Urdu Research at Universities: Some Suggestions

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Rauf Parekh

It is often mentioned, rather sarcastically, that our universities do not produce the quality research work they are expected of and the best works of Urdu research, be it India or Pakistan, were the ones carried out outside the universities.

The proponents of this theory mention the names of great scholars such as Moulvi Abdul Haq, Qazi Abdul Wudood and Imtaiz Ali Khan Arshi, who did not burn the proverbial midnight oil for the sake of a doctoral degree. Rather, it is the doctoral students who get in-depth knowledge and practical guidance from their works.

On the other hand, it may be said the number of great research works of Urdu done at universities is no lesser than the ones produced outside. Some great scholars such as Gian Chand Jain, Ghulam Mustafa Khan and Dr Syed Abdullah belonged to universities. However, the present state of research at our universities is often quoted as an example of falling standards of research at universities.

But it would be unfair to blame universities alone for the falling standards as equally pathetic research is being carried out outside universities. Urdu research being carried out at our universities these days has got some positive aspects as well and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has definitely been playing a positive role in this regard. But there are some lacunas, too, that must be addressed. The purpose of this piece is not to criticise anybody or any institution but it is rather intended to offer some suggestions in order that the standard of Urdu research is further enhanced.

Research on living personalities

Doing research on living personalities of literature is not a bad idea in itself but problems arise when no criterion is followed. Every Tom, Dick and Harry these days wants to become a topic of research. In fact, the mental disease of self-glorification has reached the epidemic levels in our society and writers are arranging or sponsoring receptions in their own honour. A female short story writer, barely known in literary circles, complained to this writer that she had published eight collections of short stories but no research was being done on her, which, she thought, was a gross injustice (her exact words were ‘kya zulm hai’, or what an atrocity).

Research has to be impartial and objective. But when a student works on a living literary personality to earn an MPhil or a PhD, objectivity is often the first casualty. Although it has got some benefits as well since obtaining the relevant material is comparatively easy, this advantage turns into a disadvantage soon. In many cases, the topic of so-called research is someone placed in the high echelons of society and very much willing to help out the “budding researcher”. This “help” not only includes providing the researcher with necessary “research material” (read: self-glorifying articles) but it may as well come in the shape of a ‘recommendation’ for a lucrative job. It is a sad fact that in some cases even the research supervisors have cashed in on such ‘research’ projects and got high-profile assignments.

For example, a well-known poet was once so well connected with the then federal ministry of education that he got some professors appointed as chief editor of Urdu Dictionary Board (a body working under the ministry). These professors were willing to supervise students who were ready do PhD on him. At least three professors became chief editors before the thesis was submitted and the fourth one was appointed at a high post at Federal Urdu University.

Another aspect of research on the living personality is that the research student is impressed with the fame of the personality. The research is often a result of a carefully though-out and ongoing public relations exercise.

In fact, unless a few decades elapse after the death of a personality, objective research is not possible on him or her. In my opinion, research may be carried out on a living personality, but no PhD degree should be awarded on that. It may be suggested that universities should approve some criteria for that.

Research on little-known personalities

A few years ago, an Indian university sent to this writer a PhD dissertation for evaluation. The topic of so-called research was indeed an Indian poet, very much alive. But the problem was that the poet was little known beyond certain circles and his work too did not merit such a lengthy research. What the student and the supervisor had decided to do was an easy job: the poet was well-connected to the family of the student and it was very easy to collect the material. On the other hand, the research work on many well-known and major Urdu poets is yet to be done. But that demands a back-breaking research, which is not the real intention of the student. All he or she wants is a doctoral degree and the research supervisor too takes pride in the number of PhDs he or she has produced, ignoring the quality of the research.

It is suggested that the research work on the major poets should be preferred and for minor or less important writers or poets an M Phil, and in some cases MA, may be conferred.

Repetition of the topic

Another problem that stares Urdu research in the face is the unnecessary repetition of topics. Sometimes two or even three researchers start their work on the same topic at different universities and each is unaware of the work being done by the other/s. As a result, many aspects of Urdu literature and language go unnoticed while some areas are done to death and that too without any new findings. A topic deserves to be researched again only if the scholar differs, wholly or partially, with his or her predecessors or has got some quite new material to push the borders of knowledge further. In this age of computerisation, repetition of research topics is sickening. Dr Rafiuddin Hashmi’s research work on Urdu research is a boon for all students of research and their supervisors. What HEC can do is to display the approved topics on its website.

Lack of necessary training

Often a student who embarks upon writing a 500-page dissertation has never written a five-page article. Students usually have no idea of what research really is. Luckily, HEC has put in place some programmes at universities that require all research students to fulfil some preconditions, including completing about a year-long course-work that trains them in the techniques and methodology of research. This gives the would-be researchers some idea what research is all about.

Unpublished research dissertations

What is the use of the research that never reaches the scholars and students? In absence of the research publications, the new researcher has to begin again from where the predecessors had begun, instead of picking up the thread from where it was left. The bookshelves at our university libraries are brimming with unpublished research dissertations, mostly out of reach of researchers and students. The creation of knowledge cannot take place unless previous research is properly reviewed. Again, HEC has played a very positive role in this regard and has been displaying for some time now a large number of research dissertations on its website.

Rauf Parekh, “Literary notes: Urdu research at universities – some suggestions,” in Dawn, June 23, 2014. Accessed on March 1, 2015, at: http://www.dawn.com/news/1114479/literary-notes-urdu-research-at-universities-some-suggestions

The item above written by Rauf Parekh and published in Dawn on June 23, 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 1, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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