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Book Excerpt: Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher and Politician by Zafar Anjum

Iqbal

 

I’m of a pure Somnathi extraction

My ancestors were idol worshippers

—Iqbal

In a wide green field, a crowd chases a pretty, white pigeon. The pigeon circles above the heads of the chasing party. The crowd, in a mad dash, tries to capture the bird in flight. Now the bird flies high and now it descends down, teasing those who are sprinting after it. At last the pigeon swoops down into the lap of a tall and handsome 40-year-old man who accepts it as a gift from the heavens.

Shaikh Noor Muhammad, the man dreaming this dream, wakes up with a smile in a house near Do Darwaza Mosque in Kashmiri Mohalla in Sialkot, a border town of the Punjab located by the Chenab river, at the foot of the Kashmir hills.

It is a cold night in early November and he sees his wife Imam Bibi sleeping peacefully next to him under a warm blanket. She is expecting again and he interprets the dream to be a divine indication that he will be blessed with a son whose good fortune it will be to serve mankind.

The tall Kashmiri Noor Muhammad, red of skin and with a penetrating gaze, is known for his simplicity in the community. He has a peaceful and aff ectionate nature. When he was growing up, he could not study at the maktab, the local school; but this did not stop him from teaching himself the alphabets. Because of his own efforts he becomes literate and is able to read books in Urdu and Persian.

He is the eleventh child of his father, Shaikh Muhammad Rafiq, the only child to have survived from his father’s second wife. After him, another son, Ghulam Muhammad, was born. He grew up to be an overseer in the department of canals in the British government.

Noor Muhammad and his family have always lived together with his younger brother Ghulam Muhammad’s family. The house near the Do Darwaza Mosque was bought in 1861 by their father Muhammad Rafiq and they have been living in this house ever since. It has been expanded over time to accommodate new members of the family.

Noor Muhammad loves to spend a good deal of his time among sufis and Islamic scholars. By virtue of keeping such pious company, he has come to have a good grasp of Shariat and Tariqat. His knowledge of tasawwuf (mysticism) is so deep that his friends call him Anpadh Falsafi (Untutored Philosopher). He regularly studies and recites the Quran which he considers to be the ultimate source of all bliss, worldly and for the hereafter.

By profession, he is a tailor and embroiderer. In his early career, he helped his father, Shaikh Muhammad Rafiq, in his dhassa and loi (blankets and shawls) business but when an official rents him a Singer sewing machine, a mechanical marvel of its time, he turns to tailoring. His wife, Imam Bibi, disapproves of the sewing machine when she learns that the machine was bought with illicit money. Noor Muhammad returns the machine to the official and he strikes out on his own as a cap embroiderer, and makes Muslim prayer caps. The enterprise becomes a success and soon he employs other workmen in his workshop. By virtue of his popular merchandise, people start addressing him as Shaikh Natthu Topianwale. In the later stages of his life, he slowly loses interest in his business and takes a deeper interest in mysticism. He ignores his business and, with time, his business suffers decline.

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Excerpts: Jaffna Street by Mir Khalid

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As I have mentioned earlier, prior to the branding of Jaffna Street, our area was notorious, constantly attracting search operations. In the summer of 1992 the security apparatus launched ‘Operation Tiger’, which achieved notoriety for allegedly bumping off insurgents rather than capturing them. The operation  was initiated from our Noor Bagh area and its first casualty was a local lad, a big fish, a much-wanted insurgent leader of the Al Umar insurgent group that controlled the entire downtown area. Earlier that same night, our next-door neighbour, Yusuf, an affable and mild-mannered artisan, died in a concomitant raid   by the Indian armed forces to trap a group of armed insurgents. Giving no heed to his or his parent’s protestations, the militants had forcibly entered his home to stay the night.

Weeks before, my sibling and I had finagled our way out of another army cordon using our exam slips. Allowed at first to leave, we were then detained along with a host of others at the Noor Bagh chowk. An autorickshaw driver who had inadvertently walked into the cordon had been forced to sit under a horse cart. Irate soldiers playfully made our release from the cordoned area  conditional on our setting the range plates of  their  AK 47  rifles to the correct measure; a sure way of self-implicating. In  the afternoon sun we watched in trepidation as the soldiers cursed and accused us of studying during the day and fighting them at night.

But afterwards, with the changing contours, even as foreign fighters started pouring into the Kashmir theatre of operations and Srinagar itself, the assassinations of former militants and people accused of snitching were regularly carried  out  by  a new insurgent crop. Ironically, though, the spate of extortions and carjacking that had been the norm ceased. The racketeer insurgent lot steered clear of our area for fear of being shot in broad daylight.

The increase in insurgent activity again led to an increased level of cordon and search operations and arrests by the paramilitaries and the military. Their lack of hard intelligence  led to indiscriminate and random arrests; many of my own friends and acquaintances were also taken in and had to weather vicious interrogation techniques in makeshift detention centres during the two- to three-day mopping operations. Many had to be carried home, so broken and battered, unable to even  stand. Many a times I thanked my stars for never having to go through these ordeals.

In June 1995, I stood in the large crowd in the main square on Nalamaar Road. My previous attendances in the cordon and search operations had left me with a sunburnt face and arms so    I was trying to find a place to perch and protect myself from    the summer sun, which in a few hours would attain a furious face, enough to melt the surface of the tarmac road.

What  I  hadn’t  considered  was  that  my  dandyish  though worn-out attire, complete with Lacoste and Levi’s components, would mark me out in the crowd. Within moments, a young officer in cammies wigwagged his fingers, signalling me to come forward. Ever the cocky person I was in those days, I blurted, ‘What am I supposed to do,’ in English. The officer retorted in   a serious tone, ‘I will let you  know.’

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Mirza Ghalib still homeless in his birth place

Though Mirza Ghalib’s contribution to ‘Urdu Adab’ is considered as significant as Shakespeare’s to English, the mansion in Agra where he was born on this day in 1797 bears no memorial to the great poet till date.

Mirza_Ghalib_photographFor that unfortunate reason, the people here remember the association the doyen of Urdu literature had with this city with considerable regret — especially on Ghalib’s 218th birth anniversary.

“For years fans of Mirza Ghalib and literary aficionados have demanded a fitting memorial, but the assurances and  promises of the authorities never materialised,” lamented Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.

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Qatar: Urdu literature gets lyrical at symposium

It was Urdu poetry at its best as the festival that has been celebrating the language’s literary side returned to its original,  more familiar abode. Majlis-e-Frogh-e-Urdu-Adab (Organisation for the promotion of Urdu Literature), Qatar returned this year with its 19th annual Aalmi Frogh-e-Urdu Awards (International Awards for Promotion of Urdu literature) and Mushaira (Poetic symposium) to Al Majlis Hall, Sheraton Hotel where it has been taking place for years.  Continue reading


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Faiz Ahmed Faiz—The defiance of an exile

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. Continue reading


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Javed Akhtar, Ashok Vajpayee to explore the spirit of Urdu

Jashn-e RekhtaIndian and Pakistani writers Intizar Hussain, Javed Akhtar, Ashok Vajpayee, and Nida Fazli, among others will participate in an Urdu festival in Delhi to celebrate and explore the spirit of the language.

The two-day “Jashn-e-Rekhta” festival will begin March 14 and will bring together 60 renowned personalities from both the countries to celebrate Urdu language through performances, recitations, dastangoi, musical renditions, mushaira, dramas, panel discussions, film screenings and interactive sessions. Continue reading


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Review: Urdu Poetry’s Seamless Journey

Urdu_poetrycoverURDU POETRY: AN INTRODUCTION
By Anees Ayesha
(Translated and Introduced by Zafar Anjum)
Kitaab International Ptv. Ltd., 10 Anson Road # 26-04
International Plaza, Singapore – 079903
Year 2013, 247pp, Singaporean Dollar25
Paperback (ISBN 978-981-07-8055-5)

Review by Asif Anwar Alig

While Urdu became victim of prejudices in its birthplace – India, it brimmed in the far off regions. An original Urdu work of Anees Ayesha, Urdu Poetry: An Introduction is an English translation by Singapore based author Zafar Anjum. Presenting the knowhow of Urdu poetry to Singaporean readers, it is a valuable addition to literature on Urdu poetry for those willing to learn Urdu poetry’s distinct features or stages of development.

Prejudices have relentlessly shrunk Urdu in its country of birth. But it has advanced worldwide in many forms, especially by translations to give strong message. Anjum’s translation is an archetypal effort for English readers to learn the richness of Urdu poetry. This book briefs Urdu’s role from its inception to shaping Indian societies and cultures since the 17th century to the colonial British period and its challenges while encouraging nationalistic revolutions and spreading the message of Islam.

This book introduces multiple forms of Urdu poetry through highlighting its pivotal role to nourish cultures – socio-religious and revolutionary movements to Sufism. Contributions of prominent poets in the subcontinent are credible introductions which turn this book into a summarised encyclopaedia. Continue reading


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Pakistan: ‘Confusion over 9/11 has effects on literature’

Scholars here are sharply divided over the reality of 9/11 episode and that’s why there is conceptual confusion on how to respond to its after-effects, said Prof Tajuddin Tajwar of the Department of Urdu, University of Peshawar, here on Sunday.

malala“The worst thing in evaluating the impacts of 9/11 on Urdu poetry and even on our whole social life is that we are not completely aware of the details of the 9/11, rather deliberate confusion has befogged the minds of our writers and they have no unanimous view on the war on terror,” he said during his lecture on “Impact of 9/11 on Urdu literature” here at the Research Library, Peshawar. Continue reading


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‘I Translated The Gita Into Vernacular Urdu, So That It Can Be Easily Accessed’: Anwar Jalalpuri

anwarThe Naval Kishore Press established in Lucknow by Pandit Naval Kishore in 1858 was once the largest publishing initiative in South Asia and second only to the Alpine Press of France. Before it was closed in 1950, it had published Urdu translations of over 500 Hindi, Arabic and Persian texts, and 124 Sanskrit texts, including the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita and Manusmriti. In keeping with the legacy of Naval Kishore Press, popular Urdu poet Anwar Jalalpuri has translated The Bhagavad Gita into Urdu shayari. Former chairman of Uttar Pradesh Madarsa Board and former member of the Urdu Akademi (UP), Jalalpuri had earlier translated Rabindranath Tagore’s Geetanjali and Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat into Urdu poetry. Jalalpuri tells Aishwarya Gupta that through his latest book, Urdu Shayari mein Gita, he aims at an interaction of Hindu and Islamic worldviews.

Edited excerpts from an interview: Continue reading


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India: Reviving culture: Urdu Literature fest

Bhendi Bazaar Urdu Festival to be held in Mumbai: The Times of India

In the 1930s, the Bhendi Bazaar area of Mumbai (then Bombay) was home to connoisseurs of Urdu poetry and literature, like Kaifi Azmi, Kamal Arohi, Janisar Khan, Sahir Ludhianvi and Majrooh Sultanpuri, among others.

However, over the past few decades, the influence of Urdu has faded. Now Zubair Azmi, director of Urdu Markaz, an organisation that works towards the development of Urdu literacy, has decided to launch an annual event — Bhendi Bazaar Urdu Festival — to help its revival. “With this festival, we aim to connect our present generation to their rich roots.

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