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!

1 comment:

  1. An excellent article! The book (Gulshan i Hind) is now in public doman and available for free on the internet.