Urdu in India since Independence – By Ralph Russell

Urdu in India since Independence -By Ralph Russell

(RALPH RUSSELL is Reader Emeritus at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.)

The link language of everyday communication in India continues to be, as it was before Independence, one which is as much Hindi as it is Urdu. It is true that since independence the government has shown apathy and worse towards Urdu. But the proponents of Urdu focus almost exclusively on the injustices done to Urdu. They too often call upon somebody else – such as the government – to do something instead of doing it themselves. They have failed to take advantage of factors that favour Urdu. The defence of Urdu requires an increase in the number of people who have a command of it. The first step is education. But one need not depend on government-run Urdu medium schools. Those who have a command of Urdu can start teaching it in their own neighborhoods. Confining Urdu to the Persian script also works against its spread. There is a large readership for Urdu works written in Devanagari script and also for Urdu works introduced through English.

In 1949-50 I spent the greater part of my study leave at Aligarh.* In those days, in the area regarded as the heartland of Urdu, UP and to a lesser extent Bihar, the state governments were doing everything possible to destroy it. This was achieved by an absurd interpretation of the ‘three language formula’ devised by the government of India. This recommended that in every state three languages should be taught in the schools – (1) the language of the state (which would normally be the mother tongue of the majority of its inhabitants) (2) another modern Indian language (Hindi would often be chosen where the first language was not Hindi), and (3) one other language. A good deal of elasticity was envisaged in the implementation of this formula, and in UP Urdu, the language of most inhabitants of UP after Hindi, could, and should, have been chosen. The UP government decided instead to declare Sanskrit a modern language, and the teaching of Urdu in the schools – it had been taught in all UP schools before independence – was discontinued. On the whole that situation has continued ever since, at any rate until fairly recent times, when I understand some minor changes have taken place in the situation. In the first years of independence the main reliance of those people in the Urdu field who wanted to preserve Urdu as far as it could be preserved, to allow for its development and to counter the policies being pursued against it was to rely upon the sympathies for Urdu that existed at the level of the government of India. Nehru, who spoke Urdu well, was in favour of doing something to support it and was opposed to the policies of the UP government; but the centre was not in any position to dictate the course which UP government should follow, and the best it could do was to provide funds and other support for organisations manned by the supporters of Urdu.

Let me consider the measures taken by central government over the last two decades or so. The government of India, at any rate from Indira Gandhi’s time onward, had its own reasons for doing something to support Urdu. There were political considerations motivating this, which did not necessarily have much to do with sympathy for Urdu. A committee was set up in 1972, headed by I K Gujral, to consider how the cause of Urdu could be advanced. The report of the committee, which amounted to more than 250 pages, was presented in 1975 and 187 recommendations were made. This report was ‘put on ice’ and the main reason for this was the vigorous opposition of Jagjivan Ram to anything being done for the cause of Urdu and Indira Gandhi’s desire not to alienate him in the political situation which obtained at that time. However, in due course the Gujral report was laid before parliament. Then, successively, two committees were set up to look once more at the situation of Urdu – one headed by Ale Ahmad Suroor “a sub-committee to examine the recommendations of the…Gujral Committee” (set up in 1979; reported in 1983) and one headed by Ali Sardar Jafari (set up in February 1990; reported, with unusual promptness, in September 1990). The Jafari committee discovered that 95 per cent of the recommendations made in the Gujral report had not been adopted. The state government of Bihar, and shortly afterwards that of UP, recognised – on paper – Urdu as an official language of their respective states.

Som Anand, in an article written in 1992 says that quite substantial financial support was given to Urdu, but that the situation in the Urdu-speaking community was such that it had not been able to make proper use of the support which was given. He says the government of India makes considerable efforts to help the Urdu press, but the Urdu newspapers are in no position to derive any benefit from this. The United News of India (UNI), at the instance of the government of India, decided to start an Urdu teleprinter service for the newspapers with a grant of several lakh rupees from the government. The UNI offered this service to 40 Urdu newspapers, but this offer has not yet been taken up. But this is not the only difficulty. To get such a service operating, you need good translators, and these are not available. The fact is that the new generation of Urdu speakers has grown up at a time when Urdu is not taught, so how could you expect to find young people who know Urdu well? And on top of that, in the so-called Hindi area of northern India, the standard of education in English has also declined very considerably. The result is that Urdu translators who are employed by the Urdu newspapers know neither good English nor good Urdu.

What could individual Urdu speakers or small voluntary organisations formed by them have acted to combat the dangers that Urdu was facing? One thing that they could have done was ensured that their own children learnt to read and write Urdu. If the schools were not providing for their education, the parents themselves could have provided it, and by and large they did not. Even in Urdu-speaking families people who were generally devoted to Urdu and whose children were also interested in Urdu, had not taught their children to read and write it. Urdu for them was simply the language of the home. Many of them enjoyed Urdu poetry; they would go to mushairas and most of them could understand what was being said. I remember seeing a young relative of the late Habibur Rahman writing down in Devanagari script Urdu verses which appealed to her. On another occasion I met Ismat Chughtai. She told me that her daughter could not read and write Urdu. So one asks the question, why not? Why didn’t the parents make sure that their children could read and write Urdu? It seems to me that whatever the difficulties, it was, and is, primarily the responsibility of people who love Urdu and Urdu literature to arrange for the teaching of Urdu and Urdu literature themselves. They could and they should do that; and if I am not mistaken, they are not doing it.

It should be obvious that the basic thing that needs to be achieved for the defence of Urdu is a considerable increase in the numbers of people who have a command of it, not simply Urdu colloquial speech, but the Urdu which enables one to read and appreciate Urdu literature. Anyone who is concerned with increasing the numbers of people who are competent in Urdu can do something practical about it without any external support at all. In many immigrant communities in countries like Britain people want their children to acquire a much better knowledge of what some people call their heritage language than is provided for in any official provision in the schools and the educational system. They act accordingly. That is, they themselves set up classes, hire rooms or meet in suitably sized rooms in their own houses and impart some instruction to their children. And there is absolutely no reason why Urdu speakers in India shouldn’t do the same.

Obviously, there are some spheres in which nothing very substantial can be done by individuals or small-scale voluntary organisations. There are bodies established in the states and at the all-India level to promote the cause of Urdu.
It seems to me that in order to make a fair assessment of what these bodies have done – or failed to do – we need to know a great deal more about them. The questions I would like to ask are: what is the extent of government funding; what is the constitution/terms of reference; who are the members of its governing body, and how are they chosen; does it issue regular reports of its activities, if so, how often, if not, are there informal accounts of its work available.

I learnt through correspondence in 1996 with the chancellor of Jamia Millia that “[Anjuman i Taraqqi i Urdu] is not entirely dependent on government funding. It gets a government grant of Rs 1.30 lakh annually from the Delhi Administration. Its income from rent of its own multistoried ‘Urdu-Ghar’ is more than sufficient for its needs. It has a general body of 40 members and elections are held every five years. I doubt if they have any regular system of reporting to government.” He also wrote that the “[Taraqqi Urdu Bureau] is entirely dependent on government funding. Reporting to government does not appear to be regular. The Bureau is passing through a ‘retiring’ phase.”

As I wrote in an article in the Indian Review of Books (September 15-November 15, 1995), one of the most disappointing features of the picture is the idleness and ineffectiveness displayed by those who have seen themselves as the trustees and leaders of the Urdu-speaking community. Substantial resources were from very early days made available by the central government to organisations established to support and promote the interests of Urdu. But the record of these organisations is a far from impressive one. In 1949-50 I spoke personally to some of those who sat on the governing body of the Anjuman i Taraqqi i Urdu and urged them to draw up a coherent plan of activity and proceed to implement it.

Tne thing I drew attention to was the fact that we did not have good, accurate texts of even the greatest Urdu classics. I gave them the example of the Oxford Classical Texts of the great Latin and Greek authors, saying that the sole aim of those who prepared these texts was to publish as accurate a text of each author as it was possible to establish. If the Anjuman i Taraqqi i Urdu did nothing but that, it would be an enormously valuable service to the cause of Urdu. Twenty years later its total achievement in this field was the publication of one such text, Imtiyaz Ali Arshi’s edition of Ghalib’s Urdu verse. There were other ambitious projects allegedly started but never proceeded with, or, if proceeded with, never completed: and work done in connection with these projects which could and should have been published without impairing the success of the projects as a whole, never appeared.

I well remember a conversation I had with Ale Ahmad Suroor in 1965. I urged that a plan to publish all of Ghalib’s writings in good, reliable texts should be initiated at once so that these could appear in the centenary year, 1969. All that did appear was a disgracefully produced reissue of a volume of Ghalib’s letters first published in the 1930s. In the same conversation he told me that he had received a glossary of the vocabulary of Nazir Akbarabadi, which he had asked Maikash Akbarabadi to prepare. I said, “Publish it now. It can still be used as material for the full-scale Urdu-Urdu dictionary you are planning”. He rejected the idea. And 30 years later we have neither a full-scale dictionary nor the glossary. I was told in later years that Maikash’s glossary had been lost.

Rashid Hasan Khan, in an interview with Ather Farouqui says:
The Taraqqi Urdu Board [Bureau] long ago planned to produce a comprehensive Urdu dictionary in four or five volumes. Some extremely famous people…[who?] were chosen for this task and one volume was allotted to each. For years together regular payment was made to these people, and each was given an assistant. Years later it was learnt that work on the dictionary had not been completed. When the time came for them to render account of what they had done, these revered gentlemen returned their materials in the same state as they had received them…no work is now being done. There is an urgent need for an Urdu dictionary, but after 10 years of continuous effort the Taraqqi Urdu Board has to this day not been able to compile one…Granted, a concise dictionary has been printed. I read it…and found not a single page in which there were not one or two mistakes of one kind or another.

The University Grants Commission made a plan for a history of Urdu literature in four substantial volumes. An appropriate grant for this purpose was given to Aligarh Muslim University. At first the University prepared an excellent plan, and the details they presented convinced me that this history of Urdu literature would be a work of really high quality. Nine writers, all of them very well-known and highly regarded, were involved in the project. The first volume was to cover the period from the 12th to the 17th century AD. When the first volume appeared I read it – and you cannot imagine my astonishment…All its references were completely unreliable, nor could one rely on the accuracy of the passages quoted. I wrote a detailed review of it at the time…This was reproduced in a number of periodicals and was much talked about. As a result all copies of this first volume were taken off the market and piled up in Aligarh, and a statement was issued that it would be corrected and then re-issued. To this day no corrected edition of the first volume has appeared, and neither have the remaining volumes (Akhbar i Nau, December 2-8, 1988).

Atiq Ahmad Siddiqi tells us in his article ‘Status of Urdu in India’ “the [Taraqqi] Bureau for the Promotion of Urdu set up by the central government has brought out about 700 useless books; most of them are translations. Similarly, Sahitya Academy and National Book Trust, both government organisations, have brought out a large number of useless Urdu books (The Nation, Lahore, October 4, 1993). Later in the article he is similarly critical of the Urdu academies that were established in many states and which have been “rendering so-called useful services”.
Shamsur Rahman Faruqi in his interview with Ather Farouqui says that teachers at the university level started a retrograde strategy to save their jobs. Urdu teachers convinced university authorities that since enrolment in Urdu was dwindling seriously, it was necessary that even those students who did not read Urdu at any level whatsoever, or inferior students, should be granted admission if they wished to study Urdu as a subject in BA or MA. This resulted in the intake of incompetent candidates as Urdu students. These incompetent people, having obtained their degrees, joined the Urdu departments as teachers. “Then followed the illiterate line of students taught by these illiterate teachers. It seems that now this phenomenon of generations of illiterates after illiterates will never come to an end” (The Nation, Lahore, July 8, 1994).

Not only did the champions of Urdu fail to do what they should have done on their own initiative, they failed to do what they had promised – and what they had been paid – to do. To crown it all they themselves took active steps which in Shamsur Rahman Faruqi’s words “proved very harmful for Urdu”. I think it regrettable that Rashid Hasan Khan does not name all the distinguished people whom he characterises in harsh (and fully justified) words. These people do not deserve the protection of anonymity – they need to be thoroughly exposed.
I am well aware that dissatisfaction with the role played by bodies like the Anjuman i Taraqqi Urdu and the Taraqqi Urdu Bureau commonly leads people to wash their hands of them. In that this leads to the formation of organisations that make it a policy to refuse to accept government funding and free themselves of all obligation to governments and their policies. This dissatisfaction is welcome. Such completely independent organisations are indeed necessary. The Maulana Azad Research and Educational Foundation was one such. I learnt from a letter that “the Maulana Azad Foundation was registered in 1989…From the very first day it has been our policy not to accept any kind of help from the government of India, so that government policies cannot influence us either directly or indirectly. To continue the work of an organisation run on these principles is extremely difficult, but we are putting up with all such difficulties… The Muslims of Sikandarabad are the sole source of our funding.” Another letter said, “From the very outset it was resolved that the members of the Foundation would not accept employment by the government of India, would not accept membership of any governmental or non-governmental committee and would not establish any relationship, direct or indirect, with the government of India. Members would not accept any financial assistance from the government of India, or any grant, or any prize. They would also as far as possible try to abstain from taking part in any seminar or mushaira connected in any way with the government of India. As far as possible they would refrain from publishing anything they write in Urdu periodicals partly funded by the government.”

The foundation has also been running two Urdu medium junior high schools in Sikandarabad. The only other Urdu schools in UP are run by the Aligarh Muslim University. In these two schools both Urdu and English are available as the medium of instruction, and most parents choose the English medium for their children, although the level of proficiency in English of these children is such that this is an intolerable burden for them, even though the level of English used is extremely low. In short, Urdu medium is at its last gasp in both these schools and within a few years this so-called Urdu medium will cease to be used.

Ather Farouqui writes in an article in the Economic and Political Weekly: “At a few places Urdu medium primary schools are run by local bodies where teachers were appointed…Most of the people appointed…the so-called Urdu teachers, generally do not even understand what is meant by the term Urdu medium… Therefore, in UP, Urdu education means teaching Urdu as a subject. It is unfortunate that few of the so-called Urdu teachers in UP can even read the books in Urdu script meant for primary classes. It has also been observed that the Urdu teachers in UP are engaged in their family occupations like agriculture and milk dairies and go to the school once or twice a month.”
Urdu in India since Independence -IV By Ralph Russell

Dissatisfaction with government-sponsored organisations is justified, and the setting up of independent bodies to defend Urdu and assert and campaign for its rights is a welcome development. But it should by no means follow that no further interest should be taken in government-sponsored initiatives. If associations and bureaus and academies set up to advance the cause of Urdu are not doing so satisfactory, this needs to be said in organised public criticism of them, and, even more important, plans of activities which they should be carrying out need to be worked out, and widespread campaigning initiated and sustained to press these bodies to adopt these plans. It follows that bodies like the Maulana Azad Foundation should similarly have a coherent programme of activities which they should publicise, and for which they should enlist practical support on as large a scale as possible. The same applies to approaches to the government of India.

The protagonists of Urdu seem to me all too often to call upon somebody else to do something instead of doing it themselves, and that there is a historical background to this attitude, formed in the centuries when Muslims constituted the ruling elite of India. Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, who is himself a member of the UP Urdu-speaking elite strikes a rare – and welcome – note when he says in his interview (in English) with Ather Farouqui published in the Lahore paper The Nation on July 8, 1994: “The Muslims of Uttar Pradesh…have a sense of superiority, which I consider quite stupid really…The UP sharifzada will never do for himself anything that he can command, persuade or cajole anyone else to do for him.”
There is a proposal that the teaching of Urdu should be taken on as one of the main tasks of the religious foundations, the madrassas and so on, which are primarily established for the imparting of Islamic learning. I do not think that there is any point in this at all. In the first place, why should the job be handed over to other people. The champions of Urdu are looking for someone else to do work which they ought to be doing themselves and which they are not doing. In the second place, there never has been the least evidence that these organisations are interested in the teaching of Urdu, or at any rate in teaching it to any very worthwhile level. These madrassas have functioned continuously both before independence and throughout the whole period since independence and not one of them has ever shown the least interest in teaching Urdu to the level which would introduce their students to Urdu literature. They are concerned with religious questions and only with religious questions. It is not in the least likely that they will undertake this task on anything like a large scale. As far as my experience goes there is no reason to assume that the attitude of the teachers in religious institutions has changed much since the time of Ashraf Ali Thanavi when, almost a hundred years ago now, he wrote Bahishti Zevar. He has a chapter in Part Ten in which he lists all the kinds of books which women should not read. But two things have to be said about that. Firstly that we want women to be able to read everything that men can read. Secondly, the disapproval of the kind of literature which Ashraf Ali Thanavi, censures obviously extends to the literature which men read. In Bahishti Zevar, he lists among other books that should not be read: “divan aur ghazalon ki kitaben” “divans and books of ghazals” – in other words, virtually the whole of Urdu poetry and certainly that part of Urdu poetry which is the most valuable; the Indar Sabha; the story of Badr i Munir, that is the story of the masnavi of Mir Hasan; Dastan i Amir Hamza, Gul i Bakavali and other books. To expect people who are dedicated to religious teaching to teach people to read some of these best works of Urdu literature seems to me quite unrealistic.

I come now to what I think the protagonists of Urdu should do. I do not object to them saying that other people, like the government of India, state governments and so on, ought to be doing this, that or the other, and should be pressed to do so. I do not object to them saying that we should try and get teachers in religious institutions to take up Urdu. I do not object to these things, but they should pay far more attention to what they themselves should do, regardless of what other people are or are not doing. There are some important activities in which all protagonists of Urdu need to engage themselves and all others whose support they can obtain. One such is the production of Urdu materials in the Devanagari script. It would be extremely helpful to people who know Urdu but who cannot read the Urdu script and to the cause of Urdu generally if Urdu teaching materials and works of Urdu literature were published in the Devanagari script.

All organisations – government-sponsored and voluntary – ought to consider the implications for them of the fact that many Urdu speakers know Urdu but do not know the Urdu script. They are anxious to read Urdu, but they can only read it if Urdu literature is presented in the Devanagari script. In my opinion it should be entirely within the remit of the government-funded organisations to produce texts of important and popular Urdu authors in Devanagari script. They should not wait for other people to do this. If they are concerned with the advancement and promotion of Urdu they should provide for the needs of those Urdu lovers who know Urdu and want to know more about it and to be able to read more of its literature, but do not know the Urdu script.

Publications of Urdu works in the Devanagari script, of course, serve a wider audience than that which I have just described. They serve the audience of Hindi speakers who do not know Urdu but are interested in what Urdu literature has to offer. I think that Hindi speakers offer the next most favourable audience for Urdu literature after that of Urdu speakers themselves. True that there are people – some people – in the Hindi speaking community who are the most vociferous opponents of Urdu, but it would be a great mistake to think that all Hindi speakers share their attitude. There are among Hindi speakers substantial numbers of people who do not want to make Urdu their first language, but are nevertheless interested in getting access to what Urdu literature has to offer. This is proved by the number of publications of Urdu works issued by Hindi publishers in the Devanagari script. Quite numerous selections from popular Urdu poets are being published by Hindi publishers. I know that in her later years, according to what she herself told me, Ismat Chughtai could always find a publisher for her stories in Devanagari before any Urdu script version was published. And Muhammad Umar Memon of the University of Wisconsin, US, tells me that almost all of Manto’s works are now available in Devanagari. My experience is that champions of Urdu are for the most part simply unaware that this is going on and even if they are aware they take an attitude towards it more or less of indifference – and they certainly should not.

Already in the early 1950s there was a multi-volume publication called Sher-o-Sukhan. This was a comprehensive selection of Urdu poetry presented in the Devanagari script with, at the bottom of the page, explanations in Hindi of the meanings of Urdu words which the editors thought their readers would not otherwise understand. A periodical published in Allahabad, Urdu Sahitya, presented contemporary writing in Urdu in the Devanagari script and with explanations of difficult words. An anthology of Urdu verse in English was published in 1995. This is a bilingual book with Urdu text on the left-hand page and the English translation on the right-hand page. At the suggestion of the publishers Urdu text is presented in the Devanagari script. Again this is clear evidence that there are more people who want to read Urdu poetry in Devanagari script than in the Urdu script. Masterpieces of Urdu Ghazal from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century published in 1990 gives the Urdu text in the Urdu script on the left-hand page and on the right-hand page an English translation and then a transliteration or transcription of the Urdu text written in roman letters. There are two other collections – Masterpieces of Urdu Rubaiyat and Masterpieces of Urdu Nazm.

Rahi Masum Rasa in a stimulating interview in Akhbar i Nau (February 9-15, 1990) said that unless the classics of Urdu literature were published in the Devanagari script they would cease to exist for future generations. He also said that Urdu speakers should discard their traditional script and adopt Devanagari instead. My own view is that there should be no compulsion to adopt the Devanagari script, but equally there should be no opposition to those who choose to do so. Every support should be given for publication of Urdu works in Devanagari as well as in Urdu script editions.

Adoption of Devanagari was also one of the recommendations of the Gujral Committee report: “There is a strong case for publishing Urdu books in Devanagari script…The diwans of Urdu poets and the anthologies of Urdu poetry in Devanagari script have sold in thousands. In our opinion, the experiment should be extended to cover fiction and humour also.” The Suroor sub-Committee repeated this recommendation adding that “the government should earmark some funds” for this purpose (Recommendation no 84). And the Jafari Committee reiterated all this. These recommendations were very welcome ones. What one would like to know is whether the government, or the organisations established to promote Urdu, have taken any notice of them.

Ali Sardar Jafari, the chairman of the third of the three committees, had already taken an admirable initiative many years ago in producing Devanagari editions of Ghalib and Mir.
One important, and much to be desired, consequence of making as much Urdu literature as possible available in Devanagari is that it would do something to hinder the efforts of Hindi chauvinists to expel from contemporary Hindi what they falsely call ‘un-Indian’ elements. Urdu in Devanagari script will help to maintain in Hindi the use of much vocabulary which is still, despite all the efforts of the Hindi chauvinists, common to the two languages.

There is another constituency of Urdu literature, that of those who can only approach Urdu literature through the medium of English. My own two books written in collaboration with Khurshidul Islam, Three Mughal Poets (1968) and Ghalib: Life and Letters (1969), were meant for people in the English speaking world. When they were a year or two ago, they sold quite well, obviously here in India. The publishing firm Rupa is anxious to publish English translations of works of Urdu literature.

It is not only publishers’ realisation of the existence of this wider audience for Urdu literature in English that has made them ready to publish books like these. Since the rise of the women’s movement and since the emergence of a strong anti-racist movement in the west, respectable publishers are frightened of being seen as in any way conforming to the values of racism or anti-feminism and one of the interesting results of this has been that Asian woman who has translated from Urdu, stands a very good chance of having your translations accepted for publication in the UK and the US especially if it is women’s writing that she has translated. This is a digression, but I wanted to make the point because even if there are quite fortuitous reasons which have not got anything to do with the value of Urdu literature, but which nevertheless make it possible for Urdu literature to be presented to a wider audience, we should not hesitate to take advantage of such factors.

There is another, I think increasingly important, audience for Urdu literature presented in English in the second and third generation immigrants from Urdu speaking areas into the English speaking and the English knowing world and there are substantial numbers of such people both in North America and in Britain, and to a lesser extent in other European countries. In short, there is a much wider audience for books presenting Urdu literature in English than there was, say, 30 or 40 years ago. There was published in England, The Penguin Book of Modern Urdu Poetry, selected and translated by Mahmood Jamal (1986), and in India a Penguin book on Ghalib (Pavan K Varma, Ghalib: The Man, The Times, 1989) and numbers of translations of Faiz, including The Rebel’s Silhouette: Selected Poems, translated by Agha Shahid Ali.

Those organisations which are concerned with the promotion of Urdu need to be concerned with all these audiences and not simply with the audience of those who are already able to read the Urdu script. For example, the Anjuman i Taraqqi i Urdu or the Taraqqi Urdu Bureau, needs to give support, including if necessary financial support, to any of those bodies, voluntary bodies, publishers, others, in this country and in other countries who are doing things which help the advancement of Urdu.

In my readings I have noticed that the extracts from the English and Urdu press are full of all the injustices done to Urdu, and there is very little else. The account they give is perfectly accurate, and the greater part of this paper too has been devoted to them. But that is not the full picture. There are factors which are working in favour of Urdu and these too need to be described if an accurate, full picture is to be presented.

Waheed-ud-Din Khan says in an article:
My complaint is not against the national press, but against the Muslim press. At present all Muslim newspapers are trading in protests, complaints and the community suffering. It is a fact that the present Muslim journalism is protest journalism, not constructive journalism in any way. This is the main problem. I may be allowed to say that the Muslim intellectual class itself is devoid of any positive thinking. Then, how can they work to promote positive thinking among ordinary Muslims? What are the Muslim newspapers doing? They are indulging in convincing the Muslims that they are an oppressed and deprived minority for whom all avenues of living and progress are closed. The reality is that problems and opportunities are always there in the world. The correct approach, therefore, is to find out the opportunities lurking among the problems and urge the people to utilise them while overlooking the problems. The correct formula is to ‘starve the problems, feed the opportunities’ (The Nation, Lahore, July 9, 1993).
Then there are distortions – dishonesty, to be quite blunt – in the picture presented of the historical context within which the problems facing Urdu have to be seen. Perhaps because Ather Farouqui’s thesis is the longest sustained treatment of these problems that I have read, I find him more guilty of these than most. His attacks on Hindu and Hindi chauvinists are fully warranted, but he greatly exaggerates the weight they carry on the Indian political and cultural scene. On the other hand he (and most other writers) are silent about the equally pernicious (and much more long-standing) Muslim chauvinism which is widely prevalent in the Urdu speaking community. Writers correctly assail the Uttar Pradesh government for declaring Hindi as the sole official language of the state. By exactly the same logic they should assail the government of Jammu and Kashmir for making Urdu its sole official language, when, as Syed Shahabuddin points out in his article in Mainstream Annual 1988: “Urdu is the official language of the state and the medium of instruction and yet declared as mother-tongue in 1971 or in 1981 as a household language by a very small proportion of the population who regard Kashmiri or Dogri or Hindi as their language”. But I have never heard of any Muslim who takes the proper stand on this question.

Ather Farouqui argues, sometimes openly, and sometimes by implication, that Urdu speakers who have supported Congress or have consented to serve in government-financed organisations have ‘sold out’ to the enemies of Urdu. No doubt some of them have, but again this is much too simplified a picture. In particular his attacks on those Muslims who, long before independence was won, were with the Congress, are quite unwarranted. To describe Hayatullah Ansari as one “who raised the slogan of Urdu but who in fact had no interest in the welfare of Urdu and Muslims” (The Nation, Lahore, July 15, 1994), is completely unjust. He writes, “I consider the 20-lakh-signatures movement started by Dr Zakir Husain as an extremely unrealistic, escapist movement. Naturally, it did not yield any result”. In what way “extremely unrealistic, escapist”? And why “naturally”? It is quite fair to say that the signatures campaign did not achieve the result it aimed at, but this does not mean that it was of no significance.

Waheed-ud-Din Khan’s advice is to starve the problems, feed the opportunities’, or, in other words, build upon the factors which help the cause of Urdu. Three of these have great significance. First, despite the efforts of the Hindi chauvinists the lingua franca, the ‘link language’ of everyday communication, continues to be, as it was before independence, one which is just as much Hindi as it is Urdu. This is evidenced by Teach Yourself Hindi (1989). On a typical page of the vocabulary provided at the end of the book, out of 73 entries 54 are words of this kind and there are only 18 words at the most which would perhaps not be understood by Urdu speakers. Secondly, the immensely popular Hindi films could equally accurately be called Urdu films. The Gujral Committee in para 140 of its summary of its conclusions rightly says that “the major contribution of films is that they have not allowed any barriers to grow between Urdu and Hindi”. These two factors alone indicate that spoken Urdu is a language widely understood by millions of Indians, many of whom are not Muslims. Thirdly, interest in Urdu and its literature (especially its poetry) is widespread among very large numbers of people who do not know the Urdu script and have only a partial understanding of the literary language.

I therefore quarrel with Ather Farouqui’s view that Urdu is now essentially the language of the Muslims. And this is nothing new; Urdu always was essentially the language of the Muslims, notwithstanding that before independence it was also the language of much greater numbers of non-Muslims than it is now. I do not fundamentally disagree with Ather Farouqui on this point, but in the light of the positive factors I have spoken of, what is the point of constantly stressing that the Urdu speaking community and the Muslim community are virtually one and the same? Such a stress obscures the important point that the defence of the rights of Muslims and the defence and promotion of Urdu is not the concern of Muslims alone. These things are the concern of all those who uphold the declared ideals of independent India, and Urdu speakers need to reach out to all of them and work in harmony with them for these common ideals.
* I am a lecturer in Urdu at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London. I have been in India on one-year study leave three times, the last of which was in 1965. During these I had an opportunity to observe at close quarters what was going on in the world of Urdu. My other sources are newspaper articles and correspondence with people connected with the promotion of Urdu.


Khurram Ali Shafique on Jaun Elia

Ghazal is more suited to express the complexities of the modern age than nazm and Mir Taqi Mir, by virtue of being more ancient, may be appreciated more by the present generation as compared to Ghalib who is some sixty years closer to our times.

It is very interesting, at times quite shocking, to listen to Jaun Elia – one must admit this whether agreeing with him or not. It may be due to the fact that he is one of the few remnants of a culture now on the verge of extinction – the Urdu speaking society which is located close to its Arabic and Persian roots. Jaun Elia is unique phenomenon in being a rebel of that society, one who has discarded some of the dearest beliefs of his culture and yet lives up to remain a true and loyal representative of its intellectual heritage – an embodiment of its ethos. Know for his dispersed poetry more than for his one belated anthology published four years back, Jaun Elia speaks about his poetry, his influences – and his unrequited love affair with classical Arabic literature:

“As I was growing up to appreciate poetry I began to like the Persian poets better than the Urdu poets. Raudki (the father of Persian poetry), Firdousi, Urfi, Nazeeri, Hafiz, Moulana Roomi … these were considered to be masters. I studied them like a student – an exercise I did not undertake with any of the Urdu poets. I considered the latter group to be a “group of friends” – it was partially because I knew that they had themselves studied the same masters as myself. In a way looked at all of them as fellow students belonging to the same university. Some of them could have been my senior, no doubt.

For instance, I could have been a class ninth student as compared to Mir and Ghalib who seemed like final year students – but ‘college mates’ nevertheless. The great Persian masters were a different matter altogether. They were the murshids, the mentors. And all of the great Urdu poets have themselves acknowledged their debt to these Persian masters. Ghalib, for instance, mentions Firdousi as the poet par excellence in one of his letters. In the same letter he mentions Avicena as the greatest philosopher. Indeed this was the general ethos of the Muslim society up to our times: the Persian poets to be the prime examples of achievement in poetry and the Arabic philosophers (‘Arabic’, not ‘Arab’), since most of them were non-Arabs writing in the Arabic language) to be the masters of thought.

Avicena and Farabi hold a position in our tradition which is parallel to Plato and Aristotle in the western system of philosophy. Right from Quli Qutub Shah, all Urdu poets have admitted the same feelings of indebtedness and gratitude towards their Persian mentors. Only during the last fifty years has this influence begun to fade out – apparently due to the decline of Persian language.

“I did slightly change, however, my viewpoint on the Urdu poets later on. I began to appreciate Ghalib and became quite impressed by him, extracting a lot of pleasure from his poetry. I think Ghalib influences you more if your social problems are simple and straight, and if your feelings of alienation are more theoretical rather than being an intense personal experience. However, when you grow up more, and go through the real agony of being ‘the outsider’, then you are likely to appreciate Mir better. Before 1947, our problem was simple and the answer was clear: obtain freedom from the British. However, the problems became more complex after we became independent.

“As I went deeper into the mires of ‘industrial loneliness’ and came across extremely painful experiences of solitude, I too began to like Mir Better than Ghalib.

“Ghalib had, in fact, foreseen the defeat of his society and accepted it as a rational conclusion to the decline of society. This was evident from his attitude to the fighters of 1857 which included his best friend Moulana Khairabadi. His sarcastic remarks on the new edition of Ain-e-Akbari prepared by Syed Ahmed Khan too reflected that stance. To both of themhe said that the Mughal India has to go, and the British Raj is destined to come because it is a superior system.

The case was different with Mir, who lived two generations earlier to Ghalib. The fate of the Mughal India had not become evident by his times, and therefore he still had hope in the order under which he was living. His agony came from the genuine anxiety of seeing the worse things happening before him, and yet wishing from his heart for the best to take place. That sounds familiar to us; the intellectuals of the post-British period. Our sorrow is more complex and deeper than Ghalib’s, more like Mir’s. And just like Mir we have not given up hope – we won’t like the British or the Americans to take over the country again.

“And yet there is another great reason to like Mir. He is the only Urdu poet who is ‘unique’. I say this because virtually all other Urdu poets have their equivalent – actually their ‘betters’ – amongst the Persian masters. Ghalib, for instance, owes his repertoire to his formal thoughtfulness, wit and a holistic approach to life. But this can be found in his Persian precedent Nazeeri, whom we may consider as his ‘original’ in a way. One can easily do away with Ghalib, saying ‘why should I read Ghalib when I have access to Nazeeri’. In the same way, Iqbal can be more than replaced by his ‘mentor’ Roomi. Josh, who is known for his rhythm, melody and a kind of grandeur, loses some of his originality when we discover these very qualities treated to a greater perfection in the poetry of Q’ani.

“Mir, on the other hand, is a different case altogether. He is a purely Indian poet who has absorbed the richness of Persian, moulding it especially for Urdu. He has that ‘Indianness’ which is missing in Ghalib. Consider, for instance, the following couplet:

“It reflects a tone which is definitely not borrowed from Persian at all – an example of the essentially Urdu element in his poetry!

“And yet it is difficult for me to say which one of these great poets has most affected my tone and diction. In my poetry I have reflected three or four different tones which may be represented by the following couplets:

“Perhaps a critic who may sit down to analyse my poetry will be better entitled to say which poets have affected my diction more.”

Just as he chooses Mir to depict the sentiment of the present age, he points out ghazal as the genre which is best suited to express the problems of the contemporary words…

“Throughout 1960s I kept on writing poems on social and political issues, mostly against the martial law imposed by field Marshal Ayub Khan. Also, in 1962, I started what I intended to finish as a long epic poem.The working title was Nai Aag Ka Ehednama or The Testament of the New Fire. I have now changed the title to Ramos but the poem remains unfinished.
“I do not have any bias against either ghazal or nazm.

I just follow my inspiration, which keeps shifting from nazm to ghazal and back. However, I feel that the complicated problems of the present day call not for a simple language, and therefore ghazal rather than nazm.

He is somewhat reluctant about the publication of his poetry I the form of anthologies. “About six of seven volumes are already prepared for publication and one of them may appear by April. My well wishers want all of them to be out soon but I would rather like some of my prose work to be published first.”

These “prose works” certainly deserve some detail here. For although Jaun Elia is better known as a poet, he is also a scholar of no less metal. Among his achievements are his translations and studies of classical Arabic literature, including Hallaj and Ikhwan us Safa.

The latter was an assignment he first accepted as part of his services for the Research and Publications Department of the World Ismaili Centre in the ‘60s. It has now become a labour of love. “I used to work at the Centre on Islamic history and philosophy. I suggested Urdu translation of the 52 volumes of encyclopedia compiled by the secret brotherhood of Ikhwan us Safa. They lived during the Fatimid period, and for some reason they kept their names unknown. However, they are generally believed to be Ismailis, and the Ismailis own them too.

These encyclopedia are supposed to have inspired such revolutionary French thinkers as Rousseau and Voltaire, and also the French encyclopedists and lexicographers of the eighteenth century. Indeed these 52 volumes cover wide range of topics from numbers and mathematics to astrology, music and occult sciences, etc. I had translated up to twenty volumes when the Ismaili Centre was moved from Karachi to London in the late ‘60s. Thus it left the project unfinished. And then I lost the manuscripts of my translation except for five of them. Recently, when I made up my mind to publish them privately, I discovered to my dismay that the very first volume, Numbers, was missing! Now I want to begin with the first volume in any case. I think I shall have to translate it again, and that I can accomplish in twenty-five days but the non-availability of the original text is posing a great problem.”

The other major topic of his study was Hallaj, the mystic martyr of the 3rd century of the Muslim era. The study spanned a period of 18 years and over 300 sources. With tears in his eyes he states that the fruits of this labour – his manuscripts on Hallaj – are lost due to some mishaps of his private life.

“What was the significance of Hallaj in your mind when you chose him as a topic of study?” I asked this question to find out any parallel that he might have drawn between the spirit of the Sufi rebel of the early Muslim period and the ethos of our age.

“Hallaj was a sufi, as you know, and love of humanity is the essence of Sufism along with the concepts of a ‘holistic religion’ (Deen-e-Kull) and pantheism (Wahdat ul Wujood). Secondly, Hallaj was also known for his radical political beliefs. Most of his approximately thirty books listed in Nadeem’s Al Fehris are about politics rather than anything else. Contrary to popular belief, I think he was executed for the political threat that he had become for the Abbassid rulers. The charge on him that he declared himself to be the Lord by saying ‘Ana al haq’ was merely a cover. The Muslim society was never so bigoted as to have a man executed just for saying something like that. The same society had tolerated for more offensive ‘blasphemies’ of the earlier Sufi Bayazid.

He is even reported to have said on one occasion, ‘I am greater than God’. Hallaj, on the other hand, had only said something which could easily have been translated as ‘I am the truth’. By the way, this statement rather reads like a translation of a sentence from the Upanishads, i.e., ‘aham Brahma’ or ‘I am Brahma’. Hallaj would never have been taken to the gallows if he had not desired certain political changes contrary to the interests of the rulers of his time. My interest in this great mystic was mainly due to his political activities and beliefs.”
No description of Jaun Elia can be considered complete if it does not mention drama – his second choice among art forms. “I first became famous in my home town (Amroha) while still in my early teens – not as a poet but as a playwright and performer. I used to write my own plays, and then stage them with other boys of my age. These were usually historical plays, set in the early centuries of the Muslim period. My practice of writing plays has definitely left a mark upon my poetry, including my ghazal for my verses often acquire the tone of a dialogue. Indeed, if I were not a poet I would have expressed my sentiments through drama (mostly historical) and my thought through history and philosophy.”

Yet he has allowed poetry to become his first obsession. What he says here about drama may serve as a background for what he has written in the preface to his anthology, Shayad, published in 1990: “ I would venture to say that drama is an art form of a second category as far as its poetic essence is concerned …. My argument is this: drama is the art of personification and an idea loses its vitality when personified. In drama, the idea is confined in the form of a character, thus dissolving into well-defined but limited time and space – a holistic thought of innumerable applications thus turns into what is nothing more than part space, part time and part manifestation .
Originally published as:
“Ideas Lose Vitality When Personified” By Khurram Ali Shafique. DAWN: Tuesday Review, Jan 3-5, 1995

Introduction of Four collections of Poetry , and Poetry Recital at Writers Forum – August 27 @ 2PM

Writers Forum will hold a unique literary meeting that will include introduction of 4 poetry collections of important Urdu poets. These include Jon Elia, Anwar Shaoor, Javaid Shaheen, and Ajmal Siraj.

The meeting will also include poetry recital by selected Urdu and Punjabi poets. The program is follows:

Date; Sunday, August 27, 2006
Time : 2 PM
Place: North York Central Library
5160 Yonge St. Toronto
TTC/Subway: North York Center


Introduction of Books:

Aur Mein Sochta Reh Gaya – Ajmal Siraj – Introduced by Kaleem Zafar
Mee Rqasam – Anwar Shaoor – Introduced by Muslim Hasany
Hawa Ka Waada – Javaid Shaheen – Introduced by Nuzhat Siddiqui
Lekin – Jon Elia – Introduced by Munir Saami

Poetry Recital by selected Poets: Names will be announced in the next notice.

Please mark your calendars now and plan to attend!

Thanks. Munir Saami

——————————- “Dictatorship and authentic literature are incompatible… The writer is the natural enemy of dictatorship.” Ismail Kadare , Albanian Novelist. Munir Pervaiz (Saami)

The Situation of the Urdu Writer: A Letter from Bara Banki

The Situation of the Urdu Writer: A Letter from Bara Banki
(December 1993 – February 1994) /*/

Ambiguities of Heritage:
Fictions and Polemics

by C. M. Naim

ISBN:969-8380-19-1 / 9698380191

Dear Editor: As I sit down to write for your special issue I have spent almost three months in Bara Banki, a small town in northern India, thousands of miles away from the seminars on literature at Chicago. On the other hand, Bara Banki is only seventeen miles from Lucknow, the fast-decaying capital of the state of Uttar Pradesh, which was once famous for its elegant, Urdu-dominated culture; it is also only seventy miles away from Ayodhya, where exactly one year ago a frenzied mob, led by some very deliberate people, tore down a sixteenth-century mosque. A few weeks ago, at a musha’ira or poetry reading attended by several hundred people, I heard a young Urdu/Muslim poet recite a banal verse which nevertheless drew loud applause: “They all love me, but none is “mine” / I exist in this country like Urdu.” Given these circumstances, I feel little inclined to discuss “magic realism” in Urdu fiction or the decline of the “abstract” story in this “postmodernist” period. I can only talk about Urdu and what it is like to be an Urdu writer in India today, in this forty-sixth “postcolonial” year. So bear with me.

Urdu is one of the sixteen or eighteen constitutionally recognised major languages in India, and I am told that the 1981 census showed it to have some 35 million speakers. There is, however, no region specific to it. Years ago, for some obscure political reason, it was declared to be a state language in Kashmir, but the mother tongues of the people of that beleaguered state are Kashmiri, Dogri and Ladakhi, not Urdu. On the other hand, in the states where millions of Urdu speakers have lived and died for centuries, Urdu has no status, not even that of a full-fledged second language. (My mother recently wrote her will in Urdu but, in order to get it legally registered, had to have it translated into Hindi.) Urdu-speaking children in Lucknow and Bara Banki do not receive primary or secondary education in Urdu. (I write to my sister in Urdu; she must correspond with her sons in Hindi.)

Perhaps I should say that the Urdu-speaking children in northern India cannot receive primary or secondary education in their mother tongue — guaranteed to them in the Indian Constitution — because the state refuses to provide it. In fact, the state has put an end to what was available even during the colonial period. When it happened, soon after India became independent, many Muslim parents started sending their children to what were then and still primarily are religious schools: the madrasas. Previously there, children learned to vocalise/memorise the Qur’an – -without understanding a word of it — and the basics of the Islamic faith. Now, in that same context, they are taught to read and write Urdu, but little else. Eventually they return to the regular schools and find themselves trailing behind their peers in almost every subject. Better Muslims, perhaps, but handicapped for the mundane competitions of life, and not really true heirs to all that was always claimed for Urdu.

One invariable claim made about Urdu was that it stood for synthesis and harmony; that it represented the commingling of Iran and India, of Muslims and Hindus. Now such a claim would make little sense. Today, in India, Urdu is almost exclusively a language of the Muslims. But not of all Muslims. Not, for example, of the Muslim peasants or fishermen in Bengal and Kerala, nor of the illiterate, lower-class Muslim women in northern Indian towns and villages. At best, it is the language of high culture for the vast majority of urban Muslims, particularly men, more particularly in northern India. It is they who feel culturally most threatened by the state antagonism to Urdu. They may be the people most of whose elders not too long ago raised the cry of Muslim nationalism and created Pakistan, but must the “sins” of the fathers be visited upon the children?

“Urdu is such a sweet language.” I dare not count the times I have heard this from speakers of other Indian languages when they discover that I speak and teach Urdu. But does their own language not sound sweet to their ears? How do they measure this “sucrose” in Urdu? Unfortunately, all that is meant is that they enjoy a certain kind of singing and take delight in going to movies with such titles as “Mere Mahbub” (My Beloved), “Pakiza” (The Pure One), and “Chaudhvin ka Chand” (The Full Moon). Urdu, for them, is ghazal poetry and the culture of the courtesan and her patron. It would appear that the sweetness of Urdu lies in what in other contexts is called “decadent” and “feudalistic.”

Then there are those Urdu speakers who proudly assert, “Urdu is the sweetest language of all.” They too have something similar in mind, except that they view it as cultural sophistication. Curiously, I have never heard an Urdu speaker call Marathi or Tamil sweet. I have, however, heard them use that term concerning such northern Indian “dialects” as the Braj or the Avadhi — in this case, invoking the image of village belles, love songs, and rustic ways. In other words, to be called “sweet,” a language must be perceived as something remote, a part of the nostalgia, even carrying a whiff of decay. To see Urdu’s future in India in the increasing number and popularity of ghazal singers is macabre — as macabre as the “Muslim” set designs for the ghazal shows on Indian television, the same television that has only five minutes of daily news in Urdu in Lucknow and just one more Urdu programme of thirty minutes each week. And yet, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of the government of India spends a great deal of effort and money on several hours of a daily programme on short wave called “Urdu Majlis,” beamed at Pakistan!

No wonder serious Urdu writers in India form a curious breed: they have to keep surfacing despite the challenges that surround them. Suppose you are a bright young person growing up in a caring, not exactly indigent Urdu-speaking family in northern India. By huge odds, you must be a Muslim too. You would be taught to vocalise the Qur’an at home by a maulvi, who might also teach you to read and write Urdu. But your parents would not find any Urdu-medium primary or secondary school in the city, not to say the neighborhood, and if they did, it would be so bad they would not send you to it. So you would go to some private school (English-medium) or some state school (Hindi-medium). By the time you reach high school, where Urdu might be available as an optional subject, very little Urdu would be left in you. Anyway, that is the time for extra course work in science and math and English, to prepare yourself for the university.

But perhaps you are the persistent kind; you find the time to read in Urdu on your own. How do you get the books? Urdu collections in public libraries have not been maintained; in some instances, in northern India, they were even disposed of in various ways. In bookstores only a tiny fraction of the literature is available, for most of it has not been re-published or gone beyond one printing since 1947. Shipments of books and magazines from Pakistan are rarer still; it is easier to order a book from Brooklyn than from Karachi. What this means is that most Urdu writers in India have little or no knowledge of several generations of poets and novelists of the erstwhile united India, and only a rare few of them have any access to the wealth of Urdu publications in Pakistan.

But let’s return to your desire to write in Urdu. You have managed to obtain the linguistic tools, read enough in your tradition, and found your inspiration. You start writing, say, short stories. There are a dozen or so literary magazines to send them to; but fewer than half of these come out regularly, and none has a circulation of more than a thousand copies, except the one published by the Information Ministry. It is also the only one that pays its contributors even a nominal amount. Of course, it only publishes what it considers “safe.”

So you persist, and in a couple of years you have a dozen stories to make up a book. Now you look for a publisher. Easy, if you don’t ask for money and, on the contrary, are able to bring a subsidy from one of the state-sponsored Urdu academies. If, however, you are not in with the ignorant bureaucrats or their imbecilic advisors from academia, you have no choice but to publish the book yourself. Average first edition: 400 to 1,000 copies.

Congratulations! You now have a book out, but will it sell? A lucky first edition sells out in two to four years. That is the end of your book, unless someone brings out a pirated edition in Pakistan. In fact, you secretly long that someone will. How else will you reach that other audience of yours?

Of course, while all this was going on, you were also trying to find and hold a job, to raise a family. Then one day your daughter comes home from school and tearfully shows you her Hindi or history textbook. It says that the Muslims were aliens in India, that they only destroyed temples and persecuted the Hindus and made no positive contribution; that they must be “brought back into the mainstream of Indian life.” Or your son tells you how he was taunted by some boys who called him a “Babur’s son.” (Babur was the Central Asian prince who conquered parts of northern India in 1526 and laid the foundation for what later came to be known as the Mughal dynasty.) What do you say to them? Or perhaps you have the experience yourself when you go to the corner store and find written on its wall in crude letters: “Babur’s children / Go to your graves or to Pakistan!” Should you then not find it amusing that even the ugly slogan aimed at you was written in Hindi while, conversely, it used a jingle form that imitated Urdu? Perhaps not. Hashimpura, Maliana, Bhagalpur, Meerut, Bhiwandi, Baroda, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bombay, Surat, Bhopal -0 what happened in these and many other places was far from amusing.

So, you return home and write a story, in Urdu. For writing in Urdu in India is now definitely a political act. It may not empower you much, but it still lets you assert the fact of your existence. You authorise yourself. In a time of plagues, that is enough.


/*/ Originally published in World Literature Today, 68:2 (Spring 1994).

Urdu in the Pre-modern Period: Synthesis or Particularism? by C M Naim

Urdu in the Pre-modern Period:
Synthesis or Particularism?

Published from Prof. C M Naim’s
Ambiguities of Heritage: Fictions and Polemics.
Karachi: City Press, 1999. 213 pp. ISBN 969-8380-19-1.

Urdu is commonly described as the finest product of the so-called ganga-jamni culture/1/ that developed after the establishment of Muslim rule in North India. A typical example of this sentiment is the recent comment by Professor Muhammad Hasan of the Jawaharlal Nehru University: “Urdu literature is the by-product of a cultural synthesis.”/2/ There is, however, an opposite view, as expressed by Professor Aziz Ahmad of the University of Toronto. He argues that “only in a larger sense can [Urdu] be called a language which developed as a synthesis of Hindu and Muslim cultures in India; it developed rather as a means of contact between two mutually exclusive cultrues.”/3/ I tend to agree with the latter view, adding that the use of Urdu actually provided a very limited number of points of contact, which declined with the rise of Hindu self-consciousness and nationalism in North India in the nineteenth century. More importantly, throughout the pre-modern period, i.e. up to the middle of the nineteenth century, all major developments in Urdu language and literature exemplify a dominant contrary theme, namely a trend to discourage synthesis and encourage exclusiveness and particularism. This paper will attempt to delineate the details of that trend, which continued, albeit with increasingly reduced effectiveness, into the modern period.

What is now called Urdu has the grammatical structure of the Khari Boli (shared with modern Hindi), is written in a variant of the Perso-Arabic script, and borrows its learned vocabulary from Persian and Arabic. The last two factors distinguish it from Hindi, which is written in the Devanagari script and borrows its accoutrement of learning from Sanskrit. However, a closer look, keeping in view the history of Urdu literature as it is generally taught now, shows that more than the script it is the third factor that seems to be the decisive one. For example, whereas the literature written in the Deccan (South India) in the so-called dakini variety of Urdu’s literary tradition is considered a genuine predecessor to the main body of literature in Standard Urdu, the Prem Margi love narratives of Avadhi — e.g. Jaisi’s Padmavat — are given scant attention in any discussion of Urdu’s literary heritage, notwithstanding the fact that the earliest manuscripts are also in a Perso-Arabic script./4/ The operative argument is the closer affinity of the dakini verses to Perso-Arabic literary tradition with respect to both the meters and the genres. It seems that in attempting to define Urdu, we cannot restrict ourselves to purely linguistic constituents; we must bring in supra-linguistic factors, the chief being the matter of a closer affinity to the Perso-Arabic learned traditions simultaneous with a disaffection for what may be Indian and vernacular.

Take the name Urdu itself. It was not the earliest name of the language; the earlier ones being hindawi, hindi, dehlawi, and rekhta. The world Urdu, in fact, seems to be an abbreviation of a longer phrase: zubaan-e-Urdu-e-mu’alla, “the language of the exalted camp,” i.e. the language of the area in the immediate vicinity of the Red Fort in Delhi that was populated by the elite and nobility of the Mughal Court and their dependents from the time of Shah Jahan. In contrast with that, the next common term, rekhta, has humbler associations; it merely means “mixed; fallen.” Similarly, dehlawi and dakini refer to the regions of Delhi and Deccan, respectively, while hindi and hindawi have closer ties with such words as Hindu and Hindustan. The eventual triumph of the term Urdu was, in my opinion, due to its suggestion of both a supra-regional as well as an elite Mughal, i.e. Muslim, identity for the language. In other words, “Urdu” represented not a region but a state of mind.

Another expression of that state of mind can be seen in the controversy that has frequently raged in Urdu circles since the eighteenth century around the concept of ahl-e-zubaan, “the people of the language,” with its corollary of a belief that at any given time there could be only one markaz, “centre,” of Urdu. As one would suspect, these twin concepts were used to establish the superiority of one regional idiom, in terms of its alleged refinement, exactitude, and normativeness, over all others. This development took place in the eighteenth century perhaps as a reaction to the snobbery of such Iranian visitors as Sheikh Ali Hazin (1692-1766), who regarded the Persian of Indian writers with much contempt./5/ Indian poets, led by Sirajuddin Ali Khan Arzu (1689-1756), defended themselves and their Persian against such attacks, and claimed themselves to be as good as the natives of Iran. On the other hand, Arzu also encouraged Sauda (1713-1781) and others to turn away from Persian and adopt rekhta or Urdu for their literary expression. Arzu’s argument was that the Indians could not hope to improve over the earlier Persian masters, and that, after all, the Indians were more of an ahl-e-zubaan in Urdu.

What thus began as a reaction to one type of linguistic chauvinism came later to be an exercise in chauvinism itself. As is well known, the first business at Delhi, after poetry in Urdu became popular there, was to cleanse it of all its dakini elements. The idiom of Delhi became the norm. Later, when Lucknow became the more prosperous centre of culture and attracted a large number of immigrants, there began in Lucknow a rivalry between the ahl-e-zubaan of Delhi and the ahl-e-zubaan of Lucknow. This rivalry continued vociferously until the middle of the nineteenth century, and persisted even after that, though only intermittently and in a subdued way. Similarly, the misplaced belief that Delhi and Lucknow were the only proper centres (markaz) of Urdu and that the people from Uttar Pradesh and Delhi were the true ahl-e-zubaan of Urdu often led to much bitterness and antagonism well into this century in places such as Patna, Lahore, Calcutta, and Hyderabad./6/

Thus we see that those who claimed equality with native Iranians in the matter of Persian idiom turned around and themselves showed reluctance in granting equal status to all speakers of Urdu./7/ Lest it be thought that only the Muslims were guilty in this regard, I should point out that even the Hindu literati of Urdu were not free of this attitude. Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar (d.1902) was as eager as the next Muslim to use the phrase bu-e-kachauri mi aayad, (“it smells of kachauri,” a typically Hindu dish,) with reference to the hyper-Persianised Urdu of certain Hindus. Early in this century, in the controversy that raged between Abdul Halim Sharar (1860-1926; a Muslim) and Braj Narain Chakbast (1882-1926; a Hindu) over the language of Daya Shankar Nasim’s masnawi, Gulzaar-e-Nasim, most Muslim authors of Lucknow sided with their compatriot Hindus and made fun of Sharar, who was originally not from Lucknow./8/

Next we should consider in some detail the development of the three chief genres of Urdu poetry, the ghazal, the masnawi, and the marsiya, in the pre-modern period. As is well known, all the prevailing genres of poetry in Urdu are of non-Indic origins. Not that the early poets did not try their hand at dohra and chaupai; quite a few of them did, but merely as a diversion. Their creative powers were devoted, however, to the production of ghazals, masnawis, qasidas, and other similar Perso-Arabic genres, and it is these genres that define the perimeters of Urdu poetry.

As is well known, much of the early ghazal poetry written in the Deccan differs dramatically from the later ghazals of both the Deccan and North India. The difference lies not only in their language, which shows a prevalence of regional, dialectal forms, but more essentially in the treatment of the main theme of the ghazal, i.e. the theme of love. In the dakini ghazal, love is always heterosexual; it is expressed in a female voice directed toward a male beloved, addressed as sajan, pitam,/9/ etc., or a male voice directed toward an unmistakably feminine beloved. This was contrary to the common practice in Persian poetry — where the sex of the beloved is either ambiguous or obviously male — and quite in accord with indigenous, Indian literary traditions. There are lovely descriptions of viraha, “separation,” in the early dakini ghazal which have little in common with the highly stylised landscape of hijr, “separation,” in the later Urdu ghazal. Early dakini ghazal is rich in local colour, and uses Indian flora and avia as much as the Persian cypress and nightingale. However, with the passage of time these traits, instead of being augmented, disappear. First the use of the feminine verbal forms stops, then the use of such words as sajan and piya, until we reach a stage in the later part of the eighteenth century where Wali is told by his mentor to imitate (plagiarise?) Persian poets, and where Qaim calls dakini ghazal “vulgar.”/10/ Things did not come to a rest with that major break. There began also a process of “cleansing” the language. In the first phase, the language of the ghazal was purified of all its dakini vocabulary. That was accomplished in Delhi. The second phase began in Delhi but came to fruition in Lucknow; in it not only Person-Arabic vocabulary but also Perso-Arabic grammatical rules came to hold validity in Urdu.

A related phenomenon is that shift in the modality of the ghazal which we perceive when we compare the slow, musical, geet-like ghazals that Mir wrote in his favourite long meters with the enigmatic, highly intellectualised ghazals of Ghalib. The shift here was from being less to being more in accord with the established norms of Indo-Persian literary taste. Ghalib quotes Nasikh to acknowledge Mir’s pre-eminence, but does not seek to follow him in any creative manner./11/ That, incidentally, occurs only in the fifties of this century when Nasir Kazmi and others revive Mir creatively.

Here, within the context of the ghazal, it may be interesting to consider also the case of rekhti, i.e. the poetry written in a feminine voice. As mentioned earlier, the Deccan poets often adopted a feminine voice for themselves in their lyrics, which always expressed a heterosexual love. The practice was quite in accord with the Indian tradition. The Deccan poets did not dwell upon lesbian themes, nor did they see anything humorous or obscene in their use of a feminine voice. In the North, however, the voice of the ghazal poet became heavily masculine, as did the image of the beloved, and the adoption of a feminine voice came to be identified, at best, with sexist humour, and at worst, with outright obscenity. Rekhti — the term itself is a later coinage — came to be regarded as poetry of sexual titillation, lesbian as well as heterosexual. The result was that even the women poets of Urdu had to employ a masculine voice in their ghazals. In other words, within the domain of the ghazal, Urdu lost a distinctive linguistic feature, namely the expression of the true gender of the subject, and took on the “anonymity” of the Persian.

But that is not all. The case is a bit more complicated. The development of the rekhti does not reflect an act of imitation: there was no rekhti in the Persian tradition. Rather it reflects the fact that Urdu literary conventions came to be dominated by the values prevalent in the elite, Islamic milieu of Lucknow and Delhi. It tells us:

(a) that women were segregated in the elite Muslim society and had developed a distinctive dialect of their own;

(b) that lesbian sex was common in the harems of the elite and was viewed as a worthy source of titillation by many poets of Urdu; and

(c) that a feminine voice was not regarded as suitable for the expression of tender heterosexual love.

These three features are definitely not duplicated in any other Indian literature outside of Urdu. That the Urdu poets could not only give up the indigenous feminine voice for tender love, but later use it exclusively for bawdy purposes, only indicates the extent of their rejection of indigenous tradition in the pre-modern period.

When we turn our attention to the history of Urdu masnawi we find a similar story. Masnawi, ascribed to the creative genius of the Persians, is used for narrative poetry, more often than not to tell some romantic tale. Masnawi, therefore, is full of descriptive as well as dramatic passages, which allow greater depiction of local culture and landscape. It was a favourite with the kings and poets of the Deccan and, being a continuous poem, had much in common with the poetry in the surrounding Indian languages. Not only in sheer number and size but also in their overall quality, the masnawis of the Deccan are far more notable than the later products of North India. It is only our present linguistic deficiency and prejudice that makes us now more appreciative of the later, somewhat puny, efforts of Mir Hasan and Daya Shankar Nasim as opposed to the grander compositions of Vajhi and Nusrati./12/ It seems to me somewhat pathetic that instead of developing into an epic of the nature of the Shahnama of Firdausi, the tradition of the masnawi in Urdu faded out into the trifles of Nawab Mirza Shauq./13/ The blame for that is generally placed on a change of taste: the royal patrons no longer cared for long narrative poems; they didn’t have enough time. That cannot be the entire reason; evidently much more was involved. The progression from a simple masnawi to an epic needed not just a generous patron and great powers of description and narration, but more importantly a sense of myth, which was visceral and terrestrial. That was something that never developed among Urdu poets. What did develop was a taste for the atomism of the ghazal, which had no affinity with the kind of poetry that was being written in other Indian languages. Thus, it can be said that the rise of the ghazal at the cost of the masnawi was another aspect of the trend under discussion.

The third and the last genre to be considered here is that of the marsiya, which, in relative significance and achievement in Urdu, is next only to the ghazal. Marsiya literally means an elegy, but in Urdu milieu this term, if not explicitly qualified differently, refers only to the poems commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Husain and his companions on the battlefield of Karbala. These poems are declaimed in public gatherings, specially during the month of Muharram. For that reason it is a genre closely identified with the Shi’ite culture, and it naturally began to flourish early in the Shi’ite kingdoms of the Deccan. Early marsiyas were simple poems, written in various forms and containing a random mixture of topoi, but over a period of two hundred years or so they developed into highly elaborately constructed, six-line stanza (musaddas) poems of such masters as Mir Anis (1802-1874) and Mirza Dabir (1803-1875), dealing with specific heroes and incidents. It is interesting to note that the marsiya is the one genre of Urdu poetry which, as it developed, managed to maintain to a great extent its original balance of local and foreign elements. In these elegies the emotions are Indian though the personae are Arabs; the landscape is conventional — sort of vintage ghazal — but the material culture, customs and rituals are Indo-Muslim. This development was, no doubt, a direct result of the peculiarly didactic and public nature of these poems. The marsiyas are written to be read before an audience in a majlis and to make the listeners cry. To succeed in its chief goal a marsiya has to be firmly rooted in the intimate and the local. Though in purely linguistic terms the later marsiyas are as different from the dakini ones as the later ghazal is from the earlier, in their operative aspect, i.e. in the mubki (tears-inducing) aspect, they are not that different. They too utilise indigenous value systems, emotions, and material culture to bring the tragedy closer home to the devout audience.

The marsiyas of Anis and Dabir are marvellous, and yet they mark a dead end. By succumbing to the dictum of the purity of the language, being burdened with a heavy load of religious zeal and ritual piety, and having to be of a restricted length in order to be presented in one sitting, Urdu marsiya failed to develop the kind of epic quality it could have. Some writers have argued that the marsiya was the precursor to the modern Urdu nazm (a continuous poem on a particular topic, in blank, free, or rhymed verse.) Aziz Ahmad supports this view:

“It has been rightly pointed out that the revolution which transformed Urdu poetry, after the mutiny of 1857, was, in fact, heralded by the impact of the marthiya, for this contributed several elements to the new poetry, which were later developed under Western influence. Among these was a sensitiveness to the beauties and severities of nature, the identification of poetic emotionalism with religion and a break away from the shackles of the ghazal to a freer form of versification.”/14/

I would disagree with this opinion for several reasons. The depiction of nature in marsiya is as convention-ridden as in the masnawi. Further, it is not nature in all its manifestations: predominant are two scenes, dawn in a wildernesses (which often tends to look more like a dawn over a formal garden) and the excruciating heat of a desert noon. The two fulfill a major structural purpose, namely to match the life-into-death process that the heroes themselves go through between dawn and noon, but they are a far cry from what would be called nature poetry. Certainly, in comparison with that, most Urdu masnawis, not to mention the poems of Nazir Akbarabadi (d.1830) display a more variegated palette. As for the matter of identifying poetic emotionalism with religion, that can at best be regarded as a mixed blessing. It certainly leaves any objective critic open to attacks by the devout. The third point about an alleged break away from the shackles of the ghazal requires a longer comment.

It is true that the marsiyas popularised the musaddas. In the modern period, Hali’s “Ebb and Tide of Islam,” Chakbast’s “Scenes from the Ramayana,” and Iqbal’s ever popular “Complaint” and “Answer to the Complaint” are only a few of the important poems written in the six-line stanza form. At a cursory glance it might appear that the popularity of the musaddas suggests a preference for sustained, continuous poetry and a break away from the atomism of the ghazal. A more careful look, however, would reveal that the six-line stanza of the musaddas works on the “hammer and anvil” principle of the quatrain. In the quatrain, the first three lines are the “anvil,” being prepared to receive the resounding blow of the fourth, the “hammer.” In the musaddas, the first four lines are a preparation for the teep, the final two lines that form a rhyming couplet. Thus the basic structure remains binary, and the basic unit a bait, a couplet, in other words, very much within the ambit of the Perso-Arabic traditions and quite in affinity with the atomism of the ghazal.

In conclusion, I would like to quote Professor Aziz Ahmad at some length, as it would be impossible to improve upon his succinct statement on the case of Urdu during the pre-modern period.

“Urdu poetry did not miss the Indian atmosphere, much of which it had chosen to ignore. It created for itself, by a process of mathematical multiplication, an inexhaustible wealth of symbols, images and designs, which corresponded to generalized necessities of emotion and intellect. It was a desperate unconscious clinging to the origins of the symbols of Muslim India’s cultural experience which had begun abroad, and an instinctive escape from the fear of submergence into the Hindu cultural milieu, with its strange gods, its almost pagan love of the actual Indian nature, its startling realism, and its tempting fragrance and rhythm. In Urdu poetry, the 18th century Muslim diaspora, no longer in a position of political or economic power, and threatened generally by chronic upheavals, chaos, insecurity and the fear of extinction, found its insular emotional escape. Its rejection of Indian themes was also an imposition of self-discipline, an uncompromising conformity to a conservative emotional symbolism, to remain spiritually and emotionally and creatively distinct and different. It did not mean or envisage a conflict with the Hindu tradition of expression or their active repudiation. The attitude of Urdu, on the positive side, was motivated by a semi-conscious urge for preservation of artistic solidarity with the external world of Islam with which it had lost direct touch; on its negative side it was a detachment from India, the land of the Hindus, without any considerable efforts.”/15/


/*/ Originally published in New Quest (Bombay), #6, February 1978.
/1/ Ganga-Jamni, lit. “having both the Ganges and the Jamuna,” refers metaphorically to any conjunction of the Hindu and Muslim cultures. It also describes any decorative work that combines gold and silver.
/2/ Muhammad Hasan, “Thought Patterns of Urdu Literature,” in Problems of Indian Literature; no editors; Calcutta, 1975, p. 122.
/3/ Aziz Ahmad, Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment, Oxford, 1964, p. 245.
/4/ For reasons of space I have not discussed Urdu prose in this paper, but it can be pointed out that a fate similar to the Avadhi prem margi poems has been accorded also to Inshallah Khan Insha’s Rani Ketki ki Kahani, a tale written around 1800 in a Khari Boli (Insha calls it Hindawi) that includes not a single non-Indic word. Insha’s poetry, however, is regarded an integral part of Urdu’s literary heritage.
/5/ Sarfaraz Khan Khatak, Shaikh Muhammad Ali Hazin: His Life, Time and Works, Lahore, 1944, passim.
/6/ The misguided belief that somehow Urdu is the “Islamic” language par excellence in South Asia caused much grief in the brief history of what was once known as East Pakistan.
/7/ Coincidental to this discussion of the language, I would like to venture a remark which is purely impressionistic, but which may contain more than a grain of truth. It is chiefly in two areas, namely those of abstract nouns and adverbs — and to a lesser degree in the area of adjectives — that Urdu borrows heavily from Arabic and Persian. These three categories provide the vocabulary that helps the speaker make generalisations, rise above the specific and the terrestrial, and express his sense of values. The predominance of Perso-Arabic elements in these categories may be one of the causes for the rise of the trend under discussion.
/8/ See Mirza Muhammad Shafi Shirazi, Ma’raka-e Chakbast-o-Sharar, edited by Amir Hasan Noorani, Lucknow 1966.
/9/Sajan from Sanskrit sajjan, “well-born; sweetheart”; pitam from Sanskrit priyatam, “most beloved”; piya from Sanskrit priya, “dear.” These words are now used in Urdu only in geet, “songs.”
/10/ Muhammad Husain Azad, Aab-e Hayaat, Lahore 1917, first published in 1881, passim.; Mir Taqi Mir, Nakaat-al-Shu’ra, edited by Abdul Haq, Aurangabad, 1935, p. 1.; Qiyamuddin Qaim, Makhzan-e-Nakaat, edited by Abdul Haq, Aurangabad, 1929, passim. Qaim’s couplet is: Qaim main ghazal taur kiya rekhta warna / ek baat lachar si ba-zubaan-e dakini thi: “I have established, Qaim, the ghazal in rekhta; otherwise it was something vulgar in the language of the Deccan.”
/11/ Ghalib quotes Nasikh with approval in the maqta of a ghazal: Ghalib apna ye aqida hai ba-qaul-e Nasikh / aap bee-bohra hai jo mo’taqid-e Mir nahin: “I believe, Ghalib, in agreement with Nasikh, that he who doesn’t believe in Mir is himself an ignorant person.”
/12/ Mir Hasan (d.1786) wrote a masnawi, Sihr-ul-Bayaan, an English synopsis of which can be found in Ralph Russell and Khurshid-ul Islam, Three Mughal Poets, Cambridge, 1968. Daya Shankar Nasim (d.1843), a native of Lucknow, wrote a masnawi, Gulzaar-e-Nasim, which is noteworthy only for its highly terse, even dense, diction; Vajhi (c.1630) wrote only one masnawi, Qutub Mushtari; while Nusrati (c.1665) wrote several, the most famous being Gulshan-e-Ishq. Incidentally, the shift from Mir Hasan to Daya Shankar Nasim is very much of the same nature as that posited earlier with reference to the ghazals of Mir and Ghalib, i.e. a shift from the relatively simple to the more complex and erudite.
/13/ Nawab Mirza Shauq (d.1971), a native of Lucknow, wrote several masnawis, the most famous being Zehr-e-Ishq, which are not very long and whose only charm lies in their colourful and idiomatic language and a certain degree of raciness.
/14/ Aziz Ahmad, An Intellectual History of Islam in India, Islamic Surveys, Edinburgh, No. 7, 1969, p. 101.
/15/ Aziz Ahmad, Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment, Oxford, 1964, p. 253.

Book Reviews by Asif Farrukhi

The spirit of learning

Reviewed by Asif Farrukhi

From Oxford and Cambridge in the West to the American University at Cairo that is closer to home, there are a number of universities which are no less renowned for their independent presses than for being great centres of learning. The publication of scholarly and reputable works is often thought to be an extension of institutes of higher learning. On the other hand, universities in our country generally have nothing worthwhile to contribute.

Universities across the country have declined in rendering their main function, that is, teaching and preparing students for practical life. They have been doing such a shoddy job of it over the years that it makes little sense to ask of how they are carrying out publication programmes.

A university’s publication programme should reflect the spirit of learning and scholarship by publishing and promoting quality research work. Such books normally fail to attract mainstream publishers. They nevertheless deserve publication as they make significant contributions to their field of study. An exception to this general and dismal picture of decline seems to be the Bahauddin Zakaria University in Multan, where the Urdu department is moving ahead with a series of publications worthy of the learned traditions of a university and adding new titles to an already impressive list, including scholarly works on themes of general literary interest and particularly the life and works of writers from the region. The new books published by the university not only deserve the attention of readers but are setting a tradition worth emulation by other learned bodies in the country.

Azad’s Aab-i-Hayat is more of a classic on its own rather than an account of the classical poets in Urdu. It sets out to describe the various stages in the growth and development of Urdu language and poetry and describes the major poets in some detail. In taking up this Herculean task, it brings these poets to life as figures of human interest and part of a rich cultural milieu. Ever a popular classic since its first publication in 1880, the book has determined what later generations thought of many poets, making reputations in some cases and almost killing others. Today we may not agree with some of its judgments, but it remains a window to the past. Aab-i-Hayat’s importance is such that the entire book has been translated into English by Professor Frances Pritchett, the renowned scholar. This critical edition methodically considers this book as text, highlighting the additions and corrections Azad made in various editions of the book, and explores and compares the sources Azad consulted, adding what research has to say about these matters. The editor has compared Azad’s anecdotes with accounts in other tazkiras, and has textually examined the numerous verses Azad has quoted. What makes this task a challenging and difficult one, is the fact that to examine any aspect of Aab-i-Hayat, textual or critical, is to really examine the whole of classical Urdu poetry. In this volume, the 363 pages of the main book are supplemented by voluminous notes which include textual variations, notes and annotations and this is the real value of this edition. It is rare to see such level of detail and attention given to our classics, and this edition will add to our information when reading this classic.

Such books normally fail to attract mainstream publishers. They nevertheless deserve publication as they make significant contributions to their field of study

Dr Shagufta Hussain’s previous publications include an interesting collection of translations from different sources, including the Nobel Prize speech by J.M. Coetzee. Her new book focuses on one particular literary magazine, the Adab-i-Latif. However, she has chosen her subject well. In tracing the rise and fall of one magazine, the changes in its editors and editorial policy, and the details of its contents, she has chronicled changes in literary attitudes and tastes over the years.

Adab-i-Latif started its publication in March 1935 and is well suited to a detailed analysis of this sort. It started its life in the heyday of Urdu literary periodicals and was served by a number of distinguished writers who worked as editors. This array of writers-editors include Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Mirza Adeeb, Intizar Husain, Masood Ashar, Syed Qasim Mehmood and Nasir Zaidi among others. Dr Hussain has analysed each editorial period and conducted personal interviews with most of the editors so that she is able to draw on first-hand information. However, she is neither overawed by the subject nor intimidated by the people she interviewed. She analyses the changing pattern of the magazine and goes to the heart of the matter in presenting the kind of problems the magazine is facing today, in spite of its distinguished track record. Her assessment of the magazine’s present situation is, in fact, particularly interesting as it sheds light upon the current imbroglio being faced by literary magazines in Pakistan.

While the analytical parts of the book are particularly good, the author has prepared a category-wise index of the stories, poems, plays, essays and translations published in the magazine over the years. This section will be invaluable to researchers but is not likely to interest general readers. As an ordinary reader, I kept on wishing that somehow I could look up old files of the magazine and read some of the contents. Now that the author of this book has summarised and categorised the contents of the magazine’s archives, she should consider making a selection from the magazine over the years and reprint some of the material which may not be easily available. A generous selection from the magazine’s pages may make a worthwhile companion to her research work.

Mahnama “Adab-e-Latif” Ki Adabi Khidmaat
By Dr Shagufta Hussain
447pp. Rs350
ISBN 969-9001-01-1

By Mohammed Hussain Azad
with annotations and textual notes by Abrar Abdus Salam
ISBN 969-9001-00-3
626pp. Rs650
Department of Urdu,
Bahauddin Zakaria University, Multan

The master of detail : Commentary on Shams ur Rehman Farooqui’s Novel

Hello Friends,
I share with you the commentary on Shamsur Rehman Farooqui’s novel by none other than Intezar Hussain.
However I am also saddened by Intezar Sahib’s declaration that Farooqui Sahib’s integrity as a critic can not be questioned. He also declares that no other novel has caused the similar stir since Umrao Jan Ada. In doing so he seems to advise us that nothing happened in the history of our literature since then.
These are the declarations that have always hurt our literature. The most objective readers of Farooqui Sahib’s criticism, despite recognizing his stature, find that his biases are obvious and persistent.
He carried the flag of a particular point of view and declared that Zafar Iqbal was a better poet than Faiz, and spent considerable literary capital in making Faraq a pariah of Urdu literature.
Before Farooqui Sahib, T S Elliot did the same in increasing and decreasing the values of writers in the Capital Market of Literature. And it is now established that Elliot was a religious conservative with a rigid point of view. That does not make a critic objective.

It actually reflects the criticism marred by value judgment.

One of the major critics of all times discussed the profusion of value judgments in literature and theorized that it is not the role of the critic in engaging in value judgments on the works of literature.

He in fact directly commented on such practices by T S Eliot in these words:

“Value judgments are subjective in the sense that they can be indirectly and not directly communicated. When they are fashionable or generally accepted, they look objective, but that is all.”

“….. It includes all casual, sentimental, and prejudiced value judgments, and all the literary chit-chat which makes the reputation of poets boom and crash in an imaginary stock exchange.”

“The wealthy investor Mr. Eliot, after dumping Milton on the market, is now buying him again; Donne has probably reached his peak and will begin to taper off; Tennyson may be in for a slight flutter but the Shelley stocks are still bearish.”

“This sort of thing cannot be part of any systematic study, for a systematic study can only progress: whatever dithers and vacillates or reacts is merely leisure-class gossip.”

The novel under consideration is the First by Farooqui sahib, and despite Intezar sahib’s declaration, it is the time and the readership and subsequent objective commentaries that will determine its merits and acceptance.
Intezar sahib’s commentary is also reflective of an unhealthy practice in our literature where writers rely on critics and flaps for their popularity and acceptance.

I am certain that both Intezar Sahib and Farooqui sahib are not those practitioners.

Regards. Munir
The master of detail

By Intizar Hussain
AFTER a long time we have a novel in Urdu which has caused a big stir in the Indo-Pak literary world. Should it be compared to the stir that Umrao Jan Ada had caused in its times? And it has come from a writer who is primarily known to us as a critic and a researcher.

Who can dare question the integrity of Shamsurrahman Farooqi as a critic and researcher? His book Sher-i-Shor Angez published in four volumes is a brilliant study of Urdu poetic tradition with particular reference to Mir. His book Sahiri, Shahi, Sahib Qirani may be seen as an introduction to his detailed study of Dastan-i-Amir Hamza. The dastan runs into 49 volumes and Farooqi has planned to present a study of each in a separate volume. So, this study too is expected to run in 49 volumes.

Now Shasurrahman Farooqi has come out as a novelist, though in the book the research scholar is very much there providing full assistance to the novelist. In general, the scholar and the creative writer don’t go together. As a result, the attempt on the part of the scholar to write a novel has generally been seen resulting in a failure. The present scenario may be seen as an exception to what has been deemed a rule. Here, we see history transformed into a mode of fiction in a creative way.

So, Kai Chand Thai Sar-i-Asman is a novel of a different kind. It is undoubtedly the outcome of a scholarly study of a certain period in history. And the author sees no harm in acknowledging this fact. He even reveals his sources of information. Think of a novel with a bibliography appended to it in the end. It also includes the dictionaries, which have helped him to reconstruct the spoken idiom of that period.

The period of history, which has here gone through a fictional process, is very well known to us all. It is the last days of the Mughal Empire. The characters are almost all historical figures appearing here with their proper names. A number of them are more known to us because of their being part of the literary history of Urdu. No attempt to hide any of them behind a fictional veil is made. Apart from Ghalib, Zauq, Momin, and Dagh we see Hakim Ahsanullah Khan, Maulvi Imam Bakhsh Sehbai, and Nawab Ziauddin Ahmad playing their part as important characters in the novel. Then we meet the distinguished figures of the Red Fort —- Queen Zeenat Mahal, Mirza Fakhroo, Mirza Abubakar, and King Bahadur Shah Zafar. And how can we fail to recognise Nawab Shamsuddin and Mr Frazer? The murder of Mr Frazer was a great dramatic event of its time carrying with it a scandal which eventually led to the hanging of Nawab Shamsuddin.

The only character, who, though a real person, was hitherto dimly known to us, is a woman. It is now that she, as portrayed by Farooqi, appears before us in her true colours. She is a great woman, in the presence of whom even the queen of India, Begum Zeenat Mahal, dwarfs into a petty quarrelsome human being. This great woman happens to be the mother of a poet, who emerged as the most popular of the then India, that is, in the post-1857 era. Allama Iqbal called him “the last poet of Jehanabad”, with whom ends the great tradition of the classical ghazal. He was Mirza Dagh Dehlvi.

This woman, Wazir Khanum, emerges as the central character in the novel. In fact, it is her presence which imparts a romantic flavour to the book and gives form and meaning to the events and situations depicted in it.

Wazir Khanum grew as a dazzling beauty. Endowed with an independent nature she refused to submit to the will of her parents and chose an Englishman as her partner. As ill luck would have it, he soon met with a violent death. But living in Delhi as a widow she with her charms attracted the attention of Mr Frazer and Nawab Shamsuddin Khan at the same time. Nawab succeeded in winning her, which led to the hostility between the two men ending in the murder of Mr Frazer and the consequent hanging of Nawab Shamsuddin.

Now Wazir Khanum was a widow with a son in her lap. Her third husband too met with a violent end. The fourth was Mirza Fakhroo, the heir apparent to King Bahadur Shah. Now she as his consort made on entry in the Qila-i-Mualla. But the sudden death of the prince led to her exit from the fort. Once again she was a widow going to Rampur along with her son.

Here ends the novel, which may be read as a document of an age that forms the fag-end of the Mughal empire. Shamsurrahman is a master of detail. How subtly he has depicted the minute details of a life, which brings before us a whole culture, say the Indo-Muslim culture, as it flourished during the last days of the Mughals. And what a portrayal of the woman Wazir Khanam, who in her person, stands as the embodiment of this culture.