About the Book:
The three great Urdu poets presented here - Mir, Sauda, and Mir Hasan - have been loved and revered for generations in India and Pakistan. All three lived in Delhi, or in its general vicinity, in the eighteenth century, during a time of widespread violence and disaster. The Mughal empire was crumbling and disintegrating internally as the great feudal nobles fought among themselves for control of the empire. In this atmosphere of misery, demoralization, and despair occurred the first major flowering of Urdu literature. Sauda wrote poems in all the main classical forms and was skilled satirist.
Mir Hasan also wrote in all the classical forms and excelled in one, the masnavi, a long narrative poem in rhymed couplets, often telling a love story, to which he devoted most of his effort.
Mir, perhaps the finest of the three, is the great love poet. His favourite form was the ghazal, which the translators discuss in detail, giving numerous examples.
In presenting these Mughal poets, the translators have let the literature speak for itself wherever possible, adding a minimum of comment.
About the Author:
Khurshidul Islam was Professor of Urdu at Aligarh Muslim University
Ralph Russell was Reader in Urdu at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.
Some sixty years ago an Oxford don is reported to have said that the mention of India was enough to empty the smallest lecture hall in Oxford. His statement was perhaps exaggerated, but that relatively few people in the West felt any great interest in India and its culture was certainly true in those days. This is no longer the case. In recent years the desire to know more about the South Asian subcontinent has markedly increased and is still increasing. This book is addressed to those who share that desire. It is an attempt, which so far as we know has not been made before, to introduce to the English-speaking reader the work of three great poets of one of the major modem languages of the Indian subcontinent--namely, Urdu. We have not assumed in the reader any previous knowledge of the subject. All that we have assumed is a readiness to make that minimum mental effort which is required of anyone who wants to understand and appreciate the literature of another people and another age.
Urdu is one of the most developed of the dozen or so major modem languages of the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, but it differs from most of the others in that it is not the language of a Single, continuous, well-defined geographical area, as, for example, Bengali is the language of Bengal. Its real homeland is the western part of the state of Uttar Pradesh and the country round Delhi, for it is on the native speech of the people of this region that literary Urdu is based; but its speakers are to be found all over India and Pakistan, and are particularly numerous in the area comprising Pakistan and the great northern Indian plains up to the western border of Bengal. It is spoken especially by Muslims-though by no means exclusively by them--and its literature has for the most part a Muslim background. We do not mean by this that it is' primarily a religious literature, but simply that, like the Arabian Nights, it portrays the life of a people who profess the religion of Islam. The language developed to approximately its present literary form early in the eighteenth century, and the three poets with whom this book deals were among the first to write it in this form. During the greater part of their lifetime the acknowledged centre of Urdu was Delhi, though in later years the city lost its exclusive importance as the one great centre of the literature. Urdu is today one of the major languages listed in the Indian Constitution, and is the national language of Pakistan.
Urdu is thus one of the most important languages of the subcontinent. But it does not necessarily follow that its Literature is worth the attention of English- speaking readers. If it is, they may ask, why have they not heard of it before? To this very natural question there is no simple answer. But the explanation lies mainly in the history of Britain's relationship with India. The beginning of British rule in India is often dated from the Battle of Plassey in 1757, which made the British the real rulers of Bengal. By this date the fame of Mir and Sauda, the first of the great poets of modern Urdu, was already established; but until nearly half a century later the great centres of Urdu literature still lay outside the area of British rule, and it is not surprising that only a very few Englishmen should have been acquainted with it. When at the beginning of the nineteenth century the British extended their power as far as Delhi, it might have been expected that a knowledge and appreciation of Urdu literature would have become more widespread; but an attitude was now rapidly becoming dominant which was to prevent this even more effectively than geographical remoteness had done-that of the early Victorian age, when Englishmen were profoundly convinced that in contemporary England human civilisation had reached its highest development, and that while further progress would continue along- the lines which English had laid down, Englishmen now had little to learn from the past or from other nations less favoured by God than Victorian England. It was Macaulay who gave classic expression to this outlook. In his view a knowledge of English sufficed to provide for every important cultural need. 'Whoever knows that language,' he wrote, 'has ready access to all the vast intellectual wealth, which all the wisest nations of the earth have created.' Certainly the literature of India and other Asian countries had in comparison nothing to contribute--'no books on any subject which deserves to be compared to our own.' 'A single shelf of a good European library ... [is] worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.' The quotations are taken from his Minute. On India and Arabia.' The quotations are taken from his Minute on Indian Education, written in 1835.3 In it he is mainly concerned to belittle the value of Arabic and Sanskrit, the classical languages respectively of the Muslims and the Hindus. It is interesting that Persian, the language of Omar Khayyam and of other poets greater than he, which had for centuries been the language of diplomacy and culture not only in India but throughout a large part of the Muslim world, is not even referred to, while the modern languages of India ('the dialects commonly spoken among the natives') are dismissed as being 'poor and rude'. This is not the place to assess Macaulay's Minute as a whole, but there can be no doubt that the attitude it expresses is one which precludes any sympathetic interest in Indian literature. And that attitude did not die with the Victorian age; it has continued up to our own day to influence English opinion deeply. This is not our view alone; it is also that of the Scarbrough Commission appointed by the British Foreign Office in 1944 to investigate the state of Oriental and other studies. Its report, published in 1947, quotes from Macaulay's Minute as the expression of 'a traditional exclusiveness which tends to disregard and even look down upon culture which has little in common with our own,' and considers this exclusiveness to be 'the chief reason why these studies have not prospered.
Appendix. A Complete Ghazal of Mir
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