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Farewell Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (1935-2020): The Sun That Set In The Earth

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Ab ke dhuen mein khoon ki surkhi ka rang hai

Yoon in gharon mein pehle bhi lagti rahi hai aag

(This time around the smoke carries the blood’s red colour

These homes before too have been burnt by fire)

– Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, the famous critic and researcher of Urdu literature, who began his intellectual journey with literary criticism, bid farewell to literati canvas at the age of 85 on December 25 in Allahabad– the historic city made famous by the delectable Allahabadi surkha guava and the Allahabadi cake, and even more famous by its iconic Urdu and Hindi litterateurs Akbar Allahabadi, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Dharamvir Bharati, Rafiq Husain, Ibne Safi and Mustafa Zaidi. He issued the literary journal Shabkhoon (Night Ambush) from Allahabad which was deemed the forerunner of modernity. This journal guided two generations of Urdu writers. Faruqi also composed poetry, then turned towards lexicography and research.

When his passion for writing developed, he wrote many short stories; one after the other under fictitious names in Shabkhoon, which became extremely popular over time. In 2006, he wrote a novel Kai Chaand The Sar-e-Aasmaan (he himself translated into English as ‘The Mirror of Beauty’) which was also greatly praised by all and sundry. In addition, he was generally deemed to be one of the most important prosodists in the Urdu-speaking world. In short, it is difficult to find an example of a multifaceted personality like Faruqi in the history of Urdu literature.

Faruqi’s name illuminated the literary horizon of the Indian subcontinent with its distinct majesty for more than 50 years. Suffice it to say that his personality was like a chandelier, within which the lit bulbs continuously illuminated the soirees of knowledge and literature. His personality was like a rainbow, God knows how many colours of which shone in Urdu literature. The expression of his extraordinary creative, critical abilities occurred in almost all the genres of Urdu prose and poetry with distinctive grandeur. He was simultaneously a high-quality writer, competent critic, respected poet, high-ranking short-story writer, authentic researcher, and expert of prosody and grammar; well acquainted with lexicon. And everywhere he showed such consummate skill and matchless artistry that one did not see anyone of similar stature among his peers.

This hurried obituary-cum-tribute will shed light on the contours of Faruqi’s personality, encapsulating what made it rise to prominence.

Early Life

Shamsur Rahman Faruqi was born on 30 September 1935 in Kalakankar House, Pratapgarh (Oudh) at his maternal grandfather’s. His maternal grandfather Khan Bahadur Muhammad Nazeer was residing in Kalakankar House, the mansion of the Maharaja of Pratapgarh as the Special Manager, Court of Wards in those days. Actually his home was Koiriyapar village, Azamgarh District. His birth greatly pleased the whole family because he was born after two daughters.

Faruqi received his early education in Wellesley High School Azamgarh from 1943 to 1948. He was extremely fond of reading books since childhood. Such was the state of his fondness that there was the shop of a bookbinder in front of his school where Urdu books too came for bookbinding; he would be too preoccupied with reading to relent despite being forbidden by his family. As a result when he became 13 or 14 years old, the intensity of reading forced a curtain of spectacles over his eyes.

In 1949, Faruqi passed the 10th grade exam in First Division from the Government Jubilee High School Gorakhpur, and then took admission in Mian George Islamia Inter College Gorakhpur. Here he was very impressed with his English teacher Mustafa Khan Rashidi. Mr Rashidi very much moved him to read English books as much as possible. Faruqi had started participating in literary sittings and reciting his poems and ghazals as well since his college days.

After passing his Intermediate in 1951, Faruqi got admission at Maharana Pratap College Gorakhpur for B.A. This college was not very far from his home so he used to come and go with his friends on foot; and even on the road used to be so busy in reading one book or the other that he did not remain aware at all of the cars coming and going on the roads and often his friends saved him from running into cars.

During his B.A., Faruqi would spend his free time at the famous Vahid Library of Gorakhpur, reading books. Initially he read every sort of book but gradually his interest towards literature rose and he became crazy for Urdu literature.

In 1953 after doing his B.A., he got admission at Allahabad University in M.A., as per his wish. Here he established a separate identity for himself owing to his extraordinary and God-gifted intelligence, which also impressed the best of the teachers there. He topped in M.A. and was honoured with a gold medal.

Early Career

In 1955 after doing his M.A., Faruqi was appointed at Satish Chandra Degree College at Ballia as English lecturer. Here after performing his duties for a year, he went to Shibli College Azamgarh. In the meantime, he also started preparing for IAS. For its preparation, he did not take leave from work but whatever free time he got from his official duties, he spent in preparing for IAS. In 1957, he succeeded in this exam at his first attempt and in 1958 he was posted as Superintendent Post Offices in Guwahati. After this, he was posted as Deputy Director General Personnel in New Delhi, then as Chief Postmaster-General (U.P.) in Allahabad, and finally as Member Postal Services Board New Delhi. In 1994, he retired from his employment. In addition to this job, he was invited many times in India and abroad for the position of Urdu professor, which include Aligarh Muslim University, the main University of Hyderabad, Jammu University, University of British Columbia (Canada), University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) and University of Chicago. Faruqi never reduced his literary activities even during employment and nor did he ever neglect his work. He always came to office on time and performed his duties with great concentration. But as soon as he would get free from work he would get busy in reading books.

Becoming a Beacon of Urdu Literature

Faruqi began his literary journey with short-stories but soon he was inclined towards poetry and expressed his artistic abilities in ghazals and poems. Gradually, his critical consciousness reduced his interest in poetry to incline him towards criticism and till the end of his life he stamped his authority as an ideologist of modern criticism.

Though Faruqi had had his importance acknowledged as a critic with his critical essays in Lafz-o-Maani (Word and Meaning) but the fine perception with which he brought the topic under discussion in Sher, Ghair Sher Aur Nasr (Verse, Non-Verse and Prose), was extinct in Urdu criticism. The aspect of identifying the form, prosody and metre of a verse which he introduced in this work still carries a distinctive grandeur.

In Tafheem-e-Ghalib (Understanding Ghalib) and Sher-e-Shor Angez (The Tumultuous Verse), Faruqi presented the explanation, interpretation and analysis of the poetry of Mirza Ghalib and Mir Taqi Mir in a totally unique and unusual manner. Before Tafheem-e-Ghalib, numerous commentaries had been written on the poetry of Ghalib. But Faruqi’s unbiased and decisive comment on the poetry of Ghalib on the basis of proofs and reason exalted and distinguished him among all. It also exercised the authority of criticism and comment over preceding commentaries.

Faruqi commented with great perception about the magic of Mir’s poetry in the four volumes of Sher-e-Shor Angez in a heart-touching manner. In this book, he presented the explanation of the classic poetic traditions with great clarity, definitiveness and comprehensiveness while discussing every aspect of Mir’s poetry in detail. And undoubtedly, it is an immortal achievement of Urdu literature. For the first time, he made a very detailed and complete commentary on the poetics of the daastaan in Sahiri, Shahi Aur Sahib-e-Qirani (Sorcery, Royalty and the Auspicious Planetary Conjunction) with respect to Daastaan-e-Amir Hamza. In addition, his works – Tanqeedi Afkaar (Critical Thoughts), Asbaat-o-Nafi (Confirmation and Denial), Ghalib Parchaar Tehreeren (Writings Publicizing Ghalib), Urdu Ghazal Ke Ahm Mod (The Important Turns of Urdu Ghazal), Urooz, Aahang Aur Bayaan (Prosody, Rhythm and Narration), Dars-e-Balaaghat (The Lesson of Rhetoric), etc. –are milestones of Urdu criticism. He also translated Muhammad Husain Azad’s famous book Aaab-e-Hayat (The Elixir of Life) into English and wrote many books on modern Indian literature in English.

Poetic Contributions: Setting Traditions

In addition to criticism, Faruqi also had his superior prowess in poetry. He created a new poetic tradition in his poetic collections Ganj-e-Sokhta (Burnt Treasure), Sabz Andar Sabz (Green Within Green) and Aasmaan Mehraab (Sky Arch), thereby enriching Urdu poetry with his diction and ideas. And like this, he rendered superb services to the progress and strength of modernity. Under this initiative, he started issuing a journal Shabkhoon from Allahabad in 1966. This journal was the spokesperson of literary ideologies and imagination. It continuously gave opportunities to new artists and Faruqi tried as hard as he could to embellish anybody with even a bit of creative and critical ability. This was the reason that many new poets and writers became famous in the literary world through this very journal and this connection carried on till the journal sadly became defunct in 2006.

During employment, Faruqi also visited sittings and conferences of Urdu literature in India and abroad. In this connection, he represented India and gave lectures in educational and literary gatherings many times in USA, UK, Soviet Union, Western Europe, New Zealand, Thailand, Canada, Pakistan and Singapore, etc.

Faruqi was among those fortunate artists who had reached the zenith of fame and popularity very much in their lives. He was awarded all those national and international honours of the literary world which are considered a cause of esteem and distinction. He was awarded the U.P. Urdu Academy Award 3 times in 1972, 1974 and 1978; the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1986; India’s biggest literary award, the Saraswati Samman in 1996; and the Padma Shri in 2009, among many others.

Faruqi’s aforementioned educational and literary abilities, activities, engagements, honours and awards made him an unforgettable part of Urdu language and literature.

Most Pakistanis were ensconced in an uncertain cocktail of COVID – 19 and Christmas when news of Faruqi’s death began pouring in on social media on December 25. Only a day before, a Facebook acquaintance had asked friends to pray for Faruqi’s health as despite being recovered from COVID – 19, he was not well. However, in the event, Faruqi was in good company as he chose to depart on the day when another distinguished fellow editor of a prestigious longtime literary journal – the monthly Afkaar – as well as poet and writer Sehba Lakhnavi celebrated the end of his birth centenary celebrations turning 101. How would Faruqi react to being trapped with a Progressive? Perhaps they would have struck up a conversation about Iqbal and Manto, those two Kashmiri mavericks on which both Faruqi and Lakhnavi had authored their own books.

Amid Loss, Legacy Lives on

Faruqi leaves behind a huge gap in Urdu letters; and there is no need to worry about who will fill it for now. There are his surviving peers in the realm of criticism: Gopi Chand Narang (who will become a nonagenarian early next year), Shamim Hanfi and C. M. Naim, who are all as popular in India as they are in Pakistan. Then there is the younger batch of critics: Faruqi’s own daughter Mehr Afshan Faruqi admirably soldiers on with her paternal tradition; however it is somewhat both ironical and heartbreaking that Faruqi senior will not be alive to see the publication of his daughter’s much-anticipated critical biography of Ghalib in early 2021 (as well as missing the centenary of the death of Allahabad’s formerly most famous literary resident, the poet Akbar Allahabadi next September). In Pakistan, one of Faruqi’s ablest successors, Asif Farrukhi – who like Faruqi was also born in September – passed away in his prime from COVID-related complications earlier this year in June. Farrukhi’s peer Nasir Abbas Nayyar is still young and energetic, and like Faruqi and Farrukhi, equally at home with writing fiction as in writing criticism. However Faruqi’s unfavourable opinions about Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi and even his fellow anti-Progressive Quratulain Hyder do not hold up to closer scrutiny and will not stand the test of time. Faruqi himself used to say:

‘Banayen ge nayi duniya hum apni

Teri duniya men ab rehna nahi hai ‘

(We will make our own world

We do not wish to remain in yours)

Note: All translations herein are by the writer.


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