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A publisher’s effort to popularise Urdu poetry

By April 19, 2019No Comments

Source : The Hindu    –     Kuldeep Kumar 



Rajpal and Sons, one of the oldest Hindi publishers, is playing an important role in taking Urdu literature to the masses


In the latter half of the 19th century, a movement to replace Urdu by so-called Hindi arose with the sole emphasis on replacing the Persian nastaliq script by Nagari. Therefore, institutions like Nagari Pracharini Sabha were founded to popularise Nagari script. The basic assumption behind this movement was the colonial, orientalist understanding fostered by the Fort William College, Calcutta that Urdu belonged to the Muslims while Hindi, written in Nagari script, was the language of the Hindus although both shared the same linguistic base, verbs, nouns, pronouns and syntax. As is well known, this understanding made a very significant contribution to the growth of communalism in the 20th century, leading to Urdu becoming the state language of the newly created Pakistan in 1947. Later, the Constituent Assembly of India accorded the status of the official language of the Indian Union to Hindi that would be written in Nagari script and would depend on the Sanskrit word stock in order to create new terminology.

As the number of Urdu-reading people began to dwindle in India after independence, enlightened individuals like Lala Yodhraj, a business magnate of Bombay (now Mumbai) and a friend of the famous Urdu poet Ali Sardar Jafri, set up Hindustani Book Trust “to promote emotional unity between the Hindiwallahs and the Urduwallahs” with V. Shankar, ICS and Syed Shahabuddin Dasnavi as its trustees while Mulk Raj Anand and Ali Sardar Jafri were made general editors of its book publication project. An artistically produced and competently edited “Diwan-e-Ghalib” in 1958 and “Diwan-e-Mir” in 1960 were published in both the scripts along with erudite and well-researched introductions by Ali Sardar Jafri. Because of their high production value, these books were somewhat beyond the reach of the common man.

Rajpal and Sons, one of the oldest Hindi publishers, came forward to save the situation and commissioned Prakash Pandit, a connoisseur of Urdu poetry, to edit slim volumes on great Urdu poets of the past and present along with an introduction. These volumes were published only in Devnagari script and were priced very reasonably.

This series began in 1960 and included carefully selected poetry collections of Mir, Ghalib, Sauda, Momin, Zauq, Zafar, Dagh, Iqbal, Majaz, Akhtar Sheeran, Josh, Iraq, Jigar, Faiz and so many others. The distinctive characteristics of these editions were – and they were emulated by others later – its very informative and critically valuable introductions as well as the practice of giving meaning of difficult Urdu words in the form of footnotes on every page.

Understanding the essence

This made it easy for a non-Urdu knowing reader to grasp the essence of a poet’s work. As these books were not expensive, they sold – and, are still selling – like hot cakes and this single series has perhaps made the greatest contribution to popularising Urdu poetry among non-Urdu reading public. The success of this series is evident in the fact that even after nearly six decades, its popularity has not come down even by a notch and it continues to be the single most important bridge between Urdu poetry and its non-Urdu reading lovers.

However, things must change with times. Therefore, some years ago, Rajpal and Sons commissioned Suresh Salil, a Hindi poet and translator who enjoys an equal command over the Urdu language and its literature, to revise Prakash Pandit’s editions and prepare their updated version.

Salil has performed this task admirably well and the new versions have been lapped up equally readily by eager readers whose numbers have been swelling over the past two decades and more and more young enthusiasts of Urdu language and its rich literary tradition have been making their presence felt. Annual events like Jashn-e-Urdu, organised by, have also made their own contribution to this process.



Not to remain content with this, Rajpal and Sons also commissioned Suresh Salil to compile and edit a collection that offers an introduction to the journey of the Urdu ghazal traversing a time span of eight centuries. Titled “Karvane Ghazal” (The Caravan of Ghazal), it begins with Amir Khusrau and takes the reader through the poetry of the pioneers like the Golkunda king Muhammad Quli Qutubshah, Wali Aurangabadi, Sauda, Mir, Ghalib, Wajid Ali Shah ‘Akhtar’, Riyaz Khairabadi, Iqbal, Firaq, Josh, Faiz and a host of other Urdu poets such as Shaharyar and Pakistani poetess Parveen Shakir. One comes to know from this collection that the famous song, “Haman hain ishq mastana, haman ko hoshiyari kya”, is in fact a Kabir composition. A distinctive feature of this collection is that besides Kabir, it also places Hindi writers Bharatendu Harishchandra ‘Rasa’, Pratap Narain Mishra, Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, Shamsher Bahadur Singh, Trilochan, Balbir Singh ‘Rang’, Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena, Raghuvir Sahay, Dushyant Kumar and Shalabh Shriram Singh in the long and rich tradition of Urdu ghazal.

“Karvane Ghazal” is also exceptional in another sense. It has two sub-sections towards the end on the poetry of the kings like Shah Alam, Asafuddaula ‘Asaf’, Wazir Ali Khan ‘Wazir’ and Nasiruddin Hyder, and also of women poets who wrote from behind the four walls of their palaces and houses. Not forgetting English language readers, Rajpal and Sons have also brought out a collection titled “A Treasury of Urdu Poetry: From Mir to Faiz”, compiled and edited by Kuldip Salil. It’s a bilingual edition but gives Urdu poetry in Nagari script along with its English translation.

The writer is a senior literary critic


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