It was Professor C.M. Naim who first approached me to edit an anthology of modern Urdu literature. He felt I was
right person to take on this Oxford University Press (OUP) project and asked me if I was interested. To be
truthful, I felt so privileged to be approached by Naim Sahib that I accepted at once without even pausing to
consider the enormous challenge and commitment that such a project would entail. The Scale of the task ahead
did not actually hit me until I was asked to prepare a table of contents.
My engagement with Urdu literature began in the family home, almost synchronically during childhood. I imbibed
a lot of the discourse on jadidiyat (trend for modernity) simply by being born in a family where such esoteric
terms became epithets drifting into my six-year-old ears even as I skirted the precincts of our family drawing
room where vociferous and lively discussions on the subject held forth and where the journal Shabkhoon was
conceived and brought out in 1964. My mentioning Shabkhoon is only to show how baffled I was at the prospect
of how much or how little I knew of the modern in Urdu.
I decided to tackle the table of contents as a teacher embarking on a syllabus for a full-scale 'survey course'. At
the outset, my reading list was endless. After a year of frenzied and focused reading, I felt confident enough to
broach the subject with scholars of Urdu and arrived at what I called my 'master list'. This was basically a list of
writers who lived and worked during the period 1905-2005. My reading made me aware of the challenge of
representing certain genres that had been ignored by most anthologists of Urdu literature. Prose, especially of
the non-fiction variety, attracted me the most. Prose in Urdu has trailed behind poetry for reasons which I need
not go into here. Urdu's early modernizers such as Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Husain Azad, and Altaf
Husain Hali were brilliant prose stylists. Following the development of Urdu prose from the late nineteenth
century onwards, unfolds a remarkable graph of highs and lows. Some genres, for instance, the literary sketch
(khakah), essay (inshaiyah), humour and satire (tanz-o mizah), autobiography (khudnavisht), and travel writing
(safarnamah) blossomed, while critical prose was slow in developing. The extraordinary success of the short
story (afsana) in Urdu has marginalized the other prose genres. I felt that a comprehensive anthology must
include the relatively leser known works. Despite strict adherence to my own criteria for selection, struggled to
achieve balance. The problem was how to balance the important, significance, and historical value of the
My initial contract with OUP was for a four hundred-odd page book However, it became impossible for me to
stay within the page limit and be satisfied with question of balanced representation. Fortunately OUP agreed to
raise the page limit and we ended up with two volumes instead of one. Anthologists, especially those dealing
with contemporary literature, cannot expect their exclusions and inclusions to satisfy all writers and readers. I
have made the arbitrary decision of representing each author only once. In the interest of fairness, I chose from
the work of each author an example which reveals something new about the literature, and also gives us a
persuasive sense of the writer's work.
I have incurred so many debts in the form of advice, ideas, help, and encouragement, from seniors, colleagues,
and friends that few words here by way of acknowledgement cannot be sufficient to express my gratitude to
them. Professors C.M. Naim, M.U. Memon, Frances Pritchett, Carlo Coppola, Robert Hueckstedt, and Geeta
Patel offered comments and suggestions on various aspects of the anthology and read my drafts of the
Introductions to the two volumes. My father, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, allowed me to raid and rummage through
his personal library, and never complained once when I asked him to mail me innumerable photocopies of
poetry selections from out-of- print books, which I had overlooked when I was collecting material. He often
rescued me when I was stuck in writing the introductory note on an author. Infect, this simple task was quite
frustrating for me because there was precious little information to be had on many of the writers included in the
anthology His comments on my work were incisive and helpful. I am truly grateful to my translator friends who
found time from their academic pursuits to translate new material for this anthology. I want to especially
acknowledge Guriqbal Sahota for doing not one, but three new, not so easy translations for me. Geeta Patel,
Shantanu Phukan, Tahira Naqvi, Akbar Hyder, Griffith Chaussee, Moazzam Siddiqi, Moazzam Sheikh, and
Baran Rehman all did new and difficult translations at my request.
The University of Virginia awarded me a faculty research grant in the summer of 2006 to work on the anthology.
These volumes could never have been completed without the unstinting support and collaboration of my husband
Richard Cohen. Not once did He protest as I spent countless weekends hunched over the computer, irritable
and uncompanionable; all the precious summers we stayed at home, with me immersed in the anthology,
struggling with deadlines, racing against time. As the project developed, it became more complicated and so
unwieldy that had Rich not stepped in to help me streamline with sensible editorial advice and support, I would
still be floundering. I do not have words to express my gratitude for all he did in addition to the above; for endless
cups of tea, the commute between Pittsburgh and Charlottesville, errands when he visited India, the list could go
on forever. His optimism sustained me during the most frustrating times.
My editor at OUP, New Delhi, cheered me on and provided all kinds of logistical support and help. Nitasha
Devasar was very accessible whenever I needed her help. She gave me a lot of space to articulate my ideas,
and showed great understanding and sensitivity for the requirements that a project of this nature entails. In my
meetings with her I always came back energized; her infectious enthusiasm kept me going even as the
intricacies of editing sapped our endurance in the hot humid summer of Delhi. Mitadru Basu's meticulousness in
editing, layout, and designing was incredible. I would like to thank them both for their tremendous help.
One last debt remains. My mother, my first teacher, who taught me the magic of letters, who always took keen
interest and motherly pride, is not here to see the work in its final form. She is with us in spirit though, cheering
me on, smiling.
The shortcomings, which must be many, are entirely mine.
From the Jacket
The Poetry and Prose Miscellany volume begins with Akbar llahabadi (1846-1921), features such celebrated
practitioners of the genre as Muhammad Iqbal, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Munibur Rahman, and
Akhlaq Muhammad Khan Shahryar among others, and finally, Tanveer Anjum (b.1956). The prose
miscellany-essays and sketches, autobiography, drama, humour and satire, and letter-includes such past
masters as Abul Kalam Azad, Shahid Ahmad Dehlvi, Saadat Hasan Manto, and Ismat Chughtai, as well as an
interesting selection of anecdotes on well-known literary personages like Ghalib, Mir Insha ullah Khan Insha.
Josh Malihabadi, and others-something rarely seen in canonical literature.
The 'Fiction' volume includes both short stories and extracts from novels and novellas. Beginning with
Muhammad Hadi Rusva (1857-1931), it moves on to Premchand, Ghulam Abbas, Krishan chander, Rajinder
Singh Bedi, Intizar Husain.
Qurratulain Hyder, Abdullah Hussein, and Naiyer Masud among other, and finally, Syed Muhammad Ashraf (b.
While the focus of selection is on literary excellence, translatability, and relevance, an effort has been made to
avoid writings easily available in translation and to include one piece per author. Moreover, the continuation
between pre-and post-Partition Urdu includes authors from both India and Pakistan, thus providing a holistic
picture of modern Urdu literature. The Introduction, giving an overview of the development of Urdu literature and
placing the writings in their proper historical context, is accompanied by a chronological listing of authors,
biographical head-notes to the writings, glossary, and bibliography to help readers understand and savour the
rich diversity of Urdu literature.
One of the most representative collections of Urdu writing in recent times, The Oxford India Anthology of Modern
Urdu Literature is a literary and cultural guide to the Subcontinent. It will appeal equally to general readers, as
well as students and scholars of South Asian literature, especially Urdu literature in translation.
About the Author
Mehr Afshan Farooqi is Professor of South Asian Literature of the University of Virginia.
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