Few weeks back, The Times of India had
reported that the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha will soon have a portrait of
Abbas Tyabji (1853-1936). Tyabji, the surname is quite familiar and
is associated with philantrophy and education.
Abbas Tyabji (in pic with Gandhiji) was the nephew of Badruddin
Tyabji (1844-1906), the first Indian to be appointed chief justice
of Bombay High Court. Like his uncle he too joined the Congress and
played a pivotal role in the freedom struggle.
Abbas Tyabji studied in England where he lived for more than a
decade and went on to become the chief justice in the former
princely estate of Baroda. His life changed when he chaired a fact
finding committee of the Congress to look into the 1919 Jallianwala
Bagh massacre. His first hand experience of the British atrocities
turned him towards Congress and he became an ardent follower of
He chose to divorced himself from all the comforts when he was in
his late 60s - a time when people usually take a backseat. He dumped
his 'British lifestyle' and plunged himself whole heartedly into the
freedom struggle. One of his daughters, Rehana, too got involved in
the affairs of the Congress party and along with her father became
quite close to Gandhiji. The several letters between Gandhiji and
Tyabji are a testimony to the close relationship they shared.
The father-daughter duo helped Gandhiji improve his Urdu. Rehana,
became a disciple of Gandhiji and also learnt Hindi very well.
Gandhiji used to write letters in Urdu to Ulemas and poets. He also
had an Urdu edition for his newspaper - Harijan.
The Tyabjis were known for their work in the educational field.
Badruddin Tyabji along with Mohammed Ali Roghay established the
Anjuman-I-Islam in Bombay and the entire Tyabji clan believed in
empowering womenfolk through education. Renowned ornithologist Salim
Ali and eminent historian Irfan Habib belong to the Tyabji family.
Abdullah Yusuf Ali in his book 'Life and Labour of the People of
India' (published in 1907) describes the women members of the Tyabji
clan: "One of them on a visit to London won a coveted prize at a
fancy dress ball at Covent Garden. Several of them can give a good
account of themselves with pen or brush. Music, too, has been
cultivated - not only on the hackneyed piano, but on the Bin, an
ancient musical instrument of India, the classical Vina of the
Apsaras. In conversation, artistic talents, and social gifts, they
would hold their own in the most cultivated society of Europe and
The decision to have a portrait of Abbas Tyabji in Gujarat Vidhan
Sabha is laudable and will help more people know the sacrifice and
contribution of the Tyabjis.
Danish Khan is a
journalist currently based in London.
He maintains a blog
titled as The World of Urdu
The above article was
posted in February 2010.