Literary Historian & Prolific author Rakhshanda Jalil connection with Pilibhit

Text and pictures by Rehan Asad

Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil, the Delhi based author, and literary historian is a well-known face among the literary circles for her academic contributions towards Urdu literature and history.  Her columns touched on feminism, syncretic North Indian culture and other major social issues of Muslim society. With more than fifty research articles and twenty books, she has been acknowledged with many national and international literary and academic awards. On her illustrious ancestors, the blogger and an acclaimed author Mayank Austen Soofi wrote on her mother ancestral legacy from Maulvi Sattar Buksh Qadri, one of the noble resident of the historic city of United Provinces, 19th-century Badayun. Maulvi Sattar Buksh belonged to the family of first Caliph widely known as Siddiqui who were the forebearers of oriental scholarship from the time of early Muslim rulers in India. The small city, Pilibhit is located one hundred two kilometers North East of Badayun in Western Uttar Pradesh has the dual connection with the literary historian. Her late maternal grandfather, Ale Ahmad Suroor, a great Urdu poet and literary authority spends his childhood years at Pilibhit when his father Maulvi Karam Ahmad was deputed as the Postmaster in British India. Around hundred meters west of the southern historic gate (Bareilly Darwaza) of the city build by British Magistrate R. Drummond located a house that once belonged to Shiekh Abdul Lateef, a Punjabi Muslim.

This historic gate ( Bareilly Darwaza) was built by British Magistrate R. Drummond in the mid-nineteenth century. The home of Shiekh Abdul Lateef (Grandfather of Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil) is located approximately hundred meters west of this landmark.

The locality where the house is located was documented in District Gazette (1909) as Pakaria Mohalla and still identified with the same name.

The left flank of the house in length. The current resident made some modifications though the main structure was same.

According to the Late Prof. Iqbal Hussain, an expert of Ruhela history, this locality was established in the mid-eighteenth century when the city was built by Afghan ruler, Hafiz Rahmat Khan. During its heydays when the trade was flourished in this Afghan principality, the quarters of the city, Pakaria, and adjoining Punjabian were inhabited by Punjabi Musalmans ( Shamsi/Muslim Khatri) who were considered as traders of repute all over North Indian even in 18th century Shahjahanabad. The name of the locality was probably derived from the presence of Pakar (Ficus Venosa) trees. Shiekh Abdul Lateef owned zamindari rights of the Village Tondalpur that is located around twenty-five kilometers east of the city in Terai plains of Sharda river. The village remained in his possession up to 1952 till the abolition of zamindari rights in the district.  In addition, he also owned many shops in the commercial square of the city near the clock tower. Mr. Shahabuddin who is the grandson of Sheikh Abdul Lateef sister told that he had four sons and two daughters. The eldest among them was Mr. Abdul Jalil, the father of Dr. Rakhshanda. Sheikh Abdul Lateef, a traditional businessman, and zamindar was keen for the modern education of children. A small city of United Provinces with limited educational opportunities had two schools up to the level of matriculation in those days. The eldest son Mr. Abdul Jalil completed his matriculation from Drummonds high school in 1943 and send to Christian College, Lucknow for higher education.

Dr. Abdul Jalil passed his matriculation in 1943 from Drummonds high school at Pilibhit.

After qualifying premedical exam, he secured admission at the prestigious medical center of United Provinces, King George Medical College in 1945. Mr. Abdul Jalil was the third one from the small city to study medicine after Dr. Sharma and Dr. Abdul Ghafoor who attained bachelors of medicine in 1921. Notable medical educationist & Ex-Head of the department, Anatomy, KGMC, Dr. A. Halim was one his early day’s friend and batchmate at Medical school. After completion of MD from KGMC, he also attained Masters from McGill. One of the earliest Indian who got training in  Acupuncture as an alternative therapy from  China & Japan. A small city boy with global exposure in the days of closed economy, Dr. Abdul Jalil was a secular and liberal face of Muslim community in Delhi. Two of his younger brothers pursued Engineering as a career and the youngest one Abdul Shakoor studied Medicine. Both of his sisters also completed  Masters in Arts from prestigious Aligarh Muslim University.

The front face of “Zenankhana/Main” section of the house. It was modified by current occupant. The half of the section was used as a Kindergarten school and in another half, he was residing. On visiting, I found the old construction was under the stage of demolishing and most of the inner constructions has been razed.

Mr. Shahab got emotive while explaining the heydays of this home when it was constructed by Shiekh Abdul Lateef during colonial days. With thick walls, high ceilings supported by timber and iron beams, arched verandas and extended wrought iron shades, the home has the total area of four thousand square feet. It was divided into two sections, Zenankhana and Baithak. The “Baithak” was a separate unit and most of the male guest lodged here for the overnight stay. He recalled the days when many high profile friends of Dr. Jalil stayed here. Most of the time, the visits were arranged for exploring the adventures and hunting expeditions in Terai forest.

Front facade of the “Baithak/Guest lodge”. This section still retained its old construction. Presently one of the Nephews of Dr. Jalil resides here.

During the lifetime of his parents, Dr. Abdul Jalil and his brothers frequently visited the ancestral home. Shiekh Abdul Lateef passed away in 1977 and buried in the closeby graveyard. Dr. Rakhshanda visited fathers hometown in 1986 on the sad demise of her grandmother. She told that her brother Jamil Urfi recent release titled as “Biswin Sadi Memoirs: Growing Up in Delhi During the 1960’s and 70’s” has many accounts from the memories of the third generation of Mr. Abdul Lateef visiting ancestral home during Eid and summer vacations. I am looking forward to reading Jamil Urfi memoirs. Among the four sons and two daughters of Shiekh Abdul Lateef, only Dr. Abdul Shakoor is alive and resides at Aligarh.

Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil and Mr. Shahab for providing me valuable inputs. 


  1. Husain, Iqbal. The Ruhela Chieftaincies: The Rise and Fall of Ruhela Power in India in the Eighteenth Century. Oxford University Press, USA, 1994.
  2. The Delhi Walla. City Library, Rakhshanda Jalil’s Urdu books and her forthcoming festival, Central Delhi. Retrieved from:
  3. Nevill. H.R. (1909), PILIBHIT:  A Gazetteer, VolXVIII of the District Gazetteers of United Provinces of Agra and Oudh.


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Documenting Heritage, Food & Cultures

Author: Rehan Asad

Documenting Heritage, Food & Cultures