Olympic gold medallist, ambassador, UNESCO mission chief, private secretary to Maulana Azad, associate of Nehru and Gandhi - M. N. Masud rose from adversity to accomplish all this and more.
We interviewed Masud at his home in New Delhi, and asked him to trace his career in India, and relate some of the memorable events. We were struck by the fact that few, if any, distinguished sportsmen in India have risen to the heights of public service achieved by Masud.
Masud attended the prestigious St. Stephens College (1923 - 1927) in Delhi where he was captain of the hockey team. Each day he walked several miles to college, and then to the hockey field, and went without food till he returned home because he did not have any money.
Unable to afford the monthly fee of six rupees charged by St. Stephens, upon completion of his BA, he switched to the rival Hindu college which offered to waive the fee. This "hockey scholarship" enabled him to complete his MA.
Upon graduation from Hindu College in 1929, and after a three year stint as a clerk in the office of the Accountant General Railways, Masud landed a job as private secretary to Nawab Manawadar. The Nawab directed him to build a hockey team, and made him colonel in the Manawadar army. The team which Masud built won the Viceroy Charity Cup five years straight - a record never beaten. The Illustrated Weekly of India, April 16, 1933, shows Masud holding the Aga Khan Cup, and says "The hero of the match was undoubtedly Masud."
He stayed at Manawadar till 1937. During this time he participated in what may be described as the zenith of Indian hockey. In 1935 he landed the vice-captain's position in the All India Team captained by the renowned Dhyan Chand. Dhyan Chand, who had never captained a team, was made captain with the understanding that Masud would captain the team next year at the olympics in Berlin.
Masud showed us a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings given him at the conclusion of the All India Team's tour of New Zealand in 1935. The front page headline of New Zealand Sporting Life, May 18, 1935, typical of the reviews received, describes India's play as: "The Indians Call It Hockey - We Call It Magic." Don Bradman, the renowned cricket player, said of the three hundred and eighty-five goals scored by India during their New Zealand tour, " Until now I thought centuries were scored only in cricket."
However, Masud was not made captain of the team sent to the 1936 World Olympics. It was felt that given that the team manager and several players were Muslims, Masud should continue as vice-captain. The team was unbeaten in Berlin, and won the gold medal.
Upon his return to India, Masud wrote "The World's Hockey Champions 1936," and "How to Play Hockey". The latter was translated into German and other languages.
Masud is critical of India's sports program today. He said, "Indian hockey teams continued to win the gold medal until 1960. Since then India has not won a single gold medal in World Olympics."
In 1936 Masud married Atiya, a direct descendant of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. She showed us the Kashmiri shawl presented to Sir Syed when he was knighted by the British Government.
From 1937 until India's partition in 1947 Masud worked as Council Secretary, and then Chief Secretary (a position equivalent to Minister) for Nawab Rampur. One unusual duty which fell to him was making the arrangements for the wedding of the Nawab's son. This was a gigantic extravaganza with private trains for the wedding party, processions with the army and elephants, days of feasting, and spectacular fireworks.
Masud shunned the limelight. Although he had a standing invitation to see the Nawab, and most of his colleagues did just that, Masud never took advantage. The Nawab said one day, "Why do you not come to see me? Are you angry with me?" Masud said, "Huzoor, the work is going well, there was no need to see you."
The year 1947 brought independence from British rule and drastic changes to India. At the time that riots broke out between Hindus and Muslims, Masud and his family were visiting his parents in New Delhi. With a mob ready to storm their house, they fled to the home of Atiya's parents in Old Delhi.
This was to be the the beginning of Masud's career in the new government of India. Atiya's father, Mirza Mohammad Saeed, was president of the Delhi unit of the Muslim League and a close friend of Maulana Azad who became India's first Minister for Education on February 1, 1948. Masud and Azad were to meet on September 14, 1947. Later Masud was to meet Gandhi at Birla House.
During the months following partition, Masud spent his days trying to talk Muslims from fleeing to Pakistan, and to help with arriving refugees from Pakistan. Masud was made an honorary Special Magistrate. He was offered an armed guard, but preferred to go unarmed while Muslims were being slaughtered daily in the streets of Delhi.
Masud describes an incident where he met a Sikh whose family had been slaughtered in Pakistan. As Masud listened to the Sikh's story, the Sikh concluded, "I have sworn to kill all Muslims." Masud said, "You will have to start with me, I am a Muslim." The Sikh could not believe that the stranger who had listened with such compassion to his story could be a Muslim. From that point the Sikh followed Masud in his rounds of Muslim neighborhoods. Later they recruited a Hindu.
During this time the Indian government ordered Muslims in East Punjab to leave, to make room for Hindus arriving from West Punjab. When Gandhi, who had wanted a united India, heard of this he was furious. Masud and a Hindu, Gautam, were sent to Gurgaon to see what they could do to prevent the remaining Muslims, the Meos, from being deported.
When Masud and Gautam arrived in Gurgaon they found the Muslims had been loaded on a train which was about to leave. Unable to think of any way to stop the train, Masud and Gautam lay down on the tracks. The ensuing commotion attracted the Chief Minister of Punjab who happened to be visiting nearby. He ordered the train stopped, and the Meos were allowed to return to their homes.
When Masud and Gautam reported back to Gandhi, Gandhi asked, "Who lay closest to the train." Masud replied, "Gautam and I lay together with our arms around each other." Gandhi smiled. Masud then accompanied Gandhi to Gurgaon, where Gandhi gave his last public speech outside Delhi.
Soon after becoming Maulana Azad's private secretary in 1948 Masud became such a trusted employee that Azad had Masud writing and signing all letters on his behalf. This caused a stir among the ministers of the Indian Cabinet who were not used to reading letters signed by secretaries.
We asked Masud what he believed was his most notable accomplishment during his service with Maulana Azad. After some thought he said it was the part he played in removal of the "intending evacuee" clause regarding property. Muslim properties were being seized, on the basis of a mere statement by anyone that the Muslim intended to leave India.
Masud recalled reading months earlier that Gandhi had said that Muslims who had left India in fear, should be allowed to return. He mentioned this to Maulana Azad, who brought the matter up at a cabinet meeting. The old newspaper article was found, and based upon the statement of Mahatma Gandhi the "intending evacuee" clause was removed from legislation.
Masud accompanied Maulana Azad to the annual meeting of UNESCO in Paris. Shortly after their return a telegram arrived from UNESCO requesting the Government of India to release Masud for the position of UNESCO Mission Chief to Indonesia. Masud became the first Asian to head a UNESCO mission.
He remained in Indonesia from 1952 to 1957. He endeared himself to the Indonesian people by learning their language, and developed a very cordial relationship with President Sukarno who called him Bung (friend or comrade) Masud. Mr. Evans, then UNESCO head, was reported to have said following an inspection tour of UNESCO missions, "If we could get someone like Masud for all our missions, all our problems would be solved."
Maulana Azad died on February 22, 1958. As Maulana Azad's private secretary Masud saw Nehru, the Prime Minister, almost daily. Nehru made a point of coming daily to Azad's office, and would knock softly and say "Maulana, mai hazir hoon?" Nehru had a great sense of humor, says Masud
Once while in Kashmir with Azad and Nehru, Nehru asked Masud if he would like to see a skit being put on by a local group. Masud said, "I will have to ask Maulana sahib." When he returned from seeing Maulana Azad he found Nehru sitting in the car. As Masud moved toward the seat usually occupied by the person of lower rank, Nehru said, "Where are you going, come in," and he moved over to make room for Masud. When they arrived at their destination, the Chief Minister who had been waiting to greet Nehru opened the door. Masud had no choice but to step out first looking very uncomfortable. Nehru could barely contain his laughter.
Upon Azad's death Nehru created the position of Advisor on Physical Education and Recreation for Masud, and in 1959 appointed him Consul General responsible for Muscat and Oman, the Emirates, and Bahrain.
In 1961 Masud was appointed ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a post he held till 1964. When King Faisal asked Masud what he could do for Muslims, Masud responded, "Islam means peace. That is the message which should be spread in the context of today's world." Masud said Saudi Arabia should set an example by spreading the message of equality, freedom of speech, truth, and compassion. He urged Faisal to speak in public on these issues, at a time when such public speaking was not a tradition. Faisal became the first Saudi king to give such speeches.
Masud also advised Faisal, "Peace begins at home. Renew the friendship with Egypt.'' The Egyptian ambassador endorsed Masud's views. The sending of the drape for the Kaba from Egypt, which had been suspended, was renewed.
Once on his way to meet the Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister, Omar Saggaf, Masud learned that he had been hospitalized. Masud rushed to the hospital, and upon finding that the minister needed blood, immediately offered his. As it turned out the family donated the blood. But from that point on Omar Saggaf referred to Masud as "brother."
At the time of Masud's departure from Saudi Arabia in 1964 King Faisal said, "Regard this country as your second home. You may return whenever you wish."
Upon his return to India Masud met with Prime Minister Shastri, and was appointed Secretary, Central Waqf Board which manages trusts for Muslims. The chairman, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, to whom Masud reported, went on to become President of India.
Since his retirement in 1968 Masud and his wife Atiya have resided in New Delhi. They have taken several trips to the United States to visit their two sons and a daughter living in the Washington, D.C. area. Masud has written articles and a book on Islam, and current issues confronting India. He has just finished writing "Caste or Democracy" which contains a foreword by I. K. Gujral, India's Minister for External Affairs during the prime ministership of Rajiv Gandhi.
Masud says, "None of this would have been possible without Atiya."
M. N. Masud
family photo albums
Photos from "The
World's Hockey Champions 1936," Model Press, Delhi (1937)
Excerpts from "The
World's Hockey Champions 1936," Model Press, Delhi (1937)
"Dhyan Chand and India's Hockey Team, 1936
Olympics, Berlin," Excerpts from "The World's Hockey Champions 1936"
by M. N. Masud (1937)
"Autobiography of Hockey Wizard Dhyan Chand," Sport & Pastime,
[Mirza Nasiruddin Masud was perhaps the most outstanding sportsman
of all time from St. Stephen's, but also an alumnus that rose to
eminence by sheer dint of his dedication and commitment.--Ashok
Jaitly, "St. Stephen's College: A History," Roli Books Pvt. Ltd.
(2006), p. 97]
Christopher Hilton, "Hitler's
Olympics: The 1936 Berlin Olympic Games," The History Press (November 1, 2008)