Tag Archives: Urdu

In awe of words: Rekindling the magic of storytelling in Urdu


In the spirit of reviving the forgotten art of storytelling, an evening of Urdu poetry and prose titled “Baithak” enchanted literature buffs on Thursday.

The guest speaker at the gathering, held at Kuch Khaas, was Tajdar Zaidi of Theatre Wallay, who elaborated on the fond association people hold with Urdu literature, since it is engrained in our history and culture.

Reading from some printouts and hardbound copies, he focused mostly on prose writing, relating a letter, a column, a dialogue and a short story, while also offering some verses.

His first pick was a ghazal by Bahadur Shah Zaffar which portrays a romantic recollection of the past days of glory, while the poet speaks of his impending death to his beloved. The lyrical flow and a principled stand come together to make the piece engaging and bittersweet.

Next up was a letter from the Pakistan Tea House illustrating the candid correspondence between a woman and her fiancé, discussing the pitfalls of modern life, the romance of pre-marital days and the struggles of a long-distance relationship.

A Zameer Jafri dialogue titled “Rooh-e-Iqbal se Muqalma” was also read out loud. Relating the present day social situation with Allama Iqbal’s idealistic poetry, the piece is a hilarious read. Listening intently, the small, albeit enthused, audience responded with well-syncronised grins.

Before reading Wasatullah Khan’s column “Amma ka dil aisa hee tha” from BBC, Zaidi shared that the piece on motherhood was close to his heart, by virtue of its emotional and provocative nature. “It is more than just a column,” he added.

In this piece, Khan recalls being brought up in a modest household where his family of seven could ill-afford to have proper meals, leaving morsels for the mother. The naïve woman, as the writer illustrates, was a tailor, a housekeeper and a beacon of love and light all in one. Told from a child’s perspective, the piece tugged at the heart in narrating the unconditional and undemanding support of a woman who put up with circumstance without a sigh.

His rendition of Noon Meem Rashed’s “Hassan Koozagar” garnered applause, rekindling love for the soulful poetry. Another poem by Majeed Amjad “Lahore Mein” reeked of nostalgia for a chance meeting with the beloved at the post office.

The final poems by Qatil Shifai, “Mutharma” and “Gayee ruton ka jhonka”, reflected the loss and longing experienced in love etched in the lover’s heart.

“Noom Meem Rashed was a surprise for me because I’m in love with his poetry,” said Huma, an audience member and fiction writer. “There was a whole tradition of storytelling but you can’t find it anywhere, which is very unfortunate. Still, it is encouraging to see someone take the initiative,” she added.

The event was organised by Theatre Wallay in collaboration with Kuch Khaas.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2014.

Did you know? : My Name is Red translated into Urdu

Nine snowy days in Istanbul, 1591. This is the setting of Orhan Pamuk’s widely red novel, Benim Adım Kırmızı. The story revolves around Eküre, a beautiful woman with two sons, who decides to look for a new husband four years after her own never returns from war. Enter three potential suitors — and chaos. Mystery, love, murder and the supernatural, these are the elements which, when combined, make up an enigmatic plot which haunts the reader long after the book has been put down.

Written by Pamuk in 1998, the book was translated into English in 2001 and is now commonly known as My Name is Red. This book not only helped establish Pamuk’s international reputation, but also contributed towards the Nobel Prize in Literature the author received in 2006.

Now, Jamhoori Publications has announced that the book has been translated into Urdu, under the new title Surkh Mera Naam. The foreword to this translation has been written by none other than renowned novelist Mustansar Hussain Tarar, and it is now available for purchase online at www.jumhooripublications.com for a price of Rs780.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2014.

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Love the language: Conference on Urdu kicks off


The three-day International Conference on Urdu and the 21st Century opened at the Islamia University of Bahawalpur on Monday.

More than 50 delegates from India, Bangladesh, Egypt, UK, USA, Qatar, Turkey, Australia, Sweden and Denmark are participating in the mega event. Islamia University of Bahawalpur Vice Chancellor Muhammad Mukhtar, Federal Urdu University Vice Chancellor Zafar Iqbal, and novelist Intezar Hussain spoke at the conference.

Mukhtar welcomed the delegates and said that the IUB was honoured to play host to intellectuals from around the world.

Iqbal said he was happy that the conference had been dedicated to Baba-i-Urdu Maulvi Abdul Haq. He said he added that the conference spoke of the IUB’s commitment to preserving and promoting Urdu literature.

Hussain said it was heartening to note that the IUB had made the effort to highlight Urdu’s importance. He said the university was known wherever Urdu was spoken. He paid rich tributes to the nawabs of the formerly princely state of Bahawalpur for patronising Urdu.

Professor Dr Najib Jamal spoke on the aims and objectives of the moot and thanked the vice chancellor for his support in organising the International Urdu Conference. Academics and scholars attended the event.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2014.

Medium of instruction: English to Urdu and back


The government’s decision to revert to Urdu as the medium of instruction in public schools up till Grade 3 this year has been met with reservations by some teachers who insist that it should apply up till Grade 5 at least.

In February this year, the provincial government announced that it would revert its decision [taken in March 2009] to implement English as the medium of instruction in public schools from Grade 1. Amidst pressure by teachers, the Punjab government announced that after reviewing the decision and learning outcomes, it has decided to switch the medium of instruction back to Urdu for teaching till Grade 3.

Teachers in the Punjab have welcomed this decision, but with reservations. They have claimed that specifying English as the medium of instruction from Grade 4 onwards would have a “detrimental effect” on children and their learning.

The Punjab Teachers’ Union says the government must revise its decision to make Urdu the medium of instruction only till Grade 3.

PTU Secretary General Rana Liaquat Ali says the government should make Urdu the medium of instruction till Grade 5, and later give students an option to choose between Urdu and English as the medium of instruction. “Children in primary schools are more receptive to learning in their own language,” says Ali.

He says that teachers not only teach in Urdu in classrooms but also in other regional languages. “Whichever language helps a child learn better is most productive for the teacher,” he says. “But a flexible education system and curriculum books that allow children and teachers to work as they feel that is what the government should strive for.”

Razia Aslam, a public primary school teacher of grades 3 and 5, says since most of the students in public schools are from low income households, classrooms should offer a learning environment they can relate to. “The schools should focus on improving the teaching of English as a language or subject – this will help children learn the language and understand concepts of other subjects in their native languages,” she said.

A 2013 report by the Society for the Advancement of Higher Education (SAHE) and the Campaign for Quality Education (CQE) titled Policy and practice: teaching and learning in English in Punjab schools indicates that while 70 per cent of the teachers found it hard to teach Grade 1 mathematics and science in English, a similar percentage of parents approved of English being the medium of instruction from Grade 1. The survey conducted in six districts had concluded that English should be taught as a subject rather than the medium of instruction at least till Grade 5.

The Education Department says there will not be another review of the matter in the near future. Minister for Education Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan told The Express Tribune that the government will stick to its decision in keeping Urdu as the medium of instruction till Grade 3. He said the department had made the decision in light of several consultations with experts. “We have to understand that there is a right time to introduce English to our children…after that, they might be able to grasp a new language quickly,” he said.

Khan expressed concern over the teachers’ demand to make Urdu the medium of instruction till Grade 5…“Next they’ll demand it be extended even further”. The counter argument here is that English must be introduced as the medium of instruction before the children grow too old, he said there was no end to this debate.

A report by the British Council, the Directorate of Staff Development (DSD) and the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Agahi titled Can English Medium Education Work in Pakistan? Lessons from the Punjab said that of the 2, 000 teachers it surveyed, 56 per cent of the public primary and middle school teachers had “no measurable standard of functional language ability”.

ITA Director Baela Raza Jamil says the government is still “stuck in the colonial times”. “Why can’t Punjabi or other regional languages be made part of the classroom?” she asks. Jamil says that while Urdu can be made the dominant language in classrooms, English and Punjabi can be secondary languages in all primary schools across the province.

“We are a multilingual people and our children are accustomed to it…we need to have an education system that incorporates local languages while gradually transitioning to a foreign language at higher levels.” Jamil stresses that English should be taught as a subject at the primary level, but adds that any decision relating to the medium of instruction should contribute to positive learning outcomes. “If it doesn’t contribute to the learning of children, then regardless of the medium of instruction, it is going to be utterly useless in the end.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2014.

Inventing revolution: The man who gave Urdu its wings


Ahmed Mirza Jamil changed the way all Urdu newspapers and books would be published anywhere in the world; and he did it back in 1981 with his Noori Nastaliq script that gave the Midas touch to desktop publishing.

The present-day Urdu publishing owes its elegant contours to the calligraphic skills of this great wizard of calligraphy.

Before being used in the composing software, InPage, the Noori Nastaliq was created as a digital typeface (font) in 1981 when master-calligrapher Ahmed Mirza Jamil and Monotype Imaging (then called Monotype Corp) collaborated on a joint venture.

Earlier, Urdu newspapers, books and magazines needed manual calligraphers, who were replaced by computer machines in Pakistan, India, UK and other countries.

The government of Pakistan recognised Ahmad Mirza Jamil’s singular achievement in 1982 by designating Noori Nastaliq as an ‘Invention of National Importance’ and awarded him with the medal of distinction, Tamgha-e-Imtiaz.

In recognition of his achievement, the University of Karachi also awarded him the degree of Doctor of Letters, Honoris Causa.

Narrating the history of his achievement in his book, ‘Revolution in Urdu Composing’, he wrote: “In future, Urdu authors will be able to compose their books like the authors of the languages of Roman script. Now, the day a manuscript is ready is the day the publication is ready for printing. There is no waiting for calligraphers to give their time grudgingly, no apprehension of mistakes creeping in, nor any complaints about the calligraphers or operators not being familiar with the language.

“Soon our future generations will be asking incredulously whether it was really true that there was a time when newspapers were painstakingly manually calligraphed all through the night to be printed on high speed machines in the morning. Were we really so primitive that our national language had to limp along holding on to the crutches of the calligraphers that made the completion of books an exercise ranging from months to years depending upon their volume.”

Noted Urdu litterateur Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi paid tribute to Ahmed Mirza Jamil during his lifetime.

He said, “The revolution brought about by Noori Nastaliq in the field of Urdu publishing sends out many positive signals. It has at last settled the long-standing dispute about Urdu typewriter’s keys that had raged from the time Pakistan was born. The future generations will surely be indebted to him for this revolution.

Dr Ahmed Mirza Jamil passed away unsung on February 17, 2014. May his soul be blessed.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2014.

Literary seminar: Discussing the (lack of) impact of Urdu literature on the international stage


Just like the language, Urdu literature has absorbed influences from various languages and cultures. Yet it has managed to retain its own essence and individuality.

These ideas were expressed by a panel of literati at a national literary seminar at the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) on Monday.

Renowned writer Dr Sattiya Paul Anand, who settled in America over a decade ago, was the chief guest. PAL Chairman Abdul Hameed presided over the session while the panel comprised of literary figures Kishwar Naheed, Attiya Syed, Dr Fatima Hassan, Dr Saim Ali Soomro and Dr Ali Kumail Qizalbash.

Dr Anand said that after 1947, literature was classified in three eras. There were progressive movements which began under influence from Russian literature, modernism which was ushered under European and American influence and post-modernism which filled the gaps, permitting Pakistani literary figures and scholars to impact literature.

Among prominent novelists, he named Intizar Hussain, Ashfaq Ahmed, Bano Qudsia, Shaukat Siddiqui and Ghulam Abbas. Moreover, he observed that the second generation short-story writers included Anwar Sajjad, Agdulllah Hussain, Khalida Hussain, Mansha Yad, Asad Muhammad Khan and Zahida Khan.

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Referring to the innovation of imagery, he said literary works of poets from twin cities in the 1980s deserves prominent mention. This is when a new crop of poets emerged, for which he coined the term “Rawalpindi School of Images”.

These writers are Naseer Ahmed Nasir, Ali Muhammad Farshi, Jalil Aali and Anwar Fitrat among others.

Kishwar Naheed said Urdu writers still focus on social injustice and suppression in their writing.

For instance, the novel “Pyar ka Pahla Shaher” written by Mustansar Hussain Tarar has been translated into Russian language. Novels by Khadija Mastoor and Zahida Hina have also been translated inEnglish, she said.

Dr Hassan said feminist writers around the world complain that their writing has been misinterpreted.  In conventional and critical literature, traditional and structural literature is being produced in which ideological coherence prevails.

Hameed said there was a need to focus on translating Urdu literature, so it can have a greater impact on the international stage.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2014.

‘Many great female Urdu poets ignored’


Nature does not compartmentalise creativity into gender categories, poet Zehra Nigah said on Sunday.

Speaking at the session Jadeed O Qadeem Khawateen (Ladies: Past and Modern) of the Lahore Literature Festival on the concluding day, Nigah said that many great female Urdu poets had not been acknowledged. “We hear many soft and mild things about feelings said by men. These expressions are so tender that I feel they must have been said by women, who spoke but did not write their poetry.

Then the men wrote down these words. Mir Taqi Mir’s daughter was also a poet but we don’t hear about her much. Despite being the daughter of one of the greatest Urdu poets she couldn’t be acknowledged”.

Nigah said there were many great women poets during British rule but most of them were from the Bazaar-e-Husn, “The word ‘courtesan’ was always included in their names. This word is attached like educational degrees to their poetic works. Malika Bai was one of the very first women in the sub-continent to have her own dewaan,” she said.

Nigah also spoke about how in 1950s she was one of two female poets to be recognized. “I used to wear a white uniform to all mushairas (poetry recital) that I attended. I would go to a mushaira, recite my poetry without establishing eye-contact with the audience and then return home.

Now, I feel happy when I see young female poets dressed up and reciting poetry along with male poets with full confidence. I feel that I paved the way for young female poets to stand alongside male poets,” she said.

The audience requested Nigah to recite some of her poetry after the session ended. She recited some poems and ghazals.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2014.

Epic tragedies: Greek trilogy translated in Urdu


When will the suffering end, when will the time arrive for an antidote to sorrow, said Prometheus, chained to a rock where an eagle would eat his liver every day.

The mythical ancient Greek hero was punished by the gods after he stole fire from them and gave it to humanity. Now the legend can be read in Urdu too.

Intellectual and writer Ashfaq Saleem Mirza on Thursday launched his new book entitled “The Journey of Tragedy” comprising Urdu translations of three representative Greek tragedies — ‘Prometheus Bound’ by Aeschylus, ‘Oedipus Rex’ by Sophocles and ‘The Trojan Women’ by Euripides. The book’s launching ceremony was organised by the Islamabad Cultural Forum at the Pakistan Academy of Letters.

The three plays are dated around the fifth century BC.

Poet and columnist Mushir Anwar chairing the ceremony said Mirza has shown immense skill in translating the plays. “These texts were nonexistent in Urdu.”

Writer Iqbal Afaqi, the chief guest, said he was grateful to Mirza for translating the plays, especially Euripides’s ‘The Trojan Women’. Afaqi said the play presents a narrative of emancipation and a story of oppression which is relatable to human societies even 2,500 years after the play was staged. He said The Trojan Women was an example of the way Greeks, perhaps unlike any other culture, included self-criticism and the version of the “other” in their texts.

Speakers said Mirza was able to accurately translate the depth and grandness of the Greek tragedies.

Short story writer Ali Akbar Natiq said Mirza’s translations reflected the translator’s own creative skill in addition to displaying the original writer’s craft. Writer Salahuddin Darwesh appreciated the translations for their flow and easy-to-read qualities.

Mirza who has previously authored five books, said the latest one may appear to be a collection of translations, but for him, it was an exercise in experiencing how it might have felt to live in the ancient Greece — a feeling he compared with a Sufi’s trance, which is “momentous” but difficult to communicate.

The ancient Greek playwrights, especially Euripides showed remarkable insight and astuteness about the human condition in their writings which have made their works everlasting, he said. Speakers requested the translator to include historical background and philosophical analysis of the three plays in the next edition of the book.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2014. 

‘Urdu term for special persons is derogatory’


The Urdu term used for special persons insinuated disability, Pakistan Association for Disabilities in Learning (PADIL) chairperson Ashba Kamran said on Thursday.

She said special persons had a wider range of capabilities than disabled persons. Placing them in the same category was incorrect, she said, the term for special persons, widely translated into Urdu, meant disabled persons. She said the government should constitute a committee of Urdu professors and media persons to coin a new Urdu term for special persons. Kamran said that society associated the word ‘disabled’ with stigma. Parents often remained in denial rather than accept their child as a special person.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2013.

6th International Urdu Conference: ‘Symbolic short stories were born out of game-changing events’

KARACHI: Urdu writers and critics expressed their regret at the decline of short story writing and publishing trends in Urdu literature on the last day of the 6th International Urdu Conference on Sunday at the Karachi Arts Council Auditorium.

Noted fiction writers, critics and translators, reading out their monographs on ‘Afsaana-aik sadi ka safar’ [Short story: A century’ journey], pointed towards the decline of short story writing and publishing in Urdu literature.

“Fiction [reading] increases empathy and people have stopped caring and asking about others with the decline of short stories,” said writer and critic, Dr Asif Farrukhi. He fears that people will stop reading works of iconic fiction writer Saadat Hasan Manto just as they stopped reading Munshi Premchand, although he is still respected as a great writer.

“Short story writers of the 21st century have more challenges to face. On one hand, they are facing imperialism while on the other, they face the Taliban,” said writer and critic Akhlaq Ahmed in his speech. “There was a time when the enemy of your enemy was your friend but now he too is the enemy.” The writer of the 21st century is not only coping with the industrial revolution of the 20th century but also dealing with the technological revolution.

Translator Dr Mustafa Hussain shed light on translation of Danish fictions in Urdu, stressing that to translate fiction, one needs to have proper understanding of languages, culture, situation and life of the people relating to the languages. For the Islamabad-based fiction writer, Mohammad Hameed Shahid, the genre of fiction became a part of Urdu literature over a century.

Professor Ali Haider Malik, in his speech, said that the trend of symbolic short stories [alaamati afsana] will never end just as descriptive short stories will also continue to be written. Speaking on the history of symbolic short story writing in Urdu literature, he said that this trend evolved because of certain incidents across the globe which led writers to convey messages through symbolism, saying, “The time of Intizar Hussain and Envre Sajjad was the time of symbolic short stories.”

“Events such as the rule of Ziaul Haq, who was not popular among writers, nuclear tests in the subcontinent and the 9/11 attack in New York City affected Pakistan and a number of symbolic short stories of good quality were written in that period,” he said. He added that symbolic short stories should be recognised as a unique style and method of writing in Urdu literature.

Writer Zahida Hina spoke on important milestones of short stories in the 20th century. Writers Hasan Manzar, Masood Ashar, Asad Mohammad Khan and Intizar Hussain chaired the session.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2013.