Constructing a Literary History,
a Canon, and
a Theory of Poetry
by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi
It is probably true that modern western writers tend to underestimate the disruptive impact of colonial rule, just as most Indian writers employ it overmuch as a historical deus ex machina. We must remain indebted to each others' correction.
C. A. BAYLY1
The literary career of Muḥammad Ḥusain 'Āzād' can be described as a triumph of British techniques of management and control in India. The most remarkable aspect of those techniques was that while the stick was more in evidence than the carrot--and it was a very small carrot anyway--the subject at the receiving end of the carrot was quite convinced of the salubrious properties of the stick; he actually came to believe that he needed and deserved every inch of it.
Most people would tend to describe Mirzā ʿĀbid Ḥusain, the semi-autobiographical central character of Mirzā Muḥammad Hādī Rusvā's novel Sharīf zādah2 (A Person of Good Family), as a typical new-style Indian gentleman. Of respectable family, impecunious but honest, he is partly self-educated and fully self-made. He manages to go the famous Engineering School at Roorkie (established by the British in 1844, well before any universities). When he graduates, he obtains a minor job in the engineering department--that is, he becomes a 'Government servant', a person of great honor and substance in those days. By dint of honesty, ability, generally good relations with the English, and a slice of good luck, ʿĀbid Ḥusain succeeds in life, does many good-samaritan deeds, retires from the service at the proper age, and lives happily ever after in affluence with his pliable, virtuous wife.
Scrupulous, decorous though not servile with his employers, handy with tools and instruments, devoted 'Government servant', humourless, with an active dislike of Urdu poetry, devout, untroubled by questions of identity or change of patronage, Mirzā ʿĀbid Ḥusain would seem to be the perfect prototype of the 'loyal', technologically current, politically correct, and 'morally sound' individual whom the British wanted to develop in India. But the sharīf zādah has a certain too-good-to-be-true-ness about him. He, or his creator, seems to have all the answers, and all the luck too. I came to read Sharīf zādah when I was a young boy, and even then, surrounded by all the icons of colonial rule at home and school, I could hear a number of false notes in the story. It would have been good for the British (and maybe for India too) if the British could have mass-produced people like ʿĀbid Ḥusain. But it would have been no real triumph; people like ʿĀbid Ḥusain were preconditioned in favor of both English education and English rule. They had nothing to lose and much to gain by it. The real process of moulding the Indian intellectual--or at least the north Indian Muslim intellectual--to British use was far more complex, and far more grim. ʿĀbid Ḥusain's dislike of Urdu poetry was, however, typical of the anglicized Indian generations--generations who could descry their past but dimly, and whose future seemed to have been mapped out already by the British.
Unlike the somewhat mousy, unimaginative and colorless ʿĀbid Ḥusain, the author of Āb-e ḥayāt was moulded by the all-too-vivid circumstances of the uprising of 1857 and its blood-filled aftermath, including his father's summary execution by the British and his own flight from Delhi. After the immediate horrors of this period were over, several years of wandering eventually took Āzād to the Punjab--perhaps because of good reports about that part of the country.3 His peregrinations finally brought him to Lahore.
Then the year 1870 saw the arrival in Lahore of Alt̤āf Ḥusain 'Ḥālī' (1837-1914), a disciple of Ġhālib's and friend of many notables in the literary world. Both Ḥālī and Āzād may by that time have been thinking along 'reformist' lines. They may have met often to compare notes and exchange ideas; Ḥālī's employment with the British brought him into touch with English works translated into Urdu, and almost all of what Ḥālī knew about European literature must have come from these translations. While Ḥālī ultimately wrote the major theoretical statement4 and placed the matter of Urdu poetry firmly on the reformist agenda, Āzād went one better: he produced a highly readable, apparently sympathetic, but eventually 'reformist' account of the development of Urdu poetry.5
With the publication of Āb-e ḥayāt (1880), Āzād became an instant celebrity. He did quite a lot of other, equally superb work after Āb-e ḥayāt, but wrote nothing remotely approaching it in staying power. In 1885 he undertook a private trip to Iran, to gather material for his work on Persian poetry. Even at that time his mind seemed somewhat inclined towards derangement. By 1889 his reason had clearly begun to fail. He was certified in 1890, but continued to write. In fact his account of Persian poetry called Suḳhandān-e pārs, and his history of Akbar the Great called Darbār-e akbarī, were published during his madness, and the latter was almost entirely composed during lucid intervals.
Obvious answers have been given to the obvious question: why did Āzād go mad?6 Speculation is idle, especially because for a study of Āb-e ḥayāt we don't really need an answer to the question. Āb-e ḥayāt is the product of a very crafty, very brilliant mind, a mind that employs immense resources of innuendo, dramatic invention, and persuasive (though entirely half-baked) theorization to convey its message: If you can't be British, then buy British.
= = = = = = = = = = =
There had been no histories of Urdu poetry, or even of Urdu literature, before Āb-e ḥayāt. Detractors of Urdu literature have notched this up as yet another proof of the 'primitiveness' of the Urdu mind. The reason for the lack of literary histories, however, was not a lack of interest in history. There had been, of course, numerous tażkirahs (biographical anthologies) of Urdu poets. Loosely organized alphabetically (if at all), the entries in these anthologies rarely if ever recognized the passage of time as a criterion or category of excellence, or change, or decline. There had been no literary histories before the nineteenth century in Arabic or Persian either. So even if one were to blame the Indo-Muslim mind for being devoid of historical consciousness, one must blame the Arabs and Iranians as well. Yet it was the Arabs who wrote some of the most voluminous histories of the premodern age, and the Iranians didn't lag too far behind.
The main reason for the absence of literary histories in Arabic, Persian, or Urdu before the modern age is that present and past cultural production--literary production, certainly--was viewed in those centuries as existing simultaneously: there was no real past; everything was synchronic.
Poetry was conceived as an activity that was just there, like air, and needed no aetiology. The Arabs viewed poetry as timeless; it was always current. Here is Ibn Qutaibah, the ninth-century critic, in his ʿUyūn al-aḳhbār (Reservoirs of Biographical Reports): 'Poetry is the mine of knowledge of the Arabs, the book of their wisdom, the repository of their good days, the rampart of their heritage, the truthful witness on the day of dispute, the final proof at the time of argument.' And here is Ibn Qutaibah again, in his Kitāb ush-shiʿr va ush-shuʿarā (Book of Poems and Poets), one of the earliest treatises of literary criticism in Arabic: 'I do not regard an ancient poet with awe because he is ancient or a modern with disdain because he is modern, but have looked at both with the eye of equity.... Every ancient was modern in his own time.'7 Ibn Qutaibah is concerned with kinds of poetry, the beauties and faults of specific poems, rather than with questions about how past is the past. This healthy disrespect for mere age, or mere modishness, is a theoretical position first adopted, according to Kamal Abu Deeb,8 by Ibn Qutaibah. Culturally, however, Arabs had always judged poems on merit, and not as documents in history. Whatever may be the truth about the origin of the Sabʿah muʿallaqāt (The Seven Suspended Ones), tradition attributes them to individual poets who were not exactly contemporary, and yet their poems were woven in cloth at one point of time and hung in the Kaʿbah. Questions were not raised about their age. And if, as some modern theorists suggest, these poems grew during oral composition and narration, the narrator 'did not memorize precomposed poems, but, after mastering thematic, lexical, and metrical possibilities, would compose the poem in the act of performing it'.9
I need not emphasize the obvious fact that oral poetry does not recognize time.10 Oral poetry is remembered--by the narrator, and also by the listener. It is not just memorized; it is 'recalled from out of common sensibility and a common gestalt'.11 This is an experience that I can testify to, even today. Urdu poetry was born, and thrived, in a largely oral society. It inherited the characteristics of orality from Arabic and Persian (and the numerous local languages in its own milieu)--and developed quite a few of its own. It is quite common, even in this day and age, for Indo-Muslims to quote poetry freely in conversation and letters. Scant regard is paid to the 'authenticity' of the text: one extemporizes (consciously or unconsciously) to fill out the meter if the text is not fully remembered. Scantier regard is paid to the 'modernity' or 'antiquity' of the poet being quoted. A celebrated example of both is the prose of Abuʾl Kalām Āzād (1888-1958). It is peppered with Arabic, Persian, and Urdu verses--the poet (classical or modern) is rarely named--and the text is frequently inaccurate, though made to sound appropriately literary and metrical by Abu'l Kalām Āzād's improvisation. Here is a person (and a people) for whom all poetry is simultaneous.
Yet orality is not the only reason that poetry in this culture is not required to have a history. An equally important reason is the existence of the Quran in this culture as the supreme exemplar of literary virtue. It is uncreated, yet it is a miracle of textual creation. Poetry therefore tried to approximate to the miracle; literary criticism had its beginnings with the exegetes of the Quran who dwelt on the beauties of its language. Even Ibn ul-Muʿtazz, writing in 887--just after the death of Ibn Qutaibah in 883--declared in his ground-breaking Kitāb ul-badīʿ (Book of New Beauty) that verbal devices [badīʿ] had always been there in the discourse of Arab poets and the Quran, except for the somewhat artificial quality of 'dialectical argument' found in modern poetry. The two greatest books of Arabic liberary criticism are ʿAbd ul-Qāhir Jurjānī's Dalāʾil ul-aʿijāz (Proofs of the Miracle) and Asrār ul-balāġhat (Secrets of Appropriateness in Discourse). They are basically concerned with the application of Jurjānī's theories of metaphor and poetic structure to the Quran.12 It was quite easy for the concept of the Quran's eternality to be transferred to poetry as sempiternality: poetry existed at all times; it never went out of interpretive reach. There was no need to bring in mediators from history to make sense of poetry.
To be sure, these statements were not made in a formal manner. But the consciousness of the presentness of the past, and its essential indistinguishability from the present, runs through the formulations of Arab-Iranian theorists like a powerful current. It was common for Arab poets to say that we repeat ourselves, or repeat what we have learnt from our forebears. A classical Urdu poet would have understood, and he would agree immediately, for he understood his own poetic work in those very terms.13
Since the Quran was the repository of all wisdom, and was also the most beautiful text, it was quite proper to place both the mind and the heart of poetry in the Quranic context. This great theoretical leap was made by Amīr Ḳhusrau (1253-1325), India's greatest Persian poet, in the preface to the Ġhurrat ul-kamāl (New Moon of Perfection),14 a collection of his poems that he compiled around 1294. Ḳhusrau declares himself to be a follower of Saʿdī (in ghazal), Niz̤āmī (in maṡnavī), and Sanāʾī and Ḳhāqānī (in qaṣīdah)--all of them Iranian; he denies to himself the title of ustād (master) because he occasionally 'fumbles' in the sweetness of 'song/ghazal'. He goes on:
The essence of poetry is fully in consonance with the essence of knowledge [ʿilm] in both word and spirit. In word, because the Quran tells us 'wa hum lā yashʿurūn', that is, 'wa hum lā yaʿlamūn'.15 And in spirit, because it has reached us from the holy Prophet: 'Undoubtedly wisdom is from poetry'. And in the verses of the firm and clear Quran, 'wisdom' [ḥikmat] has been used clearly in the sense of 'knowledge' [ʿilm], as follows: 'And he to whom wisdom [ḥikmat] / Is granted receiveth / Indeed a benefit overflowing'.16 Here, 'wisdom' means 'knowledge'. Thus according to this, 'poet' means 'one who knows' [=a person of wisdom and learning], and a wise person who is also a poet would, by God, be the greatest of wise men! Going back to this Tradition, 'Undoubtedly wisdom is from poetry and undoubtedly magic is from discourse',17 we find a genealogical tree for the magicians of poetry which rises higher than the sidrah and t̤ūbā [trees of Paradise], because that nightingale of [the garden of] mā zāġh18 has determined poetry to be the root, and wisdom to be its branch. Who can imagine the exalted station of him about whom the incontrovertible Quranic verse says, 'He who was given wisdom was given the Good in large measure'?19 And the Best of Human Beings [Muḥammad] says in the Tradition that wisdom is a category of poetry, and not that poetry is a category of wisdom: [for he does not say] 'doubtless poetry is from wisdom'. Thus poetry is superior to wisdom, and wisdom lies deep in the character of the poet. And a poet can be called a philosopher [ḥakīm], but a philosopher cannot be called a poet. [The Prophet] describes magic as from discourse, not discourse from magic. Thus a poet can be described as a magician, but a magician cannot be described as a poet.20
Having achieved this fusion of the human and the divine, the intellectual and the emotional, the everyday and the miraculous, poetry would naturally exist in a timeless mode. Poetry was seen as a separate and distinct system. In a sense, it was seen in isolation 'from its cultural, political and economic conditions' and as 'a body of "knowledge" (ʿilm) superimposed on those conditions'. What was important was the mode of creation of knowledge, and not the 'vision' of the poet or 'the social, political or moral conflicts adumbrated or discussed by him'.21
= = = = = = = = = = =
The point made above by Abu Deeb is of vital importance, and is the second pillar on which Arab-Islamic literary theory--followed closely by the Iranians and the Indo-Muslims--rests. Poems are not to be judged for their truth or falsehood. Nor are poems imitations or representations of 'reality'. Neither the Platonic, nor the Aristotelian model of mimesis, imitatio, is relevant here. The Platonic model was metaphysical, moral, and anti-epistemological; the Aristotelian model was psychological and pretended to be (pseudo-)epistemological. But since poetry, according to Arab-Islamic poetics, made no pretense of conveying the 'truth' (or 'knowledge', in the Aristotelian sense of opinion or information based on reality), it need not be put on trial (as Āzād and Ḥālī did to Urdu poetry in the nineteenth century, and as Plato did to all poetry nearly twenty-three centuries earlier in his Republic22) and made to defend its continued existence or its acceptance as a useful member of the community.
In fact, the question of poetry's 'truth' (and therefore social relevance, usefulness, etc.) didn't enter the consideration of Arab-Islamic literary theorists, for two very good reasons. First (and here they are very close to Sanskrit literary theory) they regarded poetry as a game of words--words made truth, or whatever else, but words were what primarily made poems. ʿAbd ul-Qāhir Jurjānī held that metaphors are literally true in the sense that the translation of a metaphor in the same language, or another language, doesn't convey precisely the same sense as the original metaphor. So metaphors are to be understood literally. Jurjānī rejected the concept of the 'paraphraseability' of metaphorical utterances.
Jurjānī's great predecessor, Qudāmah ibn Jaʿfar (d. 922), had defined poetry as 'metrical, rhymed speech, expressing a certain meaning'. Qudāmah ibn Jaʿfar further said that the function of the poet was to bring words and meanings together. That is, utterances could be devoid of meaning, or their meaning could be remote from the words they used, or the words used in the utterance might not be expressive enough. It was the job of the poet to make texts, or to organize words, in such a way as to make them maximally meaningful. Further, the good and bad qualities of poems do not depend 'on the moral values or ideas the poet chooses to express, or on the fact that he praises a given subject in one poem and criticizes it in another, but rather on the poet's skill in the use of the four constituent elements of poetry: word, meaning, meter, and the use of rhyme'.23
ʿAbd ul-Qāhir Jurjānī built on this foundation, and created the elaborate structure of his theory--one in which metaphor came to represent the 'meaning of meaning'. The poet's job was to create 'meaning', and the interpreter elaborated the meaning of meaning. The poet 'organized' his words in a special way. (The word naz̤m was first used in this sense by Jāḥiz̤; Kamal Abu Deeb translates it as 'construction', though 'organization' seems to be better.) This special organization helped produce meanings and significations; as Jurjānī said, metaphor gives the advantage of meaning more things in fewer words.24
According to Tzvetan Todorov, ʿAbd ul-Qāhir Jurjānī seems to have been the first to examine 'in a detailed and unbiased way' the 'opposition between symbolic expressions whose new meanings can be established and those in which such a specification is impossible.... Tropes of imagination...point to no particular object; thus what they state is neither true nor false.'25 Thus while Qudāmah ibn Jaʿfar had declared the beauty of poetry to be innate to it, rather than lying in its 'moral' or 'edifying' qualities, and had suggested that 'the best poetry is the poetry which lies most'26--that is, poetry which makes maximum use of metaphor--ʿAbd ul-Qāhir Jurjānī went on to demonstrate that ordinary rules of true or false statement do not apply to poetry. The language of Jurjānī, and his successor Sakkākī, is more akin to that of modern theorists on the nature of poetry. In the nineteenth century, however, it was common for colonial educators and teachers in India to hold the view that the Arabic-Persian-Indo-Muslim poets' apparent disregard of 'truth' could be ascribed to some moral flaw in their character. As Henri Broms puts it, 'The essence of Islamic poetry was not inward dishonesty, "insinceridad," as García Gómez argues, but rather does it have its own great central objectives. It created its conceptions of literature, which prove to be distant, though indisputable, relatives of twentieth century poetics.'27 Broms of course says in a complaining tone that the Arabs developed no theory of beauty. For them, poetry meant 'poetic devices'. They were not interested in 'beauty as such'. Nor were they concerned with 'what poetry could ultimately be or signify'. The reason for this should have been obvious: Arab-Islamic theorists didn't have a Plato or an Aristotle to give them a guilt complex. Nor were they anxious, like Kant, to develop a theory of beauty that would try to justify the notions of a small minority, and yet pretend to 'judge for everyone'.
The Arabs, and others who followed them, tackled the question of the truth or falsehood of utterance in another way too. Arab linguists developed the notion of two kinds of utterance: inshā (non-falsifiable utterance) and ḳhabar (falsifiable utterance). Statements that 'aim at transmitting information to the addressee' are clearly falsifiable (ḳhabariyah), and those that aim at 'actually acting on him or her through language' are obviously non-falsifiable, and are classified as inshāʾiyah. A ḳhabariyah statement may also have implications beyond what it says; these may be (depending on the addressee) essential implications. But it could still be falsifiable. An inshāʾiyah statement, however, aims at 'performing an act, such as asking a question, giving an order, or instituting a new state of affairs'; such statements are obviously non-falsifiable.28
Abū Yaʿqūb Sakkākī (d. 1228) composed an encyclopedic work that he called Miftāḥ ul-ʿUlūm (Key to all Branches of Learning). This work, which remained the standard textbook on poetics and rhetoric in Indo-Islamic schools for more than four centuries,29 firmly established the intricate details of ḳhabariyah and inshāʾiyah statements. It also established the supremacy of non-falsifiable over falsifiable utterances, because of the plenitude of meanings to be found in the inshāʾiyah.30 In his commentary on Ġhālib, Naz̤m T̤abāt̤abāʾī tells us again and again that inshā is superior to ḳhabar.31 But by that time Urdu literature was firmly in the grip of the pursuit of 'truth', simplicity of expression, 'natural' poetry, social and moral usefulness, avoidance of metaphor, and similar weighty questions.32
= = = = = = = = = = =
I have devoted so much space to delineating some of the basic ideas about the nature of poetry that were prevalent in the Indo-Muslim world, simply in order to give some sense of the enormity of the task that Muḥammad Ḥusain Āzād--and Ḥālī, a little later--were trying to perform, and that they almost carried off. To us who are brought up believing solely in the truth of western concepts and ideas about literature and western ways of looking at a people's literary output, it doesn't seem at all outrageous that Āzād should have attempted to organize our literary history in the way histories of literature are supposed to be organized. Do not, after all, literatures grow, and develop, and become strong, or feeble, depending on how they deal with the world? Do not the older generations, who are 'simpler' in outlook, and 'nearer' to 'real life', and less 'artifice-minded', write a poetry that instantly appeals to the heart? And do not the later generations (unless they adopt new ways and adapt to change) chew and suck at the morsels and bones already chewed and sucked at by their forebears? Do not 'decadent' peoples produce a 'decadent' poetry? And is not a poetry that is given to 'artificialities', that is 'unrealistic', 'immoral', etc., truly decadent? And do not decadent literatures die, just as senile people do?
For such was Āzād's agenda in Āb-e ḥayāt. I have simplified it a bit, but no more than the oversimplifications and downright falsehoods that Āzād himself purveyed. Today, this agenda seems the creation of a mind that is somewhat overwrought, but basically sound; to some of us, it may also appear colonialist, and faintly comical. I too would laugh--except for my awareness that the effect and influence of Āb-e ḥayāt runs through many Urdu critics' and poets' assumptions about the nature of literature, even nowadays in the 1990s. Indeed, Āb-e ḥayāt did what the author (unintentionally, I am sure, but quite properly) had planned for it to do: it gave the Urdu literary community a guilt complex, an inferiority complex, and a willingness to write off most of its heritage as harmful, or false, or both. Āzād's general descriptions and prescriptions are made very clear:
There are many thoughts and themes in English that our language cannot express. That is, the enjoyment they produce in the English language can't be fully conveyed in Urdu. Which in reality is a result of the weakness of the language, and this is a cause of the greatest shame for its native speakers. (#60#)
In the countries of Europe, by longstanding custom, the internal and external power of the government was dependent on the innate and intellectual capabilities of the people. And all the government's arrangements, and all its affairs of every type, were established through its people's participation and the strategies generated by their hard work.... We ought to reflect on what kind of power their speech has, and what kinds of force their language must possess. In contrast to India: for in our language, if anything was achieved, it was the volumes of some poets praising the victorious fortune of a king, which are suitable only for diversion and amusement. It's a difference of heaven and earth! (#61#)
It is an unhappy state of affairs that our poetry has become ensnared in the toils of a few trifling ideas: that is, romantic themes, carefree drinking of wine, creating illusory colors and scents without the rose or the rosegarden, bewailing the calamity of separation, delighting in imaginary union, feeling an aversion to the world, and on top of this experiencing the oppression of the heavens. And the outrageous thing is that if we want to speak of some real matter, we express that very idea in metaphors--the result of which is that we can do nothing. My friends! I see that the exhibition hall of sciences and arts is open, and all the peoples have been displaying the handwork of their literature. Don't you see on what level our language stands? Yes--you can clearly see--she lies there on the doormat! (#77#)
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.33 (#79#)
This happenstance--well, whatever it has done, it has done. It has created this huge evil: it has caused our contemporaries to declare in unanimous chorus that Urdu poetry can only express romantic themes, that it doesn't at all have the strength and ability to express every theme. And this is a great black mark on the hem of the garment of our country's language. I ask myself, 'Who will wash it away, and how?' Indeed, this is a task for our youth, who in the land of knowledge have occupied both banks of the rivers, eastern and western. Their courage will irrigate the land. Their courage will bring water from both banks--and will not only wash away the black mark, but will also fill the people's lap with pearls. (#80#)
So ends the introductory part of Āb-e ḥayāt, leading us into the 'first era' of Urdu poetry. This era opens with the joyous words, 'It's the first New Year's Day of the world of Urdu poetry' (#81#). But in addition to heralding the arrival of a new way to see Urdu poetry, and organizing a new view of its past and future, the first hundred-odd pages have accomplished other things as well. They thus deserve a closer look.
= = = = = = = = = = =
First of all, there's the subtitle: 'Biographies of Urdu poets of renown, and an account of the improvements and reforms made in the Urdu language from age to age'. This subtitle immediately creates certain presumptions in the reader's mind: first, that this book makes a definitive statement about who is, or should be called, an Urdu poet; second, that this book tells us about the lives of such Urdu poets as have gained renown; third, that language (especially the Urdu language) is like a human being--specifically, a growing child: its 'power' grows with age, it is amenable to 'improvements', it needs 'reforms' and 'reformers', and it has been 'reformed' and 'purified' with the passage of time. The book therefore sets up a tremendously high horizon of expectation. The amount of authority and influence it exercised from the very beginning can only be imagined.
We must remember that at that time, none of the older tazkirah anthologies were available in print. The few recent ones--some of which were in Urdu--that were available in print didn't pretend to give a biographical or historical account of the poetry. They said little, if anything, about the origins of the Urdu language and its various stages and locales of development. The only exceptions were Fallon and Karīmudddīn's T̤abaqāt-e shuʿarā-e hind (compiled 1847, first published Delhi 1848), and Ṣafā Badāyūnī's Shamīm-e suḳhan ḥiṣṣah-e avval (The Fragrance of Poetry Part I) (first published 1872). It is doubtful that the latter was well known. The former seems never to have acquired much credibility: it claims to be a translation, by Fallon and Karīmuddīn, of Garcin de Tassy's Histoire de la littérature hindoui et hindoustani (Paris: Oriental Translation Fund, 1839-47). F. Fallon--not to be confused, as did Garcin de Tassy, with the lexicographer T. W. Fallon--seems little known as a scholar of Urdu. There are numerous misreadings of names both Indian and western, and the language is, to say the least, pedestrian and even faulty in places. Thus, to all intents and purposes Āzād's work is the first of its kind in almost all the important ways. Somewhat naturally, it became the most authoritative, not least because it is a supremely beautiful work of creative prose--dramatic in its narrative impact, and almost magical in its evocative power. While none of Āzād's successors could even approach his work in beauty, its scheme, and its manner of treatment of material, set the pattern for future writers--a pattern that has not been quite broken even now.
Who are the people deserving the title of 'Urdu poets', and who are the 'Urdu poets of renown' whose biographies are supposed to adorn this work? Apparently Āzād appointed himself sole arbiter in these matters. Ḥālī, in a characteristically mild and laudatory review34 of Āb-e ḥayāt, pointed to the omission of Momin Ḳhān 'Momin' (1800-52), Żauq and Ġhālib's great contemporary; and also of Niz̤ām ud-Dīn 'Mamnūn' (d. 1844), a poet of such note that his loss was lamented by Ġhālib even many years after his death.35 Ḥālī didn't make any comment at all on the omission of the great poets from Gujarat and the Deccan, not to mention Bihar and Bengal. For after all, Ḥālī too was helping to establish the canon that Āzād was promulgating. In the next edition, Āzād remedied the omission of Momin. He gave the feeblest of excuses for the original omission; the real reason will perhaps never be known, although there have been speculations. But he made no amends for the omission of Mamnūn. Mamnun was a poet of whom Ḥālī thought well--he quoted him with obvious approval in the Muqaddamah (p. 56)--and whom the prestigious Imām Baḳhsh 'Ṣahbāʾī' (1806-57) had included in his anthology Intiḳhāb-e davāvīn (first published 1844).36 The result of Āzād's high-handedness is that in spite of Mamnūn's contemporary and extant reputation, his noble lineage, and his excellence as a poet, he is practically unknown today.
It is not that Āzād had no information about the Urdu literature produced in the Deccan. He might not have known, or even known about, the Gujrī Urdu poets of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries; but he surely knew about some of the major Dakani and Gujarati Urdu poets. Many of them find place in Karīmuddīn's T̤abaqāt, Lachhmī Narāʾin Shafīq's Chamanistān-e shuʿarā (1762), and even in the arrogant, chauvinistic Mīr's Nikāt ush-shuʿarā (1752). The fact that many tazkirahs were at Āzād's disposal is borne out by internal evidence from Āb-e ḥayāt. In the case of another such tazkirah, Qudratullāh Qāsim's Majmūʿah-e naġhz (1806), one modern edition--that of Maḥmūd Sherānī (Lahore: Punjab University Press, 1932)--has actually been based on Āzād's own copy. Āzād mentions Saʿdī Dakanī, Aḥmad Gujrātī, and Sevā (#73-74#). His tone is dismissive, if not disdainful. He also quotes a verse from a poet called Ḥāmid. (No one else except Qāsim seems to have mentioned him; Āzād has almost reproduced Qāsim's exact words on Ḥāmid.) The verse from Ḥāmid is in the reḳhtah mode--that is, a mode of composition in which one uses a deliberately free mixture of Urdu and Persian. Ḥāmid's verse is no better or worse than the reḳhtah examples quoted by Āzād on the previous page. But then Āzād goes on to say,
If these are poetry, then from that time onwards countless poets can be found in the Punjab. The poetry of this region even now continues to be in verses of that very style. But these poets and their poetry are not those whom we are discussing. Aḥmad Gujarātī is a contemporary and compatriot of Valī....37 Sevā is a writer who lived in the Deccan.... And it's likely that there were many poets of his kind in those times, but we cannot call such poetry literary poetry. (#74#)
This marginalization of all poetry except what was produced around Delhi, or at courts in nearby areas, dates back to Mīr (1722-1810), who began his tazkirah by saying that Urdu poetry originated in the Deccan, and who then went on to use extremely derogatory language about the poets of that part of the country. Still, he promised, he would write about some of them in due course. Later in the book, he reiterated his poor opinion of the Dakani poets, but mentioned some notables. 'The rest didn't even versify properly, so what pretension could they have to writing poetry?'38
Qiyām ud-Dīn 'Qāʾim' Chāndpūrī (1722/25-1794) disagreed with Mīr in his own tazkirah, Maḳhzan-e nikāt (1755), and included many Dakanis in it. Unfortunately, the text of Qāʾim's tazkirah remained comparatively unknown for a long time. (It was first printed in 1929.) The text of Qāʾim's that did become well known--and even in fact notorious--was a verse of his made famous through its inclusion in Āb-e ḥayāt. Āzād observed, 'Everyone agrees that poetry as it is today made its appearance in the Deccan.' A couple of sentences later, he quoted Qāʾim, without comment on the derogatory nature of the quote, but quite nonchalantly, in proof of his statement that Urdu poetry was born in the Deccan (#75#):
/Qāʾim, I made Rekhtah look like a ghazal--otherwise
it was a feeble trifle in the Dakani language/39
But this is Āzād's style: he cooks your goose without your being aware of anything amiss. Not for nothing is he Urdu's most subtle and delightful prose writer.
Masʿūd Ḥasan Riẓvī Adīb defended Āzād's neglect of Dakani by saying, 'Āzād has kept the distinction between Dakani and Rekhtah or Urdu in view, and has determined Valī to be the first poet of Urdu, not Dakani.' Adīb also quoted Grierson, who described Valī as the 'father of Rekhtah'. He went on to quote extensively from the then little-known prose work of Bāqar Āgāh (1745-1806) of Vellore, perhaps the greatest Dakanī literary figure of the eighteenth century, to the effect that Valī is the 'leader and master of all in the creation of the ghazal of reḳhtah'.40
Apart from the fact that Adīb's argument is mere quibbling, it is also inaccurate and ahistorical. The point is not whether Grierson or Bāqar Āgāh considered Rekhtah and Dakani to be separate languages. They did not; but even if they did, it only proves that they made a mistake. Rekhtah is the name given to Urdu, like numerous other names, at different times. True, it doesn't seem to have been used for Dakani, but that proves nothing. Even Āzād knows that Reḳhtah and Dakanī are the same language. Qāʾim's verse that he quotes proves this knowledge. But he makes a direct statement as well: introducing the 'era' of Valī, he says,
In this era Valī is the candle of the gathering, and those present, from Delhi and the Deccan, are nobles and well-born, eloquent speakers of the language. Whatever they see, they see in the light of this language. We should consider their language to be one and the same. (italics mine, #81-82#)
Discussing Valī in his own right, Āzād says, 'In the volume of the poet of Nature each theme is newer than the next, but this pleasantry is not the least in newness: that the lamp of poetry should be lit in the Deccan, and its stars should rise on the horizon of Delhi' (#86#).
= = = = = = = = = = =
So Āzād was writing a history of Urdu--and not merely Delhi Urdu--poetry. In any case, by the time Āzād wrote, Dakanī was well recognized as a dialect or form of Urdu. The poetry in Gujrī was perhaps not well known then, but no one after Mīr, Qāʾim, Qudratullāh Qāsim, and Karīmuddīn could pretend not to know about Dakanī as a form or dialect of Urdu. Even Bāqar Āgāh, from whose preface to his own poem Gulzār-e ʿishq Masʿūd Ḥasan Riẓvī Adīb has quoted copiously to 'prove' that Dakani and Rekhtah are two languages, clearly treats Reḳhtah as a form of Dakanī, or Dakanī as a stylistically earlier form of Urdu. Adīb has neglected, by oversight apparently, to quote some vital words of Āgāh's. The phrase Adīb does quote, about Valī's primacy, is the second half of a full sentence. Āgāh in fact writes, 'Just as Z̤ahūrī has been, in Persian prose and verse, the originator of a new style, Valī Gujrātī is anterior to and master of all, in the creation of the ghazal of Reḳhtah.'41 So Adīb's strongest advocate in defence of Āzād avails him little, for Āgāh treats Valī as the inventor of a new style, not as a poet in a different language.
If Āzād is airy and insouciant about Dakanī, and ignores a number of major poets of Delhi, he seems almost entirely unaware of literary production in Bengal and Bihar,42 although Qāsim's tazkirah, one of his main sources, freely includes poets from Patna and Murshidabad, and gives the impression that these cities were then among the main centres of Urdu poetry.
Women and non-Muslims fare even worse. There is only one Hindu poet in the whole galaxy. He is the famous Dayā Shankar 'Nasīm' (1811-43) of Lucknow. Āzād still manages to say or imply uncomplimentary things about him (#244#). And Nasīm is mentioned not in proper historical sequence, but with Mīr Ḥasan (1738/39-86)--with whom he has no connection. A few more Hindus, a couple of Europeans, do flit across the pages like 'extras' in a film--they're there to provide some color. But judging from Āb-e ḥayāt, the contribution of Hindus to Urdu poetry would appear to be infinitesimal. From the eighteenth century Āzād omits many major, or interdisciplinary, or interesting Hindus like Rājā Rām Nāth 'Żarrah', Rāy Prem Narāʾin 'Ārām', Sarb Sukh 'Dīvānā', Āftāb Rāy 'Rusvā', and Rāy Ṭīkā Rām 'Tasallī'. Sarb Sukh Dīvānā, of noble family, fully bilingual in Urdu and Persian, was the ustād of such ustāds as Jaʿfar ʿAlī 'Ḥasrat'. Qāsim says that 'there would hardly be anyone in Lucknow who would not consider Dīvānā an ustād'.43 It's funny that Āzād borrowed so much from Qāsim, but forgot to take Hindus or women. Sarb Sukh Dīvānā is less known today than many minor figures like Muḥammad Aḥsan Aḥsan, or Ġhulām Muṣtafā Yakrang, or Mīr Makkan Pākbāz, whom Āzād's magic wand has immortalized.
Āzād ignores women even more blatantly. True, there were no major women poets in Urdu before the twentieth century, and Āzād was writing about 'poets of renown'. But this argument is circular, because it was Āzād alone who determined--for the purposes of Āb-e ḥayāt at least--who should be considered a 'poet of renown'. Today, we know many as 'poets of renown' only because they were noticed by Āzād in Āb-e ḥayāt. And there are many, like the poet, sufi, musicologist, and philosopher ʿAbd ul-Valī ʿUzlat (1692/3-1775) whom even Mīr recognized as a major figure,44 but who are unknown today because Āzād ignored them. So it is quite possible that a well-known woman poet like Māh Laqā 'Chandā' (1766-1834) would today be a 'poet of renown' if Āzād had chosen to put her in his gallery of 'speaking, moving, walking pictures' (#4#). That Māh Laqā Chandā's was no mean presence can be judged from Qāsim, one of Āzād's main informants. Qāsim says of her,
Chandā: Dancing girl, beautiful, her name is Māh Laqā. It is reported that she lives in great opulence in Hyderabad. She has nearly 500 soldiers and other servants in her employ. She pleases the heart with her coquetry and fine manners, but does not deign to notice all and sundry. Poets who are greedy and inferior in quality write her praises and are rewarded by her. She does physical exercises and rides horses, like men. Abandoning practice with the slings and arrows of her eyelashes, she comes out in the field and practices with the bow and arrow and the lance. She is extremely wise and mature, a rarity of the age. She has put together a collection of poems comprising all genres, and arranged according to the end-rhyme. She is a pupil of Sher Muḥammad Ḳhān 'Īmān'.45
Well, if there was ever a poet colorful enough in character and achievement to enhance the glory of Āb-e ḥayāt, it was Māh Laqā Chandā. But she didn't make the grade. Maybe because she was a dancing girl.
If that was the problem, an equally good candidate would have been Gunnā Begam (d. 1773). Her pen name has been reported as 'Muntaz̤ir' and/or 'Shoḳh'. Bluest of blue in blood, daughter of a leading nobleman, and married to the prime minister of the emperor of Delhi, she was one of the most beautiful women of her time; she was so delicate that she reportedly died of shock when she drank brackish instead of sweet water when thirsty during a journey. She was famous throughout the realm as a poet, expert in extempore composition. She was also a wit and a patron of poets. Even the crowded history of eighteenth-century India has no one to match her. Obviously, she wasn't good enough for Āzād.
Then, in the nineteenth century, there was Shāh Jahān Begam 'Shīrīñ' (1838-1901), ruling princess of Bhopal, well-known poet and patron of the arts. Āzād doesn't recognize her either. Maybe women didn't fit into his neat 'eras', especially if they were from Hyderabad or Bhopal. Āzād's centre of gravity is Delhi, and then Lucknow. Sometimes he neatly conflates time and space, as in the case of Valī, who was a Gujarati (or Deccani) but who comes alive only when he reaches Delhi. But Gunnā Begam was Delhi-born, and daughter of a leading nobleman and poet of Iranian origin. Perhaps being a woman was itself a fatal disability in Āzād's eyes.46 He says next to nothing about wives and daughters in Āb-e ḥayāt.
= = = = = = = = = = =
Two themes derived from historical linguistics--or from whatever passed in Āzād's mind for historical linguistics--are major overtones in Āb-e ḥayāt. The fact that Āzād pressed them into service for constructing a literary theory must be classed as a triumph of ingenuity. Urdu, according to Āzād, is derived from Bhākhā (that is, Braj Bhāshā); and languages grow and change, and acquire bad characteristics, contract diseases. They need to be controlled, cured, reformed, kept on the right track, the way human babies do. In fact, the images of language as a child, language as a youth, language as a full-grown man at the height of his powers, language as an ageing man with powers on the decline--the whole gamut of anthropomorphic apparatus--play a major part in framing our notion of the book. In the very first two paragraphs Āzād introduces such images:
I was astonished: that a child should be found wandering in the bazaar of Shāh Jahān [=Mughal Delhi], that the poets should take him up, that they should nurture and raise him in the land of speech....[Their] constant training and correction took that child by the hand and led him forward step by step. (#1#)
Āzād was not the first to say that Urdu was derived from Braj Bhāshā. Here is Bāqar 'Āgāh', in his preface to his poem Gulzār-e ʿishq (1795-96), long before Āzād:
In India,47 the Hindi language, commonly called Braj Bhasha, had been current for a long time. Although its truest of true roots, and the source of arts and fundamental rules and sub-rules, is the Sanskrit language, later on, Arabic and Persian words began to enter the idiom of Braj over a period of time, and the typical style and manner of Braj began to be lost. This [resultant] language was called Reḳhtah48 because of this intermixing.49
This theory is historically unsound, and Āzād should have known better. Perhaps he adopted it because it suited his agenda. He had a notion (not held by him alone, at the time) that the poetry in Braj is simple, heartfelt, non-metaphorical, not given to exaggeration, and so forth. He tells us that Bhasha, when it describes something, 'explains to us with every detail the features that are encountered in seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching that particular thing', so that 'the hearer receives the same pleasure that he would have received from seeing the real thing itself' (#50#). Whereas Urdu poetry, by the time of Āb-e ḥayāt, has become artificial, metaphorical (or given to metaphoric excess), and therefore unsuitable for real poetic activity.
Āzād devotes several pages' worth of scintillating prose to generalized sneers about the abstraction and unrealism, and so on, of the poets of Iran (who are the prototype of Urdu poets) and to highly fanciful summaries of the characteristics of 'our' (Iranian/Urdu) literary styles as opposed to 'Indian' ones. He has a faint realization then, that the imaginary sample of Bhasha that he has displayed, is itself full of hyperbole and metaphor, even if of a different kind. So he makes a turnabout and says that the reader shouldn't imagine that there is no hyperbole in Sanskrit. The main point, he says, is that the poetry of each different country reflects the geography and culture and customs of its country of origin. Our elders used the ways of Persian to gain metaphorical excellence, and power of expression, of a degree higher than that of Bhāshā; but in so doing they threw away a 'natural flower'--that is, 'effectiveness of speech, and expression of truth' (#57#). The general principles of English writing, we are informed on the next page, are that 'whatever situation or inner state you write about, you present it in such a way that you cause the same feeling or the same mood to pervade the heart--the same joy, or grief, or anger, or compassion, or fear, or fervor--as would be aroused by experiencing or seeing the thing itself' (#58#).
The naiveté and falseness of these statements needs no analysis; nor do we need to trace the origin of these ideas in English literary theory. The point that must be made, however, is threefold. First, Āzād's agenda here has a nativistic tilt; it is also a subtle attempt to wean Indo-Muslim literary producers away from Iran (and Arabia). Second, it satisfies the demands of the westernization project by making a remark about 'English writing' that is, in fact, almost a duplicate of Āzād's earlier remark about poetry in Bhāshā. Third, it strikes a blow in favor of simplicity, non-abstractness of expression, emotion-rousing effect, and 'realism' in poetic discourse.
Āzād made even more subtle use of his theory of growth and change in languages (particularly Urdu). He was trying to write the history of poetry in a culture that didn't recognize historical change in literature. He wanted to impose a pattern and an organizing principle on material that must have seemed inchoate to his modern (post-1864) sensibility. But there was no sense of history here, no consciousness of change, especially since the advent of Valī, whom Āzād made the grand progenitor of Urdu poetry. The change, if any, had occurred when the 'Indian style' of Indo-Persian poetry permeated through the veins and sinews of the stripling Urdu poetry, about the middle of the sixteenth century. Even then there wasn't much change, because Urdu poetry was after all Indian, and we are talking about the Indian style of Persian poetry. On top of this, there was the natural resistance to change, or conscious recognition of change and an insistence on continuity, which is the hallmark of Indo-Muslim culture. In Nikāt ush-shuʿarā (1752), the earliest tazkirah of Urdu poets, Mīr defined reḳhtah (Urdu poetry) as 'poetry in the manner of poetry in Persian, and in the language of the exalted court of Shāhjahānābād, Delhi'.50 This delimitation by the greatest Urdu poet of the eighteenth century--and perhaps the greatest Urdu poet of all time--flatly fixes the parameters of Urdu poetry. It recalls the diktat of the Edinburgh Review (1802): 'The standards of poetry have been fixed long ago by certain inspired writers whose authority it is no longer lawful to call in question.'51
To be sure, the pronouncement of the Edinburgh Review is not typical of English literary culture. But it would have made sense to Mīr. What would have made sense to Āzād was a statement like Ben Jonson's, in his Discoveries (1620-35): 'Nothing is more ridiculous than to make an author a dictator, as the schools have done with Aristotle.... Let Aristotle and others have their dues; but if we make further discoveries of truth and fitness than they, why are we envied?'52 Jonson spoke in the voice of the European renaissance. Āzād's new masters wouldn't always go that far, but they would endorse the spirit of Jonson's remarks. But what 'further discoveries of truth' could Āzād make from a material that wasn't amenable to his view of our literary past? As William L. Hanaway says in his interesting paper, 'Is there a Canon of Persian Poetry?', the medieval Iranians--read 'Indo-Muslims' here, for our purposes--'knew what the world was':
They understood that society was to be ordered in a certain way, and that no other way was viable....They understood that poetry was to be written in a certain register of language which they might let fray a bit around the edges, but whose essence they maintained intact. Furthermore, they shared a narrow and conventional rhetoric which allowed human relationships to be defined in certain terms.
The case about rhetoric is overstated a bit, but is essentially a fair presentation of the Persian-Indo-Muslim literary environment. Hanaway denies that a canon of poetry can develop in such an environment. While this can be debated, there's no denying the truth of his assessment that there was no 'social, intellectual, political, or ideological change' to bring in a change of standards or literary canon in Iran.53 In India, there was political change, but the notional authority of the emperor at Delhi continued to cast its shadow until 1857, and it provided a vital sense of continuity. To be sure, the world changed in India after 1857. But before 1857, there may have been a consciousness of decline and decay (although that too was a poetic convention, for the poet could always assume the role of outsider-commentator), but there was no sense of fundamental change.
So Āzād's problem was how to show change where no change was visible. He wrote beautiful--if somewhat cutesy--prose to introduce each of his five 'eras' of Urdu poetry. He announced these periods almost with his first breath in Āb-e ḥayāt (on the first page of the preface, in fact (#1-2#), and tried his best to incline the reader's mind toward them. But the carefully crafted introductions to the periods are mere glittering generalities, full of dramatizations and apostrophes. There's very little substance, and very little real distinction. From the introduction to the First Era:
There is no doubt that its idioms are archaic, and its themes too will often be light and commonplace.54 But the poetry's simplicity and unostentatiousness attract the heart like a God-given beauty: its natural excellence does the work of thousands of adornments. (#82#)
Now look at this extract from the introduction to the Second Era:
Just look--with unostentatious speech and straightforward words they will say whatever comes into their hearts, so spontaneously that they will cause a picture to stand before you. And however long the audience listens, the audience will still be transfixed, with their hands clutched to their hearts. What's the reason for this? That very spontaneity, before whose plainness a thousand elegances die of love. (#106#)
In the Third Era, poets allowed the 'high flight of their temperament' to cause them to 'turn their faces upwards'. Āzād exclaims, 'If only they had moved forward! So that they would have come out from the limited courtyard of beauty and love ...' (#123#). So what price change and development? If the poets remained confined to the narrow courtyard of love and beauty, then in what way did poetry change? A little before expressing this pious wish, Āzād tells us,
You'll find the hem of the garment of their accomplishment bound to the hem of the garment of Doomsday. In their verbal devices they'll use some ostentation as well--but like dew on a rose, or a mirror held up to a picture.55 And their ostentation too will enhance the pleasure of the original subtlety. (#123#)
By now Āzād could see that the agents of change weren't cutting much ice with Urdu poetry. So he devotes the remaining eight or nine pages of his introduction to the Third Era to listing petty and inconsequential changes in the language. He gives examples of words from this very period, and not the earlier periods, that he regards as archaic. In his introduction to the Second Era, he gave a list of about ten usages from the previous period that, according him, had become archaic during this one. Now, however, he gives no list of archaisms from the Second Era. That is, he couldn't find even archaisms to show that there was some change between the Second Era and the Third Era.
In the introduction to the Fourth Era, there is an emphasis on laughter, and joking, and playful creativeness. 'But they will neither move the steps of progress forward, nor raise earlier buildings higher' (#221#). The laughter and joking refer to Inshāʾallāh Ḳhān Inshā (1753-1817), and to a certain extent to Saʿādat Yār Ḳhān Rangīn (1756-1834). But in no way can the entire Era (if era it is) be described as the period of laughter and buffoonery; and it is oversimplification to reduce Inshā and Rangīn to the status of circus clowns. Both were persons of extraordinary genius and made major contributions to Urdu literature. Yet ultimately, the image of Inshā and Rangīn 'leaping and gambolling around' like monkeys among the upper stories (#221#) is all that Āzād leaves with us. For there was no real progress or change, vertically or horizontally, in this period either, as Āzād himself tells us. The remaining four pages of the introduction are given, as usual, to citing examples from this period of usages that, according to Āzād, have become archaic.
We are now in the Fifth--and last--Era. In this period, Āzād informs us, there are many who are content to nurture, and prune, and keep in order, the garden that they inherited. There are some others who
never went in any direction in the limitless expanse that lay all around them. From the rooftops, they flew up higher and higher. Thus you'll see that a number of these high flyers will reach such an elevation that the sun will look the size of a star. And some will fly so as to fly away entirely. (#325#)
In other words, they will be very like those of the Third Era. Let's just recall the words Āzād had used about these earlier poets: they allowed the 'high flight of their temperament' to cause them to 'turn their faces upwards', and failed, alas, to move 'forward' (#123#). So there's not much change or development really. This introduction has a few remarks about Delhi-Lucknow differences, based on usage, and a very short list of archaisms.
One doesn't need a close reading of the five introductions together to be struck by the fact that the changes, if any, have been in the language, not in the poetics or the worldview. And I know of no other critic, even in Urdu, who places a negative qualitative value on usages that become archaic. If there is one aspect of the poetry of earlier ages that Āzād dislikes consistently, it is the words and phrases that, according to him, are no longer in use. He seems actually to blame older poets for writing a language that is no longer current. He is a great champion of a style free from what he calls 'ostentation and artificial literary devices'. He is, for example, a great admirer of Mīr Soz, whose language, he says, has 'an extraordinary sweetness'. He praises him--with only one reservation:
The beauty of his literary style is entirely free of ostentation and artificial literary devices. It is an example of the style of beauty displayed by a rose on a verdant branch, when it forms a kind of cup; surrounded by deep green leaves, it shows its true youthful vigor. Those people of insight to whom God has given eyes to see, know that the adornments of thousands of artifices sacrifice themselves before one innate beauty. However, in his ghazals, after two or three verses one or two archaic words indeed prick the brain. Well, we ought to ignore them. /Think properly--is there any rose anywhere that doesn't have a thorn?/ (#186#)
So poor Mīr Soz is rapped on the knuckles--for writing according to the idiom of his times, a thing that he could not avoid doing. The patronizing tone of the italicized sentence (italics mine), and the concluding line quoted from Ḥāfiz̤, are truly galling. But Urdu people seem to have taken it--and even worse, taken it quite calmly.
Perhaps the most curious--yet most natural, if one stops to think about it--aspect of Āzād's view of old, archaic usages is that they are a function of bad poetry, or just plain bad literary values. That is, if you produced literature according to Āzād, your language would- not become quickly archaic: the reason the language of the older Urdu poets became archaic so quickly is that their poetry itself was obsolescent:
Today, hearing the language of that time, many of our contemporaries laugh. But this is no occasion for laughter. In this event-filled world just such change has always taken place, and just such change will keep on taking place. Today you might laugh at their language; tomorrow people will come who will laugh at your language. If the members of this heedless gathering give far-seeing Wisdom charge of the gathering for a little while, it's time to plan how we today can make our poetry such that our generation's language will remain widely accepted for some additional time. Although what lies ahead of us is shrouded in darkness, we ought to turn around and look at what lies behind us, and reflect: to the extent that the language has made progress, on what principles and in what respect has it taken its forward steps? Come, let's reflect on today's doings and the future prospects, and step forward in the same style. Perhaps some years can be added to the lifespan of our poetry. (#85-86#)
So if poetry were to address itself to contemporary problems and needs, its language would run less risk of becoming archaic. Otherwise, derisive laughter and quick oblivion are staring it in the face.
Āzād has another grand principle: as languages grow old, their literature moves away from positive sweetness and natural simplicity, and becomes elaborate, ornamented, sophisticated. There should then be renewal--or death:
This difficulty of the final era did not fall on our language alone. In Persian, compare the ancients with the later poets. Or compare the pre-Islamic poets with the later Arabic ones. Although I don't know English, I know this much: that its later poets too lament over this pain. Thus it can be seen that as long as a language remains in the condition of childhood, for just that long it keeps pouring out cups of milk and sherbet. When it attains mature years, then it mingles perfume and essences with them. It seeks out and procures the attar of elaboration. Then simplicity and sweet airs go down into the dust. Of course, the results are cups of medicines that anyone who wants to can drink. (#326#)
Āzād doesn't realize that every age is the last age for those who are in it, and there is no law that language (which in Āzād's terms here means poetry) must move from simple to complex. Nor are sophistication and complexity of expression necessarily bad. However, since Āzād's masters seemed to regard all Urdu poetry as insufferably and unprofitably complex, and therefore remote from life, Āzād had to say that complexity, metaphor, and verbal finesse are decadent, while simplicity and naturalness are pristine. It was therefore also necessary to equate literature with language, and to postulate that languages become moribund when their literature becomes old. In the case of Urdu, Āzād clearly saw its poetry as dead. It was therefore necessary to give the call for a 'new' language, so that a 'new' poetry (and other discourses) could be brought into being. All language is thus parole; there is no langue. Language is the handmaid of civilisation: it is the creation of ustāds who supervise and control its growth.
= = = = = = = = = = =
The envoi to Āb-e ḥayāt is one of the best pieces of prose that I have ever read. It has something of Thomas Browne in it, and something of Shakespeare. The beauty of the prose helps gloss over contradictions of thought and feeling. Still, one thing is clear: Āzād is in love with the old poetry, but also wants it dead. He wants its death so badly that he actually believes it is dead. He is like the rich heir who loves his old father, but is impatient for him to die, so that the old order may change, yielding place to the new. Who knows--Āzād may have taken the death of classical Urdu poetry as one of the ways in which God manifests Himself.
It is not the era that is over, Āzād declares at the very beginning of his envoi: 'India's old companion--that is to say, romantic poetry--is over. And the fountain of its progress has been closed up' (#526#). The old masters will live on in their poems, Āzād concedes. Their works are 'their living houses' (#527#). But the age of their poetry was, alas, all too brief. Although many of the mansions that they built are only for 'gatherings of beauty and love', they have used in them 'such equipment and material that future generations can make buildings for whatever purpose they wish'. Near the end of his stirring apostrophe to the dead masters, Āzād tells them--in a tone that to me sounds unforgivably patronizing, and straight out of the mouth of someone like Lord William Bentinck56--that future generations will reuse 'those stones that you have carved with embossed and decorated designs and installed only for beauty'. Future generations 'will take them out from there and press them to their eyes in gratitude. And with them they will adorn an arch that in its strength will give firmness to a national palace, and will make hearts blossom with its beauty' (#528#). So the poetry, which was described at the beginning of the envoi as dead, but living in the pages of the great masters, is ultimately found to be a dilapidated home for ghosts, awaiting the wrecker's ball and chain.
For all his cutesy cockiness, I think the Āzād of Āb-e ḥayāt is a tragic figure. There is no doubt that he loved the old poetry--at least most of it--and loved the culture that produced it--again, at least most of it. In spite of all his spicy wit, delicate or outrageous wordplay, malice (aforethought or unplanned), powers of dramatic evocation, and hypnotically smooth flow of prose, I think he wears black in his heart. But was he convinced that the old poetry must go--was in fact gone--and that it deserved to go? Or did he want to play obedient piper to the English tune? And if the latter, did he do so because he was persuaded that that was the only way to survive, or because he wanted to be known as a loyal subject of the British crown and of its concepts of enlightenment? Or was he fighting a rearguard action, trying to retrieve whatever he could from the old culture?
I think the whole truth will never be known, and it may perhaps be a mixture of all the possibilities that I have suggested. Sad he was at the passing of the old configuration, but the Āzād who slipped away from Delhi in 1858, in fear for his life, spiritually echoed Malcolm's words in Macbeth (II,iii,151-52): 'There is warrant in that theft / Which steals itself, when there's no mercy left.' He was not the same Āzād who undertook a soft espionage tour in 1865--at the behest of the very English who had executed his father as a traitor, and who had hanged or shot dead Muḥammad Ismāʿīl, the only son of his beloved mentor Żauq,57 on similar charges. The Āzād who gave the clarion call for reform in Urdu poetry in 187458 was someone else again; but he was closer to the world of Āb-e ḥayāt (a work begun in 1872) which was, in some sense, a world of hope and rejuvenation. The younger Āzād was a fugitive, but intent upon saving the poems of his master Żauq, the master poet. Āzād's choosing to save that one object from his crowded home was a symbolic act; the home and its traditions, he seemed to be saying to himself, are now lost. The poems too cannot live without the home. Perhaps someday I'll mummify and preserve them for posterity.
Unfortunately, Āzād did his job only too well. He abruptly terminated the story of Urdu poetry with Salāmat ʿAlī Dabīr (1803-75) and Babr ʿAlī Anīs (1802-74), both of Lucknow, both originally from Delhi. (Note the symbolism again.59) He did not include any living poet, for that would falsify the dominant note of his threnody: classical Urdu poetry was dead. No hint of its continued existence should be given, for that would hamper the work of giving it another, more appropriate avatar. At the time of Āb-e ḥayāt's first appearance, there were at least seven major living poets who were directly in the tradition of the old masters.60 But he chose to ignore them all. This could not have been by oversight.
Similarly, Āzād's total blacking out of all the important circumstances of the life of Shaiḳh Muḥammad Ismāʿīl, Żauq's only son, cannot have been by oversight. Ismāʿīl was an officer of Bahādur Shāh's court, with the title of 'Vaqār ud-Daulah' (Honor of the Realm). He was a poet of some note, with Fauq (chosen to rhyme with Żauq) as his pen name. In the aftermath of 1857 his wife and children fled Delhi to save their lives, but poor Ismāʿīl 'Fauq' was captured and put to death by the British.61 Sharaf ud-Dīn, one of Fauq's sons, may actually have been living in or near Lahore when Āzād wrote Āb-e ḥayāt. Āzād's silence62 about these matters can have only one explanation: he wanted to physically distance himself from Żauq. He didn't want to risk annoying the British by having them know that his beloved mentor's son too was a mortal offender against them. By declaring that classical poetry was dead, Āzād got himself out of the awkwardness of having to write about Żauq's successors, biological or spiritual.
Despite so much care and foresight, Āzād couldn't escape the final irony of time. It was his evaluation of Żauq, and Żauq alone, that failed to convince future generations. The modern Urdu establishment fast reduced Żauq to the size of a mere court sycophant--which he never was. And a poor sycophant he was declared to be--to spend his creative energies in praising Bahādur Shāh, whose status was perceived to be less than that of a chess king. Żauq, and his brilliant prototype Shaiḳh Imām Baḳhsh Nāsiḳh (1776-1838), and Shāh Naṣīr (d. 1838), were all accused of the very things that Āzād had taken so much pains to condemn: unrealism, imaginative exuberance, excessive fondness for abstraction, too much concern for verbal artifice, lack of lyricism. In Żauq's case, it was almost a rebound: Āzād had praised him too highly--and unconvincingly--and had played down his debt to Nāsiḳh and Shāh Naṣīr. About Nāsiḳh in particular Āzād had said ambivalent things, often tilting toward blame. In due course, Āzād's specific or latent uncomplimentariness toward Nāsiḳh had its impact, and Nāsiḳh became a dirty word in Urdu ghazal. If Āzād had given Nāsiḳh his due, and had praised Żauq in less colorful, extravagant ways, he would have done the right thing by both. Āzād, who established or marginalized so many reputations, ended up a victim of his own brilliance, losing for his own ustad the high reputation that he deserved.
1 C. A. Bayly, Rulers, Townsmen, and Bazaars (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992 ), p. 499.
2First published 1928, and still in print--presumably because it is a strong favorite with college professors. No date for the action is mentioned, but since the novel is autobiographical, the action may be presumed to take place toward the end of the nineteenth century. Mirzā Rusvā lived from 1857 to 1931.
3 Brij Mohan Dattātraya Kaifī, who knew Āzād personally, wrote in his obituary on Āzād that the Punjab gave shelter to the refugees of 1857 just as Lucknow had provided a home to those whom Nādir Shāh's invasion had made homeless in 1739. See Sāḥil Aḥmad, ed., Muḥammad Ḥusain Āzād, p. 14.
4 Alt̤āf Ḥusain Ḥālī, Muqaddamah-e shiʿr o shāʿirī (Preface to Poems and Poetry) (1893). Originally published as Ḥālī's preface to his collection of poems, it soon acquired a life of its own that is still, a hundred years later, nowhere near exhaustion. Pritchett, in Nets of Awareness, provides a fine analysis of both Āzād and Ḥālī. Also of interest is the summary and analysis of the Muqaddamah by Laurel Steele, in Annual of Urdu Studies (Chicago) 1 (1981):1-45.
5 Muḥammad Ḥusain Āzād, Āb-e ḥayāt (Water of Life) (1880); the work was soon followed by a somewhat revised version in 1883 and 1887. The edition of 1907, reissued by the Uttar Pradesh Urdu Academy in facsimile in 1982, may be considered definitive. The book has, of course, always been in print.
6 In addition to Aslam Farruḳhī's magisterial two-volume biography, long out of print and currently being reprinted with additions, we have amateurish psychological studies by Vazīr Āġhā in his Tanqīd aur iḥtisāb (Lahore: Jadīd Nashirīn, 1968) and by Tabassum Kashmīrī: 'Āzād kā ʿālam-e dīvānagī' in Sāḥil Aḥmad, ed., Muḥammad ḥusain āzād. In English, we have Muhammad Sadiq, Muhammad Husain Azad: His Life and Works.
7 Both passages are translated by Bernard Lewis in Islam, from the Prophet Muhammad to the Capture of Constantinople: volume 2, Religion and Society (New York: Walker, 1974), pp. 173, 174.
8 Abu Deeb says that Ibn Qutaibah wrote the Introduction to this work 'with the explicit aim of refuting the conventional view which judged poetry purely on the basis of the period in which its author lived'. One of the points made by Ibn Qutaibah in this context was that poetry 'should be judged according to intrinsic qualities and criteria, not by chronological standards'. See Kamal Abu Deeb's chapter, 'Literary Criticism', in The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: 'Abbasid Belles-Lettres, ed. by Julia Ashtiany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 343.
9 Michael A. Sells, trans., Desert Tracings (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1989), p. 14.
10 A telling example is that of poetry attributed to Sūrdās. Varying accounts claim that Sūrdās was a poet at Akbar's court, or a temple poet, or both at once, or at different times, or a composite of two different individuals altogether. Kenneth Bryant solves this problem by simply stipulating a 'Sūr tradition'; when he says 'Sūr', he means the tradition. Kenneth E. Bryant, Poems to the Child God (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), pp. vii-x.
11 Sells, Desert Tracings, p. 4.
12 An excellent discussion of ʿAbd ul-Qāhir Jurjānī (d. 1078/81) is to be found in Kamal Abu Deeb's Al-Jurjānī's Theory of Poetic Imagery (Warminster, Wilts.: Aris and Phillips, 1979). Suzanne Pinckney Stetkevych quite properly identifies the pre-Islamic qaṣīdah and the Quran as 'the twin foundations of Arab-Islamic literary culture'. She goes on to say that just as the Qurʾānic text was held to be inimitable, the poetry 'was considered to be of a quality unattainable by the poets of the Islamic period'. See Stetkevych, The Mute Immortals Speak (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), p. xi. The ideal, in the Indo-Muslim literary culture, however, was to approximate to the condition of miracle. dhālib (1797-1869), one of the greatest Urdu poets, wrote thus to his friend Nabī Baḳhsh Ḥaqīr about one of his own ghazals that he liked very much: 'Be just, and say: if Urdu were to attain the level of magic or miracle, would it have the form of this poem, or some other form?' In Ḳhalīq Anjum, ed., Ġhālib ke ḳhut̤ūt̤ (New Delhi: Ghalib Institute, 1987), vol. III, p. 1098, my translation. Even today, one of the more common words of praise for poems recited at literary gatherings in the Urdu milieu is 'miracle'.
13 Even Alt̤āf Ḥusain Ḥālī, the other great modernizer in Urdu, quotes such statements with approval in his Muqaddamah (pp. 145-46). Incidentally, the concept that no poetry is really new is not an 'aberration' merely of the Arabs or the Indo-Muslims. Sanskrit literary theory recognizes it fully. Mukund Lath has an interesting discussion on this point in his paper 'Creation and Creative Imagination', in Sudhir Chandra, ed., Social Transformation and Creative Imagination (New Delhi: Allied, 1984). Lath says that one school of Sanskrit literary theory recognizes that poems are made from other poems. 'These critics argued that the purpose of poetry was to express universals of experience (in Sanskrit, anubhāvyānubhavasāmānayam). Such universals were finite in number and common to all men at all times, past or present. And, as such, they had already been expressed by earlier poets, leaving nothing for modern poets to say' (p. 18). One here recalls a saying famous among the Arabs: 'Those who went before, left nothing for those who came after.'
14 Kamāl, or perfection, is a word commonly used in the Indo-Muslim milieu to praise artistic excellence. Though now a merely conventional expression, it meant much more in the traditional society. Citing Titus Burckhardt in his introduction to ʿAks-e bihisht (a photographic account of Vazīr Ḳhān's Mosque in Lahore), Sirāj Munīr says that there were two aspects to artistic achievement in Islam: Wisdom, which takes the artist (through rapture or reflection) to the principle of the Universe, and Skill, which permits organized expression of the Wisdom. Balance between the two produces 'perfection' (kamāl). See ʿAks-e bihisht (Lahore: Islamic Cultural Academy, 1985).
15 'Wa hum lā yashʿurūn', that is, 'They have no awareness'; 'wa hum lā yaʿlamūn', that is, 'They do not know'. In Arabic, the word for poetry, shiʿr, is from the root shaʿara, which means, 'to know, to be sensible of [something]'. Fazlur Rahman says that the root word is shuʿūr, which means 'consciousness or awareness beyond the ordinary'. See his Major Themes of the Quran (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 93. Miṣbāh ul-luġhāt, one of the more reliable Arabic-Urdu dictionaries, edited by ʿAbd ul-Ḥafīz̤ Ballyāvī (Delhi: Maktabah-e Burhān, 1950), confirms that shaʿara and shuʿūr are root words with the same meaning. Ḳhusrau takes advantage of the common root and claims, plausibly enough, that since yashʿurūn means the same as yaʿlamūn, poetry [shiʿr] and knowledge [ʿilm] are virtually the same.
16 A. Yusuf Ali, trans., The Holy Qur'ān (Brentwood, MD: Amana Corp., 1983), p. 109 (2:269).
17 Imām Buḳhārī records only the first part of this Tradition. Imām Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal records this Tradition in full, though without the intensifier lām that occurs before both ḥikmat and siḥr in the version used here by Ḳhusrau. See Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal's Musnad (Beirut, n.d.), vol. I, p. 309. I am thankful to my friend Dr. Z̤. A. Ṣiddīqī of Banaras Hindu University for this information.
18 The nightingale of the garden of mā zāġh signifies the Prophet Muḥammad. It is a beautiful pun involving a Quranic phrase (53:17) about the Prophet: 'His sight never swerved / Nor did it go wrong' (trans. A. Yusuf Ali, p. 1445). Since this verse is God's praise for the Prophet, Ḳhusrau imagines the whole verse (signalled by the first two words, mā zāġh), as a garden of which Muḥammad is the nightingale. Since in Persian mā means 'we, us' and zāġh means 'crow', and there are many tree metaphors in the text, the pun becomes extremely complex and delightful.
19Here I give my literal translation of Ḳhusrau's Persian rendering of the verse (2:269) quoted by him earlier in Arabic.
20 Ġhurrat ul-kamāl, manuscript in Aligarh Muslim University library, pp. 21-22, my own translation. There is a thought-provoking paper by Qāẓī Jamāl Ḥusain called Dīb*chah-e Ġhurrat ul-kam*l kī maʿnaviyat in Shabḳhūn (Allahabad) 168 (Mar-May 1993):9-14. The preface to Ġhurrat ul-kam*l has been printed (very badly) only once, From Delhi, by Kutbḳh*nah-e Niz̤*miyah (n.d.). The manuscript in the Ḥabīb Ganj collection of Aligarh Muslim University is much better.
21The direct quotations are from Kamal Abu Deeb's 'Literary Criticism' chapter (cited earlier), p. 353.
22 Of special interest for our purposes are Books II and X. In Book X, the merits and defects of poetry are analysed in language reminiscent of legal examination. Terms like 'defenders of poetry' and 'defence' occur frequently. For extensive and easily accessible extracts from Jowett's translation, see Hazard Adams, ed., Critical Theory Since Plato (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971).
23 S. A. Bonnebaker, ed., The Kitāb Naqd Al-Shiʿr of Qudāma bin Gāfar Al-Kātib Al-Baghdādī (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1956), p. 9.
24 This is my free translation of a sentence in the Urdu version of extracts from Jurjānī's Asrār ul-balāġhat prepared for me by Dr. Z̤. A. Ṣiddīqī.
25 Tzvetan Todorov, Symbolism and Interpretation, trans. by Catherine Porter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986), p. 82.
26 'Aḥsan ush-shiʿri akżabuhu' in Arabic. What I have given in the text is Bonnebaker's translation from his edition of Naqd ush-shiʿr, p. 1. Shakespeare seems to be translating Qudāmah unconsciously: 'For the truest poetry is the most feigning' (As You Like It III, iii, 19-20). Jurjānī's comment in Asrār is worth quoting here: 'The other ones who say that the biggest liar of a poet is the best poet hold the opinion that the art [of poetry] can prosper and find its greatest glamor and develop to many-sidedness only where it can operate freely and with a maximum of elbow room.... Unceasingly, the motifs stream toward him; he draws water from a well that will never run dry, takes out things from a container that is forever full.' This passage is quoted in Henri Broms, How Does the Middle Eastern Literary Taste Differ From the European? (Helsinki: Societas Orientalis Fennica, 1972), pp. 26-27.
27 Broms, How Does the Middle Eastern Literary Taste..., p. 28.
28 G. Bohas et al., The Arabic Linguistic Tradition (London: Routledge, 1990), pp. 128-30. The terms used in the text cited are 'informative' for ḳhabariyah and 'performative' for inshāʾiyah. However, I prefer 'falsifiable' and 'non-falsifiable' because the inshāʾiyah is actually a little more than performative. Subjunctive statements ('Oh, to be in England / Now that April's there') and rhetorical interrogatives ('Do I live, am I dead?') are also inshāʾiyah. (The first example is from Browning's 'Home Thoughts, From Abroad', and the second from his 'The Bishop Orders his Tomb at St. Praxed's Church'.)
29 ʿAbd ul-Qādir Badāyūnī says that Miftāḥ ul-ʿUlūm and its commentaries were taught in Indian Islamic schools from the time of Sikandar Lodī (r.1489-1510). 'Among the great and learned men of the time of Sult̤ān Sikandar were Shaiḳh ʿAbdullāh T̤ulumbī and Shaiḳh ʿAzīzullāh T̤ulumbī, both of whom...introduced the systematic study of intellectual sciences into that country [of Hindustan]. One of his [=Shaiḳh ʿAzīzullāh's] pupils was Miyāñ Ḥātim Sanbalī, who is commonly said to have read the commentary on the Miftāḥ more than thirty times in the course of his life, and the Mut̤avval more than forty times.' See Badāyūnī, Muntaḳhāb ut-Tavārīḳh, trans. by George S. A. Ranking (Karachi: Karimsons, 1976 ), vol. I, pp. 427-28. The phrase 'commentary on the Miftāḥ' is italicized in Ranking's translation, as if it were the name of a book. Actually, it should have been unitalicized and have read, 'the two commentaries on the Miftāḥ', because the Persian text has the dual form 'sharḥain'. Apparently there were two well-known commentaries on this work that were popularly studied at that time, in addition to the Mut̤avval of Taftāzānī (1322-90). The Mut̤avval is an extremely long commentary on Part III of the Miftāḥ; it deals with rhetoric and figures of speech. About the above-mentioned Shaiḳh Ḥātim, Badāyūnī says, 'It used to be said that he had, in the course of his teaching, gone through the commentary on the Miftāḥ and the Mut̤avval...nearly forty times'. See Muntaḳhāb ut-Tavārīḳh, trans. Wolseley Haig (Karachi: Karimsons, 1978 ), vol. III, p. 109. On page 124 of the same volume, we learn the Miyāñ Jamāl Ḳhān, Muftī of Delhi, 'used to speak authoritatively on the commentaries of the Miftāḥ'. The numbers thirty and forty are intensifiers, to mean 'many many'.
30 William Earl Smyth, in his Ph.D. dissertation (New York University, 1986), 'Persian and Arabic Theories of Literature: A Comparative Study of Al-Sakkākī's "Miftāḥ ul-ʿUlūm" and Shams-e Qays' "Al-Muʿjam"', has an excellent discussion of Sakkākī's views on this point; see pp. 85-93.
31T̤abāt̤abāʾī's commentary on Ġhālib was first published in 1900, and is still in print. T̤abāt̤abāʾī knew more Arabic and Persian literature and theory than Ḥālī, but he suffered the same fate as Ḥālī: in both cases those of their ideas that were perceived as western-derived (like T̤abāt̤abāʾī's dislike of wordplay) gained immense prestige and currency; other ideas of theirs that were more clearly based on traditional poetics went unnoticed.
32 Bonnebaker says that his Arab friend who first quoted to him Qudāmah's dictum about the best poetry being the most given to lies, rejected this definition vehemently, and his emphatic rejection 'was expressed with a force which a European would only use if he were opposing a contemporary scholar' (in his translation of Naqd Al-Shiʿr cited earlier, p. 1). Bonnebaker should have appreciated the fact that his Arab friend was only repudiating his own past, as he had been taught to do.
33 The whole of this and the following extract have also been quoted approvingly by Masʿūd Ḥasan Riẓvī Adīb, who has the reputation of being a defender of classical Urdu poetry against Ḥālī. What greater evidence could there be of the harm caused by the 'westernisation' of Āzād and Ḥāli? See Adīb's Āb-e ḥayāt kā tanqīdī mut̤āliʿah, pp. 15-16.
34 Kulliyāt-e naṡr-e ḥālī, vol. II, pp. 184-94.
35 'Where is Niz̤ām ud-Dīn Mamnūn, where Żauq, and where Momin? There is just Āzurdah--he's silent; and then Ġhālib--he's beside himself, intoxicated, out of his mind.' Ġhālib to Mīr Mahdī Majrūḥ, 23 May 1861. The full text appears in Ḳhalīq Anjum, ed., Ġhālib ke ḳhut̤ūt̤ (New Delhi: Ghalib Institute, 1985), vol. II, p. 525. The translation is mine.
36Edited by Tanvīr Aḥmad ʿAlvī (Delhi: Department of Urdu, Delhi University, 1987 ), pp. 264-85.
37 Actually, Shaiḳh Aḥmad Gujrātī was more than a century earlier. Also, Valī (1667-1720/25) was not strictly a Gujrati; his father, or an even earlier forebear, apparently moved from Gujarat to the Deccan, where Valī seems to have been born. See Jamīl Jālibī, Tārīḳh-e adab-e urdū, vol. I, pp. 422-23, 533-34.
38 Mīr Taqī Mīr, Nikāt ush-shuʿarā, pp. 23, 90.
39 An authoritative source for the Qāʾim shiʿr is Iqtidā Ḥasan, ed., Kulliyāt-e Qāʾim (Lahore: Majlis Taraqqī-e Adab, 1965), vol. I, p. 215. I translate the word lachar as 'feeble', which is what it meant until the nineteenth century. In modern Urdu, it has a much stronger effect, something like, 'absurd, stupid'. The shiʿr is immensely popular with academic Urdu critics--who follow Āzād almost blindly--and I can testify to its universal acceptance as accurate among the young Urdu speakers of my time.
40 Adīb, Āb-e ḥayāt kā tanqīdī mut̤āliʿah, pp. 24-29.
41 ʿAlīm Ṣabā Navīdī, ed., Maulānā bāqar āgāh vellorī ke adabī navādir (Madras: Tamilnadu Urdu Publications, 1994), pp. 143-44. The translation is mine. The text quoted here is slightly different from Adīb's version, but the meaning is clear. The point is that according to Āgāh, Z̤ahūrī (d. 1617), a well-known Persian poet of the 'Indian Style', created a style of his own in Persian poetry, and Valī was the creator of a new style in Urdu poetry--not, of course, a new language different from Dakanī.
42 He ignored even Qāʾim, literally marginalizing him by relegating him to a footnote (#148#) and the casual reference (#75#) quoted earlier. On page #75#, Qāʾim is described as 'a contemporary' of Mīr's. On page #148#, he is mentioned as the original subject of a satire by Saudā (1713-81). There is then a brief footnote saying, inter alia, that his collection of poems cannot at all be ranked below those of Mīr or Saudā--but 'wide popularity is another thing' and he 'never became well known'. The fact of the matter is that before Āb-e ḥayāt Qāʾim was universally regarded as a major poet; Ġhālib greatly admired him, and called him ustād ('master'). Qāʾim's star sank low the day Āb-e ḥayāt was published. It took Qāʾim's reputation nearly seventy-five years to recover. The only poet from Bihar or Bengal whom Āzād mentions is Rāsiḳh ʿAz̤īmābādī (1748-1822). He gets four lines on page #162#. Even in this small space, Āzād slips in the remark, 'everyone in that [eastern] area considered him an ustad'. That is, Āzād himself is unable, or unwilling, to grant Rāsiḳh that status. The fact is that Rāsiḳh is a major poet, but Āzād's marginalization of him ensured that even today, his reputation outside Bihar is very slight. Āzād does briefly mention the prose writers of the College of Fort William in Calcutta (#24#). But that is something different--the idea is to praise the sagacity of the English. And anyway, Āzād wasn't writing a history of Urdu prose.
43 Majmūʿah-e naġhz, p. 68.
44 Mīr, Nikāt ush-shuʿarā, pp. 90, 92.
45 Majmūʿah-e naġhz, pp. 48-49. My translation.
46 It should be noted that in Āzād's time there were at least three extant tazkirahs devoted to women poets of Urdu. Shamīm-e suḳhan ḥiṣṣah-e duvvum by ʿAbd ul-Ḥayy Ṣafā Badāyūnī (composed 1872-82, first published 1883); Bahāristān-e nāz by Ranj Meraṭhī (Meerut: Mat̤baʿ Dār ul-ʿUlūm, 1864); and Tażkirat un-nisā-e nādirī by Durgā Parshād Nādir (Delhi: Mat̤baʿ-e Fauq Kāshī, 1878). For further information see Farmān Fatḥpūrī, Urdū shuʿarā ke tażkire. The circumstances of Gunnā Begam's death are narrated by Saʿādat Yār Ḳhān 'Rangīn' in Ḳhush maʿrikah-e zebā (1846), edited by Shamīm Inhonvī (Lucknow: Nasīm Book Depot, 1971), p. 710. On Shīrīñ, see Shamīm-e suḳhan ḥiṣṣah-e duvvum, p. 32.
47'India' here means northern India. In medieval geography, only the area north of the river Narbadā was considered 'Hind'.
48 'Reḳhtah' means, among other things, 'mixed'. Urdu was often called Rekhtah in Delhi, from the eighteenth century onwards. Until about the third quarter of the nineteenth century, reḳhtah also meant 'a poem in the language called reḳhtah'. Reḳhtah was also a style of Urdu poetry; in this style, current till about the end of the seventeenth century, Urdu and Persian were freely mixed.
49 Adīb, Āb-e ḥayāt kā tanqīdī mut̤āliʿah, p. 28. Farmān Fatḥpūrī (Urdū shuʿarā ke tażkire, pp. 487-88) notes that Ṣafā Badāyūnī, in his Shamīm-e suḳhan ḥiṣṣah-e avval (1872), expounded the same theory about the origin of Urdu as Āzād did in Āb-e ḥayāt. Āzād did not acknowledge or even mention Ṣafā Badāyūnī; but it seems to me that the view about Braj Bhasha being the mother of Urdu was quite commonly held in those days, and Āzād didn't regard it as anyone's property.
50 Mīr, Nikāt ush-shuʿarā, p. 23.
51 Quoted in R. P. Cowl, ed., The Theory of Poetry in England (London: Macmillan and Co., 1914), p. 272.
52 Cowl, The Theory of Poetry, p. 51.
53 William L. Hanaway, 'Is there a Canon of Persian Poetry?', Edebiyat (NS) 4 (1990):8-9.
54 The word here, mubtażal, 'commonplace, everyday' in its original Arabic sense, had also acquired by Āzād's time the meaning of 'contemptible, base, degenerate'. Platts gives these meanings in his dictionary (1884). Since in modern Urdu the original Arabic sense is almost entirely lost, most readers would now interpret Āzād's words here in the pejorative sense.
55Fancy medieval mirrors were mounted on large pictures, or pictures were painted around them.
56 Governor General of India, 1828-35. 'To pay for a pontoon bridge over the Yamuna at Agra--costing more than the forbidden Rs. 10,000--he sold off some marble lumber from a ruinous bath in Agra Fort, and had the Great Gun of Agra (a Mughal weapon reputed to have once fired a shot to Fatehpur Sikri 24 miles away) melted down: this started a long-lived canard that he had wanted to sell off the Taj Mahal.' The Great Gun was, however, so sturdy and of such dense material that 'it had to be blown up before it could be melted down'. John Rosselli, Lord William Bentinck, The Making of a Liberal Imperialist (1774-1839) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), p. 283. I am indebted to Dr. Shushil Srivastava of Allahabad University for bringing this book to my notice.
57 Tanvīr Aḥmad ʿAlvī, Żauq Dihlavī, p. 41.
58 See Pritchett, Nets of Awareness, p. 34.
59 Also, both were exclusively marṡiyah poets. A marṡiyah is a longish poem lamenting the death, in battle, of Ḥusain, the Prophet's grandson. Āzād was a Shiite; Shiites are the sect among Muslims who ritualize the lament for Ḥusain. Double symbolism, perhaps, in choosing these two poets with whom to terminate the tale?
60 They were: Amīr Mīnāʾī (1828-1900), pupil of Asīr, who himself was a disciple of Muṣhafī; Anvar Dihlavī (1847/48-1885), pupil of Żauq, then of Ġhālib; Dāġh (1831-1905), pupil of Żauq; Ḥālī (1837-1914), pupil of Ġhālib; Ẓāmin ʿAlī 'Jalāl' (1834-1909), pupil of Rashk, who himself was a pupil of Nāsiḳh; Ḳhurshīd ʿAlī 'Nafīs' (1819-1901), son and pupil of Anīs; and Z̤ahīr Dihlavī (1825-1911), pupil of Żauq. This list, though compiled by me from personal knowledge of the eminence of the seven poets mentioned here, is not ad hominem. Anvar, Nafīs, and Z̤ahīr are somewhat in the shadow at present, but Amīr, Jalāl, Dāġh, and Ḥālī are still quite prominent. Ḥālī, of course, has his primary place as a modernist and reformer. But his position as a classical poet also is quite secure.
61 Tanvīr Aḥmad ʿAlvī, Żauq Dihlavī, pp. 40-41.
62 Āzād mentions Shaiḳh Muḥammad Ismāʿīl's death quite casually, giving no hint of the circumstances. In the context of Ismāʿīl's and his joint efforts to put together a complete collection of Żauq's poems, he says only that the ġhadr--that is, sedition or treason, a term used by the English, and by 'loyal' or cautious Indians--suddenly broke out: 'No one had any awareness of anyone else. Thus it's a pity that along with his bodily son Ḳhalīfah Muḥammad Ismāʿīl, his spiritual offspring [of poetry] too departed this world' (#450#).