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Farewell Shamsur Rahman Faruqi: The Sun That Set in the Earth  

Faruqi (1935-2020) was simultaneously a high-quality writer, competent critic, respected poet, high-ranking short-story writer, authentic researcher, and expert of prosody and grammar.

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 (1935-2020), the famous critic and researcher of Urdu literature, passed away on December 25 at the age of 85 in Allahabad. Not Prayagraj but the historic city made famous by Allahabadi surkha guava, and even more famous by iconic Urdu and Hindi litterateurs like Akbar Allahabadi, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Dharamvir Bharati, Rafiq Husain, Ibne Safi and Mustafa Zaidi. He began his literary journey with criticism. 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 he developed a passion for writing short stories, he wrote many, one after the other, under fictitious names in Shabkhoon, which were extremely popular. In 2006, he wrote a novel Kai Chaand The Sar-e-Aasmaan (which he himself translated into English as The Mirror of Beauty) which was greatly praised. 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, expert of prosody and grammar and acquainted with the lexicon. And everywhere he showed such consummate skill and matchless artistry that one did not see anyone of similar stature among his peers.

A fine balance

Faruqi was born on September 30, 1935 in Kalakankar House, Pratapgarh, at the home of his maternal grandfather’s, Khan Bahadur Muhammad Nazeer. Kalakankar House was the mansion of the Maharaja of Pratapgarh and Nazeer was the Special Manager, Court of Wards in those days. His home was actually in Koiriyapar village, Azamgarh district.

He started his education at Wellesley High School, Azamgarh. 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 used to remain busy in studying these books at the same shop so much so that he would not relent despite being forbidden by his family. As a result, when he turned 13 or 14, the intensity of reading forced him to wear spectacles.

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. Rashidi urged 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 his BA. The 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 vehicles coming and going on the roads and often his friends saved him from running into cars.

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During his BA, Faruqi would spend his free time at the famous Vahid Library of Gorakhpur. Initially he read every sort of book but gradually his interest towards literature rose and he became obsessed with Urdu literature.

In 1955, after doing his MA at Allahabad University, Faruqi was joined Satish Chandra Degree College at Ballia as an English lecturer. Here, after performing his duties for a year, he went to Shibli College Azamgarh. In the meantime, he also started preparing for the civil service examinations. For preparation, he did not take leave from work but studied whenever he got some free time from his official duties.

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 (UP) in Allahabad, and finally as Member, Postal Services Board New Delhi. In 1994, he retired from 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, University of Hyderabad, Jammu University, University of British Columbia (Canada), University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) and the University of Chicago.

Faruqi’s library of work

Faruqi began his literary journey with short stories, but soon was inclined towards poetry and expressed his artistic abilities in ghazals and poems. Gradually, his critical consciousness reduced his interest in poetry and inclined 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 essays in Lafz-o-Maani (Word and Meaning) but the fine perception with which he had brought the topic under discussion in Sher, Ghair Sher Aur Nasr (Verse, Non-Verse and Prose), such discussions were extinct in Urdu criticism before this. The aspect of identifying the form, prosody and metre of a verse which he introduced in this work still carries a distinctive stamp.

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 made his work stand out.

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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 detailed and complete commentary on the poetics of daastaan in Sahiri, Shahi Aur Sahib-e-Qirani (Sorcery, Royalty and the Auspicious Planetary Conjunction) with respect to the 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, etc in English.

In addition to criticism, Faruqi created a new poetic tradition in his collections Ganj-e-Sokhta (Burnt Treasure), Sabz Andar Sabz (Green Within Green) and Aasmaan Mehraab (Sky Arch), and enriched 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 enourage anybody with even a bit of creative and critical ability. This was the reason many new poets and writers became famous in the literary world through his 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 the US, the UK, the Soviet Union, Western Europe, New Zealand, Thailand, Canada, Pakistan and Singapore etc.

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Faruqi was among those fortunate artists who had reached the zenith of fame and popularity 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 UP Urdu Academy Award three 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.

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

Most people in the Urdu speaking world were preoccupied by 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 since he had recovered from COVID-19, but was still 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.

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 are 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-19 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 are by the writer.

Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader, currently based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He can be reached at razanaeem@hotmail.com.