NEW DELHI: Celebrated Urdu critic Shamsur Rehman Faruqi, who began his literary journey by waiting for many an editor’s rejection slip and discovered his early success printed on a grocer’s paper bag, succumbed to complications from coronavirus on Friday, a month after apparently recovering from it. He was 85.

Among Urdu’s most respected literary critics, poets and authors, Mr Faruqi died at his home in Allahabad shortly after being brought there by his family from Delhi.

“He had been insisting to go back to his home in Allahabad. We reached here only this morning and within half an hour he passed away at around 11,” nephew and writer Mahmood Farooqui told Press Trust of India.

Mr Faruqi was discharged from a hospital in Delhi on November 23 after apparently recovering from coronavirus.

“But due to steroids, he developed a fungal infection, mycosis, which further worsened his condition,” Mahmood Farooqui added.

Born on September 30, 1935, in Uttar Pradesh, Faruqi is credited to have revived ‘Dastangoi’, a 16th-century Urdu oral storytelling art form.

His books Mirror of Beauty (translated into English from Kai Chaand Thay Sar-i-Aasmaan in 2006), Ghalib Afsaney Ki Himayat Mein (1989) and The Sun That Rose From The Earth (2014) are among others he wrote in his five-decade-long literary career.

Faruqi, a lifelong bookworm, is credited with creating a literary counterpoint to the genre of writing and poetry promoted by the Progressive Writers’ Association, but he bore no animus to their social commitment.

He started Shabkhoon, a widely acclaimed literary magazine in the 1960s, as part of an attempt to free Urdu literature from the domination of imperial narratives. At that time, the Urdu literati had begun to recognise a sense of lethargy and the possibility of an imminent decline in Urdu literature.

Indian intellectuals and writers had created the Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA) in 1935. It was their response to fascist and imperialist regimes. Conceived in London, by writers such as Sajjad Zaheer, Mulk Raj Anand and Jyotirmaya Ghosh, the PWA’s leading lights included Ahmed Ali, Prem Chand and Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

These figures articulated the belief that Indian literature ought to deal with societal issues, such as hunger, poverty and political subjugation. Other ways of seeing things, according to Faruqi, were not considered literature and not encouraged, and the PWA steadily lost momentum.

Faruqi sought to fill the vacuum with Shabkhoon — a surprise attack by night. “It alluded to the act of shaking the world of literature out of stasis,” he told Nikhil Kumar for the Caravan magazine in April 2019.

Until he retired, he worked on the magazine at nights after his day job as a civil servant. The magazine ran successfully for 40 years.

It would be an understatement to say that Faruqi cultivated other interests over this period too, says Kumar. He studied the development and history of the Urdu language and its subtleties, explored the conventions of Urdu poetry and revived the lost tradition of the dastan — oral storytelling.

He also established himself as a writer and translator of fiction, drama and poetry; compiled a dictionary; and wrote literary criticism, in which he often expressed unpopular views.

Faruqi’s paternal grandfather was a headmaster, at the Normal School, Gorakhpur, where Prem Chand had also studied.

His cousins recalled in a documentary made by Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad, that he would read while walking to school, as his friends or brothers flanked him for his safety.

His elder daughter, Mehr Afshan Farooqi, an associate professor of South Asian literatures at the University of Virginia, told Caravan that he was always “deeply engrossed in reading. He had a book open while eating dinner or drinking tea.”

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2020

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