There are very few people who can talk with some authority about Setu Madhava Rao Pagdi and A A A Fyzee. Prof Abdus Sattar Dalvi belongs to a rare group of scholar. He had another visitor at his Bandra flat when I went to meet him. Najeeb Raiba, the son of A A Raiba, the lesser-known contemporary of M F Hussain and K H Ara, who belongs to Konkan (like Prof Dalvi), was there to discuss his father's career. Though primarily Prof Dalvi is an Urdu scholar, his energies and endeavours combine his passion for linguistics with history. This explains the wide array of visitors he gets.
“People don’t know that Mumbai had a very old Versova Cadet school where Hindustani was taught. Such was the popularity of an Urdu textbook by Mohammad Ibrahim Makba that it was in circulation right up to Lahore,” says Prof Dalvi. Western India also had a good number of Urdu/Gujarati newspapers and periodicals. “Sadly very less is known of them as most of them have been lost.”
In the commercial and glamourous world of Mumbai, the film industry gets a huge credit for the advancement/popularisation of Urdu. And rightly so. But beyond the painful and playful lyrics of Sahir, Majrooh, Kaifi and Shakeel, it was the industriousness of people like Rafiq Zakaria, Khwaja Abdul Ghafoor, K A Abbas, Krishan Chander, Ali Sardar Jaffri and Sikander Ali Wajd among others, which gave a thrust to Urdu in Maharashtra and Mumbai. And Prof Dalvi has witnessed it all, and in fact, has been a part of it.
The Maharashtra state Urdu academy was established in April 1975 and Prof Dalvi was appointed joint secretary. When a delegation called upon the state chief minister S B Chavan to thank him for his support, Prof Dalvi earned extra attention. He had recently edited the Urdu translation of Sant Ramdas’s Manache Shloka by Shah Turab Chisti which had caught the attention of Chavan. Chisti was a Sufi Dakkhani poet and his translation ‘Man Samjhavan’ was done way back in 1756. Chavan was already pleased with the Urdu academy’s new joint secretary.
“My inspiration to carry out translation work came from Setu Madhava Rao Pagdi. He has translated a huge body of work from Urdu into Marathi. I realised there is a great need for translations and it is crucial that interactions between people, languages and cultures continue.” Describing Pagdi as having ‘ghair maamooli yaddashth’, he fondly remembered his telephone calls on Sunday mornings. “He was very prolific, and kept himself busy till the last days of his advanced age. He had a special talent to not just pick up but also gain mastery over different languages. He went on to write a grammar of the Gondi language.” Pagdi was also associated with the Urdu Academy. In 2005, Prof Dalvi helped organise a seminar on Setu Madhavrao Pagdi at University of Hyderabad.
Prof Dalvi’s stance in his academic career as an Urdu scholar has been one of co-operation and reaching out to fellow academics. This has been due to his own educational achievements and the position of Urdu in Maharashtra. He graduated from Ismail Yusuf College in 1958, and won the St Xavier’s Gold Medal for the highest marks in Urdu. In 1960 he completed MA (Urdu) bagging the coveted Chancellor’s medal. After gaining a PhD from Bombay (on the life of Mohammad Hussain Azad), he studied linguistics at SOAS, and came back to University of Bombay to do his second doctorate on ‘Bombay Urdu – a study in linguistic behaviour’. His love and admiration for languages has not been limited to Urdu and Urdu scholars.
Despite the step-motherly treatment of Urdu in North India, Mumbai’s civic body has a rich tradition of running schools in Urdu, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi and Kannada mediums. Several civil servants and politicians who studied or hailed from the erstwhile Hyderabad state territories (including S B Chavan) had a genuine affection for Urdu. This ensured that Urdu-medium schools continued to be in existence in post-Independence Bombay. Large scale migration of Muslims from North India swelled the number of interested students. These factors effectively worked to minimise the bitterness relating to the future of Urdu.
In 1983, he was appointed the first Krishan Chander professor and head of the Urdu department, University of Mumbai. Though Urdu was being taught in the city’s colleges, it was only in 1983 that University of Bombay got an Urdu department. Some of his major translations include the works of Sanskrit dramatist Bhartbihari, Sant Dnyaneshwar’s Pasayadan, Vishram Bedekar’s novel Ranangan, P S Rege’s Savithri and Nissim Ezekiel’s Edinburgh Interlude. In the early 1990s at the request of Govt of India, he helped establish the Urdu department at Cairo’s Ain Shamsh University.
Though he retired from the University in 1997, he has been associated with various organisations including Anjuman Islam Urdu Research Institute, Deccan Muslim Educational and Research Institute, Hazrat Makhdoom Ali Mahimi Research Institute and the Urdu Academy. He is currently working on the history of Konkani Muslims and the cultural history of Bombay’s Muslims.
(To be continued)