But whatever changes the next few decades may bring, I am persuaded that India will ever hold the greatest place in any scheme of Imperial consolidation. What the peoples of India have to do is to prove themselves worthy, by whole-hearted patriotism of that place. In saying this I do not mean that the time is near at hand when advanced political institutions should be granted to India … Even on some Europe an nations which could be mentioned representative institutions sit badly. The Anglo-Saxon race, like the Roman Empire in its best days, has a genius for the art of government, whether of itself or of others; but the success of representative institutions in Anglo-Saxon lands is no proof of their suitability to Oriental conditions.

A chapter of Autobiography

Though we of the East are generally credited with maturing and passing to the sere and yellow leaf earlier than man [men] of Occidental race, we are not, if mine is the customary experience, much given to retrospect while still on the right side of thirty, and it seems to me that two or three decades hence (when, no doubt, M.A.P. will be maintaining its great popularity) would be a more suitable time than the present for me to write on “The Days of My Youth.” However, in reluctantly accepting an invitation to be numbered among the contributors to the series, I feel that, though I may not have much of interest to say, I have the advantage over many of my predecessors in this gallery of being under no obligation to be silent as to the years only just left behind, because the Rubicon of early manhood is passed. Yet so deep are the impressions sometimes left on the plastic mind of a child, that I can — without any great effort of memory — go back nearly a quarter of a century.

In those days I was taken to race meetings in a big coach, there to survey with childish interest a bright and moving scene, in which my aged grandfather was invariably the central figure. It was in the later forties that Hasan Ali Shah, then in the meridian of life, left Persia, where he had filled high satrapies, and settled in India …

In those days I was taken to race meetings in a big coach, there to survey with childish interest a bright and moving scene, in which my aged grandfather was invariably the central figure. It was in the later forties that Hasan Ali Shah, then in the meridian of life, left Persia, where he had filled high satrapies, and settled in India, to the great gratification of the vast number of Ismailis residing in that country. And yet, more than three decades later, I was privileged, as a grandchild, to hear from the lips of the old man eloquent the [sic] and stirring tales of days when the nineteenth century was young, and to see him on race-days riding about the grandstand on a led horse, partially blind, and weak from the weight of over fourscore years, but, for the time, roused to new life by the associations of his principal pastime. He passed away in his eighty-ninth year, to the sore grief of a grandson then only six.

My father, Aga Ali Shah, was destined to hold the spiritual leadership of the great Ismaili community for fewer years than his predecessor had decades. When only ten I was left fatherless, and with the weight of this hereditary responsibility upon me.

Happily, however, I had the inestimable, and, in the circumstances, essential advantage of receiving the fostering care of a gifted and far-seeing mother, the daughter of the famous Nizam-ud-Daulah, who renounced the life of the Persian Court to spend his days in religious retirement. She took care that I should continue the education commenced under my father’s guidance.

I had already been grounded in Arabic land Persian literature and history, and, first inspired thereto in childhood, to this day I take a special interest in historical studies connected with the early Caliphs. Under my English tutors I gained an attachment, which also remains with me, to the writings of the more stirring and eloquent of the English historians and of the foremost novelists — particularly Gibbon and Thackeray and Dickens. I cannot say that Western poetry has greatly appealed to me, though I make an exception in the case of Fitzgerald’s “Omar Khayyam” which I regard, after frequent comparison, as superior to the original.

I am specially fond of golf and hockey, and am glad to have done something to popularise the latter sport in India by giving two tournament cups, annually played for one by schoolboys and the other by civil and military teams.

I have inherited something of my grandfather’s interest in racing, to which has been added a keen enjoyment of outdoor sports. This was stimulated to no small degree by our popular cricketing Governor, Lord Harris, from whom, as from his immediate predecessors and his successors, I have received unvarying kindness and consideration. I am specially fond of golf and hockey, and am glad to have done something to popularise the latter sport in India by giving two tournament cups, annually played for one by schoolboys and the other by civil and military teams. Golf is a favourite pastime of Anglo-Indians, and stands in no need of stimulation.

During the portion of the year I spent at Poona, it was frequently my privilege to play over the Ganeshkhind links, by invitation of Lord Northcote, our present statesmanlike and philanthropic Governor. Amid the manifold and pleasant engagements of what would in happier circumstances have been the Coronation season, I have been able now and again to get out of town for a little golf. Amongst other English links with which I am acquainted I may mention those of Wimbledon, Ranelagh, Deal, and Walmer. I have also had some very pleasant motoring experiences, and hope to take back to India some cars to enjoy, on the broad, well-kept roads in and about the Deccan capital, that exhilarating pastime by way of change from the cycling and horseback exercise which I daily take.

From my earliest years I have thought to place a high value on the rule of Great Britain in India, and to reverence the august lady in whose name it was then conducted. I felt it to be no small honour, therefore, when not only my own followers but the Mahomedan community generally, at a mass meeting held in Bombay under my presidency to vote an address to the Queen-Empress on the completion of sixty years’ reign, deputed me by acclamation to take the address to Simla, where, along with others, it was received in durbar by Lord Elgin.

But still greater honour was mine in the following year, when I paid my first visit to England, and was invited to dine and sleep at Windsor Castle…. It was then that I was first presented to his Majesty, King Edward, whose gracious kindness to me both on that occasion and during my present visit will ever remain engraven on my memory.

But still greater honour was mine in the following year, when I paid my first visit to England, and was invited to dine and sleep at Windsor Castle. I had often been told of the deep interest Queen Victoria took in her Eastern empire, but must confess to astonishment at the close knowledge of Indian problems and deep abiding sympathy with her subjects there which Her Majesty displayed during the conversation I was privileged to have with her.

It was then that I was first presented to his Majesty, King Edward, whose gracious kindness to me, both on that occasion and during my present visit, will ever remain engraven on my memory.

I was but a boy when the Duke and Duchess of Connaught were in India and the cordiality and kindness they then showed towards me have been continued to this day. It was on the occasion of my previous visit to Europe that I was presented to the Emperor William at Potsdam and received from his Majesty the Order of the First Class of the Crown of Prussia.

It is my pleasurable experience to travel extensively during the winter months amongst my followers, not only in India, but along the Persian Gulf littoral, in Arabia, along the East Coast of Africa, in the further East and elsewhere. I am proud of the industrial and commercial progress they are making as of the sincere attachment manifested to British rule by those of them who live under its protection.

This spirit was inculcated by my grandfather and my father, both of whom exerted their authority on the side of Government measures on occasions when ignorance or prejudice led to a misunderstanding of them. It has been my humble endeavour follow the traditions thus established, not however as a mere family convention, but as the result of settled political convictions, based upon much reading and on personal observations in many lands. It is sometimes said that now so much is heard of the self-governing colonies there is a danger of India being overlooked in current discussion of schemes for closer union of the dominions of the King.

But whatever changes the next few decades may bring, I am persuaded that India will ever hold the greatest place in any scheme of Imperial consolidation. What the peoples of India have to do is to prove themselves worthy, by whole-hearted patriotism of that place. In saying this I do not mean that the time is near at hand when advanced political institutions should be granted to India … Even on some Europe an nations, which could be mentioned, representative institutions sit badly. The Anglo-Saxon race, like the Roman Empire in its best days, has a genius for the art of government, whether of itself or of others; but the success of representative institutions in Anglo-Saxon lands is no proof of their suitability to Oriental conditions.

The present system of administration in India must be occasionally adjusted to changing circumstances, but in the main it is the best system for the country that can be devised. It secures individual freedom and equality before the law. It is this freedom and equality of legal protection that the people value, and, given that, they care little or nothing for political power.

The present system of administration in India must be occasionally adjusted to changing circumstances, but in the main it is the best system for the country that can be devised. It secures individual freedom and equality before the law. It is this freedom and equality of legal protection that the people value, and, given that, they care little or nothing for political power. I believe the great mass of my fellow-countrymen to be thoroughly well content with the “pax Britannica.” This could never be the case if the power of government were used arbitrarily and despotically, but so long as the settled legal forms of government and those principles of individual liberty on which the administration is framed are closely adhered to, all will be well so far as public contentment is concerned. India has in the past few years passed through dark trials which it was not within the range of human achievement to avert. Let us hope that the cycle of bad seasons is almost at an end, and that the people, stimulated by the aid a larger resort to technical and manual instruction will afford — a matter on which I expressed my opinion at length to an interviewer for British India Commerce two or three years ago — will be enabled to promote their material well-being by further development of the industrial and manufacturing resources of the country.

In the past few weeks the greatness and the glory of the British Empire have been demonstrated in the kaleidoscope of the world’s metropolis, where have been gathered together representations — unparallelled in their completeness — of its diversified character and interests. I think I can speak for my brother Indian visitors when I say that Britain’s greatness has been even more markedly demonstrated in these six anxious weeks of waiting than if the postponement of the Coronation had not been rendered inevitable. The illness of his Gracious Majesty has shown the fortitude with which the British people can bear sudden and almost overwhelming trial, as also the unqualified degree to which the Throne stands broad-based upon the people’s will. During the days of danger our joy was sadly marred, and to many of the functions arranged in our honour, with lavish hospitality, we went with heavy hearts. But the Indian representatives, from the greatest chief to the humblest soldier, will return with a prouder sense of British citizenship than they have ever before possessed. The story of the glory and glamour of these wonderful days will flitter down to every bazaar and village in the Eastern Empire, carrying a message of loyalty to the most ignorant.

His Highness the Aga Khan III

NOTES

  1. Comment by K.K. Aziz: According to Dumasia [see sources], “In M.A.P. for August 15, the Chapter of Autobiography under the heading of ‘In the Days of My Youth’, is contributed by his Highness the Aga Khan.” But he does not tell us what the M.A.P. stands for. The text shows that this piece was written in England. The reader should collate it with the account of his early years given by the Aga Khan in his Memoirs published fifty-two years later.

SOURCES

  • Text (secondary source): Aga Khan III: Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Edited by K.K. Aziz., Kegan Paul International, 1997, Vol I, pp.199
  • A Brief History of the Aga Khan with an Account of His Predecessors, the Ismailian Princes or Benefatimite Caliphs Egypt, Naoroji M. Dumasia, the Author, Bombay, 1903, Appendix III, pp. 168-76.

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