Sunday, June 26, 2022

Dr Gopichand Narang: Remembering a Colossal Scholar of Urdu in These Fissiparous Times

By Sumit Paul, New Age Islam 18 June 2022 Dr Gopichand Narang Will Always Be Known For Reevaluating Classical Poets Like Meer, Ghalib, Iqbal And Amir Khusrau Main Points: 1. Dr Gopichand Narang will be remembered for many things but also for introducing postmodernism debate in Urdu. 2. Dr Gopichand Narang believed that Urdu literature is wedded to the roots. 3. Narang always appreciated young poets, writers and critics. ----- Dr Gopichand Narang received a master's degree in Urdu from the University of Delhi, and a research fellowship from the Ministry of Education to complete his PhD in 1958. ----- “Languages don't need religion; people do." Late Dr Gopichand Narang, the legendary Urdu critic and writer “Zabaan-E-Urdu Mein Jo Kashish-O-Andaaz Hai Woh Bamushkil Kisi Aur Zabaan Mein Hogi, Lekin Main Farsi Ki Raanai-O-Latafat Se Bhi Inkaar Nahin Karta...." (The delectability of Urdu is simply rare in other languages, yet I don't deny the exquisiteness of Persian). These words of the legendary Urdu critic and writer Dr Gopichand Narang shall remain etched in my memory. The just departed legend wrote to me in his cursive Urdu many years ago. After that, I met him a couple of times in Delhi, London and the US. In these times, when we're sparring over Urdu as the language of a ' different ' community, Dr Narang's role in uplifting the dying language becomes all the more significant. He was a true ambassador of Urdu world who once called Urdu, “India’s linguistic Taj Mahal." “There’re three hallmarks of the Mughal era- The Taj Mahal, Ghalib's poetry and Urdu.....Although every language is beautiful, Urdu's sophistication and charm captivate everyone. That's why I call Urdu, India's linguistic Taj Mahal." Narang always made it a point to project and present Urdu as a language of the subcontinent. He believed that if everyone learnt Urdu, there would be no communal strife in the country because Urdu was as much a language of the Hindus as it is of Muslims. It was Narang's recipe for Qaumi Ittihaad (community consciousness and cordiality). In modern India, there have been two great Urdu critics, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi and Gopichand Narang. They were coevals. Though comparisons are always odious, one must acknowledge the fact that Narang had greater universality in his approach and vision. I remember, once he delivered a lecture on Urdu's all-encompassing nature vis- a- vis other languages at an Ivy League University in the US. He quoted from Persian, Arabic, Pahalavi, Pashto, English, French and Italian to buttress his point. The august audience was spellbound. He was a polyglot and believed that one must learn as many tongues as one can. “Every time you learn a new language, you get a new soul, “was his unfailing mantra. It was Narang who promoted the study of comparative languages in India along with Nabaneeta Dev Sen. He'd often quote Attar's famous Misra (line) in Pahalavi, “Yaan Ust Zabaan-E-Munbilam Zee Qaf'at “(let all languages thrive). It's said that a critic is seldom an independent writer (Qaa’ Phin Naqqaad Biz Qalamgeer). But Narang was an exception. He was a fabulous critic and an equally great writer. His legions of books and innumerable papers in English and Urdu underline the fact. Because of his compassionate critical insights, Narang was able to write books that have wider readership and a quality to strike a quick rapport with the readers of all hues. In short, like ST Coleridge, William Hazlitt, Altaaf Hussain Hali Panipati and Egyptian great Dr Taha Hussain, Dr Narang could combine criticism and creativity. On this count, he was comparable to the redoubtable English critic and poet Dr Matthew Arnold, Never in life did he criticise any Urdu writer and poet in a scathing or mordacious manner. He was always very gentle. “Mere Haath Mein Qalam Hai, Qeez (Archaic Persian for scissors) Nahin," he'd often say. When he wrote about the poet Yaas Yagana Changezi, who criticised Ghalib, throughout his life, he said, “Ghazab Ki Salahiyat Thi Magar Unki (Changezi) Qalam Ko Ghalib Ki Tanqeed Se Fursat Na Mili " ( He had great talent but his pen was too absorbed and engrossed in criticising Ghalib's oeuvre). Such nicety and consideration is a rarity in a critic. He was never condescending and always appreciated young poets, writers and critics. He had a mantra for becoming a successful critic, “Apni Aankhein Khuli Rakhiye Aur Dil Mein Talkhi Ko Basne Se Rokiye” (Open your eyes and don't let bitterness reside in your heart). So very true. He never wrote with bitterness and malice. He was so magnanimous that he wrote glowingly about those who criticised him. “Kirdaar Ki Bulandi, Ek Shayar Ya Naqqaad Ke Liye Shart-E-Naguzeer Hai “(Magnanimity is the sine qua non for a poet or critic). He was an extremely insightful critic and could read between the lines. That's the reason, he could discern hidden meanings in Daagh, Ghalib and Mir's poetry. Like TS Eliot, who resuscitated John Donne after 300 years, Narang dug out many great but lost poets and presented their works before the literary world. His revival of Dakkhani poetry is proof of his greatness. The poets of Shumaal (North) have always been a tad disdainful of the poetry and Urdu language of Junoob (South). But Dr Narang bridged that gap and was never contemptuous of Dakkhani Urdu. His volumes on Dakkhani Zubaan can be adduced as a clinching proof of his creative breadth, understanding and profundity. A spontaneous speaker and a florid orator, Dr Narang had a cornucopia of literary trivia and he was an encyclopaedia of creative anecdotes. Always full of gratitude, I remember, when I reviewed his book on Mir Taqi Mir (The Hidden Garden) a couple of years ago and The Tribune, Chandigarh carried it, he thanked me with a letter in Urdu. He was never perfunctory. Whatever he did, he did from the deepest crevices of his heart. Narang will be remembered for many things but also for introducing postmodernism debate in Urdu. He believed that Urdu literature is wedded to the roots. He'll always be known for re-evaluating classical poets like Meer, Ghalib, Iqbal, Amir Khusrau. He's the only Urdu writer in the world who was feted by the Presidents of both India and Pakistan with their prestigious awards- Padma Bhushan and Sitara-e-Imtiyaz, respectively. Dr Narang had the greatness to accept the fact that due to lack of exposure, his Persian became a tad rusty. One ought to have the honesty and integrity of Narang to accept this with a disarming smile and simplicity. Au revoir, Dr Narang in these times, when Urdu is being criticized and castigated, your yeoman's service to its upliftment shall always be remembered with a deep sense of gratitude. The world of literature, not just Urdu literature, will remain forever indebted to you. ---- An occasional columnist for New Age Islam, Sumit Paul is a researcher in comparative religions, with special reference to Islam. He has contributed articles to world's premier publications in several languages including Persian. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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