RALPH RUSSELL: TEACHER, SCHOLAR, LOVER OF URDU
Thomas More [to an ambitious young man] Be a
teacher! You'd be a fine teacher Perhaps, a great
[Ambitious young man] 'And if I was, who would know
Thomas More You, your pupils, your friends, God
Not a bad public that
From A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt
Ralph Russell's work for Urdu began over forty years ago, and still continues. For more than thirty years he taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, and has published extensively, earning a reputation as one of the foremost western scholars of Urdu literature. He is best known for works undertaken with Khurshidul Islam on the poets Mir and Ghalib.
But his influence has been felt far beyond the world of scholarship An inspiring teacher, he has received from generations of students a disciple-like devotion. Among Urdu speakers he holds a special place of affection and admiration as one of the few English speakers who has taken the trouble to learn to speak their language with complete facility. He has continually looked beyond the world of university studies: his writings and translations have made Urdu literature accessible to a readership with no knowledge of the language; he has pioneered the teaching of Urdu to teachers, social workers and others who work with Urdu speaking communities in Britain; and in recent years has devoted a major part of his time to pressing for Urdu to be adequately taught in schools.
His unique contribution to Urdu has come about because he combines great scholarship with unusual qualities and a clear sense of commitment to certain ideals. I hope that others will assess his work from a more strictly scholarly point of view; in this article I want to look at it in the wider context of the man himself, and the convictions which have inspired him to work as he has done. I will follow the method he and Khurshidul Islam used in their Ghalib: Life and Letters, and "... wherever possible ... let the story emerge from his own words . . . ."[1969.1:9]