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The Oxford India Anthology of Modern Urdu Literature: Poetry and Prose Miscellany

Mehr Afshan Farooqi (ed)

Farooqi, Mehr Afshan (ed);

The Oxford India Anthology of Modern Urdu Literature: Poetry and Prose Miscellany

Oxford University Press, 2010, 380 pages

ISBN 0198069170 9780198069171

topics: |  urdu | poetry | prose | anthology

Works of poetry and short prose - from 1905 to 2005.

Many urdu lovers are poetry buffs, and they will come to this volume rather than the companion volume, which covers novels. But they are likely to be disappointed. Many of the translations - I looked primarily at the poetry section - seem to have been commissioned for this anthology. That may be fine for prose, but it is surely not the best way to get the best poetry.

The book opens with a 100 pages section on poetry.

The last part, literary anecdotes, translated and presumably compiled by Baran Rehman, is a goldmine. One interesting point. While the rest of the authors are mostly modern, the anecdotes section makes room for Ghalib and for Insha. Insha's witty remarks to Asaf-ud-Daula are very much in the spirit of a birbal.




My engagement with Urdu literature began in the family home...
I imbibed a lot of the discourse on
jadidiyat (trend for modernity) simply by being born in a family where such
esoteric terms became epithets drifting into my six-year-old ears even as I
skirted the precincts of our family drawing room where vociferous and lively
discussions of the subject held forth and where the journal Shabkhoon was
conceived and brought out in 1964.

[after accepting to edit this volume for OUP]
I decided to tackle the table of contents as a teacher embarking on a
syllabus for a full-scale 'survey course'. At the outset, my reading list was
endless. After a year of frenzied and focused reading, I felt confident
enough to broach the subject with scholars of Urdu and arrived at what I
called my 'master list'. This was basically a list of writers who lived and
worked during the period 1905-2005. My reading made me aware of the challenge
of representing certain genres that had been ignored by most anthologists of
Urdu literature. 

Prose, especially of the non-fiction variety, attracted me the most. Prose,
in Urdu has trailed behind poetry for reasons which I need not go into
here. Urdu's early modernizers such as Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Husain
Azad, and Altaf Husain Hali were brilliant prose stylists. Following the
development of Urdu prose from the late nineteenth century onwards, unfolds a
remarkable graph of highs and lows. Some genres. For instance, the literary
sketch (khakah), essay (inshaiyah), humour and satire (tanz-o mizah),
autobiography khudnavisht, and travel writing (safarnamah) blossomed, while
critical prose was slow in developing. The extraordinary success of the short
story (afsana) in Urdu has marginalized the other prose genres. I felt that a
comprehensive anthology must include the relatively lesser known
works. Despite strict adherence to my own criteria for selection, I struggled
to achieve a balance. The problem was how to balance the importance,
significance, and historical value of the selections.

Excerpts : Poetry

Makhdoom Muhiuddin (1908-69) : Our City

		tr. Mehr Afshan Farooqi

It is a strange city, our city. 
If you walk on the street at night
It whispers to you
Calls out,
Shows you its wounds
Like secrets close to the heart. 

Closed windows
Silent lanes
Tired walls
Sealed doors
Corpses stagnating in houses for years and years,
Paying rent --- !

Kishwar Naheed (b. 1940) : One of Many Stories

	Dust lay on the dining table
	I didn’t eat it after all
	But on that dust
	with my finger
	I wrote that
	which I dared not tell you. 

--Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938): Wild Poppy (lala-e-sahra)-- 
			tr. Mehr Afshan Farooqi,   p.7

			from notes introducing iqbal: 
			a metaphysical poem about human existence....

			the wild poppy symbolizes freedom and self-valued
			existence, but the wild poppy is like the poem's
			protagonist, unable to find its way through the
			wilderness of human existence.

This lacquered dome, this world of loneliness,
the vastness of this arid plain
makes me afraid

A traveler who lost his way
that’s me
A traveler who lost his way
that’s you
Poppy of the desert
where are you going?

These mountains and these valleys
have no Moses. Otherwise
both I and you
are the fire of Sinai
Why did you blossom forth?
Why did I break away from my roots?
It was nothing but 
the urge for self-revelation
nothing but the delight of peerlessness
God protects him
who dives into the ocean of love,
For every drop
is as deep as the ocean itself

The eye of the whirlpool
weeps for the wave
that rose from the ocean
but did not break against the shore. 

Man's fevered actions
keep the world alive and warm
suns and stars,
watching in absorption

Wind of wilderness
bewstow upon me too
silence, heartache, intoxication
and grace. 

Tanveer Anjum (b. 1956) : Not a Sound

		tr. Mehr Afshan Farooqi and Richard J. Cohen p.104

ust has spread through our homes
there's no rain this season
we let the last bit of torn cloud pass away
	like my disobedient son
	it won't come back. 

Hatred has spread through our hearts
there's no miracle in the night
we let the water run into the mud
	like an old man's lost vision
	it won't come back

Death has spread through our bodies
there's no sound in these lanes
we let blood run in the streets
	like my lost god
	it won't come back.




Akbar Ilahabadi (1846-1921)
   Lightning in Church
   Satirical Verses

Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938)
   Wild Poppy
   The Spirit of the Earth Welcomes Adam

Fani Badayuni (1879-1941) : Ghazal
Hasrat Mohani (1875-1951) : Ghazal
Brij Narain Chakbast (1882-1926) : His Mother's Reply
Yagana Changezi (1883-1956) : Ghazal
Firaq Gorakhpuri (1896-1982) : Rubaiyat

Makhdoom Muhiuddin (1908-69)
   Beloved Child
   Our City

Asrarul ul Haq Majaz (1911-55) : To Aligarh: A Dedication

Nun Mim Rashid (1910-75)
   Hasan the Potter
   In the Depths of the Ocean

Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1912-84)
   Dawn of Freedom (August 1947)
   Brief Meeting

Miraji (1912-49)
   The Juhu Shore
   An Evening on the Far Side of the Wine Glass
   The Clerk's Love Song or the Love Song of the Clerk

Ali Sardar Jafri (1913-2000) : My Voyage
Majid Amjad (1914-74) : Urban Expresion

Akhtarul Iman (1915-2003)
   Keeping a Promise

Munibur Rahman (b. 1924)
   Fake Flowers
   Death of a Day
   In the Month of December

Nasir Kazmi( 1925-72)
   Dreams of a Forgotten Land
   Who Passes By?

Muhammad Alvi (b. 1927)
   A Poem

Khalilur Rahman Azmi (1927-74)
   Moment's Death

Ibne Insha (1927-78) : Ghazal

Zeb Ghori( 1928-85)

Balraj Komal (b. 1928)
   The Paper Boat
   Saba's Hands are Now Saffron
   The Little Rider

Munir Niazi (1928-2006)
   Cry in the Wilderness
   A Dream of Earthly Paradise in the Shadow of War
   From One World to Another
   Evening Among Enemies

Ahmad Mushtaq siitaq (b. 1929)

Rajinder Manchanda Bani (1932-81)

Zafar Iqbal i. (b. 1933)

Kumar Pashi  (1935-92)
   An Ancient Story
   The Free Citizen: An Introduction

Saqi Farooqi (b. 1936)
   An Injured Tomcat in an Empty Sack
   Sher Imdad Ali's Frog

   Iftikhar Jalib (1936-2003): Mist

Akhlaq Muhammad Khan Shahryar (b. 1936)

Adil Mansuri (b. 1936)
   On the Passing of My Father

Bilqees Zafirul Hasan (b.1938)
   Will You Be My Friend?
   Some Poems: Craving Indulgence

Irfan Siddiqi (1939-2004)

Kishwar Naheed (b. 1940)
   One of Many Stories
   I Feel It In My Bones
   Mother Am I?

Amjad Islam Amjad (b. 1944)
   Love's Story
   A Poem

Fahmida Riaz (b. 1946)
   Come, Bring Your Hand Here
   Four Walls and a Black Veil

Azra Abbas uas (b. 1948)
   Another Life

Sara Shagufta (1954—84)
   For Sheli, My Daughter
   A Debt

Tanveer Anjum (b. 1956)
   	Not a Sound
   	Death, Instantly

Prose Miscellany : Essays and sketches

Abdul Haq (1870-1961) : Hali
Hasan Nizami (1878-1955) : Guests are Pests
Mirza Farhatullah Beg (1884-1947) : Delhi's Last Mushairah
Ashraf Sabuhi (1905-90) : Mithu Bhatiyara
Shahid Ahmad Dkhilvi (1906-67) : Delights of Chowk
Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-55)  : Two Encounters with Agha Hashr Kashmiri
Ismat Chughtai an (1915-91) : Hellbound


Qaisari Begum (1888-1976) :  My Marriage
	:  Bashfulness of Brides
Shabbir Hasan Khan (1898-1982) (Josh Malihabadi) : Procession of Memories
	: Sarojini Naidu
Akhtar Husain Raipuri (1912-92) : Maulvi Abdul Haq's Little Zoo
Ale Ahmed Suroor (1911-2002) : Dreams Still Remain
Nida Fazli (b. 1938) : Beyond Walls


Imtiaz Ali Taj (1900-70) : Anarkali

Humour and satire

Rashid Ahmad Siddiqi (1896-1977) : Aligarh's Mushairah
Ahmad Shah Bukhari [Patras] (1898-1958) : The Saviour of Muridpur
Shaukat Thanavi (1904-63) : House of Wealth
Upendranath Ashk (1910-96) : Hats and Doctors
Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi (b. 1925) : A Fine Madness


Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958) : The Crow and the Bulbul
Safiya Akhtar (d. 1953) : Last Letters

Literary Anecdotes


Other reviews

Review: Khushwant Singh


Brevity, A One-Eyed Duchess

	 	Unforgivable omissions, insipid choices of prose and poetry and a
		novel theory on the origins of Urdu—these anthologies do scant
	 	justice to their grand design

"Being published by the Oxford University Press is like being married to a
duchess; the honour is somewhat greater than the pleasure," said a writer who
had made the grade. OUP is undoubtedly the most prestigious academic
publishing house in the world. I am pleased with myself because it has
provided me with a harem of three duchesses.

Mehr Farooqi, who is Professor of South Asian Literature at the University of
Virginia, has done better: she got two at one go.

I am green with envy. However, she is a lady: what will she do with

Professor Farooqi tells us that Urdu was born in Gujarat, travelled to the
Deccan and finally arrived in Delhi where it attained maturity. This is the
first time I’ve heard this theory. The general belief is that it is the
mixing of Turkish, Farsi and Arabic speaking soldiers in the armies of Muslim
invaders with Braj and Daccani speaking Hindu soldiers in military
cantonments that evolved into a new language called Urdu, meaning Camp. It
was also known as Rekhtaba. From Delhi it travelled to the Deccan and
elsewhere. Gradually, it replaced Farsi, the language of the aristocracy and
the law courts to become the common language of northern India.

What I found more mystifying than her genesis of Urdu was the omission of
three great poets from her volume on Urdu poetry: Zauq, Bahadur Shah Zafar
and the greatest in the pantheon of poets — Asadullah Khan Ghalib.  

Her justification is that the anthology comprises "modern" poets by which she
means mid-19th century or post-1850. It so happens that all three were alive
in 1850. Zauq died in 1855, Zafar in 1862 and Ghalib in 1869. She changes her
stance to mid-20th century for reasons which appear spurious. Any other
anthologist who omitted these three would die a thousand deaths. However,
Professor Farooqi opens her selections with Akbar Ilahabadi (1846-1921).

Equally baffling is Professor Farooqi’s selection of poems for the
authors she selects.  ... She has opted for the obscure and the short—rarely
giving more than a couple of verses to each. As a result, one is left asking,
"What is so great about this poetry that lovers of Urdu keep raving about?" I

Here is an example of her selection from Mohammed Iqbal (1877-1938) who is rated
as equal to Ghalib. The poem chosen is Wild Poppy:

	The lacquered dome, this world of loneliness
	The vastness of the arid plain
	Makes me afraid
	A traveller who lost his way
	That’s me
	A traveller who lost his way
	That’s you
	Poppy of the desert
	Where are you going?
	These mountains and these valleys
	Have no Moses. Otherwise
	Both I and You
	Are the fire of Sinai
	Why did you blossom forth?

And so on. One may well ask where is the poetry?  Where is Iqbal’s magical
music of words?  It is much the same with the remaining 38 poets in the

Most people think translators should be masters of the language of
the original provided they have a good working knowledge of English, whereas
it should be the opposite: translators should have adequate knowledge of the
original but must have mastery over English. The best translations of
Sanskrit into English were not by Sanskrit scholars who knew English but by
English scholars with working knowledge of Sanskrit, for example, Edwin
Arnold’s Light of Asia and John Brough’s Poems from the Sanskrit. Likewise
with Persian classics: men like Edward Fitzgerald made Omar Khayyam a
household name. Also Hafiz, Rumi, Sheikh Saadi came into English through
translations by Englishmen, not Persian scholars.

Much the best translations of Faiz Ahmed Faiz was done by the Scotsman Victor
Kernan.  The best translation of Tagore’s works is by William
Radice.  Premchand’s Godaan, rendered into English by the Hindi scholar
S.H. Vatsyayan ‘Ageya’, could not find a publisher; done by an American it
made a bestseller.

The point I make is that one has to be emotionally involved with English to
convey the original’s essence. Even to this day, Hindi novels translated by
Gillian Wright find publishers immediately; those translated by Indians have

Evidently, Professor Farooqi does not agree with me. To this litany of
negatives I add my personal grievance at being totally ignored. My
translation of Iqbal’s Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa (OUP) is now in its 14th
reprint. In the anthology Declaring Love in Four Languages (Penguin), done
jointly with Sharda Kaushik, the Urdu portion is by me. In Celebrating the
Best of Urdu Poetry (Penguin/Viking), done with Kamna Prasad, all
translations are mine. None of them finds a mention [even] in the
bibliography. I have reason to feel aggrieved.

The miscellany of prose that follows poetry has useful biodata of 20 writers
of prose comprising essayists and writers and belles lettres. But the writing
selected is mostly pedestrian.  At the end, there are a few witty
anecdotes; [here is an example.]

Akbar Ilahabadi, acknowledged as the wittiest Urdu poet, learnt
that a Maulvi claimed to have taught him all he knew. Ilahabadi hit back,
"Yes, Maulvi Sahib is right.... He used to teach me knowledge and I used to
teach him common sense. Both were unsuccessful. Neither did Maulvi Sahib
acquire sense nor I knowledge."

Revew by Eunice de Souza : Breaking Stereotypes

		Aug 21, 2008, Mumbai Mirror

Semi-erotic poems addressed to beautiful, cruel women or to boys, and the
maker of the poem… a wandering, socially irresponsible, very nearly mentally
deranged lover.”  These, according to Mehr Afshan Farooqi are the stereotypes
of Urdu literature in the minds of non-Urdu speakers.  “Like all popular
images,” she says, “this image is far from the truth, if not entirely false.”

Mehr Afshan Farooqi is professor of South Asian Literature at the University
of Virginia, and OUP have just published two volumes of Modern Urdu
Literature which she has edited. I treated myself to the volume containing
poetry and a prose miscellany — partly because it’s the poetry that interests
me, and partly because OUP books are so pricey.

It’s been worth it, though. The introduction gives us interesting insights
into the traditions of pre-modern Urdu literature, the forces that changed it
and nearly swept a lot of it away, and newer schools of thought regarding the
nature of poetry, society, and man’s place in it.

Urdu literature has had bad press in the subcontinent for the last hundred
and fifty years, Farooqui says. However, she does not develop her statement
that some of it came from the British. A few examples would have helped.

But some criticism came from Urdu scholars and critics who considered the
literature shallow, unrealistic and full of questionable premises about
life. Farooqui believes that part of the problem was that “the literary
tradition believed itself to be self-sufficient… the general principle for
newness was to recreate old themes and paradigms in a new manner.”

It was the events of 1857 that “changed the whole world for the Indian people
in general, and for Urdu writers in particular. Old assumptions about the
nature of literature and the role of man in society began to be questioned by
both writers and non-writers.” The poetry of Ghalib (1797-1869) was a crucial
factor in this change. So was the work of the reformer Sayyid Ahmad Khan
(1817-1898), and others who subscribed to his views.

The new “cosmopolitanism,” Farooqui says, helped to prepare the way for “a
truly cosmopolitan poet like Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) who could and did
draw upon many European and Asiatic traditions of literary and philosophical
thought to fashion his highly didactic but extremely beautiful poetry.”

The book includes writers from both India and Pakistan. Here is a short poem
by Kishwar Naheed (b 1940) whose family migrated to Lahore where she began
writing at an early age. The poem is called “One of Many Stories.” “Dust lay
on the dining table/I didn’t eat it after all/But on that dust/with my
finger/I wrote that/which I dared not tell you” And here are the opening
lines of Iqbal’s “Wild Poppy” which Farooqui says is a metaphysical poem
about human existence. The wild poppy is a symbol of freedom, but it too
finds it difficult to make its way through existence.

“This lacquered dome, this world of loneliness,/the vastness of this arid
plain/makes me afraid/ A traveler who lost his way/that’s me/A traveler who
lost his way/that’s you/Poppy of the desert/where are you going?/These
mountains and these valleys/have no Moses. Otherwise/both I and you/are the
fire of Sinai/Why did you blossom forth?/Why did I break away from my roots?”

And finally, here is Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1912-84) whose lines in “Dawn of
Freedom (August 1947) will surely find an echo in all of us.  “This scarred
morning light,/this Dawn, bearing the wounds of night,/surely, this is not
the morning we waited for/in whose ardent pursuit we had set out/hoping, that
somewhere, in the wild expanse of the skies/there must be a haven of the


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This review by Amit Mukerjee was last updated on : 2015 Sep 18