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DAWN - Features; June 12, 2002

June 12, 2002


Shah Jo Risalo’s first authentic version

DR Nabi Bakhsh Baloch has achieved a landmark in his career for which he had been toiling for 32 long years. He has succeeded in publishing the most authentic version of Shah Jo Risalo, which is the most comprehensively annotated and collated work of its kind. The work comprises seven volumes.

The launching ceremony of this great feat of research was performed at the National Seminar on Shah Abdul Latif in a Karachi hotel, recently.

Dr Baloch has many feathers in his cap. An Aligarian to the core, he has held almost all positions of eminence that could come to a distinguished scholar — the vice-chancellorship of Sindh University and chairmanship of the Sindhi Adabi Board, etc., etc., without making us feel that something undeserving has come his way. It appears that the way he has absorbed ‘honours’ only proves that he was ideally fitted to enhance the status of the jobs he undertook.

His scholarly achievements are solid. Having authored several books on Sindhi language, literature and education, the latest work, the seven-volume commentary on Shah Jo Risalo is, in fact, a magnum opus on Latifean studies, in that he has succeeded in sifting the chaff from the grain — authoritatively discarding the non-Latifean Abyat which had found currency due to unscientific method of editing of some well-known Risalo scholars. No editor of Shah Jo Risalo, prior to Dr Baloch, had succeeded in purging the Risalo of the unintended addition of verses of poets whose themes and diction could pass for Shah Latif’s poetry.

The Surs of the Risalo were compiled by three of Shah Latif’s disciples. The first published edition was the labour of love of German orientalist Erugh Trumpp, and quite a few editions followed Trumpp’s, but no edition could be regarded without the blemish of extrapolation.

I believe that the Shah Latif Seminar’s audience was surprised to have Dr Baloch’s account of his 32 years’ toil. I could see the glint in Dr Baloch’s eyes vying with that of an astro- physicist’s announcement of having discovered a new planet. Yes, the researchers also have their moments of triumph. Dr Baloch looked a different person that evening.

Now a brief summary of Dr Baloch’s account of the first authentic version of Shah Latif’s Risalo. The project, Dr Baloch stated, was taken up by the Sindhi Adabi Board. Dr Daudpota was supposed to lead them but he died before the project could take off. Dr Baloch stepped in in the late 1960s to take up the challenge. He worked for 32 years on the project besides working at, simultaneously, many other assignments. The first stage was to collect as many manuscripts — Biyazes — as possible. He collected some 49 Biyazes. He succeeded in getting copies of two rare manuscripts — one being part of the Persian archives at the India Office Library, London, and the other in Tehran at Bazaar-i-Shah bookshop dealing in rare manuscripts and books.

He dwelt at length about different editions of the Risalo. He thought that Dr Gurbakhshani’s edition was considered the best effort up to 1950, but Dr Gurbakhshani couldn’t do a good job because his knowledge of Persian was not reliable. He couldn’t sift the extraneous elements in the Risalo with the result that even the best of the edition was not authentic.

Dr Baloch, while succeeding in giving us a flawless version of the Risalo, has also provided the texts of other versions so that the extraneous elements in different editions could also be studied along with his authentic version. He has pointed out poets, wherever possible, whose verses became part of the Risalo with the passage of time.

He has employed the modern techniques of research — involving comparisons of different texts, and offering reasons why each and every extraneous element is to be discarded in the interest of having Shah Latif’s authentic Risalo. Isn’t a great event therefore to have the first authentic version of a great Sindhi poet who rightfully belongs to the galaxy of world’s important poets. The immense popularity of the Risalo places Shah Latif among the galaxy of those poets who are also the guardian-saints of their regions.

Dr Baloch, while giving us the first authentic Risalo in the history of Sindhi literature, has also provided Shah’s biography. In a way Dr Baloch has come out to be the R. A. Nicholson of Rumi and Boswell of Dr Johnson rolled into one. But a startling disclosure needs to be shared by the readers. Dr Baloch ruefully stated that while there was every reason to be justly happy, there is all the more a reason to be sad over a lateral development. Out of the 49 MSS which Dr Baloch had collected, only 10 or 11 remain. The rest have disappeared and nobody knows where to look up for them. Quite a sad news and he looked really perturbed.

I am not discussing the papers presented at the Shah Latif Seminar. Among the speakers were Marhab Qasmi, Afaq Siddiqui, Dr Fahmida Husain, Agha Khalid Salim, this scribe and Iftikhar Arif, the chairman of the Academy of Letters. Noted writer Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi performed the launching of Dr Baloch’s Risalo.

However, Dr Fahmida Husain’s article on the status of women in Sindh in the context of Shah Latif’s poetry merits attention. She discussed the issue of karo-kari (honour killing) and was of the view that efforts should be made to have an ideal gender equality in Sindh.

It is hoped that the Academy of Letters would regularly hold seminars on great poets of Pakistani languages because all of them have preached the gospel of love. The Academy should take up the translation of Dr Baloch’s version of the Risalo into Urdu.

Book on terrorism launched

KARACHI: ‘Terrorism the world over” is the them of the present edition of ‘Dunyazad’, a book series launched by Asif Farrukhi. The book, quite a hefty volume spread over around five hundred pages, was formally placed for comments by noted writers and poets, at Welcome Book Port on Monday.

Mushtaq Ahmad Yusfi presided over the gathering graced by the presence of Ms Zohra Nigah, Prof Saher Ansari, Ms Humra Khaleeque, Dr Aslam Farrukhi, Ms Shaheda Hasan, Ms Fatema Hasan and many others.

Yusfi was happy that Asif had introduced thematic editions of his journal like most prestigious publications of the West. Referring to the opinions expressed earlier on various manifestations of terrorism, he said it was not obligatory to poets and writers to immediately react and write on an event.

Zohra Nigah, who recited her verse ‘Gul Badshah’, carried by the journal, had slightly a different opinion.

A 13 year-old Afghan boy, his father and mother dead, his sister and brother having lost their limbs during bombing, stood in isolation with a gun to fight, for what and for whom he didn’t know. It was a moving verse. Others who recited their verses included Fatema Hasan and Shaheda Hassan.

Dr Aslam Farrukhi giving his views on ‘terrorism’ quoted generously from Urdu’s classical poetry, the verses composed in protest against the terror imposed by kings and warlords during the past centuries. It was also found in Daccan, when the Qutub Shahi poets in the face of the Mughal army found consolation in writing elegies.

Later Sauda, Mir and many other poets condemned terrorism and their protest was now part of Urdu poetry and history, Dr Farrukhi said and quoted Ghalib who expressed his grief over the destruction of Delhi in prose and also in poetry.

“Intolerance is also a part of terrorism”, he said.

Again it was Dr Aslam Farrukhi who raised the bewildering question of identifying a terrorist. Those fighting for their freedom were termed ‘terrorist’ and a person who was a hero among his people was a terrorist in the opposite camp. The political scenario in the present times had made the question highly complex, he opined.—Hasan Abidi