Sir Ross Masud

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Syed Ross Masud

Pursuit of Excellence in Higher Education

Naved Masood*

At a time when illiteracy among Indian Muslims is a ‘fact of life’ and educational institutions run by the community amply illustrate the state of its education secular or religious, any talk of academic excellence sounds like a pipe- dream. Even in the South and West of the country a vast majority of Muslim institutions carry a load of mediocrity behind the façade of impressive buildings and fairly impressive physical infrastructure. It is difficult to imagine in this scenario that almost eight decades ago an individual managed to elevate a minority educational institution to the very top within a short while. That individual was Sir Syed Ross Masood (1889-1937). It will be instructive to refresh public memory about his life and attainments. That he was not allowed to continue in peace and the excellence so miraculously brought out by him did not survive his tenure is of course beyond the scope of this biographical sketch.

Born in Delhi in 1889, Masud had the best possible pedigree. He was the grandson of Sir Syed about whom any explanation will be wasting space and time. His maverick father, Syed Mahmud had the unique distinction of being the fist Muslim to graduate from the Cambridge University (1871) and whose elevation to the judgeship of the Allahabad High Court at the age of thirty-two (1882) made him the youngest ever appointee to the post. It may only be added that Mahmud is now regarded as among the brightest jurists to hold judicial offices and some of his rulings are legal classics which retain their force till date – that the jealousy of his white peers and his own lack of temperance in personal life led to his resignation in 1891 and his early demise in 1902 is a matter to be regretfully placed on record. Masud lost his grand-father while aged nine, the titular guardianship of a progressively declining father too disappeared four year later. A young Masud was practically under the guardianship of the Collector of Aligarh on behalf of the Government of the United Provinces. He had his early education at the MAO Collegiate School Aligarh followed by a series of Government Schools in UP till in 1906-07 it was decided to send him to England for further education. After obtaining M.A Degree in English Literature of the University of Cambridge (Christ College) he secured an appointment in the prestigious Indian Education Service in 1913. He held the positions of Headmaster Ravenshaw Collegiate School, Cuttack and then Professor of the Patna College. In 1916 he joined the Government of the Nizam as the Director of Public Instruction in Hyderabad and was later promoted as Secretary Education Department of the same government, a position that he retained till 1928 when he took over as Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University.


Sir Syed Ahmad Khan with Sir Ross Masud in his lap. Nawab Mohsinul Mulk and Syed Mahmud can also be seen in this picture

Before moving over to his Aligarh days – the main concern of this short biographical sketch - it may be noted in passing that in Hyderabad he was among the ‘founding fathers’ of the Osmania University. Despite his reservations about Urdu becoming the medium of instruction in that University, he did much of the early spadework in its establishment. He was instrumental in recruiting the faculty and (even more important) in locating and recruiting a galaxy of translators who formed the core of the team to translate course material for the University and which now forms the very basis of .

His appointment as the Vice Chancellor of the AMU was at a time when the eight year old University was in the news for very unfortunate reasons. A Committee had exposed the grave administrative irregularities and academic deficiencies in the functioning of the institution. Students were leaving the University in large numbers, its degrees were at a discount and a large number of teachers were under-qualified. The Pro Vice Chancellor Dr Ziauddin was held accountable for the sorry state and made to leave the University. Ross Masud’s appointment was natural not only as he was the grandson of the founder of the College that had blossomed into a University but also because of his proven track record in Hyderabad. Masood was unique in another way; He was virtually the first academic to be appointed Vice Chancellor of any Indian University. (Almost all Vice Chancellors of Indian Universities were hitherto sitting High Court Judges many of whom without University Education as it till the early twentieth century it was possible to take the ‘Bar Examination’ after completion of schooling – even a legendary Vice Chancellor like Sir Ashutosh Mukerji held the position by virtue of being a judge of the Calcutta High Court although he was an eminent Mathematician in his own right).

Masud knew Aligarh and what ailed the Institution. He set about the task of putting it back on the rails and to put it on a high pedestal without delay. To recount these steps in detail is not possible within the confines of this write-up. It will be possible to only summarize the following in the ‘bullets format’:

  • He recruited some of the finest available talent to academic positions to give a fillip to Postgraduate teaching and research particularly in the Sciences. Chief among them were: Samuel, the noted Physicist who had fled the pogrom of Jews in Germany and was recommended for the position by Einstein and C.V Raman the Nobel laureate; the doyen of Molecular Spectroscopy, Ragho Krishna Asundi; Hunter, R.D Desai and Salimuzzaman Siddiqui in Chemistry; Ibadur Rehman in Geography; and Andre Weil and D.D Kosambi in Mathematics. In a short while Aligarh bustled with some of the sharpest scientific minds of the age.

  • He obtained grants from the Government of Hyderabad and the Imperial Government and establishment of a ‘Science College’ and completed the construction and installation of equipment in record time.

  • The first M.A programme in Geography on the Asian Continent was introduced (1929).

  • Researches carried out by Asundi (Physics) Siddiqui and Desai (Chemistry) and Sharif Khan, Qadri and M.A Basir (Zoology) at Aligarh were widely regarded as valuable addition to the knowledge then existing.

  • For the first time, Aligarh students started qualifying in the ICS and IP examinations attesting to the high quality of its Under Graduate education.

  • Standardized protocols were laid down for conduct of residential life in Halls of residence leading to considerable improvements in discipline.

  • Teachers were encouraged to obtain PhD degrees of foreign Universities.

  • Political leaders of various persuasions were regularly invited to speak on subjects of topical interest to broaden the horizons of the University community.

  • The Vice Chancellor used his personal contacts managed to put the University on a sound financial footing.

  • He managed to obtain ‘equivalence’ of Aligarh degrees with degrees of other Universities - the unprecedented provision of the AMU Act declaring Aligarh degrees to be at par with other Universities had hitherto been a dead letter.

  • Female education received a fillip with the University undertaking the responsibility of conducting High School examination of the Girls’ School and by permitting girls to take University examinations.

  • The Vice Chancellor with his oratorical abilities and charming manners was much in demand in other academic institutions which contributed to Aligarh emerging as a respectable academic institution at par with the best in the country.

  • The results were abundantly in evidence. Not only did the enrollment picked up but for most of the courses the number of applicants exceeded available seats. The trend of brighter students migrating to other Universities and Colleges was reversed. In fact for disciplines like Physics, Chemistry and Geography etc AMU became the most favoured destination of students from across the country irrespective of their communal or linguistic labels. Similarly, presence of so many bright young people at one place also made the platform of its Students’ Union a coveted forum of political leaders and intellectuals of various persuasions. In short, within a few years the corporate life of the University was enriched and the All India character of the communities of students and teachers was restored to what it was till a major erosion was caused by the Khilafat and non – Cooperation movements.


    Sir Ross Masud with Sir Allama Iqbal, the visiting guest with AMU riding Team. Prof. Abdul Majeed Quraishi can also be seen in the picture(2nd from Left on chairs)

    Aligarh became the first University in the country to start enrolling students in PhD programme – in other Universities this facility was then confined to teachers. Current Science in one of its issues of 1933 carried a report identifying Aligarh the best place for research in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Zoology. Newspapers (English and Urdu) carried frequent reports indicating the developments of the campus. A number of old families taking note of the promotion of advancement of knowledge in Aligarh donated the old manuscripts, farmans and records which laid the foundation of Historical research of the medieval period which later blossomed into the Aligarh school of Historical research. For the first time ever an exclusive Department of Urdu was established anywhere in the world. What is most so remarkable about these developments is often missed - AMU was then essentially a private University it had to meet most of its recurring expenditure from its own resources with government grants barely amounting to twenty percent of the requirements. As other Universities were not involved in regular research Aligarh had no ‘need’ to do so as a matter of ‘competitiveness’.

    As we are not tracing the history of the University politics we need not deal with the circumstances in which he had to resign the office of Vice Chancellor in 1933. Suffice it to say, local vested interests and disgruntled under-qualified teachers brought about a situation where Masud who had sacrificed his health burning the proverbial midnight oil for the good of the institution founded by his grandfather was left with no option. He accepted the offer of his old friend Nawab Hamidullah Khan the ruler of Bhopal to be the Education Minister of his State. Ross Masud spent rest of his life in Riaz Manzil, Bhopal which is immortalized in the annals of literature as it is here that his admirer, the poet Mohammed Iqbal composed his magnum opus “Javednama” while enjoying his honoured friend’s hospitality. Masud died a premature death at fort-eight following cardiac complications caused no doubt by his unremitting love of labour at Aligarh. Whether he died a man satisfied at having done his best to take a family legacy to hitherto unexpected heights or a man disappointed with an ungrateful community is something we will never know for the answer went with him to his grave next to his legendary grandfather and genius father in the precincts of the University mosque at Aligarh.

    A man of strong convictions and unswerving commitment to excellence and integrity, Masud does not appear to have left any regular publication. His philosophy of life is however enshrined in the by-words which he chose for his stationary – al mulko wa sidqo waddeen (the country, the truth, the faith). He was a remarkably articulate man both in writing and speeches. His letters addressed to friends and admires like “Maulana” Mahommed Ali “Jauhar”, Poet Mohammed Iqbal and Jawaharlal Nehru deserve to be published; the same holds good for his speeches which lie scattered. One can only hope that the Aligarh Muslim University will wake up to redeem a long forgotten enormous debt of gratitude to one of its real founders. One can part with this piece by pointing out the irony that while Nawab Masood Jung Bahadur Sir Syed Ross Masud has been and well and truly forgotten, aficionados of English literature are vaguely familiar with his name as the one to whom his good friend E.M Foster had dedicated his work A Passage to India .



    Sir Ross Masud with his friend, E.M. Foster



    Sir Ross Masud with Sir Allama Iqbal, the visiting guest at his residence in Bhopal. K.Ghulamus Sayedain can also be seen in the picture(1st from Left on chairs)


    Sir Ross Masud with Sir Allama Iqbal and Maulana Syed Sulaiman Nadvi

    Sir Ross Masood in Afghanistan



    Study Room of Sir Ross Masud whn he was a child. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan specially made this room for study of his only grandson

    RM Hall

    Sir Ross Masud Hall of residence at AMU Aligarh



    Sir Ross Masud died in Bhopal but his body was laid to rest in AMU Jama Masjid, next to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

    [1] Besides, Iqbal’s elegy, Masood Marhoom in Armughan-i-Hijaz affords him a degree of ‘preservation’

    *Mr. Naved Masood is an AMU Alum and a senior Civil Servant in Govt. of India and he is based in New Delhi. He can be reached at

    Yaad-e-Raftagaan -Sir Ross Masud - Maulana Syed Sulaimn Nadvi

    Ross Masud by Prof. Hakim Syed Zillur Rahman


    Dear Afzal Sahib

    I really appreciate your deep interest in famous 'Aligarians". This collection of personalities, which you are building, is extraordinary! I am still waiting for the book on Sir Ross Masud. My father actually submitted it very late for publication to the Anjuman’s office. I will let you as soon as it gets published.

    Syed Ziaur Rahman

    Sir Ross Masud - A true heir of Sir Syed Ahmad

    Dear all,

    I am very thankful to our respected senior Mr. Naved Masood for his efforts to continuous enlightening us via his writings about eminent Aligarians. His writings had made an authentic source of information on the subject.

    After reading the brief life sketch of Sir Syed Ross Masud by Mr. Naved Masood and few other writings including one by Syed Hakim Zillur Rahman sb which was published in FAAA annual magazine of 2005 or 2006, I am amazed the by the life of Sir Ross Masud. He just lived for around 47 years and had done so much that at least I can not even describe in my entire life.

    Sir Ross Masood was born on February 15,1889. The only grandson of Sir Syed and son of Syed Mahmud, Ross Masood was educated at Aligarh and Oxford. On his return from England, he was elected a trustee of MAO College and started legal practice at Patna. However, after a short stint, he entered the Indian Education Service. He was headmaster of Patna high School, a professor at Ravenshan College, Cuttack (Orrisa), and a fellow of Calcutta, Madras and Osmania universities. From 1916 to 1928, he was director of Public Instruction in Hyderabad.

    We consider 29 years of age as a very immature age but we need to realized that MAO College Principalship was offered to him at this age in 1918. For one or the other reason, it could not materialized and finally Begum Sultan Jahan's personal persuasion, he accepted the Vice-Chancellorship of Aligarh Muslim University in 1928 at a very young age of 39 years. He became the Vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University in 1929. He was awarded the title of Nawab Jung Bahadur by the Nizam of Hyderabad and also knighted by the British in 1933. He also Chaired session of All India Muslim Educational Conference in 1930 which was held in Banaras.

    Before joining AMU as its first full time Vice-Chancellor, Sir Ross Masood had already established himself as an educational icon being as Director of Public Instruction in state of Hyderabad. He was already among the Founders of Jamia Osmania Hyderabad. The Constitution of Osmania University was drawn up by a three member expert committee comprising the Sadrus Sudoor, Habibur Rahman Sherwani, the Secretary of Education, Sir Akbar Haidari, and the Director, Public Instruction, Sir Ross Masood.

    Sir Ross Masood also served as President of Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu and later Minister of Education in the princely state of Bhopal ruled by Nawab Hamidullah Khan, an AMU alum and second Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. FInally AMU honored him by naming a Hall of residence after him in 1969. Ross Masood Hall was established in the year 1969 with the foundation stone being laid by Professor K.A.Nizami.

    He was a true heir of his father and his grandfather. Hope we have more of his like in our time.

    Afzal Usmani
    Austin TX

    Maulana Syed Sulaiman Nadvi

    Dear Usmani Sahib
    Assalam o alaikum

    I read with interest the mail re: Maulana S Sulaiman Nadvi Sahib: He was a great scholar. It is good to hear that Dr. Hashim has completed `ph.D. on such scholar. I would like to read from the Library.

    Arif Khan
    Bengali Kothi, Fort Road, Aligarh

    Syed Ross Masud

    The personality of Sir Ross Masud, a great son of a very great father and grandfather, (Allah Gafoor-rur Raheem may Grant their souls and also souls of their associates and companions in Aligarh Mission, peace and high place in Jannatul Firdaus, by His Own great Grand Blessings and unlimited Grace, Aameen, Summa Aameen), could prove to be a light house to the Aligarh community even today, if we honestly adopt the impressions of their steps towards up lifting the standard and image of the institution. It will be a true and great tribute to him, his services and efforts. Some disturbed and unlike conditions were prevailed in the system in those days also, when he took over the charge of this university as a Vice Chancellor, but his keen observations, right decision in right time and untiring labour could make the institution to a lifted height and fame once again. His Biography would provide people opportunity to understand him, the purpose of this university and viewing the misery conditions of the revolution of Aligarh Movement as the same (biography) will perhaps contain conditions, situations and constraints of that time while the university was enjoying its infancy stage. Allah Tabarak Taala by his own (Rehamat e Khas) provide this university a target of ever growing image & size till the day of Judgment (Qiyamat). Aameen

    Mazahir Husain

    Sir Syed Bi-Centenary


    Hamiduddin Farahi



    Masood-ul Hasan

    ZH Chowdhury