A teacher and former journalist feeds his Khusro imagination to the hilt

Which is the oldest printed dictionary? Robert Cawdrey's English dictionary of 1604, according to some record books, or Thomas Blount's Glossographia (1656), as other books suggest. Ask Pradeep Sharma ‘Khusro’, and his answer is: Khaliq-e-bari, the versified collection of Persian and Hindvi words written around AD 1320 by Sufi mystic and poet Amir Khusro. With the dictionary in hand and years of research, Sharma believes he has enough evidence for notifying Encyclopaedia Britannica about updating their archives.

But, the 38-year-old former journalist's ‘Khusrawi’ connection does not end here. With 375 books, and 55 digitized images of rare paintings of Khusro, he keeps virtually anything with Khusro on it or in it. And there's more. He holds 2000 released and un-released audio-video records (gramophone records, DVDs, cassettes and documentaries) of Khusro’s songs, ‘bandishes’ and ‘ragas’, including almost all movies and songs featuring Khusro since Alam Ara.

A survey by international NGO Aga Khan Foundation has even found him to be the single largest holder of Khusro literature. His tryst with Khusro was born more by chance than anything else. Some 18 years ago, a retired army colonel, seeking to relocate to the US, had put gramophone records for sale through a newspaper advertisement. An ardent music lover, Sharma met the colonel and while scanning through the collection that included maestros K.L Saigal and Mohammed Rafi, his eyes fell on the title ‘The Multifaceted Genius of Amir Khusro Dehalvi’. “I rejected the record expecting it to be in Persian. But the colonel laughed and told me that I was missing out on a gem,” says Sharma. He purchased the record for a discount, albeit a little hesitantly. “But after listening to the first ‘bandish’, I was hypnotized. So I decided to listen to the entire record at a single stretch,” Sharma says.

Even today, the pause button is seldom pressed. According to Sharma, who has been researching for various projects on Khusro, the record is the only authenticated one on Khusro’s music. Although Khusro was a multi-linguist and Persian was not his mother tongue, he is popular for his prowess in Persian. The bulk of his work in other languages, however, remains un-translated or lost. Much work on Khusro in modern times was done in and around 1975; in honour of his 700th anniversary, India, Pakistan, and erstwhile USSR convened national and international congresses. Seminars, special volume and poetry publications, film and music productions followed.

Sharma was particularly impressed by the efforts of the late scholar Dr. Zoe Ansari, who had then invited global experts to translate and compile Khurso’s works, including his music. Soon, he found himself with a copy of Ansari’s edited book ‘Life, Times and Works of Amir Khusro Dehlavi.’ This rare book, covered in mystic green, is often labelled as the encyclopaedia on Khusro. “It changed my life,” says Sharma. ‘Taufath-us-Sigr’ or the ‘Gift of Youth’, a ‘mastnahvi’ (a narrative poem) that Khusro penned at 16, amazes Sharma each time he quotes from it.

To devote more time to Khusro, he even quit his career as a journalist cum cartoonist. Today, a teacher at a New Delhi school, he has his priorities set. “From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., I teach. For the rest of the day, I research on Amir Khusro,” says Sharma, who has been using his pen-name ‘Khusro’ for 10 years now. harma also lays claim to writing the first Hindi e-book on Khusro, while contributing for the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology initiative ‘Coil-Net’ project. This was to develop a Hindi website offering quality material on art and culture. While also financing the translation of 3,500 pages of Khusro’s Persian work into Hindi, Urdu and English, he has compiled three books himself. Had he ever considered bartering his collection? Sharma has no double thoughts. “It’s about passion. I was offered Rs.50 lakh once, but even if they offer me a crore, I won’t sell,” he says. By his own estimates, he has spent Lakhs on his ‘Khusrawi’ purchases. But he laments the dearth of research done on Khusro, especially in India, the land where Khusro was born and revered. Even after 700 years none of his books in Persian have been wholly translated into Hindi. Even those in English are inconsistent,” he says. Naturally, for Sharma, Khusro is more than just the father of modern ‘Khariboli’ Hindi, developer of the ‘ghazal’ and inventor of ‘Hindustani’ music. Khusro stands as the person who first talked of national integration in India.

“He was the first one to talk about Hindu-Muslim unity,” says Sharma.“Till date they celebrate Basant Panchami in Pakistan, all thanks to Amir Khusro.”