About the Book
Allah! Allah! What days those were when we had the late Maulvi Nazir Ahmad Sahib with us". With these words, Mirza Farhatullah Beg takes the reader through the bylanes of old Delhi from Churiwalan, through Hauz Kazi and Khari Baoli to Gali Batashan Wali to the home of his tutor-a doyen of Urdu prose and one of the pioneers of modern fiction in Urdu.
In a narrative that is as funny as it is respectful, there emerges an eloquent and evocative portrait that honestly captures the relationship between an erudite tutor and his loving and impudent pupil. Rich in historical detail, the work also records eye witness anecdotal accounts of the Mutiny of 1857 and paints a vivid picture of a fading world.
About the Author
Mirza Farhtullah Beg (1883-1974) of Delhi was a distinguished humourist. His essays are marked by their richness of imagination and formality of style. His pen-portraits are lively and sharp in characterization. His language represents one of the best specimens of Urdu as spoken in Delhi.
'Blessed are the peace-makers,' says the gospel. What is peace, if not bringing people closer together and creating a state of harmony and friendship, and ultimately the spirit of brotherhood among them? Translation is one such noble activity which, in essence, provides opportunities for different language communities to understand and appreciate each other. In a multilingual country, it may lead to greater cohesion and integration and 'build a unity of outlook which may overshadow all diversities: Otherwise, too, the study of the classics does have a civilising effect as it presents, in an engaging way, the variety of human relations, thought and practices. It enriches life through its effect on individuals.
About the Urdu language it may be noted that it has been an outcome and a significant symbol of the composite Indo- Muslim culture which originated in India when Muslims made India their homeland more than nine hundred years ago. Known by different names during the course of its development, it became the common spoken language of the whole of north India. Its first literary works appeared in the Deccan some four hundred years ago. But unfortunately, its recognition as a language in the Constitution of India without its official identification with any region for three-four decades, has clearly been a setback for it. Weak implementation of the three language formula nearly caused its atrophy in north India, with the result that Urdu with its modified Persian-Arabic script has been finding a dwindling number of students of Urdu literature in schools and colleges all these years. Steps are, however, being taken now to rehabilitate it in various states and in the Union Territories. Yet, I feel there remains, always, a need to bring home the richness of its literature to other language communities through translations. Hence, this work.
I am grateful to Mrs. Naima Sultan, daughter of Mirza Farhatullah Beg, who on her own behalf and on behalf of Mirza Sahib's other heirs kindly gave me permission to publish this translation. Heartfelt thanks are due to Dr Gautam Chakravarty and Mr Ali Zaki, a grandson of Mirza Sahib for putting me in touch with Mrs Naima Sultan.
I thank Hemlata K. Shankar of Orient Blackswan for her editorial work on this manuscript and for seeing this work through press. 1 am grateful to Dr Anwar Ahmad Khan, Dr Aslam Pervez, Dr Mohammed Feroze, Mr Abdur Rasheed, Mr Dost Nabi Khan and Mr. Anisur Rahman for the interest they took as the work progressed. I am also thankful to Mr S. M. R. Baqar, Deputy Director, and Mr Mohammed Irfan of the National Archives of India, and to Mr. H. J. Abidi, Deputy Librarian, Mrs Roshan Ara, Mr Shahabuddin, Mr Mohammed Asim and others in the Dr Zakir Husain Library, Jamia Millia Islamia, for helping me get the requisitioned books and references. I thank my cousin. Mrs Khalcda and her husband, Mr Ziauddin for getting me a copy of Reference to Sir Abdur Rahman, their grandfather, before the Supreme Court of Pakistan dated 19.3.1962. To my son, Tanzimur Rahman, I say shabash for assisting me in very many ways.
This work is a translation of Dakter Nazir Ahmad ki Kahani Kuchh Meri aur Kuchh Unki Zabani (Nazir Ahmad: In His Own Words and Mine), written by Mirza Farhatullah Beg (1883-1947), first published in 1927,1 and reprinted repeatedly ever since. It is a pen-portrait of Nazir Ahmad (1836-1912), also known as Deputy Nazir Ahmad and Maulvi Nazir Ahmad in the Urdu world. Besides being a profound scholar, a translator of the Qur'an and The Indian Penal Code, Nazir Ahmad was a powerful orator and one of the pioneers of modern fiction in Urdu. He played a crucial role in making Urdu the language of the rising middle class with all its ideals and aspirations. In fact, he was one of the founders of modern Urdu prose and one of those writers who saw 'the dawn of intellectual enlightenment' and brought about a renaissance in north India. His work is unique for its discussions on religion and intellect, particularly in his novel Ibn ul Vaqt, 2-discussions that are still relevant.
Mirza Farhatullah Beg was born of Mughal stock in Delhi. Educated at the Kashrniri Gate Madrasa, Hindu College? And St. Stephens College, Delhi," he was Director of Education in the State of Hyderabad. Later, he became the Inspector General of Courts in the Nizams government. Besides his interest in cricket," painting and poetry writing, he also wrote one or two plays." He published his essays under the tide Mazamin-e-Farhat in seven volumes which include his pen-portraits and research' articles on some medieval Urdu poets and writers as well. He also edited the poetical works of two medieval Urdu poets-In arnullah Khan, poetically surnamed Yaqin (d. 1755) and Vali Muhammad, renowned as Nazir Akbarabadi (d. 1830)-with critical Introductions'?
Farhat was a scholar but he was primarily a humourist. He started writing under the pen-name Mirza Alam Nashrah (Mirza the Tattler) which speaks of his humourous disposition. Steeped as he was in the medieval modes of culture and the lifestyle of Delhi, he saw the- beauty in them and sought to immortalise them through his writings.
"Portrait-writing" was not a new from in Urdu. Muhammad Husain Azads Ab-e-Hayat (A.D. 1881), besides being a history of Urdu literature, was a picture-gallery in so far as it contains portraits of some Urdu poets. Farhatullah Beg was himself to write more such portraits, briefly though, in his other work, Dilli ki Akhri Sham' (The Last Lamp of Delhi), also known as Dilli ka Akhri Yadgar Musha'irah9 (The Last Memorable Musha'irah of Delhi.!" But apart from the fact that these were the portraitssketches of men who had passed away long before Farhatullah Beg was even born, his portrait of Nazir Ahmad is remarkable, and undoubtedly one of the best portraits ever written in Urdu.
Writing pen-portraits of the living or dead consists of actually recording impressions which are etched in one's memory. It is selective as opposed to writing a biography in which the whole history of a person is recorded. Unlike a biographer, the portrait writer is free to choose the life events and peculiarities of his subject. He may exaggerate in writing his defects and weaknesses, or even be satirical, but his writing should never lack sincerity. He may disapprove of certain precepts or practices of his subject but in no way should he seem to assume himself to be superior to him. He may well know that certain situations regarding his subject could easily lend themselves to a ludicrous presentation, but he should at the same time realize that such presentation may make his writing akin to caricature which invariably lacks the ennobling effect which is the hallmark of great literature.
Farhat is superb. His impressions are not superficial. They are candid. With all his uninhibitedness and freedom, he remembers what the Sufis say: 'if you do not duly respect the hierarchy or the grades of status, you are a disbeliever: It is to be noted that whatever Farhat may say, he knows his limits. But at the same time, he never lets his art to be hampered by his respect for his subject either. In the present work, the impressions and experiences of a loving and impudent pupil reflect his deep love for his tutor with some frank observations. Farhat has, in a masterly way, couched them all in a language which is a blending of idioms, proverbs and the colloquial, characteristics which he shares with his tutor, Nazir Ahmad. Like him, his style has a marked informality too. But, he seldom employs unfamiliar Arabic words. Nor is he swayed by his fondness for idioms, either. He never allows them to dominate, the subject at hand. In the present work, in spite of profusely using idioms and words and phrases of common usage typical of Delhi, he never lets them subdue his feeling of respect for his tutor.
Farhat's style as a humourist consists in the use of ordinary matter of fact language as spoken in Delhi, with an unrestricted flow and an un satirical stance. They make his writing lively and effortless. These characteristics are easily traceable in the work translated here as well In fact; Farhat is unique when he concentrates on characterisation in his impressionistic sketches of persons who he knows. Here, his sincerity with his subject and the informality of his style based on simple lucid language, made a deep impression on his readers of Nazir Ahmad's fictional characters, it has been said that they are wooden, although it is difficult to deny that we can still feel their warm breath on our shoulders.
Farhat, in his pen portraitssketches does not ignore the 'what is' for what he would love to see, in a person. Besides being an exquisitely written portrait giving us a living picture of the personality and mind, character and conduct of Nazir Ahmad, the present work affords us a glimpse of the rapport which existed between a pupil and his tutor at the beginning of the twentieth century. In spite of the growing tendencies towards materialism, private tuition had not yet come to be a source of making money. It was a work of honour and was still undertaken without charging any fees. This work also gives us an insight into what Indian Muslim intelligentsia thought of the 1857 Mutiny, as it records an eye witness account of a street scene during those tumultuous days.
Passing comments made in the present work, on the new system of education, as adopted after the British influence in India, are relevant even today when we take into account the position given to languages in the modern school! College curricula. The introduction of more than one language at the primary level is highly commended but unless particular attention is given to the mother tongue, the desired results of producing clear thinking and well-informed individuals may not. Mastery over language was perhaps the first thing of importance in ancient and medieval systems of education. In these times when there is an explosion of knowledge, what is the use of a knowledge-packed mind if the possessor thereof finds himself tongue-tied, unable to express himself. We should always remember that thought processes and language are inseparably intertwined.
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