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The optimistic scholar of Urdu from India

December 09, 2008


“Urdu will never die. It has survived many challenges in its long history and it will survive yet more challenges. It will carve out its own ways and will flourish everywhere in the world, just like it has done in the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere. I am very optimistic about Urdu and its future,” said Dr Khaliq Anjum, the renowned Indian scholar of Urdu and Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu Hind's general secretary, when I shared my apprehensions about Urdu's future with him. Last week, he was in Karachi to attend the international conference on Urdu, organised by the Arts Council of Pakistan in collaboration with Karachi University. He was at the breakfast table when I reached Karachi University's guest house to meet the scholar who had shot to fame with his research work on textual criticism and Ghalib.

As we were moving to his room, I asked “What about Urdu's future in India?” He said “Urdu's future in India is as much in danger as Hindi's. And the threat is from English, which has become the preferred language. Just like in Pakistan, it is spoken by the elite class to show off. The hegemony of English is one of the ill-effects of globalisation. It is destroying many languages and people are being robbed of their mother tongue. But still, I would say, Urdu will meet all challenges”.

Answering my question about Urdu's future in Pakistan, he said “Here the future of Urdu is slightly better because it is a common language, the lingua franca that connects the whole country. Secondly, here hatred against Urdu is mild and people who love Urdu are in greater numbers.” Dr Anjum settled on the couch and ordered tea for the two of us, delightedly informing me that he drank 15 to 20 cups a day.

Born in Delhi in 1935, Khaliq Anjum, whose real name is Khaliq Ahmed Khan, did his intermediate and graduation from Aligarh Muslim University.

Having got a Master's in Urdu and diplomas in linguistics and library science from Delhi University, he joined Delhi University's prestigious Karori Mal College as lecturer and taught Urdu for about 10 years. In 1970, he obtained a PhD from Delhi University. His doctoral dissertation was on Mirza Mazhar Jan-i-Janan, Urdu's classical poet and a Sufi in his own right. Dr Khaliq Anjum also served India's ministry of education for about five years. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had formed a committee for the promotion of Urdu, headed by Inder Kumar Gujaral. Being asked by the committee to submit a detailed report, Dr Khaliq Anjum toured the length and breadth of India to survey and to understand the issues. In 1972, with his report he submitted many recommendations, including the one that favoured establishing Urdu academies in every Indian state and Urdu schools and colleges in every locality where Urdu-speaking people were 10 per cent or more of the population. Most of the recommendations went unheeded and the only major implementation was the establishment of Urdu academies and that, too, only in 13 states, which are still functioning.

“You have been serving the Anjuman for long and have done wonders for it. How did it begin?” Dr Sahib grabbed the nearby pillow and leaning against it said “Anjuman's members were looking for someone who had a real commitment to Urdu. Urdu's eminent writers such as Malik Ram and Sajjad Zaheer knew of the work I had done with the Gujaral committee and they thought I was just the right person. They invited me and I joined it in 1975. The Anjuman was in a real bad shape. There was a half-finished floor and the funds were meagre. Now we have a five-storeyed building known as Urdu Ghar. Anjuman publishes about 12 new books a year, a fortnightly 'Hamari Zuban' and a quarterly 'Urdu Adab'. It now has over 600 branches all over India, which work for Urdu's promotion”. When I asked him about his books, I realised he had literally lost count, let alone remembering their names. He then began recalling his early books and said his writing career began with the publication of 'Ghalib ki nadir tehreeren', a research work on Ghalib's rare writings. Then he edited and translated Mirza Mazhar Jan-i-Janan's Persian letters. Next to be published was a translation of Nikolai Gogol's novel. He has also published works on Urdu's eminent authors such as Mirza Rafi Sauda, Baba-i-Urdu, Hasrat Mohani, Shibli Naumani and Asif Ali.

One of the most important of his books is 'Matni tanqeed', or textual criticism, a fine work that discusses the methods and techniques of evaluating, editing, annotating and compiling texts. With its revised and updated edition published both in India and Pakistan recently, the book has become even more useful and is recommended by most universities for their MPhil and PhD courses. His other significant contribution is the editing and annotation of Ghalib's Urdu letters, compiled in five volumes. Being an expert on textual criticism, he was one of the first people in the subcontinent to adopt the German technique of compilation to edit these letters and his version of Ghalib's letters is considered among the most authentic ones.

His other books on Ghalib include 'Ghalib ka safar-i-Kalkutta', 'Ghalib Kuchh mazameen' and the forthcoming 'Ghalib aur shahan-i-Taimuriya'.

In addition to Ghalib and textual criticism, Dr Khaliq Anjum's another expertise is in the field of history and archaeology. His books 'Muraqqa-i-Dehli', 'Dilli ke aasar-i-qadeema' and 'Dargah-i-shah-i-mardan' deal with the archaeological sites of Delhi. His profound knowledge of Delhi's history and its historical remains is also evident from the gigantic task he has carried out in three volumes editing and annotating Sir Syed Ahmed Khan's 'Aasar-us-sanadeed'.

After trying for a while to recall the names of his other books, he stopped and said, “I think I have written some 63 books and sometimes forget their names too. Once I was looking for a book and when could not find it, I asked the librarian for help. He laughed and informed me that I Dr Khaliq Anjum

myself had written that book.” He seemingly enjoys his absent-mindedness though he vehemently refuses to be labelled as 'professor'.

Coming to the burning issue of Urdu's script and the tendency of some elements favouring Roman or even the Devanagari script for Urdu, Dr Anjum said publishing Urdu books in the Nagari script in India was not a matter of choice but a compulsion. “Here in Pakistan you do not need the Nagari script but in India there are lots of people who want to read Ghalib or Ahmed Faraz and they cannot read Urdu's Perso-Arabic script,” he said. “When Ghalib's poetry was published in the Nagari script for the first time in India, it was so hugely popular that the publishers had to reprint it again and again for years at a stretch. And there are a large number of Urdu books being published in Nagari every year. I don't think it has an adverse effect on Urdu in any way. Rather it popularises and promotes Urdu as these Urdu books in Nagari have footnotes that explain Urdu words in Hindi.

“But Urdu's script should not be changed at all. And as for Roman script, even in India Urdu is not written in Roman script, unless there is a need, just like messaging is done here,” he further said. Reflecting on Pakistani society, he said he was surprised to see some people indulging in extravagance here. “Just have a look at the dressing tables of women here. We in India consider it a bad taste to so profusely decorate the dressing. Even wearing too much make-up is looked down upon. But here it is quite the opposite. In fact, the problem is that yours is a new country. People have got newly rich and they have to find new ideas to spend their money. But your country is making progress fast. I have been here many times and I have noticed signs of progress everywhere. As far as culture and sophistication is concerned, I do not expect it to be like it is in Delhi or Lucknow, which have 700 or 800 years old cultural traditions. Yours is a wonderful country, with political instability being the only weak area. But you people will get over it. As democracy flourishes, everything will be all right.

“And what about the literary standards?” I asked. “After attending the week-long conference, my impression is that the standards of literary research and criticism are much higher in India. But here creative writings are wonderful. Your creative writers and poets excel while Indian scholars are doing a better job, though I would make an exception for Urdu research being carried out in Pakistani universities. I regularly receive PhD dissertations for assessment from Pakistan and some of them are exquisite,” he said.

“And the reason for a better overall research in India and a better creative literature in Pakistan?” I asked. “Very simple,” said he, “We have the centuries-old institutions, libraries and in fact the major sources of Urdu research are much greater in India. While in Pakistan Urdu is the language of culture and higher expression. Even those whose mother tongue is not Urdu, take pride in their Urdu writings. They work harder. It definitely gives an edge.

“And I wish to thank all in Pakistan for their friendliness and their hospitality. It is my personal experience many times over that Pakistanis are very hospitable by nature. They go to extra lengths in entertaining guests. Every time I come here, they shower me with gifts.” He seemed quite thrilled and I cracked a joke about our hospitality, but he was quite serious “I ask all my hosts here to visit India, but warn them not to expect as much as you Pakistanis do. It's really extraordinary.”