By Sayeed Mehran Shah
Prof. Khwaja Ekramuddin, happens to be one of the most distinguished and proficient litterateurs of Urdu language, who is currently serving as a professor in the Centre of Indian Languages (CIL) of the School of Languages, Literature and Culture Studies (SLL&CS) in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
He has also served as the director of National Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL). Professor Ekramuddin is best known for promoting Urdu language in the foreign nations like America, Japan, Mauritius, Turkey, UAE, Egypt, Germany, London and many more. He extensively delivers lectures in these nations and acquaints the people dwelling in those countries with Urdu language and literature.
This is one of the major reasons that the number of foreign students coming to India to learn Urdu is increasing at a large scale. He is also serving as the chairman of World Urdu Association (WUA). This association aims at developing healthy relations among the Urdu speaking nations of the world and stresses upon imbibing the fondness for the language. Association also appreciates people for their commendable works for promoting Urdu language and literature.
Prof. Ekramuddin has authored numerous books in the field of research and criticism especially the books on Urdu Media, Urdu and IT etc. are considered as a valuable addition to the treasures of Urdu. The literary circles around the world accept his scholarship in the field of humanities and appreciate him for his eternal works.
Prof.Ekramuddin has a brilliant academic and literary record to his credit. Embedded with eastern culture, tradition and Islamic values, Ekramuddin was born on December 25, 1964 in a small village called Mokamoin Giridihdistrict of Jharkhand.
His ancestors were from Gaya, Bihar. His father, Mohammad ShamsuddinSuharwardi, was a teacher by profession and had a great image in society. He was known for his kindness, virtue and spiritual understanding. After the partition, he wanted to migrate to Pakistan but his spiritual master, Syed Ghaus Ali Shah, did not allow him to migrate so he moved to the rustic village of Mokamo, where he started calling people towards the message of peace and fraternity. Prof. Ekramuddin when asked about his father stated:
“My father belonged to a Sufi tradition and was a great moralist and preacher of his time. He was equally appreciated by Muslims as well as Hindus and was popular in both the communities. He devoted his whole life in spreading the message of peace and brotherhood among the masses.”
Prof.Ekramuddin started his educational career from Madrasa Shamsul Huda, Patna (Bihar) where he learned Islamic education but somewhere in the deep of his heart he had an urge of acquiring school education. Listening to the voice of his heart, he joined school and did his matriculation with good scores.
He then completed his intermediate securing 11th position in the state and got admission in Patna University where he did his Bachelors of Arts in Urdu and clinched second position in the university.In 1988, he moved to Delhi for further studies and got enrolled in Jawaharlal Nehru University and completed his Master of Arts in Urdu language and literature.
After completing M.A, he enrolled himself for research and wrote his M.Phil Dissertation entitled “Analytical Study of Rasheed Ahmad Siddiqui’s style”. This dissertation got great appreciation from the literary circles of Urdu. Though ample research works were done on Rasheed Ahmed Siddiqui but Prof. Ekramuddin’s work was outstanding in such a way that it was associated in curriculums of many universities in India and Pakistan.
In 1994, he submitted his Ph.D. thesis entitled “Critical analysis of Tazkiras of 19th century” under the supervision of Prof.Naseer Ahmed Khan. After completing his research work he was appointed for teaching and research of Urdu and Persian on temporary basis in department of Urdu, Delhi University where he served for almost five years.
In 1999, University Service Commission, Bihar appointed him as a lecturer in the Department of Urdu in Ranchi University but he did not work there for long as his alma mater called him back to Delhi and he joined Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2000 as an Assistant Professor of Urdu.
In 2007, he became Associate Professor and in 2013, Professor.He had unending love and fondness for JNU’s literary and cultural atmosphere where he not only succeeded in his literary voyage but also surrounded himself with some of his mentors and friends including Late Prof. Mohammad Hasan, Late Prof. QamarRaees, Prof. Ateequllah, Prof. Abdul Haq, Prof. Syed Anwar Pasha, Prof. Tauheed Khan, Prof Syed Akhter Hussain, Prof. Rizwanur Rahman and many more.
In 2012, the Government of India appointed Prof Ekramuddinas Director, National Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL) and as many predicted, he accomplished his duties in a spectacular way.
He served there for three years and in his tenure did lot of notable works. He organized many international seminars, conferences and Mushairas across the country and acquainted Urdu to almost every part of the world. He established computer-training centres with Urdu as a mandatory language throughout the country so that people could reap the benefits of the course and shape their careers accordingly.
He raised the literary standard of the magazines like “Urdu Duniya”, and “Fikr o Tehkeek” and published one more magazine for children called “Bachon Ki Duniya”. Apart from these magazines, books based on criticism, fiction, poetry etc. were also published in his tenure.
He acquainted Urdu world with modern trends of information technology and started diploma courses in IT for people interested in this particular field. Besides this he started a diploma course to learn Kashmir’s Papier-Mache craft. He also launched and introduced many schemes and programs to promote and propagate Urdu language. Literary circles of Urdu across the world accept this truth that in his tenure of NCPUL, Urdu got developed in many ways and for his commendable job he is appreciated every time when one talks about NCPUL.
As far as Prof. Ekramuddin’s creative voyage is concerned, he started writing articles right from his Madrasa days. When he was in Madrasa Shamsul Huda, Patna, he wrote a book on religious beliefs of Muslims and it was admired by all the religious scholars of that time. The first article of this particular book was later published in Patna College’s magazine. His published works include “Rasheed Ahmad SiddiquikeUsloobKaTajziyatiMutaàla”, “Nawa e Azaad”,” Urdu Ki Sheri Asnaaf”, ”Taàruf o Tanqeed”, “Urdu KaAalmiTanazur”, “Urdu Safar Namon Mein Hindustani Tehzeeb o Saqaafat”, “Urdu Media”, “Deewaan e Shaani”, “Islami TareekhKeAhamShehar”, “Urdu Media”, ” Urdu ZabaanKeNayeTakneekiMasaayalAurImkanaat”, “Rasheed Ahmad SiddiquiKeMuntakhabMazameen”, IkeesvienSadi Mein Urdu; FaroghAurImkanaat”, and “IkeesvienSadi Mein Urdu KaSamajiAurSaqaaftiFarogh”. These works are seen with great respect and reverence in Urdu world. Professor Ekramuddin was conferred umpteen awards for his notable works in the field of humanities. These awards include HaiderTabatabai Award (Germany, 2018), Sufi Jameel Akhter Award (Kolkata, 2018), Iqbal Award (Germany, 2016), Safeer e Urdu Award (Denmark, 2016), Outstanding Achievement Award (Turkey, 2016), Nishan e Imtiyaz (Urdu Science Congress Aligarh, 2016), Qazi Abdul Wadood Award (Patna, 2016), Qazi AdeelAbbasiAalmi Award (Delhi, 2016), Maseeh e Urdu Award (Delhi, 2014), Fakhr-e -Urdu Award (Kolkata, 2014), Abul Kalam Azad Award (Delhi, 2013), Baba e Urdu Molvi Abdul Haq Award (Patna, 2012), Minaar e Urdu Award (Patna, 2012), Excellency Award (Japan, 2011), Delhi Urdu Academy Award (Delhi, 2008), Majlis e Adab Award (Patna, 1987) and many more. He is a distinguished scholar of present era. His enlightenment for the promotion of Urdu language has heralded the dawn of a new age in the contemporary world. He has also initiated an online website (www.onlineurdulearningonline.com) to make people aware of the new trends and fashions in the world of Urdu language and literature. This website also aims at making people aware of Urdu language in any corner of the world. He really is a maestro and a one man army who has devoted his life for the stability and development of Urdu language. At the end I quote the last lines of Robert Frost’s poem that depict Prof Ekramuddin’s dedication and hard works:
The woods are lovely dark and deep
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep……
(The author is a Research Fellow at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Feedback at: [email protected])
INDESCRIBABLE JOHN ELI
By Shabbir Aariz
This indeed is proverbially a herculean task to describe or define John Elia in any particular frame. Whosoever while mentioning him, is either trapped in contradictions of one’s own opinion or is able to confine to a few verses of John Elia to judge him. But the more one tries to understand John, the more confused one is and I believe that you need another John Elia to explain him. He is a phenomenon, a thing like a live fish to hold in your hand or an elephant amongst blinds to be described. Wusatullah Khan, a noted broadcaster, holds that knowing John is as good as dating with a liberated lady. And it is quite obvious that a man who in him is a philosopher, a scholar, a biographer, a linguist with command over Urdu, Arabic, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hebrew and needless to say that the Ismaili sect of the subcontinent could not find anyone other than John to translate Ismaili treatises from Hebrew, it becomes a tedious affair to be conclusive about John. Common perception though with an element of truth is that John is a progressive Marxist, an unconventional poet and always in denial of everything including himself while himself saying in three line verse,
“KISKO FUSAT K MUJSAY BAHAS KARAY…..
OOR SABIT KARAY K MERA WAJOOD….
ZINDZGI K LIYAY ZARORI HAY
(Anyone prepared to argue and prove that my existence is imperative for life). His poetry is admittedly very close to life and his verses in the words of a legendry poet, Majrooh Sultanpuri, are like a dialogue which no other poet has the distinction to be capable of. John has an extra-ordinary craft of connecting with his audience that has created an unprecedented fan following which no other contemporary poet can claim to have. So magical is his poetry and its rendition that it has created a cult of his admirers with such an obsession and longing for the life of melancholy lead by John Elia himself. It is no secret that he was never a happy man with defiance and protest against everything and anything around. Loudly a nonconformist when he says
“unjaman main mayri khamooshi…..
burdabari nahin hay wehshat hay”.
His style made him famous and popular. He appears to be disgusted even with creation when he says … “HASILE KUN HAY YEH JAHANE KHARAAB….
YAHI MUMKIN THA AYSI UJLAT MAIN”.
His admirers strangely wish to pass through the same pain and despair that is hallmark of John’s poetry besides satire and the disdain for the system which contributed to his sadness in life. He has so glorified and romanticized the pain and sadness that it leaves his audience in frenzied ecstasy.
John Elia was born in the year 1931 and died in 2002. He originally belonged to Amroha in the state of Uttar Pradesh, younger brother of Rayees Amrohi, a known journalist and writer. John migrated to Pakistan in the year 1957 and settled in Karachi where he is buried now. But Amroha never left his heart and mind. He never felt comfortable after leaving Amroha partly because his stay in Karachi brought him in conflict with the system too. Many other things have also contributed to his sadness in life. He was married to a well-known writer of Pakistan, Zahida Hina but in mid-80’s , the relation between the two became bumpy and ended up in divorce which left John devastated and for ten long years thereafter went in depression without writing a word.
As is true about many in the history of literature, John earned his name and fame more after his death than in his life time while he was not received well and felt a strange type of suffocation when he says,
“AAP APNAY SAY HUMSUKHAN REHNA…..
HUMNISHEEN SAANS PHOOL JATI HAY”.
Thanks to the electronic boom and You Tube that brought him to the lime light and enabled audience to reach him and his works. As if this was not enough that his first poetic collection only came to be published when he reached the age of 60. It is worthwhile mention that he has as many as seven poetic collections to his credit namely SHAYAD, YANI, LEKIN, GUMAAN, GOYA, FARMOD and RAMOOZ. Except one, all other are published posthumously. This is besides his scholarly works in prose which may require greater insight to go into.
John all his life remained honest, direct and straightforward in expressing his views on matters of public interest. He also never demonstrated any pretentions or reservations while expressing the truth of his personal life. He never made any secret of his fantasies, love affairs or drinking habits. Yet he was never at peace either with the times or with himself. John Elia, in my humble opinion lived ahead of times and even the desire of dying young without being bed ridden was not granted to him except that he strangely enough wanted to die of tuberculosis and which he did.
(The author, a senior lawyers, is a well known poet and writer. Feedback at: [email protected])
Manto: Why I wanted to read a ‘lewd’ writer
By Naveed Hussain
I first read Saadat Hasan Manto as a teenager and the spirit of what I’m writing now was etched on my memory in those years.
I was too young to understand the intricacies of his stories but I enjoyed what I read and craved for more. Back then, Manto wasn’t available in the small town of Haripur where I lived. A friend introduced me to a schoolteacher, a bibliophile who had a modest collection of Manto in his personal library.
“Why do you want to read Manto, he’s a ribald, lewd writer,” he quipped. “This is exactly why I want to read him,” I replied, almost impulsively. He smiled and agreed to lend me Manto’s books. Thus began my journey to explore Manto. The more I read, the deeper my love for him became.
Manto was a nonconformist, an unorthodox and ruthlessly bold writer. He didn’t believe in the so-called literary norms of ‘decency’ and ‘civility’ set by didactic writers of his time. For him, truth is truth. No matter how bitter and despicable the reality, Manto never dilutes the truth. Like a muckraker, he pokes his nose into the muck, rakes it, and then holds it up to the reader – in all its profound ugliness and twisted beauty. “If you don’t know your society, read my stories. If you find a defect, it’s the defect of your society, not my stories,” he says.
Manto wrote on socially taboo topics like sex, incest and prostitution, which earned him the wrath of contemporary traditionalists, conservatives and even progressives. For some of his ‘lewd’ and ‘obscene’ stories he had to face lawsuits – among them were great stories such as Thanda Gosht, Bu, Khol Do, Dhuan and Kali Shalwar.
But it is to miss the point to simply say that Manto wrote about sex. He wrote about the sexual debauchery of men and the sexual exploitation of women; about our patriarchal society where women are often treated as a ‘sex toy’, not a human being. Unlike many, I don’t compare Manto with DH Lawrence, because Manto is not lustful, even though he explicitly writes about the female anatomy. He’s more like Guy de Maupassant, who sees the throbbing heart, not the sensuous body, of the prostitute.
Manto blames the ‘diseased mind’ for reading ‘ribaldry’ into his stories. If a sex maniac derives morbid gratification from Venus De Milo, should we blame Alexandros of Antioch for chiselling such a ‘graphic’ sculpture? No, certainly not.
For contemporary literary pundits, Manto was also unacceptable because he wrote ‘indecent’ language. “They [the critics] criticise me when my characters verbally abuse one another – but why don’t they criticise their society instead where hundreds of thousands of profanities are hurled on the streets, every day,” he wonders.
I also love Manto because he was honest. He was an unflinchingly true writer who believed in calling a spade a spade. Sketch-writing was introduced as a genre in Urdu literature much earlier, but Manto created his own peculiar tell-all style. He didn’t write only the good qualities of his characters. “In my bathroom, everyone is naked. I don’t clothe them because it’s the tailor’s job,” he writes.
Manto’s sketches, which he initially wrote for the Lahore-based Daily Afaq newspaper, were later collected and published as Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wasn’t a hypocrite. He minced no words while writing about his dead friends. “I curse a thousand times a so-called civilised society where a man’s character is cleansed of all its ills and tagged as ‘May-God-Bless Him’,” Manto wrote in Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wrote sketches of filmstars Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Noor Jahan, literary figures such as Meera Ji, Agha Hashar and Ismat Chughtai and some politicians. “I have no camera that could have washed smallpox marks off the face of Agha Hashar or change obscenities uttered by him in his flowery style.”
Before embarking on his literary career, Manto had read Russian, French and English masters like Chekhov, Gorky, Victor Hugo, de Maupassant and Oscar Wilde and translated some of their works into Urdu. Surprisingly enough, despite his love for revolutionaries, Manto was not a Marxist ideologue. He was a humanist who was pained to see social injustices, economic disparities and exploitation of the underprivileged. He hated the obscurantist clergy and parasitic elites alike.
Although Manto had migrated to Pakistan after 1947, he couldn’t understand the rationale of partitioning a land along religious lines. His stories of bloodshed and cross-border migration, such as Teetwaal Ka Kutta and Toba Tek Singh, made him unpopular with ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis. To this day he remains a shadowy figure on the official literary lists of Pakistan: our school curricula, our national awards, our drawing room conversations.
Manto was acknowledged as a creative genius even by his detractors. And he knew this, which is perhaps why he wanted these words to mark his grave: “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short story writer: he or God.”
Manto’s family feared his self-written epitaph would attract the unwanted attention of the ignorantly religious, so on his grave one finds a Ghalib couplet. He faced censorship all his life and even now has chunks of his stories taken out by the authorities. But as we mark his centenary year, I can say this with the instant certainty I felt as a young man in Haripur: the words and stories of Saadat Hasan Manto will outlive us all.
Gauhar Raza: Giving Poetry the Power to Protest
By Asheesh Mamgain
If things were different his poems would have been different, or maybe he would not have been a poet at all. But things are what they are. And that is why Gauhar Raza, the poet is writing, and it is why he writes his poetry of protest.
“Maybe I would have written about love, the beauty of nature and science. But as things stand my poetry is predominantly about resistance and protest,” said Raza, who is faithful to the tradition of resistance poetry to the extent that he has throttled, without much difficulty, the romantic and the scientist in him. “The need to write poetry always arose when something happened around me which affected me, to the core. I have never written and will never write poetry just for the sake of it.”
“The murder of Safdar Hashmi, the breaking up of the Soviet Union, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the killing of an activist in Afghanistan, the death of Rohith Vemula are some of those things,” he said.
Raza’s second published collection of ghazals and nazms (71 in all) came out in November 2017 and is titled Khamoshi, or Silence.
Is there a lot of anger in his poems? Yes, there is definitely a lot of anger. But then there is also hope. That is where Raza becomes special.
“For me, a poem that merely complains or rants about the injustice, violence and persecution happening all around is not enough. A poet has to go beyond this; he has to give a vision. The vision of an alternative world, of a better world. Only then will his poetry be successful and meaningful. A poet has to show the consciousness he wants to bring into society.”
So how does he define good poetry? “Well, a good poem should be able to raise the level of the reader at least one notch higher, and also give him a fresh perspective about the aspect being dealt in the poem. Something new to dwell upon,” said Raza.
The influences that shaped his poetic thought came pretty early, at home and at the Aligarh Muslim University where he studied. Raza’s father, Wizarat Hussain, worked in the education department there and was a second-generation Leftist.
“The question about the existence of God came up very early in my life and soon I became an atheist for life,” said Raza. Literature was read with passion at home and by the time he was 15 he had read all the Urdu literature available at the AMU library as well as a solid portion of Russian literature.
“During my growing years, Leftist thought had a major presence in the university. On the other hand, the fundamental forces were also steadily getting stronger. I was smitten by the leftist idea. I was part of a literary study circle, we served tea at the secret meetings of leftist groups and listened to discussions at home between my father and other intellectuals such as Irfan Habib and Iqtidar Alam Khan.”
There was a lot of churning in his mind and soon he started pouring the remnants of all that into his poems. When it comes to poetry some of Raza’s major influences have been Ghalib, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi. He is often seen reciting their work at length during his various lectures, with Sahir Ludhianvi’s long poem ‘Parchhaiyan’ or Shadows one of his favourites.
“Writing the kind of poetry I do is not easy. Each time a write a poem I must relive all the pain and emotion I went through when the particular incident happened that forced me to write. All those disturbing images come rushing back to me. It is a difficult thing to undergo.”
Nor is poetry Raza’s only means of reaching the people. He recently retired as chief scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. He is also into documentary filmmaking, his documentaries on Bhagat Singh and the 2002 Gujarat genocide being very well known.
Where does poetry stand today, as a means of communication with the reader? According to Raza, “for one, social media has helped. It has helped poets reach a wider audience. Also, the tradition of musharias and kavi sammelans (poetry meets) is still very strong in India. So even if a poet is competing with the multimedia world, it is easy to reach one’s audience with one’s poetry, provided you have something pertinent to say.”
More broadly speaking, however, “I have to say that things have progressed in a disturbing direction. A poem I wrote 20 years ago, I could rededicate it to Rohith Vemula and then to Gauri Lankesh. This disturbing trend is seen all over the world. I believe that the fall of the USSR has been a major turning point in the way our World has evolved.”
A few lines from one of his poems brings out his concern and struggle.
Mein phool khilata hoon jab bhi,
Woh baad e khizan le aate hain,
Mein geet sunata hoon jab bhi,
Yeh aag se ji bahlate hain.
Whenever I make a flower blossom
They bring the autumn wind
Whenever I sing a song
They give the soul succour with flame.
But Raza is still hopeful. “There has been a resurgence of resistance poetry in Urdu in the recent past. The trend of religious poetry in Urdu has also reduced in recent times. The youth today has become more involved in this attempt to bring a positive change. I have seen young people reading protest poetry and reacting to it. Once again universities have become a place of resistance and struggle for change.”