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.

 

 

An Urdu version of the above is available at Tanqeed.

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.

***

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.

***

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.

narang1 narang2  narang3  narang4  narang5  narang6  narang7  narang8

Another Lesson in History

 

Another Lesson in History

 

Mr. Javed Chaudhry is a fairly experienced Urdu columnist in Pakistan. Presently he writes a column titled ‘Zero Point’ in the Daily Express. For all I know, he may also be anchoring some T.V. talk show owned by the Express Group. He has however published several volumes of his evidently very popular columns. A few days back he decided to write on the present abysmal state of governance in Pakistan and the proposed talks with the Taliban. A noble and timely task. But then he decided to open his column with a reminder of the fate of the last Mughal Emperor—to underscore his argument that when a state’s writ disappears the state itself soon disappears ignominiously. The column, sub-titled Mazākarāt se Pahle ‘Before the Talks,’ appeared in the Daily Express of September 17, 2013. Here is my translation of its ‘Historical’ prelude, a tour de force by any measure of rhetoric and fantasy.

“Captain Hodson was in charge of the operation. The last Mughal Emperor was alive. Twenty-five crore Indians held him in honor. But Hodson knew that though the State existed, the Emperor with his Prime Minister and advisors was present and the Mughal currency was still the coin of the realm, the ‘writ’ of the State did not exist. The Police had become ‘dysfunctional,’ the army had no life in it, and decades had passed since the country’s judicial system had breathed its last. People, first of all, didn’t go to the courts to seek justice, and if they perforce did then the judges took five or ten years to decide the case. And then, if a decision was announced no one put it into effect. The posts in the administration were auctioned off to the higher bidder. If you wished to become the Kotwal, then you contacted Mirza Mughal and made him an offering to get the job. If you wished to become a Munshi or Mir Munshi, then you had to contact the junior prince, Mirza Khizar and place a bag of gold coins in front of him. If you were someone powerful, you could go out riding in the city, kill a score of people, and then come home safe and secure. No one could touch you. But if you were powerless and poor, then death was your fate anyway. You died, whether due to indigence or under the hooves of the Turkish horse of some prince or government officers. It didn’t matter.

“Captain Hodson knew that when a state had become that powerless, even an army of millions couldn’t save the country. And that is exactly what happened on 22 September 1857. At the final moments of that War of Independence, the Emperor took refuge in Humayun’s Tomb. The princes were with him, as were six thousand soldiers and heavy artillery. The six thousand were ready to lay down their lives for the Emperor, but Hodson knew that if the Commander were weak and unwilling to take up arms personally then even the most loyal soldier would walk away from him. And so Hodson did something strange. He took only three native soldiers with him, and rode his horse to Humayun’s Tomb. The aged Emperor, sick and indolent from opiates, was standing, leaning on a staff. He was so weak that his shoulders could not bear the weight of the royal robes nor could his head bear the weight of the Timurid crown. The great state of Hindustan had collapsed at its own feet (sic).

“Hodson ‘presented’ himself before the Emperor, bowed and offered his ‘salaam,’ then made this offer: ‘If you surrender to me I guarantee the lives of you and your queen.’ The last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was then 82. He was up to his waist in his grave but his lust for life compelled him to make the deal. He pulled out his two swords from their sheaths, and handed them over to Captain Hodson. One was the sword that Nadir Shah Durrani had presented to Emperor Muhammad Shah before returning to Iran; the second was the sword that had belonged to Jahangir and was traditionally given to a Mughal Emperor at his coronation. Hodson took the two swords, and walked out triumphantly. When the six thousand loyal soldiers saw the swords in Hodson’s hands they lost all will. They could see their own future in the Emperor’s swords.

“Hodson went and deposited the swords in the office of the Company Sircar, then took one hundred native soldiers and returned with them to Humayun’s Tomb. He then set ninety soldiers to that task of disarming the six thousand Mughal soldiers. The remaining ten he took with him and arrested the two sons of the Emperor, Mirza Mughal and Mirza Khizar, and influential grandson, Mirza Abu Bakr. Placing the princes in an open buggy, he set out in Delhi. The people of Delhi followed. Within moments there were four thousand spectators walking behind the royal buggy. But not one man dared to raise a cry in support of the princes. The procession reached the Kotwali. Hodson ordered the princes to step out of the carriage and take off their clothes. They stood naked before four thousand people when Hodson shot them dead and walked away leaving their naked corpses in the dirt.

“The corpses of the three princes remained lying by the road for three days and vultures and beasts tore into them, but in the entire city of Delhi not one man dared to take the corpses away for burial and prayers. Meanwhile, the ninety troopers of Hodson disarmed those six thousand Mughal soldiers and marched them back to the Red Fort. There in the open, they hanged them one by one. Only those survived for whom no ready rope was available to the ‘gora’ force. Bahadur Shah Zafar’s two swords are still with the English Royal Family, and tell the owners every day that when a state becomes weak then kings surrender to just three enemy soldiers, despite having six thousand soldiers standing by. Hodson’s ten soldiers also proved that if the state had no life in it then only ten soldiers could force princes to strip, and then shoot them down in front of four thousand spectators. And the ninety soldiers of the British army sent a clear message to all the conquerors in the world that if a state had no strength in it then six thousand fully armed soldiers would throw down arms before ninety enemy soldiers, and then lose their lives instead of gaining safety.”

Whenever I read such ‘historical’ accounts, and it is sadly too often, my first impulse is to wonder: do Pakistani Urdu newspapers have editors and sub-editors? Or do they have only wealthy and privileged owners, with hordes of cowering minions, and a changing stable of fantasizing columnists? Some of the latter seem equally privileged, for many often describe the meals and trips they enjoy with assorted bigwigs of Pakistan. One of them, Abdul Qadir Hasan, only this week wrote a column on poverty in Pakistan by describing why his three domestic servants were not going home for the Eid—they could have more ‘meaty’ meals at his house!

Returning to the history lesson offered by Mr. Javed Chaudhry (henceforward JC), let me begin by pointing out that when the British took Delhi in 1803, the city was held by the Marathas, while the Fort itself was held by their French allies. Emperor Shah Alam, blinded by Ghulam Qadir Rohilla in revenge for having been castrated by the Emperor earlier, had no say either in the Fort or in the walled city. Forget the rest of the country. The Mughals had along ago been abandoned by their erstwhile nobles who quickly had made their own fortunes. The most prominent being Nizamul Mulk and his descendents in Hyderabad and Burhanul Mulk and his descendents in Avadh. Neither cared a hoot what happened to the Emperor. In fact, the Emperor was delighted when the British moved in, for they gave him more money than the Marathas had. From 1803 onward, it was the British who governed Delhi. The Emperor was in name alone; he had no army or police, not to mention judges and magistrates. And his ‘writ’ was limited to the Red Fort, and that too in compliance with the Resident’s wish.

Bahadur Shah Zafar was not his father’s favorite. He gained the throne because the British forced upon his father their own rule of primogeniture. JC should recall that the traditional Mughal system was to kill all rivals, as it happened from Jahangir to Farrukhsiyar, when the noble in power started choosing the Emperor. And the first thing any new Emperor did was to make sure the possible rivals were killed, blinded, or held in house arrest. Actually, in the good old days, Zafar would have got rid of both Mirza Mughal and Mirza Khizar, for he wanted Jawan Bakht, the son from his favorite Zeenat Mahal, to be his heir. Not to the throne but to whatever the British were in the mood to give. The two princes made a bid for fortune during the Ghadar, and were despised by those who were doing the fighting. Prior to 1857, they had no say even in the Fort. The walled city was governed by the British. The Kotwal who sent Ghalib to jail for gambling was an employee of the British, and not of the Emperor.

Coming to the events of September 1857, here is what William Dalrymple tells us in his The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi 1857 (New York, 2007). No doubt some would call him a ‘Gora Kafir,’ but he also happens to be a meticulous scholar and quite sympathetic to Zafar. According to Dalrymple, Zafar, with members of his immediate family and some retainers, had escaped from the Fort by boat and took shelter in Humayun’s tomb on the 17th of the month. The place was full of soldiers—around three hundred—and civilians who had fled there with the same aim.  On the 21st, Hodson went there with a small contingent of native soldiers—they were probably Muslims and Sikhs from Punjab—and got Zafar out of the tomb complex. Hodson himself did not go inside; the Emperor rode out in a chariot—with the help of Hakim Ahsanullah Khan, Mirza Elahi Bakhsh, and Maulvi Rajab Ali. Hodson delivered the Emperor to the freshly established British civilian administration, and the Emperor and Zeenat Mahal were confined to quarters within the Fort. The next day, Hodson went to Humayun’s Tomb, and with his Indian helpers got the three princes to surrender. There were several hundred jihadis in the tomb at the time, plus hundreds more of ordinary men, women, and children. There were three hundred or so more jihadis not too far away in Basti Nizamuddin. (Dalrymple’s total of six hundred became six thousand in JC’s piece.) But no soldier made any effort to challenge Hodson on either day, nor did any civilian. The three princes were killed in cold blood by Hodson, at a place now known as the Khuni Darwaza. And yes, they were stripped naked before they were killed. The corpses were then taken to the Kotwali in Chandni Chowk and cast on the ground for display. Three days later they were buried in unmarked graves. No soldier was taken into custody at Humayun’s Tomb and marched back to the city to be hanged from the gallows.

What happened at the tomb complex on two days clearly indicates the low esteem in which the Emperor and the princes were held by most of the civilians and soldiers who had sought shelter there. There was no issue of the Emperor’s writ, for the poor man never had any, not even within the Red Fort. And many of the elite and clergy of Delhi held him in much contempt before 1857 for his peccadilloes and his inclination towards Shi’ism.

JC should read Hasan Nizami and Rashidul Khairi again—they don’t indulge in his fantasies—if he cannot be bothered to read Dalrymple, or Mahmood Farooqui’s Beseiged: Voices from Delhi, 1857 (New Delhi, 2010), an invaluable selection (translated) from the Mutiny Papers in the National Archive of India. He may be right about the two swords and their identities, but he is dead wrong when he talks of a Timurid crown. The first Mughal king to wear a crown was Zafar’s father, Akbar II; Zafar imitated him. And both had imitated the British practice, as had the Nawabs of Avadh when the British made them Kings. The Mughals in India, from Akbar onward had worn only turbans decorated with jewels and crests.

Finally, the British couldn’t have run out of ropes while hanging people. After all, the same rope and knot is commonly used over and over again. Of course, reality does not make for the rhetorical effect JC most desires. And so fantasy triumphs over reality.

 

(September 19, 2013)

 

 

A Matter of History

 C. M. Naim

A Matter of History

A few weeks ago I came upon a blog essay in the Express-Tribune entitled, ‘Allama Muhammad Asad: The First Citizen of Pakistan.’ Its passion and concern for intellectual growth in Pakistan touched me. It also left me worried about the state of intellectual pursuits among young Pakistanis. The writer, Osama Sajid, a student of Economics at LUMS, had not bothered to mention any source for the claims he had resoundingly made. However, later in the comments, he acknowledged that his essay was almost entirely based on certain writings of Orya Maqbool Jan. It only increased my consternation.

According to the Wiki, Orya Maqbool Jan (henceforward OMJ) is ‘a columnist, writer, poet and civil servant from Pakistan.’ Additionally, he has served ‘as director general to Sustainable Development of the Walled City Project in Lahore and as executive director ECO, Cultural Institute, Tehran and information secretary to the government of the Punjab.Jan is also a member of the National Academic Council of the Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad.’  OMJ’s columns are always cheerfully edifying. Not too long ago he was all for reintroducing the gold standard, to the extent even of using only coins made of gold and silver.  Then there have been his frequent reports on the many signs of an imminent Doomsday, the emergence of a mysterious jogi from the caves in the Himalayas, and the promised final conquest of India by the Muslims of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Syria.

Thanks to his fans, OMJ’s columns, both present and past, are available on the Internet in the original Urdu as well as an English translation. It made it easy to trace down the writings that had made such an impression on Mr. Sajid. They consist of three linked essays, entitled, ‘Hamārī Tārīkh ke Dardnāk Aurāq (Tragic Pages of Our History), published (in Express?) on March 14, 17 and 21, 2012.

What had caught my attention most in Mr. Sajid’s piece was the following:

In the Indian subcontinent, ‘madrassas’ were the only educational institutes present [before the arrival of the British] and their significance was that they used to teach religion and worldly subjects side by side. In most cases, there were more courses on the world than on religion, ranging from medicine, pure sciences, logic, philosophy, languages and mathematics to astrology. Before the arrival of Muslims in the subcontinent, such institutes were only present in Taxilla, belonging to Buddhists and they used to focus more on Buddhism with only a marginal presence of material subjects.

An important point to note is that it was the students of these madrassas who went up that ladder of success hardly achieved by others. The reason was their diverse knowledge base, comprising of both worldly knowledge and teachings of Islam, which used to complement the study of the material world. …

History shows that it was an Englishman named Warren Hastings, who in 1781 established a ‘madrassa’ in Calcutta for purely religious studies. This was a turning point, when religious and worldly education was separated, in an attempt to weaken our strong scholastic base.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, after founding the famous Aligarh University, came to a conclusion that religious and worldly education must be taught simultaneously. It was upon his insistence that the first reciprocal exchange program of India was established. Students from Aligarh were sent to ‘Darul Uloom Deoband’ of Sheikh Mahmoodul Hassan and their students came to Aligarh. The importance of this mix of education can be judged from the fact that it was compulsory for students to take part in this exchange program, without which they would not be granted degrees.

The last paragraph, in particular puzzled me, for it was too preposterous to have been invented by a young student.

Here (in my translation) is what OMJ wrote in Urdu in the second installment published on March 17 last year:

The introduction of religious education separate from a general worldly education was also a tragic page of our history. In the madrassas that existed in the subcontinent before the coming of the British the two syllabi were taught side by side. In fact, you will find that the courses of worldly education were more in number than those for religious education. In re Religion, there were the usual few topics related to the Quran and some chapters of Hadith, whereas the rest of the instruction given was devoted to Arabic, Persian, Philosophy, Logic, Medicine, Astronomy—[For some reason, OMJ coins his own word ‘Falakiyat’, instead of using the usual Hī’at.]—Arithmetic, Algebra, and Poetry together with Morphology and Syntax. We find in the subcontinent no trace of a school where these subjects were taught before the coming of the Muslims, except for one, the Buddhist school at Taxila. But there too the teachings of Buddha loomed larger over other subjects. There was a network of madrassas across the subcontinent, and the people educated in them ran the affairs of the state. They occupied highest government jobs, became historians and literature, and ranked as doctors and teachers. The tragic aspect is that the first, purely religious, madrassa was established by the British at Calcutta. And in contrast to it, they created a college for worldly education. Now the graduates from the latter began to get the state jobs, while those from the religious madrassa got confined to the four walls of mosques. …. Our Ulama became so contented with the confines of the mosques that they turned them into their own fiefdoms…. It was with reference to such conditions that Iqbal had said:

mullā ko jo masjid meñ hai sajde kī ijāzat

       nādāñ ye samajhtā hai ki islām hai āzād

The Mulla is permitted to prostrate in the mosque

And so he thinks Islam is free in India.

While the madrassas in mosques continued to change in imitation of the purely religious madrassa set up by the British, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan established Aligarh—[i.e. the M.A.O. College]. Then another man of vision recognized the danger. He was Shaikh Mahmudul Hasan (sic) of Deoband. He started a lengthy correspondence with Sir Syed, with the result that an arrangement was made between Deoband and Aligarh. Anyone getting a degree from Aligarh would come to Deoband for further instruction, and similarly no one graduating from Deoband would get his degree until he had received the [required] instruction at Aligarh. In 1904, Shaikh Mahmudul Hasan (sic) set up scholarships worth Rs. 15/- per month for any student from Deoband to study English at Aligarh. This was the first exchange program for Muslim students in India. It lasted for a while, but then the bossmen of worldly education at Aligarh and the monopolists of religious education [at Deoband] did not let it survive.

It’s true that the old madrassas taught both the manqūlāt—what OMJ would call purely religious—and ma’qūlāt—what he considers purely worldly. But it was not that Astronomy and Mathematics were taught as subjects in the modern accepted sense. Everything, both religious and worldly, was taught in terms of specific books that seldom if ever changed. Teachers were specialists in particular books, not in subjects. The knowledge transmitted was not cumulative; it did not expand from generation to generation, as it does in modern schools and universities. Secondly, the Abbasids may have had an Indian book on Arithmetic translated from Sanskrit into Arabic, but I know of no Indian ‘ālim of the last 800 years who made any effort to gain further knowledge of Indian Mathematics or wrote a new text on the subject for use in the madrassas. For that matter, no ‘ālim in South Asia has yet written a history of Mathematics as practiced by the Muslims. Whatever claims OMJ and his ilk make in that regard are based solely on the efforts of Western scholars.

I’m glad OMJ is aware of Taxila. But he does not know—or cares to know—about Nalanda, or the lesser-known but important centers of learning in South India. Lack of knowledge—in fact, a lack of curiosity—does not, however, stop him from making authoritative statements. Yes, the Calcutta Madrassa was set up by Warren Hastings, but it was not doing anything different from what was already being done at other madrassas. And the college at Fort William was for the education of British civil servants, not Indian children. The fact of the matter is that when a later Principal of the Madrasa ‘Aliya, Dr. Aloys Sprenger, tried to introduce newer ‘worldly’ subjects, the teachers and students of the Madrasa went on strike, refusing to accept any knowledge that came from the new textbooks written in lowly Urdu—the same books that were so successful at the old Delhi College, where scholars like Mamluk Ali and Rasheeduddin Khan taught alongside Master Ram Chander and students like Zakaullah and Nazir Ahmad blossomed. OMJ, of course, does not bother to explain how just one madrassa at Calcutta could become the exclusive model for all the madrassas from Patna to Peshawar and Lahore to Arcot, particularly when there was no worldly gain involved.

OMJ’s claim that in the pre-British times people went for education to madrassas and then became professionals is simply baseless. People learned from their own elders and by apprenticing themselves to established masters. Before the British introduced it in the 1830s there was no educational degree requirement for any job. When Syed Ahmad Khan got his first job it was by becoming an umīdvār at a court, first in Delhi and then in Agra. And one of his first books was a manual that prepared students for the newly introduced test in colonial laws for the post of a Tahsildar.

Finally, we come to OMJ’s biggest fabrication: the ‘first ever exchange program for Muslim students in India,’ which came about after a ‘lengthy correspondence’ between Shaikh Mahmud Hasan and Sir Syed.

Syed Ahmad Khan died in 1898. His final decade was filled with frustrations. He had no say in the affairs of his beloved college by then, which was very much controlled by its English principals and Nawab Mohsinul Mulk, not to mention Syed Mahmud. There exists no record of any correspondence, lengthy or otherwise, between Syed Ahmad Khan and Shaikh Mahmud Hasan. Had it existed it would have been included in the invaluable two volumes of Sir Syed’s letter published from Lahore not too long ago. Further, when Syed Ahmad Khan had tried to seek Deoband’s cooperation in designing a course of religious instruction at Aligarh, none other than Maulana Qasim Nanautavi, the founder of the Darul Ulum, refused to be a part of a committee in which Shi’ah scholars were given equal presence. As for Shaikh Mahmud Hasan, no doubt he began to teach at Deoband after finishing his own studies there—he was its first student—in the 1870s while Sir Syed was still alive, he did not become its director until much later, after Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi.

So what do we actually know about this ‘exchange’ program? Here is what the always dependable S. M. Ikram tells us:

The Shaikhul Hind [Maulana Mahmud Hasan] established in 1906—[eight years after Sir Syed’s death]—an organization called Jam’īyat-al-Ansār, whose sessions were also attended by Sahibzada Aftab Ahmad Khan [of Aligarh]. In that connection, an agreement was made with the Aligarh College so that those English-knowing students who wished to engage in tablīgh would go to the Darul Ulum at Deoband to do Islamic Studies, and the Darul Ulum would make special arrangements for them. Likewise, Aligarh College would make special arrangements to teach English to those who had graduated from Deoband and wished [to learn English]. (Mauj-i-Kausar, p. 203.)

 

According to Maulana Manazir Ahsan Gilani, the attempt was initiated by Sahibzada Aftab Ahmad Khan when he visited Deoband in 1328 A.H. (1910 A.D.). (Savānih-i-Qāsimī, vol. 2, p. 294.) That was ten years after Sir Syed’s death. In any case, OMJ’s reveling in conspiracy theory and self-pity does not allow him to consider one simple question: if Deoband and Aligarh allegedly failed, why something similar was not undertaken at Lahore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Patna, Dhaka, and hundreds of other sites of Muslim learning across the sub-continent? Or was it another colonial conspiracy?

OMJ’s claims can be best described as ‘wishful history.’ Or, to use a line from Faiz: ‘It wasn’t so; I had only wished it were so.’ Unfortunately, that habit seems to have become very common among sub-continental Muslims, particularly those who feel secure in the knowledge that no better-informed non-Muslim would read them and then raise uncomfortable questions. It was not always the case. Certainly not before 1947. Also, no Urdu newspaper then would have allowed OMJ to quote Iqbal incorrectly. The first line as Iqbal wrote it is: mullā ko jo hai hind meñ sajde kī ijāzat. The error is slight. The shame of it is the fact that a well-established Urdu newspaper in Pakistan did not have anyone on its staff who could catch the error and correct it. (The verse remains uncorrected on the Internet.)

It is depressing that an evidently earnest and sincere young person like Osama Sajid could not find a more reliable mentor than OMJ. OMJ and his kind are a lost cause, but Sajid and thousands of others like him in South Asia, male and female, are not. To them I can offer only one advice. Please take some time out to read just two books, one in English the other in Urdu, before reading anything concerning the history of Muslim South Asia published in the last four decades.

1. Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment by Aziz Ahmad, first published in 1964. In less than 300 pages it will bring to your attention all the major issues, together with a useful bibliography.

2. The three-volume intellectual history by Shaikh Muhammad Ikram—Āb-i-Kausar; Rūd-i-Kausar; Mauj-i-Kausar—whose final revised version came out in the 1960s. There is also an English version of the latter, but better to read the original.

The two books are richly informative, fair and balanced, and do not indulge in wishful inventions of the kind that OMJ and others shamelessly foist upon their readers in the name of History.

( September 11, 2013)

Modi and Gujarati Muslims: An Urgent Perspective

In July 2011, Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanavi was abruptly removed from his post as the Rector of the Darul Ulum at Deoband after just four months into the job. His ‘crime’ was to have made some brief remarks concerning Gujarat. (Here is one version.)

“Muslims in Gujarat have progressed during Modi’s rule. Muslims have benefited from the state’s development model and are enjoying its fruits. Gujarat and its Muslims have forgotten the wounds of 2002 riots and are progressing.”

That was nine years after the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002. The uproar against Vastanavi was deafening. As if no healing or recovery in Gujarat was even thinkable, not to suggest actually possible.

Now Madhu Purnima Kishwar, the veteran feminist/activist editor of “Manushi,” has started publishing the results of her recent extensive research and interviews in Gujarat, under the title “Modi Nama.” This is how the first installment begins: 

The political discourse in India is so vitiated by Modi phobia that even if you express happiness at the quality of roads in rural Gujarat or 24×7 power supply in the villages and towns of Gujarat, you are branded a “supporter of fascism.” It is politically fashionable to defend Kashmiri secessionists, press for peaceful engagement with the Pakistani establishment which sends terror brigades to India and project murderous Maoists as saviours of the poor. But to say a word in appreciation of governance reforms in Gujarat is to commit political hara-kiri—you are forever tainted and tarred with the colours of fascism.

This intellectual terror created by the anti Modi Brigade pushed me to find out for myself why this obsessive anxiety about Modi? Why do “secularists” not want to be reminded that Gujarat has been riot free since 2002? Why don’t they want to document what made Gujarat—a state that witnessed hundreds of riots post-Independence leading to deep mutual estrangement between Hindus and Muslims—experience its first riot free decade after Independence under Modi’s rule? What do Gujarat Muslims have to say about it? Why they are not allowed to speak for themselves?

This installment mainly consists of what she heard from four persons knowledgeable about the communal situation in Gujarat, and most particularly what one of them, Zafar Sareshwala, related at length about his own changing views.  While the views Kishwar reports may go against our absolute convictions, they nevertheless deserve some patient attention.

The next two installments deal (2) the actions taken by the Modi administration in the wake of the riots, and (3) some indicators of the economic life of Gujarati Muslims. The fourth is an extensive interview with a Muslim woman who left the Congress to join the BJP.

Since the publication of the above serious, albeit acrimonious, exchanges have occurred between Madhu Kishwar and her critics. I found the following useful for own thinking.

1. January 15, 2013. Zahir Janmohamed’s “Open letter.

2. April 17, 2013. Kishwar’s response, followed by Janmohamed’s comments. I may mention that Kishwar had titled her piece: “Victimhood as Ideology.”

3. April 18, 2013. Aditya Nigam, also in Kafila.

 

 

 

 

Raja Rao to C. M. Naim: 12 Letters

 

Raja Rao to C. M. Naim: 12 Letters

 

 

 

I was a graduate student in Linguistics at Berkeley when Raja Rao’s The Serpent and the Rope came out in 1960. I had not heard of the author before and came upon the book only because in those days there was a lovely reading room in Dwinelle Hall where one could read literary magazines, listen to recorded music, plays and poetry, glance through the latest acquisitions in poetry and fiction, or simply doze off in one of the old-fashioned lounge chairs. No one bothered you. The room was large and quiet, and people still believed in allowing quiet private spaces to others in shared public places. It was one of my favorite haunts, for I could go there and try to catch up on all that I had missed out on in Lucknow. It was there one afternoon that I found Rao’s novel among the week’s highlighted new acquisitions.

 

As I flipped its pages, its language fascinated me. A month later I was able to borrow the book to read at home at leisure. I soon discovered that I enjoyed the language much more if I read it aloud to myself. The sentences moved forward but often also seemed to curl back on them. Not only the narrative but its narration too invited you into experiencing a kind of circularity that was challenging, often exasperating, but, at that time in my life, also charming and fascinating. I don’t think I would be able to read the book now for more than ten pages, but it came into younger hands then, and also at a time when I was as heartbroken in an impossible love as the novel’s protagonist. Also, like him, I was quite arrogant in my own certainties.

 

A few years later, in Chicago, some friends and I started a magazine that we called Mahfil—it eventually gained more fame as the Journal of South Asian Literature. Our first issue was almost exclusively on Urdu, the second on Hindi, and the third on Indian writings in English. I wanted to highlight in it the two writers I then most admired, G. V. Desani and Raja Rao, and so arranged to include short excerpts from Desani’s classic All About H. Hatterr and Rao’s The Serpent and the Rope. It entailed correspondence with the two. Some of it survived my many moves, including one to India in 1971 for more than fourteen months. Among the survivors are the following letters from Raja Rao.

 

I have no record and almost no memory of what I wrote to him. I’m sure I had little idea of his age and achievements when I wrote him first. I do recall inviting him later to Chicago a couple of times to give seminars—“readings” were not in fashion then—and also had him interviewed on radio by Studs Terkel. (There must be a tape of it in Terkel’s archive somewhere.) But Raja Rao never became a great hit with my colleagues at the University of Chicago. Most of them felt no desire to concede to him the status he most cherished, that of a scholar-philosopher. They viewed him merely as a novelist with certain thematic predilections. In a sense, the artist had moved on, whereas most academics only saw him as the author of an astonishing debut novel, Kanthapura (1938). Also, he was perhaps too “Continental” for the English and “Comp Lit” crowd at Chicago. He eventually found his niche—in Philosophy—at the University of Texas, Austin, where Desani had preceded him. They taught in alternate semesters, and had their devoted followings for many years. Zulfikar Ghose also taught there, but in the department of English (or perhaps Comparative Literature). But I doubt very much if the three South Asian masters of fiction writing ever appeared together on the same platform—or in the same drawing room.

 

Looking back after so many years I can confidently say that it was an enriching and joyful experience knowing him even so cursorily.

 

C. M. Naim

Chicago, March 2013

*

In transcribing the letters I have retained any word that Raja Rao crossed out, but marked it as such. Where he added comments on the margin, I have inserted them in the text, placing them between asterisks. Raja Rao wrote a minuscule scrawl, hard to decipher now in every instance. My guesses, in such cases, are followed by a question mark within brackets.

 

Letters

 

 

(1)

40 Acres Club,

Austin, Texas

May 1, [1964]

 

Dear Naim Sahib,

 

I wish I could have written to you in Urdu. You know I am an old student of Madrassa-i-Aliya in Hyderabad, and Aligarh University (and Nizam College) – so once my Urdu was not bad. Even now I enjoy listening to Urdu – it seems to have such elegance and such maturity. While in Lucknow (which I know well) I used to go to Josh Malihabadi, and hear him sing away his verses (actually one of the women sang Josh’s verses) and it was such a festival of poetry. I wonder whether in modern India today such “careless rapture” is possible. I hope it is.

 

While in India this time I did not have sufficient time in Delhi or Hyderabad to go to a mushaira – and those organised by the All India Radio have neither the fragrance nor the lustre of the old mushaira atmosphere.

 

So, as you see, like my old friend Ahmed Ali (we were at college together – he is now in Pakisthan [sic]) I am a nostalgic person – not necessarily for what is old, but for the sensibility it created.

 

I shall soon be with you – on the 18th I arrive, and we will take up this talk. It is so easy to demolish the old – but one day even the new will become old. Ghalib must have said somewhere such a thing, I am sure. *For the very thought of Urdu makes me think in an Urdu thinking intellectual’s manner.*

 

My coming to Chicago is entirely of your making, so may I thank you for it sincerely, and believe me, sincerely yours,

Raja Rao

 

(2)

“Yaddo”

Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

 

June 14, [1964]

 

Dear Naim Sahib,

 

I was – I am – certainly very ungracious in not having written to you after all the kindness and hospitality you showed to me. The fact is my energy is inadequate to my needs, and as I am physically less strong, my work is also more demanding – in fact with increased maturity, one’s work becomes more and more precise, and thus one gives to one’s work the major portion of one’s strength. For sometime here I live in much noble solitude, and except for an appearance at dinner, one is left completely alone. And so little by little I catch up with my mail. And yours is among the first letters I am writing.

 

What was Chicago like to me? I wrote to Milton Singer to say (he had asked me to read one of his manuscripts and comment on it, which I at last did last week) – I said I was just beginning to know Chicago when I left. The day before I left was extremely rich in meetings, and about everybody I met, I should have met seen several times. Also I was overwhelmed by certain perspectives on Chicago which seemed authentically (?) deeply satisfactory, and completely unexpected. Perhaps I will one day come back to Chicago – who knows? I never know what calls me where and when? (sic) For life is such a series of gifts. I did not know even six months ago that I was going to come to Chicago. Nor for that matter to Yaddo.

 

I will probably go towards the middle of July to California, and will perhaps drop in at Philadelphia for a day or two. Please drop me a line at the above address giving me your address whereabouts in Philadelphia.[1] I would like you to know some of my friends there.

 

Your “short story” I read with very eager interest. I think that you have a very good story, and it seems to me that the story has to be much reduced in size. The idea is poetic but the treatment is too straightforward. It needs bypasses (?) and complexities of approach in language and structure so that the theme is discovered in the conclusion – your beautiful conclusion. If we could have read it together I would have told you more explicitly. A short story is a poem, in many ways, and so it needs a bare statement of fact to overwhelm the reader. There is a similar story by Liam O’Flaherty (I do not know if you know it. It’s also about a donkey about to die and of birds wanting (?) to finish up the animal before life has left it.) I think even O’Flaherty is too old fashioned. The short story today is a highly sophisticated form, and if I were you I would go on to the novel. After the novel the short story seems more pure in spirit easy of understanding. This is only a friendly suggestion. After all each writer has his own pattern of work. And work indeed is purely personal. And usually no writer is right about another writer’s work.[2] However since you had the kindness to show your short story I thought I would say what I felt. I would like to see more, if you have any you could spare.

 

With affectionate regards,

yours very sincerely

Raja Rao

 

P.S.

Do you think I should write a formal letter to Marc Galanter? I shall in a day or two. Give him my regards, please.[3]

(3)

(Inflight Pan Am Clipper. Airline envelope.

c/o A E Jolis, 589 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY.)

Between Paris and New York

 

January 15, [1965]

 

My dear Naim Sahib,

 

Forgive me, will you, for this mad silence where everything seems to move but no one knows where. I have been working as I have rarely worked before (that is the work I did in New York) and then I rushed off to my friend’s (?) flat on the Mediterranean, at Grasse, to work on my new book. In the vitality of air and beauty that shines on Grasse, I lived and worked successfully, and partly recovered my failing health. I am returning to New York for the publication of my new book (Jan 18) and after a week there I will go to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for a four month visiting Professorship. I have of course Chicago on my programme (sometime towards the end of May perhaps) so that I could see you and Ramanujan, and Mircea Eliade. I got to know Chicago and began to love it.

 

Did you get a copy of my new book? I think I put your name down for copies to be sent to. If you haven’t received it let me know.

 

How is your work going on, and your own writing [?] In all frankness I must admit I have been so busy I have had no time to go through your story. But I hope to in Baton Rouge.

 

Is there anything I can do for you[?]

 

I saw Ali Yavar Jung in Paris; he is going to Aligarh. He wants to bring in many important changes in the way the university is run.[4] I hope you will go back to it one day.

 

After Baton Rouge, I return (after having seen you) to New York and then to Paris. I may go to Africa (French-speaking) briefly, and in September I return to India for a year of hard work.

 

How beautiful, Naim Sahib, life can be  – in the miracle of emergent circumstance – of devoted friendships, of intellectual penetrations to the world of poetical suchness. Is it intellectual? No, it’s just the play of truth discovering itself in terms of a seeming otherness. Life is meant for happiness.

 

Is there anything I can do for you [?} Just take me for an older brother and let me know.

 

Yours affectionately,

Raja Rao

 

(4)

(Written on an aerogramme that apparently got torn, and so was mailed in an envelope)

c/o A. E. Jolis

589 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY

 

June 8, [1965]

 

My dear Bhai Saheb,

 

I am so unhappy I could not make Chicago. I will tell you one day the good, the auspicious reasons, why I had to skip Chicago. I know you will forgive me, and so will our friends.

 

I am here till the end of this month, and if you come to New York let me know, and give our friends in Chicago (Ramanujan, Mircea Eliade, etc.) my address here, so that if they come here they could contact me. My whole programme is somewhat uncertain – India in a few months is certain, so is Europe next month. And what are your plans?

Your affection will forgive me.

Yours always affectionately,

Raja Rao

 

(5)

(The following came in response to what I had arrogantly written after reading The Cat and Shakespeare (1965). Sadly, the letter somehow got torn into two, and now I find that one of the pieces is missing.)

 

Dear Bhai Sahib,

 

I was moved by the fact that you understood indeed the trick (that I played – in The Cat and Shakespeare) and I am grateful to you for it. *And I realise why you do not want to read the book again.* Yes, those who have only seen in the book the side of high comedy or of metaphysical exaltation have missed the fact that to apply the Mother-cat and kitten philosophy  to one’s own life is to lose one’s life – yet, to gain all! For what is life worth if you cannot gain it all!

Yes, do send me the Sillapadikaram and I will do my own sort of review, as long as you…. [5]

Yours always,

Raja Rao

P.S. I will be going to Texas University from April 18th to May 5, for a series of lectures. I will be at the old address: 40 Acres Club, Austin, Texas.

(6)

(Mailed on 20 September 1965)

Palais Provencal

Grasse. A.m. France

 

Dear Bhai Sahib,

 

Forgive me, I have taken all this time to reply to your affectionate letter. The fact is when I work I find letter writing somewhat difficult.  So I will be brief but there is such warmth in me for you, and such devotion, I hope we will one day be long enough together to discover this common link. You call me a brother, and I feel a brother.

 

I must also tell you I have been settling down to the prospect of married life. Katherine is an American (from Texas), an actress by profession, deeply serious, young and intellectual. You will probably meet her in Paris – that is if our dates coincide.

 

I reach Paris on October 8th or 10th. I cannot find your letter, and that is why I do not know when you propose being in Paris. If I am there I would of course look after you, but I suggest in any case that you contact Mr. Hashmi (HASHMI) who is also from Aligarh, and who is first secretary. *(Indian Embassy’s address in Paris.)* I do not know him that well but I am told he is interested in literature. And he seemed to me to be a man of infinite charm and of intellectual curiosity. I shall write to him today, and will speak to him of you. If you need accommodation, of this too will you write to him. Thank you.

 

Mahfil came the other day, and I and Katherine were most impressed with the review of The Cat and Shakespeare.[6] What a remarkably intelligent statement (?) it is – though not entirely accurate, but always pushing forward to new propositions, and so of new meanings. I will probably write to the reviewer one day.

 

Meanwhile what sorrow fills our hearts, yours and mine, at this plight of India and Pakisthan (sic). Must one be so stupid (both of them), and be so reckless about dear human life. How I wish intellectuals could do something – yes, they can – but it will bear fruit in a century.

 

I hope I will not miss you in Paris, but if I do we will meet in Chicago next year.

 

Be well in Aligarh, and write to me at the above address – letters will always be forwarded.

 

yours always affectionately,

Raja Rao

 

P.S. Rajeshwar Dayal, present Ambassador to Paris, was the Collector of Barabanki – and that is how I know Barabanki![7]

 

(7)

(An aerogramme, divided into five sections.)

1808 Pearl Street

Austin, Texas

 

November 6, [1966]

 

My dear Bhai Sahib,

 

I have been waiting for the summer to be over and for the autumn to set in to write and inquire from you whether you have returned from India, when a colleague of yours (in the Dept. of Anthropology) who was here a few weeks ago told me that indeed you had returned, and I was indeed most happy to know that once again you are not very far from me. I had, if you remember, promised to visit you in Aligarh when I was in India last year but the Indian train accommodations are so difficult to get that though my train did pass from Delhi to Bombay via Aligarh I did not get down to see you (and Ali Yavar Jung, who also I had promised to see).[8] I was just afraid that I would have to wait ten days to get a decent seat on the train again. (Because of my illness I have to travel with  conditioned imp…..(?)) I wish I could have come to see you and also meet some old friends, and again see the university after almost thirty-five years. I do hope you had an (sic) useful year, and that you found your family not too uncomfortable in these very trying days in India.

 

I went from Bombay to Calcutta, and from Calcutta to Bombay and Kerala (for the All India Writers Conference), and thus I saw a good bit of India. I was saddened by the general demoralisation among the people, and in some areas I found a healthier spirit than the year before. I was hoping to go to India again this coming year but it looks as if I cannot manage it as I have to finalise the text of my book on the Ganges, which is almost finished (at least one volume, for there will be three or four volumes in all, perhaps, and this may come out sometime next year. I have been very ill again with asthma (since three four months) and so my work has been very slow.

 

I want to know how you are, and how it feels to be back in Chicago. Is your magazine continuing? It is a fine publication, and I hope it prospers. Is Ramanujan there? If so give him my warm regards. I hope someday I will return to Chicago to meet you and a few friends. Is there any hope of your coming southward to Texas? Can I do anything for you at all?

 

You probably know that I am not only married but have a son (six months old), and I find enchantment in the discovery of this young creature face to face with the world (this world of doors and chairs and toys and trees). How much one can learn from the learning of children, and I have been wondering why so few novelists have ever written about children. The child is such a reminder of wisdom, and of simplicity. Let us learn them from them.

 

I send you my very deep affection,

Raja Rao

 

 

 

(8)

 

 

(An aerogramme, divided into five sections.)

 

1808 Pearl Street

Austin, Texas

Jan. 25, 1967

 

My dear Bhai Sahib,

 

Forgive me – this silence has been improper. But I wanted to write to you an adequate letter.

 

Your letter brought tears into my eyes, and I shuddered at the thought of all that you must have gone through. It is difficult to understand human nature often. It seems to contradict the very basis of what is human. The wars, the massacres, the disloyalties, the subterfuges of modern living, all seem so strangely inhuman that one wonders how we can continue to live. After the massacre of nearly eight million Jews by Hitler, the Western world continues to live as if nothing had happened. After the Hindu-Muslim massacres the Indians and the Pakistanis live as if it was all a history-book affair.

 

So it is with individual stories. In spite of my 57 years, I still feel a child face to face with the “normal” human situation. Yet, what has enriched, ennobled me is the (?) of friendship, the sacrifice that man will make for man. People, this world, has been most kind to me – yet suffering there has been, and so much of it.

 

Suffering comes often from a simple misunderstanding, which ultimately becomes a symbol, and then divides.

 

If I want to come to Chicago it is mainly to see you, and Mircea Eliade, and Ramanujan. My plans however are still very vague because of my health (which is slowly improving), and because of my wife’s activities.  (She is an actress, and the program goes according to where and when she is acting.) But I want you to meet Katherine and my son.

 

Your colleague, Marc Galanter, did write to me, but he was as vague as I was. I want to know definitely if (a) the University of Chicago wants me, (b) and if so when. Your colleague’s letter does not speak of any honorarium and so I took it as being only a friendly sort of visit, and in America I find this not altogether proper. You know how I feel about money – how in America money is a serious matter. So if they want me I will come, but under my own conditions. Unless you advise me otherwise. In which case I will accept your suggestion. Otherwise I come only to see my friends. The university will have nothing to do with it. Could you explain to Galanter. I will also write to him.

 

Katherine and I are driving to New York, and it is too cold and full of snow to drive up North in March or early April. People tell us this. So maybe we will come to you in Autumn. Anyway, please write to me often, and tell me how life is with you and around you, and also if there is anything I can do for you. Please write to me without any reason.

 

With affectionate regards.

yours …

Raja Rao

 

(9)

 

1808 Pearl Street

Austin, Texas

March 25, 1967

 

My dear Bhai Saheb,

 

So, Katherin and I, leave Austin on Sunday, April 2nd, and after an overnight stop at Dallas (where Katherine has her parents) we will leave for Chicago on Monday morning, and hope to reach there by Wednesday evening. (Roughly driving 350 miles a day.) Now, could you book us a room (a double bed or two single beds, it does not matter) with a private bathroom, and not very far from the campus. Perhaps the Windermere may still be the best, unless we could stay at the Faculty Club. Our needs are simple – only the private bathroom is all that we need, and in America that is not difficult to get.

 

Now, as to what we should do (apart from seeing you, and giving the talk that [Marc] Galanter asked me to give – this time unambiguously ) is to see a few persons. (1) [Edward C.] Dimock (to whom I have just written.) (2) Mircea Eliade (to whom I wrote sometime ago.) (3) [A. K.] Ramanujan. (4) Milton Singer (to whom I have not written but would be grateful if you could.) In case it is not too much of a trouble could you kindly contact them from us, and the man at the Radio Station. I forgot his name now – I was so impressed with him the last time I saw him – and any others whom you think I should see. May I leave the programming to you. *Also some interesting play or show connected with the theatre for Katherine. A very wide programme, as you see.*  And thank you for it all. We will probably leave on Saturday morning, unless there is something very important to do or to see, in which case we may be able to stay a few days more, but as it stands we will leave on Saturday.

 

My main purpose in coming, as I told you, is to see you. I feel you have not been too happy, and just to see one another may take away some edge of pain. At least I hope so. I hope I am right.

 

yours affectionately,

Raja Rao

P.S.

Could you let us know here when you have reserved our room so that we could drive straight to the hotel (or wheresoever you have fixed for us to stay). Forgive the trouble. If I do not hear from you before we leave I shall telephone you on arrival.

Anyway, my telephone number: home GR7-1565, and you could always ring me collect. And please do if you feel like it. Thank you.

R.R.

 

(10)

1808 Pearl Avenue

Austin, Texas

Dec. 8, 1969

 

My Dear Bhai Sahib,

 

In all honesty I must tell you since that day, some two and a half year ago, when I said au revoir to you in Chicago, I had promised myself to write to you, for there was a melancholy in your being, a sort of noble pessimism, a sense of craving Destiny, back to one’s Gods as it were, for sustenance and comfort – and I have sometimes been anguished at the loneliness it indicated. And to take two and a half years to write to you does not indicate that my own capacity to respond to your solitude was so very …. (?) However, believe me I have carried an envelope of yours through all my travels. For since I saw you last I have been to India twice, and then again to Africa, and my health being poor, I have had to fight against time and circumstance, and it is only since about a fortnight that my health is recovering from a terrible attack of asthma that I had on arriving in Africa last March. I see three doctors now, and I am getting better and better. But even last year my health was miserable. All this is an explanation for my silence, and not an apology. There is no apology for such sheer indelicacy, for such an idiotic negligence. Please forgive me.

 

Could you now tell me how you are? Do you still feel as sorrowful and solitary as I found you – not according to you perhaps, but certainly according to me. I do hope someday you will come to Austin to see me. I always feel the elder brother, if you will permit this indiscretion.

 

Katherine will return from India with …(?) after nearly two years in South India. She has India as her new home, and she has bought a piece of land to build a house there, in Kerala, on the river Pampa, near the Home of my Sat-Guru. What greater home has a disciple than the Home of his Guru, he who has shown the face of Truth, the Sat Guru.

 

I go on working on my book, and each time I seem to have finished my manuscript. I feel it needs even more work. What a noble task writing is – it asks for everything that one can give beyond oneself – and as …(?) this agony and this joy.

 

To you, therefore, dear Bhai Sahib, this brings my very affectionate regard.

Raja Rao

 

P.S. What are you working on now?

How do you …(?) cost your journal – it is a very fine journal indeed.

a. l. (?)

Please believe me this is not a Christmas letter.

 

Dec. 20: I once again delayed sending this to you because I was searching for your proper initials. It seems improper – unless otherwise urgent – to write to people without their full and properly formulated address.[9]

(11)

1808 Pearl Street

Austin, Texas

April 1, 1970

 

My dear Bhai Sahib,

 

I have been proposing (with my wife) to visit you, sometime early in May – that is if all goes well, and you are there, in Chicago. I did not write to you earlier for I have been busy with my own writing, and also because of my uncertain health. Anyway, my main purpose to go to New York via Chicago is to see you – and after that meet one or two friends like Mircea Eliade, and may be Milton Singer. Could you write to me at once, if possible, so that we could make our plans.

 

The need to see you somehow seems deep-seated. I want to be near you, and if possible to bring to you a brother’s warmth of presence (?) of awkward gesture.  So much of saying is largely immature. The Symbol seems so true, for the word, the naked word, is too concrete. The real is in dissolution – the Symbol the ritual of true meaning.

 

Yours affly,

Raja Rao

 

P.S. 1) We will be driving.

2) Have not had time to read your Ghalib.

 

 

(12)

The Guest House Motor Inn

Birmingham, Alabama

May 4, 1970

 

My dear Bhai Sahib,

 

Strange, you must think, I should write to you from here – I was invited to give a lecture … (?),[10] and I accepted it, hoping I may still be able to go to New York via Chicago. But I discovered that my conference in New York starts on the 11th (the P.E.N.) not on the 16th or 18th as I had imagine it to do, and as I have to give a brief talk I should be there on the opening day – which means once again I will miss you. But I shall try to make it on my way back, or late in August. Anyway, here is my address in New York, and I would like to hear from you.

 

c/o A. E. Jolis

589 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY

 

I am deeply sorry to miss seeing you now as I had hoped. But please write, will you. And give me news. With my warm greetings to your wife and children,

 

Yours affectionately,

Raja Rao

 

P.S. By the way Rajeshwar Dayal came to Austin last week, and we spoke of course of Barabanki.

By the way, again, I wonder if you have any way at all of helping poor Ahmed Ali to get out, even temporarily, of Pakisthan (sic). If you could, I should be so grateful.

R.R

 

P.S.S.  As you can see the letter was written in a hurry, so please forgive.

R.R

 


[1] I spent the summer of 1964 in Philadelphia, teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. As I remember, he was not able to make the stop.

[2] He was of course dead right about the story. Titled ‘The Outcasts,’ it is included in my collection of miscellaneous writings: Ambiguities of Heritage (Karachi, 1999).

[3] Prof. Marc Galanter of the University of Wisconsin, the distinguished author of Competing Equalities: Law and the Backward Classes in India (1984) and other books, was at the time a young colleague at Chicago and had been the host of Raja Rao on behalf of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies of the University of Chicago. He was also an avid reader of Indian literature, and it was he who introduced me to G. V. Desani’s masterpiece. The book had been remaindered by the publisher, and he had bought four or five copies to share with friends. Together we wrote – anonymously – the short introductory note introducing the excerpt in Mahfil.

[4] Navab Ali Yavar Jung, a distinguished diplomat, had a troubled tenure at Aligarh as the Vice-Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University. He was attacked and suffered bodily injuries at the hands of the students. I did go to Aligarh during that time, and in fact taught Linguistics for a couple of months in an honorary capacity at the request of my teacher, prof. A. A. Suroor.

[5] I’m not sure if we sent him the book. It was reviewed by someone else.

[6] The book was reviewed by Robert J. Ray of the Beloit College. He had earlier reviewed for us The Serpent and the Rope, and was actually quite enthusiastic about both.

[7] At our first meeting or perhaps in an earlier letter Raja Rao asked what my home town was in India, and learning that it was Barabanki he somewhat gleefully, and to my utter amazement, told me that he had been there.

[8] I am not sure if any train from Delhi to Bombay passes through Aligarh, unless he was going some place else before heading off to Bombay.

[9] He had some trouble with my initials, and the envelopes are variously addressed. I once pointed it out to him and he promptly apologized.

[10] The four words are indecipherable to me. The final, for example, could be ‘ on Mahatama’ or ‘on Malarme.’ Either would be correct in Raja Rao’s case.