DAWN - Features; February 03, 2009

Published February 3, 2009

Prof Masood Hussain Khan turns 90

By Rauf Parekh

One of the most redoubtable linguists and scholars of Urdu, Prof Masood Hussain Khan, turned 90 on January 28 this year. I cannot say for sure whether he celebrated his birthday for he lives in India, but his students, colleagues, fans and the lovers of Urdu all over the world celebrated it in their own ways. For instance, Prof Dr Mirza Khalil Ahmed Beg, an Indian linguist and scholar, celebrated it by writing an article on Prof Masood Sahib and his services for Urdu, paying tributes to extraordinary erudition of the nonagenarian scholar who truly deserves it.

Prof Masood Sahib has come a long way since he began his literary and scholarly odyssey some 65 years ago. Orphaned at the age of two, Masood Sahib himself must have known very little what destiny had in store when he began his career in 1943 at All India Radio, Delhi, as programme assistant: he was to rise to eminence as a research scholar, critic, poet, lexicographer, university teacher and, above all, linguist who advanced a new theory on Urdu’s birth, contradicting all theories hitherto popular among scholars.

Prof Masood’s magnum opus, ‘Muqaddama-e-tareekh-e-zaban-e-Urdu’, describes in detail the history of Urdu’s origin and development. On account of coherence and plausibility, the book is considered to offer one of the most acceptable theories on the genesis and development of Urdu. He proved his theory with historical and authentic evidence, taking into account the formation of Indo-Aryan languages. Keeping in view the theories of historical linguistics and ancient sources, he proved that Urdu was born in and around Delhi. According to him, four vernacular dialects, namely Brij bhasha, Mewati, Haryanvi and Khari boli, exerted their influences on Urdu during its long formative phases and among them Haryanvi and Khari boli were the ones that proved to be more decisive. Later, the same language reached Deccan in the 13th and 14th centuries AD with the Muslim armies and slowly but surely gained refinement over the centuries and a standard Urdu language emerged.

Before Masood Sahib, Muhammad Hussain Azad, Hafiz Mahmood Sheerani, Shamsullah Qadri, Mohiuddin Qadri Zor, Syed Sulaiman Nadvi, T. Grahame Bailey and some other scholars had presented their theories on Urdu’s origin but none found favour with Masood sahib. So he set out to find for himself the truth. His advantage? A keen study of the Indo-Aryan linguistics and an understanding of the Shaurseni Prakrit that later developed into dialects, such as Khari boli, spoken in and around Delhi. In his opinion, the emergence of these modern Indo-Aryan dialects could not have begun earlier than 1000 AD and, therefore, Hafiz Mahmood Sheerani’s theory that saw Punjab as the cradle of Urdu and premised that Urdu was a language that was brought to Delhi by Muslim armies after the conquest of Punjab, was not plausible. First published in 1948, the book, originally his PhD dissertation, has run into many editions in India and Pakistan.

Phonetics is the other forte of Prof Masood Hussain Khan’s. He was the first to analyse the words of Urdu from a phonological point of view. During his stay in London, Masood Sahib had had a chance to benefit from the insights of Prof J. R. Firth who was the first to introduce the concept of ‘Prosodic Phonology’. Basing his DLit thesis ‘A phonetic and phonological study of the word in Urdu’ on Firth’s theory, he carried out research that was published in 1954. Said to be a rare feat of descriptive linguistics, it was translated into Urdu and published by Prof Mirza Khalil Beg in 1984.

Another sphere of Masood Sahib’s scholarly interest is literary criticism but at the beginning of his literary career he used to scoff at the then prevalent trend of criticism that indulged in flowery language and had become too rhetoric. The so-called ‘impressionistic school of literary criticism’ used to eulogise literary works in a way that reeked of romanticism and based evaluation on subjectivity rather than on any literary theory. ‘Stylistics’ is a significant branch of applied linguistics. During his stay in the US, Masood Sahib was inspired, says Prof Khalil Beg, by the theory of stylistics presented by Prof Archibald A. Hill. He then began applying linguistics to Urdu literary criticism and wrote many articles on Ghalib, Iqbal and Fani, not only presenting the linguistic critical analysis of their poetry but also laying the foundations for what came to be known as linguistic criticism in Urdu which later served as a launching pad for other critics such as Gopi Chand Narang, Mughni Tabassum and Mirza Khalil Beg.

His assertion that Prem Chand’s Urdu novel ‘Gaodaan’ is not Prem Chand’s original work in Urdu but a translation of Prem Chand’s Hindi novel by the same title and that it was rendered into Urdu by Iqbal Bahadur Varma Sahar took the literary world by storm. Many doubted Masood Sahib’s intentions. Manik Toula, a Prem Chand scholar, said Masood Sahib was trying to ‘disown’ Prem Chand as an Urdu writer. Even scholar of Gian Chand Jain’s stature accused Masood Sahib of ‘literary Jihad’. But the evidence brought to light by Masood Sahib was so genuine that it had to be accepted that the Urdu rendering of ‘Gaodaan’ began only after Prem Chand’s death.

Masood Sahib commands respect of Urdu researchers when it comes to editing classical Urdu texts. Aside from other rare manuscripts discovered and edited by Masood Sahib, ‘Qissa-e-Mahr Afroz-o-Dilbar’, edited and annotated by him, is a work that brought to light an important rare ‘daastaan’. He has a rare insight into Dakani and Dakaniyat. He calls the Dakani dialect of Urdu ‘the Old Urdu’. A remarkable work of his on Dakani is the compilation and publication of a Dakani Urdu dictionary that has been compiled on the basis of a large number of rare and unpublished manuscripts, citing the couplets of Dakani along with the words and meanings. He also worked on an Urdu dictionary that was being compiled by Delhi’s Taraqqi-e-Urdu Bureau but it could not be published. When he came to Pakistan in the early 1980s, the Urdu Dictionary Board consulted him on their flagship dictionary.

Born in Qaimganj, district Farkhabad, UP, on January 28, 1919, Masood Hussain Khan belongs to a family that has been prominent due to its educational, literary and political services. His paternal uncles are just as well known and legendary as the living legend that he himself has become. They are: Dr Zakir Hussain Khan, the educationist who finally rose to be President of India; Dr Yousuf Hussain Khan, the professor at Usmania University and Urdu’s renowned critic who later became pro-vice chancellor at Aligarh Muslim University; Dr Mahmood Hussain Khan, the professor at Karachi University who later became Dhaka University’s vice chancellor and held other important posts such as minister.After quitting the All India Radio job within six months of joining it, he joined Aligarh Muslim University’s Urdu department as lecturer. In 1962, he became chairman at Usmania University’s Urdu department where he served till 1968 when he was made the head of the linguistics department at Aligarh. Between 1973 and 1978 he served Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia as vice chancellor and remained Aligarh’s Urdu University’s vice chancellor for quite sometime. Aside from editing many literary and research journals, he remained Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu Hind’s acting general secretary during 1969-1970. He has a large number of books to his credit including his autobiography ‘Wurood-e-masood’ and the collection of his poetry ‘Do neem’.


The student transport quagmire

ONE of the things by which governments’ commitment to education of their citizens can be judged is the policy on student transport which determines accessibility of their people to education.

Here in Islamabad, male students are often seen riding dangerously on the rooftops, footboards and back bumpers of public buses – a scene often captured in newspaper photographs and blamed on insufficient public buses and an inefficient public transport.

Male students are also often seen spilling hazardously on the sides and medians of some major roads after school or college trying to catch public transport or hitch a ride home. This problem is most evident on the portion of Islamabad Highway adjoining H-8 sector, which houses a couple of male public educational institutions.

These two scenarios are not only pointers at our failure to inculcate a safety culture in our society but also reflections of the importance (or lack of it) which we attach to education and to our children’s future.

The repercussion: the death of a student in a recent hit-and-run accident on Islamabad Highway, apart from many near accidents of the sort daily.

The concerned authorities instead of putting their heads together and solving the transport problem of students, have apparently thrown the ball into the court of the general public. The Islamabad Traffic Police (ITP) last week made a civic appeal to motorists to give these students on the roads a lift, their easy travel to and from their educational institutions described as “our responsibility”.

Elsewhere abroad, the responsibility for student transport lies with the government. Many countries/states have specific student transport programmes to assist families with education by providing accessibility and easing transport costs, but encouraging the general public to oblige students hitching rides is definitely not one of these initiatives.

In welfare state Britain, public transport is free for all under-18 students and students who are above 18 are entitled 33 per cent discount on public transport fares.

In the Australian state of New South Wales, the School Student Transport Scheme, which provides free travel for school students on rail, bus, ferry and long distance coach services, began decades ago as a way to make sure rural kids get to school but it was later extended to city kids.

The Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) had introduced the Student Transport Programme in 2002 which provides eligible primary, high school and college students with free travel on weekdays.

More recently, the Australian states of Victoria and Northern Territory have also announced plans to make public transport free for all children and full time students.

Bermuda also recently made travel on public buses and ferries free for its students.

The effectiveness of such schemes is of course dependent on reliable and efficient public transport systems.

In North America on the other hand, student transportation is handled by the Student Transportation of America, under which more than 475,000 yellow school buses transport millions of students to and from school each day.

In Islamabad, students studying in government schools and colleges – especially primary students and girl school/college students – have long benefited from the familiar blue-coloured buses of the school/college bus transport scheme run by the ministry of education.

According to a recent report, over 150 such buses ply in Islamabad under this scheme but over 150 more buses are said to be needed to ensure that most if not all students, especially students from boys’ schools and colleges, are also catered to.

At the end of last year, the Islamabad Traffic Police initiated a move to try and solve the student transport problem by holding consultations with the federal territory’s education and transport authorities as well as with the administrations of various government colleges, especially those in H-8 and H-9 sectors. Nothing concrete seems to have emerged from these consultations, judging by the ITP’s appeal last week to motorists to give students a lift.

Unless more school/college buses are procured for students in boys schools and male colleges or alternatively, more public buses are deployed on the roads, especially on the routes of boys’ schools and male colleges, it will be a futile task for the ITP to crack the whip on bus rooftop and footboard travel.

Our students’ transport and accessibility problems can only be solved if we are really concerned about the future of our youth and committed to assisting families with education and encouraging our young people to achieve the very best they can.



18 May, 2022

SC on defections

THE judgement is monumental and will significantly influence Pakistani politics for years to come. After a nearly...
18 May, 2022

Karachi blast

THE frequency of urban terrorism incidents over the past few weeks in Karachi should send alarm bells ringing within...
18 May, 2022

Threats to Imran Khan

IT seems there is never a dull moment in Imran Khan’s life. First, it was a cabal of local and international...
Updated 17 May, 2022

Buyer’s remorse

It is strange to hear senior PML-N leaders lamenting the subsidies, yet not even coming up with a subsidy rationalisation plan.
17 May, 2022

Sikh traders’ killing

THE brutal murder of two Sikh traders in the outskirts of Peshawar on Sunday illustrates the vulnerability of...
17 May, 2022

Cholera outbreak

REPORTS of rising cases of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea in several areas are raising the spectre of a public...