Shanul Haq Haqqee: lexicography was his first love

By Dr Rauf Parekh

Established in 1958, the Urdu Dictionary Board, Karachi, the then Urdu Development Board, was given the monumental task of compiling the most comprehensive dictionary of Urdu on philological principles and on the lines of the Oxford English Dictionary, the “grandmother” of all English dictionaries comprising 20 volumes and citing quotations from authentic sources for every word it listed. The Urdu Dictionary, compiled on historical principles, is to enlist each and every word of Urdu as done by its counterpart in English. So far, 21 volumes have been published.

Baba-i-Urdu Moulvi Abdul Haq was the board’s first chief editor and Shanul Haq Haqqee its first secretary. Haqqee Sahib not only did the groundwork of recruiting staff and stocking the library with rare books, he was also instrumental with a team of scholars in formulating the principles on which the 23-volume dictionary was to be based. Working simultaneously for his regular job at the ministry of information and on an honorary basis at the board, Haqqee Sahib devoted his entire leisure time to the board, working late into the night and even on holidays.

Though he had to quit the board with great displeasure and before seeing the tree (that he had tended for 17 years out of sheer love of the language) bear fruit, he had done the gigantic job: the draft of the first 12 volumes was ready, the first volume was in press and work on the remaining volumes was being carried out with the help of about one million citation cards prepared during his incumbency and thousands of which he had written himself. Much to the relief of Haqqee Sahib and the lovers of Urdu, the first volume of the Urdu Lughat (Tareekhi Usool Pur) left press in 1977, that is about two years after he left the board.

Shanul Haq Haqqee lived a rich and eventful life. At one stage he had a finger in every pie. He was the deputy director of the Department of Films & Publications; honorary secretary and member of the Urdu Dictionary Board; editor of the board’s quarterly ‘Urdu Nama’; remained occupied with administrative tasks; had to travel and attend meetings and mushaeras. Later he became the general manager (sales) at PTV but remained associated with the board till 1975.

During his tenure at the board, the spadework was done on a war footing and it seems that taking time off for composing poetry or other literary pursuits would have been impossible for a busy person like him. But his indefatigable energies and creative genius made it look quite easy to manage these contrasting tasks.

Shanul Haq Haqqee was a poet, translator, critic, research scholar, journalist, short-story writer, broadcaster, linguist, and lexicographer. But lexicography was his first love. This love, a result of ancestral influence, perhaps, as his father Ehteshamuddin Haqqee assisted Moulvi Abdul Haq in his Lughat-i-Kabeer, or Grand Urdu Dictionary, began very early in his career when he joined the government of India as a translator.

He had a fascination for words. Whatever he wrote, whether it was poetry or translations, be it criticism or journalism, it had a tinge of linguistic penchant, for his chief concern was words. His experimentation in poetry was basically an effort to understand the usage and vocabulary of Urdu. Following in the footsteps of Ameer Khusro, Haqqee Sahib composed Paheli, or riddle, and Kehmukarni, a kind of funny riddle. He even composed Rekhti, a genre of Urdu poetry written in the jargon of women and expressing sentiments peculiar to them.

Haqqee Sahib not only did a profound study of linguistics, he also learned calligraphy to fully comprehend the intricacies of Urdu’s Perso-Arabic script and developed a good hand at it. With a streak of artistic acumen, he even designed the titles of 11 of his own books.

Shanul Haq Haqqee was born in Delhi on September 15, 1917. Educated at Aligarh Muslim University and St Stephen’s College, Delhi, with English literature as major, Haqqee Sahib joined the government of India as a translator, monitor of broadcasts and assistant editor of the Urdu literary magazine Aaj-kal, just after completing his education in 1940. But on the reports of secret agencies he was declared unfit for government service in 1941 for having a progressive and revolutionary bent of mind. He worked as a copywriter in advertising agencies till 1947, when he migrated to Pakistan.

Unique as he was in his approach, Haqqee’s published works include some translations that are versatile and peculiar: Arthashastra, a translation of Acharya Chanakya’s treatise in Sanskrit on the art of government and politics; Mathnavi Qehr-i-Ishq, a versified translation of Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra; Anjaan Rahi, a translation of Jack Shaffer’s novel Shane; Teesri Dunya, translation of essays on politics and economy; Darpan Darpan, a translation of poetry from around the world; a versified translation of Bhagavd Gita; Soor-i-Israfeel is a versified translation of Qazi Nazr-ul-Islam’s selected poems.

Haqqee Sahib edited and compiled many anthologies of Urdu poetry.

Intikhab-i-Zafar is a selection of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s poetry. Nashed-i-Hurriyet is a collection recording the samples of nationalistic Urdu poetry of over 200 years and Khayaban-i-Pak is an anthology of versified translations of Pakistan’s folk and regional poetry rendered by 40 poets.

Hurf-i-Dil Rus and Taar-i-Pairahan are collection of Haqqee’s own poetry, a unique and exhilarating verse by any standard as Haqqee himself was a poet of no mean talents.

Nukta-i-Raaz and Lisani Masael-o-Lataef are collections of his critical and research articles which mostly deal with Urdu poetry, Urdu lexicon, idioms, vocabulary and the standard and correctness of Urdu.

Apart from Urdu Dictionary Board’s work, Haqqee Sahib compiled two dictionaries. The Oxford English-Urdu dictionary, a phenomenal work that instantly became a ‘must’ for every scholar and student of Urdu, is in fact a translation of the eighth edition of Oxford’s Concise English Dictionary. Farhang-i-Talaffuz is a pronunciation dictionary of Urdu.

Haqqee Sahib wrote his autobiography, albeit incomplete, which appeared in the monthly ‘Afkaar’, Karachi, in 40 instalments. With the departure of Shanul Haq Haqqee on October 11, 2005, we lost a scholar who was a connoisseur of Urdu words and idioms, so to speak. Shan-ul-Haq Haqqee died in Toronto, Canada, on October 11, 2005.

Margalla Towers’ collapse: lessons for high-rise buildings

By Aileen Qaiser

THE second anniversary of the October 8 earthquake brings back painful memories of the 70 over lives lost and the 80 over injured in the tragic collapse of what once was the first multi- storey residential complex in Islamabad, the Margalla Towers.

For the past two years, the former owner-residents of the Towers have not only had to cope with memories of how tragically their loved ones died, but they also have had to struggle for their rights — in the form of compensation for their lost properties and justice against the developers and builders of the Towers, viz., the owners of Chaudhry Construction Company (CCC) Associates and the Capital Development Authority (CDA).

The issue of compensation was settled last week just before the second anniversary of the earthquake, when the Supreme Court (SC) accepted the demand by the CDA to include the Rs90 million paid to the 143 apartment owners as rent after the Towers collapsed as part of the Rs1.75 billion compensation, which the SC had last month ordered the CDA to pay to the apartment owners.

However, justice in the form of punishment for the developers and CDA officials for criminal negligence in construction, and supervision respectively, has been more difficult to come by, despite the SC’s orders for the arrest of three main accused (Managing Director CCC Associates Ramzan Khokhar, his wife and engineer Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh) as well as for their extradition from the UK where they are residing.

The major obstacle in the extradition of the three accused is said to be the lack of an extradition treaty between the UK and Pakistan, with some ‘constitutional and legal problems’ reportedly holding up the signing of such a treaty for which talks between the two sides have apparently been going on this year. Even several others who had also been accused in the Margalla Towers collapse (mostly former employees of CDA and an architect Azhar Mehmood Qureshi) and who were arrested after the Towers’ collapse, have since been released on bail.

While the SC’s compensation judgment has provided some relief to the affectees of Margalla Towers, it seems unlikely, however, that the judgment will have any positive implication for the families of tens of thousands of other victims in NWFP and Azad Kashmir, who lost their lives in the October 8 earthquake when the buildings that they were in collapsed on them.

Firstly, compensation to the affectees of the Margalla Towers’ collapse has not been made on the basis of lives lost in the collapse, but on the basis of properties lost, with compensation being calculated according to whether the affectee had a one-, two-, three- or four-bedroom apartment in the former Margalla Towers.

Secondly, it is evident from the proceedings of the SC that blame for the collapse of the Towers was put not on the earthquake but on poor design and faulty construction. Although not made public yet, the conclusions of the inquiry report of the Prime Minister’s Inspection Commission reportedly also held the builder owners and CDA responsible for the Towers’ collapse rather than the earthquake per se.

Thirdly, the affectees of the Margalla Towers collapse were able to succeed in getting the compensation due mainly to the fact that they were ably organised (in the form of the Margalla Towers Residents Action Committee) and because they possessed the education, the resources and the political clout to get the appropriate FIR registered and fight the case through.

The resident owners of Margalla Towers were the ones who provided the necessary documentary evidence proving the negligence of CDA officials and the management of CCC Associates. They had been persistently pointing out the structural faults in the building since it was completed in 1998. In fact, it was the residents who reportedly arranged an inspection team of experts in October 1998 to locate the structural defects in the Towers, and compile a comprehensive report. Neither the CCC Associates nor CDA had apparently bothered to take any action.

As for the tens of thousands of other victims of the 2005 earthquake, many of whom were students of government schools and colleges in the NWFP and Azad Kashmir who died when their buildings collapsed on them, one can see how difficult it is for their relatively poorer families to organise themselves into action, a la the Margalla Towers Residents Action Committee, and prove in court that they should be compensated because their loved ones died due to shoddy construction and faulty design of the school or college buildings.

Although the recent SC judgment on compensation for the Margalla Towers affectees may not have implications for the families of other victims of the October 8 earthquake, the judgment could well have implications for real estate developers and consultancy and construction companies as it sets a precedent for compensation in future cases of structural collapses in Islamabad and elsewhere in the country that are due to poor design and faulty construction.

In this respect, the SC’s forthcoming judgment on the Margalla Towers case, in terms of punishment for those who have been accused of criminal negligence in the design and construction of the Towers, will be particularly significant for other similar cases of structural collapse in future.

Just a week before the second anniversary of the October 8 earthquake, the CDA announced that it was allowing construction of more multi-storey apartment buildings in the federal capital by permitting their construction in Zone-II and Zone-IV, in addition to Zone-V, Blue Area and in the Markaz of all sectors where construction of residential towers was previously permitted (Margalla Towers was located in F-10 Markaz).

There are several points of concern in this decision of the CDA. Firstly, is this a well-thought out decision by the CDA based on lessons drawn from the report of the Prime Minister’s Inspection Commission on the Margalla Towers tragedy and backed by improved building code legislation and other instruments to ensure that the designing and construction of future residential towers will not be faulty and shoddy like the Margalla Towers?

Secondly, how can we be sure that CDA will not repeat the same mistake that it allegedly committed in the case of the Margalla Towers, i.e., it dismissed repeated complaints by residents of structural faults in the building even after they got their building inspected by experts who compiled a report on the problem?

Thirdly, why hasn’t the 1,600-page report by the Prime Minister’s Inspection Commission on the Margalla Towers tragedy been made public yet and shouldn’t a decision to allow more multi-storey residential complexes in the city be made only after the report is made public?

The collapse of the Margalla Towers and many other structures in the 2005 earthquake ought to have been a wake-up call for us, particularly in the matter of construction quality, building codes and supervision of the construction industry, specially in high-rise and mega public structures. However, judging by the recent Shershah Bridge collapse in Karachi, the second significant structural collapse in the country after the Margalla Towers, it looks like we are still sleeping.

At least the Margalla Towers with all its shoddy construction and structural flaws stood upright for seven years, and even then it took an earthquake to trigger its collapse. The Shershah Bridge on the other hand lasted hardly a month after its inauguration and it did not even need an earthquake to aid its collapse.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007


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