Thursday, July 30, 2009

Manto 'giri'

Saadat Hasan Manto is considered one of the best short story writer in Urdu. His series of letters to Uncle Sam in which he dissects several issues are also very popular. The beauty of these letters is the fact that they are critical and show his disgust of things not discussed much among the ordinary people or even the learned. Small but pointed, they are still relevant today.

Consider this (taken from his third letter addressed to Uncle Sam):"You have done many good deeds yourself and continue to do them. You decimated Hiroshima, you turned Nagasaki into smoke and dust and you caused several thousand children to be born in Japan. Each to his own. All I want you to do is to dispatch me some dry cleaners. It is like this. Out here, many mullah types after urinating pick up a stone and with one hand inside their untied shalwar, use the stone to absorb the after drops of urine as they resume their walk. This they do in full public view. All I want is that the moment such a person appears, I should be able to pull out that atom bomb you will send me and lob it at the Mullah so that he turns into smoke along with the stone he was holding."

This sight which is very common in North India (possibly in other regions too) can be shocking for many who are left wondering what the person is up to. For Muslims it is necessary to ensure that no drop of urine touches the body, but the method employed (though effective) and the use of it in full public gaze can leave one disgusted.

While the stones are used to ensure 'cleanliness' and maintain the hygiene level as required, they end up showing the person as a complete garbage. And it's not just the mullah types who indulge in it. Coming back to Manto, '...use the stone to absorb the after drops of urine as they resume their walk'. It is this tendency of continuing to walk with the stone still doing, or trying, to do its job that is objectionable. The action stems from the belief that it is being carried out as a necessity disregarding the fact that in the process, the necessity has become an entirely avoidable and deplorable act.

The entire process can be completed in a more dignified way, which only demands a little amount of patience. But patience is a virtue, and even if it can lead to a more dignified act, it can be disregarded. And if people do not have patience and decency for others, the atom bombs are not far behind...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Gopi Chand Narang: A plagiarist?

In 1999, V N Narayanan, an editor with Hindustan Times was found to have plagiarised a column that appeared in The Sunday Times, London. Narayanan later resigned ending his three-decade old career in journalism. The incident created quite a stir after 'The Pioneer' reported it. Now, allegations of plagiarism, of a more serious kind, have surfaced against renowned Urdu scholar Gopi Chand Narang in relation to his book Sakhtiyat, Pas-i-Sakhtiyat Aur Mashriqi Shi'riyat.

C M Naim, the eminent scholar in a piece in Outlook has written in detail giving the background of the 'plagiarism'. Interestingly, he says that way back in 1997, writer Fuzail Jaffri had pointed out that Narang's work was not an original piece of work. It is sad, to say the least, to read the piece as Gopi Chand Narang is considered a formidable scholar. What adds to the shock is the fact that it was the same book that got him the Sahitya Akademi award in 1995.

It will be interesting to know what Gopi Chand Narang has to say on the issue. According to Naim, while the allegations have been made in the last few years, there has been no response from Narang. The allegations against Narang have been made by Imran Shahid Bhinder, a doctoral candidate in the department of English at the University of Birmingham, UK. "The evidence Bhinder presents is quite irrefutable," writes C M Naim, ( in Outlook magazine.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A shayar and a cop

More than a year back I visited the senior inspector attached to a prominent police station in Mumbai. A cricket enthusiast, known for his organising abilities the cop had a very unlikely visitor. Rahi Kanpuri - a shayar. Kanpuri sahab has fallen on bad terms and it was evident the inspector was giving him moral (and it seems some material) support.

Kanpuri lived in a small abode that always seemed to be the target of local municipal authorites out to demolish illegal and unauthorised structures. The poet had not enough funds to fall back on, and he could not go back to his village in the condition he was. But once a shayar always a shayar.

A self confessed fan of Sahir Ludhianvi (pic on left), he narrated an interesting episode relating to Ludhianvi. In 1969 Indira Gandhi was attending a seminar on Mirza Ghalib where Sahir Ludhianvi was present too.

However, Ludhianvi candidly said there was no need to remember Ghalib when the Urdu language is dying and nothing is being done to help it survive and flourish. It left Indira Gandhi shocked, but that was Sahir!! Rahi Kanpuri went on to recite some of Sahir sahib's poems. "I consider him better than many. He was a man of guts."

No doubt about that. It takes a lot of courage to stand up against powerful politicians. And Indira Gandhi was no ordinary 'powerful politician'. This is what Sahir Ludhianvi reportedly recited:
"Jin shahron mein guunji thi Ghalib ki nava barson
Un shahron mein ab Urdu bey-namonishan thahri
Azadi ka elan hua jab
Mayub zabaan thahri gaddar zaban thahri
Jis ahed-e siyasat ne yeh zinda zaban kuchli
Is ahed-e siyasat ko marhumon ka gham kyun hai
Ghalib jise kahte hain urdu ka hi shayar tha
Urdu pe sitam dha kar Ghalib pe karam kyun hai"

Poet Yusuf Nazim passes away

On 23 July, 2009 renowned Urdu poet and humourist Yusuf Nazim passed away at the age of 91. This is not supposed to be an obituary in the strictest sense, one which involves a commentary of his work or an analysis of the numerous essays he penned. It comes out of a special bond I shared with him.

I had first met him in 2005 when I used to visit my would-be wife at her Bandra house. His flat was just opposite my wife's, and I hardly ever let go a chance to say 'aadab' to him after being formally introduced to him. I was drawn naturally towards Yusuf Nazim, the person (first) and Urdu satirist (later) and always enjoyed my conversations with him.

He had retired from Government service in 1976-77 and had numerous tales and anecdotes which he shared in his inimitable style. Whenever I used to meet him, I was bogged with a unique sense of emptiness around me. It stemmed from the stark fact that I can't read or write Urdu.

In almost every conversation of ours he used to say "Arrey, Urdu nahin aati aapko", as if he had just come to know about it. As if to prove him wrong, I would hold a Urdu paper or magazine lying around him and try and read it out. "Quran sharif padhni aati hain, to thodi bahut Urdu padh sakta hoon," I would say even as he would correct and prompt the Urdu letters.

"Aasan hain. Aap jaldi seekh jaayenge." "Ji bilkul main bhi seekhna chahta hoon." It was a ritual. None of our conversations were complete without this.

Yusuf Nazim's energy and life was his pen, which even at the ripe age of 91 did most of the talking for him.

He always had some Urdu literature around him, which he would read at short intervals. His writing pad (to a young man it only reminds of exams) and pen were also his constant companions. His satire and humour were not limited to the essays and poems he wrote, they would come out in real life too.

His laugh had the innocence of an eight-year-old jovial, well-mannered boy. And just as you had thought it was all over, another comment would come enabling you to enjoy the luxury of laughter, a much sought-after commodity these days.

He was a natural satirist who had a keen interest in the happenings of the world. Our conversations would always start with current affairs and then go into various dimensions. At times he would shock me with his scathing comments on some issues and then go on to elaborate why he said it.

I have barely read his work, but would like to think I have an idea of it because I knew his personality. Or maybe I am belittling him by linking his work to his personality, the many shades of which I am possibly not aware.

Yusuf Nazim had good number of visitors and used to get invited at regular intervals at various seminars and meets. Though he was always overflowing with energy, Mumbai’s roads and his old age prevented him from attending many of them. But if he ever attended one, he would speak about it in great detail.

I once noticed a new and beautiful walking stick next to him and asked him from where did he buy it.

“Ek sahib bahar gaav gaye the. Unhone tohfa diya,” he answered. He used to get frequent visitors and had people who were in love with his work.

His age gave him the authority to speak about writers, poets and leaders of the present as well as the pre-independence era. He used to refer to Akbar Allahabadi, Mirza Ghalib, Zoe Ansari, Jinnah, Nehru, P V Narasimha Rao, Inder Kumar Gujral, Sharad Pawar, Dr Rafique Zakaria and many others.

Once he corrected me on how to pronounce “Jinnah”. My face turned pale. “Oh my God, I have pronounced ‘Jinnah’ the same way so many times,” I thought to myself. After that I became a bit reserved in my conversations with him - thinking twice before uttering a new word, lest I pronounce it incorrectly.

That was the only instance when he corrected me. But I am sure that it was not the last word he would have liked to correct, had he not remembered my ‘Jinnah’ face. He was always dressed in white ‘kurta pyjama’ while at home.

When he attended my wedding, three people went up to him to say hello because of the cap he was wearing (in pic above). “Hamen jaanna tha ki yeh sahab hain kaun,” said one of those who had walked up to him. Anyway, his face was very suggestive of his personality, with or without any external paraphernalia.

Apart from books and pens, his other constant companion was his wife, Aisha. I always felt, Daadi, as I call her along with my wife and her siblings, was the perfect match for him. They complimented each other very well. She loved ghazals and old songs. I had observed that Nazim sahib used to say with some amount of pride, whenever Daadi was away in the kitchen or in the bedroom, that Aisha knows, listens and can recite a lot of old songs.

The last time I met the couple was in the first week of June. “Bhool gaye aap Dada ko,” she told me. I had gone to see them after almost a month. “Main bhool jaaon to bhi kya hua? Yusuf Nazim ko to zamaana yaad rakhega,” I replied even as Nazim sahib smiled.

About Yusuf Nazim

Completed his BA (Urdu) and MA (Urdu) from Osmania University, Hyderabad

Member Secretary: Maharashtra State Urdu Academy

President: Maharashtra Anjuman-e-Taraqqi Urdu Hind

Received Ghalib Award in 1984

Haryana Urdu Academy gave him Mahendra Singh Bedi Award-1992

Contributed to major Urdu newspapers and magazines