Tasveer-e Urdu and the Centre for Indian Languages (SLLCS), Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi), plan to hold a two-day conference on the popular culture of Urdu language on 8-9 September 2017 in New Delhi. The organisers seek proposals of presentations that can lead to engaging discussions on the theme, outlined in the concept note shared below.

For submissions, a short abstract (not more than one page) should be sent in Urdu or English, with a short bio of the presenter’s past work, latest by 10 April 2017 to conference@tasveereurdu.in.

Once the submitted abstract/concept is selected for participation, the selected submissions will have to send the full paper (5000 to 8000 words, in Urdu or English) by August 10, 2017.

For more details visit: www.tasveereurdu.in

Concept Note:

While Urdu is typically celebrated as a language of romance and classical poetry by Ghalib, Mir, and Faiz etc., its lesser-acknowledged popular culture of movie songs, detective fiction, ghazal gayeki, poetry inscribed behind vehicles, mushairas, and qawwalis, has probably kept the language alive and kicking among the masses even as its more virtuous practitioners lament that Urdu is dying in India. So what are these popular forms that continue to thrive in the underbelly of classical Urdu and how different they are from its elite cultural life? More importantly, where does one draw a line between popular and classical in Urdu? Although some examples mentioned above are part of what we call ‘popular culture’, these were never really disconnected from what can be called ‘classical’. Urdu is not a monolithic entity in time and space – it has been changing over centuries in its vocabulary, usage, demographics and poetics. There have been multiple dilutions within Urdu that have redefined the notions of ‘Classical’ and ‘Popular’, not to mention the local or regional differences in Urdu’s use.

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

mustansir-dalvi-pix

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I wish there was a straight answer for this. I write, variously. In my columns, I want my voice to be heard, as I address urban concerns, particularly about my city – Mumbai. As a poet, I both reflect and construct, iteratively, as an architect, which I am. My muse is lower-case, infrequent. But when I do write, I write to be read/heard.

Tell us about your most recent book/film or writing/editing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I have a couple of ongoing projects.

I am translating Arun Kolatkar’s wonderful book of poems, Chirimiri, which I call “Palm Grease” (or a small bribe) which is in Marathi. I revel in his words, raucous and bawdy. I revel in his ability to look at the everyday, but with a slant. And I revel in the deep sense of Bhakti (devotion) that emerges from underneath the vulgate nature of his narratives. I look at Chirimiri as a reflection of his seminal Jejuri which is about the individual, a sacred place and ambivalence of belief. But it is the words, mostly. I revel in the way they turn out in English, which is deeply satisfying. I am about halfway through this book of around fifty poems.

I am also working on another book of translations of Muhammad Iqbal from the Urdu, which has a working title of Muhammad Iqbal’s India. I am in the process of translating several of Iqbal’s earliest published poetry, from his first collection Baang-e-Daraa. These poems speak about his country mostly and the love for it through its geography, its natural beauty, its syncretic culture and its sages and thinkers. This brings out an essential character of an Indian poet, largely relegated and appropriated to various agendas of identity. Iqbal wrote poems on Ram, Guru Nanak, Swami Ram Tirath, the Buddha and Ghalib. He even translated the Gayatri Mantra from the Sanskrit, intoned by millions every day in India as ‘Aftaab’ – the Sun. I hope this collection can be read as a companion piece to my earlier translation of Iqbal’s Shikwa and Jawab-e-shikwa, published by Penguin Classics in 2012.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

As a translator, the aesthetic emerges from the spirit of the text giving voice. This varies widely depending on whom I am translating – there is the formal but angry Iqbal, the rebellious but deeply lyrical Faiz, the bawdiness and intellectual depth of Kolatkar, the quotidian and experiential angst of Hemant Divate, or Rahim, infused in his Bhakti of Ram and Krishna. Languages bring their own aesthetic to bear, and I usually work with it.

As a poet I write only in English. In English as an Indian language. My aesthetic, if I should describe it, would be related to the sound of words, the authenticity of the sounds, the comfort of knowing that such words could be enjoined in poetry to be enjoyed.

FaizFaiFor some reason, whenever I think of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, I think of poets like Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz, which is not fair because Faiz was neither a South American poet nor were Neruda or Paz poets of exile like Faiz. God knows what led me to forge this image of Faiz in my mind because in 1984, when he passed away, I was still a child, and I might have seen the pictures of this celebrated poet in Urdu literary journals that were still alive and kicking in India at that time.

When I think hard about that image now, it dawns on me that I might have gathered this impression of Faiz because I remembered him as a cultural ambassador from the Indian sub-continent – Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had appointed Faiz to the National Council of the Arts after his incarceration had ended. Later on, he had also won the Lenin Peace Prize in 1963 for his poems that had been translated into Russian.

Elita Karim interviews the British Pakistani writer, journalist, and filmmaker Tariq Ali in Dhaka

Tariq_AliAli is scheduled to start off the Hay Festival today, along with Syed Manzoorul Islam and Ahdaf Soueif at the Bangla Academy. “I would rather call it the Dhaka Literature Festival,” says Tariq Ali. “I don’t attend the Hay festivals in Britain. The only reason why I am here is because the festival is happening in Dhaka. And I am here after a long time.”

The last time Ali was in Dhaka, he spoke to students under a mango tree, prodding them to go for independence and not autonomy. “There were gasps everywhere! It was probably in 1969 or 1970,” he says. “I remember asking them if I should speak in Urdu or English. Everyone chanted together — ‘ENGLISH!’”

Fahmida Riaz on the wordless apartheid practiced against progressive literature in Pakistan in The Dawn

In Pakistani literature, an undeclared, wordless apartheid has been practiced against progressive literature, or what is known the world over as engaged literature. Consequently, in most books of literary criticism, references to engaged literature are conspicuous by their absence, unless a work is open to some other interpretation such as lyricism, imagism, surrealism or even structuralism, a comparatively new entrant in the jargon of our Urdu literati.