Literary skirmishes between different schools of thought are not uncommon. In Urdu poetry, the Delhi and Lucknow schools of thought are known for their distinctive trends and characteristics. But besides this, they had been engaged in a long-drawn feud based on the differences in literary styles and the use of language.
Apart from professional rivalries and personal jealousies among poets and writers, literary differences between the Delhi and Lucknow schools of thought emerged on a larger scale when Rajab Ali Baig Suroor (1785/6-1869) in the preface to his Fasana-i-ajaaib (1824, first published in 1843) poured scorn on Mir Amman’s Bagh-o-bahar (1801) for its comparatively simple usage of idioms which were typical to Delhi. The preface of the book stirred up a literary feud that produced many claims, rejoinders and counter claims in the form of more books. They included Sarosh-i-sukhan and Tilism-i-hairat, to name a few. Another famous feud of Urdu literature is what is known as the ‘Punjab-UP controversy’. In the pre-independence era, some writers and critics from the Uttar Pradesh or United Provinces ridiculed the language used by a few poets and writers from Punjab. Even Allama Iqbal was not spared, though his reaction was a graceful silence.
After some time, the writers of Punjab also began to poke fun at certain aspects in the works of UP writers. In fact, in retaliation, Pitras Bukhari, M. D. Taseer, Abdul Majeed Salik, Imtiaz Ali Taj, Soofi Tabassum and Pandit Hari Chand Akhter formed an informal literary society ‘Niazmandaan-i-Lahore’ to counter the literary banters and taunts of writers of UP.
A long and interesting article on the circle was published on the Niazmandaan-i-Lahore in issue 141 of Nuqoosh, which was published from Lahore. The magazine had earlier published an ‘Adabi muaarka number’ — a two-volume special issue — on Urdu’s literary skirmishes, both personal and ideological. Meanwhile, In India, Dr Yaqoob Aamir wrote a dissertation on the topic to earn a doctoral degree.
However, there is one rivalry of the Urdu language on which little has been written. It is the rivalry between the writers of UP and Deccan. The undercurrents had been there for long, but unlike Delhi-Lucknow or UP-Punjab controversies they never fully surfaced. However, with the publication of a monumental work on Aziz Ahmed recently, the cold war seems to have become pronounced.
Aziz Ahmed was a poet, short story writer, novelist, translator, historian, research scholar, Iqbal scholar and a critic. He was born on November 11, 1914, in Hyderabad Deccan. Having studied in the Usmania University in Hyderabad, and later in London University, in 1938 he began teaching at his alma mater in Hyderabad in its department of English. Later on, his services were also obtained by Hyderabad’s royal family for a few years as he served as Princess Durr-e-Shahwar’s private secretary. Though Aziz Ahmed finally returned to his teaching assignment and was made a professor in 1949, he migrated to Pakistan and joined the government’s film and publication department in Karachi. Afterwards, he also served as the director of public relations ministry of Kashmir affairs. In 1958, he joined the London School of Oriental and African Studies. He went on to join the Toronto University, Canada, where he taught till his last days. Aziz Ahmed had also taught in California University as a visiting professor and also knew French, German, Arabic, Persian, Italian and Turkish. He died on December 16, 1978, and was buried in Toronto, Canada.
Spanning four volumes, the monumental Aziz Ahmed: fikr-o-fan aur shakhsiyet, has been compiled by Aazam Raahi, a poet, journalist, script writer and the editor of monthly Paiker, published from Hyderabad Deccan. No doubt, the Delhi’s Educational Publishing House has indeed done a great service to Urdu language by publishing these four volumes and two more volumes of the series would be published soon.
In the preface of the book on Aziz Ahmed, Raahi has not only taken to task Urdu’s critics and research scholars for their several “shortcomings” but has also chided them for their failure to duly recognise the contribution of writers, poets and critics from Deccan. He first laments that the standard of both research and criticism in Urdu has suffered a huge decline and the quality of doctoral dissertations has become so low that “research has befallen Urdu like a celestial disaster”. He goes on to criticise the graduation and post-graduation syllabi of Urdu, saying that those responsible for designing it just slightly alter the half-a-century-old syllabi and then implement it. As a result, says Mr Raahi, our students of higher education cannot differentiate between progressivism and modernism.
He says that “this sorry state of Urdu criticism and research encouraged me to work on Aziz Ahmed because despite his extraordinary works in research, criticism and fiction, he was ignored by the critics and was not given the honour that he deserved”. He then surmises that Aziz Ahmed was especially ignored by the Marxist critics because he in the end had become religious and this reflected in his work. Raahi then turns to critics again and accuses them of ignoring Aziz Ahmed because he “belonged to Hyderabad Deccan”. After counting the numerous services rendered by Deccani writers since the very beginning of Urdu literature, Raahi also refers to Wahab Ashrafi’s four-volume and 2000-page-long history of Urdu literature which, according to him, ignored Urdu’s stalwarts who belonged to Deccan.
At the end of the preface, he says that he is giving the people, who complained that Deccani writers were sidelined, a voice with the publication of these volumes on Aziz Ahmed. He says that he feels that this discrimination would end as Urdu is suffering from a decline in India. But today it is Hyderabad Deccan which holds the flag of Urdu high in India. Moreover, he says that there are only three states in India where “a somewhat satisfactory system of teaching Urdu is in place. They are Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, and among them Andhra Pradesh (the Indian state that now comprises parts of former Hyderabad State) has the highest number of institutions where Urdu is taught.
While one feels that Raahi is a bit overzealous, and not all of his grievances are based on historical facts, his work on Aziz Ahmed is indeed commendable and he has comprehensively collected not only his writings but also his extremely rare works. Of Raahi’s work on Aziz Ahmed, the first volume includes research and critical essays on Aziz Ahmed’s life and his short stories. The second volume includes his poetry, dramatic works and translations. The third one discusses Aziz Ahmed’s novels and novellas while the fourth volume comprises mostly of Aziz Ahmed’s works on Islam, Iqbal and history. Aazam Raahi has also included a life-sketch of Aziz Ahmed in the book, giving a detailed list of Aziz Ahmed’s works.