Friday December 15, 2017

Existentialism’s genesis in 19th century Urdu poetry

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Debates on man’s purpose in life have been as old as his existence and, at some phase, call in question the role of the world – is it friendly, hostile or supremely indifferent? Taking the last position was a school of thought, predominantly European, where the individual’s start is marked by “the existential attitude”, or a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless, absurd world.

But do the angst-ridden quartet of writers and philosophers – Kierkegaard (Dane), Dostoyevsky (Russian), Nietzsche (German) and Sartre (French) – who are acknowledged as Existentialism’s pioneers deserve all the credit or should we look closer to home?

A consistent but concise definition of Existentialism has been difficult to frame, but Sartre came the closest in describing it as “the attempt to draw all the consequences from a position of consistent atheism”.

Also among its key features is the notion of the Absurd, which is not the dictionary definition but rather that there is no meaning in the world beyond what humans give it.

It is not very difficult to trace these sentiments expressed in the 19th and 20th century Europe, earlier in time and space to Asia – 12th century Persian astronomer-poet Omar Khayyam (1048-1131), in one of his quatrains, translated and popularised by Edward Fitzgerald, says: “Into this Universe, and why not knowing,/Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing:/And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,/I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.”

And on the inexorable, mechanistic workings of destiny and the futility of imploring divine intercession, the Sage of Naishapur says: “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,/Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit/Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,/Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it” and “And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,/Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,/Lift not thy hands to IT for help–for It/Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.”

But there was a poet from the Indian subcontinent itself who excelled in transmuting the mysterious absurdity of life and the human condition into verse – verse which is still popular and heard, though most of the hearers may not know anything of its antecedents.

His most famous couplet is on the ineffable paradox of life – and death: “Ab to ghabra ke ye kahte hai ke mar jaayenge/Mar ke bhi chain na paaya to kidhar jaayenge“, while another famous ghazal, immortalised by both K.L. Saigal and Begum Akhtar, is the one beginning: “Layi hayat aaye qaza le chali chale/ Na apni khushi aaye na apni khushi chale” – and what could be a more poetic expression of Existentialism.

These are among the few surviving examples of the corpus of Sheikh Muhammad Ibrahim ‘Zauq’ (1789-1854), the most popular poet in an era which boasted Ghalib, Momin, Shefta, Azurda and the poet-emperor Bahadur Shah ‘Zafar’ himself among many others.

The son of an ordinary soldier who educated himself to rise to poet laureate at the imperial court when just a teenager, the poetic preceptor to the emperor himself and was titled “Khaqani-e-Hind” after the fabled 12th century Persian poet, ‘Zauq’s fame has unfortunately dissipated after him.

But circumstances were against him – as the emperor’s Ustad meant he never had enough time for his own work, of which a major segment was anyway lost in turmoil Delhi went through in 1857.

Contemporary accounts also played a part – while film “Mirza Ghalib” was ambivalent, the TV serial on Urdu poetry’s most recognised poet was slightly more partisan in favour of its hero, who is shown thinking aloud in one scene, that poetry should not merely be esteemed on the basis of usage of wordplay, polished language and skilled rhyming, but on content and style – as exemplified in his own oeuvre!

But even if only the second of his ghazals cited above had survived, it would have been enough to cement his reputation. Succeeding couplets, including those not featured in Saigal and the Begum’s renditions, go: “Behtar to hai yehi ke na duniya se dil lage/Par kya karen jo kaam na bedillagi chale”, “Ho umr-e-Khizr bhi to kahenge ba vaqt-e-marg/Ham kya rahe yahaan abhi aaye abhi chale”, and “Naazaan na ho khirad pe jo hona hai vo hi ho/Daanish teri na kuchh meri daanishvari chale”.

Most superlative are the last two deeply imbued in a pessimistic resignation: “Duniya ne kis ka raah-e-fanaa mein diya hai saath/Tum bhi chale chalo yun hi jab tak chali chale” and “Jati havaa-e-shauq mein hai is chaman se ‘Zauq’/Apni bala se baad-e-saba kahi chale”.

The ghazal seems a primer for a contemplative soul – and we can only bemoan other gems lost in ‘Zauq’s unpublished work!

(Vikas Dutta, IANS)

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Osmania University turns 100: India’s First University to adopt Urdu as medium of Instruction

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A text written in Urdu language , Wikimedia

Hyderabad, April 25, 2017: It was India’s first university to adopt Urdu as the medium of instruction — but with English as a compulsory subject. And, as it turns 100 on Wednesday, Osmania University has blended tradition with modernity to emerge as one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious institutes of higher learning.

With President Pranab Mukherjee set to launch the centenary celebrations, the spotlight is on the premier seat of learning, known for its chequered history.

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Standing tall on its sprawling and picturesque campus, it bears testimony to the grandeur of the princely Hyderabad state, the tumultuous times before the state’s merger with India and several movements ranging from ‘jobs for locals’ to separate statehood for Telangana.

From its genesis in the rich Muslim legacy to cultural diversity and from its transformation as a modern institution imparting education in English and various branches of science and technology, Jamia-e-Osmania, as it was earlier known, has come a long way.

Its distinguished alumni include former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao; India’s first astronaut, Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma; celebrated film director Shyam Benegal; former RBI Governor Y. Venugopal Reddy; founder and chairman of Cobra Beer and Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, Karan Bilimoria; and Magsaysay awardee Shantha Sinha.

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It was on April 26, 1917, that Nizam VII Mir Osman Ali Khan issued a ‘farman’ (royal decree) for the establishment of Osmania University.

“The fundamental principles in the working of the university should be that Urdu should form the medium of higher education, but a knowledge of English as a language should, at the same time, be deemed compulsory for all students,” said the decree.

Within two years of the decree, classes began for the first batch from a building in Gunfoundry area, conservation activist P. Anuradha Reddy pointed out.

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Arts and theology were only the two faculties in the first year with 225 students and 25 faculty members. It offered courses in different languages like Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Persian and Arabic besides Urdu and English.

As the ‘purdah’ system was strictly in vogue those days, the classes in the first few decades were conducted separately for boys and girls. A curtain would be hung between boys and girls for a common class or during guest lectures.

Academicians say Osmania University symbolised renaissance in the Indian educational system.

The move to set up the university with Urdu as the medium of instruction was seen as the first step to revolt against the supremacy of the foreign language in India. It was hailed by Rabindernath Tagore.

He wrote to Nizam: “I have long been waiting for the day when, freed from the shackles of a foreign language, our education becomes naturally accessible to all our people. It is a problem for the solution of which we look to our Native States, and it gives me great joy to know that your State proposes to found a University in which instructions are to be given through the medium of Urdu. It is needless to say that your scheme has my fullest appreciation.”

In 1934, the university was allotted 566 acres in the Adikmet area for its permanent campus. The Nizam laid the foundation stone for the iconic Arts College building, which later became the symbol of the university.

Rail tracks were laid to ferry workers and construction material and to speed up construction activity. Four years later, the campus and the Arts College, with its magnificent facade, was inaugurated.

A blend of Qutub Shahi and Mughal architecture, the granite structure was designed by Belgian architect Monsieur Jasper. With 164 vast rooms and a plinth of 2.5 lakh square feet, the Arts College is one the last major structures built by the Nizam.

In the pre-Independence era, Urdu was the medium of instruction in all branches of higher education, including medicine and engineering. Under-graduate, post-graduate and Ph.D. programmes were introduced in almost all the faculties.

Some of the premier institutions started in the city like Nizamia Observatory, Nizam College, Medical College, Law School and Teachers’ Training College were transferred to the university.

One such institute was the Dairat-Ul-Maarif, which was founded in 1888 to collect, preserve, edit and publish rare original and standard works in Arabic on humanities, religion, science and the arts.

The transformation at Osmania was obvious following the merger of Hyderabad state with India in September, 1948, more than a year after country’s independence.

English replaced Urdu as the medium of instruction. Over the next two decades, the university added new disciplines and introduced diploma programmes in foreign languages like French, German and Italian. The Women’s College, which earlier operated from temporary buildings, moved to its present location.

The University permitted a number of affiliated colleges to be started to meet the growing demand. Today, it claims to have 1,000 colleges affiliated to it — arguably the largest in Asia and 550,000 students.

It continued its onward journey in the subsequent decades by giving impetus to research activities and introducing fresh courses to meet the new requirements of the job market.

In order to make higher education accessible to the deprived and disadvantaged, the Centre for Distance Education was established in 1977.

The university currently has 12 faculties and 53 departments with over 10,000 students. It conducts 25 undergraduate programmes and 75 post-graduate courses.With students coming from different regions and socio-economic backgrounds and even from abroad, the campus is known for its cultural diversity.

While continuing its march for academic excellence since inception, the university also became a nerve centre for various movements, reflecting the country’s socio-political changes.In 1952, the university students stood up in protest when the central government proposed to take over it convert it into a central varsity with Hindi as medium of instruction. Around same time, the campus was also rocked by protests demanding jobs for locals.

It witnessed massive violent protests in early 1970s during the Telangana movement. In the aftermath of the violent agitation, the employers had even stopped recruiting Osmania graduates.

While the first movement died down in 1971, nearly four decades later the university once again became the epicentre of Telangana movement, which culminated in the formation of the separate state in 2014. – (IANS)

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Centre to conduct NEET examination in Urdu from academic year 2018-2019: Supreme Court

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A text written in Urdu language , Wikimedia

New Delhi, April 13, 2017: The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre to conduct NEET examination in Urdu from academic year 2018-2019 onwards but ruled out holding the entrance exam in the language this year.

The bench of Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice Mohan M. Shantanagoudar directed that NEET entrance exam be held in Urdu this year after CBSE told the court that it was extremely difficult to hold the exam in Urdu this year.

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“We direct the Union of India to include Urdu as a language in NEET examination from academic session 2018-19 onwards,” the bench said in its order, which came on a petition by filed by the Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO).

The possibility of holding a supplementary exam for admission to the current academic year too was ruled out.

At present the NEET is conducted in English, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada, Telegu, Tamil, Bengal, Oriya and Assamese.

It was in March this year that the top court had asked the Centre, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), the Medical Council of India (MCI) and the Dental Council of India (DCI) to respond to a plea by the SIO for holding NEET examinations in Urdu also.

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The government on Thursday told the court that the brochure for NEET 2017-18 was issued in January and the SIO approached the court in the February thus, making it difficult for the language to be introduced this year.

“In the first hearing we had said that it will be difficult this year and we will do it from next year”, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar told the court. (IANS)

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Meet Tanya Wells of London singing Vande Matram

Recently, she did a cover of famous Gazal ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’ written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz and sung by Mehndi Hassan

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By Akanksha Sharma

British-based singer and songwriter Tanya Wells won the hearts by singing the National song of India ‘Vande Matram’.

Recently, she did a cover of famous Gazal ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’ written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz and sung by Mehndi Hassan. She posted this cover on Facebook in April and it grabbed the attention of more than 1 million viewers. Viewers were amazed by her surprisingly good pronunciation skills and despite no formal training in Urdu.

Tanya Wells
Tanya Wells , Source: Twitter

Tanya wells lived in India for three years, attending school in the foothills of Himalayas. She later returned to learn Indian classical music (including light classical, thumri, bhajan and gazal) and has performed originally in a number of clubs and festivals on the Indian sub-continent. “The sound of Urdu is similar to Hindi, I can pick up the sound because I am more familiar with Hindi,” she said in an interview conducted by RFA/RL.

Related article: Living colours Hindi-Urdu is a single spoken language

Tanya continues to draw upon personal experience, writing and performing songs that express a range of diverse cultural influences. Right now, she resides and works in London.

She also did a beautiful cover of Mehndi Hassan’s song ‘Rafta Rafta who mere’ and left people in an awe with her beautiful voice.

Tanya has recently been involved in a number of live performances, accompanied by guest appearance with Natacha Atlas at Ronnie Scott’s , performing vocals for Anoushka Shankar at the Cannes Film Festival and opening for Joss Stone, Nitin Sawhney and Nicki Wells (her twin) at Mama Stones.

Akanksha is a student of journalism in New Delhi, currently interning with NewsGram. Twitter: @Akanksha4117