Annual of Urdu Studies, v. 3, 1983 p. 103.

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Book Reviews

Shamsur Rahman Faruqi. THE SECRET MIRROR: ESSAYS ON URDU POETRY. Delhi: Academic Literature, 1981. 157 pp., index. Rs 80/-. (Available from Academic Literature; 58-A, Jitar Nagar Extension; Parwana Road; Delhi-110 051; India.)

Urdu literary criticism is a strange field, for most authors who work in this area are inclined to apply the standards of Western criticism to their topics, and the results are often anything but enjoyable. Mr. Faruqi certainly does not completely avoid the danger of citing too many European critics, or showing his knowledge of European (and that means English) literary tradition, but he is very much alive to the character of Urdu poetry as "the expression of the Indo-Muslim mind," as his first essay in this collection shows. And it is in this essay that he comes up with some very interesting and thought-provoking ideas, such as the poet's assuming, as it were, a "feminine" role in later ghazal poetry. This device was, of course, common among the mystical folk poets of Sind, Gujarat and the Punjab, who often identified themselves with the heroines of local traditions, thus representing the virahini, the -longing bridal soul. But it would be wrong to stress the melancholy, "feminine" character of the ghazal writers in Urdu too much, for the themes of "shedding tears of blood, of eyes becoming rivers of sorrow," etc., are very well attested in classical Persian and Turkish poetry, where one finds dozens of Euphrateses and Tigrises running from the poet's eyes.

Likewise, grammatical ambiguity is found in both classical Persian and Turkish poetry, both languages having no distinction of gender, so that the poet could easily shift roles. The object of love was often referred to in these traditions, as in the Sindhi folk tradition, as "they."

In any case, the "feminine" aspect of the ghazal, and a number of other remarks are certainly worth remembering. Other parts of the article, however, need revision. I don't know how the author invented "Karl Jehan" as someone who collected articles on Persian literature; my guess is that he intends Karl Jahn, the editor of Jan Rypka's monumental History of Iranian Literature. Such flaws do not increase the reader's trust in Mr. Faruqi's statements concerning Persian poetry. Many of the examples which he singles out as typical for the Indian style are well known in classical Persian, thus cak-e garlban and the "laughter" of the lightning. I wonder how one can prove that for an Iranian "cloud" means chaos or primeval existence--not only in India, but in the whole Middle East, rain is considered as mercy, rahmat (as we still say in Turkish). It is in this meaning that rain is often connected with the Prophet, who was sent as "mercy for the worlds," the most beautiful example of which is found in Shah Abdul Latif's Sur Sarang.


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