TEXTUAL criticism, as defined by Britannica, is “the technique of restoring texts as nearly as possible to their original form”.
Textual criticism deals with the authenticity, correct attribution, interpretation and literary and historical evaluation of texts by analysing technical, linguistic, aesthetic, historical and/or literary aspects, says Britannica.
In Urdu, textual criticism is often called tadveen (literally: editing) or taseeh-o-tadveen-e-matn (literally: correction and editing of text). Some critics stress tehqeeq (literally: research) while naming it. As an equivalent of ‘textual criticism’, Dr Khaliq Anjum used the term matni tanqeed, almost a verbatim translation. His book titled ‘Matni tanqeed was a groundbreaking work on this topic in Urdu and soon became a textbook for the students doing MPhil or PhD in Urdu literature.
For the students of literature, knowing the history as well as principles of textual criticism is must, especially if they intend to carry out a research on old texts and/or want to edit literary works. A new book, just published by Lahore’s Kitabi Dunya, would come in handy for such students. Titled Urdu mein tadveen-e-matn: fan aur rivayet, it was first published from India and now a Pakistani edition has made it easier for Pakistani readers to grab a copy, since the arrival of books and magazines from India has virtually stopped.
Author Dr Aqeel Ahmed, an Aligarh Muslim University alumnus and young researcher from Bihar, India, first defines what textual criticism is and then goes on to describe its principles. In the second chapter, he narrates a brief history of Urdu’s textual criticism and the next eight chapters analyse the edited critical works of some of Urdu’s eminent researchers.
In his intro, the author defines textual criticism as: “textual criticism is a branch of research. As a term it means to edit a text according to authorial intention and to purge the text of any changes, distortions, interpolations or any unauthorised additional portions”.
Aqeel Ahmed says it was Shibli Naumani who pioneered the textual criticism in Urdu by editing and publishing Mirza Ali Lutf’s Gulshan-e-Hind in 1906. Before Shibli, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had edited some works but they were Persian texts, not Urdu. After Shibli, Moulvi Abdul Haq edited and published a large number of Dakani Urdu manuscripts that were mostly in debilitating and decaying state and could have been lost forever.
Next to come was Hafiz Mahmood Sherani, a scholar who edited Qudratullah Qasim’s Majmoo’a-e-naghz. Sherani was not only able to read the damaged manuscript found in Muhammad Husain Azad’s library and to edit it meticulously while comparing it with another manuscript housed at London’s India Office Library, but he also proved that the manuscript is in fact the basic source of Muhammad Husain Azad’s evergreen book Aab-e-hayat, says Aqeel Ahmed.
Dr Mohiuddin Qadri Zor edited several texts but most famous among them is Kulliyaat-e-Qulli Qutb Shah, albeit Rasheed Hasan Khan criticised it and pointed out several lapses in its editing. But the author gives credit to Dr Zor for bringing forth a rare text. Imtiaz Ali Khan Arshi is a scholar known for his edited version of Ghalib’s Urdu divan, Ghalib’s letters and Dastoor-ul-fasahat.
Other textual critics taken into account in the book under review are: Malik Ram, Prof Nazeer Ahmed, Masood Husain Khan, Rasheed Hasan Khan, Mukhtaruddin Ahmed, Jameel Jalibi and Haneef Naqvi.
One feels that this list is incomplete and many other researchers who did some remarkable works in the field of textual criticism have been left out. Aqeel Ahmed in his foreword has shown his inability to incorporate all the scholars for want of space and says that only those critics have been included who can be called “representatives” of textual criticism and who have left their mark.
Constrains of space and time must have been there, but at least in the foreword or the concluding chapter, which is missing altogether, by the way, names of some of the bigwigs, for example, Waheed Qureshi, Syed Abdullah, Ibadat Barelvi, Imtiaz Ali Taj, Khalil-ur-Rahman Dawoodi, Kalb-e-Ali Khan Faiq, Iqtida Hasan, Noor-ul-Hasan Naqvi, Afsar Siddiqi Amrohvi, Qazi Abdul Wadood, Khwaja Ahmed Farooqi, Masood Hasan Rizvi Adeeb, Khaliq Anjum and Kalidas Gupta Raza could have been mentioned.
It is true that history of Urdu criticism is too long to be captured in a 600-page volume, but what the author could have done was to be selective on the basis of some criterion. For example, prominent scholars belonging to India whose works had appeared in pre-Independence era could have been included. Or he might have chosen scholars from Pakistan and India in post- independent era, delimiting the scope of research. In the present form, the book does justification neither to Indian nor to Pakistani scholars. However, it is a work much needed.
Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2021