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Surge in cost of building literary bridges with India

August 14, 2012


 – File photo courtesy Creative Commons
– File photo courtesy Creative Commons

AN Urdu-language book from India on Sir Syed Ahmed Khan by such a veteran writer as Prof Asgher Abbas is something to relish. Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library, Patna, India, is known world over for its Arabic, Persian and Urdu manuscripts and rare books as well as research publications.

Until a few years ago, it sent its Urdu research journal and other publications to Pakistani writers and scholars, who sent their books for the library as a gesture of reciprocity. Similarly, Delhi’s Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu Hind not only gratefully acknowledges receipt of Pakistani publications for its library, but also sends its magazines and other publications in return.

Though a few months ago this writer received two issues of the Anjuman’s quarterly research journal Urdu Adab, it was after a long gap. Kitab Numa, the Urdu literary monthly published from Delhi, has stopped sending its issues to many in Pakistan; even to those who had been receiving it for decades and contributing to it also. Likewise, Mubeen Mirza, the editor of Karachi’s literary journal Mukalama told this writer that instead of sending the journal to India in bulk, as they earlier did, they now posted only a limited number of copies to Indian lovers of Urdu literature.

There are many writers and academics on both sides of the border who exchanged books through post. This flow of books and other publications shrunk to a trickle a few years ago when postal rates were raised thoughtlessly and despite repeated protests from different quarters, the decision was not reversed. And now the rates are so high that sending a book to Pakistan (or to India) costs more than the book’s price. Academics and intellectuals of one country are not fully aware as to what is happening on the academic and literary front in the other country.

While the political front is abuzz as usual and confidence-building measures are being taken, both countries must consider reducing postal rates as another step in the same direction. Books are not bombs; they won’t explode.

New Indian Urdu publications are becoming more and more difficult to get here.

It was indeed an ecstatic experience to receive a few parcels from India containing new publications. Prof Dr Asgher Abbas in Aligarh sent me the third edition of Sir Syed Ki Sahafat — his dissertation on Sir Syed’s journalistic achievements. Dr Shahabuddin Saqib, from Aligarh Muslim University’s Urdu department, sent in his three new books: Iqd-i-Surayya (the ‘tazkira’ of Persian poets by Ghulam Hamdani Mushafi edited by Dr Saqib), Naqd-o-Justujoo (a collection of his research and critical articles), and Shehr Mere Khwaab Ka (a collection of his poetry). But the thought of money that these academics must have paid for sending over these books is disappointing.

Khaleeq Anjum and Dr Aslam Pervez of the Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urud Hind send their publications usually through Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu Pakistan, but still it won’t be inexpensive. These two issues of Urdu Adab got quite late in transit. This may be blamed on surface mail, which in this age of email is truly called ‘snail mail’. But the fact that these issues are packed with informative and thought-provoking contents made up for the delay.

Contrary to some literary journals, Aslam Pervez’s editorials in Urdu Adab, titled Pehla Varq, are no run-of-the-mill job. In every issue, he brings forth some food for thought and these two issues, too, carry two of his scholarly pieces. Special sections on F.M. Hussain (1915-2011), India’s world renowned painter, and Pandit Bhimsen Gururaj Joshi (1922-2011), India’s world renowned classical vocalist, have added zest to the value of these issues.

Among the other articles in these issues are the ones by Shams-ur-Rahman Farooqi, Shamim Hanafi and Nasir Abbas Nayyar. A translation of C.M. Naim’s English article into Urdu by Ajmal Kamal on the topic of the last century’s Indian elitist traditions and culture (vaza daari and baanka-ism) is absorbing. The beautiful and flowing Urdu translation by Ajmal Kamal has made it more so.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s Scientific Society began publishing the Aligarh Institute Gazette on March 30, 1866. Through this publication, Sir Syed launched his movement to change Indian society, especially the Muslims, culturally and politically.

Asgher Abbas thinks that this newspaper is in fact a historical record of the subcontinent’s political, cultural and educational struggle. His book amply proves this.

Dr Shahabuddin Saqib did his MPhil on Moulvi Abdul Haq and went on to do his PhD. Now he has added yet another feather to his cap: he has done a doctorate in Persian. Urdu’s well-known poet Mushafi had compiled three tazkiras as well. A tazkira was a critical and historical account of poets, giving their brief life sketches and selected verses. Mushafi completed compiling his tazkira Iqd-i-surayya (often mispronounced as Aqd-i-surayya) in 1785, but kept on amending and improving it till 1790.

Basically, it is about Persian poets but according to Dr Saqib it also covers 44 such poets who composed poetry both in Urdu and Persian. Moulvi Abdul Had had compiled this tazkira, but now Dr Saqib has brought out its most authentic version after collating it with different manuscripts and published editions, including the one recently published from Tehran. Dr Saqib has not only written some invaluable footnotes to the manuscript, but also penned a comprehensive introduction discussing all important and historical facts about this work and Mushafi.

Dr Saqib’s Naqd-o-justujoo is a collection of his articles on different aspects of Urdu language and literature.

After receiving such lovely literary works, one wished that sense prevailed and postal charges between the two countries were rationalised as another confidence-building step.