MIRZA Ghalib, one of the greatest poets that Urdu has ever produced, has enticed and intrigued some of the great minds for over one-and-a-half century. Among those great minds was Rasheed Hasan Khan (1925-2006), too, an Indian researcher, critic, philologist and a connoisseur of classical texts.

Rasheed Hasan Khan devoted much of his time and labour — among other literary pursuits — to restoring, editing and reproducing Urdu’s classical texts with accuracy and authenticity. Some of the versions of Urdu’s classical texts edited and annotated by him have come to be known as textbook examples of how to edit a text according to the principles of textual criticism.

Rasheed sahib had been working on a detailed index of words and phrases used by Ghalib in his Urdu divan. He completed it in three volumes and named it Ganjeena-i-Ma’ani Ka Tilism: Ishariya-i-Divan-i-Ghalib and submitted the manuscript to Delhi’s Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu Hind (ATUH) in April 2005, that is, about a year before his death. But due to unknown reasons the book could not be published and remained in the manuscript form for about 13 years. Finally, a few years ago Ather Farooqi, ATUH’s secretary, somehow managed to get it published in coordination with Delhi’s Ghalib Institute.

But, unlike recent past, now rarely a book or magazine arrives here from India through normal postal services. But luckily for the lovers of Ghalib in Pakistan, on Prof Tehseen Firaqi’s request the ATUH allowed the publication of a Pakistani edition of the book and Majlis-i-Taraqqi-i-Adab (MTA), Lahore, has published a Pakistani edition of the book in one volume. This 1,384-page bulky tome is a monumental work that Rasheed sahib compiled over the years and it is an epitome of meticulous research, scholarly insight and editing skills that Rasheed sahib had become very well-known for. He was also known, or rather had become “notorious”, as mentioned by Ather Farooqi in his preface, for “offending” people. But we know that it was in fact his stringent principles and strict approach for maintaining the high standard of research that offended people and it never was Rasheed sahib’s intention to offend anybody. But in India and Pakistan, authors usually expect critics and researchers to praise them even at the cost of honesty. But Rasheed sahib abhorred intellectual dishonesty and did not allow any leniency to his own work even. This honest and stern approach had become his hallmark and can easily be seen in his last work as well, though while working on this book, he was ailing and quite aged.

Compiling the vocabulary of a writer or poet is not something new and has been in vogue in the west for centuries. It is called author dictionary and an author dictionary enlists in alphabetical order all the words used by an author in his or her entire works and explains their different connotations.

But this book by Rasheed Hasan Khan is in fact not an author dictionary, as the word ‘ishariya’, or index, used in the subtitle of the book suggests. It is a concordance of Ghalib’s Urdu poetry. A concordance is slightly different from an author dictionary as a concordance provides the readers with the frequency of each and every word and idiom/phrase used by that specific author. It tells how many times a particular word or phrase has been used by an author in his or her work or works and reproduces each and every line as citation wherein that word has been used. Concordances, too, are common in the west as they help analyse an author’s works linguistically and statistically.

Before Rasheed Sahib’s Ishariya, a concordance of Ghalib’s Urdu poetry had been compiled. Titled Kashshaaf-ul-Alfaaz: Divan-i-Ghalib, it was compiled by Jamal Abdul Wajid and published in 2002 by Ghalib Institute, Delhi. But the problem with Jamal Abdul Wajid’s work is that finding a word as used by Ghalib is cumbersome due to its methodology. Secondly, it does not cover the entire Urdu poetry by Ghalib. But Rasheed sahib has given each and every line by Ghalib with a particular word and phrase. Also, Rasheed sahib has included almost the entire text of Ghalib’s Urdu poetry as compiled by Imtiaz Ali Khan A’rshi. Rasheed sahib’s intro is a virtual treasure and proffers invaluable information on Ghalib’s text, while explaining the methodology adapted. Footnotes, too, explain certain important aspects of the text.

Rasheed Hasan Khan’s last book, a beautiful monument of his mastery of the Urdu language and literature, is finally available to Pakistani readers and for this we must thank Ather Farooqi, Siddiq-ur-Rahman Qidvai, Raza Hyder and Tehseen Firaqi as it had not been possible without their cooperation and efforts. Ever since Tehseen Firaqi has taken over as director of the MTA, this organisation has been infused with new energy and has been publishing valuable works, both new and old ones. The publication of Ganjeena-i-ma’ani Ka Tilism is another feather in MTA’s cap.


Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2019