'Everybody Knows This Much ...'
by Frances W. Pritchett, Columbia University
Āb-e ḥayāt (Water of Life) has been described--probably accurately--as 'the most often reprinted, and most widely read, Urdu book of the past century'.1 During this period its influence, both direct and unacknowledged, has been incalculable; more than any other work it can be said to have created the canon of Urdu literature. The unique power exerted by Āb-e ḥayāt is what made us decide to translate this exasperating, moving, wrongheaded, fascinating, all-too-persuasive text. We want it to be opened up--we want it to receive more thought and scrutiny, from more kinds of audiences.
I first read Āb-e ḥayāt about eleven years ago. It is an intensely personal book; reading it aroused my interest in that intense person, its author. I came to feel that I knew Āzād better than I knew some of my friends. At first I imagined him as a culture hero. Later I came to think of him as a culture villain, since his form of battlefield triage required him to try to kill what he thought he couldn't save. As I pieced together the story of Āzād and his times, it gripped my imagination so strongly that I ended up making a book out of it. In that book, Nets of Awareness, I looked at Āzād and his friend Alt̤āf Ḥusain 'Ḥālī', at their lives and work, in the light of the whole modern Urdu critical tradition that they essentially founded. There's no need to repeat that story here. Let's look briefly at Āzād's life, and then focus on the matter at hand: his great masterpiece, Āb-e ḥayāt.
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Muḥammad Ḥusain, who chose for himself the pen name 'Āzād' (Free), was born in Delhi in 1830 into a family of Persian emigrés. His mother died when he was only three or four years old. His father, Maulvī Muḥammad Bāqir (c.1810-57), who had been educated at the newly founded Delhi College, was a man of versatile talents: among many other activities he worked in the British administration, involved himself in Shia-Sunni religious controversies, and in early 1837 bought a press and launched the Dihlī Urdū Aḳhbār (Delhi Urdu Newspaper), probably the first Urdu newspaper in north India.2 Around 1845 Maulvī Muḥammad Bāqir enrolled his only son in Delhi College. Muḥammad Ḥusain did well there. He was enrolled in the Urdu-medium 'Oriental' section, which offered Arabic and Persian rather than English; his Urdu essays won prizes. At some point during these years his family arranged his marriage to Āġhāʾī Begam, the daughter of another Persian emigré family. After completing Delhi College's eight-year curriculum, Muḥammad Ḥusain graduated, probably in 1854, and began to help his father with his newspaper and publishing work.3
Then his world cracked open: in 1857 the famous 'Mutiny' broke out. The rebels arrived so suddenly, and seized the city so rapidly, that people were left stupefied. This abrupt downfall of the British was, as the Dihlī Urdū Aḳhbār editorialized, a reminder of the Day of Judgement, and was thus 'meant to scourge us into obedience to the Divine Will'.4 For God had apparently decided to overturn the British and restore the elderly Mughal emperor, Bahādur Shāh, to the kind of imperial status that his ancestors had enjoyed. Seeing this handwriting on the wall, Maulvī Muḥammad Bāqir went to the royal court and enrolled himself under the emperor's banner. Āzād himself apparently helped with his father's journalistic efforts on behalf of the rebels. After the British retook Delhi some months later, Maulvī Muḥammad Bāqir was arrested and executed. Āzād was summarily expelled from his house at bayonet-point, together with his whole joint family including old women and young children. Āzād later described the scene in Āb-e ḥayāt (#450#). After wandering on foot for several days, half-starving, under conditions of the greatest hardship and danger, the refugees found shelter with friends. But Āzād himself kept traveling, moving from one town to another.5
Finally in early 1861 he reached Lahore, where a relative helped him get a low-level job in the postmaster general's office. In February 1864, Āzād was finally appointed to the job he had been seeking: a clerical position in the Department of Public Instruction. As it happened, Lahore's new Government College was also founded in 1864, with Dr. G. W. Leitner as principal. Āzād had been supplementing his income by tutoring Englishmen in Urdu; in 1864-65 he tutored Dr. Leitner, who formed an excellent opinion of him.6
In 1865 Dr. Leitner founded what is commonly known as the Anjuman-e Panjāb, the 'Punjab Society'. Over time, the Anjuman arranged public lectures, set up a free library and reading room, compiled educational texts and translations in Indian languages, and established Lahore's famous Oriental College. The Anjuman was actively supported by leading British officials; it was considered a great success. Soon people in many cities began to manifest 'a growing interest in vernacular literature impregnated with the spirit of the West'.7 The Anjuman made Āzād's career. He threw himself energetically into its activities from the beginning. In the first essay he ever read before the group, in February 1865, he thanked God for the government's educational program and fully endorsed its paternalism: 'If the parents don't take care of their children, who else will?'8 Āzād's Anjuman activities so solidly established him that he was sent by the government on a special espionage and information-gathering tour of Central Asia in 1865, and on a mission to Calcutta in 1866. His part in the events of 1857 had left him under a cloud, but now that cloud had been entirely dispelled.9
In 1866 Āzād became a regularly paid lecturer on behalf of the Anjuman; in 1867 he became its secretary. Āzād now stood so high in official favor that in early 1867 the lieutenant-governor presented him with a 'trinket' in token of his services. Gradually Āzād's lecture and essay topics came to be drawn more and more from the realm of literature. He wrote the extremely successful school textbook Stories of India (Qiṣaṣ ul-hind). In 1869 Āzād was appointed assistant professor of Arabic at Government College, on Dr. Leitner's recommendation. In 1870 he started to edit a newspaper for the Anjuman, but the paper was soon accused of being English-influenced to an unacceptable degree; in 1871 Dr. Leitner ordered it handed over to someone else.10
On 9 May 1874, Āzād delivered to the Anjuman his famous lecture on the reform of Urdu poetry. The audience included a number of Englishmen of high official rank. The text of Āzād's speech was printed the next day in a local newspaper, and there is no doubt about the boldness of his message: he called for a new Urdu poetry and a new poetics, both based on English models.
Oh gardeners of the Garden of Eloquence! Eloquence [faṣāḥat] is not something that flies along on the wings of exaggeration and high-flying fancy, or races off on the wings of rhyme, or climbs to the heavens by the force of verbal ingenuity, or sinks beneath a dense layer of metaphors. The meaning of eloquence is that happiness or sorrow, attraction or repulsion, fear or anger toward something--in short, whatever feeling is in our heart--should as we express it arouse in the listeners' hearts the same effect, the same emotion, the same fervor, as would be created by seeing the thing itself.11
The traditional adornments of poetry, he argued, had become obsolete. 'New kinds of jewelry and robes of honor, suited to the conditions of the present day, are shut up in the storage-trunks of English--which are lying right here beside us, but we don't realize it.'12
Āzād was immediately attacked by a number of his contemporaries for his proposed new poetics. He was accused of writing a language that was 'outwardly Urdu and inwardly English, such as the present rulers want to create'. His rejection of the traditional repertoire of poetic adornments and figures of speech was 'as if some beautiful woman were stripped of her jewelry and clothing, and made to stand absolutely naked'. After all, 'without metaphors and similes, there's no pleasure in poetry!'13 One person who did encourage and support Āzād was the great reformer Sir Sayyid Aḥmad Ḳhān. He advised Āzād to ignore the critics, and recommended a strong and simple literary creed: 'Bring your work even closer to nature [nechar]. The extent to which a work comes close to nature is the extent to which it gives pleasure.' Sir Sayyid called for a realistic, outward-looking 'natural poetry' [necharal poʾiṭrī].14
Āzād stayed on in Lahore for the rest of his life. For years he taught at Government College and wrote books. Most conspicuously, he wrote school textbooks; they gained him a great popular reputation, and Stories of India was a perennial favorite. Āzād's prose style, in his textbooks as elsewhere, won him widespread admiration and lasting fame. 'In addition to being the greatest prose stylist of Urdu, Āzād is our most important educational writer as well.'15 From about 1875 to 1877 Āzād worked on The Wonder-World of Thought [Nairang-e ḳhiyāl] (1880), a set of thirteen allegorical essays, mostly by Samuel Johnson and Joseph Addison, that he translated--or rather transcreated--into Urdu.16 In his introduction to this book of essays, Āzād continued to urge radically westernizing approaches to poetic problems. In fact, however, Āzād's heart was not entirely in it: he remained deeply ambivalent about the loss of the old poetry and its projected replacement with the new. As Farruḳhī puts it all too accurately, 'He struggled his whole life long to adopt a western way of thinking; he advocated the development of new concepts and new principles; but mentally he lived in the past.'17
In the same year, 1880, Āzād published his masterpiece, Āb-e ḥayāt (Water of Life). It was recognized widely and immediately as the definitive history of Urdu poetry; it was (literally) an epoch-making achievement. Āzād's friend Alt̤āf Ḥusain Ḥālī wrote a long and glowingly favorable review.18 Āb-e ḥayāt at once became, and has remained, the single most influential sourcebook for both anecdotes and historical theories about Urdu poetry. The first edition sold out quickly. Āzād published a much revised and expanded second edition in 1883; Ḥālī was one of the many friends and correspondents who helped him gather new material for it. Both The Wonder-World of Thought and Āb-e ḥayāt were soon incorporated into the official curriculum at Punjab University and many other schools.
Āzād's relationship with Dr. Leitner deteriorated over time: after an unsatisfactory collaboration on a book, Dr. Leitner now found Āzād 'as inaccurate as he is occasionally brilliant', given to 'intrigue', and definitely 'unworthy of trust'.19 And Āzād's personal life continued to be marked by suffering. In the ten years between 1875 and 1885 he lost two of his sons, and also a much-loved aunt who ran his household. His house later caught fire. And--the worst blow of all--his beloved and talented daughter Amat us-Sakīnah suddenly died. As the grieving father wrote, 'she was in truth more precious than seven sons, when I was writing she was my right hand; her death has shattered my heart'.20
A trip to Iran in 1885-86 seemed to restore his composure; in 1887 he managed to set up the 'Āzād Library', which earned him much praise and the official honorific title 'Shams ul-ʿulamā' (Sun among the Learned). Āzād also finished writing another major work, On Iranian Poets [Suḳhandān-e fārs]. It was completed in 1887, but was not published until 1907--a gap of fully twenty years.21
The reason for this hiatus was the tragedy of Āzād's later life: the attacks of insanity that began increasingly to afflict him. Sometimes he used a planchette to summon the spirits of Mīr and other Urdu poets. Sometimes, suffering terribly from insomnia, he paced the floor all night, reciting verses, calling on the great ustads, hearing their voices, replying to their words. In one fit of madness he even set out on foot for Delhi.22 At another time, he managed somehow to reach Aligarh, where he appeared without warning at the house of the amazed Sir Sayyid Aḥmad Ḳhān. He told his host that Abuʾl-Faẓl and other spirits had been speaking to him--dictating a book, which he was taking down in their own words. This book, The Court of Akbar [Darbār-e akbarī] (1898), grew into an immense, extravagant hymn of praise to Akbar. It was colorful, anecdotal, repetitive, full of long authorial asides--and so seductively written that it won immediate popularity and remains a favorite today.
All accounts agree that Āzād's madness was fitful: for five minutes, ten minutes, half an hour, he would be entirely his normal self, then suddenly an attack would overcome him. Over the years, the lucid intervals grew fewer, and the madness worse. Āzād died in Lahore in 1910, at the age of eighty.23
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When I first set out to read Āb-e ḥayāt, I saw that it began with an introduction describing the history and development of the Urdu language. And the very first sentence in that introduction took me aback: 'Everybody knows this much--that our Urdu language has emerged from Braj Bhasha' (#6#). What could Āzād have been thinking of? The term 'Braj Bhasha', after all, has traditionally referred chiefly to the language, both spoken and written, of the Braj region, around Mathura and Vrindavan. Braj Bhasha has a centuries-old literary history, a strong modern presence, and its own well-established grammar.24 Urdu too has a centuries-old literary history, a strong modern presence, and its own well-established grammar--the 'khaṛī bolī' grammar of the Delhi region, common to Urdu and modern standard Hindi. The Braj Bhasha grammar and the Urdu (khaṛī bolī) grammar can both be traced back at least to the early medieval period. They are quite distinct. Even a single sentence is enough to differentiate them unmistakably. Linguistically speaking, there has never been a shred of evidence to suggest that either one of these two contemporary grammars 'emerged from' the other.
Casual usage can and does, of course, subsume both Braj Bhasha and Urdu under the broad rubric of 'Hindi'. What we now call Urdu has been known at various medieval and later times not only as Rekhtah, Hindustani, and khaṛī bolī, but also as Hindi (or Hindavi). Grahame Bailey explores the use of these terms at length, with many examples; of them all, he finds that only the name 'Hindi' requires no special analysis, since it was 'the natural word to use in early times'.25 After all, 'Hindi' at its loosest can be an umbrella term: it can simply refer to the colloquial language(s) of Hind, or northern South Asia. Such usage was widespread and casual: as early as 1795-96 Bāqar 'Āgāh' spoke of the origin of Urdu in 'the Hindi language, commonly called Braj Bhasha'.26 In 1872, in Āzād's own day, F. S. Growse described himself as 'a resident of Braj' engaged in studying 'Braj Bhāshā'--which he called, a bit parochially, 'the typical form of modern Hindi, which I hear spoken about me'.27
But in Āzād's day, as in our own, knowledgeable observers were quite clear about the very different forms of 'Hindi' involved. In the introduction to his famous Hindi grammar book (1875), Rev. S. H. Kellogg grudgingly recognized the predominance in practice of 'that variety of Hindí which agrees in grammatical form with the Urdú' and which 'has also often been termed kharí bolí'. Only that Urdu-like form of Hindi had, he conceded, a position 'as a lingua franca throughout the whole Hindí area of North India'--at the expense, he noted with regret, of 'the Braj and the old Púrbí', the 'two great dialects of classic Hindí literature', which were undeservedly neglected.28 In Āzād's day, virtually all serious observers, whatever their biases, realized that Braj Bhasha and Urdu (along with the new and still tentative khaṛī bolī Hindi) were sisters vying with each other in sibling rivalry, not mother and daughter.29 Āzād himself aspired to linguistic sophistication; he relied in Āb-e ḥayāt on the fashionable western scholarship of the day, referring learnedly to the coming of the Aryans, the Indo-European affinities of Sanskrit and Old Persian, the growth of Prakrits like Magadhi and Shauraseni, and so on. How then could he go wrong about something so basic? What was he up to?
Seeking further clues to Āzād's own usage, I read and reread the beginning of his introduction. I noticed that he identifies Braj Bhasha, explicitly described as the language of the Braj region (#6#), as the medieval north Indian poetic language. According to Āzād, during that period 'the Hindu poets', including Kabīr from Banaras, wrote in Braj Bhasha (#16#). Then two pages later he says that Tulsīdās wrote in 'Bhasha' (#18#). Here I saw a glimmer of hope. Might not this shift give Āzād's defenders some useful room for maneuver? 'Bhasha', which literally means 'language', can be used for any colloquial dialect. Might Āzād perhaps be thinking of 'Bhasha' as a broad umbrella term, with 'Braj Bhasha' and 'Hindi' as variant forms of it? Indeed, he speaks of Braj Bhasha as 'the language of this place', meaning India, and alternates the terms Braj Bhasha and Bhasha while clearly referring to the same language (#19#).
Moreover, his few uses of 'Hindi' are also vague; in one place he seems to substitute 'Hindi' for 'Braj Bhasha' (#48#). (The more exact and grammatically specific term khaṛī bolī he never uses at all.) Perhaps 'Braj Bhasha' simply looms unduly large in his mind, as the dominant medieval literary form of 'Bhasha'? If so, his statement about Urdu might look less wrongheaded. He might mean to say merely that Urdu developed out of the great medieval trans-regional khichṛī, or stew, of colloquial language that could loosely be called 'Bhasha'. If Āzād meant to say this, he would still be writing much too carelessly--for he does say 'Braj' Bhasha over and over, and he locates it quite clearly in the Braj region. But he would not necessarily be quite so wrong or untrustworthy. By allowing for all this terminological confusion, I had hopes of exonerating Āzād from charges of deliberate duplicity.
When Āzād comes to write about 'The Birth of Urdu Poetry', further contradictions appear. He assigns to Amīr Ḳhusrau (1253-1325) the role of paterfamilias: from Ḳhusrau's work 'we can tell what relish the salt of Persian had added to the flavor of Hindi' (#67#). In Ḳhusrau's time 'the sequence of verses that we call ghazal came into our hands', and Persian meters began to be used (#72#). Yet Āzād also describes Shamsuddīn 'Valī' Dakanī (1667-1720/25), who lived four centuries later and is traditionally said to have introduced the taste for Urdu poetry into Delhi, as the 'Adam of the race of Urdu poetry', and meditates at length on his role as its founder. Valī was the person who 'brought all the meters of Persian into Urdu', who imported the ghazal itself and 'opened the road' for the other genres, since 'at that time the Urdu language was capable of nothing except Hindi dohrās and themes from Bhasha'. He was also, according to Āzād, not a 'Dakanī' at all but a Gujarati from Ahmedabad (#83#).
Yet even by Āzād's own account, the Urdu ghazal had already been invented four centuries earlier by Amīr Ḳhusrau, so it should hardly have been necessary for Valī to reinvent it. Āzād has thus provided Urdu ghazal with not one but two founding fathers, four centuries apart--both of them operating, however independently, in the north. Whereas in fact Amīr Ḳhusrau remains an isolated example of a prolific Persian poet and writer who trifled with the demotic tongue for the amusement of his friends, and who scarcely bothered to preserve his work. The tradition of Urdu poetry cannot in a real sense be said to have begun with him, and our access to his Urdu words in a reliable original form is highly doubtful. As for Valī, since Urdu poetry had had a lively history of two centuries prior to his time in the Deccan,30 he could at the most have been not an Adam but a kind of Noah, restarting poetry in the north after a great flood of forgetting had wiped the slate clean of Deccani literary activity. Āzād seems to be engaged here in a process of historical erasure and reconstruction.
Āzād is thus what might be called a 'north Indian chauvinist' with an anti-Deccan bias, and he is confused (to say the least) about terminology and linguistic development, and he uses the term '(Braj) Bhasha' entirely too loosely. All this must be granted. But these are relatively minor failings; they could almost be seen as natural consequences of the pioneering effort he was undertaking. Modern Urdu critics have generally tended to defend Āzād along such lines as these. His evocative literary style of course earns well-deserved universal praise; but on the whole, critics have been ready to give the benefit of the doubt to Āzād the researcher as well.31
Farmān Fatḥpūrī, author of the definitive Urdu study of the tażkirah or literary anthology tradition, is one such champion of Āzād's scholarship. Noting that Āzād's Urdu-from-Braj claim has generated much scholarly discussion, Farmān Fatḥpūrī observes the presence of the same claim in some other tażkirahs, especially Shamīm-e suḳhan (1872-73).32 (It is clear from his own work, however, that the tażkirahs that contain at least some examples of Dakani Urdu poetry are considerably more numerous than those that ignore its very existence.) Farmān Fatḥpūrī's defense then assumes a more emotional tone:
But the way Āzād has talked about this claim of his, and the learned way in which he has entered into the details of Bhasha and discussed the common roots of Persian, Urdu, and Sanskrit words--that has remained his portion alone. Even if today we cannot accept the claim that Urdu emerged from Braj Bhasha, is it a small thing that Āzād invited thoughtful attention to the source and origin of Urdu? And the result of this invitation was that in Urdu a valuable treasury of linguistic research on this topic has come into being. It is as if Āzād alone first smoothed the path for linguistic discussions in Urdu. For this reason, in the linguistic history of Urdu his writings, no matter how erroneous they may be proved today, cannot be ignored.33
Farmān Fatḥpūrī thus reveres Āzād as a supreme linguistic researcher: the learned, sage, wise [ʿālimānah] way he 'entered into the details of Bhasha' was something of which Āzād alone was capable. He then proceeds, even more hyperbolically, to give Āzād credit for all subsequent linguistic research in Urdu.
Nor is Farmān Fatḥpūrī a unique example. Muhammad Sadiq, who has written extensively in Āzād's defense, maintains that 'the first part of the book, tracing the growth and development of the Urdu language, is a work of great scholarship'--for in it Āzād has, 'despite the scarcity of material', achieved 'a notable success'.34 Masʿūd Ḥasan Riẓvī 'Adīb', author of another defense of Āb-e ḥayāt, speaks of Āzād with gallant warmth and admiration: 'Hazrat Āzād too makes mistakes, but they are the kind of mistakes that can be made only by a researcher, and that are founded only on research.' Critics who attack the whole book and 'discredit the hard work and diligent devotion of its author' show 'not only lack of sympathy but also barbarous ignorance'.35 In an even more impassioned vein, Ṣafdar 'Āh' has written, 'The body of research presented in Āb-e ḥayāt--if it were to be taken away, it would seem as if the sun had set and a darkness had spread over the world of Urdu research.'36 Āzād's role in shaping the Urdu literary canon shows in the deeply emotional loyalty of his defenders: without Āb-e ḥayāt, there would be darkness indeed.
Although not quite so sanguine as critics like these, I was sympathetic to their general line of reasoning. On their view Āzād might be guilty, at most, of occasional instances of careless or erroneous scholarship and regional chauvinism--common failings in his (and any) time and place. He should definitely not be convicted of deliberate falsehood or bad faith. Knowing so well the pressures under which Āzād was writing, I hoped to be able to restate, and even reinforce, this line of defense.
But as I read further in Āb-e ḥayāt, all such hopes collapsed. Āzād himself makes rescue impossible; he burns his bridges behind him. He develops his notion of (Braj) Bhasha beyond the point of any face-saving ambiguities. He carries his historical argument considerably further than his defenders care to notice, and develops it with a flagrant lack of integrity that is really impossible to ignore or to explain away.
As Āzād proceeds to derive Urdu from Bhasha, his train of thought in this central argument deserves to be followed in some detail. 'Although the tree of Urdu grew in the ground of Sanskrit and Bhasha', he argues, 'it has flowered in the breezes of Persian'. From Persian the 'color of metaphors and similes' came into Urdu. And this 'color' came not like soothing 'collyrium in the eyes', but overpoweringly: 'its intensity caused severe harm to the eyes of our power of expression'. Here, in addition to revealing his own wild gift for metaphor ('the eyes of our power of expression', indeed!), Āzād prepares the ground for an extraordinary dichotomy.
For the result of this Persianization, according to him, was that 'Bhasha and Urdu became as different as earth and sky'. He promises to prove his claim: 'I want to juxtapose examples of both and place them before you, and point out the difference' (#49#). What could be fairer? The reader looks forward to a well-grounded discussion. After all, Āzād has implicitly equated Bhasha with Braj Bhasha, and has declared (Braj) Bhasha to be the language of the whole medieval north Indian literary tradition. He has dozens of texts from which to draw examples of Bhasha. And he certainly has access to at least some of them, for he has earlier given brief examples from the work of several important medieval poets. Which ones will he now choose to cite, to prove his case?
Remarkably, perversely, egregiously, the answer is--none. With what can only be called chutzpah, Āzād simply makes up his own examples; he doesn't bother even pretending to attribute them to anyone else. In a series of set pieces, he shows us how 'the writer of Bhasha literary style' describes: first, a garden in the rainy season; second, the rainy season itself; third, the evening; and fourth, the bleakness of the night (#54-56#). Any Urdu-knowing reader can easily verify that the language of these passages, apart from Āzād's halfhearted attempt to avoid Perso-Arabic words, is exactly the same khaṛī bolī Urdu in which the rest of Āb-e ḥayāt is written. It is certainly not Braj Bhasha. If it is in any sense Hindi, it is modern standard khaṛī bolī Hindi: in effect, Urdu with some vocabulary changes. Moreover, these are straightforward prose passages; the real (Braj) Bhasha works at Āzād's disposal would have been overwhelmingly in verse. Āzād's only exemplary 'writer of Bhasha literary style' is, in short, himself. He attempts to replace the whole medieval north Indian literary tradition with a few pages that he himself has--and it is impossible to avoid saying it--faked.
Relying on these far less than convincing examples, Āzād develops his argument with the triumphant air of one who is driving a point firmly home. From great heights of effrontery he hands down his conclusion:
Look--both these gardens [of Urdu and Bhasha] are spread out before you, facing each other. Have you compared them? What's the difference in their style and manner? The eloquent Bhasha-speaker doesn't, even by accident, take a step toward metaphor. Whatever enjoyable sights he sees with his eyes, and whatever agreeable sounds he hears, or whatever agreeable scent he smells, are exactly what he very clearly describes in his sweet language, spontaneously, without exaggeration. (#56#)
Now as any reader of our translation can verify, even in the narrowest sense this claim is false. Even Āzād the one exemplary Bhasha-writer, even when he is composing passages designed specifically to be exemplary, cannot entirely avoid metaphor ('fruit and seeds kiss the ground') or simile ('a cobra like a cucumber'). In fact he cannot even entirely refrain from wordplay--note the Persianized pun on āb (#55#). He not only fakes his evidence, but fakes it self-refutingly.
Yet he has no choice but to fake it, since one look at the genuine article would demolish his argument. For even if there ever were to be a literature that eschewed metaphor, it would never be any form of (Braj) Bhasha. In his saner moments, Āzād knows perfectly well that medieval north Indian literature delights not only in metaphor but in many forms of wordplay (see for example his comments about 'punning and words of double meaning' on page #88#). But of course the problem goes deeper: the attempt to show the existence of any literature devoid of metaphor is doomed from the start. There cannot be such a literature. In fact there cannot be such speech at all; metaphor is deeply embedded within everyday language itself.37 Āzād is trying to prove a hopelessly unprovable proposition.
Yet he will go to any lengths necessary to prove it. Āzād's tendentious replacement of real (Braj) Bhasha texts with fakes that he has created himself can hardly be due to innocent error or casual confusion. No ambiguities of terminology can save him. His own version of metaphor-free 'Bhasha' is an invented construct, with no historical or literary tradition behind it whatsoever; it has so little viability that it cannot sustain itself for even as long as a page or two. In some part of his mind Āzād surely knows this. But he will not admit it. He is nothing if not determined. He hacks his way resolutely through all the intellectual thickets and historical underbrush: he makes a path that will take him where he has already decided to go.
For he is trying desperately to assure that his 'Bhasha' will have a literary tradition ahead of it, in the future. He has imagined for Urdu an idealized linguistic 'mother'--a language simple, sweet, natural, and entirely Indian. Āzād's invented genealogy gives this 'mother' language ancestral legitimacy, so that it can be projected forward into the future. After all, Urdu has surely inherited its mother's nature. Urdu thus can and should, in filial duty, adopt its mother's values.
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Āzād sought--in the teeth of strong opposition from many of his contemporaries--to change the contours of Urdu literature for all time to come. Looking at his life, it is easy to see why he undertook such an apparently quixotic task. He was desperate: he saw the poetry that he loved, and the culture that he cherished, sliding downhill toward irrelevance and death. Time, as he saw it, was not on his side. In the aftermath of 1857, the victorious British were defining a new world order not only politically, but culturally as well. The page of history had been turned--with, literally, a vengeance. Āzād felt that Urdu had to change or die. At least as early as his 1874 Anjuman talk, he had begun to call for an Urdu literature that drew its 'jewelry and robes of honor' not from Persian but from 'the storage-trunks of English'. In Āzād's eyes, emulating English was quite consistent with recapturing the simplicities of 'Bhasha', because English literature too was governed by a naturalistic poetics that aimed above all at transmitting emotional reactions from writer to reader (#58#).
Obviously the first task in the remodeling process would be to strip Urdu of its traditional Persianized imagery and poetic devices. Āzād rails against them with an almost comic show of petulance:
Those same fixed things! Here and there we move the words around, here and there we do some substitutions--and we keep on composing with them. As if they're morsels that have already been eaten--or at least chewed--by other people. We chew on them, and we're happy. Think about it--what relish do they still have left? Beauty and love--marvelous!--very fine! But for how long? Whether she's a Houri or a Pari, once you're stuck with her, she becomes sickening. How long can it be till you get fed up with beauty and love? And by now she's become a hundred-year-old crone! (#79#)
Āzād knows he has his work cut out for him. He indulges in harangue: traditional imagery is like already-chewed food that should have no more relish; it's like a long-enjoyed woman who should have no more sexual allure. Yet we keep on eating the food; we are not fed up with the woman! He is plainly trying to convince the unconvinced, to hector his reluctant readers into changing their ways. Āzād is seeking, as I argued at length in Nets of Awareness, to kill the classical poetic tradition--and then to claim that it died of old age.
Of course there's nothing wrong with bringing to a literary task a point of view, a personal vision, even an avowed ideology. Why else would the writer choose to undertake that particular task, in that particular way? But when the writer feels that he has a license to kill, the reader must be warned that he's capable of anything, and must watch him like a hawk. Āzād does feel that he has a license to kill, and he's gunning for the old poetry. He is ready to use fair means or foul, real texts or fakes, truths or falsehoods, to bring it down. He'll see it lying before him as a corpse. Then he'll swathe it in billows of genuine, tearful, heartfelt nostalgia and lay it reverently to rest--with a stake through its heart.
The literary historian as gunslinger; it's the kind of metaphor Āzād himself might have relished. He uses his own exuberant gift for metaphor to promote the impossible dream of a metaphor-free Urdu--or at least, an Urdu that uses only fresh and 'novel' metaphors (#79#). He is a powerful and totally unscrupulous writer; no one would like to be in his gunsights. And yet the whole classical poetic tradition has been in his gunsights for more than a century. Most of what the man-in-the-street Urdu-speaker today knows about classical poetry comes, directly or through a thousand indirect channels, from Āzād. (I've been told that there are even people who believe that Urdu came from Braj Bhasha, because they have read it in Āb-e ḥayāt.) Modern Urdu-speakers often fail to understand classical poetry--and if they do enjoy some of it, they tend to feel slightly reactionary or apologetic. Modern critics generally do not have a satisfactory critical vocabulary for making analytical sense of the poetry. The finest classical poetry has so much vitality, so much power, that it is not dead today, despite Āzād's best efforts. But it lives confined to the back room of a museum, visible only through an ornate marble lattice; the spirits of Āzād and Ḥālī still haunt the premises, ready to frighten off anyone who might come too close.
= = = = = = = = = = =
When Āzād is at his best, prose really does turn to poetry in his hands. As a master of wordplay he has no peer in Urdu. Between one lively, engaging sentence and the next there may lie a tremendous chasm; but the reader is often seduced into leaping easily over it, allured by the sentence on the far side. Āzād can in fact be at his most delightful when he is being persnickety and prejudiced. Even when he sets forth opposing points of view with a show of judiciousness, his real interest is always in placing a dexterous thumb on his preferred side of the scales. Virtually every major Urdu literary figure of the past century is on record as admiring his prose.
Āzād's style is usually held--with reason--to be untranslatable. No doubt we as translators will be found wanting, unable to capture its full subtlety and charm. But we go to our doom gallantly, in a good cause. We want people to realize what Āzād is up to; that much, at least, we feel that our translation can accomplish. We want to break the passionate, hypnotic spell he has cast over a century of Urdu-speakers; we want to make people conscious of the acid of cultural self-contempt that he pours over his own genuine nostalgia. We want to encourage Urdu-speakers to see the radical falseness and self-contradiction of Āzād's vision of 'natural poetry'. We want people to read Āzād critically, with the distrust he so richly deserves, rather than to take seriously his air of naive nostalgia and apparently earnest fair-mindedness.
It is not that Āzād has gone unchallenged within the tradition. Many specific matters of fact have been disputed at length: dates of people's birth and death, other items of biographical information, the reliability of various anecdotes, the ascription of disputed verses, the possible sources (oral and written, private and public) that Āzād did--or did not--use. Above all, Āzād's approach to certain poets has given rise to endless dispute: his treatment of Maz̤har, Mīr, Inshā, Momin, Żauq, and Ġhālib has been attacked and defended for decades.38 These arguments are often fascinating to follow, and very revelatory in their way. But they have tended to concern particular factual points or particular poets, while larger issues are glossed over with facile generalities--the same ones from almost every critic--about Āzād's vivid literary style, his immense scholarly labors, and his unique historical primacy.
Ram Babu Saksena, for example, author of the first English-language history of Urdu (1927), makes all these points: Āb-e ḥayāt is 'the most admired and the most valuable' of Āzād's works. Urdu literature is indebted to Āzād 'for writing a systematic and detailed history', one that 'entailed great research and considerable labour on his part'. Although it has some particular factual errors--Saksena mentions its treatment of Żauq, Ġhālib, Dabīr, and Inshā--the work is 'a storehouse of information from which writers draw abundantly' and a 'mine of knowledge', written in an 'inimitable style, the envy and despair of all'--a style that is 'piquant, vigorous, eloquent and racy'. Āb-e ḥayāt 'laid the foundations of criticism in Urdu' and 'preserved what was permanent and valuable in the history of Urdu literature'.39
As another example, consider this passage from a widely popular school textbook; it is a typical instance of what might be called Azadolatry. Its attitude and even its very language are echoed dozens of times over in other sources. It aims to show that 'Āzād's rank, services, and contributions place him at a higher level than virtually all other Urdu writers'. In fact it makes him sound almost saintly in his 'self-sacrifice', and gives his achievement an almost mystical air of ineluctability:
Āzād's universal grasp and pursuit of learning and love of Urdu drew Urdu literature out of its narrowness of imagination and theme, and showed it a number of new fields. In the context of poetry, you must have seen that the garland of inventing modern poetry is on Āzād's head alone. In prose, by writing Āb-e ḥayāt he not only placed the history of Urdu literature on the right road, but also established the standard for Urdu criticism too. Before Āb-e ḥayāt, the anthologies of Urdu poets that had been written were so imperfect that it was difficult even to find out the poets' true circumstances and accomplishments. Āzād worked for his whole life, with self-sacrifice and exertion, to put this right. The result was that Āb-e ḥayāt presented to the world of Urdu such a comprehensive and forbidding history of literature that to this day anyone who sets foot in the field of Urdu literary history cannot lift up his pen without the help of Āb-e ḥayāt.40
This latter point--the ubiquity and inescapability of Āb-e ḥayāt down through the decades, the definitiveness of its canon-forming power--is the heart of Āzād's triumph. By and large, modern critics still use the lenses he provided for them.
For example, while analyzing Āzād's introduction I wrestled most frustratingly with his use of the term 'Bhasha'--and was unable to find any real help in any of the Urdu critical literature that I consulted. People seemed to use the term 'Bhasha' as casually, comfortably, and vaguely as did Āzād himself. Finally I realized how flagrantly Āzād had faked his 'Bhasha' examples, and pointed out this really quite conspicuous fact at a conference in 1994. A whole century into the tradition, why should a latecomer American be left to make such an observation for--apparently--the first time? Āzād's power to shape his critics' vision of his work is unexampled; cultural insiders, brought up within the sphere of his immense influence, almost cannot help seeing the world through his eyes. An outsider, knowing so much less about Urdu, has in fact a kind of advantage in being forced to look at everything afresh.
I am grateful for the intellectual workout and the literary delight that Āzād and his critics together have given me. Urdu has opened for me some unforgettable windows on the world. Even as an outsider, I have always felt welcome among Urdu-vāle; and an outsider who is fortunate enough to work with Shamsur Rahman Faruqi can have almost the best of both worlds. All of us who love Urdu, insiders and outsiders alike, can profit by each other's perspectives; and certainly in dealing with a slippery prose magician like Āzād we need every bit of help we can get.
Our translation thus aims to open Āb-e ḥayāt to many more outsiders. We hope to make possible a broader and deeper critique, and one that is available to a wider audience. We see other uses as well for our translation. On the most general level, Āzād's life and work provide a kind of case study. They illustrate with uncommon vividness an all too common nineteenth-century cultural phenomenon: the widespread defensive reaction by the colonized to the colonial critique. Āzād's predicament, and his desperate attempts to resolve it, find echoes in many other modern South Asian literatures, and beyond South Asia as well. And on the most specific level, through our apparatus and methodology we will be opening up Āb-e ḥayāt to detailed scholarly scrutiny of a kind never possible before. The special introduction on 'How to Use This Translation' makes our procedures clear.
And of course, we love the classical poetry ourselves, and want to do our part in bringing it out of durance vile. We seek to offer it the intelligent scholarly and poetic attention it so well deserves--and so richly repays. To spend time in the company of the classical masters is a joy. Āzād too knew very well that the pleasure of poetry is 'such a powerful affliction' that 'all pleasures become pleasureless' by comparison (#118#).
1ʿĀbid Peshāvarī, Żauq, p. 126.
2Another Urdu newspaper was also started in 1837, and exact dates are hard to determine. For a detailed account of the available evidence see Nadir Ali Khan, A History of Urdu Journalism, 1822-1857, pp. 25-30, 65-73, 209-10.
3Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 1, pp. 80-82, 111; Khan, A History of Urdu Journalism, p. 71.
4Khan, A History of Urdu Journalism, pp. 86-87.
5Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 1, pp. 104-9.
6Sadiq, Azad, pp. 20-23; Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 1, pp. 113-29, 137-49.
7Sadiq, Azad, p. 24.
8Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 1, p. 154.
9Sadiq, Azad, pp. 25-27; Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 1, pp. 164-90.
10Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 1, pp. 193-94, 214-21; Sadiq, Azad, pp. 27-28.
11Āzād, Naz̤m-e Āzād, p. 45.
12Āzād, Naz̤m-e Āzād, p. 46.
13Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 1, pp. 241-42.
14Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 1, pp. 279-82.
15Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 2, p. 638; see also pp. 606-07.
16Sadiq, Azad, pp. 43-45.
17Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 2, p. 618.
18Kulliyāt-e naṡr-e Ḥālī, vol. 2, pp. 184-94.
19Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 1, pp. 302-03.
20Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 1, pp. 324-325; see also pp. 314-15, 323.
21Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 1, pp. 326-54; vol. 2, p. 373.
22Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 1, pp. 356-60, 362-63.
23Farruḳhī, Āzād, vol. 1, pp. 371-76. A more detailed account of Āzād's life can be found in Pritchett, Nets of Awareness, pp. 11-13, 22-26, 31-42.
24See Rupert Snell, The Hindi Classical Tradition: A Braj Bhāṣā Reader.
25Bailey, Studies in North Indian Languages, p. 8; see also pp. 1-15, 159-65.
26Adīb, Āb-e ḥayāt kā tanqīdī mut̤āliʿah, p. 28.
27F. S. Growse, 'On the Non-Aryan Element in Hindi Speech', Indian Antiquary 1 (April 1872):103.
28Kellogg, Grammar of the Hindí Language, pp. xvii-xviii.
29For an excellent account of the language controversies of the period see King, One Language, Two Scripts.
30Zaidi, A History of Urdu Literature, pp. 36-55.
31Several edited volumes provide a good overview of critical opinion: see Sayyid Sajjād, ed., Āb-e ḥayāt kā tanqīdī taḥqīqī mut̤āliʿah; Sayyid Āġhā Ḥaidar, ed., Mut̤āliʿah-e āb-e ḥayāt; Sāḥil Aḥmad, ed., Muḥammad ḥusain āzād.
32Farmān Fatḥpūrī, Urdū shuʿarā ke tażkire, pp. 487-88, 610-11.
33Farmān Fatḥpūrī, Urdū shuʿarā ke tażkire, p. 614.
34Muhammad Sadiq, Muhammad Husain Azad: His Life and Works, p. 53.
35Adīb, Āb-e hayāt kā tanqīdī mut̤āliʿah, p. 23.
36Quoted in Kālī Dās Guptā Raẓā, ed., Āb-e ḥayāt meñ tarjumah-e ġhālib, p. 3.
37See George Lakoff and Mark Turner, More than Cool Reason: a Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).
38As leading defenders see Sadiq (who writes in English as well as Urdu) and Adīb. Among the attackers see ʿAbd ul-Ḥayy, Gul-e raʿnā; ʿAbid Peshāvarī, Żauq aur muḥammad ḥusain āzād; Qāẓī ʿAbdul Vadūd, Muḥammad ḥusain āzād baḥaiṡiyat-e muḥaqqiq.
39Saksena, A History of Urdu Literature, pp. 276-77.
40Sayyid ʿIjāz Ḥusain, Muḳhtaṣar tārīḳh-e adab-e urdū, pp. 266-67.