Professor fida Hassnain
It was in 1845, when Queen Victoria invited Agha Hassan Jan Kashmiri alias Mirza Quli Kashmiri to a royal ball in London that he declared that his birth name is Pandit Mohan Lal Kashmiri. This declaration makes this Kashmiri, a fascinating personality. In the words of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, this Kashmiri icon was a politician and a scholar with something of the poet and artist in him. Researches conducted into the life and works of Pandit Mohan Lal Kashmiri connect him to the Zutshi Pandits of Kashmir.
His ancestor, Pandit Lachdii Ram Zutshi migrated from Kashmir to live at Delhi during the reign of Emperor Shahjahan (1627-1658). His great grand-father, Pandit Mani Ram, alias Pandit Shiv Nath held a high rank at the Mughal Court during the reign of Shah Alam (1759-1806). The Emperor bestowed upon him the title of Raja, together with a Jagir worth Rupees twenty lakh. The pedigree of the Zutshis reconstructed by B. N. Sharga is as under:
Pandit Shiv Nath Zutshi
Pandit Shamboo Nath Zutshi
Pandit Brahm Nath Zutshi
Pandit Brahm Nath Zutshi was affectionately called as Budh Singh by his Sikh mother. As he was having a good knowledge of Persian language, he succeeded in getting a job as interpreter to Sir. M. Elphinston, who later on, became the Governor of Bombay province. During services under the British, he had to work in Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan, and Afghanistan among the Muslims. Having abandoned orthodoxy, he lived a lavish life, eating flesh and enjoying drinks. From his Pandit wife, who belonged to the Kouls of Gawaliar, he had two sons Pandit Mohan Lal and Pandit Kedar Nath, both born at Delhi in the years 1812 and 1814. Both of them were brought up in a cosmopolitan atmosphere and free thinking.
Pandit Mohan Lal was taught Urdu and Persian by local Muslim Molvis. Besides studying the Boostan and the Gulistan of Saadi Shirazi, he learnt poetic compositions of Rumi and Omar Khayam. The Molvis also taught him elementary Arabic and some verses of the Holy Quran. He joined the English class in 1829 at the Persian College at Delhi that was founded in 1792 during Mughal rule. This college had acquired a large accession of income by the munificent gift of Rs. 1, 70,000 from Nawab ‘Itimad-ud-Daula, formerly minister at Lucknow, who is buried in the premises of the Anglo-Arabic College, Delhi. The English class, later developed into the Delhi English College. Pandit Mohan Lal studied here for three years. He was perhaps the first Kashmiri Pandit to have studied English and standing first in his class.
In 1831, The British East India Company, which has established its authority in the North East of India appointed Sir Alexander Burnes as its chief spy to gather information in the countries lying between India and the Caspian. He was directed to appear as a private individual with a small retinue, maintaining a character of poverty.
His deputation was a part of great design of the British to penetrate into Afghanistan, Central Asian Sultanates and Tibet with the dual purpose of “introducing its costly products of looms as well as the diffusion of the Gospel of Christ among the dense population”. The final aim was to subjugate these Muslims countries under the British Raj. It was the British Secret Service which selected through Charles Travelyan, a very brilliant and ambition student, Pandit Mohan Lal Kashmiri to accompany Sir Alexander Burnes. Having joined the British Secret Service in 1831 at the age of 19, he assumed the name of Mirza Quli Kashmiri as the Persian interpreter to Sir Alexander Burnes on a salary of Rs 1,000 per annum. The earliest classmate of Pandit Mohan Lal was Shahamat Ali, later the author of An Historical Account of the Sikhs and Afghans, who was Persian Secretary with the mission of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Claud M. Wade, to Peshawar in 1839. Shahamat Ali accompanied Sir Claud in the military expedition on whish he was sent to conduct Shahzada Timur, the eldest son of Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk, with the Sikh auxiliary force, by the Khaibar Pass to Kabul.
The British had succeeded in installing, their stooge, Shah Shuja on the throne of Kabul. This action of the British was resented by the other war-lords in Afghanistan, who were busy in engineering assaults on the British interests. The first task of Pandit Mohan Lal, who now was known as Mirza Quli Kashmiri, to recruit his agents to bring about defections among the Afghan resistance movement. He accomplished this difficult task with tact and intelligence. Posing himself belonging to a noble Kashmiri Muslim family, he married a girl from the royal house. Now he was free from all dangers by entering into intrigues with the people among, whom he was going to spy, with an assumed name of Mirza Quli Kashmiri.
Both Sir Alexander Burnes and Pandit Mohan Lal explored Central Asia in 1832-4 for procuring political and military intelligence. During his travels, Pandit Mohan Lal, who now had assumed the pseudo name of Mirza Quli Kashmiri, would first seek a wife from the influential family of the region so that his matrimonial alliance would provide him with ample protection from the orthodox Muslims. Taking advantage of the new adopted creed, he led a life of pleasure with several wives. After his return from Central Asia Pandit Mohan Lal published a journal of his tour in 1834. Twelve years later, this work was re-published with the addition of his travels in Europe. At this same time, he had published a work on the life of Doost Mohammad Khan, the Amir of Kabul, in two volumes.
After his Central Asian tour Pandit Mohan Lal Kashmiri alias, Mirza Quli Kashmiri was promoted as the Commercial Agent for the British on the Indus and Political Assistant to Sir Burnes in Kabul. Unlike Burnes, he survived the massacres of 1841 and continued to keep Calcutta informed of events in the Afghan capital from the house of a merchant where he had taken refuge. His reports contained many strong and cogent criticisms of the behavior of British officers in Kabul.
During the first Anglo-Afghan War, he was instrumental in setting up and expanding the British intelligence network in Afghanistan. He found out and handed over to the British secret letters written by the rulers of Kandahar to Merab Khan, the ruler of Baluchistan, exhorting him not to allow passage to the invading British army. He managed to obtain the services of very important functionaries for spying like Mohammad Tahir, Haji Khan Kakari, Abdul Majeed Khan, Akhundzada Ghulam and Mullah Nasooh in Kandahar and Sardar Abdul Rashid Khan, a nephew of the Emir Sardar Doost Mohammad Khan in Ghazni. He played a major role in securing the release of British prisoners held hostage in Bamiyan. In the meanwhile, he married several ladies among the elite families of Baluchistan and Afghanistan. On the second of November 1841 the residence of Sir Alexander Burnes in Kabul was stormed by a mob and both he and his brother Charles were killed. But Pandit Mohan Lal jumped out of a window and escaped but was apprehended soon thereafter. He saved his life by reciting the Kalimah as Mirza Quli Kashmiri. He was awarded the Order of the Empire and made a Knight of the Persian Lion.
During his interaction with the Shia Muslims of Iran, he felt highly impressed with Persian history and culture. He now embraced Islam in a true way at the hands of a Mujtahid, who gave him a new name, Agha Hassan Jan Kashmiri. As he, undertook long journeys to Arabian countries in connection with his job much against the wishes of the highly orthodox Pandit community, he was excommunicated from the Shiva cult in 1834. It was a normal routine with him to manage a new wife from different clans. Now, he took a maiden from the royal family of Iran, as his wife. Nawab Mirza ‘Ala-ud-Din Khan (1833-1884), the ruler of the Loharu State near Delhi, whose pen-name was Alai calls Mohan Lal, in a Persian poem, as Agha Hassan Jan.
In 1843, Pandit Mohan Lal Kashmiri, alias Mirza Quli Kashmiri alias, Agha Hassan Jan Kashmiri retired on a pension of Rs.1,000 per annum. Now, he embarked on a long journey to Egypt, England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium and Germany. Shah Kamran of Heart was delighted with his Persian. Mirza Abbas of Iran created him, a Knight of the Persian Order of the Lion. Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk, The king of Afghanistan, granted him an Order of the Durrani Empire. Maharaja Ranjit Singh presented him with Rs. 500 and a robe of honor. The Mughal Emperor Mohammad Akbar Shah conferred upon him a Khilat with some jewels on a turban which His Majesty tied with his own hands. Agha Hasan Jan Kashmiri was well received in England and other countries in Europe. Queen Victoria invited him to a royal ball. Fredrick William IV of Prussia entertained him at a dinner in 1845. It was during his conversation with Queen Victoria that he disclosed his birth name as Pandit Mohan Lal Kashmiri.
After his European tour in 1846, Agha Hasan Jan Kashmiri published a revised work of his travels in Central Asian countries and Europe. During the turmoil in 1857 he manipulated and obtained his seventeenth wife, Haidri Begam, from the highly aristocratic and cultural family of Nawab Mirza Sher Mohammad Khan of Delhi. His favorite Wife, Haidri Begum was a Shia Muslim and a scholar. During the turmoil in 1857, she maintained a day book recording vividly the happenings and events in Delhi describing the atrocities committed by the British on the last Mughal Emperor. Her diary was later seized and confiscated by the British Government in India. At Ludhiana Agha Hasan Jan Kashmiri, built for the Shias what is known as Agha Hasan Jan’s Imambara. Close by it there runs a road bearing his name.
Agha Hassan Jan Kashmiri’s later years were spent in obscurity and financial troubles. But inspite of his high status and fame he became a highly frustrated and isolated person because of his total boycott by his own community members. Even his close Pandit blood relations disowned him. He felt so much depressed and dejected.
Agha Hasan Jan Kashmiri died in 1877 at the age of 65, and was buried in Delhi in his garden called the Lal Bagh, near Azadpur on the Delhi-Panipat road. There is no tomb, but only a platform, said to contain the bodies of Agha Hassan Jan Kashmiri and his favorite wife Haidri Begam. The platform is in a dilapidated condition. The garden no longer belongs to his family.
At the time of his death he left behind five widows, four married daughters and three sons. He kept a diary of his life 1831 to his death in 1877. This diary has disappeared. Dr. Hari Ram Gupta says that a grandson of Pandit Mohan Lal is Agha Hyder Hasan of Hydarabad.
Mohan Lal. Journal of a tour through the Punjab, Afghanistan, Turkistan, Khorasan and part of Persia. Calcutta, 1834.
Mohan Lal. Travels in the Punjab and Afghanistan and Turkistan to Balkh, Bukhara and Herat and a visit to Great Britain, Germany (1846) Reprinted Lahore: 1979
Mohan Lal. Life of the Amir Dost Mohammad Khan, of Kabul. London: 1846
Hari Ram Gupta, Life and Work of Mohan Lal Kashmiri. Lahore: 1943
G.M.D. Sufi, Kashir. 2 Volumes. Lahore 1948.
B. N. Sharga. The Zutshi Pandits.