Sunday, June 24, 2012



To the afghans he was known as Mirza Quli Kashmiri and to Iranians he was known as Agha Hassan Jan Kashmiri .That was how Pandit Mohan lal Zutshi ( 1812 -1877 ) from Bazaar Sita Ram Delhi accompanied Charles Alexender Burnes in his travels from India to Caspian sea . His ancestor, Pandit Lachchi Ram Zutshi migrated from Kashmir to live at Delhi during the reign of Emperor Shahjahan (1627-1658). His great grand-father, Pandit Mani Ram, alias Pandit Shiv Nath held a high rank at the Mughal Court during the reign of Shah Alam (1759-1806). His only brother, Kidar Nath, who was a Deputy Collector at Ambala died in 1855. Mohan lal Zutshi knew many languages that included   Persian , French , English and Pashto.

Burnes was a British agent cum spy who was appointed in 1831 AD by East India company to move in Asian countries with a sole objective of expansion of British Raj.
                                                               (*Mohan Lal Zutshi  )

Burnes took him as his secretary in all his travels on a annual salary of Rs1000/= apart from other perks . Both Sir Alexander Burnes and Pandit Mohan Lal explored Central Asia in 1832-34 for procuring political and military intelligence. He managed to obtain the services of very important functionaries like Mohammed Tahir, Haji Khan Kakari, Abdul Majeed Khan, Akhundzada Ghulam and Mullah Nasooh in Kandahar and Sardar Abdul Rashid Khan, a nephew of the Emir Sardar Dost Mohammad Khan in Ghazni. He played a major role in securing the release of British prisoners held hostage in Bamiyan and tried to bring peace between the British and the Afghans . On the second of November 1841 the residence of Sir Alexander Burnes in Kabul was stormed by a mob and both he and his brother Charles were killed. But Pandit Mohan Lal jumped out of a window and escaped but was apprehended soon thereafter. He saved his life by reciting the Kalima as Mirza Quli Kashmiri.

. Based on his services to the Raj, Mohan lal was promoted as a commercial agent and honoured by Queen Victoria in 1845 in London where he made his real name known to the queen . He was awarded the Order of the Empire and made a Knight of the Persian Lion . The king of Afghanistan, granted him an Order of the Durrani Empire. Maharaja Ranjit Singh presented him with Rs. 500 and a robe of honor. The Mughal Emperor Mohammad Akbar Shah conferred upon him a Khilat with some jewels on a turban which His Majesty tied with his own hands .

  William Dalrymple in his Book " RETURN OF THE KING "makes mention of Mohan Lal Zutshi. I quote ..

Clever , Ambitious and fluent in English , Urdu , kashmiri and Persian, Mohan lal had accompanied Burnes on his trip to Bukhara , after which he worked for some time as an intelligence officer for Wade in Kandhaar . Burnes relied and trusted Mohan Lal completely , and took him along  with during the 1839 invasion as Intelligence chief .His failure to listen to Mohan Lal's warnings about an imminent uprising led directly to Burnes death. He visited Britain and Scotland where he delivered Burnes's journals to his family in Montrose . While in Britain , he published in English a memoir of his Central Asian Travels with Burnes and an enormous 900 page , two volume autobiography of Dost Mohammad .

The heroic and ingenious Mohan Lal , who had taken out large loans in his own name for the benefit of Company officials during the Afghan  siege , partly to raise bounty for the assassination of the rebel Afghan leaders and secure  the release of  British hostages , was never repaid Rs79,496/= he calculated he was owed ; as a result he was dogged by the debt for the rest of his life .In pursuit of justice , he eventually  travelled  to Britain in the company of his Munshi Shahamat Ali , where between attempts to lobby the company directors , he was entertained by the newly retired Colonel Wade and his young bride on the isle of Wight .

 He even had an audience with Queen Victoria and prince Albert. . But the afghan war haunted his life and effectively ended his career . While in Scotland , he was photographed by pioneering Scottish photographers David Octavius Hill and Robert Admason which were later published by THE TIMES under title " Magnificent Hindoo Costume "  .On his return to Delhi from London he never received appointments he applied for as Persian Secretary to the prestigious residences of Lucknow and Hyderabad.  British officials distrusted him,not only did he remain unemployed by the government , he remained outcaste from his own kashmiri Pandit community . After narrowly escaping with life during the 1857 uprising , when the mutinous Sepoys tried to hunt him down as a prominent sympathiser with the British , he died in 1877 in poverty and obscurity , alienated from society of both colonised and colonisers "

Mohan lal also toured Egypt, England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium and Germany and finally retired in 1843 on a  pension from the Raj. Wrote some Books on his travels with Burnes.

During his interaction with the Shia Muslims of Iran, he felt highly impressed with Persian history and culture. He embraced Islam at the hands of a Mujtahid, who gave him a new name, Agha Hassan Jan Kashmiri. .He finally married a scholarly Shia woman Hydari Begum and lived his last years in seclusion cut of from his relatives and friends .Agha Hasan Jan Kashmiri died in 1877 at the age of 65, and was buried in Delhi in his garden called the Lal Bagh, near Azadpur on the Delhi-Panipat road. There is no tomb, but only a platform, said to contain the bodies of Agha Hassan Jan Kashmiri and his favorite wife Hydari Begum. The platform is in a dilapidated condition. He also Built an Imambara for shias of Ludhiana known as Agha Hasan Jan’s Imambara..

From his first kashmiri Pandit wife, who belonged to the Kouls of Gawaliar, he had two sons Pandit Mohan Lal and Pandit Kedar Nath, both born at Delhi in the years 1812 and 1814. His relations include Agha Hyder Hassan of Hyderbad . Late Dina Nath Zutshi artist from AIR and grand father of actor Raj Zutshi ( Married to Actor Aamir khan’s sister ) is also a descendant from the Zutshi clan of Bazar Sita Ram Delhi.

( Autar Mota )

* Mohan Lal Zutshi's  Photo source ..William Dalrymple"s Book " RETURN OF THE KING.. with Due Thanks to the Author.

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