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Celebrating diversity through literature

FIROZ BAKHT AHMED meets Gopi Chand Narang, President of the Sahitya Akademi, the Government's apex literary body currently celebrating its golden jubilee.

Gopi Chand Narang in New Delhi. Photo: Anu Pushkarna.

GOPI CHAND Narang, the Sahitya Akademi President, bestowed with the Padma Bhushan recently, has received a large number of honours including the Sant Gyaneshwar Award, the Padma Shri, the Maharashtra Urdu Academy award and the President of Pakistan's Gold Medal for his research on Iqbal. But now as he guides the Sahitya Akademi, currently celebrating its half century of existence, he has more weighty matters on his mind than accepting awards. Narang has always raised his voice against parochialism, religious fanaticism, regionalism and social injustice of any kind. Communalists - be they from any lobby, lingual or political - have tried to divert him from the path of constructive work. He refuses to be dragged into unnecessary political controversy. Narang asserts that a writer should be judged not by euphemistic labels, but by the values reflected in his writing. He points out that there is a basic difference between a writer and a political worker. One may be an activist, but in a democracy one does not need a party card to enter the field of letters. A writer's basic commitment is to the sanctity of shabda, concern for humanitarianism and sense of nationalism. Narang accepts that ideology may be a source of inspiration, but literature goes beyond the narrow confines of ideology.

"A writer's forte is his freedom of mind," he emphasises. Literature's role mainly is oppositional and anti-establishment.

A genuine writer's voice is the voice of his inner self and truth as he sees it. Most writers who display political badges, in fact, want to seek mileage in the name of ideology.

Yet he holds the view that in literature as in politics, dissent and debate are a duty of the seekers of truth and not a crime, and that controversy today has become a part of life.

Over the years it has been noted that the Sahitya Akademi, the biggest body in the world looking after 24 languages and activities associated with them, has succumbed to the language mafia and politicking, deviating from the task of preserving heritage.

Narang's priorities include purging the Akademi of such elements at all levels while furthering the cause of Indian literature, also the tribal and oral traditions. In Shillong a centre of tribal and oral literature based on folklore and folk tales is being opened to facilitate translations into Indian languages.

Narang states that the 300-odd books published in the 24 Indian languages fetch the Akademi a sum of almost Rs.2 crore, but the department needs to be put in order, owing to some restrictive policies.

Gopi Chand Narang's famous books include "Hindustani Qisson se Makhuz Urdu Masnawiyan", "Urdu-e-Dilli ki Karkhandari Boli", "Urdu Ghazal aur Hindustani Tehzeeb", "Tehrik-e-Azadi aur Urdu Shairi", "Adabi Tanqeed aur Usloobiyat", "Ameer Khusro ka Hindvi Kalaam", and others. Lately he was engaged in a work on Indian poetics and structuralism that is on par with the work done in French, German and English. It also deals with post-modernist and post-Marxist poetics.

In a set of four books published by the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL), Narang has used the best methods to teach Urdu for the Certificate & Diploma Courses.

The beginners' manual for Urdu script is meant for those who are conversant with spoken Urdu and Hindi and want to learn Urdu script in the shortest possible time.

Urdu, he feels, has been the language of inter faith harmony and served as a bridge between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, right from Ameer Khusro in the 13th Century to Munshi Prem Chand, Firaq Gorakhpuri and Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

He calls it one of the finest products of India's composite culture and feels that the politicisation of Urdu has resulted in its downfall.

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