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The forgotten litterateur

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By Nasir Abbas Nayyar

History can sometimes be callous, brushing aside the services of those considered ‘great’ in their times. But, in a few cases, it might even be blind, when it fails to record events that changed the course of time. The latter occurs where a specific personality, event or an ideology is glorified by historians in such an overwhelming manner that all other activities of the same period — and their doers too — are deemed unimportant and subsequently go unseen.
A cursory look at the histories of modern Urdu criticism will confirm the certainty of this statement. In almost every book narrating the story of the emergence of modern Urdu criticism, names of Altaf Hussain Hali, Muhammad Hussain Azad and ShibliNomani get mentioned as protagonists. Though this troika was steeped in the traditional knowledge of Persian and Arabic, what subscribed to their rise to becoming leading figures of modern Urdu criticism was the introduction of European literary ideas in their Urdu books that deal with classical Persian and Urdu poetry, or judge contemporary Urdu poetry.
None of these knew English (Azad, it is claimed, had scant knowledge of English, limited only to writing brief and typically official application/letters). They derived European literary notions from Urdu translations done by unknown people. However, in the same period, there was a litterateur — badly ignored by early historians and still continues to be overlooked — who was well-versed not only in English but in Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit and also knew French, Latin and Hebrew. In contrast to his contemporaries, he learnt English not as a magnificence symbol [colonial] and an inevitable way to establish contact with English rulers, but as a key to unlock Western philosophy and literature. Inspite of having enviable command over English, he never wished and tried to get some lucrative job in the English government. His name was Syed Imdad Imam Asar.
Enviable command over classical languages of East and West, quite rare during his times, provided him with the opportunity to study great works of literature ever produced in these languages and eventually to form a cosmic view of literature which offered a contrast to the nationalistic view held by his contemporaries. Undoubtedly, he was a polymath in the true sense of the word. Born on August 7, 1849, in district Patna (Bihar), Syed Imdad Imam Asar belonged to a well-off family. Though he was a Tabeeb (doctor) by profession, he taught English, Urdu and history at Patna University for some period. He died on October 15, 1934. Asar was the father of Sir Ali Imam, a close friend of Allama Iqbal’s, who dedicated Asrar e Khudi to him and wrote a poem in admiration of his services for Indian Muslims.
In late 19th century, Aligarh and Lahore had emerged as centres of new literary movements. However, Asar lived his whole life in and around Patna — 1,000 km away from Delhi and 700 km from Aligarh — staying away from the literary metropolis. He had to pay the price as the centre tends to push away what lies on margin. Yet, he kept following the whole array of ideas being disseminated by the Aligarh and Lahore-based literary and educational movements. He used to call adherents of the Aligarh movement as NaiRoshniWalay (bearers of new light) in a satirical tone. Akbar of Allahabad and Asar of Patna took a clear and firm stand against the westernised project i.e. the Aligarh movement in the 19th century.
Asar was a poet, historian, philosopher, agricultural writer and critic. MiratulHukma (Mirror of Philosophers) is considered to be one of the best books on the philosophical contributions of East and West. KitabulAsmar (Book on Fruit trees) is, perhaps, the first book on Indian fruit trees in Urdu that stresses on adopting new techniques to grow them. He also wrote the first biography of Queen Victoria titled HadiaQaisria (Homage to Qaisara e Hind; Qaisra was a title given by Indians to the queen of England) in Urdu.
In poetry, he followed the path of classical Urdu poets. But the book that gives him a permanent place in the history of Urdu criticism is KashifulHaqaiq (Unveiling the Realities) with subtitle Baharistan e Sukhan (Spring of Poetry). It was first published in 1897 — four years after Hali’s Muqadiama e Sher o Shairi (Introduction to Poetry) — in two volumes. First volume is dedicated, on one side, to the theoretical discussions of poetry and other forms of art (painting, music, etc.), along with containing detailed descriptions of the great works of Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian. While the second volume deals with classical poets of Persian and Urdu. The only contemporary text that Asar deemed worth mentioning is Mussaddas e Hali.
Dr Sarwarul Huda, a Delhi-based well-known young Urdu critic, has written a comprehensive book on Asar titled Imdad Imam Asar: Adbiat, Tassavorataur NauAbadiat published by Ghalib Institute, Delhi. Earlier, he edited Asar’s Deevan of Urdu poetry with a detailed introduction that has been made part of the book under review. As the title of the books suggests, the author has sought to interpret the varied contributions of Asar in a colonial perspective. Late Wahab Ashrafi, a Patna-based Urdu critic, and some others also tried to highlight the significance of Asar’s KashifulHaqaiq. But Huda’s book is the first well-researched and scholarly one on Asar’s life and all his works.
Huda seems well aware of the harrowing task of writing on writers of the early colonial period — late 19th century. They were thrown by historical forces into finding ways from and within a new, challenging and queer situation which was marked by coloniality in the garb of modernity. Desire for modernity appeared to them as the only redemption from the agonies of post-1857 war of independence. It was, and still remains, a herculean task to expurgate the baggage of coloniality from (western) modernity for South Asian writers. So, they have to succumb to ‘double conscious’ or a sort of ambivalence while embracing modernity.
From Sir Syed, Hali, Azad, Nazeer and Shibli to Asar one can trace their ambivalent attitude towards European ideas, culture, education and values, disseminated during the colonial era. As Huda describes, Asar on one side passionately adores the English system of governance in India, pays zealously homage to Queen Victoria and describes vehemently that following European knowledge can prove fatal to Eastern values, particularly those embedded in religion. His unforgiving critique of NaiRoshniWalay — Aligarh movement, seems emanating from his fear that uncritical learning of European knowledge will alienate Indian Muslims from their religious history and tradition. However, it needs to be emphasised that Asar’s notion of tradition that works in the backdrop of literature, was not quintessentially a religious one.
He is the only Urdu critic of his age who lamented over the fact that Urdu poets have kept following Persian, a foreign language, while ignoring Sanskrit, an indigenous classical language. His advocacy for Sanskrit is not just based on the fact that it is an Indian classical language — and mother of Urdu and other IndoAryan languages of South Asia — but also on his critical belief that it has a very rich literary and philosophical tradition. Between the lines, he seems to be suggesting that an indigenous alternative exists for Urdu writers to cease dependence on Persian and English — both languages of foreign rulers. It was of course an anti-colonial stance. Dr Huda doesn’t forget to remind his readers of Asar’s emphasis on keeping in view the geographical conditions and overall Tamaddun (civilisation) of the country to disentangle the denotative and connotative meanings of its poetry.
And here we can distinguish Asar’s critical position from that of his contemporaries — Hali and Shibli particularly. Hali and Shibli’s critical position were prescriptive — moral, reformative and nationalistic, while Asar’s was descriptive yet normative. Notwithstanding that Urdu poetry and criticism pursued mostly prescriptive notions of Hali and Shibli by producing Qaumishairi, a few Urdu critics took ahead the descriptive idea of Asar too. Dr Huda is the first critic who has revealed how Asar’s descriptive idea got entrenched into Meeraji’s Mashriq o Maghrib kay Naghmay (Songs of East and West) and Wazir Agha’s Urdu ShairikaMizaj (Poetics of Urdu Poetry). Interestingly both Meeraji and Wazir Agha believed in the acme of traditions of Dharti, sarcastically repudiated by their contemporaries.

 

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Opinion

Religion and Modernity

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By Amir Suhail Wani

“I have always avoided with horror all error in matters of faith”Eckhart

A voice lost to wilderness or the madman’s rubric, any talk of religion, God, metaphysic, values and reality suffers any of two possible consequences. Giving him the advantage of anonymity, a top notch Jamat I Islami scholar pertinently described modern epistemology with all its offspring as the means and instruments of ensuing and securing a revolt against the God and religion. Never before was civilization so shallow in matters of faith and never before a unanimous and collective onslaught was launched against the sacred, Transcendent and divine. A mere mentions of words like “Divine”, “sacred” or “Transcendent” makes people, experiencing the opiedation of modernism, to rise their eyebrows. Any talk of worlds beyond the sensual is termed as intellectual backlog. World has seen, now and then, people rising, out of their intellectual sincerity or otherwise rising against religion and God. But historically they could never enjoy the status of metanarrative, but were always, by virtue of historical entelechy confined to margins of civilization. In post renaissance era world has succeeded, by and large, in constructing a civilisation and culture with man rather than God as its ontic reference. This man cantered civilization has paved all the possible ways for criticism and demolition of religious meta narrative.

 

Let’s come to philosophy first. Modern philosophy, starting with Descartianskepticism and evolving through the stages of Positivism, Naturalism, Materialism Nihilism and Existentialism, modern philosophy seems to have ultimately ended up at postmodernism. The possibilities of future development can’t be ignored nor can it be claimed that postmodernism is an all pervasive philosophical trend claiming universal adherence. But the broader picture of things has unfolded thus. Postmodernism maintains incredulity towards metanarrative and has brought with it a host of questions. Traditionally and even up to recent past man seemed to be unanimous on ontic and epistemic stability of things. But with postmodernism not only have been the institutions of religious and traditional impotence held under scrutiny but the very fundamentals of human existence like language, society and all other institutions of human importance have been deprived of their ontic reference and have been made to float freely in abyss of uncertainty. The case with science has been no better. Being a victim of excessive and inordinate empiricism, the Modern day science has surrendered its inquisitive and rational spirit to sheer scientism.

Ibn Arabi, a classical theorizer of Islamic mysticism noted that “God is a percept, not a concept”. In this single line, the master has resolved an age old question and the problems associated with it. The notion of “conceptual scheme” as it has been adopted unquestionably alike by scientists and philosophers has brought with it an equal number of goods and ills. Man has turned obsessive to reduce everything to his conceptual categories. The human attitude of dividing a problem into subunits, though it has paid heavily in scientific realm, but has simultaneously brought irreconcilable problems in other affairs of human existence. Modern medicine treats biology disentangled from psychology and this piecemeal approach has landed us in an era where we know more and more about less and less. In a sense we know everything about nothing and nothing about everything. Traditionally things were seen associated and entangled in the cosmic Web. Coming back to human methodology of understanding things by dividing them into subcategories and then understanding things in terms of local mental categories has distorted and ruined our understanding of God, sacred and divine. We need to understand that the laws formulated by human mind are refuted within the physical realm itself. Thus the laws obeyed by matter aren’t obeyed by light and the laws applicable to fermions are completely defied by bosons. So within our physical immediacy are instances to cleave apart our ultimate trust in the laws of physics. The unending quest for unified theory in physics might bring further insights in this direction. Thus we need to be careful and watchful to the fact that the laws of matter do not apply to the realm of spirit. Coming back to God who is neither material nor spiritual, neither defined by material boundaries nor circumscribed by contours of space we need to be all the more careful. While we try to understand God in terms of mental categories derived from our physical realm we need to be very cautious that all these categories do not hold true beyond this material universe. Our conceptual schemes, which in the final analysis rest on the categories of mundane material realm are too coarse and inappropriate to conceptualise and theorise the realm of divine, sacred and godhead. At a point where despite all boasting scientific discoveries man is yet incapable of understanding his basic biology and where despite of conquering the vastness of space man is yet to gain a glimpse of his psychological depths any sweeping statements and miscalculated statements oriented towards reduction of divine to categories of psyche seems but a naive affair. The enlightened theologians, mystics and philosophers of the past have explicitly denounced the access of finite human mind to infinite cosmic intelligence. What God has informed us here and there in sacred texts is to contemplate the nature and our own selves. This unbiased contemplation is sure to bring forth some indirect aspects of divine. Though we shall be fully conscious of the fact that within the physical universe and human civilization there are instances which are heartrending, discouraging and at times they run quite contrary to the notion of divine. But the mystics and enlightened men throughout the history have been able to dissect the veil of appearance and have succeeded in looking at the essence of existence. On having this enlightened vision they bowed their heads and understood the essence of these apparent vagaries of nature. Ibrahim, the father of modern monotheism, Buddha a silent contemplator, Nanak, a socially conscious religious purgator amply demonstrate this state of enlightenment. Modern scientific mind is highly welcome in questioning the authenticity of religion, aspects of divine and the apparent chaos that is witnessed everywhere in physical and social landscape. There can be no proper understanding in absence of questioning. Likewise doubt is an essential ingredient of faith. But while one raises questions in atheist or any such frame one must have patience, tolerance and wide sightedness to understand theistic point of view. To dub religion irrational for its simple disagreement with science seems a rather constricted opinion. Religion has been a great architect in shaping the course of human civilization and to unfasten our knots with this perennial source of wisdom, learning, inspiration and exaltation will amount to gross intellectual injustice. The need of hour is not to posit theists and atheists as antithetical but to encourage each to understand the point of other. Maybe in this collective endeavour humanity discovers a paradigm that has still not been thought of.

(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat& mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: [email protected])

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Opinion

Making Kids Sick and Stressed!

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By Dr. Shahid Amin Trali

It is quite obvious that having a happy and thriving child can greatly enhance a parent’s personal happiness and their life satisfaction. But having a low, pessimistic or depressed child will certainly detract from one’s overall happiness. Children are the lovely birds. They are always innocent creatures. Rightly said that God lives there where children live. The smiling faces of our children can be a therapy for any kind of depressions.

Revisiting the past, our childhood was very rich. Life in the past was more social. Children hardly found time in past to be low and depressed. Earlier generations used to spend good time outdoors; playing sports, or engaged in physical activities. But the technology nowadays invites our children and adolescents to sit a lot. Now children are turning more isolated and limited to the world of games and gadgets. The excessive usage of the technology has truly damaged a lot and posing a serious threat to our future. So much so a bigger concern now is that a popular game Player Underground’s Battle Ground (PUBG) is turning more harmful for our youngsters. The Jammu and Kashmir Students Association (JKSA) has rightly demanded to immediately ban the game. The addition to this game has become so serious that our youngsters are unstoppably playing the game and losing a precious time.

 

A good data is available that Interviews with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and other technology elites consistently reveal that Silicon Valley parents are strict about technology use. A recent research has found children who spend more than two hours a day looking at a screen have worse memory, language skills and attention span. The research, which involved children aged between eight and 11 found that those with higher amounts of recreational screen time on smart phones and playing video games had far worse cognitive skills across a range of functions. One more research has found that an eighth-grader’s risk for depression jumps 27% when he or she frequently uses social media. Children who use their smart phones for at least three hours a day are much more likely to be suicidal.

Using the internet and technology is the need of the time but researchers suggest its safe and proper usage. One study reveals that in 2007, Bill Gates, the former world’s richest and CEO of Microsoft Corporation implemented a cap on screen time when his daughter started developing an unhealthy attachment to a video game. He also didn’t let his kids get cell phones until they turned 14. But the alarming situation today is that the average age for a child getting their first phone is about 10 years. If any kid is alone with the internet, and no one else is around, the technology can be a curse. When our kids use gadgets and access the internet within limits and in safe and public surroundings, the technology can enhance learning and prove a beneficial friend. But a good research is still needed to examine the potential impact of technology on our lovely children. Psychologists need to speed up efforts to show how dangerous modern gadgets and technology can be for our children brains and what limits are there for its right usage.

Today medical sciences have found greater advancements. But it is surprising to mention that the numbers of our children are also found increasing when it comes to anxiety, pressure and conflict among our children. This pressure and conflict is not evolving on its own. As society and parents, we have now become more rigid with our demands. But the life of our children has become more caged and suffocated with those unreal demands. In actual terms we are never doing justice with the upbringing of our lovely kids. There is always a bigger force applied on our kids now. We are forcing our children to get high marks or grades in examinations. We are forcing them to be only the doctors and engineers. We are even forcing a small kid to carry a burden of bags that is even unbearable for an adult. We are forcing them to be locked in a school even when they attain just two years of their age. This pressure on our children to achieve high levels of academic success and being caged is overriding their joys of education and making our kids anxious and depressed.

A study of University of Michigan, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, revealed that children whose parents said they would respond by lecturing, punishing or restricting their child’s social activities actually had lower levels of literacy and achievement by the end of high school. The study offers a useful advice that parents who use punitive parenting practices may unintentionally deny their children the opportunity to learn the very skills and knowledge they require to improve their grades. Even more worse, punitive strategies may increase children’s sense of frustration and aversion to school work.

Societies need to realize the value of development of children in right ways. Why we are that much rigid when we have big flaws in our system. It’s rightly said that we have the brilliant minds joining doctors and engineers at the initial level. Next level with exceptions we have those who do not qualify medical and engineering, they found success in other professions like education, law, management, security, administration etc. Next level with exceptions those who do not fit in these two levels become the politicians and they rule the first two levels. The current scenario proves it right when our youth sensation Dr. Shah Faisal resigned from his prestigious IAS post to and serve big as a politician. Also a good lesson is that we have majority of politicians who are hardly fit for any good post.

It is better to inculcate right values in our children. Parenting is a great and noble task, but it isn’t that easy to bring up happy and a confident child. We must strongly encourage creativity in our children rather than being rigid with them. Our strong focus must be to make our child healthy, happy and productive. We need to be as realistic as possible but don’t thwart the ambitions of our lovely children.

(The author is Assistant Professor, ITM University Gwalior.Educator at Unacademy and Editor in Chief at startupdailytips.com. He can be reached at: [email protected])

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Opinion

BEING AN ALIGARIAN

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By ShabbirAariz

Not so big and not so clean is a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh yet widely known because it is home to an iconic educational institution, the Aligarh Muslim University. Aligarh has some interesting features which get currency and access to places from wherever people come to study in the university. And an Aligarian is the one who is a pass out of the university generally. Generally because there are also some who even after staying for years on the campus, come out as ‘clean’ as while taking the admission. However, being an Aligarian has something of magical and magnetic about it, that can be felt only when one Aligarian comes in touch with another even while being from different socio-cultural backgrounds , having been on rolls of the university at different points of time and different disciplines and yet meet like long lost members of the same family. This may perhaps be true of other educational institutions also but is more expressing in the case AMU. Pass outs from AMU, across the subcontinent on their name plates besides their educational qualification, put a tag as ‘Alig’ with pride. AMU has played host to a cross section of society with means and those without means. AMU continues to remain a less expensive educational institution having benefited unimaginable number of under privileged people across the globe. AMU has shaped the lives of many like academicians, writers, diplomats, soldiers, sports persons, actors and also the leaders who in turn have been able to shape their nation. People with any sense of history consider visiting this university as a pilgrimage also for the reason that the last resting place of its founder, late Sir Syed Ahmad Khan is within the campus. The man who suffered humiliations and resistance from various quarters while establishing it. Some prejudices surface from time to time even now.

Everyone who has the opportunity of putting in time as a student in AMU, has his own stock of impressions and experience to share and plume his memory. I too am not an exception to my share of good and bad experiences while even bad ones with the afflux of time turn to be good too. Some of the features and facts remain common at all times. These include a certain features sounding with alphabet ‘M’, such as Muslim university, Majaz the poet who besides having remained a student in the university, has given an eternal anthem to the university. Also that Asrar-ul-HaqMajaz has remained most south after by the female on campus. And similarly the Maris road in close vicinity of the campus. Matri, a type of crisp biscuit, mosquito with terrible sittings etc form the part of everybody’s memory. Some of the events that are a regular feature, make AMU an institution distinguishable from other institutions. Besides annual Sir Syed day in the month of October, are mushairas and qawalis part of AMU culture. Other than what has been said here-in-above, I have had some memorable experiences of meeting and knowing some legends in their own right. I am sure that if I were not in AMU, I could not have met and known them. To name a few ; a great Urdu critic and satirist , late Rashid Ahmad Sidique, poet Bashir Badar, noted jurist, often consulted by the then prime minister, Mr Misba-ul-hassan, who was our dean in the law faculty.

 

You are never an Aligarian unless you jump from sublime to ridicule. In this line also am reminded of a friend known for playing pranks till this date with whosoever comes his way. Once out of tradition, on return from seeing off a home going friend at the railway station, he pointed to a hotel on our way back and wanted to have a cup of tea with me, to which readily agreed little knowing that the owner ran a brothel too which was revealed to me on his making enquiries of that kind. While negotiating with the owner, my friend sought STUDENTS CONCESSION on the charges for the ignoble act which left the owner furious who in all rage said that the concessions are available in railway and air and not here. My friend shrugged his shoulders and joined me in the street outside.

I will be leaving this write up incomplete unless I mention one AlamBhaie, a student and a class of his own. AlamBhaie was a generous person to my understanding, who always offered to help a fellow student at any level from the vice chancellor down to the level of a bearer least worried about the results of his effort. Alam known to everyone on the campus, was taken lightly and considered an idiot to the extent, the saying about him would go that if idiots had horns, AlamBhaie would be a stag with twelve horns. What an irony! God bless Alam, wherever he is. Yet another area of fascinations and affairs of which some culminating into success while others ending up in a fiasco is an added feature of AMU days and summed up by one poet- student Sabir in his verse;

SABIR ISS ALIGARH NAY QEHQAHOON K SAATH SAATH
KUCH ZAKHAM BHI DIYAY HAIN DILE BAY QARAR KO.

(The author is a senior lawyer and a well known writer and poet. He can be reached at:[email protected])

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