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ONE of the recent trends among writers and researchers of Urdu is to blow one’s own trumpet.

Agreed, writers usually have a marked narcissist tendency and it has been observed before, too, but these days they might be going a bit overboard by trying to convince fellow writers and critics of one’s own presumed (mostly non-existent) talents. In fact, asking others for favourable reviews has gone to such heights that it has become quite sickening.

It’s not that I suffer from a phobia of altitudes. Heights do not make me sick. But claiming a place at the lofty peaks next to Ghalib and Iqbal is indeed rather morbid. One expects at least some sophistication and delicacy in execution of public relation from those who claim to be ‘intellectuals’.

Though a few writers and critics of Urdu today still remain immune to this ‘praise-me’ virus and but it has spread like an epidemic in our literary circles. Among those who remain immune to it is the an unsung hero known as Dr Hilal Naqvi who has been working for decades on Urdu marsiya and Josh Maleehabadi with great dedication.

This publicity-shy scholar believes in putting one’s head down and working quietly, leaving the book launchings and so-called literary gatherings to those who seek recognition without doing any real hard work. Consequently, and contrary to the publicity-seeking critics and writers, Dr Naqvi has to his credit some fine books that any researcher can be proud of.

Born in Rawalpindi in 1950, Dr Hilal Naqvi obtained a master’s degree in Urdu and went on to earn a doctorate on the topic of ‘The new Urdu marsiya in the 20th century’. A poet as well as a researcher, critic, academician and editor, his first collection of poetry appeared when he was just 19 years old. Besides more poetry collections, Dr Naqvi has also published many critical and research works, including several on Urdu marsiya.

Another topic haunting him is Josh Maleehabadi, the great poet who had become a controversial figure in his lifetime. In a way, Hilal Naqvi is a Josh Sahib’s disciple and has been very close to him and this is how he has access to many rare and unpublished manuscripts. The research and critical work Naqvi published on Josh Sahib is not a mere outcome of his intimacy and affiliation with Josh but it is also a reward for all his hard work: Dr Naqvi has been on the trail of Josh relics all his life and has been able to find and preserve several of them. Recently, he discovered and the unpublished portions of ‘Yaadon ki baraat’, Josh’s epoch-making and controversial autobiography, and published them.

Aside from teaching Urdu at Karachi University’s Pakistan Study Centre, Naqvi edits two literary magazines: ‘Josh Shanasi’, a journal on Josh studies, and ‘Risaai adab’ a quarterly devoted to elegiac literature. Of late, ‘Risaai adab’ has achieved a remarkable feat and its 1,200-page, large-sized special issue commemorating the bicentennial of the great Mirza Salamat Ali Dabeer (1803-1875), one of the greatest marsiya writers in Urdu.

In fact, it was Dabeer and Mir Anees who played a pivotal role in the transformation of Urdu marsiya in the 19th century. Though before the duo, a few poets including Khaleeq and Zameer had been composing karbalai marsiya, Anees and Dabeer took it to new heights and set a standard that later-day poets could only wish and strive for.

It is well known that many poets — just like Shibli No’mani — prefer Anees to Dabeer, but the fact is that Dabeer’s contribution to marsiya was no lesser than Anees’s. Secondly, it is a matter of personal taste as well, as a poet like Ghalib preferred Dabeer over Anees. Naasikh, a poet much senior to Dabeer, used to go and listen to Dabeer’s recitation of marsiya.

However, it can be said that Dabeer’s style was slightly different from Anees’s and the reason was that Dabeer followed Naasikh’s poetic tradition which favoured imagination, allusion and a peculiar use of language. It was also the prevalent literary taste of Lucknow where Dabeer was presenting his art and, as Jameel Jalibi pointed out, it was actually Lucknavi culture that was being depicted by Naasikh in his poetry.

But with a strange twist of events and change of times, literary tastes changed and Dabeer fell out of favour and it would be unfair to assume that Dabeer was a poet of lesser merit or Anees and Dabeer had any professional rivalry, as some love to presume.

Hilal Naqvi and Hadi Askari, the chief editor and the publisher of ‘Risaai adab’, deserve our gratitude as Dabeer is a poet unduly neglected and unnecessarily pitted against Anees. What is deplorable is that fact that no complete, authentic text of Dabeer’s poetry is available and critical work on him too is buried in the files of literary journals.

Packed between the covers of this special issue of ‘Risaai adab’ on Dabeer are over 100 researched-based critical articles and a selection of Dabeer’s marsiyas. The editors have done well to reproduce some important articles by scholars of the past and luckily, have also included the debate over “Aneesiye” and “Dabeeriye”, the two schools favouring the two poets. The issue also gives excerpts from Shibli No’mani’s ‘Mavazna-i-Anees-o-Dabeer’, a classic that also contributed, in a way, to the Anees-Dabeer controversy.

The contributors include prominent names such as that of Prof Karrar Hussain, Masood Hasan Rizvi Adeeb, Abul Lais Siddiqi, Afsar Siddiqi Amrohvi, Ahsan Farooqi, Vaqar Aazeem, Abdur Rauf Urooj, Jameel Jalibi, Shamsur Rahman Farooqi, Gopi Chand Narang, Saleem Akhter, Sahar Ansari, Qudrat Naqvi, Abu Muhammad Sahar, Muhammad Raza Kazmi, Hilal Naqvi and Naseer Turabi. Fortunately, some writings and the editorial itself successfully dispel the impression that there was any rivalry between these two marsiya writers.

Hilal Naqvi had been working on the issue since long and had planned to present it in 2003 which would have coincided with Dabeer’s bicentennial. But then he fell seriously ill. However, when recovered, he first presented two special issues on Anees and then finally came up with this issue on Dabeer.

One hopes that writers affected by the ‘praise-me’ virus would take a cue from this remarkable feat and would start some serious work to earn a seat in the hall of fame that they long for.