URDU literature has had its fair share of eccentric and mercurial personalities. But they were, at the same time, brilliant scholars or authors and committed to the promotion of the Urdu language and literature. Moulvi Syed Waheeduddin Saleem Panipati was one such figure.
In his usual witty style, Mirza Faratullah Baig, the master sketch writer of Urdu, has written a pen-sketch of Waheeduddin Saleem. It paints the writer as an eccentric genius. But aside from eccentricity, he was known for his command over oriental languages and his knack for coining terms and Urdu equivalents for English technical words. Waheeduddin Saleem was a poet, academic and critic. Despite his knowledge and talent Saleem was little known until Sir Syed Ahmed Khan made him his literary assistant. But what made Saleem truly shine and stand him apart was Waz-i-Istelaahaat — his book on the rules and system of coining words.
Urdu terminology and its coinage has always been an issue. Many believed that Urdu terms were heavily tilted towards Arabic and Persian. Many felt that since coining scientific terms in Urdu was very difficult, the foreign scientific and technical terms should be adopted in Urdu as they were in English or other languages. Or worse still, the idea of teaching technical subjects in Urdu should be dropped altogether and sciences should be taught in English instead, something that is echoed even today. But very few know today that at Usmania University all the scientific and technical subjects were taught in Urdu, including medical and engineering sciences — and that too about a hundred years ago!
At Deccan’s ‘Daar-ut-tarjuma’, or translation bureau, thousands of terms were translated or re-coined in Urdu. The bureau translated about 400 books on different scientific and technical subjects into Urdu. And the books used the Urdu terms coined there. Waheeduddin Saleem, who had joined the bureau, had a penchant for coining words and terms. Moulvi Abdul Haq asked him to write a book on how to coin terms and new words in Urdu. His book Waz-i-Istelaahaat not only explains the rules of coinage but gives hundreds of Urdu suffixes and prefixes, with examples of compounds and phrases. First published in 1921 by Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu, the book’s four editions have been published; the last one was published about two decades ago. Many coinages given by Saleem have become a part of Urdu.
Maulvi Syed Waheeduddin Saleem Panipati was born into a poor family in 1867 in Panipat, the historic city north of Delhi. In 1882, he passed his middle school exams with distinction and was awarded a scholarship of rupees four (Rs4) per month, which enabled him to get admission to Lahore’s Oriental College. Here he did Munshi Fazil, a degree in oriental languages. Pressed hard for a livelihood, he accepted a teaching job at Sadiq Egerton College, Bahawalpur. Here his patron was General Azeemuddin Khan. But the general was murdered and Saleem had to quit. He then joined Calcutta’s Madrasa-i-Aalia as “Head Moulvi”. But Saleem fell ill and had to come back to his native town Panipat. Here he studied eastern medicine and started a clinic where eastern medicines were dispensed. But the venture did not take off. In July 1894, Altaf Hussain Hali, who much appreciated Saleem’s knowledge and command of oriental languages, took him to Aligarh and recommended him to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan for a some literary work. Sir Syed too was much impressed with his knowledge and appointed him as literary assistant.
When Sir Syed died in 1898, Waheeduddin Saleem launched a literary journal Ma’arif (not to be confused with the magazine with the same name, launched by Sulaiman Nadvi from Aazamgarh in 1916). Its first issue came out in July 1898. In November 1900, he brought his magazine to his native town Panipat, but it did not last longer and he had to close it down in December 1901. Saleem had a changeable, mercurial temperament and his varied career included a number of professions including printing. After the magazine’s closure, he started a press. He named it Hali Press and began printing and selling books. But in 1907, Nawab Mohsin-ul-Mulk asked Saleem to join Aligarh Institute Gazette’s editorial staff. He accepted the offer but came back to Panipat after a brief stint.
He then became the editor of Muslim Gazette, Lucknow. In those days the controversy over Kanpur mosque was a burning issue. Saleem wrote an article on the issue and was ordered by the British India government to leave the city within 12 hours. From here he went to Zamindar, a newspaper run by Zafar Ali Khan and which was frequently persecuted by the British authorities. Shortly after Saleem’s joining Zamindar, it was again asked to close down. As a result, Saleem had to return back once again to Panipat.
The ruler of Deccan was well aware of his skills in coining terms and asked him to join Daar-ut-tarjuma, or the Translation Bureau in Hyderabad (Deccan). Soon he was absorbed into Usmania University, where he served as professor till he breathed his last. Waheeduddin Saleem died in Malihabad on July 29, 1928.
Though known as a scholar, critic and essayist, Waheeduddin Saleem was a poet too and a collection of his poetry was published posthumously in 1938, under the title Afkaar-i-Saleem. Ifaadaat-i-Saleem is the collection of his articles.
Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2016
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