The very name Aligarh evokes beautiful memories and images of AMU (Aligarh Muslim University), its famous lock industry (Aligarh ke taale) and also its adab (cultured and refined behaviour). In fact, it's perhaps Aligarh where one finds the last vestiges of proverbial Muslim nafasat (style and tenderness in manners). Even once famed Lakhanavi adab is on the wane. But because of AMU, the varsity founded by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in the 19th century, Aligarh still has the remnants of Mughal culture and that magnificent tahzeeb (sophistication) that floors you.
It's a city with a pronounced history. Apart from AMU, Aligarh is a city of poets. Urdu poet and lyricist Shakeel Badayuni studied at AMU and attributed the depth and profundity of his poetry to the contagiously cultural air and aura of Aligarh.
Poet Akhlaq Muhammad Khan 'Shaharyaar' (famous for the film Umrao Jaan's songs) taught Urdu at AMU. 'Shaharyaar' was his sobriquet. Great historians Dr Muhammad Habib and his equally illustrious son Professor Dr Irfan Habib have been Emeritus Professors at AMU's History Department.
There're many legends associated with Aligarh's famous lock industry. The contributor came across an article in Manohar Kahaniyaan (Hindi, Mitra Prakashan, Mutthiganj, Allahabad; now published by Delhi Press in a different get-up) that appeared in 1977. The article mentioned that there was an exodus of lock mechanics/makers (tala kaarigar) from Saurashtra's Surat to Aligarh in the second half of the 18th century. That vague article (or perhaps my memory is failing me) didn't state the reason/s as to why lock-makers of Surat left the place en masse to opt for a faraway place like Aligarh. It means, Surat was famous for its locks before Aligarh donned this mantle- City of locks. There could be a modicum of truth in it because there's still a saying in Hindi and Gujarati: Gujarati taale ki mazbooti (the strength and safety of Gujarati locks).
AMU has been witness to cultural upheavals and cavalcades of all sorts. It saw its best as well as worst days. Its legendary Abdullah Hall carries a deluge of memories. The cine-goers still remember the great song 'Mere mahboob tujhe meri muhabbat ki qasam' (penned by an ex-AMU student: Shakeel Badayuni) that was filmed on Rajendra Kumar in Mere Mahboob (1963). The film was extensively shot on the campus of AMU. One can see the famous 'Victoria Gate' of AMU in the movie. Muhammad Rafi was so enamoured of the ambiance of AMU that he wistfully said, 'Kaash ke main yahaan taalib-e-ilm hota' (Wish, I were a student here).
Aligarh may not be as good or great as Lucknow is in terms of Mughlai cuisine, one still finds very good and signature non-veg delicacies in Aligarh. Famous 'paaya soup' and 'nihari' can be had at a few very affordable and clean eateries in the vicinity of AMU.
If you visit Aligarh, make it a point to visit AMU. It's akin to visiting BHU when one goes to Varanasi. Poet Gopaldas Saxena 'Neeraj' hailed from Aligarh and he once wrote, 'Iss Aligarh shahar ki baat hai nirali/aaya jo yahaan fauran iski taareef kar daali' (There's something very special about Aligarh/Whoever visits, immediately falls in love with the place and praises eloquently).
The great Urdu poet Saghar Nizami belonged to Aligarh. So did Qura'tul-Ain Hyder, who wrote novels in English and Urdu.
The city's atmosphere is surcharged with tahzeeb and tammaddun (fine etiquette and civilized behaviour).
I remember, how one gentleman took me to AMU in his car when I asked for the direction to reach the varsity on my maiden visit to the city. He was Dr Aleem Khan, a former student of AMU from 1972 to 1974. Thanks, Dr Khan. I still remember your nice gesture.
Others also had the same soul-gladdening and heart-warming experiences while interacting with the people of this beautiful city. To encapsulate, Aligarh ( Pin Code 202001 ) leaves its indelible imprints on your heart, mind and consciousness.
You feel like visiting it once again.