A unique tale

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Rauf Parekh

“Insha’s poetry destroyed his erudition and learning, and Nawab Sa’adat Ali Khan’s company ruined Insha’s poetry”, goes the oft-quoted aphorism about Syed Insha Allah Khan Insha (1752-1817), a multi-talented poet and writer who could not fully achieve what he was capable of. Being associated with the Nawab’s court only bolstered his natural talent for repartee, jocularity and witticism. Though he was no buffoon, Insha’s sparkling wit and boisterousness sometimes fringed on clowning. But he had to pay dearly for the very same talent when he jested about the Nawab’s doubtful parentage (the Nawab was said to be born of a concubine) and was sent packing.

It is strange that many researchers do not mention Insha’s exact dates of birth and death, and a mere Hijri year is thought to suffice. Insha’s year of birth is often quoted as 1169 Hijri/1756 AD, and year of his death as 1233 Hijri/1818 AD, though both are incorrect. Malik Ram in his book Tehqeeqi Mazameen (Delhi, 1984) had proved that Insha was born in Safar 1166 Hijri/December 1752. He died on Jamadi-us-Sani 30, 1232 Hijri, which corresponds to May 19, 1817.

Looking at Insha’s works one feels that though his poetry did suffer due to the demands of the court and a desire to please the ruler, it did not ruin his scholarship. He knew Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Turkish, Sanskrit, Hindi, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Bengali and Marathi, and wrote in five of these languages. He had a good command of some local dialects, too — such as Purbi, Marwari, Brij Bhasha, Khari Boli and Rajasthani — and proved his mastery over them by either using their vocabularies in his poetry and prose or by commenting on them in his Darya-e-Lataafat, one of the earliest works on some aspects of Urdu linguistics and Urdu grammar. Insha even tried to learn English and is one of the earliest Urdu poets who used English vocabulary in their poetry. In Kulliyaat-e-Insha, his collected poetical works, we find words from English, and some other European languages, such as powder, glass, bottle, king, clock, organ (the musical instrument) and lord; a sure sign of the ever-increasing political, cultural and linguistic influence of the British.

Insha’s prose works include Darya-e-Lataafat, Lataaef-us-Sa’adat, Roznaamcha (the diary written in Turkish apparently has no title), Matr-ul-Maraam, Salak-e-Gauhar and Kahani Rani Ketki aur Audhe Bhan ki. Of them, Salak-e-Gauhar and Kahani Rani Ketki aur Audhe Bhan ki are tales in Urdu, and both are differently unique.

Salak-e-Gauhar is a story written in ghair manqoot prose, that is, prose which does not have any words with a dot or nuqta (diacritical point). In this tale, Insha has successfully avoided using any word whose calligraphy required marking any letter with a diacritical point. To avoid the dot he had to find a synonym for a large number of words — as many letters in Urdu cannot be written without a dot. He even found a substitute word for his own name since noon (n) and sheen (sh) occur in ‘Insha’ and both the letters require dots if written in Urdu orthography.

Kahani Rani Ketki aur Audhe Bhan ki is unique in the sense that in it Insha tried to use ‘pure’ Urdu and he intentionally avoided using any Arabic, Persian or Turkish word. A slim volume of about 50 pages, written in 1808, Kahani Rani Ketki aur Audhe Bhan ki has a bit of printing history: though Insha’s work was much appreciated at the Nawab’s court, it did not get published and was almost forgotten.

Renowned Orientalist Aloys Sprenger found the manuscript in Lucknow’s Moti Mahal Library and asked L. Clint, the principal of La Martinere College, Lucknow, to translate it into English. The first part of the English translation appeared in the Journal of the Asiatic Society Bengal in 1852, along with a part of the original Urdu text. But for some reason, Clint could not finish the translation, and the second and last part was translated by Rev. S. Slater, which the Journal published in 1855, along with the text. Moulvi Abdul Haq published the Urdu text in his journal Urdu in 1926. Later, Pandit Manoher Lal discovered a manuscript in Devanagari script and published it. In 1933, Kahani was published in book form. Imtiaz Ali Khan Arshi’s edited version came out in 1955. Syed Qudrat Naqvi’s edited and annotated version, with a glossary and introduction, was published by Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu in 1975.

Now a new edition, with the English translation and glossary, compiled and edited by Muhammad Ikram Chughtai, A Tale by Insha Allah Khan has been published. Chughtai in his preface introduces the book in detail and proffers invaluable information based on research. His footnotes are virtual treasures for scholars working on Insha and related topics. The English translation, a rarity, has added much to the value of this edition.

Kahani Rani Ketki aur Audhe Bhan ki is a love story and has a simple plot: Raja Suraj Bhan’s 16-year-old son Audhe Bhan (spelt ‘Ude-bhan’ in the English text) goes for hunting. Following a deer, prince Audhe reaches a garden where he meets Rani Ketki (also spelt Ketaki), the young and beautiful daughter of Raja Jagat Prakas. They fall in love. But Ketki’s father refuses to give her daughter’s hand. The two Rajas fight a pitched battle to settle the matter. Ketki’s father asks his guru Jogi Mohender Gar for help who, with his magical powers, converts Bhan, his father and his mother into deer and lets them loose in the forest. Jogi then gives Ketki’s father tiger-skin and collyrium that have magical powers. Ketki takes the collyrium and disappears into forest to find her lover and his parents. Raja seeks Jogi’s help but Jogi cannot find Ketki since she has magical powers. King Indra arrives, finds Bhan and crowns him. Ketki’s father, realising that his daughter is in love with Bhan, agrees to her marriage with the prince. Ketki and Bhan are married and a great wedding banquet is thrown.

Today, the book’s importance is chiefly historical. However, the language that Insha has written has been of much interest to scholars and linguists. Though Insha has been successful in narrating the story in ‘pure Urdu’, without using any ‘foreign’ or ‘borrowed’ words, it has also caused a bit of discord. Some believe the story is in Hindi and not in Urdu. But the fact is it was committed to be written in the Urdu script.

Secondly, Insha himself calls it a story in ‘Hindavi’, which is one of the myriad names given to Urdu before it got its present nomenclature. Syed Qudrat Naqvi the well-known scholar, thinks that “apart from a few words, the tale is in Khari Boli, a language commonly used in those days and commonly known as Hindavi”. But a scholar like Jameel Jalibi feels that experimentation of writing in a language without Arabic, Persian and Turkish words is a failure and it proves that purging the language of the words that have found their way into everyday conversation makes it raw and somehow lacking.

But one feels that many of the words of Sanskrit and Hindi origin that Insha has used in this book do make an essential part of the language we call Urdu and without these lovely words Urdu would be lacking in many ways.

Rauf Parekh, “A unique tale ,” in Dawn, May 17, 2015. Accessed on June 7, 2015, at: http://www.dawn.com/news/1182355/essay-a-unique-tale

The item above written by Rauf Parekh and published in Dawn on May 17, 2015, 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 June 7, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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