Recently, Sahitya Akademi Award winner for Urdu, Rahman Abbas, journeyed to the Institut National Des Langues et Civilasations Oriesntales (INALCO) in Paris to deliver a lecture. Translated Urdu novels are gaining in popularity and getting translated into multiple European languages, like German and French, he surmised. Novels in Urdu evolved around the 1940s-1950s with writers like Intezar Hussain and Quartulain Haidar and books like Do gaz Zameen by Abdus Samad and Makaan by Paigam Afaqui. Makaan is said to have been a major influence even on novelist Vikram Seth.
Farhan Ahmad, Urdu lecturer, INALCO, Paris tells us about the talk given by Rahman Abbas in France.
On 5 November 2019, INALCO, invited Sahitya Akademi Awardee, Urdu Novelist Rahman Abbas, to deliver a lecture on the topic “The Contemporary Indian Urdu Novels” in France.
The co-director of the department of South Asia and Himalaya studies and research scholar, Shahzaman Haque, introduced Abbas to faculty members and the students and said that Rahman Abbas was one of the major contemporary Urdu novelists of India. He thanked his department and his laboratory PLIDAM (Pluralité des langues et des identités) for financing the travel and accommodation of the Urdu author.
He said that Rahman Abbas’s novel Rohzin had already been translated into German and would soon be available in English, French and Hindi too. There is a growing demand for translation of Rohzin and other novels of Rahman Abbas in France. Rahman is known for his unique style of narration and his dealing with human sensibilities.
Four Indian authors including three poets are among ten writers longlisted for the US $50,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. Popular novelists Khaled Hosseini and Jhumpa Lahiri have also made to the longlist for their books And the Mountains Echoed and The Lowland.
India’s literary establishment is abuzz about the recently published novel “The Mirror of Beauty,” a 984-page fictional account about the life and times of Wazir Khanam, the mother of the famed Urdu poet Daag Dehalvi, set mostly in Delhi and its environs during the 19th century. A beautiful and spirited woman, Wazir mingles with the noblemen of the Mughal court of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, the English officers of the East India Company, the poets of the age and a whole panorama of other unforgettable characters.
“The Mirror of Beauty” is a translation of the original 2006 Urdu-language novel “Ka’i Chand The Sar-e-Aasmaan” by its author, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi. Mr. Faruqi, 78, who retired as a top bureaucrat in the Indian Postal Service, is a leading figure of Urdu literary criticism. He spoke to India Ink in Delhi about how he created the world of 19th century Delhi for “The Mirror of Beauty” and what he hopes young readers will get out of the book.
You live in Allahabad, a relatively smaller city, and your work has mostly been read by those within the Urdu-speaking or academic world. Suddenly you have a celebrity author like Orhan Pamuk calling your book “an erudite, amazing historical novel.” What’s it been like to step into the global literary spotlight?
I feel uncertain about all this. I am not sure that I really deserve all this attention, all this lionizing. I told my editor that I feel small, knowing that you guys are building me up so much, like a colossus. I am now long past those things. I have faced so much criticism in my life, from my own people, and also I have earned praise, love and appreciation. It makes no difference to me whether it is the global environment or the backwater of Allahabad. If Orhan Pamuk writes well about me, I’m happy; if he didn’t write well, I wouldn’t mind.
Shamsur Rahman Faruqi is said to be a formidable, forbidding figure. As a literary theorist and scholar of Urduliterature, he looms so large that a fellow academic, a professor at Aligarh Muslim University, described him as the TS Eliot of Urdu criticism. Eliot, famously, worked at a bank, while Faruqi, equally incongruously, was a career civil servant, employed by the Indian Postal Service. There is little evidence of that career in his conversation, peppered with allusion to French theorists, and imperious manner; he has a reputation for treating interviewers with asperity. In short, this is not a man who suffers fools. And journalists are nothing if not fools. Foolish questions, partially informed questions, are the operating currency of journalism. Unlike scholars, journalists have to be generalists, pick up information as widely and indiscriminately as possible and hope to perform, if only for the length of one piece, a convincing impression of familiarity with the subject at hand. Some readers might buy the performance (it is, after all, for their benefit); experts are likely to scoff.