Rare Pakistan honour for Gopi Chand Narang

Gopi Chand Narang

Gopi Chand Narang  

High laurels also for Manto, Mehdi Hassan, Josh Malihabadi

In a rare honour, eminent Urdu litterateur Professor Gopi Chand Narang’s name figures in the list of civilian honours announced by Pakistan on the eve of its Independence Day. Prof. Narang has been conferred Sitara-i-Imtiaz (Star of Excellence), the third highest civilian honour bestowed by the nation.

Speaking to The Hindu over phone from the US, the Padma Bhushan recipient described it as a rare honour. “I am surprised that an Indian was selected. I have worked selflessly for Urdu, and it feels great that my efforts have been noticed by the neighbouring country.”

Prof. Narang, 81, says the fact that the legendary writer Saadat Hasan Manto ( Nishan-i-Imtiaz ), ghazal maestro Mehdi Hassan ( Nishan-i-Imtiaz ) and eminent poet Josh Malihabadi ( Hilal-i-Imtiaz ) also figure in the list points to a positive development.

“Manto has been awarded in his Centenary Year. It is too late, but still a move that should be welcomed… after all, his writings like Toba Tek Singh took a stand against Partition. Similarly, Josh migrated from India in the late 1950s and remained almost a persona non grata all his life in Pakistan,” said Prof. Narang.

In the past, former Prime Minister Morarji Desai and matinee idol Dilip Kumar have been bestowed Pakistan's highest civilian honour, Nishan-i-Imtiaz .

The Urdu scholar says literature is a subjective construct and there is no innocent position in literature, but the diminishing liberal tradition in literary criticism is a matter of concern. “The intellectual discourse tends to turn fundamentalist and narrow, and it needs to be tackled.”

At the same time, he adds: “The old school progressive movement is no longer relevant. Marxism is still valid, but it doesn’t mean a political party’s regimentation should be allowed to seep into literary criticism.”

Calling his approach left of the centre, Prof. Narang insists one should speak for egalitarianism, social justice for the downtrodden, and look for ways to keep communal orthodoxy at bay. “I think the award will help in bridging the gap.”

Unlike Pakistan where it is a link language, Prof. Narang insists that Urdu has its roots in India and as part of the right to education it should be taught to all at the elementary level. “Otherwise it will be pushed to the madarsas.”

He laments how the liberal character of the language got lost in the politics of Partition. Calling it a language of “aesthetics and elegance”, a “sister of Hindi” which “brings sophistication to our lives”, Prof. Narang is not too concerned about the decline in the use of Persian script for Urdu. “We live in a country where you speak in Marathi at home, English in office and on the way back home you listen to a Lata Mangeshkar ghazal on the radio. We should celebrate this diversity. Lata Mangeshkar sang in impeccable Urdu all her life but she always read it from Devnagari script. Shabana Azmi, daughter of a poet like Kaifi Azmi, read her scripts in Devnagari. However, the Government should ensure that Urdu is taught at academic institutions in the Persian script. It connects us with the cultural and academic landscape of Pakistan, Iran and Iraq.”

The investiture ceremony will take place in Pakistan on March 23, 2013, Pakistan's Republic Day.

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