THIS book is an excellent account of the contribution made by Masauli Kidwais and other prominent Muslim families to the qasbai life in Barabanki district and its adjoining areas. Distinguished by its cultural, moral and social ethos, the word qasba was first noticed in the year 1495 when it possibly stood for both a township and a sub-district. The qasbai identity was seen in sharp contrast to the city life. While life in the cities was dull and devoid of colour, the qasbas of the 18th and 19th century were known for their high culture, and virtually seen as ‘a nursery of ideas and social forces.’ So strong was the association that many learned families distinguished themselves by attaching the name of the qasba to their name; the ‘Bilgrami’ identity of those from Bilgram is a case in point. Rajas and taluqdars, Sufis, poets and administrators famously enchanted by this world often returned to these qasbas to nurture their artistic vision. It became a nurturing ground for young talent.
As a comprehensive history of qasba life the book provides an incisive account of the lives and values inherited by the qasba people. There is much in it for those interested in religio-cultural synthesis of the qasbas where pluralism refused to be merely an idea and instead defined everyday practice, in effect becoming a way of life. Hindus and Muslims lived in harmony. Mutual interpenetration, coexistence and a deep respect for each others beliefs and a growing concern for happiness and prosperity of the two communities were some of the remarkable features of qasba life in the second half of the 19th century. Hasan’s book traces not merely the differences and diversities but relationships and interactions amongst the people. In the face of everyday anxiety and distrust targeting Islam and Muslims, both within and without, the book endeavours to remove misinformation and pejorative stereotypes. Writing with a sense of lament, Hasan perceives the process of dislocation as an inevitable moment in qasbaic history.