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The Bookstore That Brought Together Urdu’s Literary Greats

(From The Wire. Link to the interview given below)

For 88-year old Shahid Ali Khan, Urdu literature has been a lifelong passion. His journey with Maktaba Jamia, a publishing house and bookstore, took him from Delhi to Mumbai in 1957, where he befriended renowned Urdu writers and poets like Sahir Ludhianvi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Meena Kumari and Jagan Nath Azad.

Now running his own small publishing house called ‘Nai Kitab’, which is tucked away in a quiet lane in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar, Khan takes us down memory lane and talks about his contributions to Urdu.

Watch the video at The Wire link here

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Spice of life: Introducing Faiz to a classroom of millennials

(From Hindustan Times. The link to the complete article is given below.)

To bring an Urdu text into an English literature classroom, even though in translation, is a task that is at once delightful, difficult and always threatening to burst into the territory of the disastrous.

The curriculum of Masters in English literature is one arena that has undergone such tectonic shifts that for the most part it does not even remotely meet the bare outsider expectations about it. From being preeminently a vehicle of dispersing colonial cultural hegemony to today transforming into a representational space preoccupied with recovering lost and powerless voices, it has indeed come a long way. It is a space built on the constant questioning of the rationale of the canon and further, in its enthusiasm to question the importance of texts, it has come down brutally on its own house. It could be deemed a dynamic and progressive space and to me, it represents what can be called the pulsating heart of humanities.

One can see the inclusion of Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz in this light under the rubric of ‘Texts in Translation’. The paper allows students to have an intimate feel of literature in regional languages such as Bengali (Mahasweta Devi), Oriya (Fakir Mohan Senapati), Urdu (Faiz) and Hindi (Nirala) through translation. It is a space that an English literature student would otherwise never traverse. There is a definite attempt to break the classic elitist mould of an English literature graduate and to give the student a taste of important writings from within the country, ironing out language differences using the tool of translation.

To bring an Urdu text into an English literature classroom, even though in translation, is a task that is at once delightful, difficult and always threatening to burst into the territory of the disastrous.

Read more at the Hindustan Times page here


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When short is sound…

The just concluded Kitaab Literary Festival in Lucknow saw interesting discussions on intertextuality and micro literature

At a time when a strongly intimidating and equally tantalising wave of certitude and homogeneity has been sweeping the world and law-induced violence runs amok, what can provide us with an alternative comprehension of the reality? It is an intriguing sense of inconclusiveness that triggers and acts like a catalyst to deal with various vexed issues as it prevents people from trying to outdo each other.

This incredible conceptual creative solution is offered by a celebrated Singapore-based author Zafar Anjum who participated in an international literary festival held in Lucknow in which many prominent writers in English, Hindi and Urdu, belonging to India, Singapore and Malaysia participated. Zafar Anjum, in his widely- acclaimed story, “Kafka in Ayodhya” refers to the vexed Ayodhya issue and the quest for solution prompts him to explore the nuanced connotation of the incompleteness and the space around it. In line with his existentialist leanings and Kafkaesque tradition, the protagonist of Zafar’s story spells out the contours of solution:

“Leave the structure as it is. Incompleteness is also a quality, a facet of nobility. It has a capacity for silence. At least, that’s what I do with my work.”

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Nazm for the Messiah

Urdu poetry is replete with references to Ibn-e-Maryam, the son of Virgin Mary, writes Rakshanda Jalil in the Indian Express.

Ibn-e Maryam, the son of the Virgin Mary, is a recurring figure in Urdu poetry. Sometimes appearing as an icon of fortitude, sometimes as the healer and provider of succour and mercy, Isa Masih, as Jesus Christ is called in Urdu, is the embodiment of love that Iqbal describes as hararat li nafas-ha-e-masih-e-Ibn-e-Maryam se (“the ardour of love’s breath taken from the Son of Mary”). Perhaps the most often-quoted reference to Ibn-e Maryam is by Mirza Ghalib who called out to the saviour in this enduring couplet: Ibn-e Maryam hua kare koi / Mere dukh ki dawa kare koi (Let there be a Son of Mary / To find a cure for my grief)

And there is Ghalib again invoking the life-giving figure of Christ in this lesser-known couplet: Lab-e-Isa ki jumbish karti hai gahvara-jambani / Qayamat kushta-e-laal-e-butan ka khwab-e-sangin hai (The lips of Christ quiver like a rocking cradle / Apocalypse is the terrifying dream of the killing of the jewels of the beloved).

Darshan Singh Duggal wrote an entire poem entitled Ibn-e Maryam describing Jesus as rooh ki azmat ka aina (“the mirror reflecting the greatness of the soul”), ahinsa ka payami (“the messenger of non-violence”), the one who gladly wore the crown of thorns upon his head: Teri himmat muskurai ranj-o gham ke daar pe / Tera azm-e sarfaroshi rooh ke maidan mein (Your courage smiled at the scaffold of grief and sorrow / You had the courage to lay down your life in the field of life).

The Urdu poet, forever subversive, forever looking for new ways to invoke old icons is irresistibly drawn to the figure of Christ on the cross as this verse by Saif Zulfi demonstrates: Phaila tha masih-e-waqt ban kar / Simta to saleeb ho gaya hai (When he scattered he was like the Messiah of his Time / When he gathered, he became a crucifix).

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