It was Professor C.M. Naim who first approached me to edit an anthology of modern Urdu literature. He felt I was the right
person to take on this Oxford University Press (OUP) project and asked me if I was interested. To be truthful, I felt so
privileged to be approached by Naim sahib that I accepted at once without even pausing to consider the enormous challenge and
commitment that such a project would entail. The scale of the task ahead did not actually hit me until I was asked to prepare
a table of contents.
My engagement with Urdu literature began in the family home, almost synchronically during childhood. I imbibed a lot of the
discourse on jadidiyat (trend for modernity) simply by being born in a family where such esoteric terms became epithets
drifting into my six-year-old ears even as I skirted the precincts of our family drawing room where vociferous and lively
discussions of the subject held forth and where the journal Shabkhoon was conceived and brought out in 1964. My mentioning
Shabkhoon is only to show how baffled I was at the prospect of how much or how little I knew of the modern I Urdu.
I decided to tackle the table of contents as a teacher embarking on a syllabus for a full-scale 'survey course'. At the
outset, my reading list was endless. After a year of frenzied and focused reading, I felt confident enough to broach the
subject with scholars of Urdu and arrived at what I called my 'master list'. This was basically a list of writers who lived
and worked during the period 1905-2005. My reading made me aware of the challenge of representing certain genres that had
been ignored by most anthologists of Urdu literature. Prose, especially of the non-fiction variety, attracted me the most.
Prose, in Urdu has trailed behind poetry for reasons which I need not go into here. Urdu's early modernizers such as Sayyid
Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Husain Azad, and Altaf Husain Hali were brilliant prose stylists. Following the development of Urdu
prose from the late nineteenth century onwards, unfolds a remarkable graph of highs and lows. Some genres. For instance, the
literary sketch (khakah), essay (inshaiyah), humour and satire (tanz-o mizah), autobiography
khudnavisht, and travel writing (safarnamah) blossomed, while critical prose was slow in developing. The
extraordinary success of the short story (afsana) in Urdu has marginalized the other prose genres. I felt that a
comprehensive anthology must include the relatively lesser known works. Despite strict adherence to my own criteria for
selection, I struggled to achieve a balance. The problem was how to balance the importance, significance, and historical
value of the selections.
My initial contract with OUP was for a four hundred-odd page book. However, it became impossible for me to stay
within the page limit and be satisfied with the question of balanced representation. Fortunately, OUP agreed to raise the
page limit and we ended up with two volumes instead of one. Anthologists, especially those dealing with contemporary
literature, cannot expect their exclusions and inclusions to satisfy all writers and readers. I have made the arbitrary
decision of representing each author only once. In the interest of fairness, I chose from the work of each author an example
which reveals something new about the literature, and also gives us a persuasive sense of the writer's work.
I have incurred so many debts in the form of advice, ideas, help, and encouragement, from seniors, colleagues, and
friends that a few words here by way of acknowledgement cannot be sufficient to express my gratitude to them. Professors C.M.
Naim, M.U. Memon, Frances Pritichett, Carlo Coppola, Robert Hueckstedt, and Geeta Patel offered comments and suggestions on
various aspects of the anthology and read my drafts of the Introductions to the two volumes. My father, Shamsur Rahman
Faruqi, allowed me to raid and rummage through his personal library, and never complained once when I asked him to mail me
innumerable photocopies of poetry selections from out-of-print books, which I had overlooked when I was collecting material.
He often rescued me when I was stuck in writing the introductory note on an author in fact, this simple task was quite
frustrating for me because there was precious little information to be had on many of the writers included in the anthology.
His comments on my work were incisive and helpful. I am truly grateful to my translator friends who found time from their
academic pursuits to translate new material for this anthology. I want to especially acknowledge Guriqbal Sahota for doing
not one, but three new, not so easy translations for me. Geeta Patel, Shantanu Phukan, Tahira Naqvi, Akbar Hyder, Griffith
Chaussee, Moazzam Siddiqi, Moazzam Sheikh, and Baran Rehman all did new and difficult translations at my request.
The University of Virginia awarded me a faculty research grant in the summer of 2006 to work on the anthology.
These volumes could never have been completed without the unstinting support and collaboration of my husband Richard
Cohen. Not once did he protest as I spent countless weekends hunched over the computer, irritable and uncompanionable; all
the precious summers we stayed at home, with me immersed in the anthology, struggling with deadlines, racing against time. As
the project developed, it became more complicated and so unwieldy that had Rich not stepped in to help me streamline with
sensible editorial advice and support, I would still be floundering. I do not have words to express my gratitude for all he
did in addition to the above: for endless cups of tea, the commute between Pittsburgh and Charlottesville, errands when he
visited India, the list could go on forever. His optimism sustained me during the most frustrating times.
My editors at OUP, New Delhi, cheered me on and provided all kinds of logistical support and help. Nitasha Devasar
was very accessible whenever I needed her help. She gave me a lot of space to articulate my ideas, and showed great
understanding and sensitivity for the requirements that a project of this nature entails. In my meetings with her I always
came back energized; her infectious enthusiasm kept me going even as the intricacies of editing sapped our endurance in the
hot humid summer of Delhi. Mitadru Basu's meticulousness in editing, layout, and designing was incredible. I would like to
thank them both for their tremendous help.
One last debt remains. My mother, my first teacher, who taught me the magic of letters, who always took keen interest
and motherly pride, is not here to see the work in its final form. She is with us in spirit though, cheering me on,
The shortcomings, which must be many, are entirely mine.
From the Jacket
Urdu literature has had a long and colourful history in the India Subcontinent. The Oxford India Anthology of Modern Urdu
Literature comprehensively and creatively surveys the field from the mid-nineteenth to late twentieth centuries. Covering 100
years of literary production, including about 90 authors and over 130 selections, and many new translations, the twin volumes
cover major genres like poetry, drama, and fiction, as well as essays, autobiography, and letters.
The 'Poetry and Prose Miscellany' volume begins with Akbar Ilahabadi (1846-1921), features such celebrated
practitioners of the genre as Muhammad iqbal, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Munibur Rahman, and Akhlaq Muhammad Khan
Shahryar among others, and finally, Tanveer Anjum (b. 1956). The prose miscellany-essays and sketches, autobiography, drama,
humour and satire, and letters-includes such past masters as Abul Kalam Azad, Shahid Ahmad Dehlvi, Saadat Hasan Manto, and
Ismat Chughtai, as well s an interesting selection of anecdotes on well-known literary personages like Ghalib, Mir Insha
ullah Khan Insha, Josh Malihabadi, and others-something rarely seen in canonical literature.
The 'Fiction' volume includes both short stories and extracts from novels and novellas. Beginning with Muhammad Hadi
Rusva (1857-1931), it moves on to Premchand, Ghulam Abbas, Krishan Chander, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Intizar Husain, Qurratulain
Hyder, Abdullah Hussein, and Naiyer Masud among others, and finally, Syed Muhamamd Ashraf (b. 1957).
While the focus of selection is on literary excellence, translatability, and relevance, an effort has been made to
avoid writings easily available in translation and to include one piece per author. Moreover, the continuation between
pre-and post-Partition Urdu includes authors from both India and Pakistan, thus providing a holistic picture of modern Urdu
literature. The Introduction, giving an overview of the development of Urdu literature and placing the writings in their
proper historical context, is accompanied by a chronological listing of authors, biographical head-notes to the writings,
glossary, and bibliography to help readers understand and savour the rich diversity of Urdu literature.
One of the most representative collections of Urdu writing in recent times, The Oxford India Anthology of Modern Urdu
Literature is a literary and cultural guide to the Subcontinent. It will appeal equally to general readers, as well as
students and scholars of South Asian literature, especially Urdu literature in translation.
Mehr Afshan Farooqi is Professor of South Asian Literature at the University of Virginia.
'the individual selections are impeccable
I am assured of their quality, both in accuracy and readability
And I certainly
can't see how this could be replaced by any anthology of comparable size at least for a few decades.'
'I am deeply impressed with the scope of the anthology, as well as with the writers chosen and the selections
'Dr. Farooqi was an excellently qualified choice to compile this work, and the result is of real and lasting
value.' -Frances Pritchett, Professor of Modern Indic Languages, Columbia University
'This is a timely project. At a time when there is a worldwide revival of interest in Urdu language and literature,
it is important to "showcase" its fiction and poetry. The editor has done well to compile this anthology." -Mushirul
Hasan, Vice-Chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia
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