daughter, Sarup Kumari (known famously as Vijayalakshmi Pandit). However, the marriage was annulled, as Nehru and Gandhi opposed their union. Hossain’s lifelong bachelorhood was a testament to his unrequited love. Thereafter, he was exiled from India and left for the US in 1921.
While in the US, he gave several impassioned public speeches in various cities, criticising the British rule in India. In 1934, he was offered a position of lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Southern California. Soon after independence, he was appointed the country’s first Ambassador to Egypt. The following year, he was also appointed the first Minister of India to Transjordan and the first Indian Minister to Lebanon. In 1949, he suddenly died at the age of 61.
An entire section of the book is dedicated to tracing the genesis of Indians in America, profiling some of the prominent names who mass-migrated to the country in the 20th century. Vinodh goes onto to explain how their battle against racial oppression paved the way for the second mass migration in the 1960s. Through several of Hossain’s private papers, British Intelligence files, newspaper cuttings and rare photographs, the author has pieced together his fascinating life.
A nationalist editor across three continents, a member of the sole delegation that met the British PM to plead for the Khilafat cause, the solitary unofficial ambassador for India’s independence movement in America for several years, a champion for the citizenship rights of Indians in the US…the list of accomplishments is long. The book is a fitting tribute.