ابوالکلام آزاد کی ایک تاریخی تقریر (۱)

تعارف:

کچھ عرصہ ہوا مجھے دوستوں نے بتایا کہ یو ٹیوب پر مولانا ابوالکلام آزاد کی جامع مسجد دہلی میں کی گئی تاریخی تقریر خود انکی آواز میں مہیا ہے۔ میں نے چیک کیا تو پتہ چلا کہ ایک ہی جعلی رکارڈنگ کو متعدد لوگوں نے طرح طرح سے لوگوں نے اپلوڈ کر رکھا ہے، اور ہر جگہ اس پر خوب خوب خیال آرائیاں ہو رہی ہیں۔ ٹھیک اسیطرح جیسےاس انٹرویو پر ھوئی تھیں، اور اب بھی ہوتی رہتی ہیں، جو احراری جرنلسٹ شورش کاشمیری نے شائع کیا تھا۔ (ابوالکلام آزاد: سوانح و افکار۔ ۱۹۸۸۔ یہ کتاب انکے بیٹوں نے مرتب کی ہے۔)۔ کچھ عرصہ ہوا نوجوان وکیل اور دانشمند کالم نگار یاسر لطیف ہمدانی نے اس انٹرویو کی حقیقت کھول دی تھی اور انگریزی کی حد تک لوگوں کے علم میں آگیا تھا کہ وہ محض ایک جعل ہے۔ یہاں صرف دو باتوں کا اضافہ کرنا چاہونگا۔

شورش نے دو جگہ یہ لکھا ہے کہ مولانا نے۱۴؍۱۵اگست کی نیم شب کی تقریب میں کوئی حصہ نہیں لیا، اور ایک جگہ یہ اضافہ بھی جواہر لال نہرو کی زبانی کیا ہے کہ مولانا اس رات شدت غم سےسوئے بھی نہیں۔ جبکہ حقیقت یہ ہےکہ مولانا پہلی کابینہ میں شامل تھے اور شب کی تقریب میں سب وزراٴ کی طرح شریک ہوےتھے۔ اس موقعہ کی تصویر انٹرنیٹ پر دیکھی جا سکتی ہے۔ مولانا سردار پٹیل کی بغل میں کھڑےہیں۔

 اسیطرح شورش کا دعوی ہے کہ جب حیدرآباد کا معاملہ زور پر تھا تو نظام نے انکے پاس کچھ لوگ بھیجے تھے اور مولانا نے انھیں ۵ پوائنٹ کا مشورہ دیا تھا، جسکا ان نمائندوں نےمذاق اڑایا تھا۔ اسکے بعد شورش لکھتے ہیں: “حیدرآباد کا سقوط ہوگیا تو مولانا مسلمانوں کی بربادی کا احوال سنکر وہاں پہونچے۔ جو لوگ خونریزی کےمرتکب ہو رہے تھےانھیں روکا، مسلمانوں کی ڈھارس بندھائی ۔۔۔ نظام نے کھانے پر مدعو کیا۔ جو مصاحب دعوت نامہ لیکر آیا اس سے کاغذ لیکر پشت پر لکھ دیا: جس شخص کی سوٴ فہم اور نظر کج کی بدولت مسلمانوں کا لہو اسطرح بہا ہے، میرے لئے اسکے دسترخوان پر آنا ممکن ہی نہیں۔ انسانوں کے خون سے ہاتھ رنگ کر مجھے دسترخوان پر مدعو کرنا ابلہانہ جسارت ہے۔” قطع نظر اس سےکہ یہ نجی تحریرکسطرح حیدرآباد سے لاہور شورش کے پاس پہونچی حقیقت یہ ہےکہ حیدرآباد کے نمائندے دہلی میں تھے ہی نہیں، وہ کراچی میں تھےاور مسلم لیگ کے لیڈروں سے مذاکرات کر رہے تھے۔ مولانا ان لوگوں  سے ملتےیا خود حیدرآباد جاتےتو اسکا ذکر انکی کتاب ’انڈیا ونس فریڈم ‘   The Destruction of Hyderabad میں ضرور ہوتا، لیکن ایسا نہیں۔ اے۔ جی۔ نورانی کی تازہ کتاب

مفصل ترین تاریخ ہے، اس میں بھی یہ ذکر نہیں۔ البتہ وہ ۱۹۵۰ میں ضرور حیدرآباد گئے تھے، نہرو کے ساتھ اور وزیرِتعلیم کی حیثیت سے۔ اس موقعہ پر انکے میزبان نظام ہی تھے جو تب راج پرمکھ کہے جاتے تھے۔ اس موقعہ کی تصاویر ویب پربھی موجود ہیں۔

یوٹیوب پر مہیا تقریر (رکارڈنگ اور متن) بھی اسیطرح کا جعل ہے۔ اسکا متن ایک ملغوبہ ہے جس میں اصل تقریر کے ٹکڑے جگہ جگہ شامل ضرور ہیں لیکن انکےآگے پیچھےیاروں نے شورش کاشمیری کی “یادوں” اور مولانا کی بعض دوسری تحریروں کے ٹکڑےلگاکر اپنا تنور گرم کیا ہے۔ آواز کسی ایسے شخص کی ہے جو بے ہنگام ذاکری کرکے کماکھا سکتا ہے لیکن جسےمولانا کی مدلّل خطابت کا ذوق نہیں، صرف چیخنے کا شوق ہے۔ یہ  کوئی نہیں بتاتا کہ یہ رکارڈنگ کس نے کی تھی اور اب کسطرح دستیاب ہوئی ہے۔ ۱۹۴۷ میں ٹیپ رکارڈر عام نہیں تھے۔ اسٹوڈیو میں بھی صرف ’وائر رکارڈنگ ‘ ہی ممکن تھی جو ھر کس و ناکس کےبس کی بات نہ تھی۔ اب اگر یہ رکارڈنگ آل انڈیا ریڈیو نے کی تھی اور وہاں سے حاصل کی گئی ہے تو اعتراف میں کیا رکاوٹ ہوسکتی ہے۔ نہ اس میں کوئی ایسی منافقانہ یا فرقہ وارانہ بات ہے جسکو بھارتی حکومت پوشیدہ رکھنا چاہتی۔ خود یوٹیوب پر آل انڈیا ریڈیو کی ایک رکارڈنگ میں مولانا کی آواز موجود ہے، اور اس مختصر تقریر میں بھی مولانا کی صاف گوئی نمایاں ہے۔

آزادی یا تقسیم کے فوراً بعد مولانا نے دو بڑی اہم تقریریں کی تھیں۔ پہلی تقریر اکتوبر ۱۹۴۷ میں عیدالاضحی کے نماز کے موقعہ پر جامع مسجد دہلی میں، اور دوسری تقریر دسمبر ۱۹۴۷ میں لکھنئو کے وکٹوریہ پارک میں۔ پہلی تقریر بےحد اہم اور متاثرکُن تھی۔ جس نے بھی اس زمانے میں اسے سنا یا پڑھا رو رو دیا، لیکن خوداعتمادی بھی، جو اس وقت نایاب ہو رہی تھی، اس سے حاصل کی۔ اس میں مولانا کا انداز خطابت اپنی معراج پر پہونچ گیا تھا۔ مجھے یاد ہے کہ میرےایک چچا، جو پہلے خلافتی تھےاور بعد میں کانگریسی بنے، اسکے پورے پورے پیراگراف ہمیں سنایا کرتے تھے۔ دوسری تقریر کی اہمیت سیاسی یا تنظیمی زیادہ تھی۔ چنانچہ اب وہ کسی کو یاد نہیں۔ کچھ سال بعد مولانا کی ایک تیسری تقریر بھی بہت مشہور ہوئی تھی جو انھوں نےبھارتی پارلیمنٹ میں کی تھی اور جس میں انھوں نے جن سنگھی ذھنیت کے لوگوں، بالخصوص پرشوتم داس ٹنڈن کو براہ راست خطاب کرتےہوئےاپنی صاف گوئی اور زورِخطابت کا بھرپور اظہار کیا تھا۔

ذیل میں مولانا کی جامع مسجد دہلی میں کی گئی تقریر کا اصل متن پیش کیا جاتا ہے۔ اسکی تیاری میں تین کتابوں سے مدد لی گئی ہے:

۱۔ مالک رام (مرتب)، خطباتِ آزاد ( نئی دہلی: ساہتیہ اکادیمی،۱۹۷۴)۔

۲۔ عرش ملسیانی، ابوالکلام آزاد: سوانح حیات (نئی دہلی: پبلیکیشنز ڈویژن، وزارت اطلاعات و نشریات، ۱۹۷۴)۔

۳۔ عابد رضا بیدار، مولانا ابوالکلام آزاد (رامپور: انسٹی ٹیوٹ آف اورینٹل سٹڈیز، ۱۹۶۸)۔

ان کے علاوہ دو تین دیگر کتب سے بھی استفادہ کیا گیا ہے۔ مجھےیہ کہتے ہوئے شدید افسوس ہے کہ ان میں سے کسی نے بھی اپنے مآخز کی نشاندہی نہیں کی ہے۔ رشید احمد صدیقی صاحب نےایک جگہ لکھا ہے کہ یہ تقریر متعدد اردو اخباروں میں فوراً شائع ہوگئی تھی۔ میرےخیال میں ان جرائد میں تو ضرور چھپی ہوگی  جنکا تعلق جمعیة العلماٴہند یا انڈین نیشنل کانگریس سے تھا، جیسے الجمعیة (دہلی)، مدینہ (بجنور)، اور قومی آواز (لکھنئو)۔ افسوس کہ انکی پرانی فائلیں مجھے دستیاب نہیں۔

مولانا ابوالکلام آزاد کی ایک تاریخی تقریر (۲)

جامع مسجد، دہلی۔ بعد نماز عیدالاضحیٰ   (اکتوبر ۱۹۴۷)

         میرےعزیزو۔ آپ جانتےہیں کہ وہ کون سی زنجیر ہےجو مجھےیہاں لےآئی ہے۔ میرےلئے شاہجہاں کی اس یادگار مسجد میں یہ اجتماع نیا نہیں۔ میں نے اُس زمانہ میں بھی، کہ اُس پر لیل و نہار کی بہت سی گردشیں بیت چکی ہیں، تمہیں خطاب کیا تھا، جب تمہارے چہروں پر اضمحلال کی بجائےاطمینان تھا اور تمہارے دِلوں میں شک کی بجائےاعتماد۔ آج تمہارےچہروں کا اضطراب اور دِلوں کی ویرانی دیکھتا ہوں تو مجھےبےاختیار پچھلےچند سالوں کی بھولی بسری کہانیاں یاد آجاتی ہیں۔ تمہیں یاد ہے؟ میں نے تمہیں پکارا اور تم نےمیری زبان کاٹ لی۔ میں نےقلم اُٹھایا اور تم نےمیرےہاتھ قلم کردیے۔ میں نےچلنا چاہا تو تم نے میرےپاؤں کاٹ دیے۔ میں نےکروٹ لینی چاہی تو تم نےمیری کمر توڑدی۔ حتیّٰ کہ پچھلےسات سال کی تلخ نوا سیاست جو تمہیں آج داغِ جدائی دے گئی ہےاُس کےعہدِ شباب میں بھی میں نےتمہیں خطرےکی ہر شاہراہ پر جھنجھوڑا، لیکن تم نےمیری صدا سےنہ صرف اعراض کیا بلکہ غفلت و انکار کی ساری سنّتیں تازہ کردیں۔ نتیجہ معلوم کہ آج اُنھی خطروں نےتمھیں گھیرلیا ہےجن کا اندیشہ تمھیں صراطِ مستقیم سےدور لےگیا تھا۔

          سچ پوچھو تو اب میں ایک جمود ہوں یا ایک دُوراُفتادہ صدا، جس نےوطن میں رہ کر بھی غریب الوطنی کی زندگی گذاری ہے۔ اِس کا مطلب یہ نہیں کہ جو مقام میں نے پہلے دِن اپنے لئے چُن لیا تھا، وہاں میرے بال و پر کاٹ لئےگئےیا میرےآشیانےکےلئےجگہ نہیں رہی۔ بلکہ میں یہ کہنا چاہتا ہوں کہ میرےدامن کو تمہاری دست درازیوں سے گِلہ ہے۔ میرا احساس زخمی ہے اور میرےدِل کو صدمہ ہے۔ سوچو تو سہی تم نے کون سی راہ اختیار کی؟ کہاں پہنچےاور اب کہاں کھڑےہو؟ کیا یہ خوف کی زندگی نہیں، اور کیا تمہارے حواس میں اختلال نہیں آگیا۔ یہ خوف تم نے خود فراہم کیا ہے۔

          ابھی کچھ زیادہ عرصہ نہیں بیتا جب میں نے تمہیں کہا تھا کہ دو قوموں کا نظریہ حیاتِ معنوی کےلئےمرض الموت کا درجہ رکھتا ہے۔ اُس کو چھوڑدو، کہ یہ ستون جن پر تم نے بھروسہ کیا ہوا ہے نہایت تیزی سےٹوٹ رہےہیں لیکن تم نےسُنی ان سُنی برابر کردی اور یہ نہ سوچا کہ وقت اور اُسکی رفتار تمہارےلئے اپنا ضابطہ تبدیل نہیں کرسکتے۔ وقت کی رَفتار تھمی نہیں۔ تم دیکھ رہےہو کہ جن سہاروں پر تمہارا بھروسہ تھا وہ تمہیں لاوارِث سمجھ کر تقدیر کےحوالے کرگئے ہیں، وہ تقدیر جو تمہاری دماغی لغت میں مشیّت کی منشا سےمختلف مفہوم رکھتی ہے، یعنی تمہارےنزدیک فقدانِ ہمّت کا نام تقدیر ہے۔

          انگریز کی بساط تمہاری خواہش کے برخلاف اُلٹ دی گئی اور راہ نمائی کےوہ بت جو تم نےوضع کیے تھےوہ بھی دغا دے گئے،  حالانکہ تم نےسمجھا تھا کہ یہ بساط ہمیشہ کےلئےبچھائی گئی ہے، اور انھی بتوں کی پوجا میں تمہاری زندگی ہے۔ میں تمہارے زخموں کو کریدنا نہیں چاہتا اور تمہارے اضطراب میں مزید اِضافہ میری خواہش نہیں، لیکن اگر کچھ دُور ماضی کی طرف پلٹ جاؤ تو تمہارےلئےبہت سی گرہیں کھُل سکتی ہیں۔

         ایک وقت تھا کہ میں نےہندوستان کی آزادی کےحصول کا احساس دِلاتے ہوئےتمہیں پکارا تھا، اور کہا تھا کہ جو ہونےوالا ہے اُس کو کوئی قوم اپنی نحوست سے روک نہیں سکتی۔ ہندوستان کی تقدیر میں بھی سیاسی انقلاب لکھا جاچکا ہےاور اس کی غلامانہ زنجیریں بیسویں صدی کی ہوائےحُرِّیت سےکٹ کر گِرنےوالی ہیں۔ اگر تم نےوقت کےپہلو بہ پہلو قدم اُٹھانےسے پہلوتہی کی اور تعطل کی موجودہ زندگی کو اپنا شعار بنائےرکھا تو مستقبل کا مورّخ لکھےگا کہ تمہارے گروہ نےجو سات کروڑ انسانوں کا ایک غول تھا، ملک کی آزادی کےبارےمیں وہ روَیّہ اختیار کیا جو صفحۂ ہستی سےمحو ہوجانےوالی قوموں کا شیوہ ہوا کرتا ہے۔ آج ہندوستان آزاد ہے، اور تم اپنی آنکھوں سے دیکھ رہےہو کہ وہ سامنےلال قلعہ کی دیوار پر آزاد ہندوستان کا جھنڈا اپنے پورےشکوہ سےلہرا رہا ہے۔ یہ وہی جھنڈا ہےجس کی اُڑانوں سےحاکمانہ غرور کے دِل آزار قہقہےتمسخر کیا کرتےتھے۔

         یہ ٹھیک ہےکہ وقت نےتمہاری خواہشوں کےمطابق انگڑائی نہیں لی بلکہ اُس نےایک قوم کےپیدائشی حق کےاحترام میں کروٹ بدلی ہے، اور یہی وہ انقلاب ہےجس کی ایک کروٹ نےتمہیں بہت حد تک خوف زدہ کردیا ہے۔ تم خیال کرتےہو کہ تم سےکوئی اچھی شےچھِن گئی ہےاور اُسکی جگہ کوئی بُری شےآگئی ہے۔ یہ واقعہ نہیں واہمہ ہے۔ حقیقت یہ ہےکہ بُری شےچلی گئی اور اچھی شےآ گئی۔ ہاں تمہاری بےقراری اِس لئےہےکہ تم نےاپنےتئیں اچھی شےکےلئےتیار نہیں کیا تھا، اور بُری شےکو ہی ملجاوماویٰ سمجھ رکھا تھا۔ میری مراد غیرملکی غلامی سےہےجس کےہاتھ میں تم نےمدّتوں حاکمانہ طمع کا کھلونا بن کر زندگی بسر کی ہے۔ ایک دن تھا جب تم کسی جنگ کےآغاز کی فکر میں تھےاور آج اس جنگ کےانجام سے مضطرِب ہو۔ آخر تمہاری اِس عجلت پر کیا کہوں کہ اِدھر ابھی سفرکی جستجو ختم نہیں ہوئی اور اُدھر گمراہی کا خطرہ بھی درپیش آگیا۔

          میرے بھائی، میں نےہمیشہ سیاسیات کو ذاتیات سےالگ رکھنے کی کوشش کی ہےاور کبھی اس پُر خار وادی میں قدم نہیں رکھا۔ یہی وجہ ہےکہ میری بہت سی باتیں کنایوں کا پہلو لیےہوتی ہیں، لیکن مجھے آج جو کہنا ہےمیں اُسے بے روک ہوکر کہنا چاہتا ہوں۔ متحدہ ہندوستان کا بٹوارہ بنیادی طور پر غلط تھا۔ مذہبی اختلافات کو جس ڈھب سے ہوا دی گئی اُس کا لازمی نتیجہ یہی آثار و مظاہر تھےجو ہم نےاپنی آنکھوں سے دیکھے، اور بدقسمتی سے بعض مقامات پر آج بھی دیکھ رہے ہیں۔

          پچھلے سات برس کی روئیداد دہرانے سےکوئی خاص فائدہ نہیں اور نہ اس سے کوئی اچھا نتیجہ نکل سکتا ہے۔ البتہ ہندوستان کےمسلمانوں پر مصیبتوں کا جو ریلا آیا ہے وہ یقیناً مُسلم لیگ کی غلط قیادت کی فاش غلطیوں کا بدیہی نتیجہ ہے۔ یہ سب کچھ مُسلم لیگ کےلئےموجبِ حیرت ہوسکتا ہےلیکن میرےلئےاس میں کوئی نئی بات نہیں۔ میں پہلے دن ہی سے اِن نتائج پر نظر رکھتا تھا۔

          اب ہندوستان کی سیاست کا رُخ بدل چکا ہے۔ مُسلم لیگ کے لئےیہاں کوئی جگہ نہیں ہے۔ اب یہ ہمارےاپنے دماغوں پر منحصر ہےکہ ہم کسی اچھےاندازِ فکر میں سوچ بھی سکتے ہیں یا نہیں۔ اِس خیال سے میں نے نومبر کے دوسرےہفتہ میں ہندوستان کے مُسلمان رہنماؤں کو دہلی بلانےکا قصد کیا ہے۔ دعوت نامےبھیج دئیےگئےہیں۔ ہراس کا یہ موسم عارضی ہے۔ میں تم کو یقین دلاتا ہوں کہ ہم کو ہمارے سِوا کوئی زیر نہیں کر سکتا۔

          میں نےتمھیں ہمیشہ کہا اور آج پھرکہتا ہوں کہ تذبذب کا راستہ چھوڑدو۔ شک سےہاتھ اُٹھا لو، اور بےعملی کو ترک کردو۔ یہ تین دھار کا انوکھا خنجر لوہےکی اس دودھاری تلوار سےزیادہ کاری ہےجس کےگھاؤ کی کہانیاں میں نےتمہارےنوجوانوں کی زبانی سنی ہیں۔  یہ فرار کی زندگی جو تم نےہجرت کےمقدّس نام پر اختیار کی ہے، اس پر غور کرو۔ تمہیں محسوس ہو گا کہ یہ غلط ہے۔ اپنے دِلوں کو مضبوط بناؤ اور اپنےدماغوں کو سوچنےکی عادت ڈالو، اور پھر دیکھو کہ تمہارےیہ فیصلےکتنےعاجلانہ ہیں۔ آخر کہاں جارہےہو اور کیوں جارہےہو؟ یہ دیکھو مسجد کے مینار تم سےاُچک کر سوال کرتےہیں کہ تم نےاپنی تاریخ کےصفحات کو کہاں گُم کر دیا ہے؟ ابھی کل کی بات ہےکہ یہیں جمنا کےکنارےتمہارے قافلوں نےوضو کیا تھا، اور آج تم ہو کہ تمھیں یہاں رہتےہوئےخوف محسوس ہوتا ہےحالانکہ دہلی تمہارےخون کی سینچی ہوئی ہے۔

         عزیزو، اپنےاندر ایک بنیادی تبدیلی پیدا کرو۔ جس طرح آج سےکچھ عرصہ پہلےتمہارا جوش و خروش بےجا تھا اُسی طرح آج تمہارا یہ خوف و ہراس بھی بےجا ہے۔ مسلمان اور بزدلی یا مسلمان اور اشتعال ایک جگہ جمع نہیں ہوسکتے۔ سچےمسلمان کو نہ تو کوئی طمع ہِلا سکتی ہےاور نہ کوئی خوف ڈراسکتا ہے۔ چند انسانی چہروں کےغائب از نظر ہو جانے سے ڈرو نہیں۔ اُنہوں نے تمہیں جانےکےلئےہی اکٹھا کیا تھا۔ آج اُنہوں نےتمہارےہاتھ میں سےاپنا ہاتھ کھینچ لیاہےتو یہ تعجب کی بات نہیں۔ یہ دیکھو کہ تمہارےدِل تو اُن کےساتھ ہی رخصت نہیں ہوگئے۔ اگر دِل ابھی تک تمہارےپاس ہیں تو اُن کو اپنےاُس خدا کی جلوہ گاہ بناؤ جس نے آج سے تیرہ سو برس پہلےعرب کےایک اُمّی کی معرفت فرمایا تھا: إِنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ قَالُواْ رَبُّنَا ٱللَّهُ ثُمَّ ٱسْتَقَٰمُواْ فَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ ۔ ] جو خدا پر ایمان لائے اور اُس پر جم گئے تو اُن کے لئے نہ تو کسی طرح کا ڈر ہے اور نہ کوئی غم ۔[ ہوائیں آتی ہیں اورگُزر جاتی ہیں۔ یہ صرصر سہی لیکن اِس کی عمر کچھ زیادہ نہیں۔ ابھی دیکھتی آنکھوں ابتلا کا یہ موسم گزرنے والا ہے۔ یوں بدل جاؤ جیسےتم پہلےکبھی اِس حالت میں نہ تھے۔

         میں کلام میں تکرار کا عادی نہیں لیکن مجھےتمہاری تغافل پیشگی کےپیشِ نظر باربار کہنا پڑتا ہےکہ تیسری طاقت اپنے گھمنڈ کا پشتارہ اُٹھاکر رخصت ہوچکی ہے۔ جو ہونا تھا وہ ہوکر رہا ہے۔ سیاسی ذہنیت اپنا پچھلا سانچہ توڑچکی، اور اب نیا سانچہ ڈھل رہا ہے۔ اگر اب بھی تمہارے دِلوں کا معاملہ بدلا نہیں اور دماغوں کی چبھن ختم نہیں ہوئی تو پھر حالت دوسری ہے۔ لیکن اگر واقعی تمہارے اندر سچی تبدیلی کی خواہش پیدا ہوگئی ہے تو پھر اِس طرح بدلو جس طرح تاریخ نےاپنے تئیں بدل لیا ہے۔ آج بھی کہ ہم ایک دورِانقلاب کو پورا کرچکے، ہمارےملک کی تاریخ میں کچھ صفحےخالی ہیں اور ہم ان صفحوں میں زیبِ عنوان بن سکتےہیں، مگرشرط یہ ہےکہ ہم اسکےلئےتیار بھی ہوں۔

         عزیزو، تبدیلیوں کےساتھ چلو۔ یہ نہ کہو کہ ہم اس تغیّر کےلئے تیار نہ تھےبلکہ اب تیار ہوجاوٴ۔ ستارے ٹوٹ گئےلیکن سورج تو چمک رہا ہے۔ اس سے کرنیں مانگ لو اور ان اندھیری راہوں میں  بچھادو جہاں اجالےکی سخت ضرورت ہے۔

         میں تمھیں یہ نہیں کہتا کہ تم حاکمانہ اقتدار کےمدرسےسے وفاداری کا سرٹیفکٹ حاصل کرو، اور کاسہ لیسی کی وہی زندگی اختیار کرو جو غیرملکی حاکموں کے عہد میں تمھارا شِعار رہا ہے۔ میں کہتا ہوں کہ جو اجلے نقش و نگار تمھیں اس ہندوستان میں ماضی کی یادگار کےطور پر نظرآرہےہیں وہ تمھارا ہی قافلہ لایا تھا۔ انھیں بھلاوٴ نہیں ۔ انھیں چھوڑو نہیں۔ انکے وارث بن کر رہو،  اور سمجھ لو کہ اگر تم بھاگنے کےلئےتیار نہیں تو پھر کوئی طاقت تمھیں نہیں بھگاسکتی۔ آؤ عہد کرو کہ یہ ملک ہمارا ہے۔ ہم اِسی کے لئے ہیں اور اِس کی تقدیر کےبنیادی فیصلےہماری آواز کےبغیر ادھورےہی رہیں گے۔

         آج زلزلوں سےڈرتےہو؟کبھی تم خود ایک زلزلہ تھے۔ آج اندھیرےسےکانپتےہو؟ کیا یاد نہیں رہا کہ تمہارا وجود خود ایک اُجالا تھا؟ یہ بادلوں کےپانی کی سیل کیا ہے کہ تم نے بھیگ جانے کےخدشےسےاپنےپائینچےچڑھالئےہیں۔ وہ تمہارےہی اسلاف تھےجو سمندروں میں اُتر گئے۔ پہاڑوں کی چھاتیوں کو روند ڈالا۔ بجلیاں کڑکیں تو اُن پر مسکرادیے۔ بادل گرجے تو قہقہوں سے جواب دیا۔ صرصر اُٹھی تو رُخ پھیردیا۔ آندھیاں آئیں تو اُن سے کہہ دیا کہ تمہارا راستہ یہ نہیں۔ یہ ایمان کی جانکنی ہےکہ شہنشاہوں کے گریبانوں سےکھیلنےوالےآج خود اپنےہی گریبان کےتار بیچ رہےہیں، اور خدا سے اِس درجہ غافل ہو گئےہیں کہ جیسےاُس پر کبھی ایمان ہی نہیں تھا۔

         عزیزو! میرے پاس تمہارے لئے کوئی نیا نسخہ نہیں ہے، وہی پرانا چودہ سو برس پہلےکا نسخہ ہے۔ وہ نسخہ جس کو کائناتِ انسانی کا سب سے بڑا محسن لایا تھا۔  اور وہ نسخہ ہے قرآن کا یہ اعلان : وَلاَ تَهِنُوا وَلاَ تَحْزَنُوا وَأَنتُمُ الأَعْلَوْنَ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ۔ [بد دل نہ ہونا ، اور نہ غم کرنا۔ اگر تم مومن ہو تو تم ہی غالب رہوگے۔]

         آج کی صحبت ختم ہوئی۔ مجھے جو کچھ کہنا تھا وہ اختصار کے ساتھ کہہ چکا۔ لیکن پھر کہتا ہوں اور باربار کہتا ہوں: اپنےحواس پر قابو رکھو۔ اپنےگردوپیش اپنی زندگی خود فراہم کرو۔ یہ منڈی کی چیز نہیں کہ تمھیں خرید کر لادوں۔ یہ تو دل کی دکان ہی میں سےاعمال صالحہ کی نقدی سے دستیاب ہوسکتی ہے۔

         والسلام علیکم و رحمةالله و برکاتہ۔

————————————-

Originally published at HumSub blog in two parts.

یاسر لطیف ہمدانی کی تحریریں:

http://www.wichaar.com/news/315/ARTICLE/17497/2009-12-02.html 

http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/30-Jun-2014/shorish-kashmiri-azad-and-partition

مولانا آزاد کی ایک تقریر کا اقتباس انکی آواز میں:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n72A1VUYkF4

(The following appeared as the ‘Preface’ in a book in Urdu—Fihrist-e Kutub,Siddīq Bukdepo, Lakhna’u (Delhi: Dilli Kitab Ghar, 2016)—that I jointly put together with Dr. Abdur Rasheed of Jami’a Millia University, New Delhi.)

 

Though Urdu books had started to appear in printed form much earlier book printing in Urdu properly took off in the early 1840s when lithography reached India. Invented in 1796 by Johann Alois Senefelder (1771–1834), a German actor and playwright who needed to produce his own writings in an easier and cheaper manner than was allowed by conventional printing, the process turned out to be ideal for Urdu once it reached India. The technology was simple, and the required equipment—some limestone slabs, a hand press—was not prohibitive in cost. Most importantly, the technique perfectly accommodated the skills of the existing population of traditional scribes who had calligraphed Urdu and Persian books for generations. By 1850 there were any number of litho presses across North India, in big towns and small, that were soon steadily producing Urdu books on assorted subjects for general consumption. A few also published weekly or biweekly newspapers that also served to draw attention to their books. The most prominent Urdu press of the 19th century, the press of Munshi Newal Kishore of Lucknow—it had branches in several cities—could have been the first such establishment to publish an independent catalog of its publications, which it then made available to booksellers and individual buyers alike. Its earlier known catalog is dated 1874, and a properly edited reprint of the 1896 edition was recently made available.

It is safe to assume that by the first decade of the new century the practice had been taken up by other large publishers too, in particular the two major ones at Lahore: the Dar-al-Isha’at Punjab of Munshi Mumtaz Ali and the Matba’ Khadim-al-Ta’lim of Munshi Mahbub Alam. These catalogs, made available gratis or at a nominal cost recoverable when an order was placed, were godsend to the booklovers who lived in places where there were no bookstores but who could take advantage of the new, increasingly expanding and efficient postal service. Soon a few other people in the book trade, those who themselves published only a few books but stocked and sold hundreds more of other publishers—e.g. the Nizami Book Depot of Budaun, and the Siddiq Book Depot and Al-Nazir Book Depot of Lucknow—were also issuing general catalogs that catered to an enthusiastic clientele not restricted to any region or topic.

The book at hand is a consolidated/amalgamated reprint of two catalogs published by the Siddiq Book Depot separated by 14 years. We don’t know the history of the establishment. It was most likely named after the owner, and though it published quite a few books under its own imprint over the years its main business was stocking and selling Urdu books from all over India. I recall visiting it often in the 1950s. It existed in a corner of Aminabad, Lucknow’s main shopping area in those days. No browsing was available. One sat on a chair in the verandah in front of the shop and asked for a book or a particular author’s publications. The owner sat at the mouth of the long narrow interior of the shop and called out to his assistants. If the book was well-known or sold well for some other reason it was brought out right away from one of the shelves, but in all other cases the owner would call out a number and a small bundle containing a dozen or so books wrapped in cloth would come down from an unseen space above. The owner would then unwrap the bundle and present you with the book to inspect or call out for some other bundle if the requested book was not found in it. One could of course browse through the other books in the bundle, but asking for too many books without quickly setting aside a few for actual purchase was definitely not encouraged. If one bought enough books one could ask for and obtain a complimentary copy of their printed catalog, other wise one had to buy it like any other book. One of the catalogs that we used contains numbers in the description column that most likely referred to the serial number of the bundles kept in the attic above the shop.

Why publish an old book catalog, and that too of a bookshop long finished and gone? After all, the catalog of a functioning library or bookshop comes with promises of discovery and reading pleasure at least to some of its readers. You can actually gain access to the enticing discoveries if you have the necessary money and other resources. The book in hand no doubt contains listings that would both surprise and delight any reader it however comes with no promise of access.

As we well know at least since the recovery of the great Arabic tome of the tenth century, Kitab-al-Fihrist of Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Nadim—a bookseller and a calligrapher, in addition to be a scholar and bibliophile—all catalogs are extremely useful. Each is preeminently a snapshot, a vivid image of a people’s or a language’s literary/intellectual wealth. The published catalog of a library displays for our benefit what the library had available for its readers/borrowers at a particular time in history. It also informs us—if we are curious in that regard—that the listed books had been published before that date. It does not, however, tell what books were actually read, or which of them were more popular than others. Similarly the catalog of a bookseller, if dated, tells us what books were available to any buyer in that year. And again, it helps us roughly date a book if listed in it. The important difference between a library catalog and that of a bookseller’s is that while the former shows what books were available at a particular place and under other restricting conditions the latter tells us what was available for common purchase to any booklover across the country or even beyond. The former reflects the preferences of a particular collector or institution, the latter makes us aware of the choices that were available to a much larger cohort that was not restricted to a particular city or region.

Academic Urdu scholarship over the years has produced several valuable literary histories, implicitly also narrating a history of the language. But even the most comprehensive does not tell the entire story; all of them place almost exclusive emphasis on what they consider ‘classics’ or ‘canonical.’ These literary histories overlook books that would otherwise be considered foundational for producing an intellectual history of Urdu speakers, nor do they pay much attention to what they only infrequently, and almost grudgingly, subsume under the rubric of ‘popular literature.’ Additionally, Urdu literary historians pay scant attention to translations and the significant role they played in the formation and cultivation of literary taste and talent in Urdu during the final decades of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th. Given the large scale closure of public libraries in North India since 1947 and the destruction, through deliberate neglect as much as natural causes, of Urdu collections in those that still survive it is only through the recovery of old booksellers’ catalogs that we might hope to establish some sense of what was at a particular time published and read in Urdu. Some examples should help.

The name ‘Bahram’ or ‘Bahram Daku’ was not too long ago synonymous with exciting reading for Urdu readers of mystery fiction. The character first appeared in 1916, in the novel Nili Chhatri by Zafar Omar. (It was an Indianized version of Maurice Leblanc’s The Hollow Needle.) I knew about the wide popularity of Omar’s book but the full sense of its influence came to me only after went through the 1936 catalog and found that even twenty years after its publication the book was not only still in print it had in fact generated over forty other novels about ‘Bahram.’ Also such titles as Pili ChhatriLal Chhatri, and Jadid Nili Chhatri!

Further, the same catalog made me aware of the fact that just as Hindi popular fiction included a genre described as ‘tilismi or tilismati’ novels so did also Urdu, at least so far as the clients of Siddiq Book Depot in 1936 were concerned. The same catalog lists ten or so novels described as ‘tilismi,’ out of which four are also described as jasusi. That the cataloguer had some clear sense of genres and the books’ contents is suggested by the fact that he described Mirza Ruswa’s Khuni ‘Ashiq (‘The Murdering Lover’)—a translation of Wormwood, A Drama of Paris by Marie Corelli (1855–1924), who was once described as Queen Victoria’s ‘favorite’ novelist—as a ‘philosophical’ novel and not as a thriller, contrary to the practice of most literary historians.

It is little known that between 1890 and 1920, two of the most read and admired novelists in Urdu were George W. M. Reynolds and Marie Corelli thanks to the translations of their novels—over thirty in the case of the former and nearly a dozen in the case of the latter. A few of Reynolds’ novels were translated more than once, and some ran to more than a thousand pages. Among their translators were such notables as Mirza Ruswa, Zafar Ali Khan, and Tirath Ram Firozepuri, and their avowed admirers included Premchand and Manto. The popularity and range of these and other translations can be best traced now only with the help of old catalogs.

Similarly, it is a sad fact that despite incessant claims of Urdu being a language common to Muslims and non-Muslims alike—a claim that actually makes no sense, since all major languages of India are common to all religious groups—histories of Urdu literature have constantly failed to give full consideration to the writings that are of greater social and intellectual relevance to non-Muslim speakers of Urdu. No history of Urdu novel to my knowledge, for example, mentions Shiv Barat Lal Verman (1861–1939), whose copious output I became aware of only through the same catalog. It listed 23 novels by him, all described as ‘philosophical.’ On further research I discovered that he had published perhaps a dozen more novels and a total of over three hundred books, most of which went through more than two printings during his life. His influence on later ‘literary’ novelists could be negligible but his importance in the intellectual life of a large portion of Urdu speakers cannot be denied. The same can be said with regard to Mahashai Sudarshan, another fiction writer of the same period whose popularity at one time matched that of Premchand, and whose works can be discovered again with the help of these catalogs.

Then there is a more mundane concern regarding Urdu printed books. While the earliest publications invariably mentioned the year of publication, the practice, inexplicably, slowly disappeared. Particularly in the case of popular fiction and poetry. Here again, old catalogs—they seem to have been always carefully dated— come handy, and make it possible for us to make reasonable approximations. Likewise, a comparison of prices listed in two catalogs separated by, say, ten years should be helpful too. Popular books tend to get pricier, while those not selling well remain at the same price or are discounted. And a reprint is almost always more costly than the earlier edition.

Finally, in the contemporary educational system in India schools provide instruction in Urdu language while colleges and universities teach Urdu literature. There is, however, no institution in either India or Pakistan where instruction or research is pursued in what could be called ‘Urdu Studies’—i.e. a ‘holistic’ study of all those many movements, publications, trends and conventions that, over the past two hundred years, played major roles in fashioning the intellectual life of Urdu speakers and effecting their private and public behavior. It is a major lacuna, but whenever in the future an attempt is made to produce an intellectual history of Urdu speakers, Muslims and Non-Muslims, these old book catalogs will be an invaluable source of information.

 

From left, CM Naim, historian Saleem Kidwai (standing), Ram Advani and book collector Aslam Mahmud. Photo: Unknown waiter at Lucknow golf course, February 2015, via CM Naim.

(CM Naim,  Saleem Kidwai (standing), Ram Advani and  Aslam Mahmud).

 

When I first visited it in the final months of 1949, the shop that would go on to become an iconic landmark occupied a small area within the vast and mostly empty Gandhi Bhandar in the heart of Lucknow’s Hazratgunj. And the sign proudly said “Ram Advani Bookseller”. The use of the singular made it clear, I suppose, that besides the wares on display you were also going to encounter an individual. I had gone there with a relative, and I doubt if I exchanged more than a formal greeting on that occasion with its handsome and urbane owner.

With time, I became more familiar with the wares of the shop – by then it had moved into the Mayfair Building and acquired two signs, the old red one outside the building and a new “wrong” sign, “Ram Advani Booksellers” above its doors – but I don’t think I bought a single book there during those four years. So in those years too, Mr Advani remained a distant figure, from whom one received a nod of recognition but whose eyes one tried to avoid – needlessly, it must be added – as one stepped out without making any purchase. My meagre pocket money was better spent on a movie at the Mayfair Theatre next door.

I mention all this to underscore what made that shop so unique – it allowed cash-starved booklovers like me to browse. And to enjoy the almost erotic frisson of having access to so many temptations. To pick up a book, flip its pages, admire the cover and illustrations, read the blurb, then move on to the next alluring title. One might not have the money to buy even one book, but so what, one at least knew that they were there for the taking some other time.

Before this man, who himself loved books and knew how booklovers feel – even the cash-starved kind – opened his doors, the practice among the booksellers in Lucknow was as follows. The books were put on high shelves, with a number of counters before them. You went and scoured the shelves and then asked the man at the counter to show you the book you wanted. You had then a few minutes to examine it, with the counter-man watching and judging if you were a likely customer. You could then ask for a couple of more books but if by then you had not decided to buy something, you received a subtle hint to not waste their time any further. The counter man would take away all the books and go to some other customer or start doing something else.

Incidentally, the situation at Urdu bookstores was much worse. There, you had to tell the owner what you wanted – a particular book; the works by a particular author; books in some specific genre – who then asked certain numbered bundles to be brought. He would pull out the specific items and show them to you. A transaction had to be made within 10 minutes or so, otherwise the bundles would again disappear in the loft above. There was no way to know what was available for sale, except by flipping the pages of a published catalogue.

Interestingly, just as Ram Advani changed all that with his browse-able shop for the Anglophone readers, around the same time the late Nasim Ahmad made all Urduwalas happy with his famous “Danish Mahal” in Aminabad, where one could browse without fear. I don’t know if the two ever met but I do know they held each other in much respect.

I’m quite sure I never bought a book from Ram Bhai’s shop until 1966, when I spent a year away from Chicago in Barabanki, my hometown. My relationship with him in the beginning was formal – he was a pretty formal person in most ways, and may have even appeared as somewhat severe to some people. The big difference in age – he was 14 years senior to me – made me feel diffident while talking to him. But over the years, like for so many others before me and after, our relationship turned into a friendship that I cherished then and will always cherish. He became Ram Bhai to me, and I became Naim to him – in his letters he would now use “My dear Naim” instead of “Dear Mr Naim.” Then, some 10 or so years back, he took to calling me “Naim Bhai”. I protested, but he did not stop. I finally explained it to myself as a curious expression of his misplaced sense of propriety in view of my shiny pate and white beard.

As Lucknow changed, it became a place less and less familiar or comfortable for me. Besides depressing physical changes, people’s behaviour in public spaces became radically different. One could not walk safely where once it was possible to stroll. By 1990, Ram Bhai’s shop became an oasis in what had become, for an old fogey like me, a desert, a place with no civility though displaying much opulence. With Ram Bhai I knew where I stood and could never be disappointed in my expectations. With him I could also share memories of an earlier, more civil Lucknow. His shop became the place where I could ask people to come and meet me, and if they were of the “right” kind I would take them upstairs to Ram Bhai’s cool dark mezzanine floor office. We would then have a cup of tea with him – it was always rather weak to my taste though plentiful. Inevitably, the visitors would soon join the ranks of Ram Bhai’s countless admirers across the world.

Buying books at Ram Bhai’s shop was always a problem for me. Too many interesting books on display, too many equally interesting books that he knew would interest me and he could obtain in a few days from the publishers. The most fabulous thing for me and for any visitor from abroad was the fact that the books one bought could be made into perfect parcels and sent homeward abroad through postal service by Ram Bhai’s most capable staff. And for a nominal charge one could even have one’s own other acquisitions mailed similarly. The other thing that made him special for so many was his ability to remember what one liked or was interested in. Every few months, it was normal to receive from him a note, first by postal service then by email, describing the new acquisitions of the shop that should be of interest to the particular recipient.

The same happened when you visited the shop, coming from abroad. After a few minutes of personal chitchat, he immediately started informing you of the new books that should interest you, often giving his own brief but candid view of some particular book. Often there would be several visitors in the shop at the same time, and more than one conversation would be going on as dear old Raju would make more tea and offer biscuits or go out to get samosas for the few who shamelessly asked for them. Ram Bhai would sit and listen and add his two bits once in a while. But he never gossiped. Many of us did, but he would only listen, and only with a look of tired indulgence on his face.

Though he spoke Sindhi and Hindi-Urdu – I doubt if he read them too – Ram Bhai was basically an Anglophone. Nevertheless, in social discourse and manners, he was a quintessential old-time “Lakhnavi”. (That reminds me of the beautifully embroidered chikan kurtas bought for him by Darshi Bhabhi, an epitome of ageless beauty and elegance herself, that he wore with great aplomb – I longed to don the same but knew how false they would look on me.) Whatever he had seen and heard and read about Lucknow was safe and ready in his memory to share with others. And in the limited confines of his shop he had created the aura of courtesy and civility that he believed he had experienced once in Lucknow’s public spaces, as if to impress upon his younger visitors: Yes, this is how it used to be once and could be again if you only tried.

Rest in peace, Ram Bhai, you were a dear and cherished friend to countless people and also a forlorn reminder of a Lucknow that is now gone forever.

 

First published in Scroll.in on March 14, 2016.

 

When I was growing up in the small town of Barabanki in the 1940s, the mosques had no loudspeakers. Those abominations would appear at the political rallies, and then disappear. Even in our Eidgah, where hundreds of people came from all parts of the town to pray together on the two Eid festivals, no loudspeakers were used to summon them. Not only that, even during the prayers, no microphone was used by the imam. In fact, when the idea was suggested by some individuals, it was quickly rejected by most of the so-called notables, who organised the special prayers, as well as the clergy. The imams of the neighborhood mosques, at the time, would proclaim the azaan themselves, or had some young man with a loud voice do the honors from the roof of the mosque. The human sound, often quite melodic, that emerged from his throat had enough reach to bring the nearby faithful to the mosque. And it did so no less efficiently than the electronically engorged aberration that now resounds over Barabanki. Actually, I should use the plural, for what we now have are scores of aberrations.

Last year, when I made a determined effort over several days, I discovered that the fajr or dawn prayer azaan came barging into my room in Barabanki from eight different mosques – mind you, only one of them was within walking distance from my home – and the whole thing, the calls from those eight different mosques, lasted nearly 30 minutes, as each mosque made its separate contribution. At moments, what one heard was an ugly cacophony. Far from providing the aesthetic pleasure that a single human voice produced for most listeners in my boyhood days, the effect of what came over the air now was intolerable even to my deeply devout sisters.

Undistorted and un-amplified, an ordinary human’s voice was perfectly able to do the task in the days when few people had alarm clocks or, for that matter, even a wristwatch. But now, even the tiny mosque in my neighborhood that can accommodate no more than 50 or 60 people has two loudspeakers tied to its minaret, and a sound system that sends its call out to a body of people 50 times larger than its capacity. But one cannot suggest a change. Apparently, the people who attend the neighborhood mosque can do perfectly well without an amplified alarm in all aspects of their daily lives except when it comes to reaching the mosque to form a congregation. Their grandfathers could do without loudspeakers but not these stalwarts of the 21st century.

Given the recent controversy over Sonu Nigam, I totally believe that no use of inappropriate amplification should be allowed in open spaces. Period. Not at akhand paths, not at jagrans, not at wedding celebrations, not at political meetings, not at anything. Not within a mile of any hospital. Not close to any school. And most definitely not during the hours of 10 pm and 7 am. Needless to say, the required laws are there on the books, what does not exist is the will to enforce them.

There are, however, a couple of things that Indian Muslims should themselves be concerned about that are related to the matter of electronically amplified sounds emerging from mosques. The idea of praying together in a congregation is quite important in Islam, hence the need to construct mosques. And that leads to the immediately relevant question: how far away should one mosque be from another? The rule is clear: mosques should be so built that the call from one must not reach another. The worshippers should not be confused, nor should there be an appearance of discord or disunity. If you don’t believe me, ask the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. They will confirm the above, even if reluctantly. For the size and numbers of mosques has now become a matter of honor.

Then there is the second, perhaps even more critical, issue. Everyone is aware of the quantum increase in sectarian thought and practice among the Muslims of South Asia. The evil that started in Pakistan, particularly during the Zia-ul-Haq regime, has now well established itself in India too. Thankfully, the murder and mayhem that are now routine in Pakistan have not yet happened in India. Indian Sunnis are not killing Indian Shi’ahs, nor have the Indian Barelavis gone gunning after Indian Wahhabis. But anyone who reads Urdu journals knows that sectarian intolerance has increased, and no effort to curb it is in sight.

I first visited Pakistan in 1980, and well recall what some friends in Lahore told me was happening in the Old City. After the ‘isha (late evening) prayers, they said, the Barelavis and the Deobandis regularly engaged in denouncing each other, using their azaan amplification systems, and filling the air with choice imprecations. My friend had said that with a smile. Now, of course, that smile is long gone. In fact, when I was in Lahore last year, and staying with a friend in an affluent neighborhood, I heard an azaan that I had never heard before. Later I found out that the Barelavis in Pakistan now have their own special azaan, and the additional material was put in basically to annoy the Deobandis. Probably the same is now happening in Bareli and Mumbai, too, but until last year it had not reached Barabanki.

Public display of religiosity is now common place. Piety that used to be expressed privately or through public humanitarian acts has now been replaced by a religiosity that is much more about pomp and glory, about self-exaltation, than humility and service. The cry one hears is of shaukat-e Islam (Glory of Islam). Anything that detracts from that presumed glory becomes “intolerable”. Sonu Nigam’s complaint against the use of loudspeakers was turned into an attack on Islam’s “honor”, and had to be retaliated against by demanding that he should be denuded of his “honor”. “Shave his head off,” brayed one savior of Islam. “Put a garland of shoes around his neck.” Now I only wish Sonu Nigam had saved the hair clippings and mailed them to his detractor.

More seriously, it is about time administrators across the country began to enforce the existing laws. Put strict limits on amplification. Enforce hours. Punish those who break the laws. And the so-called leaders – political and religious – should also make sure that the presumed piety of one party does not put undue burden on the rest of the citizens of the country.

 

First published at Scroll.in on April 21, 2017.

02. October 2016 · Comments Off on Publish and Perish · Categories: Archive, Tilting at Windmills · Tags: ,

I have long been familiar with the adage that governs so much in American academia—Publish or perish—but now I have learned a new truth: publish and perish.

It began some weeks back when I got a pleasant surprise from Professor Narayani Gupta of Delhi. She informed me that an enterprising young scholar named Rana Safavi had translated into English both editions—essentially two separate books—of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s Asar-al-Sanadid, and the translation was soon to be published by the Tulika Books, Delhi. Would I be willing, she then asked, to have my long essay on the book reprinted in it as an Afterword sort of thing?

My essay, “Syed Ahmad and His Two Books Called ‘Asar-al-Sanadid’,” appeared in the May 2011 issue of Modern Asian Studies (45:3, 669–708). That was ten years after I had retired. So its publication was not for the purpose of saving me from perishing. The books had become available in facsimile editions in 2005, and it had taken me close to five years to finally finish a project that I had long aspired to do. In fact, the seed for it was planted a few decades back by Professor Gupta when I had met her at the Jami’a Millia. My essay was a labor of love, and much work and reading had gone into it as can been seen in its 100 footnotes.

Naturally, therefore, when I got Professor Gupta’s note, I was doubly gratified, and only too glad to give my full consent. What could be a better new life for my article, I thought, than for it to be included in the first full/joint translation of the two books it discussed?

Alas, I had forgotten the PUBLISHER. Modern Asian Studies is published by the Cambridge University Press; in fact it is just one of a whole gaggle of journals that they publish. Tulika Books contacted them, informing them of my full consent. I too wrote them. What was the end result? Here is the relevant portion from the note I received from the editor at Tulika:

“I’m afraid what I had feared has come to be. I just received an email from CUP granting us permission to include your article in our translation of Asar — but at a fee of GBP 480, which works out to over Rs 40,000 given the skewed currency exchange rate! I am sorry if this is disappointing to you, as indeed it is to us, but I hope you will understand that we just cannot afford to pay out such a high amount for reproducing your article. It would upset the entire ‘economics’ of the publication’s production cost. I haven’t yet replied to CUP but will be sending them a ‘no, thank you’ email by tomorrow. I thought I should inform you first. I thank you very much for your generosity and for taking time out to pursue this on our behalf.”

Four hundred and eighty pounds, i.e. six hundred and twenty-one dollars! For the right to reprint a forty page article on an obscure subject in a book that is not likely to sell more than six hundred copies! I’m fairly confident that the CUP makes enough from the sale of the MAS, in print and on line, not so much from individual subscribers as from the special rates that institutions pay. (In 2011, any American institution desirous of subscribing to the MAS had to pay $574.00.) University presses also get grants and subsidies, particularly when they publish something rare and special. So it is not as if they cannot afford to be less ruthless. Mind you, I, the author, did not get a penny in 2011, and would not have received a penny now either from Tulika or the CUP. And so, from the perspective of my essay, it lost a lovely and unusual opportunity to reach a new and wider audience in India. It was published in 2011; it perished in 2016. RIP.

20. August 2016 · Comments Off on India’s National Library Goes Digital – Sort of · Categories: Tilting at Windmills · Tags: , ,

In April 2014, The Guardian published a longish piece by Samuel Gibbs entitled, “The most powerful Indian technologists in Silicon Valley.” It opened: “Ever since waves of Indian graduates poured into Silicon Valley in Northern California in the 1970s and 1980s, talented Indians have made breakthroughs, pushed boundaries and held positions of power in the world of technology and media.” Gibbs then went on to give brief but substantial accounts of the achievements of eleven such Indians, nine men and two women. Included were such luminaries as Ajay Bhatt—“credited as being the father of the USB standard”—and Vinod Dham—“The father of the famous Intel Pentium processor.” What is also striking about these men and women is the fact that almost all of them received their foundational education in India, in some of its most prestigious institutions. One may then rightly assume that those institutions, and others like them, must have by now produced a very large number of well-trained and talented people. Too numerous, perhaps, even to imagine. So why is it that not one of them apparently found his or her way to be on the staff of the National Library at Kolkota? For as anyone who visited it knows that the National Library’s website is nothing short of a disgrace to such a prestigious institution.

Click on the above link and you will see the following:

Picture1

Note the invitation—“User can register from this website free of cost”— on the left, spilling out of its box. Ignore the amateurish effect, and instead try to register. You will be immediately forced to make an arbitrary choice. There is on the right of the screen a tempting box titled “New User?” with a winking sign saying “Register Now!” But there is also smack in the middle of the screen a box marked “User registration.” Most likely, you will do what I did and click on the “New User” box, to be greeted only with the following bracing message: “This facility will be made available soon.” Now try the box in the middle. It works. You can register – but only if you are an Indian citizen. It does not say that in so many words. However, I as an American citizen was in no position to answer all the “mandatory” questions, even if I chose to ignore their highly obtrusive nature. I gave up and consoled myself by concluding that “User Registration” was perhaps not meant for those who only wished to use the website and the NL’s online information resources.

I next tried the button saying “View Recently Digital Books” (sic), assuming that they actually meant “Recently Digitized.” What did I find? Just one title, as can be seen below.

Picture2

Ignore your disappointment, ignore the incongruity of “1 Records Found.” But do consider the details of the one “recently digital” book. The author is given as “Ober, Fredwick Alboin.” His parents, however, had named him: Fredrick Albion Ober. Now look at the title of the book as offered by the National Library of India: “Comps in Carbbees; the adventures of a naturalists in the Lesser Antilles.” The book when it came out in 1880 was actually titled: “Camps in the Caribbees: the adventures of a naturalist in the Lesser Antilles.” Four serious typos in a context where not one should have happened.

I next tried the box in the middle of the page titled, “Digitised Book (sic),” expecting to find some description of the nature and number of the books, with perhaps an alphabetical list of the most prominent authors so far included. Instead I found I had to blindly try, and if I were lucky I could find something. As fate would have it, almost all the times I was only told: “No records found.” It soon became obvious that no browsing was possible. One could only make a specific request and then pray for good luck.

Finally, I decided to search the library’s online catalog as offered on the home page. My recent research interest has been popular fiction in Urdu at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20 centuries, in particular what was translated from the English. Two authors, George W.M. Reynolds and Marie Corelli, had been particular favorites in Urdu, as in fact they had been in several other Indian languages. I thought the National Library should have a good record of the titles by these authors that had been available in India as well as the translations that appeared in Indian languages. I was not disappointed. A substantial number of the two authors’ early editions are preserved. I also found titles of some translations in Bengali and Malayalam. But very few. Far fewer than were actually done in those two languages. And no mention of any translation in Urdu, though at least 34 novels of Reynolds and 5 of Corelli were to my knowledge translated and avidly read in Urdu in the 1920s.

I also found that there was no easy way for me to check Urdu titles. As shown below, the page invites readers to use regional languages but where is the “Control Panel” that it asks them to use?

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I had to resort to Romanized forms of Urdu words. It worked – mostly. But it would have more helped if they had offered a guide to their Romanizations. It turns out that there is no fixed system. Different people on the staff have differently Romanized Urdu titles and authors’ names. I wonder if that has happened with other languages too or was that some special treatment meted out to Urdu? Surely, it is not fair to change Urdu ‘z’ to Hindi ‘j’ even in Romanization. Not in Kolkota, where people lustily pronounce ‘z’ and ‘f’ even where they are not required to.

Why should this be the case? A friend suggested the practice of “tendering out” such jobs could be to blame. The library wished to have a website; it asked for tenders from different IT firms; then chose the least costly, hence the least efficient. The usual bureaucratic fiasco. There is also that attitude so prevalent among Indian librarians. Very few of them think of themselves as providers of an essential service to the general public. Most of them view themselves simply as custodians of the contents of their institutions—contents that they preserve and protect but do not, in the same measure, also make available to rightful users. After visiting the National Library’s website it was obvious to me that no one had bothered to try it out and see if it actually worked. They can now claim, like everyone else, to have a website, that it worked or not was of little importance.

The first Urdu printing press in Lahore, Matba’-i Koh-i Nur, was established in 1849, the year the city was fully brought under the authority of the East India Company. Printing presses were an essential need of the new political system — it needed rulebooks to train and guide its indigenous staff in the mechanics of the new administration as well as printed registers and forms for use in the new sarrishtas or government departments. Consequently, one finds a progress of printing presses across North India in the wake of the progress of the Colonial rule. The introduction of litho printing a couple of decades earlier also helped a great deal, for the imported technology was perfect for Persian and Urdu, the two languages that the new rulers preferred in their North Indian possessions outside of Bengal.

 

The pioneering press was set up by Munshi Harsukh Rai, who had earlier worked in a press at Meerut. Not surprisingly, his first publications were revenue manuals. But the following year Munshi sahib also started publishing a weekly named Koh-i Nur. In doing so he had again followed the pattern set by earlier presses. According to Muhammad Atiq Siddiqui (Hindustani Akhbarnavisi, Kampani ke Ahd Men, 1957), by 1857 there had come up 167 Urdu presses in the Urdu region of North India, and of them 103 had also published a newspaper of their own. Most, however, did not last very long. Koh-i Nur was a major exception; it lasted 54 years. And in many of those years it appeared twice, even thrice, per week. And yet, such has been the fate of Urdu newspapers that one would be hard put now to find even 54 individual issues of that paper.

 

It is little recognised that in the matter of publishing reading matter for the benefit of Urdu-speaking women Lahore has precedence over both Delhi and Lucknow. It was here in 1887 that Munshi Mahbub Alam began publishing his famous ‘penny journal,’ Paisa Akhbar, and then in 1893 launched a monthly journal, Sharif Bibi, that reached a readership beyond Lahore. Five years later, Munshi Mumtaz Ali launched his history-making weekly, Tehzeeb-i Nisvan, that was edited by his wife, Muhammadi Begum — probably the first or second Indian woman to hold such a responsibility. The latter journal lasted much longer than the former, and also gained a much wider circulation across the subcontinent. More significantly, it could boast a remarkable roster of women writers as contributors, and even editors. A few years later, both Munshi Mahbub Alam and Munshi Mumtaz Ali launched special journals aimed at children readers — another first for Lahore. And yet again, not only in Lahore but in no place on earth can one find complete files of the early years of these invaluable journals. Sadly, public libraries, government archives, and educational institutions in South Asia have mostly neglected to preserve Urdu periodicals and newspapers, not only in Urdu but also in most Indian languages.

 

It is in this context that the quiet diligence of one Pakistani deserves grateful recognition: Ziaullah Khokhar of Gujranwala. During a recent trip to Pakistan I had the good fortune to meet him and get a glimpse of his invaluable collection of Urdu books and journals.

 

 

Khokhar sahib, who must be in his late seventies now, seems to have lived most of his life in Gujranwala, where his father, Abdul Majeed Khokhar, had a manufacturing business. The father was fond of reading, and besides books also used to subscribe to several newspapers and magazines. Unlike most people, however, he never discarded any of them. Every book was saved, as was every single issue of the journals that were bought. Here is how Khokhar sahib has described his father:

 

I was at the seventh or eighth stage in the progress of my life, when my revered father made me fond of reading children’s magazines. From my earliest schooldays it was my habit to go from school straight to Bazar Almariyan, to my father’s factory, and give him a helping hand till dusk. Our society was then firm in traditional ways and values, and times were very peaceful and harmonious, shops would close very early. On many days, my father would place me on his bicycle and take me to the Basheer Sahrai Akhbar Ghar in the nearby Rail Bazar, where he would get me a few such magazines

 

That habit of reading and preserving became ingrained in the young Ziaullah, who studied science and engineering, but apparently never fully joined the family business. Instead he devoted himself more strenuously to expanding the collection initiated by his father. Towards that end he even travelled to other cities on a regular basis. That has particularly enhanced the value of his collection, since we know how not all books published in Karachi — not to mention Sialkot or Peshawar — always reach bookshops in Lahore.

 

The result of that true labour of love is now called the Abdul Majeed Khokhar Memorial Library, lovingly set up in Khokhar sahib’s house in a modest neighbourhood of Gujranwala. Only a small plaque on the gate announces it to the world. Presently it contains some 200,000 individual issues of newspapers and periodicals — literary, religious, popular, political — and some 35,000 books, including 700 autobiographies, 1300 travelogues, 200 collections of letters, and 400 volumes of biographical sketches. There are 800 titles devoted to Ghalib, and 1800 to Iqbal. There are also more than a thousand books of various kinds in Punjabi.

 

Khokhar Sahib’s diligence is evident not only in the size of his collection but also in the manner he has single-handedly preserved them. Most of the space in his substantial house is now full of shelves, on which sit books and bundles of periodicals carefully wrapped in cellophane to protect them from dust and the insecticide he uses. And yet so much more needs to be done. The day I went to the library I could see books and newspapers and periodicals lying in small stacks on the floor of a couple of rooms, not neglected but waiting to be lovingly wrapped and preserved by Khokhar sahib and his young assistant.

 

Khokhar sahib is not ungenerous towards sincere readers and scholars. He responds to people’s requests, providing information, even photocopies if at all possible. Uniquely, however, he has been doing what only a few major institutions have done in the past. He has been preparing and publishing topical catalogues of what he has saved, thus enabling historians of Urdu language and literature to gain a fuller sense of Urdu’s printed heritage.

 

Not surprisingly one of the four catalogues so far published is devoted to the kind of periodicals he discovered as a child. Issued in 2004, it is titled Bachchon ki Sahafat ke Sau Saal (One Hundred Years of Children’s Journals). It lists over two hundred titles, giving as much bibliographical details as possible, such as the place and date of the journal’s first publication, and the names of the editors. Additionally it gives details of the journal’s special issues in the library. Like many I had always assumed that Munshi Mumtaz Ali’s Phool was Urdu’s first journal for children. Now I know that while Phool came out in 1909 under the editorship of Nazr-e Sajjad Hyder, it was preceded by Munshi Mahbub Alam’s Bachchon ka Akhbar, which started in 1902. The former, a weekly, lasted a few decades, whereas the latter, a monthly, survived for only ten years. Fortunately for us, the Khokhar library contains 12 issues of that pioneering journal, as well as 400 issues of Phool.

 

An equally unique catalogue is devoted to travelogues. Titled Faharisul Asfar (Catalogue of Travels), it lists the 1300 travelogues the library has, first by their titles and next by their authors. Of them, 18 were published before 1900, 124 between 1901 and 1947, and the rest are more recent, making evident that there has been an explosion of travel writing in Urdu, almost exclusively in Pakistan, since 1947. I was surprised to discover that the largest number were authored by the late Hakim Muhammad Saeed (55), followed by Qamar Ali Abbasi (20) and Mustansar Husain Tarar (17). Also noteworthy is that the Khokhar collection contains at least 115 travelogues written by women.

 

Another catalogue is titled Ta’limgahon ke Rasa’il va Jara’id (Journals and Periodicals Published by Educational Institutions). This was printed in 2007, and was freely distributed in honour of his late father. It lists more than 450 titles of a wide range of regular or occasional journals published by colleges, universities, and learned societies across the subcontinent. The oldest dates back to 1894. Though most come from Pakistani institutions, quite a few Indian institutions also find representation. In addition to giving the usual information about the periodical and the number of the copies preserved at the library, Khokhar sahib has also taken the trouble to indicate what special issues were published, and under whose editorship.

 

The fourth catalogue is another invaluable resource for research in Urdu studies. And again a first on its subject: the special issues that various Urdu monthlies brought out devoted to a single topic or author. Titled Mahana Rasa’il ke Khususi Shumare (Special Issues of Monthly Journals), it runs to over 400 pages, and makes apparent Khokhar Sahib’s unusual curiosity about Urdu periodicals, and his rare awareness of the wealth of knowledge that lies buried in them.

 

By remarkable coincidence, a similarly invaluable collection of Urdu periodicals was put together in India by an individual of modest means — a car mechanic by profession — totally removed from educational institutions: Abdus Samad Khan sahib’s collection in India was lovingly described by Raza Ali Abdi on BBC, but was already well known to scholars in India and abroad. It was eventually purchased by a consortium of American universities and then established as Urdu Research Centre at the Sundarayya Vignana Kendram, Hyderabad, where it is now secure and will eventually be made available to worldwide readership via digitisation.

 

The achievements of Ziaullah Khokhar, this unassuming and wise man of Gujranwala, also deserve genuine recognition and solid support. He has done the hard work of collection, preservation, and cataloguing; now it is for the people of Pakistan — indeed for all lovers of Urdu language — to undertake the easier task of making sure his collection remains secure and available to future generations. It is a national treasure and should be treated in that manner by the state and private institutions that champion the cause of learning and education in Pakistan.

 

Originally published in Dawn (June 26, 2016)

Sherlock Holmes, the most widely known detective in the world, is perhaps also the most widely recognized fictional character in the world—at par with Hamlet, who appeared amongst us four hundred years ago. Holmes, however, made his debut more recently, in 1887, in a novella titled A Study in Scarlet. The author was a twenty-eight years old doctor named Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, not terribly successful in his medical practice and needing supplementary income after his marriage two years earlier. The story, sad to say, brought him only twenty-five pounds. His second book with Holmes—The Sign of the Four—was a similar financial disappointment. But when, in 1891, he changed genres and set afoot “the game” in six taut tales—they appeared in the newly founded but instantly popular magazine Strand—Doyle gained the success he wished for.

 

By 1891, English popular literature was easily available to many Indians in urban centers, through pubic libraries and franchised bookstalls at major railway stations. Also by then much popular English fiction, by authors such as George W.M. Reynolds, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and H. Rider Haggard, was not only being avidly read but also translated into Urdu in some fashion. For example, Reynolds’ Wegner, the Wehrwolf was translated by Muhammad Ameer Hasan as Fasana-e ‘Ala’uddin va Laila, and serialized in the Avadh Akhbar around 1890; and in 1896, translations of five of his novels were available from the journal’s publishers, the preeminent Newal Kishore Press of Lucknow.

 

Doyle’s tales must have been read by many contemporary Urdu speakers, but with no apparent impact. While tracing the development of mystery fiction in Urdu I was not able to find any evidence of Doyle’s popularity at the turn of the century. The reason, most likely, was the dominant literary taste. Urdu speakers, fond of dastans and similar tales of adventure, preferred even in translations from the English what we now call “thrillers,” as opposed to the tales of “detection” that Doyle excelled at. At the beginning of the 20th century in Europe, the other big name in crime-fiction was Maurice Leblanc, whose gentleman-burglar, Arsène Lupin, rivaled Holmes in popularity. It is telling that Lupin was the first to be made available in Urdu, through Tirath Ram Firozepuri’s translations and Zafar Omar’s “transcreations,” beginning in 1916. He also remained dominantly popular, even influential, for a couple of decades. Holmes made his appearance only a few years later, but though he found due popularity he never gained an Urdu imitator. That preference for “thrillers” still persists. Of the more than 200 original novels that have made Ibne Safi a household name, most are thrillers and not tales of detection.

 

To my knowledge, the first person to translate a Holmes story into Urdu was Shaikh Firozuddin Murad, a professor of Physics at the Aligarh Muslim University. A translation of A Study in Scarlet, it was titled Sharlak Homz ka Pahla Karnama, and was published at Lahore by the Dar-al-Isha’at Punjab, a prominent publisher of popular fiction at the time. Notably, the book was published with Doyle’s permission, as we learn from Murad’s preface. Murad also explains why he found the book so appealing: “This tale is not made of elaborate speeches and trite subjects. Instead, a chain of events is superbly narrated to make evident to us how an intelligent man, employing needful observation and a correct line of reasoning, can accomplish anything.” In other words, Murad liked the story not because it was sensational or thrilling but because it engaged his mind. Interestingly, when the same was translated a second time, by Amar Nath Muhsin and titled Khunnaba-e ‘Ishq (“The Bloody Torrent of Love”) the publisher still described it on the title page as “a novel that stands victorious in the field of detection, aided by the sciences of Physiognomy, Anatomy, and Chemistry.”

 

Murad published two more books of Holmes stories: Hikayat-e Sharlak Homz (1921) and Yadgar-e Sharlak Homz (n.d.). The first has twelve stories selected from the canonical four collections, the second seven. Murad thus managed to translate and publish one-third of the canonical 56 stories before he stopped. In the preface to the Hikayat, Murad described the stories as both interesting and instructive. “In the guise of a tale,” he wrote, “they teach us how to use our eyes correctly, draw conclusions from what we observe, and then develop a scientific line of reasoning. … Such stories can serve a useful purpose in Urdu.”

Expanding on his belief in the pedagogic quality of the stories, Murad did something unusual in the Hikayat: each translated narrative was presented as if it came in three sections. “The first section,” Murad wrote, “presents the mysterious affair at hand, the second offers a detailed account of Holmes’s investigation, and the final third section reveals the mystery and its solution. The reader’s enjoyment should lie in his stopping at the end of the first section and try to come up with an explanation of his own. Failing in the attempt, he should then read the second section, close the book, and then endeavor to imagine what Holmes would do next.” That was a noteworthy insight into Doyle’s narrative structures.

Murad also did something in two stories that Doyle might have strongly disapproved. In his translations of “The Adventure of the Three Students” and “The Adventure of the Reigate Squire”—in Urdu Tin Talib’ilm and Rai Ghat ke Ra’is, respectively—Murad made all secondary characters Indians. The locale in the first story remained Cambridge, but the three students and their harried teachers were given Indian names; in the second, even the locale was made Indian. Both give little added pleasure, and Murad did well not to tinker with the rest of the stories. In the Hikayat, he also included some crude litho illustrations based on the etchings in Strand. Both failures, nevertheless, indicate the earnestness and devotion that this professor of Physics brought to his labor of love.

Curiously, a decade later another professor of Physics similarly fell in love with Holmes. Naseer Ahmad Usmani, who taught at the Osmania University at Hyderabad, translated The Hound of the Baskervilles as Khandani Aseb, and The Valley of Fear as Wadi-e Khauf. Usmani too was an earnest but clumsy translator; he was also seemingly much influenced by the Bureau of Translation at his university—he used Mufattish for “detective”, Shaikh-al-balad for “mayor”, and Nishan-e Abi for “watermark”!

The two professors probably could not have gained Holmes many fans. Things changed only when that extraordinary translator, Tirath Ram Firozepuri, took up the task. After firmly establishing Lupin’s popularity among the readers of crime fiction in Urdu, he turned his attention to Lupin’s archrival—probably around the same time as Usmani—and in quick succession produced extremely readable versions of The Valley of Fear (as Wadi-e Khauf), The Hound of the Baskervilles (as Atishi Kutta) and The Return of Sherlock Holmes (as Karnamajat-e Sharlak Homz). His translations made the name well known in Urdu, but his numberless readers always showed greater appreciation for, and demanded more of, Lupin’s adventures and other similar thrillers Firozepuri had offered earlier and continued to offer till his death in 1954.

It’s about time someone again took up the challenge and completed in Urdu the work started by these pioneers. Urdu speakers never cease to claim greatness for their language. But surely no language can be considered great unless it has available in it most of the revered “Holmesian” canon of 56 stories and 4 novels? The effort may even enhance logical thinking among Urdu speakers, and prove Murad right.

 

***

Originally appeared in Dawn, June 2, 2015.

 

07. May 2016 · Comments Off on The Nonpareil Translator: Munshi Tirath Ram Firozepuri · Categories: Archive, Urdu Language and Literature · Tags: , , , ,

I begin by invoking Sa’adat Hasan Manto. Presently his name is much in the air presently. An endorsement from him should count for a lot with many readers, particularly who are still reaching for 40. Here is what Manto wrote in a sketch of Agha Hashr Kashmiri, the ‘Shakespeare of Urdu,’ in his wonderful book Ganje Firishte. ‘I had never seen any of Agha Sahib’s plays, for I was absolutely not allowed to go out of the house at night. Nor had I read his plays, for at the time I only enjoyed reading books like The Mysteries of the Court of London and English mystery novels translated by Tirath Ram Firozepuri.’

Manto was born in 1912, and so he must have been speaking of his reading habits in the early-to-middle 1920s, the time when he also began to learn how Urdu prose could effectively be turned into a vehicle for imagined lives. And the book he mentioned by its English title must have been also its multivolume Urdu version done by the same translator. In the 1920s and continuing till the end of the 1950s, it had to be a truly phlegmatic Urdu reader who had not read a few translations done by Munshi Tirath Ram Firozepuri.

Munshi Sahib, as I shall henceforward call him, was born in 1885, though I cannot confirm it; he died in 1954, and that too, sadly, I cannot confirm. I can only offer surmises. However, concerning his achievements, I stand on very firm ground: during a working life of less than forty years, Munshi Sahib produced more than 60,000 pages of translated prose fiction spread over more than 155 books.

That he always added Firozepuri to his name clearly indicates that Munshi Sahib considered Firozepur, Punjab, his place of origin. His command of Persian, and even some Arabic, also tells us that he had studied in some local madrassa. Firozepur, a small trading center at the time but gradually becoming better known as a military cantonment, had several madrassas and one government high school. It is safe to assume that Munshi Sahib learned English and got a taste for fiction during the time he did his matriculation, and that the school’s library and the local railway bookstall were the places where he discovered the books he admired and translated when he matured.

There is no evidence that Munshi Sahib went to college, for he made his debut in print only as Tirath Ram Firozepuri. Unlike Zafar Ali Khan or Zafar Omar and many more, who themselves, or their publisher, always wrote ‘B.A.’ after their names in the initial stages of their careers. Later, when some editors and publishers added ‘Munshi’ to his name, that too indicated that he was not a college graduate but, nevertheless, a man of some learning.

After matriculation around 1902 or 1903, Munshi Sahib moved to Lahore, which was then the most attractive place to be for any budding writer or journalist. It had many publishing houses and printing presses, and the colonial program for school textbooks was located there. Anyone desirous of earning a living with his pen could expect to do well in Lahore. We have no knowledge of Munshi Sahib’s early years in the city, and it is quite possible that he did some anonymous work as a translator at one of the flourishing presses.

The earliest mention of him that I have found occurs in the May 1910 issue of the respected journal Adib (Allahabad), where he appears as the author of an essay entitled ‘Qutub Minar’ (‘The Qutub Minar’). The essay fairly dispassionately presents all the conflicting arguments about the origins of the tower, then concludes that the evidence favored a Hindu origin. Incidentally, the subsequent issue of the journal carried an equally dispassionate essay by Khwaja Latifuddin Chishti in support of the Muslim claim. Both authors, however, insisted that it was a monument that all Indians should equally be proud of.

Between 1910 and 1913, Adib published several more articles by Munshi Sahib: ‘Akhbar-Navisi ki Ibtida’ (‘The Origins of Journalism’); ‘Alat-e Parvaz’ (‘The Flying Machines’); ‘Yunaniyon aur Romiyon ka Qadim Tariqa-e Ta’lim’ (‘Education in Ancient Greece and Rome’); ‘Qadim Hindu Farmanrava’on ke Huquq aur Fara’iz’ (‘The Privileges and Duties of Ancient Hindu Rulers’); ‘Qadim Hindustan men Kashtkaron ki Halat’ (‘The Condition of Farmers in Ancient India’); ‘Qadim Hindustan men Fann-i-Hava-Bazi” (‘The Science of Flying in Ancient India’).

Most of the above articles mention English language sources, and indicate his increasing command of the language for reading purposes. Another article, ‘Nazzara-e Bahisht va Dozakh: Dante ki nazm par Tabsara’ (‘A View of Paradise and Hell: A Review of Dante’s Poem’) is explicitly marked as a translation, though the original author is not named. And a story entitled ‘Chup ki Dad’ (‘The Reward of Silence’) is nothing but an Indianised version of some English story. It also indicates his early interest in tales of mystery. Many of the above titles suggest that he was also sympathetic to the revivalist/reformist movement of the Arya Samaj that had then caught the imagination of many North Indian Hindus, particularly in the Punjab. An interest in Bengal is evident too, though we don’t know if he read or spoke Bengali. However, in 1913—before Tagore received the Nobel—Munshi Sahib translated a collection of eight Bengali short stories, followed later by two separate volumes of short stories by the Nobel laureate.

The December 1912 issue of Adib contains a commendatory review of three nonfiction books by Munshi Sahib, and describes him as a frequent contributor of literary and learned writings to Urdu journals. One book, Fann-e Gharisazi (‘The Craft of Watchmaking’), explains how to repair clocks and watches, while another, ‘Ilaj bila Daktar (‘Curing Without a Doctor’), offers home remedies for common illnesses. Both books extensively use translated material. The third book, Angrezi Muhavarat (‘English Idioms’), is entirely original, and seeks to teach idiomatic English to Urdu readers through translation exercises. In fact, Munshi Sahib may have had in mind people like himself who wished to translate English fiction into Urdu, for the advanced exercises in the book are exactly of that nature; some of them have sentences that read like excerpts from mysteries. The two-part book clearly shows that by then he was comfortably conversant with written English.

The big moment of professional recognition in Munshi Sahib’s life, and the start of his long and sustained career as a translator, came in 1915, when his publishers, Lall Bros. of Naulakha, Lahore, started Tarjuman, ‘a monthly journal of Philosophy, Science, and Literature,’ with Munshi Sahib as its editor. Besides editing the journal his responsibilities included translating and serializing in its pages George W.M. Reynolds’s mammoth novel, The Mysteries of London. And when, in 1916, Zafar Omar’s Nili Chhatri, an Urdu adaptation of Maurice Leblanc’s The Hollow Needle, became an immediate hit, Munshi Sahib also began serializing in Tarjuman his own translation of Leblanc’s other major book, 813. He called it Inqilab-e Yorap, and it was an instant success. That encouraged him to translate more books by Leblanc, and subsequently also by other authors, all thrillers and mysteries. The translations were first serialized in Tarjumān, and when it stopped publication after a few years, they became a popular series to which people could subscribe to obtain them regularly and at a discount. These were straight translations, and not adaptations or ‘transcreations’ in the manner of Zafar Omar.

An advertisement by the Lall Bros in an undated fascicle of Ghurur-e Husn—Reynolds’s Agnes, or Beauty and Pleasure—gives us a good idea of his taste in popular fiction, and, more importantly, of the incredible pace he worked at. The ad lists four major works by Reynolds, and forty individual novels by others, all translated by Munshi Sahib. The four novels by Reynolds come to almost 12,000 pages, while the 40 diverse novels add another 12,000 pages. According to my estimate, Ghurur-e Husn was published in full—it runs to nearly 3,200 pages—sometime before 1939. Putting it all together, we would be right to conclude that within 20 years or so Munshi Sahib had published over 27,000 pages of translated fiction in Urdu! How many pages he had read in English before deciding what to translate is anybody’s guess. For someone who was only a matriculate, it suggests an astounding devotion to what was clearly a passion for him and not merely a vocation.

On the whole Munshi Sahib’s translations can be described as fairly accurate; they never cause any damage to the intentions of the original author. In one of the prefaces that he habitually added to his books, Munshi Sahib calls himself a sahih-nigar (lit. ‘correct-writing’) translator, then adds, ‘I have restricted myself to presenting the learned author’s ideas and words in their exact form. I am not one of those people who consider their qabiliyat (‘talent’) superior to the author’s, and start correcting his thinking.’ In the case of the rambling sagas that Reynolds produced and liberally littered with lengthy political and social commentaries, Munshi Sahib practiced liberal editing, excluding the bulk of such digressions while making sure that the central narrative flowed smoothly. In fact, in the case of some of the many side stories that Reynolds habitually introduced in his biggest sagas, The Mysteries of London and The Mysteries of the Court of London, Munshi Sahib turned them into separate short books. As for the mysteries and thrillers of a normal length, he did not abridge them in any significant manner, and only avoided being too literal. It would be fair to say that his main goal was to create an easy-flowing narrative that retained all that was essential in the original concerning its characters and action. Towards that end he was judicious in using idioms and proverbs, eschewing the more colorful ones, unlike his predecessors such as Mirza Ruswa and Amir Hasan Kakorvi who relished doing just the opposite. Munshi Sahib preferred to translate novels that were written in plain standard English and were not overly burdened with colorful slang or special turns of phrases—one reason, perhaps, why he did not translate any book by such American noir writers as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandlers, and Mickey Spillane, and limited himself to only one book by Leslie Charteris. Among his favorite authors were American and British masters of the ‘Classical’ period: J. S. Fletcher, Jacques Futrelle, Guy Boothby, Sax Rohmer, William Le Queux, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Valentine Williams.

In 1947, Munshi Sahib had no intentions of moving to India, but circumstances forced him to leave Lahore, together with his publisher, Narain Dutt Sehgal. The two settled in Jalandhar, and soon started a new series of publications. Munshi Sahib regained his momentum quickly, and began to produce four to five new translations annually. But the shock of leaving his beloved Lahore—in many post-1947 books he signed himself as ‘Avara-e Vatan’ or ‘Be-Aram’ Tirath Ram—and losing his lovingly put together library of hundreds of old and rare mystery books did not let him live for long. He is said to have died in 1954, perhaps in Delhi. Obituaries must have appeared in many journals, but I have not yet found any. The only notice of his death, together with a kind of tribute written by a Daya Krishna Gardish, can be found in his last translation, Klabfut ki Vapsi—Valentine William’s The Man with the Clubfoot. A brief quotation would throw some light on how many of Munshi Sahib’s fans looked at his work:

Richardson and Fielding wrote so much about domestic life, human character and society that those who came after them had to turn to sex to make their works appear new and interesting. French writers still do it. But in America and England some people rejected that destructive trend, and found new heights for their imagination’s flights. Thus was born the art of the detective story. That innovation became extremely popular, and now hundreds of new masterpieces of that genre appear annually, and are readily purchased by eager readers.

And so it was that at a time when Indian writers, imitating the 18th century literatures of Europe, were bent upon making sex the core of human character and consequently setting afire every Indian household, Munshi Tirath Ram made an effort to protect public mind from filth, and took up the challenge to present in Urdu masterpieces of English mystery fiction.

That such a view was not rare is attested by what Ijazul Haq Quddusi, the author of several learned books on the Sufis of Pakistan and a tome on ‘Iqbal and the ‘Ulama of India and Pakistan,’ wrote in his memoirs, Meri Zindagi ke Pachattar Sal: ‘Sharar’s novels and Munshi Tirath Ram Firozepuri’s translations gave me an understanding of Urdu. I call them my ustad-e ma’navi—[my real teachers]. Sharar’s novels taught me a new style of writing, and [Munshi Sahib’s] translations informed me about the ugly and festering cancer in the European society.’

Be that as it may, time passes, fashions change. Munshi Sahib’s publishers too passed away soon after, and no one in India made any effort to keep his wonderful translations in print. In Pakistan, pirated editions continued for a while, then stopped. But now a new effort seems to be on in Lahore to reprint his translations. Let us see if they can still have the instantly gripping effect they had on several earlier generations of readers, for whom Munshi Sahib’s name on a book guaranteed that it was a raton ki nind ura-dene-vala navil.

 

***

Originally appeared in DawnOctober 26, 2015.

07. May 2016 · Comments Off on Mir’s ‘Lunacy’ · Categories: This, That, & This Again, Urdu Language and Literature · Tags: , , , , ,

A new Pakistani film has just come out—Mah-i-Mir—invoking Mir’s name and his ‘lunacy.’ Some of its viewers may find interesting the following, included in my book Zikr-i Mir: The Autobiography of the Eighteenth Century Mughal Poet: Mir Muhammad Taqi ‘Mir’ (Oxford, India: 1999). It is, of course, quite prosaic, and in no way should be construed as a comment on the film written by Sarmad Sahbai, for whom I have nothing but respect. (Minor changes have been made in the text.)

 

‘We Poets in our youth begin in gladness; / But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness.’ Wordsworth wrote those lines in 1802, eight years before Mir’s death, expressing the Romantic view of a cre­ative life’s trajectory. In Mir’s case, both despondency and madness came early in his youth. And though he was cured of the ‘madness’ soon enough, despondency seems to have hounded him all his life. Madness or junun, however, remained Mir’s favourite literary theme, and he explored it in his ghazals as no one has since.

There was a hereditary strain of emotional and/or mental imbalance in Mir’s paternal line, affecting at least some of its males. We learn from Zikr-e Mir (henceforward ZM) that Mir’s grandfather, after reaching the age of fifty, experienced ‘instability of disposition’ (mizaj az i’tidal munharif shud), and that Mir’s only uncle was born with some mental prob­lem (khalal-e dimagh), and died in his youth. Nothing is known about Mir’s only brother, Muhammad Razi, except for the brief men­tion in ZM. Mir gives no information about the exact number of his children, and mentions only one, Faiz Ali, in his writings. From other sources, however, we learn that late in his life Mir had one more son, Mir Hasan Askari Zar (a.k.a. Mir Kallu Arsh), from his second wife. Both sons are reported to have been rather strange in temperament, but neither is described as suf­fering from ‘insanity.’

Mir wore his ‘lunacy’ as a badge of honour, and has described it twice in some detail. Once in a masnavi entitled ‘Khvab-o-Khayal’ (‘Dream and Illusion’) written some time between 1752 and 1778, then again in ZM (ca. 1773). The following is a summary of the masnavi:

‘Blessed is he who doesn’t exist, for I know what existence brought me. Times kept me bewildered and distressed. I enjoyed not a day of peace in my hometown. People close to me turned into enemies the day I ‘raised my head.’ Friends and companions deserted me. Finally, with tearful eyes, I left home and somehow travelled from Akbarabad to Delhi. Here I suffered much hardship. And as I silently bore my burden I became mad. Sometimes I remained obsessed with some thought, other times I ran away from company. Still other times I foamed at the mouth and threw stones at people. My state continu­ously worsened. My madness reached up into the heavens: if I looked sky­ward and saw the moon I would become so terrified that I would faint. Eventually I began to see a lovely human shape in the moon, and I be­came obsessed with it. It remained in my sight no matter where I looked. Sometimes it would speak to me, other times it would be silently coquettish and playful. It would tease me and also comfort me. Sometimes it would lie down beside me, but when I would reach out to touch it there would be nothing. And in the morning it would hasten back to the moon. I turned pale and could hardly move from weakness. Someone brought an amulet to cure me; another sum­moned a spell-caster. Others brought physicians, who gave me potions that were against my natural disposition. My passion or madness in­creased. Then they started keeping me locked in a narrow room, and gave me little to eat or drink. One afternoon as I sat outside that dark cell they pounced upon me and had me cupped. I fainted, but next morning when I came to my senses, they started bleeding me again. This went on for a long time. I lost all strength. I fell into a stupor, and remained confined to my bed for many days. Gradually some strength began to return. I was able to open my eyes again, and that lovely figure returned to my sight. But now it would often stay away from me for hours. And when it would return, it would not look at me with that earlier feeling. Sometimes it would scold me, and accuse me of having been unfaithful to it. Other times, it would be­come disdainful and turn away from me. Then one day, it cast me a hopeless glance and returned to the moon, never to be seen again that vividly. For some time I could still see some shadow of its presence in the moon or catch a brief glimpse of it in some dream. Then that too stopped. It never appeared to my sight again, and that joyful in­timacy faded into a long lost dream.’

As against the above, where Mir’s torturers are many and name­less, the account in ZM puts the entire blame on Sirajuddin Ali Khan ‘Arzu’, who, Mir alleges, was instigated by Mir’s step-brother, Muhammad Hasan, out of sheer mal­ice. In the poem, the tragedy occurs not too long after Mir’s arrival in Delhi; in ZM, it happens after Mir has been with Arzu for some time and even studied a few books with him. Clearly, even by Mir’s own account, Arzu initially treated him decently enough—the alleged change occurred only after Muhammad Hasan’s letter arrived. So far no evidence other than Mir’s own words has been found to confirm the charge against Arzu.

The actual brief spell of emotional or mental imbalance cannot be de­nied. What is fascinating, however, is Mir’s obsession with the moon. He was literally ‘moonstruck’—a concept not too often in­voked in the Islamicate world, but not exactly unknown either. Mir himself tells a revealing story in Faiz-e Mir about some dervish named Shah Madan, who used to live in a graveyard. Mir says he once spent a day in his com­pany, then adds, ‘That night under moonlight his madness flared and he began to whirl and dance. By chance his foot hit a tomb­stone and broke. Before the night ended, he was dead.’ (However, there is no mah-zada or mah-zadagi in Persian, and mah-parast only means ‘a lover.’)

Mir states in ZM that his fascination with moon began quite early: ‘When I was a little child my nanny, as she would wash my face, would say to me, “[Look at the] Moon! [Look at the] Moon!” and I would look up in the sky—ever since that time I was fascinated by the moon.’ However, the significance of his remarks becomes dubious when we note that Mir has used here not only an obscure idiom from Arzu’s famous dictionary Charagh-e Hidayat, he has also expanded on it by using Arzu’s gloss. This is how Arzu explains the idiom, mah mah guftan: ‘It’s a common practice that when the mother or the nanny or some other person washes a child’s face and the child cries and remonstrates, that person points to the sky and says, “Moon. Moon.” It’s a subterfuge to divert the child and stop his cry­ing.’ Mir’s fascination perhaps also grew out of the pleasure he must have derived from the exceptionally beautiful moonlit nights of Agra that he mentions in another anecdote in Faiz-e Mir.

In both accounts Mir’s lunacy ends after he is cupped or bled at the insistence of his well-wishers, though the description in ZM has an additional detail: the doctors also ‘irrigate’ his brain [through internal medicine]. Both are recommended treatments in the Greco-Arabic sys­tem of medicine for melancholia, which is understood to result from an excess of heat in the body created in turn by an excess of black bile. After the cure Mir, in the prose version, gets on with his life and noth­ing more is mentioned of that experience. In the versified version, there remains a lingering sense of remorse and longing, as if the brief spell with the ‘moon-person’ was the happiest time of Mir’s life, and what came later only disappointed him.

Also, in both accounts, the sexual identity of the fantasy figure is not clear. Persian, of course, has no grammatical gender. But even in the Urdu poem, the gender is governed by the word used to refer to the figure— where surat is used, the verbal endings are feminine, but where naqsh is used, the endings are grammatically masculine. Hence my use of ‘it’ in the above summary. Further, the brief section describing the figure’s beauty contains no word that expli­citly suggests a particular sex.

As is plentifully evident in his poetry, Mir was obsessed with the theme of madness (junun), which in the tradition of Islamicate love poetry is the ultimate end of Passion (‘ishq), and the destiny—nay, the cherished goal—of all true lovers. The perfect lover in that tradition is Qais, the legendary lover of Laila, better known as Majnun (‘Affected by Madness’ or ‘Possessed by Jinns’). Mir returns again and again to the theme of junun and its ramifications—the tearing of garments, the running away from human habitations into some wilderness, the chains and fetters of asylums, and so forth. Madness, for him, becomes some­thing sublime—a transforming force, the battle-cry of a free spirit, a challenge to conformity and authority and all that is wrong and corrupt in the world. In Urdu at least, no one before Mir, and none after him, has explored this theme with such profound effect. Mir’s celebration of this sublime madness set the model for all later poets, from Ghalib to Iqbal and down to the Progressives. Nisar Ahmad Faruqi, on the basis of Mir’s too frequent use of ‘moon-related’ words—such as mahtab, mahtabi, chandni, qamar, etc—speculates in his Talash-e Mir that Mir’s spell of ‘lunacy’ could have been caused by his falling in love with a girl whose name meant ‘moon’ and thus bringing upon himself the grievous disapproba­tion of his family members. What is equally, if not more, significant is that Mir, to my knowledge, never used any ‘lunar’ imagery in the context of junun—as if to underscore the difference between what he felt was simply affective and what he must have regarded as supremely poetic.