Annual of Urdu Studies, v. 4, 1984 p. 42.


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C. M. Nairn

A NOTE ON Sahr-A§ob

One may be faulted for beinq somewhat overly terse, but one can say that what was ^ahr-aSob in Persian has in fact become Sahr-e a55ib in Urdu, even though the change is not indicated in the written (and thus the spoken) form of Urdu. In other words, whereas the term in Persian referred to poems that contained lists of "city-despairing beloveds" belonging to various professions within the city—thus celebrating a city full of Love's affairs--in Urdu, the term now refers to poems which present a "city of despair," often indicated by listing various types of professional people, all of them lacking in their expected, essential qualities --"the world turned upside down." Needless to say, this matter of"lists" kept changing in nature and purpose with time and in accordance with the aims of individual poets.

There may be in Urdu a few sahr-asobs of the original Persian kind, but none comes to mind immediately. What we have, instead, are poems that are definitely not celebratory in purpose. Even when one detects some self-aggrandisement, as in Jur'at's poem, one finds it being done by denigrating others. The poems seem always to be condemnatory in purpose; they are insult-poems (hajw) of one kind or another, individual and/or social.

The question Dr. Pritchett raises is a valid one. It is directed at historians of Urdu literature who, it is apparent, have not been very careful in clearly indicating how a poem was originally titled or classified by the poet. The problem, of course, is complicated by the fact that the kulliy^t ("collections") of our classical poets are usually arranged partially according to "formally" defined genres--^aza2, masnawl, musaddas, etc.—and partially according to terms that refer to their "meaning"—Aajw, ga^Ida, marsiya, etc. Since a vast majority of poetic texts available to us now have been published with insufficient editorial care, it is very difficult to be sure about the authenticity of a poem's title.

It seems that the first step towards clarifying the issue raised by Dr. Pritchett, would be to prepare carefully edited texts of these poems, with no attempt at adding new titles where none, or an ambiguous one, has been provided by the poet himself.

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