Saturday, December 25, 2010

Jinnah: The arrogant achiever

In November 1938, Hassan Ispahani wrote to M A Jinnah about Anwar Hassan, great-grandson of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. "Sir Syed rendered a service to the Musalmans of India that will remain unequalled so long as civilization remains. You will therefore agree with me that a young man and worthy descendant of his who is willing to work for his living should not be allowed to knock from pillar to post searching desperately for employment." Jinnah replied:"I think I did drop you a line from Bombay with regard to Anwar Masood saying that I could not help in the matter."

Ispahani's letter to Jinnah was not out of place. He had turned to a leading lawyer and towering leader of Muslims to help out the great grandson of Muslim visionary Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.

But what he got was a cold reply seeped in characteristic Jinnah style. For all his fame and brilliance as a lawyer and politician, Jinnah was not the one to mince words. Which is why I am baffled when some historians say that Jinnah never wanted a separate nation but was only creating a bogey to have more bargaining power for the Muslims.

Well, it doesn't make any difference for the reality is that India got partitioned. Thousands of families were uprooted, friends and relatives had to part ways and the bloodbath that followed was unprecedented.

And unfortunately it did not stop there. The two countries continue to be at loggerheads. Those Muslims who went to Pakistan got the label of Mohajir and the ones remaining in India found themselves numerically and intellectually diminished.

Urdu: Jinnah
and Gandhi

It was the same attitude of mincing no words that made Jinnah declare on his maiden visit to Dhaka after Partition that Urdu was to be the state language of Pakistan (which included East Pakistan). Jinnah himself was well conversant only in Gujarati and English and his knowledge of Urdu was scant.

I do not know if Jinnah made any efforts to learn Urdu or not, but expecting Bengali speakers to grapple with kaaf and gaaf proved costly. Once again it were the Muslims (Bihari Muslims) who bore the brunt when Bangladesh fought for its 'independence'. Caught between the two Pakistans, it was only recently after a court's decision that they got voting rights in Bangladesh.

In his letters Gandhi chided any Urdu-knowing person who wrote to him in English instead of Urdu. Gandhi's dream of Hindustani was a mix of Hindi and Urdu and he always advocated the use of simple Hindi and Urdu in both the scripts. He himself was trying to learn Urdu.

Jinnah moved in elite circles in Bombay in Saville Row suits and was one of the highest paid lawyers. He married Ruttie the daughter of his Parsi friend Sir Dinshaw Petit and gave the best to his sister Fatima. His English education and prominence as a lawyer made him arrogant bordering on the rude.

Once while he was in Shimla, Nawab Hamidullah Khan of Bhopal came to meet him. As he came out of his car, Jinnah told him not to come as he was busy."Try your luck tomorrow."

Gandhi's arrival in India changed the Congress's approach towards the British rule. Before that Jinnah was basking in the attention and praise he got from his mentors Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Dadabhai Nowroji. He famously defended Tilak in the Bombay high court and worked for Hindu-Muslim unity.

After Gandhi arrived most of the leaders rallied behind him. Nowroji, Gokhale, Pherozeshah Mehta and Tilak died. Motilal's son Jawaharlal came under the spell of Gandhi and even though he had differences with Gandhi he accepted his moral and superior authority.

Jinnah the popular leader

Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru remained a moderate all his life and continued to practise law. A liberal to the core and a renowned Urdu and Persian scholar, Sapru never played politics like Jinnah or Gandhi. He opposed the non-cooperation movement and the salt satyagraha. However, he commanded respect among the intellectual class and acted several times as a mediator between the British government and Gandhi.

I often wonder that Jinnah would have made a lasting positive effect if he had played a role identical to Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru. He was more suited for it and would have done an excellent job. However, the problem with Jinnah was while his past conduct and vision came close to that of wealthy, erudite and liberal individuals like Motilal, Sapru and Pherozeshah he wanted his popularity, reach and acceptance to match that of Gandhi and Nehru.

Ambedkar was another prominent figure who kept his distance from Congress. He had differences with Gandhi but unlike Jinnah he could identify himself more intensely with his people. Besides, there was no frontline Dalit leader in the Congress. Jinnah and Ambedkar held few rallies together bound by their mistrust of Congress and Gandhi. Unlike Jinnah, who came to London to practise law, Ambedkar never left his people and their cause.

Ambedkar chose to work with the Congress and took active part in deliberations of the Constitution and ensured whatever he could to safeguard the interest of Dalits. The Muslim League on the other hand refused to join the Interim Government of 1946 demanding that only they should be allowed to nominate Muslims in the cabinet. For them Maulana Azad, R A Kidwai, Asaf Ali and other Muslim leaders in the Congress did not exist!

Pakistan at all cost

For any politician it is their goals that matter. Everything else takes a backseat. The economy of the new country was definitely not on the mind of the Muslim League. TIME magazine reports that in September 1947, Pakistan paid a cheque to the British Overseas Airways Corporation which bounced.The company had transported 30,000 officials and their families from Delhi to Karachi. While they were fortunate to get their dues, the list of creditors was fairly huge.

However, as a shrewd politician Jinnah knew that religion and politics should not be mixed. He did not approve of the Khilafat agitation and was against using religion in politics. He should get full marks for his clarity of thought on this aspect. He kept this in mind when he declared that the minorities would get all the security and equality in Pakistan.

But while Jinnah asked for Pakistan, the Congress is also to be blamed for giving in to his demand. The conduct of Congress leaders left a lot to be desired. Their experience with the Muslim League ministers (they joined the Interim government later) made it clear that running a government with them would be a path full of thorns. Agreeing to Pakistan and getting rid of the Muslim League looked better and easier and convenient.

In 1925, Jinnah wrote a letter to The Tiimes of India lamenting that he was wrongly quoted describing Congress as Hindu institution. Yet when Gandhi died he described him as leader of the Hindu community. This in short was Jinnah's reason for Pakistan.

I have referred to books written on Jinnah by Rafiq Zakaria and Akbar S Ahmed

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bapu's effort to get allowance for Prof Mujeeb

Nation building. Going by the current trend it has now acquired altogether different meaning. But here I would like to shed some light on an instance which shows that leaders of a different era did everything in letter and spirit for the progress and well-being of their motherland.

This post is about Prof Mohammad Mujeeb and his association with Jamia Millia Islamia. Prof Mujeeb had joined the Jamia in 1926 and devoted himself to it even as the institution battled a severe financial crisis. To ensure that Prof Mujeeb's stay at Jamia Millia Islamia could be as smooth as possible it was none other than Gandhiji who took the lead.

Prof Mujeeb had studied at Oxford and went to Germany to study printing. There he met Dr Zakir Hussain and Dr Abid Hussain after which he decided to commit himself to Jamia Millia Islamia. Prof Mujeeb, just like Dr Zakir Hussain and Dr Abid Hussain, could have chosen greener pastures instead of confining himself to an institution, still in its infancy and miles away from financial stability so vital for the functioning of any educational institution. The death of Hakim Ajmal Khan came as a severe blow to the institution devoiding it of an active worker and committed funder.

For the staff members the desire to work for the national cause meant financial remuneration took a backseat. For many it would have been difficult to manage their affairs and Prof Mujeeb was no different. The staff had voluntarily taken a pay cut in their love for the institution.
Prof Mujeeb's father Mohammad Nasim was a wealthy man and a well known lawyer of Lucknow. For some reason, Mohammad Nasim had stopped supporting his son which must have made life difficult for the young professor. It was then that Gandhiji himself decided to come to the aid of Prof Mujeeb.

Gandhiji had gone to the Aligarh Muslim University in November 1929. There he met Professor Mohammed Habib (father of historian Irfan Habib) who was the elder brother of Prof Mujeeb. Gandhiji took up Mujeeb's cause with him and raised the issue of his allowance.

In a letter (dated November 7, 1929) to Prof Mujeeb, Gandhiji writes about this meeting. "To my agreeable surprise I found your brother to be most receptive and reasonable. I did not need to argue to with him at all. As soon as I mentioned the matter he said he would do so as I asked him to and he agreed that you should be supported by your father and brothers."

Mohammad Habib was married to Sohaila, who was the daughter of Abbas Tyabji, his close friend. It was only during this meeting that Gandhiji discovered about this relationship. And this helped him to be more open with Mohammad Habib. As he himself mentioned in the letter: "It was there that I discovered that he was Sohaila's husband. And Sohaila to me is like my own daughter...I had therefore much less hesitation to speak to your brother than I would have had without a knowledge of this relationship."

Mohammed Habib also asked Gandhiji to write to their father about the matter. Gandhiji went on to write a long and passionate letter to Mohammad Nasim. "You may know that I dote on Mujeeb. He is one of the purest minded young men whom I have the pleasure of knowing. Mujeeb is an acquisition to the Jamia. The Jamia is passing through a financial crisis. Hitherto you have been good enough not only to give Mujeeb to Jamia but to support him. Mujeeb told me that you had now refused to give him your support. Will you not reconsider your decision and not only bless Mujeeb in his work at the Jamia but also give him all the financial assistance he may need which I was glad to be informed you were able to do?"

I wished I could know what were the reasons that led Mohammad Nasim to stop his son's allowance. Gandhiji made it clear that it was definitely not a case of 'supporting a pampered boy'.

"If Mujeeb was not working in a poor national institution I would fully appreciate your refusal to support him for I do believe in parents not pampering their children. But here it is not a question of supporting a pampered boy but supporting an institution to which he has the spirit of sacrifice enough to dedicate himself without reserve."

Can we even think of any leader/politician going anywhere close to Gandhiji's effort to ensure that the services of a young scientist/academician are utilised for national cause. In recent times it would translate into creating the best possible infrastructure or matching the pay with the best in the industry. Well, let's go back.

An 'anxious' Gandhiji also asked Mohammad Nasim to 'reply as early as you can send it to me'. I do not know what reply Gandhiji got but Prof Mujeeb who had joined Jamia Millia Islamia in 1926 went on to serve it till his retirement in 1973. By that time perhaps both Prof Mujeeb and Jamia Millia Islamia had come out of the financial blues. Hopefully, Mohammad Nasim must have agreed to Gandhiji's request.

Interestingly, Gandhiji who met the elder brother to plead the case of the younger brother came away impressed with the elder one too. In the same letter to Prof Mujeeb, he wrote about Mohammad Habib: "I must confess that by his humility and yet dignified bearing he captured me entirely."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Nawab who could not settle in Pakistan!

When India was partitioned, hundreds and thousands of families were uprooted. People left their homes and belongings to save their lives. The wealthy, educated and well connected people too changed their addresses to where they thought they would be safe, secure and able to prosper.

However, there were some exceptions who were in Pakistan but chose to come back to India. And this post is about one such person. His name was Ahmad Hussain who left his job as an Information Officer with the Associated Press of Pakistan in Lahore and returned to India in 1950.

Born in 1921 in Allahabad in a Nawab family, Hussain did his MA in English and Urdu from Allahabad University. He was a descendant of Nawab Tajjuddin Hussain Khan who was a Vazir in the Awadh court. The family later settled in Allahabad. At Allahabad University he was in close contact with his teachers such as Profs Ajaz, Ehtesham Hussain of Urdu Department and Firaq Gorakhpuri of English Department.

Hussain’s father-in-law, Mohammed Hussain, was a close associate of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya. He joined the freedom struggle, along with his brother-in-law Mubarak Mazdoor (in pic below, standing behind the girl) who was an active Congressman in his student life and a freedom fighter too from his school days.

He was very close to Firaq Gorakhpuri who had taken him as his foster son. Very soon he found himself surrounded by famous poets and writers who used to frequent Firaq’s residence. After completing his studies he joined the Press Information Bureau as a class I officer and moved to Delhi.

While first in Allahabad and later in Delhi, Hussain’s love for literature and his association with Firaq got him in close contact with Majaz, Josh, Sajjad Zaheer, Shaukat Thanvi, Shamsher Bahadur Singh (Hindi poet), Saghar Nizami, Inder Pratap Tewari, Dr Suresh Awasthi, Ram Pratap, Munish Narain Saxena, Rahi Masoom Raza, Dharam Vir Bharti, Kamleshwar, Dr Namwar Singh and other prominent writers and poets.

Hussain was deeply influenced with the leftist movement after the Russian revolution. He had a leftist leaning and was always concerned about the poor, labour class and weaker section of society.

According to his son Dr Ahmad Cameron: "As the Communist Party had been banned in Pakistan after the country came into existence, my father realized there cannot be democracy in that country as the labour, poor & weaker sections of Pakistan being ruled by landlords, zamindars etc will never be able to have a voice of their own because the party which was genuinely for them had been banned."

Thus he came back to India in 1950 and joined Hindustan Times. His other cousins and maternal uncles had also migrated to Pakistan but that did not come in front of his decision to come back to India. Interestingly, his two younger brothers, one sister and mother went to Pakistan after he returned to India. His father and elder sister though never migrated to Pakistan.

I am sure a man like Ahmad Hussain would have been a rarity. And he was very soon noticed by the political and the intellectual class. Being the only Muslim journalist in an English language newspaper in Delhi till late 1950s, the letters written by his father Mehdi Hussain, would reach him with just the following address:

Barkhurdar Ahmad Hussain Sallemahu
Akhbar Angrezi

Feroz Gandhi who was the General Manager of Indian Express employed him for his newspaper after learning about him that though a Muslim, who consciously decided to return to India, was also instrumental in saving many Hindu families in Lahore and ensuring their safe passage to India. He also worked for the National Herald and Patriot.

For Hussain religion was a private matter and he disliked organizations exclusively using religion as a tool to reach out to people.

“I remember I had started attending RSS Shakha with other school boys of the colony when we were living at Mall Road in Delhi. He discovered it one day. He gave me a good thrashing pointing out the kind of poison RSS spreads and they were the killers of Gandhiji. But by then I had attended Shakha for about 10 days! So I have a first hand knowledge about the things that go on in Shakhas. I was in 7th grade at that time so I was not that young either! Similarly he was dead against the Jamat-i-Islami and found the two organizations as two sides of the same coin,” remembers Cameron.

Though a leftist at heart, Hussain never missed any namaz. But he would also never go to offer namaz in a masjid either, except on Eid. He taught as a faculty member at AMU’s department of journalism in early 1980s.

It was only after his death his family came to know that he used to give monthly donations to the charities of Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians which worked among the orphans. None in his family or he ever regretted returning to India.

Like him, his wife, Sardar Fatima Ahmad, was also unique in many ways. She was the first female Post Graduate of Urdu employed by Delhi Administration for teaching of Urdu language to school children, after 1947 in Delhi, who finally retired as the Principal of Govt Intermediate School.

I have always believed history is all about knowing the present better by learning about events and people of the past. If India continues to be a plural and democratic country, it is only because of people like Ahmad Hussain who was an English language journalist, Urdu language critic and Hindi poet.

He and his wife are both buried in Jamia’s grave yard in Delhi.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Urdu press and India's freedom struggle

The history of India's Independence will be incomplete without the mention of the role played by Urdu poets/journalists. Unfortunately, not much attention has been given to the subject except reasearch and discussions in academic and scholarly circles.Urdu's identity , at least in India, revolves around romance and poetry. With the passing away of a number of luminaries in the last few decades the glorious chapter of Urdu poetry/journalism and its role in the freedom struggle has disappeared without even being written anywhere.

While interest in personalities like Ghalib, Zauq, Meer and other Urdu poets has always been there (some believe it has even increased) the valour and sacrifices of people like Maulvi Mohammed Ba
qar, Muneer Shikohabadi, Munshi Sajjad Hussain and Brij Narayan Chakbast are hardly heard and remembered.

Some personalities like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Hasrat Mohani, Mohammed Ali and others are remembered more for their political activities that overshadows the work they did with the pen. Their prominence and fame had a lot to do with the fact that their publications were loved by the masses that catapulted them in the public domain.

Another name that comes to mind is that of Abdul Qaiyum Ansari in Bihar. He was editor of Urdu weekly “Al-Islah” (The Reform) and an Urdu monthly “Musawat” (Equality) in the pre-independence days. He also started the Momin movement to work for the betterment of backward Muslims and vehemently opposed Partition.

Maulvi Mohammed Baqar the editor of Urdu Akhbar was a contemporary of Ghalib. Baqar had taken upon himself to keep up the morale of the Delhi citizens and keep people informed.

Candid and fortright in his comments and reports, the British very soon realised the harm he was doing to their interest. William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal gives a vivid picture of the man and his mission. Maulvi Baqar's Urdu Akhbar was not a mouthpiece for the rebels, but like any nationalist of the time he opposed the Britishers. Under the most trying circumstances, Baqar continued to bring out his paper and earned the ire of the Britishers.

Baqar was shot dead after the Britishers took over Delhi for helping the rebels. A young Mohammed Hussain Azad who also used to help his father in bringing out the Urdu Akhbar managed to escape. Jamaluddin the editor of Sadiqul Akhbar was sentenced to three year's imprisonment for aiding the rebels.

Muneer Shikohabadi, a poet based in Farrukhabad was arrested, tortured and sent to the Andamans for his nationalist views and fanning anti-British opinion. Not much is known about Shikohabadi and he has been reduced to a footnote in the annals of history. However, his poems give an account of the situation in North India. Heavy penalty was imposed on Gulshan-i-Naubahar and every step was taken by the British to suppress the growing menace of such Urdu publications.

As the government of the day responded quickly and forcefully against the unyielding Urdu press some revolutionaries started printing newspapers outside India. The Committee for Promotion of Urdu appointed by the Government of India in 1972 pointed out some of those newspapers: Aina-i-Saudagari, London (1887); Tarjuman-e-Shauq, Constantinople, (1878); Sultan-ul-Akhbar, Turkey (1880); Hindustan, London (1884); ; Hurriyat, Tashkent (1914); Talwar, Berlin (1910); Hindustani, San Francisco (1914); Yad-e-Watan, New York, (1923).

The committee also mentioned Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh and Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi who 'used Urdu for the propagataion of their ideas and produced a rich volume of political literature'.

The Awadh Punch, started under the editorship of Munshi Sajjad Hussain in 1877, took Urdu satire to new levels. It poked fun at the British administration and joined cause with the Congress. Using humour it also worked to forge Hindu-Muslim unity.

Chakbast (pic left), a Kashmiri Brahmin died when he was only in his 40s. A lawyer by profession he was a gifted poet and writer. His hilarious poem 'Lord Curzon Se Ek Jhapat' describes a fictitious conversation between Chakbast and Lord Curzon. A daring and fearless piece of work, 'Lord Curzon Se Ek Jahpat' was well ahead of its time.

The Mumbai-based popular Urdu daily Inquilab was founded by Abdul Hamid Ansari in 1938. A staunch Congressman, Ansari's newspaper espoused nationalist causes. After Partition, Jinnah invited him to Pakistan. However, Ansari refused and continued with his work in Mumbai.

This is just a short list and dozens of such names can be drawn up. The current Urdu newspapers, fighting against all odds, can learn a lesson or two from them.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gulshan-i-Hind and the Musi flood

In the era of internet and e-books, losing a precious book forever does not even crosses the mind. We take it for granted that whatever be the book we are sure to get a copy from somewhere. Even if it is lying in someone's private collection, there is still a possibility that a book aficionado can reach him through the net.

I would like to share the fate of a book written by one of the scholars employed at the Fort William College. The book in question contained short biographies of poets. Before I write about the book let me first introduce you to its author and the circumstances under which it was written.

Mirza Ali Lutf was one of the scholars employed by the Britishers at Fort William College to write and compile books in Urdu. Fort William College, established in Calcutta in 1800, aimed at producing materials in the native languages. The other important objective of Fort William was to acquaint the newly-appointed British officers with the local languages of India.

Since most of the Urdu scholars did not have a good grip on English, they were asked to translate books in Urdu from Persian. The college produced a remarkable body of work and gave a new meaning to Urdu prose writing.

Scholars and writers like Mir Amman Dehlvi, Syed Haider Baksh Haideri, Hafizuddin Ahmad and many others were taken on board to produce a body of work in Urdu that would help the future civil servants understand the law and custom of the country in its own language.

The Urdu prose as such had no real identity of its own and the translation in Urdu had to include elements of English prose writing. I believe Fort William set the trend for the future Urdu prose before Sir Sayyed Ahmad arrived on the scene. Anyway, coming back to Mirza Ali Lutf. Lutf was not a great poet himself but he undertook the translation of the Persian book Gulzar-i-Hind. Gulzar-i-Hind was written by Ali Ibrahim Khan and had names of the famous and not-so-famous Persian/Urdu poets.

Mirza Ali Lutf translated Gulzar-i-Hind as Gulshan-i-Hind in Urdu and very well captured the persona of poets in short biographical sketches. Gulzar-i-Hind came out in 1801 and in the preface Lutf admits he wrote the book on the suggestion of John Gilchrist, the head of Fort Williams College. The book was written when Lutf was in Hyderabad and many scholars believed the book had Dakhni influence.

The book was published much before Muhammad Husain Azad's Ab-e-Hayat. I am sure Lutf's work would pale in comparison to Azad's, but was nevertheless an important piece of work. However, with the passage of time there were not many copies left. In one of the Musi floods of Hyderabad (it was very frequent) a copy was found washed away.

Fortunately, it was found its way to the Asifia State Library, now known as the State Central Library. The library was formed to collect and conserve Arabic and Persian books and manuscripts. Allama Shibli Nomani revised the book and it was brought back to life. Baba-i-Urdu Maulvi Abdul Haq wrote an introduction to the book which was published from Lahore in 1906.

Abdul Haq wrote in his introduction that the book would have been lost forever had it not been recovered from the floods. Gulshan-i-Hind is now available to buy through the internet and fortunately it won't be lost or rediscovered in any flood now!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

How MacDonnell led to the decline of Urdu

For years now the decline of Urdu in India has been a subject of discussion and debates. While there are several instances that caused severe blow to the interest of Urdu, I believe it was Sir Antony MacDonnell's (pic above) stint as the Lieutenant Governor of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh that caused major irreparable damage.

Soon after he gained charge of the provinces, several deputations met him pressing for the use of Hindi as the official language of courts. Finally in April 1900, MacDonnell issued orders that allowed the optional use of Devanagari script in courts. While the orders did not completely displace Urdu from the position it had enjoyed for decades, it infuriated the votaries of Urdu as the decision took them by surprise.

In his earlier posting in Bihar, MacDonnell had lent his support to Nagari script, and this time Urdu intelligentsia lost no time in coming together to oppose him. As a response, Urdu Defence Association was formed and protest meetings were held in Aligarh, Allahabad and Lucknow.

Mohsin-ul-Mulk who was the secretary of the Aligarh College Committee took the lead. He had filled the void created after the death of Sir Syed Ahmad and he took command of the Urdu Defence Association. A huge support base to the Association came from Urdu-knowing lawyers based in Allahabad.

MacDonnell started feeling the heat and made his disapproval clear to the members of the Association. As he openly criticised the organisation and spoke against it on several occasions, many Muslim notables fearing a backlash from the government backed out from it. As a result, a large number of landlords and Nawabs stayed away from the Association thus robbing it of valuable intellectual and monetary benefits. Prominent among them being Nawab Lutf Ali of Chhatari.

Mohsin-ul-Mulk's involvement meant that the entire might of the Mohammedan Anglo Institute was behind the Urdu Defence Association. The British government was giving financial aid to the Aligarh Institute and MacDonnell decided to use it for his advantage. He made it clear that if Mohsin-ul-Mulk continued to stand behind the Urdu Defence Association the aids and grants would be in jeopardy and he would have to resign as secretary of the College Committee.

Mohsin-ul-Mulk had a tough decision to make. He decided to resign from the honorary secretaryship of the College. However, he had to change his decision under mounting public pressure including letters from prominent Urdu writers and personalities. The Urdu movement thus lost a towering leader and guide.

Till the period MacDonnell was in the province, Mohsin-ul-Mulk could not do much for the cause of Urdu. Losing financial and administrative support would have spelled doom for the Aligarh Institute, and it was only after MacDonell's exit from the province that Mohsin-ul-Mulk organised the Anjumman-i-Taraqqi-i-Urdu.

However, much steam had been lost and Urdu had lost ground. What were the reasons that made some people think that Hindi should replace Urdu? A question of language acquired religious dimension. Much of it stemmed from the fact that exponents of both the languages did their best to create as wide a gulf as possible. The charge from both the sides was that the respective scripts were not in sync with the thinking and aspirations of the common man.

As a result words drawn heavily from Sanskrit and Arabic/Persian found their way in what was earlier seen as identical languages with different scripts. I am reminded of the great Altaf Hussain Hali who is known for his Musaddas. Hali wrote the Musaddas - on the rise and fall of Muslims - at the insistence of Sir Syed Ahmad.

However, his masterpiece which was appreciated by the common readers had to face a barrage of criticisms from several quarters. He was widely criticised for the use of Hindi words in his writings. He used to write in simple Urdu and was a staunch believer in bridging the Hindi-Urdu divide.

Hali criticised Muslims for not making efforts to learn Hindi and Sanskrit and using difficult Arabic and Persian words. At the same time he advised that Hindus should use and learn Urdu. If there were more people like Hali on the scene I am sure the situation would have been much different.

But it was not to be. In 1891, around 24 Hindi newspapers had an estimated circulation of about 8,000 while 68 Urdu newspapers had a combined circulation of over 16000. In 1911, 116 Urdu newspapers had a circulation of about 76000 whereas 86 Hindi newspapers had circulation close to 78,000.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Patna man who introduced shampoo to UK

A two-hour drive from London towards the picturesque hilly north east took me to the beach-fringed city of Brighton & Hove. Aside from a quaint weekend, I was here to re-discover the fascinating legacy of an Indian, unknown to most in his home country, and nearly forgotten in his adopted nation as well.

Born in Patna, Sake Dean Mahomed represents a quirky, historic accident in Asian immigrant history — this man is said to have introduced the shampoo to England, a product most believe came to us from the West.

Mahomed's passion for enterprise made him open Mahomed’s Baths in 1821, which featured the first 'shampooing vapour masseur bath' in England. In other words, the seeds of the ayurvedic spa industry were sown not in Kerela but in Brighton. Located just off the sea on its pristine beach, the bath house became a regular jaunt for England's glitterati then.

Word of mouth helped Mahomed’s Baths, and it even caught the attention of George IV who often visited Brighton, to escape London’s hectic energy. Mahomed's peak was when he was appointed the 'shampooing surgeon' to George IV and William IV, a distinction that attracted even more political and diplomatic glamour to this pioneering concept.

Newspapers of the day began reviewing Mahomed’s Baths and the reviews predictably were glowing. Also, the bath held an Orientalist fascination in the popular consciousness of the times because of its therapeutic reputation: Sake Dean Mohamed advertised the bath as a panacea for those suffering from stiff joints and aching bones, something that earned him the moniker of 'Dr Brighton' as a result.

The site where the bath house stood has now given way to the Queen's Hotel, and its receptionist has no idea of who Sake Mahomed Bath is. "We do not keep records for more than five years, but the museum might have some information," he said, making up for lost history with a touristy enthusiasm. The chances of an immigrant success dating back to 150 being preserved at Brighton Museum seemed slim. But the receptionist's touristy energy did turn out to be contagious; after a quick round of fish and chips, I headed straight to the museum.

Mahomed's portrait occupies a prominent space on the ground floor of the Brighton museum. And accompanying his portrait is a silver cup that he received from the Princess Poniatowsky of Poland for the services rendered. Museum records confirm the heyday of this bath house and that its proprietor was a royal insider; Mahomed knew of royal visits to Brighton before anyone else did. To mark royal occasions, the establishment would be illuminated.

But nothing evidently lasts forever. Mahomed eventually fell on bad times and in 1841, Mahomed’s Baths went to public auction. Mahomed died ten years after this and while he may not exactly be anchored in every citizen's memory cache in Brighton currently, there are random traces of his rapport with the city. Some street plates feature him if you look carefully.

For evidence of a less microscopic tribute, you could ever engage the public transport system here. Because bus number 855 carries the name of Sake Dean Mahomed as part of a public campaign to salute Brighton’s eminent citizens.

More about Deen Mahomed

Born in May 1759, Mahomed started out as a camp follower to Godfrey Evan Baker of Bengal Army's 3rd European regiment. In 1782, Baker resigned from the East India Company and Mahomed accompanied him to Cork, Baker's hometown. In 1786, he eloped with Jane Daly, an Anglo-Irish lady. In 1794, he published The Travels of Dean Mahomet, the first book by an Indian to be written and published in English.

In 1810, he opened London's first Indian restaurant called Hindostanee Coffee House. The restaurant though shut shop in 1813 and he moved to Brighton where he established Mahomed’s Baths in 1821.After his death, his family was largely forgotten until his grandson, Frederick Mahomed, made substantial contributions in the field of high blood pressure.

This piece was first published in Mumbai Mirror

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Kulsum Sayani: A 'Rahber' of Hindustani

We all have heard of Ameen Sayani, the golden voice of radio, recognised and loved by lakhs of listeners. Sayani's voice has touched the lives of many which makes people nostalgic of the good old days of the radio. History buffs might know that his grandfather Rahimtulla Sayani was elected the president of Congress in 1896 and was a well known lawyer in Bombay.

However, not many people know of the pioneering educational work his mother Kulsum Sayani did for the purdah-clad women in Muslim localities. Kulsum Sayani's interest in social work and adult literacy began as a result of her close interaction with Gandhiji. Her father Dr Rajabally Patel was Gandhiji's friend and also personal physician when he arrived in Bombay from South Africa. She started taking active interest in the field of education.

She was part of several committees and organisations that were formed to help increase literacy among adults in Bombay. She was part of the first National Planning Committee which was set up by the Congress government in Bombay in 1938. She devised a home education scheme and started working among the Muslim women. With two teachers at the helm, she herself started doing the rounds of Muslim areas to gather the required quota of 25 students per teacher.

It must have taken a huge effort on Kulsum Sayani's part to convince the females about the necessity and importance of education to get them into classes. Her efforts bore fruits and her reputation grew with the Bombay City Social Education Committee, formed in 1939, asking her to take over their centres catering to Muslim women.

Slowly and steadily the classes grew and reached 600 in numbers. Her efforts were not limited to the Muslim community only. Due to her passion and sincerity she was appointed the general secretary of the All India Women's Conference in 1944.

Sayani's enthusiasm and zeal knew no bounds. To sustain the interest of people and keep them engaged she started Rahber (Leader), a fortnightly journal. Aimed at the new learners Rahber was remarkable at its time as it was published in three scripts of Nagari, Urdu and Gujarati.

The language was Hindustani, a mixture of Hindi and Urdu. Those were the times when the Hindi supporters were using heavy Sanskrit words and the proponents of Urdu were lacing the language with Persian and Arabic in their efforts to distinguish the two languages and establish their superiority.

Gandhiji was in favour of Hindustani written in the Nagari or the Urdu script. Kulsum Sayani's 'Rahber' sought to take forward Gandhiji's idea of Hindustani.

In a letter dated June 16, 1945, Gandhiji addressed Sayani as Beti Kulsum and wrote: "I like the mission of Rahber to unite Hindi and Urdu. May it succeed." Rahber was now being read by hundreds of political prisoners lodged in jails across the country. Anyone interested in learning Gandhiji's Hindustani picked up Rahber. Along with her work of administrating women literacy classes in Mumbai, Sayani immersed herself in bringing out Rahber.

When the Constituent Assembly deliberations started in the months leading to India's independence the language controversy again erupted. A letter dated July 22, 1947 from Gandhiji to Kulsum Sayani shows his resolve to stick with Hindustani. He wrote: "Heaven knows what is in store for us. The old order changeth giving place to new. Nothing is settled. Whatever is decided by the C. A., Hindustani with the two scripts remains for you and me."

Kulsum Sayani represented India at several international forums on education across the world. She attended the UNESCO conference in 1953 in Paris and shared ideas and gained new perspectives with representatives from several countries. Her other interest was to promote peace and increase understanding between India and Pakistan. Her sincerity and fame as an activist helped her get audiences from top leaders of both the countries. In her endeavour, she directly met Pakistani Presidents Ghulam Mohammad and Ayub Khan among other seasoned Pakistani politicians.

In India, her reputation as Rahber's editor helped her get appointments with Nehru, B G Kher, V K Krishna Menon, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai and Indira Gandhi. She got hearty welcome wherever she went after people came to know that she was the woman behind Rahber. She got encouragement and support from politicians of all hues in India for her efforts to forge friendship with Pakistan. However, with the passing away of Nehru and Rafi Kidwai who shared her concern to improve relations with Pakistan she devoted her energies to propagate Hindustani.

Old age and bureaucratic red tape forced her to stop Rahber in 1960 after single-handedly bringing it out for 20 years since 1940. She continued to be associated with Hindustani Prachar Sabha and organised several lectures and seminars. However, she never lost focus from her lifelong passion to eradicate illiteracy.

She received the Padma Shri in 1960 and was also awarded the Nehru Literacy Award in 1969. Kulsum Sayani's life can be a study of a holistic woman. She managed her family and pursued her social interests with equal elan. Her sons Hamid and Ameen, both radio broadcasters, created their own identity.

Ameen Sayani attributes his 'basic grounding in clear and credible communications in Hindustani' due to his involvement in assisting his mother in bringing out Rahber. Like his mother, Ameen too got a Padma Shri in 2009 for his contribution to broadcasting.

Kulsum Sayani, who died in 1987, belonged to an era where people believed in giving their best to the nation without expecting anything back. Though less remembered than most women of her time, Sayani's contribution to the nation and society cannot be ignored.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The princess who was a spy

The arrest of Indian diplomat Madhuri Gupta on spying charges has once again brought the focus on the network of intelligence agencies. During the days of war, spies played a crucial role in relaying information about the enemy camp. Gupta's case made me think of Noor Inayat Khan, the British spy who was captured and killed by the German army.

Noor Khan was the great-great-great granddaughter of Tipu Sultan and was the first woman radio operator who was sent into the German-occupied France by the British. She was born in 1914 to Hazrat Inayat Khan and Ora Ray Baker, who was later known as Pirani Ameena Begum.

Inayat Khan (in pic below with an infant Noor) was a Sufi mystic and an expert in Indian classical music. The Nizam of Hyderabad had given him the titile of Tansen and he was sought after by several kings and princes. Inayat Khan had travelled the length and breadth of India and had come under the influence of Shaikh Mohammed Hashim Madani. His grandfather Maula Baksh was a legendary musician who had sent his younger son Alauddin (Inayat Khan's uncle) to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music.

Armed with his interest in music and to propagate Sufi thought, Inayat left India and travelled to several countries across the world. While he was in Russia, Noor his eldest child was born. The whole family moved to London from where they eventually settled in France. In 1927, Inayat Khan died while he was on a visit to India.

Noor went on to study music and took a degree in child psychology. She also started contributing to children's magazines and French radio. However, with the outbreak of World War II the family had to leave Paris and went back to London. Noor had undertaken a course in nursing from the Red Cross and nursed the ambition to fight against the rampaging Germans. It was not an easy decision for the daughter of a Sufi pacifist to literally enter the battlefield, but she was determined to fight the fascist forces.

She joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and was trained as a wireless operator. During the interview she told the panel that after the war she might fight the British occupation in India! In February 1943, she was posted to the Directorate of Air Intelligence and after training she was sent to France in June the same year.

She managed to constantly dodge the German intelligence and continued to transmit messages under trying circumstances to London. The London Gazette notes: "She refused to abandon what had become the most important and dangerous post in France and did excellent work." She was captured by the Germans on a tip-off.

Driven by her passion to fight and with indomitable courage, she tried to escape but was unsuccessful. She did not give out any details to the Germans. On 25 November 1943, she managed to escape along with two other prisoners. Before they could get away far, an air raid alert got the Germans in action who then undertook a count of prisoners.

The feisty lady was again captured and this time she was taken to Germany and was kept under solitary confinement. She was classified as highly dangerous and all efforts to make her speak did not yield much. However, the Germans had found her notebook that had a record of all the messages she had sent to London.

On September 13, 1944 Noor was asked to kneel down and was shot from behind. When she died she was just 30. Noor's bravery and her heroic contribution to fight the Germans has all the ingredients of an ideal spy. Her courage and determination is the stuff legends are made of.

In September 2006, when Pranab Mukherjee was in France he visited Noor's house 'Fazal Manzil' where she grew up in Surenes near Paris. The British government honoured her with the George Cross and every year on July 14 a military band plays in her honour outside 'Fazal Manzil'.

The book 'Spy princess: the story of Noor Inayat Khan' by journalist Shrabani Basu brought her back in public memory. While Madhuri Gupta cools her heels behind bars the book should perhaps be made a compulsory read for her!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Premchand: A true son of the soil

Last week I had gone to my native village and landed at Varanasi's Lal Bahadur Shastri airport which is in Babatpur. As the car went past the dusty road and small villages I was reminded of Premchand. I had read in a Hindi textbook in school that Premchand was born in Lamhi, a village near Varanasi. With every little village that my car passed by the thought that 'Premchand must have been born in one such village' went past me.

Premchand, born as Dhanpat Rai, is credited with turning kings, princess and religion based stories towards farmers and ordinary people. Like his personality, Premchand's stories too were simple and straightforward. While he pursued a day job to keep his house running, he continued to write with passion and pour his heart out.

Premchand's life was full of struggle and he faced financial difficulties throughout his lifetime. While continuing to teach he started contributing to Urdu magazine
Zamana and the weekly Awaz-e-Khalq. He also wrote on national and international issues and his fame as a writer grew.

However, it was his collection of short stories 'Soze Watan' in 1908 that caught the attention of the British authorities. The five stories in the collection were on patriotism and did not find favour with the government. The Britishers discovered that Nawab Rai (his pseudonym) was none other than Dhanpat Rai who was employed by them as a school inspector.

The British administration decided to destroy all the copies of Soze Watan as it was labelled seditious. More than 500 copies of the stories were destroyed. He had to also face an inquiry but somehow managed to come out of it. However, he was instructed to show his writings to the district collector before he got them published. Dhanpat Rai then decided to write under the pseudonym 'Premchand' to escape censorship.

Premchand used to regularly contribute to the magazine 'Kahkashan' that was published by Imtiaz Ali Taj. Taj was the son of renowned reformer Maulvi Mumtaz Ali and was based in Lahore. Premchand had written a novel titled Bazar-e-Husn in Urdu. He asked for Rs 250 from Taj for the story. While Taj was still to make a decision, he had got Rs 100 for the Gujarati edition of the novel and Rs 500 for Hindi.

The novel became popular in Hindi (in which it went on to be first published as Sewa Sadan) and made Premchand very famous. He took to writing in Hindi and never looked back. Some of his stories were on caste-based discrimination and the sufferings of farmers and common man. This ruffled many feathers and a section of wealthy landowners and upper caste people started a campaign to defame Premchand and bring him down. However, Premchand who had his ground to the ear had struck a chord with the comman man and his fame and popularity grew each day.

Premchand's greatest virtue was his simplicity and humbleness. Once he submitted a story to Imtiaz Ali Taj for publication in 'Kahkashan'. Incidentally, Taj himself was planning to write a story on the same theme. However, he dropped the idea when he saw Premchand's story. Later when Premchand came to know about the incident he wrote to Taj and asked him to complete his story and get it published. He also expressed his pleasure that they both had the same theme in mind as they were on the same wavelength.

My Hindi teacher once told me that many times people would ask about Premchand from the author himself. The reason was that people did not expect a writer of Premchand's calibre to be so simple and down to earth. It was perhaps this reason that Premchand could not be associated with Bollywood for long. He became a script writer for Hindi films but eventually came back to his village. He also chaired the first meet of the Progressive Writers' Conference in Lucknow in 1936.

When Premchand was posted in Gorakhpur, Firaq Gorakhpuri who hailed from the same district was a constant visitor to his house. While Premchand was in service he continued to study and managed to complete his BA. Premchand's last novel 'Godaan' is one of most popular and finest Hindi novels. His other stories Kafan and Shatranj ke Khiladi are considered as classics.

As my journey continued and I caught glimpses of poor farmers toiling in the scorching heat, I realised that it was Premchand's simplicity and his interest in the common man that made me think about him. A true son of the soil.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Siras: An 'outsider' at AMU?

“I have spent two decades here. I love my University. I have always loved it and will continue to do so no matter what. I wonder if they have stopped loving me because I am gay." Dr Ramachandra Siras (pic courtesy Outlook), chairman of the modern Indian languages department at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), uttered these words after he was suspended for being gay.

Siras was found dead in his residence on Wednesday. His death is a stark reminder of the rot that has set in at AMU. A professor suspended for being gay! And that too after he was secretly filmed in his own house. How many sting operations have taken place to expose corruption, inefficiency, nepotism and misadministration at the AMU? And how many professors, lecturers, office staff have been suspended as a result of that?

For a man who devoted 20 years of his life to the University his death is less than honourable for the institution. At AMU, Marathi would be a niche subject, unlike history, engineering or Urdu. Does the Siras episode highlight the fact that the man was looked upon as an outsider in the campus and thus an easy and natural prey? Siras, Marathi, and of course being gay do not go with AMU's perceived identity.

AMU will now increasingly be looked upon as inhospitable and intolerant especially for those with diverse backgrounds and orientation. If he was gay, that was his preference and should not have been AMU's problem. As I noted in my earlier post, unless it can be proved that Siras was sexually exploiting a student or staff member, AMU had no right to infringe on the privacy of an individual and humiliate him.

If it is the question of Siras being un-Islamic then we should remember that Siras was neither a Muslim nor, according to reports, was he championing the gay cause on campus. A thorough investigation should take place and all the facts right from the stage of Siras being filmed should be brought out.

AMU will always require specialists to fill posts in departments like Marathi for which the pool of candidates will be different than the usual applicants. So, is there an air of uneasiness in Muslim dominated campuses for subjects, and people associated with them, that do not assert an identity close to Muslims/Islam?

In 1925, Osmania University had a dynamic Marathi professor C L Joshi. Joshi was loaned from the Bombay Educational Services and his term was about to expire. Finding a replacement for Joshi was difficult and the University officials were in a fix.

Interestingly, Joshi was in demand with the Maratha politicians based in Hyderabad who were unhappy with the services offered by the local Marathi scholars. Though Joshi's importance was evident, he was not made a permanent staff. The Maratha bigwigs spoke to Sir Akbar Hydari and Sir Ross Masud (founders of Osmania University) and suggested that either Joshi be made a 'permanent incumbent or the services of a new Marathi scholar from Bombay be applied for'.

The then principal of Osmania University, Mohammed Abdur Rahman Khan noted that getting a new professor from Bombay was not an easy task in those times. Surprisingly, Osmania University still allowed Joshi to be repatriated to the Bombay Educational Service and decided to make a temporary arrangement.

I am drawing my own inferences, but it seems to suggest that in a campus associated with Muslim identity not much emphasis is given to subjects and staff that have less appeal to the Muslim mindset. The Siras episode should not be seen only in the prism of homosexuality, but is rather a stark statement of the appaling treatment meted out by an iconic institution like AMU to an 'outsider'.

Also Read

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Narang: Plagiarist or victim of vilification?

Gopi Chand Narang (pic with caption courtesy and his alleged plagiarism has shaken the world of Urdu literature. Several questions have been raised on Narang's award-winning book Sakhtiyat, Pas-i-Sakhtiyat Aur Mashriqi Shi’riyat (Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, and Eastern Poetics). The issue was taken up by C M Naim, Professor Emeritus of Urdu at the University of Chicago, after it was first vigorously brought up by Imran Shahid Bhinder.

I have carried an exhaustive three-part interview with Bhinder on the issue. C M Naim, well-known commentator, believes that Bhinder has 'most convincingly established that Dr Narang’s achievement in that award-winning book is not that of an author but only of a translator, and that too of a reprehensible kind'.

Most recently when Narang was awarded the fellowship by the Sahitya Akademi, C M Naim once again showed his displeasure in Outlook. Dr Maula Bakhsh, who has been a vocal supporter of Narang told urdufigures that there is a 'campaign of vilification against Narang'.

This is what Dr Bakhsh, Head, Department of Urdu, Dayal Singh College, Delhi has to say on C M Naim's views in Outlook:

C M Naim’s (pic courtesy Azra Raza) arguments are clumsy and faltered on factual counts and unwittingly he is caught on the wrong foot. Naim’s problem is that he has not read Narang’s book from cover to cover. Needless to say it is an integrated book of more than six hundred pages but poor Naim zeroes in on the first 200 odd pages and that too against the backdrop of exaggerated allegations made by a motivated academically naive third party. That is why he had to revise time again what he had written earlier.

Having been away from home for too long to teach elementary Urdu to US students, it now appears that Naim needs a complete honing up of his Urdu as will be shown later, but before I take that up, let me put first things first.

1. Basing his assertions on hearsay and distorted information passed on by others, Naim lately has raised the sensitive issue of censorship and black mailing the publisher of Jadeed Adab. Only an extremely irresponsible person would hurl such a wild allegation in the absence of any first hand information. Naim always has been on a slippery ground but this time he enters the realm of pure speculation bordering on blasphemy. To expose the absurdity of such an allegation and to nail down the lie, the statement issued by the publisher is being reproduced below:

      Educational Publishing House (3108, Gali Azizuddin Vakil, Kucha Pandit, Lal Kuan, Delhi-110006), publisher of Jadeed Adab has recently issued a statement clarifying that “The Journal is being regularly published by us, and to say that Prof. Gopi Chand Narang has black-mailed us and stopped its publication is not only baseless but absurd. We categorically contradict and condemn any such charge. The journal is appearing without any interruption.”

      (Sd/- Mustafa Kamal Pasha)

      5 September 2009.

Obviously this does not need any further comment. C M Naim’s other charges are also of the same nature.

2. Naim has once again quoted Narang’s response from Nand Kishore Vikram’s book, though based on a tertiary source as pointed out earlier. Needless to say he has yet not seen the original book which is easily available. It is naive to think that Narang has said this in self-defence. If one knows Urdu well and can appreciate the wider nuances of Narang’s words, it is a statement where in all humility he is saying that he was not born with all this information which he shares with his readers. He has gleaned up, culled, derived, adapted and abridged it and assimilated it to make it understandable in a language that lacks strict theoretical discipline and rigour. Naim with his ostensible prejudice turns it upside down to suit his purpose. Furthermore, akhz-o-qabool and ifham-o-tafheem in Urdu are phrases with wider semantic implications and mere literal translations of separate words cannot do justice to the full range of meanings. Much before Vikram’s book Narang has said all this very clearly in the Preface of his book (Pp. 11, 13, 14, 1993). He has even gone to the extent of issuing a disclaimer that all what he has presented belongs to the thinkers, philosophers, theorists and experts; the shortcomings if any are his but the credit for the discourse goes to the thinkers. The concepts and ideas are of the others only the interpretation and communication in Urdu is his. Narang also said that he was enlisting all the sources comprehensively so that the inquisitive reader should go to the authorities. (P.14, 1993). These statements read with the reply in the interview, the Dedication lines and the chapter-wise bibliographies are more than enough to prove that how ill- founded and ill- conceived the campaign against Narang has been.

3. Naim’s discussion on Saussure and Christopher Norris is also misleading. A couple of pages before coming to this point Narang has introduced Norris’ book to the reader as one of the best expositions of theory. Norris also finds mention in the bibliography with an asterisk underscoring the point that Narang has used this source. Then follows the discussion on the subtle point of how language constructs reality independent of others. To illustrate the point to his reader, Narang besides citing examples from French, German, and English etc. from the original and driving the point home to his oriental reader ropes in ample examples not only from Urdu, Persian and Arabic but also from Hindi, Punjabi, Marathi and Bengali. All this obviously is beyond the range of Naim. In his awful hurry to join issue with Narang, Naim cites two sets of examples and in a show of pedantry he again falters forgetting that by doing so he is contradicting his own charge of plagiarism as he unwittingly admits that all this interpretation is Narang’s. Further, he also fails to appreciate the crux of Saussure’s arguments that there is no essentiality between word and meaning, and every language constructs meaning arbitrarily and independently by a system of differentiation.

4. Naim’s assertion about Wittgenstein is also equally flawed. Since he has not read the whole book, he does not know that Wittgenstein also finds mention on page 37 in chapter 1. While on page 219, the reference is to Philosophical Investigations, the reference in chapter 1 is toTractatus LogicoPhilosophicus. Both the books are fully cited. Perhaps only a person of myopic vision can not see. Furthermore, in the same chapter elaborating the implications of ‘logos’ as discussed by Derrida, Narang alludes to both the Sanskrit and the Arabic traditions. Discussing the wider implications of Vak in the Indian tradition he has cited Bhartrihari’s giving three stages of Vani or Saraswati in Vakyapadya, i.e.,Vaikhri, Madhyma and Pashyanti (Para / Pratibha, P. 209). For Naim and his “academic greenhorns” all this must also be derived from the western sources.

5. One does not understand why Naim derides Norris, Culler, and Selden etc. by describing them as mere commentators. Even an ordinary student of literature knows that be it Kalidasa, Shakespeare, or Ghalib, their commentaries are as much part of the Kalidasa, Shakespearian or Ghalibian discourse. It is well known that in Sanskrit studies while reading Panini’s Ashtaadhyayi, or Anandavardhana’s Dhvanialoka, equal attention is given to Patanjali’s Mahabhashya and Abhinavagupta’s Dhvanialoka Lochanam. The same is true of the commentaries of Saussure, Derrida, Foucault, etc. They are as much part of the theoretical discourse as the basic texts. Narang dealing with both the oriental and the western traditions has freely and frankly used all sources, and introduced them to his reader. If this is a disservice, then Naim and associates are most welcome to undertake some true service and produce a better book. I know this is beyond their tether.

6. The pinnacle of Narang’s presentation and arguments lie in his constructing and suggesting a model of literary criticism for Urdu (Pp. 565-573). Before embarking on that he has given a candid appraisal of developments how the progressive writers’ movement in Urdu fell prey to its own regimentation and totalitarianism, and later how the project of modernism was hijacked by the neo-classicists and fundamentalists, and shorn of egalitarian agenda, it was reduced to an ennui and turned into a tool of sectarianism and revivalism. Narang believes that the true role of criticism is ‘oppositional’ and in this he derives his strength from Derrida, Foucault and Edward Said. It looks pertinent to reproduce a quote:

“In its suspicion of totalizing concepts, in its discontent with reified objects, in its impatience with guilds, special interests, imperialized fiefdoms, and orthodox habits of mind, criticism is most itself and, if the paradox can be tolerated, most unlike itself at the moment it starts turning into organised dogma.” (Edward Said, P. 496).

The model suggested by Narang has in fact been quite discomforting for the well -entrenched revivalist Urdu establishment. So if their sympathizers attack Narang, it should not come as a surprise.

7. But why Naim of all the people has written with such a vendetta? It might be interesting to note that this is not the first time that he has betrayed this sort of ‘kindness’. The fact is while Narang was at the University of Wisconsin, and his book Readings in Literary Urdu Prose was taken up for publication by the University of Wisconsin Press, incidentally Naim was one of the reviewers. He wrote a scathing review to thwart the publication of the book but that was not to be as the other two reviewers were extremely favourable. The book has gone into many editions and is still popular in foreign universities. It is on the recommended list of Urdu readings in the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University and is generally referred to as ‘Narang Reader’. A very recent reaction of a distinguished former student will not be out of place:

      Dear Gopi Chand Narangji,
      You will remember that we met again in 2005, …, after having first met so many years ago at the University of Wisconsin.

      Your book,
      Urdu: Readings in Literary Urdu Prose has been such a wonderful aid to me these last few months in learning the Urdu script better and in increasing my Urdu vocabulary. Thank you so much for creating such a useful and 'fun-full' book! I know it was many years ago that you produced it, but thought that you might like to hear from a former student of yours how useful it still is for him.

      Khuda Hafiz
      Christopher King

      (Copied to Dr Maula Bakhsh,

The second episode is related to the publication of Narang’s highly debated article “How Not to Read Faiz Ahmad Faiz” in the journalSoughat, Bangalore (1990). Naim again wrote a deriding review trying to tear apart the article which had discussed the clash between the ideological and the aesthetic project in Faiz, and how one cannot be prefaced over the other. Later the article caught on, appearing and reappearing in India and Pakistan, and then in Narang’s Hindi book Urdu par Khulta Dareecha (2005). Recently Dr. Baidar Bakht translated it into English for the journal Indian Literature (IL-249, Jan-Feb 2009). About the nature of this article a recent comment by an unknown discerning reader should suffice:

      From: Chander Verma <>
      Subject: How Not to Read Faiz Ahmad Faiz?
      Date: Wednesday, 6 May 2009, 12:42 PM

      Read your translated paper which appeared in ‘Indian Literature’ titled "How not to Read Faiz Ahmad Faiz?"

      I have no words to admire you for your intellectual work and unusual insight into Faiz Ahmad's poetry. Criticism of this quality is rare and unseen. We are proud to have scholars like you in India.

      God Bless you!!

      Chander Verma

This would amply show how uncharitable Naim all along has been to Narang. The reasons must be best known to him.

8. But one wonders the timing? Perhaps Naim himself has provided a clue towards the end of his latest note. Shifting his position from plagiarism to culture and education, he has cited the latest honours given to Narang by the Maulana Azad National Urdu University and the Aligarh Muslim University. Perhaps it is the honour by the Aligarh Muslim University that has irked him the most. A friend from Aligarh remarked that Narang received the accolades for his dedication and sustained life long contribution and for his unflinching faith in Urdu but what is the contribution of his adversaries. For that matter if Naim thinks that Aligarh has forgotten his shady deal in the past, he is mistaken. It is well known that way back in the seventies he had invited Prof. A. A. Suroor, Head of the Urdu Department at Aligarh Muslim University to Chicago on the pretext of Ghalib Centenary, and later in return Prof. Suroor invited him to Aligarh Muslim University as a guest lecturer. Since Naim had not completed his Ph.D., he was denied tenure appointment at Chicago. To bail him out, Suroor appointed him to the post of Reader overnight superseding many senior teachers. Using Aligarh’s Readership as a jumping board, within months Naim returned to Chicago assured of his greener pasture. It is quite clear that he not only abused Aligarh’s hospitality but also betrayed the trust of his teacher.

9. Lastly can C M Naim who is exuberating self-righteousness and has tried to assume high moral grounds deny that he has links with an Urdu caucus deeply rooted in fundamentalism? The nucleus is in Allahabad and its overreach in centres outside India. (See: “Adab mein Talibaniat ka Aghaaz aur Adabi Taliban”, in Aalmi Akhbar, dated 29 August 2009)

Can he deny that they are the people who wrecked the modernist movement in Urdu by discarding its radical social agenda and subsequently made it a tool of sectarianism? Why has he chosen to be silent about what has been happening around him all these years? The rot is under his very nose. The charity must begin at home. The comic situation is that the courtiers and clowns are clapping and raising blasphemous chatter about others. One wishes they could look at their feet of clay and gather the courage to laugh at themselves.

For Naim’s kind information, the name of the journal from Bombay, which he quoted is ‘Isbaat’ not ‘Asbat’. There is no name in Urdu as Asbat. Asbat is the plural of sabt while isbat stands for ‘confirmation, proof, and certain knowledge’. He might like to check with his mentors at Allahabad or Lucknow.