Ask any publisher of Urdu books, great or small, about the sale of Urdu books and probably you will have to bear with a litany of complaints, including dismal figures of ever-dwindling sales and readers’ declining interest towards books in general and Urdu books in particular.
Some booksellers may also join in the elegiac chorus. But all you draw would be blank stares when you ask the same people why then they don’t close down and do something else for a living instead.
What I want to say is that during the year 2013 most of the publishers of Urdu books kept on churning out new as well as old titles despite their never-ending albeit fake pessimism. What is more interesting is the fact that while some of them are reluctant to pay any royalties to authors or respect copyright laws, they not only reproduce old titles, especially the ones that are always in demand and sell well, but they themselves claim the copyrights of the works they have published illegally.
For instance, when Yaqoob Meeran Mujtahidi, an Indian lexicographer, died a few years ago, a Pakistani publisher pirated his three-volume Urdu-English dictionary and proudly printed “All rights reserved” on it.
Similarly, a publisher from Lahore recently reprinted Maulana Jafer Thanesari’s well-known autobiography “Kaala paani”, first published in 1884, and promptly warned the readers of legal action if any part is copied or reproduced in any form, conveniently forgetting that the copyright ends 50 years after author’s death (Jafer Thanesari died in 1905) and the publisher did not have any rights whatsoever to the work in the first place.
Interestingly, at least 10 different editions of “Kaala paani” by different publishers have so far appeared, not to mention its serialised publications in some journals.
While we delightfully note the reappearance of many Urdu classics and old titles penned by stalwarts such as Muhammad Husaain Azad, Altaf Hussain Haali, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Shibli Naumani and many more during the last couple of years, it is painful to see that some unscrupulous publishers even renamed some Urdu titles, especially works on history, philosophy and history of different religions, and did not bother to mention the title of the previous edition.
The year that just ended was a good one, in line with the recent past, for Urdu literature, both from points of view of the critics/readers and publishers/booksellers. New titles on fiction, poetry, religion, criticism, research and other non-fiction works, such as humour and autobiographies, appeared and some of them were quite well-received.
For example, Husain Ahmed Shirazi’s ‘Babu nagar’ was reckoned as a gust of fresh air to Urdu humour, which in recent past looked rather dried-up. It is perhaps easier to satirize when one has retired from the government job, just as Shirazi Sahib did. But those who occupy a sensitive government post can hardly afford to smile at the system, so it was nice to see Fasihuddin, an officer of Pakistan Police Service, put together his Urdu columns in a book titled ‘Khama bajosh’, and not mince his words while criticising the very system he works in.
Shujauddin Ghouri’s ‘Nairnag-e-mizah’, a collection of humorous articles also appeared in 2013. But the year definitely belonged to literary Urdu journals. Not only did the established ones bring out their new issues but some new entrants too made the horizon more colourful as these literary magazines put together creative as well as critical writings.
Going through these journals, one can have a comprehensive picture of recent trends in Urdu literature. Likewise, quite a few conferences and seminars on Urdu literature were organised successfully, discussing some important issues facing society and literature.
The deliberations of an international conference on ‘Literature and Co-existence’ at Shah Abdul Latif University, Khairpur, have been published by the university under the editorship of Yousuf Khushk and Soofia Khushk. New issues of research journals of Sindh University, Al-khair University, NUML and LUMS also appeared. Dr Shakeel Auj edited a special issue of ‘Al-tafseer’. It is on a very important and touchy issue as it discusses non-traditional and revolutionising ideas of Muslim scholars.
When it comes to fiction, Mustansar Husain Tarar’s new novel ‘Ay ghazaal-e-shab’ has been taken notice of by the critics. As for short story, Oxford published the selections of old maestros like Saadat Hasan Manto and Ghulam Abbas. It is heartening to note that Oxford has now regularly been coming up with new Urdu titles and selections from Urdu verse and short stories.
Collection of Muhammad Hameed Shahid’s short stories ‘Aadmi’, collection of Raees Fatima’s short stories ‘Be chehra log’ and Fehmida Riaz’s ‘Ham log’ made their marks.
The long wait for Aziz Hamid Madani’s complete works was finally over in 2013 when ‘Kulliyaat-e-Aziz Hamid Madani’ appeared. Edited by Zafar Saeed Saifi, the well-produced book is published jointly by Karachi Arts Council and Academy Bazyaft, Karachi.
Ameen Rahat Chughtai’s collection of ghazals ‘Dasht-e-shab’ reminds one that despite all the adversaries, ghazal is still Urdu’s most favourite poetic genre. But the most amazing is Peerzada Aashiq Kiranvi’s book ‘Aik ghazal’, as it is just one ghazal but it consists of 30,000 (yes, thirty thousand) couplets. A large and thick tome, it has over 1,150 pages and speaks volumes for the poet’s talents.
Razia Fasih Ahmed, a veteran fiction writer and humorist, came up with ‘Gul daste aur gul daaire’, a collection of pen-sketches. She has created vivid pictures of some of the renowned writers but typos have almost ruined a couple of sketches.
Rizwan Siddiqi’s travelogue ‘Malaysia mein chand roz’and Abida Rahmani’s autobiography ‘Mujhe yaad hai sab zara zara’ are some of the books that represent these genres in 2013. Arshad Mahmoood Nashad collected the letters of Prof Gian Chand Jain addressed to Rafiuddin Hashmi in his book ‘Gian naame’.
In 2013, the second edition of Naseer Turabi’s ‘Shearyaat’, a book describing common errors of usage and grammar, appeared and proved that readers still care for the linguistic issues and language. It would be unfair to comment on Oxford’s new Urdu-English dictionary since this writer has edited it.Quite a few research publications appeared during the year, for instance, Mahmood Aseer’s ‘Auraaq ki adabi khidmaat’, Muhammad Iftikhar Khokhar’s ‘Roushni ka safar’, Aziz Ahsan’s ‘Urdu naatiya adab ke inteqaadi sarmaae ka tehqiqi mutala’ and Atiya Huma Siddiqi’s ‘Prof Azhar Qadri: Hayaat-o-khidmaat’ are a few of them.
Abida Batool collected in book form articles on research techniques, research methodology and editing. Titled ‘Fan-e-tadveen’, the book is quite useful for research students. On criticism, again we have a rich contribution this year as well. Some of the critical works include ‘Ma baad nauabadiyat’ by Nasir Abbas Nayyar, ‘Post modernism and Urdu ghazal’, by Qaiser Alam, and ‘Urdu shaeri ki chand klassiki asnaaf’ by Tanzeem-ul-Firdous.
It is just an overview of the works that were published in 2013 and it is regretted that it is possible to mention only a handful of books in these columns due to limited space. Also, most of the books already discussed in the earlier pieces during the 2013 have not been repeated here.