Friday Review

Vocabulary of tolerance

Gopi Chand Narang  

Does Urdu poetry zero in only on dreamy-eyed romantic aspiration and life of desire? Does it produce a narrative of vehement protest, persecution, alienation and angst instead of instilling a sense of belonging into its speaker for the country they live in? Does it ever go beyond exoticism? Does Urdu primarily cater to religious and cultural sensibilities of a particular community? The answer to these widely known but equally erroneous notions about Urdu is an emphatic “No” and it is astutely documented by an anthology of Urdu poetry “The Glory of India” edited by Sami Rafiq, Saghir Afrahim and Faiza Abbasi that appeared recently.

The editors meticulously selected more than, 50 deftly crafted and creatively rendered poems by several celebrated exponents of Urdu poetry such as Nazeer Akbarabadi, Iqbal, Ali Sardar Jafri, Chakbast, Majaz, Hasrat Mohani, Josh Malihabadi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Kaifi Azmi, Anand Narain Mulla, Ale Ahmad Suroor. Jagan Nath Azad and Nida Fazli to drive the point home that Urdu is perhaps the only language that unfailingly uses the vocabulary of tolerance and pluralism no matter how much currency the narrative of narrow mindedness, mutual hatred and bigotry gained in the society.

For Gopi Chand Narang, eminent theorist and scholar, Urdu, incorporating the heterogeneous aesthetic sensibilities pluralistic perceptions that represent cultural and linguistic coalescence and shared social legacy is certainly more than one of the languages listed in our Constitution. In line with professor Narang’s observation to whom the anthology is dedicated, the book carries nuanced poems that stunningly exemplify the values of tolerance and forbearance that India stands for.

Skilfully divided into three sections: Glory of the Nation, National and Religious Leaders and the Indian Spectacle, the book carrying impeccable translation of Urdu poems, intends to communicate that Urdu symbolises a creative cultural fusion of different faiths and it usually escapes our attention and Professor A R Kidwai in his foreword provides a plausible explanation. “The spell binding facet of ghazal, has however, almost blinded them to other formidable vigorous and valuable dimension of Urdu poetry. It has professed and practised since 18th Century, the lofty ideals of nation building, patriotism, peaceful coexistence, pluralism and catholicity of mind.” Sami Rafiq, one of the editors who translated the bulk of poems that form the anthology, rendered Iqbal’s famous poem on Ram in English with marked proficiently. Iqbal is the first Urdu poet who described Ram as Imamul Hind (the most revered Leader of India) and his laconic and powerful poem aptly concludes:

“He was a warrior and unique in bravery

He was exemplary in the intensity of purity and love”

For Hasrat Mohani, Mathura, the birth place of Krishna is the most revered city that is also the fountain head of eternal love and growing knowledge. Lord Krishna emerges a strong symbol of creative concentration and spiritual fulfilment in his poem Krishna:

Mathura is the city of Lovers

Desires smear by it

Every particle of Gokul

is full of Love and beauty”

Above mentioned evocative poems on Ram and Krishna aside, the second section of the book carries poems on Buddha, Lord Shiva, Prophet Mohammad, Tipu Sultan, Lakshmi Bai, Tilak, Gokhale, Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh, Mahatma Gandhi, Moti Lal Nehru, etc.

The first section of the anthology makes it clear that patriotism is the dominant theme of Urdu poetry but Urdu poets through their creative interpretation of the term point out that true patriotism always prevents people from nurturing hatred against other countries. The first poem of the anthology “Glory of India” composed by Durga Sahai Suroor Jahanabi articulates a strong sense of co-currency and urges Indians to make it a fascinating garden where each flower burst forth with the omnipresent considerate God.

Sami, Saghir and Faiza did well to include more than four dozen poems for mapping out the poetic terrain of Urdu poets in the backdrop of their creative oeuvre, built around the geographical locale of India, its cultural aspirations, deep commitment to religious beliefs and the values the country holds very dear since ages. They used the term the Indian spectacle to acquaint the readers with Urdu poets’ admiration of the scenic beauty of India. The translators, Sami Rafiq, Javed Lone, Shabir Magami Ashraf Peer, Faiza Abbasi, Ayesha Muneera, Haris Qadeer, Khursheed Qazi and Ishrat Basheer deserve appreciation for translating several poems that present tantalising glimpses of India and they unfailingly showcase the assimilative nature of Urdu poetry. Sabur Kidwai's well researched biographical details of several of some non-Muslim Urdu poets of our times bears a testimony to the fact that Urdu cannot be subjected to abomination by describing it as a language of one community.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 4:27:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Vocabulary-of-tolerance/article16442866.ece

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