Modern Urdu Literature and Its Epistemological Issues

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Rauf Parekh

Though I have been reading Razi Mujtaba’s critical essays for many years, reading them again last week, in two thick volumes, made me realise that Razi has that inquisitiveness and childlike sense of wonder that gives you the pleasure of rediscovering the world.

This feeling particularly struck me while reading his piece on Urdu literature’s current state of affairs. Titled ‘Jhoota adab’, or the false literature, this piece is written against the backdrop of two articles published in an issue of Pakistan Academy of Letter’s magazine ‘Adabiyaat’. These two articles were written by Jameel Jalibi and Prof Sahar Ansari—two of our best-known critics and researchers—and discussed the prevailing literary situation.

Razi begins with stating that after reading these two articles he was stunned and remained disoriented for a while. What flabbergasted him was the polar points of views of these two prominent critics. Dr Jalibi was of the view that society was immersed in corruption and valued lies instead of truth. As a result, the literature it produced was nothing but “bhoosa” (fodder, or something insignificant) and our literary journals were publishing “false literature”. Jalibi Sahib wrote that our literature was subdued by foreign literature and unless there was a new literary movement, Pakistani literature would remain as false as it was. Sahar Sahib, on the other hand, was very optimistic about our literature and thought with so many youngsters and new comers writing alongside the older generation it had a bright future.

Analysing Jalibi Sahib’s statement, Razi says that a highly respectable authority like Jalibi Sahib has not offered any way out of this situation neither has he discussed that how this new, proposed literary movement would take root. Razi says that in today’s world nothing can be totally pure and free from alien influences. He does not say that everything in our society and literature is right but he thinks that raising such questions as true and false literature in this age of technology is anachronism. This discussion, he says, can lead us to the questions regarding “truth of truth”, which in turn could take us to metaphysical realms and the whole issues might turn out to be aporia.

These two volumes, titled ‘Jadeed adab ka tanazur’ and just published by Karachi’s Academy Bazyaft, are collections of critical essays, reviews and newspaper columns and are packed with some basic epistemological issues related to literature in general and Urdu literature in particular. These articles are replete with some literary, critical and philosophical terms as well but what makes them light on your mind is their very unassuming and flowing style. He is articulate, though not knowing some basic terms can be a cause of hindrance. The pieces included in the book discuss modernism, postmodernism, post-colonialism, structuralism, new literary theories, genres, new Urdu books and Pakistani authors as well as the works of some foreign authors of international fame.

But Razi Mujtaba is a strange fellow. He has been a banker and an educationist all his life but he is among those few critics of today’s Urdu literature who are not only voracious readers of Urdu literature but have also devoured English and French literatures in original and have drunk deep from the fountains of philosophy, psychology and other social sciences. Not only that, he is a poet in his own right. Entwined with his current and hugely vast reading, Razi can safely be counted among the erudite critics of Urdu.

Born in Nagpur in 1942, Razi migrated to Pakistan with his learned father, Prof Manzoor Hussain Shor, in 1951. Shor Sahib taught Persian and Urdu in some colleges in Gujrat and Lyallpur (now Faisalabad). Razi was educated in Faisalabad and Lahore. Later, he moved to Karachi and acquired professional education and training here and joined a bank. In addition to Urdu, Persian, Hindi and English, he studied French, German and Spanish. This earned him some overseas assignments and he spent a good many years in France and some French-speaking African countries. Razi started composing poetry in the late 1950s and from 1960s his works started getting published in the reputed literary magazines of the day such as ‘Funoon’. Having published five collections of poetry, two translations of French novels and a travelogue, he must have been recognised by now. But this friend of ours does not care for fame.

When he seriously took up criticism a few years ago and began writing on a regular basis, he soon created a circle of admirers that includes some bigwigs of today’s Urdu literature, as the blurbs prove. Those who have admired his critical acumen include Ataul Haq Qasmi, Sahar Ansari, Syed Mazhar Jameel, Saleem Yazdani and Mubeen Mirza.

Rauf Parekh, “Literary Notes: Modern Urdu literature and its epistemological issues,” in Dawn, March 24, 2014. Accessed on March 2, 2015, at:

The item above written by Rauf Parekh and published in Dawn on March 24, 2014, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on March 2, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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