AḤMAD ʿALĪ HĀŠEMĪ SANDĪLAVĪ, Indo-Persian litterateur, b. 1162/1748-49 in Sandila, a town near Lucknow; d. after 1224/1809. He is remembered for his voluminous taḏkera of Persian poets, Maḵzan al-ḡarāʾeb (partial ed., about one-sixth of the whole work, by M. Baqir, Lahore, 1968). He wrote poetry under the pen name Ḵādem, but none is known to be extant (see Maḵzan, p. 4). Of a poor and obscure family, Aḥmad ʿAlī received scant education (ibid., p. 6, the sole biographical source). Later, through the good offices of Ḏu’l-faqār-al-dawla Naǰaf Khan, he enrolled in the cavalry of the Mughal ruler, Shah ʿĀlam II. The date of Aḥmad ʿAlī’s arrival in Delhi is not known, but he probably stayed there until at least 1782, when his patron Naǰaf Khan died. Since Maḵzan al-ḡarāʾeb was compiled in Lucknow, it is assumed that Aḥmad moved there from Delhi. Though he lacked formal schooling, Aḥmad ʿAlī harbored a keen desire to learn the Persian language and its literature, and after his arrival in Delhi, he was able to have “intimate contact with people from Iraq, Khorasan, and Fārs” (Maḵzan, p. 8).
Aḥmad ʿAlī compiled Maḵzan al-ḡarāʾeb at the urging of his teacher, the poet Mīrzā Moḥammad Ḥasan Qatīl (d. 1233/1817). It includes accounts of 3,148 Persian poets from classical to modern times, alphabetically by taḵalloṣ. Only Ṣoḥof-e Ebrāhīm by Nawwāb ʿAlī Ebrāhīm Khan (completed in 1205/1790) boasts a larger number of entries. In his introduction Aḥmad ʿAlī cites twenty-two taḏkeras as his sources, but his notes on individual poets do not always specify sources or record dates of birth and death. The length and style of narration and the number of examples of verses selected vary from poet to poet, but the language is usually simple and the narration focused. Like most other taḏkeras the Maḵzan derives its importance from the author’s accounts of his contemporaries; it provides a valuable survey of Persian poetry in India during the 18th and early 19th centuries, including verses of lesser known poets. It can be used profitably to reconstruct the socio-cultural life of Delhi and especially Lucknow during the late Mughal period. For instance, in the published section of the Maḵzan there are several references to poets connected with the court of the nawwābs of Awadh, including allusions to party politics and court intrigues (ibid., pp. 859-61).
See also: Storey, I, pp. 880-81.
For a list of biographies with epitomes of some, see Cat. Bodleian, coll. 317-96.
(S. S. Alvi)
Originally Published: December 15, 1984
Last Updated: July 28, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 6, p. 646