Getting Killed in Urdu in Pakistan

Urdu speakers take much pride in their language. They particularly flaunt Urdu’s allegedly unique ability to put into resounding words whatever spasm of politesse grabs them at any time. It’s often edifying to see the results, particularly when the politesse is mixed comes packaged with an intense desire to be “religiously correct”.

Consider talking of death. Urdu has one perfectly good, all-purpose word: marnā (to die). We also have, for the purpose of being more specific in a certain “technical” sense, qatl honā (to be murdered) and halāk honā (to die a violent death of some other kind, say, in an epidemic or a train crash). We also have generally applicable euphemistic expressions, such as uTh jānā and guzar jānā (to be lifted from the world; to pass on). Then there are the more “formal” or “dignified” expressions for a general use, like wafāt pānā and intiqāl honā (to die). I may write, Pandit Nehru kā intiqāl 1949 men huā, or Qaid Azam ne 1950 men wafāt pāī, and in both cases my Urdu would be considered quite correct. I would, in fact, get an A for not using marnā with reference to the two statesmen. On facts alone would I be denounced, and rightly so.

Now consider the situations that the editors of some Urdu newspaper in Pakistan recently faced, and the decisions they made regarding the word “killed.”

In December 2014 there was a horrifying attack on the students of the Army Public School at Peshawar. The headline of the report in the Jang read:

In the terrorist attack on the Army Public School, 137 persons, including children, were killed (shahīd) and more than 245 injured.

The report then used the word shahīd (martyr) several times with reference to the victims, in general, and the children, in particular. I was not able to access the report in the Express, but one can be sure that it too did exactly the same.

A month later, there was an equally dastardly attack on a Shi’ah mosque in Shikarpur, in which 58 persons, including many children, lost their lives, and many more were injured. This is how the Jang headlined its report on January 30, 2015:

Fifty-eight persons, including children, who had come to offer Friday prayers were killed (jān ba-haq) when an explosion occurred inside the Imambargah at Lakhi Dar in Shikarpur.

Jān ba-haq is an abbreviation of the euphemistic expression jān ba-haq taslīm karnā, i.e. “to submit one’s life to God.” The report used that expression throughout. In this case, I was able to check the report in the Express—they too had done exactly the same.

On May 7, 2015, there was a tragic accident in Gilgit in which an army helicopter carrying various foreign diplomats crashed while landing. The Jang reported it with the headline:

Due to some technical problem, a Pakistani army helicopter crashed near Gilgit, and seven persons were killed (jān ba-haq).

However, as the report progressed, the paper used (jān ba-Haq) with reference to the ambassadors and their wives, and consistently used shahīd when it referred to the two Army pilots and one Army technician. The Express, in this case, consistently used the common expression halāk hona (to be killed) with reference to both groups. Two other papers that I looked into, Dunya and Nai Bat, followed the Jang’s example, and used jān ba-Haq with reference to the foreigners and shahīd concerning the Pakistani army personnel. Apparently, in the opinion of the Jang, Dunya, and Nai Bat, even the Muslim wives of the Ambassadors from Malaysia and Indonesia were not considered fit to be designates as martyrs.

A few days later there was a horrible attack on a private bus in Karachi. The Jang reported it in this manner:

Terrorists forced their way into a bus of the Isma’ili community and blindly opened fire on innocent passengers, as a result 45 persons, including women, were killed (jān ba-Haq).

The same expression was used in the three other newspapers that I checked that day: Dunya, Express, and Nai Bat.

Earlier this year, on Sunday, March 15, two separate suicide bombers attacked two churches in Lahore. As a result 15 Christian worshippers died, while 79 were severely injured. Both the Jang and Express reported the tragedy in bold letters on their front pages, but both used the expression halāk honā to refer to the Christian victims of the attack. Mercifully, the suicide bombers, both Muslims, were not called either shahīd or jān ba-haq. In fact, they were not much mentioned at all.

Five years back, on May 28, 2010, Lahore witnessed another ghastly carnage, when two Ahmadi mosques were similarly attacked during the Friday congregational prayers. As a result 88 worshippers, including women and children, instantly lost their lives, and more than 200 worshippers were badly injured. Urdu newspapers rigorously referred to them as mahlukīn (the killed). And, of course, as required by law in Pakistan, they referred to the Ahmadi mosques as ahmadī ‘ibādatgāh.

The headline in the Express next day read:

Firing in Ahmadi Worship-places in Garhi Shahu and Model Town; Suicide bombings; 88 killed (halāk), 200 wounded.

In the body of the full report, the Express used the expressions halāk honā and marnā when referring to the victims, except near the very end when it said: “It is feared that the number of people killed (jān ba-haq) in this terrorist attack could exceed 100.” Earlier the report mentioned that one of the victims was Major General (retd.) Nasir Ahmad—a cousin of Sir Zafarullah Khan, Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister—but both times used the verb marnā. The report in the next day’s paper used marnā and halāk honā exclusively. I was not able to access the issues of the Jang—their Internet archive does not go that far back—but I am confident that they did exactly the same, and used only the expressions marnā and halāk honā with reference to the Ahmadi victims of a well-coordinated attack by “mainline” Muslim fanatics.

So, what do we learn from this little exercise?

At least in these two Urdu newspapers, the attackers are always only dahshatgard (terrorists). They either blow themselves up to smithereens or are killed (māre gaye). Their religious/sectarian affiliations are not mentioned; they may, however, be identified as belonging to some organization, particularly if that organization immediate takes “credit” for the carnage.

As for the victims, Christians and Ahmadi Muslims only die or get killed (marnā; halāk honā). Shi’ahs and Ismailis get to “submit their lives to the Truth” (jān ba-Haq), and foreign dignitaries—Muslim and non-Muslim, alike—may get that privilege too. Only the non-Ahmadi Army personnel and students at Army schools are unequivocally recognized as worthy of being designated as “martyrs” (shahīd).

Both the Jang and the Express have sister publications—The News and the Express Tribune, respectively— in English. In them, people “die” or get “killed”, but the news-writers remain respectfully silent about the deceased person’s relationship with his Maker.

Verbal religious finesse has not yet reached such dubious heights in the Urdu press in India, but the potential is very much there. I well recall the time, decades ago, when Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi raised a ruckus in his popular and influential weekly, Sidq-e Jadīd (Lucknow), over someone’s use of the word marhūm with reference to either Jawaharlal Nehru or Lal Bahadur Shastri. The word is commonly used in Urdu the way the expression, “the late….” is used in English, its more literal meaning being, “One who has received God’s Mercy.” The Maulana insisted that it was not correct to use marhūm with reference to non-Muslims, and that instead everyone should use ān-jahānī (Belonging to the Other World). As I remember, the Maulana very much prevailed over the few who had opposed his assertion. Even now one hardly ever sees marhūm after a non-Muslim name in Indian Urdu newspapers. It is always ān-jahānī, placed before or after the deceased’s name. Incidentally, if memory still serves me right, the old Arya Samajist Urdu journals, used marhūm with Muslim names, granting them the mercy of Allah, and svargīya or svargbāshī (Residing in Paradise) with Hindu names. What they did with Christian and Sikh names escapes my memory.

 

*Published in Scroll.in on June 27, 2015.

Islamophobia and Blasphemy

I have huge respect for Javed Anand and the work he has been doing (with Teesta Setalvad) for a few decades. But I would like to raise some caveats concerning his piece ‘On the other side of fear‘ (IE, September 29).

His essay chiefly consists of three parts. In the first, he rightly condemns the manner in which Muslims in some countries have protested against the notorious anti-Islam video. Next, he asserts that something new is taking place now: a “reiteration… by a growing number of Muslim scholars that Islam too rests on the freedom bedrock and the very notion of blasphemy is ‘un-Islamic’.” In support of this claim, Anand refers us to unnamed editorial-writers and religious leaders in the Urdu press, and in particular draws our attention to a “boxed” letter from a Saudi Arabia-based Indian Muslim, Abdul Rehman Mohammed Yahya, that simultaneously appeared on September 24 in three Urdu journals, Sahafat, Inqilab and Rashtriya Sahara. To quote Anand: “The gist of the long letter is a rhetorical question addressed to fellow Muslims: ‘What did Prophet Muhammad do in the face of repeated insults heaped on him during his lifetime?’ The answer: he forgave them.”

Surely, the present Muslim definition of “blasphemy” is not limited to “any insult to the Prophet of Islam”? Even in India, there are at least two prominent anti-”blasphemy” movements at play among the Muslims under the guise of Tahaffuz (Protection): Tahaffuz-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwat (Protection of the Finality of Prophethood), accusing the Ahmadis of “blasphemy”; and Tahaffuz-i-Namus-i-Sahaba (Protection of the Honour of the Companions of the Prophet), accusing the Shias of “blasphemy”. Not to mention the accusations of “blasphemy” against Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasrin. Second, while Anand is right in stating that it “is a universal Muslim belief that the Prophet never retaliated to repeated insults to him, through either word or deed”— and, indeed, the vast majority of Muslims live by that belief, and many may even try to emulate it in their own lives — it is also true that a few enemies of the Prophet were ordered by him to be mortally punished, including one or two who verbally abused him. A devout Muslim, therefore, may claim a right to follow whichever tradition suits his own inclination.

The issue should not be what the Prophet did or did not do, for once we raise it we only fall into an easy trap. It becomes a conflict between only apparently equal claims of righteousness; quickly, it becomes another instance, at best, of sectarianism, and, at worst, of “blasphemy”. In any case, a devout Muslim may aspire to emulate the Prophet’s actions but by the same token can never claim to have done so. Yahya’s letter is a good sign, but so are also a few other articles. These are acts of personal piety, and one must be thankful for them. But the same boxed space — actually there is nothing special or prominent about it — in Sahafat (Delhi) that carried Yahya’s letter contained on September 29 a letter on the same subject of the video from a Muhammad Ziaur Rahman, department of Urdu, Delhi University, under the title: “Yahud wa Nasara Musalmanon ke Khullamkhulla Dushman” (Jews and Christians are blatant enemies of the Muslims). Rahman claims, among other things, that on September 11 this year, the film “Innocence of Muslims” was shown in cinemas across the United States, and that the United States rained missiles on Iraq when a woman in Baghdad named Laila Al-Attar drew a cartoon of President George Bush [in 2003].

In the final part of his essay, Anand highlights “Islamophobia” in Western countries, using as his chief source a recent book, The Islamophobia Industry, by Nathan Lean. I confess I have only read about the book, and not the book itself. Its significance seems to lie in what its subtitle describes: “How the right manufactures fear of Muslims.” It is the political right in the US that Lean is concerned with, and “Islamophobia” is not what describes it. The American right has its own political agenda; its domestic dimension, in fact, is its chief driving force. “Islamophobia” is only one of its many tactics — similar, to my mind, to the fear-mongering of the right in India, as also of the right among Indian Muslims. Vis-à-vis the latter, it mainly takes the form of “anti-Jewism” and anti-Ahmadism, together with the cry of an exceptional and absolute “victimhood”. From the perspective of the health and security of any democratic polity or its civic society, however, the two slogans—“Islam is a cancer” and “Islam is in danger”—are equally pernicious and corrosive.

Anand closes his comments by asking a rhetorical question: “Are Muslims being made the “new Jews” in post-Holocaust West?” The influence and success of the Israel lobby in American politics should not mean that anti-Semitism has disappeared in the US. It is as much present now as is racism, though not in the blatant manner it used to be before World War II, and, judged by what appears in the Urdu journals of India and Pakistan, still is among much of the Muslim population in South Asia.

——-

Originally published in The Indian Express (New Delhi), October 2, 2012.

Sherlock Holmes in Urdu

 

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 Zafar Omar’s “transcreations” and Tirath Ram Firozepuri’s translations  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.

P1020408

An illustration in the story, “Tin Talib’ilm“. The original etching may be seen here.

 

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.

 

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Originally published in Dawn (Karachi) on May 24, 2015. Corrected for errors.

Sheet Diplomacy?

Did you hear that the American Ambassador in Rome went and lit seven candles before the case containing the Shroud of Turin on behalf of President Barack Obama? Or, that the Secretary of State, John Kerry, ordered a diplomat from the American Consulate at Chennai to go and place flowers on the deity in the holiest temple at Thanjavur? I’m sure you did not. And for a very good reason—neither incident actually happened. I made them up just now to catch your attention. Now consider the following news as reported today (April 21, 2015) in some Urdu newspapers in India:

American President sent a chador [a ceremonial sheet of cloth] to the annual observation at the shrine of Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti at Ajmer.

All papers also published images to complement the news. Here is one report in the Sahafat (Lucknow). Chador at Ajmer 4:21

The caption reads: “Ajmer: At the occasion of the 803rd ‘Urs of Khwaja Mu’inuddin Chishti people are carrying the chador sent for presentation by the American President Barack Obama.” The same image appeared the same day in the Aag, another daily published from Lucknow, with some additional details:

report in Aag 4:21

Ajmer: A special chador was presented on behalf of the American President  Barack Obama at the 803rd ‘Urs of Khwaja Mu’inuddin Chishti.  Today was the first day of the six-day commemoration. Richard Verma, the American Ambassador to India had given this red sheet to Salman Chishti, an attendant at the shrine, on Thursday in Delhi. And today he, [i.e. Chishti], offered that sheet at the shrine and read out the message sent by the American President in which the latter had said that no matter what our beliefs and traditions we must strive to make Peace a certainty, and that we must spread light where there was darkness and love where there was hatred.

A different image was published in the daily Sahara in its New Delhi edition.

Sahara image

The headline reads, “American President sent a chador for the ‘urs of Khwaja Mu’inuddin Chishti.” The report mentions that it was given by the American Ambassador to an attendant of the shrine and was carried to the sacred grave by some “officials from the Embassy.”

Khwaja Mu’inuddin Chishti (d. 1236) was the founding saint of the Chishti Sufi order in India, and is popularly regarded as the “Head” of all Sufis in India. His ‘urs or the annual commemoration of “the day he joined his Beloved”—God—is celebrated in a grand manner. Over the years it has become common to read in the news about Bollywood stars of any age and Indian politicians of every hue visiting the shrine, and further displaying their devotion by offering elaborate chadors. These are usually draped over the grave of the saint for a while and then shared by the attendants or resold to another devout visitor.

Not having come across any previous indication of President Obama’s devotion to saints and shrines even of the Christian kind, I was quite intrigued by these reports. Bollywood celebrities and Indian politicians go to Ajmer to ensure success in their enterprises, both business and electoral. Ordinary folks visit the shrine hoping to get the saint to intercede with God on their behalf and let them have a child (preferably male), be ridden of some possessing spiri (male or female), escape conviction in some court case, succeed in examinations and interviews, get a job in Dubai or a visa to the United States, and so forth. But why, I wondered, should the President of the world’s greatest power and its most exceptional nation send a gaudy satin sheet to have it draped over the grave of a 13th century saint in a remote town in Rajasthan, India?

Then other questions came up. Did he pay for it personally, or did the Embassy buy it? And if it was the Embassy in New Delhi, then under what account did they list the expenditure to satisfy the General Accounting Office nitpickers? The last question revealed the whole story, for it was, as young people say, a “no brainer.” The money for that gaudy red satin sheet must have come from the funds earmarked “War on Terror; sub-category: Islamic Extremism.”

Obviously either the White House or the Embassy in India—probably both—has swallowed the latest snake oil being peddled by the experts on “Islamic Terror.” Turn all Sunni Muslims into Sufis, the latter declare, and the world will become safe from all the Wahhabis, Salafis, Deobandis, Ikhwan, Jama’atis, and other baddies. An attractive solution for many reasons. Just compare the price of a satin sheet with the cost of a missile fired from a drone. There is no collateral damage either. And it offers much better photo opportunities.

Curiously, only just recently, similar “experts” in New Delhi brought a bunch of Imams and Sufi shrine-keepers, led—you guessed it—by another caretaker from Ajmer, to meet with Prime Minister Modi. The worthies offered their “Sufi Islam” in the service of the new government. Here is an image of that historical meeting on April 6, 2015 as reported in Sahafat in its Delhi edition of April 8

. Ulama and Modi copy

Could it be that it was not some hapless junior officer at the Embassy but Prime Minster Modi, who recommended this low cost-high gain “sheet diplomacy” to his friend, admirer, and biographer in the White House? And that it was the Defender of the First Amendment who chose to go along just to humor his new-found soulmate in New Delhi? We will never find out.

Meanwhile let us hope that the caretakers of the Shroud of Turin and the priests at the temples of Thanjavur do not come across this blog and start demanding similar displays of faith and devotion from nearby American diplomatic missions.

***

P.S. Today’s (April 22, 2015) Sahara (New Delhi) brings the news that Sonia Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpeyi, and Narendra Modi have also offered chadors at the shrine. The chador sent by by the President of the Indian National Congress, as seen in the picture below, could be the grandest—it is definitely larger and more elaborate than that sent by the President of the United States. As always, the State Department chooses to economize where it shouldn’t. A chador being brought from Pakistan is reported to be a mile long. Now that is some sheet.

Sonia's chador

 

 

English/Urdu Bipolarity Syndrome in Pakistan

 

An editorial—‘Into the Open’—in the Express-Tribune of December 16, 2014, begins: ‘There has been much speculation, frequently alarmist or simply ill-informed, as to the extent or otherwise that the Islamic State (IS) has a presence in Pakistan. Government ministers have gone on-the-record to say that there is no IS presence, but there are reports of supportive wall-chalking and the circulation of literature that supports the IS from several parts of the country.’ It then goes on to allow that ‘there are parts of the country where the extremist mindset has been fostered and grown over many years, and the ideology of the IS may find fertile ground to root itself in,’ and offers two examples. One is of Abdul Aziz, the chief cleric of the infamous Lal Masjid in Islamabad—the paper charges: ‘[Aziz] is happy to declare that he holds the group in high regard’—and the other is the case of some ‘female students of Jamia Hafsa [a part of the same institution] who have prepared and circulated a video extolling the IS.’

The naming of names is commendable even if it amounts to only one institution, for the practice is rather rare in Pakistani editorials and columns. But I wonder why the editors of the Express-Tribune had go to the trouble of finding just one example so far away from their comfortable offices when they could have easily found an equally redoubtable supporter of IS in their own sister Urdu journal, the Daily Express. I, of course, mean the one and only Orya Maqbul Jan, the self-proclaimed expert on International Finance, Muslim Political History, and the Doomsday. Consider his column of November 17, 2014—titled Taqsim Wazih Ho Rahi Hai’ (‘Lines are now clearly drawn’). In it he ever so blithely argued that Syria was the place where lines had been clearly drawn between Islam and non-Islam, and where would likely be, in his view, ‘the headquarters of [the promised] Imam Mehdi and the capital of his Caliphate.’ He then expanded his argument by quoting two alleged hadith. According to one, the Prophet allegedly prophesied that before the end of the world there would be a decisive battle between Muslims and Christians near Aleppo, and that, according to the second alleged hadith, the best among the Muslims at that time would be those who would do the hijrat to Syria—in other words those who would leave their lands to join the Mehdi’s army.

A few days later, on December 5, 2014, Mr. Jan shifted from Doomsday forecasts to Political History and questioned the sincerity of any Muslim who accused Amirul Mominin Abu Bakr Baghdadi and his IS crowd of wanton killing. I cannot reproduce here his long and a bit convoluted argument—it should be read in Urdu to get its full flavour—but this is how he closed: ‘According to all the principles of Political Science the Daulat-e Islamiya [i.e. IS] is a state; it is also a state according to those who champion the cause of a Muslim Social/Political Contract (musalmanon ka nazm-e ijtima’i).” He then proceeded to argue that in 1988 the revolutionaries in Iran were fully justified in declaring Iranian Communists and Liberals to be mulhid (heretics) and munafiq (dissembling enemies) and therefore fully deserving execution as enemies of the Revolutionary Islamic State. If that was right in 1988, he asked his co-religionists, why should it be wrong and un-Islamic now?

Then, only a day before the Express-Tribune published its editorial, Mr. Jan published the second part of a long essay against contemporary democracies, arguing in favor of a system where only certain ‘worthy’ individuals should have the right to choose the ruler of a Muslim state, and that once a Caliph had been chosen in that manner it was incumbent on all Muslims to obey him. No one must challenge a ‘chosen Caliph,’ he wrote, and then, expectedly, quoted another alleged hadith in which the Prophet allegedly ordered that in situations where two persons claimed the title and obtained allegiances (bai’at) from different supporters, ‘the person to make the second claim must be executed.’

Now it is quite possible that the common owner of the two journals has issued strict orders that the people of one journal should never question or even read what the other publishes. That would make good business sense. Each journal then meets the expectations of the audience the owner and his advisors imagine for it, and does nothing to rock the boat of commerce.

The same business acumen might be seen in two other sets of twin publications that I am slightly familiar with: the hellfire and brimstone in some of the columns of Jang and Nawa-i-Waqt do not find their way into the columns of The News and The Nation, just as the moderate and rational mode of thought in most columns of the latter two does not seep into the la-la musings that the former two mainly peddle. Most instructional in that regard are the English and Urdu versions of the column that the ‘Father of Islamic Bomb’ Dr. A. Q. Khan writes in The News and Jang. When writing on some political issue he always appears more subdued in English, but lets loose in Urdu. In the same two newspapers, Ansar Abbasi, another popular columnist, takes an easier way out by writing on certain subjects only in Urdu, avoiding them in English and in general dampening down his rhetorical flourishes.

Not quite coincidental to the above is the fact that these same conglomerates make piles of money presenting endless talk shows in Urdu on the channels they own, but have not done much to provide anything on the same channels that could possibly reflect the moderate posture of their English publications. They know what sells, and in what language.

But perhaps I am barking up the wrong tree. It may be more accurate to assert that the ‘Anglophone’ population in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad prefers it that way. Who are these ‘Anglophones?’ The people who quickly switch to English when after starting a serious conversation in Urdu, seldom buy and then read an Urdu newspaper, and prefer to look with disdain at what they may perchance see in Urdu—’Just some more backward thinking.’—rather than take it as seriously as any scribbling from the English language sister journals of the same Urdu dailies. As I wrote I tried to recall some serious engagement with Urdu columnists in any English newspaper of Pakistan, but nothing came to mind. I hope I am wrong.

On the other hand, to see how juvenile a view ‘Anglophone’ Pakistanis take of what is published in Urdu newspapers just check the section, ‘Nuggets from the Urdu Press,’ in any issue of The Friday Times. This week’s (Dec. 19, 2014) issue contains a dozen or so such ‘nuggets.’ The shortest is titled, ‘Widower runs away on the day of second marriage,’ and reads: ‘According to Nai Baat (November 26, 2014), a widower and father of three ran away from his home in Narang Mandi on the day of his second marriage. He was caught from Lahore, where he said he was joking about wanting to get married again, only to see if someone would give him their daughter. A panchayat seized his tractor and trolley when he failed to pay a Rs. 1 million fine.’ Giggle, giggle!

Never mind that Nai Baat is generally considered to be the paper of preference for the ‘enlightened’ and ‘liberal’ supporters of the Jama’at-e Islami, and should be taken as seriously as The Friday Times, if not more so, where the political, intellectual and cultural future of the country is on the table.

The ‘Shahi Imams’ of India

Saudi Arabia is a kingdom, and has had several Kings during the last 100 years, but it does not have a ‘Shahi Imam’, nor had one before. Even the men who lead the prayers at the Ka’ba in Mecca are simply known as Imams. Pakistan has had no king so far, but it has the great Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. It too has only Imams, and they, regardless of any other delusion of grandeur that some could have entertained, have remained content with the simpler title. Compared to the Saudi Kingdom and the Islamic Republic, India stands tall—in fact taller than most of us think, for it has four ‘Shahi Imams’. And that’s the four I know of. Someone more diligent might yet find a few more.

The nation’s capital, not surprisingly, is blessed with two: Mr Syed Ahmad Bukhari at the Jama Masjid, and Dr Mufti Mukarram Ahmad at the Fatehpuri Mosque. The first mosque was indeed built by a Shah, but the second was not. It was built by Fatehpuri Begum, one of Shahjahan’s many wives, and so its Imam is technically only a ‘Begumi Imam’. But who wants to be called that?

Kolkata has our third ‘Shahi Imam’. The city, in its previous incarnation as Calcutta, had indeed been British India’s capital for decades, but neither George III nor Queen Victoria built an imperial mosque there. Mr Nurur Rahman Barkati claims his title by virtue of leading prayers in a mosque that was built by Tipu Sultan’s sons during their stay in the city as virtual prisoners. Since Tipu never designated himself a Shah, Mr. Barkati can at best call himself a ‘Sultani Imam’, but, obviously, he wouldn’t get as much mileage out of it.

By now you might be expecting to visit Lucknow to meet the fourth ‘Shahi Imam’—after all the later Nawabs of Oudh had themselves anointed as ‘Badshah’ by the British. But there is no Shahi Imam in Lucknow. Even the Imam of the major Shi’ah mosque in the city does not claim that title. No, dear reader, our fourth ‘Shahi Imam’ resides in Ludhiana, Punjab, that city humming with productive energy of every kind. Mr Habibur Rahman, however, is unique; he claims to be the ‘Shahi Imam’ of not just Ludhiana but all of Punjab. (Does his Punjab also include the areas that are now parts of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, not to mention Pakistan? I can’t say.) Mr. Rahman is also the President of a political party, the Ahrar, long defunct everywhere except in Ludhiana. Since last year, his followers have also started calling him Sher-i-Islam (The Lion of Islam), for, like some Sikh leaders, he likes to carry a sword when making appearances in public. Much to my shame I don’t know what Shah bestowed upon his ancestor that title, though I hope it was not Ahmad Shah Abdali.

So here we are with four ‘Shahi Imams’ in one republic, a secular one at that. Mera Bharat is indeed mahaan.

My least favourite is the savant of Kolkota. From what little of him I have seen or read on the Internet, I get the impression that his range of words and ideas is rather limited. Always ready to ‘deal’ with anyone who dares to question his actions within the precincts of his mosque, he is also a gourmand and believes that for Muslims to invite people like him to a feast or festive gathering is the same as extending an invitation to the Prophet. During the recent elections he threw his weight around in Bengal politics, and consequently may have lost some of his clout.

The most irascible of the four has to be the savant of Ludhiana. The ‘Lion of Islam’ is always ready to wave his sword and threaten the Ahmadi Muslims of India. He regards them as not only outside the pale of Islam but also tools of a vast ‘Jewish’ conspiracy against Islam and India. Last year, when a prominent Muslim educationist and scholar accepted an invitation from the Ahmadis in Qadian, the ‘Lion of Islam’ declared that she had ‘ruined her faith and injured the hearts of all Muslims’, and threatened to have fatwas issued against her if she didn’t give a satisfactory explanation ‘within three days’. Since the threat appeared only in the Urdu press, no brouhaha followed. Earlier his range was restricted to Punjab, but lately he has gained many friends and supporters in the South, in particular in Andhra/Telengana, where Barkati too has been on occasion an honoured guest of the Owaisis. Thankfully, most politicians in Punjab have so far ignored him, but one never knows what a ‘leader’ desperate to win might do.

The more educated of the four might seem to be the savant of the Fatehpuri Mosque. But education and common sense are not synonymous. Recently a seminar was held at the Jamia Hamdard in New Delhi under the auspices of the Dept. of Islamic Studies where the chief guest was our Dr Mufti Mukarram Ahmad. In his keynote speech, he cast light on ‘the scientific facts described in the Qur’an’, and announced that what science now knew concerning human embryo formation had already been described in the Qur’an centuries ago. Incidentally, a Mr Harun Yahya has recently made a similar claim about the nature and function of cartilage in human bone structure. What the two champions of Qr’anic science do not bother to ask themselves are such simple questions as ‘Why nearly 13 centuries had to pass before that scientific knowledge became known to the world?’ or ‘Why that epiphany about the alleged similarity was alleged first in France and then in Canada but not in some so-called Muslim country?’ Apparently, Allah revealed all scientific verities in the Qur’an to the people of East but left it to the people in the West to discover them many centuries later without the help of the Qur’an!

That brings us to the fourth, and hopefully the final, ‘Shahi Imam’: Mr. Syed Ahmad Bukhari of the Delhi Jama Masjid. He could be the most delusional of the four, and also the most successful in his delusions—at least so far. Last week, Bukhari anointed his heir, and, while extending an invitation to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, pointedly did not invite the Prime Minister of India. The press, of course, fell for the bait. The event would have gone unnoticed by everyone, but not anymore. Some are saying it was an insult to India, but I say it was an insult to Pakistan. In fact it was rubbing salt into the wounds—since Pakistan has no ‘Shahi Imam’ of its own.

Let’s face it. India heard of the Bukharis only after Sanjay Gandhi launched his scheme to ‘clean up’ Old Delhi, in particular the area around the Jama Masjid, and in the process threatened the livelihood of any number of hawkers and traders who gave that area its colour and hustle and bustle, and who had long been a major source of income and authority to the Bukharis. Then came the end of the Emergency and election time—and the rise of the Bukharis in politics. It has been a rough ride. Plenty of ups and downs. But Mr Bukhari deserves credit for never giving up. He has been a true heir to his father—despite what Azam Khan might say.

***

According to the reports published in the Urdu newspapers Rashtriya Sahara and Sahafat, Mr Bukhari presents the story of his family as follows. After the Jama Masjid was completed the Emperor wrote to the King of Bukhara and asked him to send some ‘alim or learned man who was also ‘mystically inclined’ to lead the prayers in his great mosque. The King of Bukhara sent him his own son-in-law named Syed Abdul Ghafur Shah, and it was this gentleman who led the prayers when the Emperor Shahjahan performed an Eid prayer in it for the first time in July 1656. After the prayers, the report claims, the Emperor enrobed Syed Abdul Ghafur and gave him the title: Imam-al-Saltanat (Imam of the Realm).

Since the reports do not refer to any historical source I imagine the story is a family lore, and was supplied by Mr Bukhari. Some of it could be true. Non-Arab Muslim kings often had their daughters married to some Syed in order to avoid the ‘shame’ of giving her to someone of their own race but necessarily lower in rank to them. And since Shahjahan’s empire at one time extended up to Balkh in Central Asia it is also quite possible that he made a request to the ruler of Bukhara—the hometown of the revered Imam Muhammad al-Bukhari—for some worthy man.

As everyone knows, Delhi was not Shahjahan’s original capital; it was Agra. Nor was it ever his only capital, for Lahore was also counted as one. In fact, from Akbar to Aurangzeb, the Mughals had at least three different ‘capitals’ simultaneously. Both Lahore and Agra have major mosques, but neither has a ‘Shahi Imam’. Even in Delhi, before the Jama Masjid was finished, the Emperor often went out to the Eidgah for the two major annual prayers. Someone must have done the duty of an Imam at those prayers. He is also recorded to have prayed at many Eids at the mosque built by another wife, Akbarabadi Begum. Someone must have led the prayers there. In other words, Shahjahan did not have a particular ‘Shahi Imam’ who tagged along with him to lead the prayers wherever his campaigns took him. He had many Imams.

Syed Ahmad Khan wrote a remarkable book in 1847 about his Delhi entitled Asar-al-Sanadid. He has much to say about the Jama Masjid, but nothing about its Imam. The only mention comes when he refers to a lane called Imam ki Gali close to the Jama Masjid. This is what he writes: is kuche men qadim se imam jama masjid ka makan hai aur ISI sabab imam ki gali mashhur hai, ‘Since old times the house of the Imam of the Jama Masjid has been in this lane, and that’s why it is known as Imam ki Gali’. Just plain old ‘Imam’s Lane’. His description of the lane takes up only two lines. Immediately after it he spends ten lines describing a shop at the mouth of the lane, the shop of Ghazi Bharbhunja (one who sold parched grains). At the end of the same book he devotes many pages describing the most important scholars, Sufis, poets and physicians of the city. No Bukhari finds mention in those pages. Apparently both ‘ilm and tasavvuf had long disappeared from the descendents of the first Bukhari Imam.

Things had not changed in 1894, when Hakim Abdul Hai, father of the late Maulvi Ali Miyan of Nadwah, visited Delhi and wrote an account of his stay there. He visited the Jama Masjid, and prayed there at least twice, including a Friday prayer, but has nothing to say about the Imam. Apparently the person was not known for any learning or spiritual status. He too mentions Imam ki Gali, since he passed through it on his way elsewhere. He describes how preachers from four different Muslim sects harangued people after Friday prayers inside the precincts of the Jama Masjid, and how the Nawab of Bahawalpur was getting repairs done to the portions of the great mosque that had been damaged by lightning that year. But nowhere is any mention of a ‘Shahi Imam’.

‘Amal-i-Salih a.k.a. Shahjahan Nama is a reliable history of the Emperor’s times. It mentions the construction of the city and the subsequent inauguration of the mosque but makes no mention of the mosque’s Imam, ‘Shahi’ or otherwise. More usefully, it lists at the end all the dignitaries or mansab-holders of the time. The lowest mansab was titled pan-sadi (i.e. with income from the royal treasury or grant sufficient for the maintenance of 500 foot-soldiers. That was the way things were done in those days.) The list contains 180 names—in descending order of importance—under that category, and the name of one Syed Abdul Ghafur occurs just about in the middle. So, yes, the man from Bukhara got the appointment, as claimed, and was also treated reasonably well by the Emperor, but that was that. There was no special status or title.

In fact, the claim made by Mr Bukhari that Shahjahan named his ancestor Imam-al-Saltanat is bewildering, even laughable, unless he has a document to prove it. Shahjahan was a Badshah and not a Sultan, and rather finicky in such matters. A brief check did not turn up any title of his time that included the word saltanat.

***

Be that as it may, what is certainly laughable is the claim made in those same published reports that the Imam of Jama Masjid used to perform ‘the tajposhi of the Mughal kings’. As if the so-called ‘Shahi Imam’ was also an ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’ for the Mughals! To begin with, since Akbar’s time no Mughal king, except the last two, wore a crown, and those two were fairly Anglicized when it came to presenting their royal visage to the public. Just look at the surviving portraits. All Mughal Emperors from Akbar to Shah Alam II are always wearing a turban. Only Akbar II and Bahadur Shah II are shown wearing something that could be called a crown or taj. (The other taj-wearers were the equally pretentious Nawabs of Oudh, beginning with Ghaziuddin Haidar.)

Could it be that the Bukhari family lore mentions a position of ‘turban-tying’? My betters will correct me but I think such daily tasks as enrobing the Emperor, holding his mirror, or tying his turban were regularly assigned to various dignitaries, and Syed Abdul Ghafur could have been one among the many turban-tiers that Shahjahan had. A prestigious enough position. In fact, I too would be a tiny bit proud had some ancestor of mine held such a position. But I wouldn’t turn him into an Indian ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’. Foolish I am, but not delusional, at least to that degree.

The phenomenon of an ordinary Imam turning himself into a  ‘Shahi Imam’ is easily accountable. What is still known as Dabal ka Mitha in Hyderabad was turned into Shahi Tukre in Lucknow. Check the menus at fancy restaurants and you will find some simple daal turned into Shahi daal. A sad looking sign on the road from Lucknow to Barabanki points to an equally sad King George English Medium School. South Asian academics once added ‘Dr.’ to their names if they had done a PhD but otherwise were content with ‘Professor’ or ‘Mr.’. Now many come with calling cards describing them as ‘Professor Doctor’, even if they were not trained in Germany. This desire to gild a lily—or a cauliflower, for that matter—is understandable, but why has it afflicted at least four Indian Imams in this manner but not any of their peers in Pakistan and Bangladesh? And why do so many Muslims in India go along with these pretensions? Could it be that in Pakistan and Bangladesh most Muslims have got rid of that old syndrome of pidram sultan bud a.k.a ‘We ruled here for centuries’, and now feel no need to attach themselves to an imaginary imperial past except perhaps in matters of café cuisine? A syndrome that unfortunately may still be found expressed frequently enough in India, though more mutely than before, in the pages of many Urdu newspapers and journals. Equally unfortunately, it is then reinforced by the clamour of those who persist in believing that they became independent only yesterday, ‘after 800 years of subjugation’.

 

—————————————–

Originally published—with additional images—in Outlookindia.com on November 26, 2014.

 

Our Ungenerous Little World of Urdu Studies

 

Our Ungenerous Little World of Urdu Studies

 

The final issue of The Annual of Urdu Studies came out last week. When I got my subscription copy I put it aside after glancing through the table of contents. There was nothing that demanded immediate reading. But some hours later came an anguished email from an old friend: ‘Did you see the lead article in the current AUS by Tehsin Firaqi? I’m not qualified to judge many of the details (as far as I can tell, Fran’s choices were mostly justifiable), but it is written with incredible, hurtful animus, not only against Fran but also against any “non-native” who might dare to intrude upon the study of Urdu. What do you make of it? Why is the little world of Urdu studies so ungenerous?’

I had to stop what I was doing and read the article. It is titled: ‘The English Translation of Ab-e Hayat: A Review Article.’ Its author, Dr. Tehsin Firaqi, is a senior Pakistani scholar. After a distinguished career at the University of the Punjab he is currently the Director of the Majlis-e Taraqqi-e Adab, Lahore, an institution preeminent in publishing carefully prepared editions of Urdu’s canonical literary texts. I soon discovered that my friend’s anguish was not misplaced. It was not an academic essay but a nasty hatchet job. The author’s vehemently aggressive tone shocked me, for having met him twice and read a few of his writings I had always considered him a reasonable person. Equally shocking was the fact of its publication in the final issue of a cherished journal, thirteen years after the book came out. My friend was right: the article was a shrill tirade exclusively directed against Prof. Frances Pritchett, the principal author of the book under discussion, even though she had done both the editing and translation in association with Mr. Shamsur Rahman Faruqi. And why does Firaqi so privilege her? Because she happens to be a ‘non-native.’

Firaqi begins with a bald statement: ‘Though the translation was made and edited “in association with Shamsur Rahman Faruqi,” a distinguished Urdu critic, I tend to think that he played only a minor role in the enterprise….”[1] He then states his intention to substantiate that claim with examples that follow. However, he first gives two examples of what he considers to be perspicuous and superb translations, adding that similar passages are ‘liberally sprinkled’ throughout the book. He then makes another bald assertion: ‘These sections may indeed have benefited enormously from Faruqi’s extensive linguistic knowledge, his extraordinary translation skills, and his profound cultural insights. It is highly unlikely that Faruqi could in any way be responsible for some of the glaring errors found in other parts, where the translation lapses into sheer travesty and seriously damages its literary value.’

Now if that were indeed the case, and if that is all that bothers Firaqi, he should at least lay a charge of negligence, deliberate or otherwise, against Faruqi, the man with ‘extraordinary translation skill.’ Apparently, some days, he just didn’t do his job and let Pritchett get away with ‘travesty.’ Firaqi does not offer any explanation why an arguably reasonable person like Faruqi would be so callously irresponsible. He is more eager to make a third claim. ‘Pritchett cannot be expected,’ Firaqi declares, ‘to fully comprehend the cultural context of Urdu in a wider semantic perspective and to properly evaluate the linguistic complexities and stylistic innovations native to it. As a result, some specific Urdu cultural devices, linguistic niceties and idiomatic turns of phrase seem to evade her. Her reach is necessarily limited, while the arcane civilization of the Subcontinent and the essence of its poetic language are too lofty to be fully grasped by a non-native.’

In other words: every success goes to the credit of the ‘native,’ but all failures accrue to the ‘non-.’
Continue reading “Our Ungenerous Little World of Urdu Studies”

Two Verses of Ghalib

 

 

Two Verses of Ghalib

(for Fran Pritchett)

There is a Persian couplet by Ghalib that has long fascinated me. It is quite unusual, even for Ghalib, for it employs a theme that to my belief was never so clearly expressed by any other South Asian poet be it in Persian or in Urdu.

با من میاویز اے پدر فرزند آذر را نگر
هر کس که شد صاحب نظر دين بزرگاں خوش نكرد

The two lines may roughly be translated as follows:

Do not quarrel with me, father; look, instead, at Ázar’s son—

He who gains a discerning eye never favors ancestral ways.

Ghalib is, of course, alluding here to Ibrahim/Abraham, Prophet or Patriarch, whose father, according to the Qur’an, was named Ázar. He was, we are further told, the high priest to an idolatrous king, and wished to raise his son in the same faith. The boy Ibrahim, however, refused, since he had gained a radically different certitude—as much through his own deductive powers as through God’s guidance. This is how the Qur’an (6:74–79) tells the story:[1]

“(74) Lo! Abraham said to his father Azar: ‘Takest thou idols for gods? For I see thee and thy people in manifest error.’ (75) So also did We show Abraham the power and the laws of the heavens and the earth, that he might (with understanding) have certitude. (76) When the night covered him over, he saw a star; he said: ‘This is my Lord.’ But when it set, he said: ‘I love not those that set.’ (77) When he saw the moon rising in splendour, he said: ‘This is my Lord.’ But when the moon set, he said: ‘Unless my lord guide me, I shall surely be among those who go astray.’ (78) When he saw the sun rising in splendour, he said: ‘This is my Lord; this is the greatest (of all).’ But when the sun set, he said: ‘O my people! I am indeed free from your (guilt) of giving partners to God. (79) For me, I have set my face, firmly and truly, towards Him Who created the heavens and the earth, and never shall I give partners to God.’”

On another occasion, the young Ibrahim secretly broke all the idols in the temple except the biggest. When accused of vandalism the next day he confounded the accusers by retorting that they should instead ask the big idol since they considered it god.

It is this questioning, independently thinking, iconoclastic Ibrahim that Ghalib celebrates in that verse—an Ibrahim who put his faith in a unique and transcendent God but only after fully employing his God-given intellect.

This young Ibrahim, as we also know, is very different from the older prophet and patriarch of the Bible and the Qur’an. The patriarch readily abandons a wife and a son in a wilderness to please another wife, and only a miraculous intervention by God saves the two. Another time, the same patriarch hastens to sacrifice his son on account of a dream that reminds him of a reckless and uncalled for promise he had made long ago. Once again, God has to directly intervene to avert the calamity. In other words, the patriarch Ibrahim/Abraham unquestioningly submits to what he only too readily takes to be God’s wish, and fails to employ the questioning intellect he had used as a boy. And that habit of unquestioning submission seems to be his believing sons habit too.
Continue reading “Two Verses of Ghalib”

Why do they do it?

 

Why do they do it?

 

Abdulqadir Hasan, a senior columnist with the Urdu Daily Express, recently wished to chide Prime Minister Nawaz Sahrif concerning what Hasan thought had been a fruitless trip to the United States. So he began by talking about the clothes that the P.M. and his entourage wore during that trip. Too many suits, too many new neckties, Hasan sneered. Learn from the Americans, he thundered. According to Hasan, President Obama also wore a similar outfit, but that black suit was “probably Obama’s only suit.” He then went on: “A little while back, when an American President named Reagan got shot at, the Security people went into a panic state.  But the wounded President kept asking only about the suit he was wearing. It was his only suit. The head of the richest country in the world makes do with just one suit, but that is not for us.”

Never mind that Ronald Reagan, a rich film star before he turned to politics, was always a dandy dresser, and wore only bespoke suits made by a tailor in Hollywood.

Javed Chaudhry, equally prominent, also writes in the Daily Express. Not too long ago he decided to comment on the state of “governance” in Pakistan. His thesis: when a state’s writ disappears the state itself soon disappears. He opened with a long reminder of the fate of the last Mughal Emperor, ending with a grand flourish before finally turning to contemporary Pakistan. There were six thousand soldiers with Bahadur Shah, Chaudhry declared, when Captain Hodson arrived at Humayun’s Tomb with only 90 soldiers. But the Emperor readily surrendered “his ancestors’ swords” to save his own life. And then “the ninety troopers of Hodson disarmed those six thousand Mughal soldiers and marched them back to the Red Fort. And there in the open, they hanged them one by one. Only those men survived for whom no rope was readily available to the gora force.”

Never mind if execution by hanging does not require a change of rope with every victim, or that Hodson could have as easily used a firing squad on the remaining few as was being done elsewhere in Delhi.

Dr. Safdar Mahmood, a most senior columnist, writes in the daily Jang. Recently he desired to inform his admirers that what mattered in human actions was jazba (emotion; sentiment). Let’s ignore that Iqbal had more profoundly expressed the same, invoking the concept of ‘ishq (passion). Let’s simply follow Dr. Mahmood, who opened his column thus: “The fact of the matter is that without jazba nothing great can be achieved in life, and no great service can one do to one’s community…. When, considering the leaders of the recent past, I seek an example for jazba Sir Syed Ahmad Khan lights my way….” He then gives several examples of Sir Syed’s all-consuming devotion to the cause of his college, ending with this anecdotal flourish: “Once he was trying to raise funds at a public meeting but the audience was not attentive. So he said, ‘When you go to enjoy a mujra you empty your pockets, but you give me the cold shoulder while I speak of the community’s cause.’ A wit in the audience shouted: ‘We’d empty our pockets for you too if you performed a mujra.’ Sir Syed, with his venerable white beard, immediately tucked his shirt into his shalwar and started dancing. What do you think then happened? People took out whatever money they had in their pockets and put it in Sir Syed’s hands.”

Never mind that aside from there being no record of such an incident in any biography of Sir Syed, the men who wear shalwars never tuck their shirts inside when they dance, for that would be considered obscene.

Orya Maqbool Jan, another stalwart, writes for the daily Dunya. Concerned about the rate of literacy in Pakistan, he recently wrote a piece based on a 2012 UNESCO report that suggested that the cohort of Pakistanis between the ages of 25 and 44 had a higher percentage of illiterates (57%) than the next older cohort of those between 45 and 54 (46%). And compared to both, the Pakistanis between the ages of 55 and 64—i.e. those born between 1948 and 1957—had the lowest number (38%).  The blame for the decline, according to Jan, lay on those who encouraged and patronized education through the medium of English—a dubious conclusion, though certainly not inane.  However, Jan couldn’t resist a grand finish: “When in 1857 the British expanded their authority over the whole of India they put into place their Western educational system in order to destroy the existing system. In 1879, Gazetteers were written for every district. They are preserved in the Punjab Archives. According to them in 1879 the percentage of literacy among Indians was 90%. When the British left this country in 1947, that rate had come down to 15%. Education in this country was first destroyed by the ‘White Angrez,’ and now the same is being done by the ‘Black Angrez.’”

Never mind that by that logic Pakistan began in 1947 with a population that was only 15% literate, and then in eight years that number more than quadrupled—thanks, no doubt, to bureaucrats like Mr. Jan—before nefarious English-lovers started the decline. 

All four pieces of writing are lively; they are well-intentioned too. So why couldn’t their authors resist concocting “facts” when there was actually no need to do so? Why couldn’t they resist making a rhetorical flourish even at the cost of truth? Is it because they believe an anecdote, even an invented one, will be more convincing to their readers than a stark statement based on rationality and logic? Or is it simply because they know they can do it—that they can get away with anything in Pakistan so long it is in Urdu?

 

————–

Re my comment above concerning Mr. Jan, I’ve been made aware of a confusion on my part. What he apparently meant to say was that of the people born between 1948 and 1957 62% became ‘literate’—not educated, merely literate—by 2012—i.e. over a period of 65 years.

Readers can draw their own conclusions about progress/decline and the achievements of the educational bureaucracy. (3 February 2014)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Narang Nama

In 2009 I wrote two essays concerning the issue of plagiarism that Mr. Imran Shahid Bhinder had raised concerning  Prof. Gopi Chand Narang’s book Sakhtiyat, Pas-i-Sakhtiyat Aur Mashriqi Shi’riyat (“Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, and Eastern Poetics”), for which Prof. Narang had received the Sahitya Akademi award in 1995. Both appeared at Outlookindia.com, the first, ‘Plagiarize and Prosper,’ in July, and the second, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes,’ in August. While Prof. Narang did not respond personally in public, either to Bhinder’s detailed analyses or to my much shorter essays, a young Urdu academic, Dr. Maula Bakhsh of Delhi took up his defense, and published in response a long diatribe against me and my motives, available in the ‘Comments’ section to my second essay.

I didn’t respond. I don’t like to get into arguments with those who comment on my essays, and usually respond only to thank or clarify if an error is pointed out. But a year later I wrote an essay in Urdu entitled ‘Manzur Hai Guzarish-e Ahval-e Vaqi’i‘ (‘Desiring to state the truth’). In it I explained my past relationship with Dr. Narang and how I had no reason to be biased or jealous now, that Dr. Maula Bakhsh had mentioned matters so old and obscure that only Prof. Narang could have brought them to his attention, and that in fact l had some documentary evidence from Prof. Narang—a couple of letters—that contradicted what the two claimed or implied. I sent the essay to a quarterly published from Mumbai; it kept it for over an year, at which time I withdrew the essay and sent it to a Delhi magazine. It declined to publish it.

Below I reprint the two English essays, with links to the original site where other links may be found more easily, followed by my Urdu essay, published here for the first time.
1.

PLAGIARIZE AND PROSPER

There was a time when people wrote a literary piece and then ascribed it to someone whom they held in high esteem out of love, admiration, reverence or some other strong sentiment. Jalaluddin Rumi wrote a magnificent volume of ghazals but did not put his name to it. It has always been known as Diwan-i-Shams-i-Tabriz (The Diwan of Shams of Tabriz). An unknown poet wrote another, smaller diwan of ghazals and ascribed it to Khwaja Mu’inuddin Chishti of Ajmer. Later some other people concocted ‘table-talks’ of
some of the Chishti Sufis and circulated them as genuine collections. In Urdu literary history, two examples of something similar immediately come to mind. When Muhammad Husain Azad desired to publish a definitive edition of the ghazals of Shaikh Ibrahim ‘Zauq,’—the first poet laureate of Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’—he felt no qualms in composing new ghazals and verses to fill in the gaps he felt his beloved master would have filled in himself. Then there is the fascinating case of one of the foremost modern poets in Urdu: when Sana’allah Dar took on the name “Miraji” after a woman named Mira whom he obsessively loved, he might have had in mind the exemplary bond between Rumi and Shams.

Urdu literary culture, however, has known many more cases where someone took the work of another person and claimed it as his own. Particularly among the poets. The practice of ustadi/shagirdi in Urdu poetry encouraged it. Many an ustad or master poet earned his meager living by giving away his verses to his pupils or shagird, who in turn provided for his needs. Some ustad openly sold verses to anyone who came with money the night of a musha’ira (a gathering of poets). A nawab or king would appoint some good poet as his ustad and then quite as a norm expect him to put together a volume of ghazals in his name. It also happened in prose. Imam Bakhsh ‘Sahba’i’, a contemporary of Ghalib and teacher at the famous Delhi College, reportedly wrote for a Mughal prince a tazkira or account of the poets of his time. The book, Gulistan-i-Sukhan, carries the name of Qadir Bakhsh ‘Sabir’ as its author, but Ghalib always referred to it as “Sahba’i’s
tazkira.” Much later, when the Anjuman-i-Taraqqi-i-Urdu (“Association for the Development of Urdu”) published The Standard English-Urdu Dictionary in 1937, the organization’s Secretary, Maulvi Abdul Haq (a.k.a “Father of Urdu”), put his own name on the cover as its editor, instead of the Anjuman’s. But at least he was honest enough to clearly acknowledge in the Introduction that the work had mainly been done by Dr. Abid Husain of Jami’a Millia. Since then, however, things have been going downhill in Urdu, particularly in its academia. The late Azhar Ali Farooqui of Allahabad earned his living by writing Ph.D. dissertations for others, with the full knowledge of the university’s professors. I personally witnessed how he worked.

In the old literary culture plagiarism of the ordinary kind was also common and not made much of. The stakes were not high then. But now the stakes are quite high in the academic world. Ambitious university teachers no longer can make do by merely taking care of their patron’s grocery shopping and milk cows—I witnessed both at Aligarh. Now they must publish “research” in order to get coveted promotions and titles. Sadly, quite a
few take to plagiarism as the shortest route. I became involved in the case of one such ambitious academic at Aligarh back in the early 1980s. The Department of Urdu, Aligarh Muslim University, had obtained some money from the government for a professorship in Aesthetics, and advertised the job. One of the candidates was a Reader in the department, who was far better known for his fiction than research—he wrote at least one
superb novella that will always be admired. In no time that gentleman managed to publish a volume on Urdu Aesthetics. I was most surprised when I came across the book in our library at the University of Chicago. Having known the person since our shared college days, I couldn’t imagine him as the author of the book. A couple of hours of digging around in the library solved the mystery. The talented academic had taken a well-known book on Aesthetics in English by a Bengali scholar and diligently translated most of it into Urdu. Dutifully I prepared a short article, presenting page-and-line references to the original. It was published in Urdu, and received plenty of notice. But nothing actually happened. The gentleman didn’t get the job—no one did, as I remember—but he went on to become a full professor, and soon chaired the department for a while. Needless to say he received—justly, I must add—a ‘Padma Shri’ as a fiction-writer.

Presently the Urdu literary/academic world has been violently shaken by what must be termed “the mother of all plagiarisms” in Urdu. Instead of the out of fashion field of Aesthetics, it is the currently much more fashionable field of Literary Theory that is at issue, and the person at the ‘heart of darkness’ is no less than Dr. Gopi Chand Narang, Professor Emeritus, Delhi University, who from 2003 to 2007 presided over the Sahitya
Akademi and has received two “Padma” awards from the Indian state—the latest being “Padma Bhushan” in 2004. (A full list of his honours and publications may be seen at his website http://gopichandnarang.com/. At the center of the scandal is the book Sakhtiyat, Pas-i-Sakhtiyat Aur Mashriqi Shi’riyat (“Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, and Eastern Poetics”), for which Dr. Narang received the Sahitya Akademi award in 1995. Though the title suggests that it might be a comparative study, bringing out the commonalities and oppositions between two contemporary Western literary/linguistic theories and their counterparts in Sanskrit and Urdu—a rather curious undertaking—but in reality it only describes and explains the three topics in the book’s title, and the major thinkers who contributed to them.

As far back as 1997, an Indian Urdu critic named Fuzail Ja’fari had explained in some detail how Dr. Narang’s book shied away from original thinking and analysis, limiting itself simply to what X wrote and Y said in Western languages (Zahn-i-Jadid, Delhi, #22-3). In fact, he described the book as a “compilation” (talif), adding that it was not an original piece of writing (tasnif). Now a young scholar Imran Shahid Bhinder, a doctoral
candidate in the Department of English at the University of Birmingham, U.K., has made a much more serious charge. Bhinder published in 2006 in the annual issue of Nairang-i-Khayal, a Pakistani journal, an essay entitled “Gopi Chand Narang is a Translator, not an Author.” A year later, a revised and expanded version of the essay appeared in the journal Jadeed Adab (July–December, 2007), which at the time was printed at New Delhi—now allegedly stopped under pressure from certain people—and published from Germany. (It is also available on the web: http://www.jadeedadab.com). In 2008 Bhinder published two more articles in Jadeed Adab, the first in its January–June issue, entitled “Plagiarism in Urdu Literature – How Long will it be Defended?” and the second in the July–December issue, entitled “Gopi Chand Narang’s ‘Truth’ and ‘Context’ [as] Thievery.” Both articles found plenty of circulation in both India and Pakistan, and excerpts were
reproduced in a couple of Indian journals. Now a Pakistani journal, ‘Akkas, published from Islamabad, has brought out a special issue devoted to Dr. Narang’s oeuvre and career, including a more detailed analysis by Bhinder. (Also available on the web: http://www.urdudost.com/library/index_mutafarriqat.php )

In summary, Bhinder has most convincingly established that Dr. Narang’s achievement in that award-winning book is not that of an author but only of a translator, and that too of a reprehensible kind. According to Bhinder, Dr. Narang did not read the original authors—Ferdinand de Saussure, Claude LeviStrauss, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, and others). He read only their well-known interpreters,
and then transferred the latter’s analyses and interpretations into Urdu, doing so verbatim and without giving the reader any indication of what he was doing. In his third article mentioned above, Bhinder has given extraordinary details of the Dr. Narang’s “authorial” enterprise. He has quoted excerpts from the Urdu book and then placed them next to their unacknowledged English original. Further, he has listed with precision the countless pages in Dr. Narang’s book that correspond almost word-for-word with the English pages of American and British scholars. For example, pages 79–106, 234–240, 243–267, and 288–329 of Dr. Narang’s book, according to Bhinder, are exact translations of pages 27–42, 149–158, 86–103, and 49–70, of Raman Selden’s book, A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory (1985). The other exploited scholars that Bhinder similarly identifies are Terence Hawke, Catherine Belsey, John Sturrock, Jonathan Culler, Christopher Norris, and Robert Scholes. (I must add that Bhinder’s critique has some other dimensions too that are important and relevant for all academics in a general manner. See: http://pakaffairs.com/about-2/.)

The evidence Bhinder presents is quite irrefutable. When, for example, I checked the pages he points out in Selden’s book, they indeed turned out to be the unacknowledged source of Dr. Narang’s remarks. I also stumbled upon something equally interesting. Dr. Narang has a note on Michel Foucault (pp. 193–8) in the second chapter in his “Book Two,” i.e. the second section of his book. The text on pages 194–6, as pointed out by Bhinder, is merely a translation of pages 158–9 in Selden’s book. I checked the “sources” that Dr. Narang’s has helpfully listed for each chapter, and found that he does list Raman’s book as a source for that particular chapter. And gives exact page numbers too: 79–84 and 98–102. The first reference, however, turned out to be where Selden discusses Bertolt Brecht, Theodor Adorno, and Walter Benjamin The second was equally curious: in Selden’s book, page 98 deals with Frederic Jameson, but pages 99–102 contain only a bibliography. Again, the opening paragraph of Dr. Narang’s note on Jonathan Culler (pp.318–9) is, as per Bhinder, entirely Selden’s (p. 62). But in the sources, Selden’s name is listed with page numbers 106–27! In other words, while Dr. Narang twice went to the trouble of indicating precise—though unrelated—pages in Selden’s book, he somehow failed to include the pages he had actually abused.

Bhinder’s charges are extremely serious. They are also thoroughly documented. First made three years ago, his accusation has remained unchallenged—unlike in the past when the slightest criticism of Dr. Narang promptly produced a spate of articles in his defense and diatribes against the critic. This time he and his admirers are remarkably silent. And for good reason. They understand that any attempt would only bring more
notoriety. Sadly, they also know that the academic circles in India in general, and the university departments of Urdu in particular, take no notice of inconvenient details. With them it is always “business as usual.” After all, soon after Bhinder’s original article came out in 2006, Dr. Narang received the degree of ‘D.Litt. Honoris Causa’ from the Central University at Hyderabad. Then after two more articles, two similar honorary degrees
were conferred on him in the past six months, by the Maulana Azad National Urdu University and the Aligarh Muslim University.

Sahitya Akademi has an excellent policy of making its award-winning books available in other major languages of India, including English. Dr. Narang’s book received the award some fourteen years ago, but, to my knowledge, it has so far been translated only into Hindi (2000). May I ask the Akademi to do a major favour to Urdu letters? Marathi and Bengali scholars, in my experience, are usually far more knowledgeable about modern and pre-modern literary theories than an average Urdu academic. (I very much include myself among the latter.) The Akademi should have Dr, Narang’s award-winning book translated into both Bengali and Marathi so that it can properly be judged by his peers in India. Given the international protocols on copyright, however, an English translation might not be advisable at this time.

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2.

THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES

My previous note concerning the scandal swirling around Dr. Gopi Chand Narang’s award-winning Urdu book on Structuralism, Post-Structuralism and Eastern Poetics was based on the three Urdu articles by Imran Shahid Bhinder that appeared in various issues of the journal Jadeed Adab (published from Okriftel, Germany, and Delhi, and available on the web at http://www.jadeedadab.com/). Since then I have obtained a copy of the special issue of ‘Akkas International, #9 (2009), published from Islamabad (also available on the web: http://www.urdudost.com/library/index_mutafarriqat.php). Besides a fourth, well-documented essay by Bhinder, it includes some other interesting and revealing articles. (Incidentally, the correct name of Bhinder’s university is: Birmingham City University.)

In one such article (“The Story of Jadeed Adab No. 12”), Haidar Qureshi, the editor of Jadeed Adab, reveals how he was forced to exclude from that particular issue material that was critical of Dr. Narang. “The previous four issues (Nos. 8, 9, 10, and 11),” Qureshi writes, “were published by Mustafa Kamal Pasha Sahib of the Educational Publishing House, Delhi…. I liked Pasha Sahib as my publisher. And so I sent him the final files of the 12th issue. It was printed in October 2008. But before it could go to the binders, Dr. Gopi Chand Narang put pressure upon the publisher by threatening legal action. Pasha Sahib, rightly, did not wish to be dragged into any litigation… And so the binding was stopped. Dr. Narang wanted that Jadeed Adab should not publish anything against him.” And so only a censored version of the 12th issue came out in 2009. (Qureshi informs me that I was in error when I wrote the magazine was no longer published from Delhi. It still is, but under the contract it cannot include any article or letter that is critical of Dr. Narang.) After reproducing the censored letters, Qureshi concludes his essay by appealing to the Government of India to take notice of this act of blackmailing.Qureshi’s article also appeared in the Urdu quarterly Asbat, Mumbai, in its issue # 3, Dec. 2008–Feb. 2009. But it went unnoticed—like Bhinder’s three articles between July 2007 and October 2008—by the academics and authorities at the Aligarh Muslim University and Maulana Azad National Urdu University who conferred honorary degrees on Dr. Narang early this year.

The most interesting thing for me was to discover that, contrary to my earlier belief, Dr. Narang had in fact defended himself in print—in an interview given to Nand Kishore Vikram, the editor and publisher of Adab-i-‘Aliya International (“Classics International”), a magazine infrequently published from Delhi. The interview appeared in its issue for April–June 200; the relevant portion is reprinted in the special issue of
‘Akkas International, (p. 109). I immediately posted a translation in the ‘Comments’ to my first essay; here is a revised version:

Nand Kishore Vikram: People say that those who presented Structural Criticism (sakhtiyati tanqid) in Urdu did so either through translation (tarjuma) or by means of adaptation (akhz) and summarization (talkhis). What do you say about that?
Gopi Chand Narang: When I began my work on “Theory” I was aware—my training is in Structural Linguistics (sakhtiyati lisaniyat)—that the fundamental requirement in Philosophy (falsafa) was Scientific Objectivity (sa’insi ma’ruziyat). I had before me many examples where people started with some talk of Philosophy but very soon began to soar on wings of Imagination, eventually becoming victims of their own silly inventions (ijad-i-banda). Many of them toiled to make themselves more prominent than the original texts, while others succumbed to their own writing style and wrote what would be called light entertaining essays (insha’iya). [The problem I faced] was that the needed terminology did not exist in Urdu. Secondly, the style of writing of the New Philosophers was so complex, so brimful with meaning, and so dense that it was a major issue for me to transfer it [into Urdu] with scientific accuracy and objectivity. In order to maintain the “Preciseness” and “Rigour”—[both words are in English in the original]—of their texts it was necessary for me to use all available means in my expositions (afham-o-tafhim; lit. “comprehension and explanation”), all the while avoiding—as it is required in the discipline of Philosophy—any coloration from my own imagination (takhyil ki rang-amezi) as well as any subjective flight of thought of my own (mauzu’i khayal-bafi). The first two parts of my book—[entitled “Structuralism” and “Post-Structuralism”]—are of the analytical kind (tashrihi nau’iyat). The third part—[entitled “Eastern Poetics”] and the final section [of conclusions] are of a very different nature. In my expositions of the New Philosophers and their ideas and insights I have unhesitatingly used akhz (“adaptation”) and qubul (“extraction;” lit. “acceptance”). Where it became necessary I also used talkhis (“abridgment”) and tarjuma (“translation”). In order to retain the force of the argument I have also quoted at many places from the original texts so that the philosophical issue or the insight of the thinker might reach the Urdu reader with its full impact. To every section of the book I have attached a bibliography of all its sources. Further, in the bibliographies, I have marked with a star the books that I used much more extensively than others. Let me make it clear: the ideas are not mine, they are of Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Roman Jacobson, Lacan, Derrida, Barthes, Foucault, Kristeva, Shklovsky, Bakhtin, etcetera. That is why I have dedicated my book to all the philosophers and thinkers whose ideas it consists of. And I have clearly indicated in my Introduction: “The concepts and ideas (khayalat aur nazariyat) are of the Philosophers, the understanding, explanation, and language (afham-o-tafhim aur zuban) are mine.”

Dr. Narang is right about the lack of established terminology in Urdu literary criticism. We must, therefore, take him at his precise word when he claims that the first two chapters of his book were “analytical” (tashrihi), and that what he had done as a whole was to first comprehend (afham) and then explain (tafhim)—in his own language (zuban), Urdu—the ideas and concepts of the people whom he calls the “New Philosophers.” That, however, is exactly what Bhinder has solidly refuted. According to him, only the language (Urdu) is Dr. Narang’s; the analysis and exposition are by other people—Raman Selden, John Sturrock, Catherine Belsey, Terence Hawkes, and many more who find no mention in the interview. Nor are their names mentioned in the “Introduction” and the “Dedication.” They make only desultory appearances in the expository chapters, and seldom when whole lines of their English become Dr. Narang’s Urdu.

To give just one example from the many that Bhinder meticulously identifies, Christopher Norris, in his book Deconstruction: Theory and Practice (3rd edition, London, 2002), writes on Derrida at some length on pages 18 and 19. Bhinder has quoted fifteen lines from those pages (‘Akkas International, #9, p. 87), and identified them as the original of ten lines in Dr. Narang’s book (pp.217–8). One might say that turning fifteen lines into ten was a nice act of summarization (talkhis), but what is one to make of the fact that every Urdu sentence in those ten lines is the exact translation—not a summary—of some sentence in the fifteen lines of English—and the Urdu sentences occur in the original English order? When I looked up the Urdu pages cited by Bhinder, I found that Dr. Narang had actually mentioned Norris’s book two pages earlier, calling it “the best and most comprehensive” book on “Deconstruction.” It is also listed in the bibliography of his sources for the chapter. The book is starred—as explained by him above—but then so is also Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, listed two names below Norris. No page numbers are listed in either case. Are we then to assume that Dr. Narang used Norris and Wittgenstein equally extensively in his “analysis” and “exposition” of Derrida’s ideas?

Rereading Bhinder’s first article in the special issue of ‘Akkas Intrnational and checking its accuracy, I stumbled upon something else. On pages 29 and 30 of the journal, Bhinder states that Dr. Narang had extensively translated passages from Catherine Belsey’s introductory textbook, Critical Practice. One of the examples he cites is this passage in Belsey’s book: Saussure’s argument depends on the different division of the chain of meaning in different languages. ‘If words stood for pre-existing concepts they would all have exact equivalents in meaning from one language to the next; but this is not true’ (Saussure, 1974: 116). The truth is that different languages divide or articulate the world in different [ways]. Saussure gives a number of examples. For instance, where French has the single word mouton, English differentiates between mutton, which we eat, and sheep, which roams the hills. (pp. 36–37.)

I compared it with the passage he mentions in the Urdu book (p. 68). The Urdu is a meticulous translation of the English—it even includes the page number in Saussure’s book, which, as Bhinder points out, creates the false impression that Dr. Narang was quoting directly from Saussure. As I compared Dr. Narang’s page 68 with Catherine Belsey’s page 39 (a different edition from what Bhinder used), I realized that Dr. Narang had twice done the same injustice earlier. In support of Saussure’s argument Belsey had quoted more examples as given by Jonathan Culler and Louis Hjelmslev in their separate books—properly acknowledged by Belsey. Dr. Narang has translated those examples, without mentioning Belsey, and then cited the page numbers given by her as if he were quoting directly from Culler and Hjelmslev.

But what really surprised me was on the opposite page (p. 69), where Dr. Narang, leaving the safety of translation, offers his own examples for Saussure’s contention. “If we wish to see,” Dr. Narang begins, “there is no lack of such examples even in Urdu where words are similar but meanings are different. Just take [the terms for] kinship. Baba is used in Urdu for ‘father,’ the same as Abba, while in Hindi it is used for ‘grandfather.’” He then goes on in that vein for the next 13 lines, citing how some words mean one thing in Urdu but quite another in Arabic, from which Urdu borrowed them. Apparently, Dr. Narang totally failed to comprehend (afham) Saussure’s radical notion that different languages divide the world differently—even after Belsey futher explained it by citing examples given by Culler and Hjelmslev. (A correct example for Urdu readers would have been how Urdu divides the world of “parents’ siblings” into chacha, phuphi, mamun, and
khala, while English divides the same world into “Uncle” and “Aunt.”)

Dr. Gopi Chand Narang is presently a “Member, Advisory Committee on Culture, Government of India,” which is symptomatic of the bigger, truly serious issue: the utterly cynical and self-serving attitude of a great many people who walk the corridors of power in New Delhi, wearing cloaks labeled “Culture” and “Education” and bartering favours among themselves. The big issue is not the individual, who did what he considered was necessary in order to prosper in Indian academia and win patronage from politicians. Let us also not forget that it was the literati of India who chose Dr. Narang to preside at the Sahitya Akademi over Mahashweta Devi, one of India’s most honest and courageous writers. The rot has settled deep and at many places, and unless more people begin to protest, challenge, and condemn publicly what they shake their heads over privately,
nothing much is going to change in Education and Culture.

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3.

My response in Urdu, ‘Manzur Hai Guzarish-e Ahval-e Vaqi’i‘, to the allegations made by Dr. Maula Bakhsh, plus the text of two relevant letters.

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