By Naseer Ahmad
A cursory look at Prof Dr Farman Fatehpuri's achievements would fill any person with awe and make him wonder how he managed to accomplish so much. He has been the chief editor of the celebrated literary magazine Nigar since 1962, when Allama Niaz Fatehpuri died. He is the chairman of the Urdu Dictionary Board, which formally began work on the dictionary under his supervision in 1986 and has already completed 21 of the 22 volumes. Besides, he has about 50 valuable books, hundreds of research articles and much more to his credit.
He would surprise many time-conscious people who are always complaining that they do not have enough time to do one thing or another when he says “I do all the things I do and still wonder how to spend the time left.”
This feat he attributes to a habit developed while he was in class VIII, when he lived close to the Ganges and studied in a Fatehpur school. “Early in the morning a Hindu teacher of ours would take a boatful of pupils for a dip in the Ganges. He would impress on us the importance of rising early. He would quote from Azan and tell us how important the morning prayer was,” he tells Dawn in an interview in his office on Tuesday. “I get up at five in the morning and begin reading and writing and finish reading even the day's newspaper before coming to office.”
The Urdu dictionary is set to complete within six months, when its 22nd volume will be finished. “But the board will not cease working with it. Rather its work will expand like that of the Oxford University Press. Certain professional dictionaries, such as medical dictionary, legal dictionary and scientific dictionary, will emerge from these volumes,” says Farman sahib in answer to an obvious question, pointing to the dictionary set in a shelf near his desk.
He says that with more than 300,000 words, Urdu has the vocabulary next only to English's. According to a Unesco report, Chinese is the second largest language after English and Urdu is the third. “But Urdu covers a vaster area than Mandarin.”
"This dictionary will have no parallel in the world except for the Greater Oxford Dictionary. In no other language such a gigantic work has been carried out. Wherever it is kept alongside other such works, people would stop to take notice of it and ask to which language this dictionary belongs. When they are told that this belongs to Urdu, it would naturally bring good name to our nation and country in the world's academic circles.”
Asked how the board selects words to include in the dictionary, he says "We do not take words from dictionaries. Our scholars have culled words from books written in standard Urdu since the time of Amir Khusrau and included them in the dictionary. Any Urdu word that exists in any book, both poetry and prose, is in this dictionary."
Asked if it has the Urdu equivalents of words which have become part of Urdu such as roll number, identity card, permit, etc, he says "Yes, there are words such as fard nishan, shanakhtnama, ijazatnama, etc. But our focus is not on pure Urdu words that may be unknown to most people. We use 'college', for instance, in Urdu because we believe it doesnt have an Urdu equivalent. 'Madressah' and 'jamia' are seminaries and not 'college' and 'university'. We retain many English, Arabic and Persian words in Urdu though with pronunciations that are convenient for Urdu speakers. Urdu itself is not an Urdu word and we cannot replace it with 'Lashkari zuban'. If we speak Arabic, we should say Arabi, harakat, barakat. But in Urdu they become Arbi, harkat and barkat. We say hulia in Urdu what is hilia in Arabic. We have changed the meaning of 'lantarani' from 'you cant see me' to 'nonsense'. So Urdu is a combination of languages and has an extraordinary ability to take in words from other languages and make them its own with alteration of pronunciation or meaning. There is no hitch in adapting and adopting the flexible Urdu language for science and literature and other disciplines."
Dr Fatehpuri says that our own people who matter try to make this second or third largest language of the world into a minor one. “Nothing is being done to enforce the national language in Pakistan despite its being a complete language. Practically it is spoken, understood and used everywhere. Urdu is spoken in all the five graduate assemblies and the senate of the country. But when it comes to writing a summary, an official communiquÃ©, the bureaucrat does it in English. In courts, the accused, the witnesses, the lawyers and even the judges speak Urdu. But when it comes to writing a few lines of judgment, it is done in English as if it could not be done in Urdu.”
Dr Fatehpuri is a great admirer of Ghalib. He has written as many as five books on the poets life and poetry. Asked if there is any aspect of Ghalibs life and poetry that still needs to be uncovered, he reads Iqbals couplet about Ghalib
Fikr-i-Insan par teri hasti say yeh roshan hua/ Hay par-i-murgh-i-takhayyul ki rasai ta kuja (Your intellect has proved to humans that the bird of imagination can soar to heights that were unimaginable before).
He says since Iqbal was well versed in modern knowledge and science, his tribute to Ghalib depicts the depth of the latter's thought. "In view of modern developments in the world of knowledge, Ghalibs thought needs to be worked on to uncover fresh layers of his poetry," says Farman sahib. Responding to a question, he says Ghalib and Iqbal were the greatest representatives of their different eras and any comparison would be proverbially odious.
Dr Fatehpuri had a long association with Allama Niaz Fatehpuri, who persuaded him to take over Nigar after his death. It is the only Urdu literary magazine which has appeared without break for over 80 years. He is also a great admirer of his mentor and rejects the edicts of 'kufr' against him, saying that he was a religious man.
Born as Syed Dildar Ali in 1926 at Fatehpur in Uttar Pradesh, Dr Farman Fatehpuri has two sons and four daughters — all doctors (two MD, four PhD). He did his graduation from Agra University in 1950 and migrated to Pakistan to settle in Karachi. Here he earned degrees in MA, LLB and later did PhD and D.Litt. He has won various awards, including Sitara-i-Imtiaz, for his literary work.