Category Archives: Urdu

Ralph Russell is no more

Ralph Russell, the British Urdu scholar in the tradition of VG Kiernan and who is well known, among other things, for his perceptive writings on Mirza Ghalib, has moved on (source).

A self- description from his website:

I was born in 1918. I became a communist at the age of 16 and am still content to call myself one despite the traumatic experiences from 1946 onwards of the corruption and eventual collapse of the communist movement and the Soviet Union, because I still hold to the humanist values which made me a communist. I believe that true communism is not only consistent with these values but is a logical development from them.
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Ghalib in the 21st Century and other links

Amit Basole has a fascinating series of posts analyzing Mirza Ghalib’s couplets where he not so much dissects them as use them as a starting point to pose contemporary questions, on the question of faith, for example, and what it means to be human.

One thing sometimes does lead to another. Our post on Milton and Ghalib has culminated in a partnership with the blog Mehr-i-Niimroz (the noonday sun). Every week or so we will together select a couplet from Ghalib: Mehr-i-Niimroz will provide a translation and commentary; The South Asian Idea will use the couplet to pose questions and start a discussion. The objective will be to explore how much we can learn from Ghalib about the world we live in.

Justice Markanday Katju of the Supreme Court of India explains why Urdu is part of his ancestry and offers a number of insights into the state and fate of the Urdu language in India today.
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Much Before Ghalib: A documentary on Sahir

This documentary brings out some very interesting facts about the umero uno of Indian lyricists, the great Sahir Ludhianvi. One fact that I was not aware of till this short film was that Sahir was named after one of his father’s bitter rivals- a neighbour named Abdul Hayee with whom he was engaged in a legal wrangle and and used to call him by expletives when Abdul Hayee, the son, was a child. I will write sometime on how Sahir’s lyrics were my inspiration for diving deeper into Urdu poetry and how, much before Ghalib and Faiz, it was Sahir’s lyrics for Hamraaz and Gumrah that seduced me towards Urdu poetry.

YouTube – Sahir Ludhianvi

Now, will someone take the hint and get started on a documentary on The Other Ludhianvi? :-)

An Interview with Alys Faiz

(Reproduced from The Dawn)

Alys Faiz’s story is the story of a lifetime of commitment. From being a young woman who wanted to fight alongside the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, she became the woman behind revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz; Alys now finds herself still angry at the social injustice in the world, still fighting on behalf of the oppressed in her regular columns for Viewpoint and She, as well as in her work with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and other organisations.

Alys campaigned for the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance in 1961 and for peace in the Gulf thirty years later, in 1991; Alys collected signatures for peace in 1952 and again for peace in Afghanistan in 1988.

A single interview cannot possibly do justice to her extraordinary, varied and active life. Hers has above all been a challenging life, involving adaptation to an alien culture and society; living with a man whose greatness and political commitment led her to make huge personal sacrifices; carrying on his work in the loneliness of bereavement.

Yet Alys Faiz has no regrets and prefers to tell of the difficult times via hilarious anecdotes, using her acting training to further liven up the store with mime and mimickery. The white hair and Alys’ claims that she is now ‘tired’ are deceptive: there is a quickness of eye and hand that betrays a wicked sense of humour, an eternally youthful streak and an obvious powerful personality. Undoubtedly, these were the characteristics, which have made her a survivor.

Q. You’ve always been politically active. Was your family interested in politics?
A. They were Conservatives.

Q. So how did you end up a Communist?
A. I didn’t end up; I began! I was always a bit of a loner. I used to like to go out for walks on my own on the weekends. And one fine day I found myself in Clerkenwell, where I saw Marx’s house. I went in and John Stratchey was lecturing on socialism or something. I sat down and listened. That was the beginning.

Q. How old were you at the time?
A. About 18. And then I joined the Party.
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Sudarshan Faakir

Sudarshan Faakir, poet and lyricist whose ghazals and some nazms were sung by Begum Akhtar in her last phase and Jagjit Singh in his early phase in the 1970s and 1980s died on 19 Feb in Jalandhar. He will be remembered as one of the significant though minor poets of the language. In context of the language issue, it needs to be remarked that he belonged to the small and diminishing tribe of non- Muslim Urdu poets from East Punjab. Krishna Adeeb, who passed away couple of years back and Joginder Lal (known by his nome de plume Naqsh Lyallpuri) are others that come to mind. His compositions may not have been prolific, but each is remarkable for its profundity and perfection.

Pretty much a recluse, this is one of the very few interviews that one can find on the internet. I have heard that he was associated with the left- progressive circle around NK Joshi in the early 1970s in Jalandhar.
Newsreport about his passing away
One of my own favourites is a film song by Faakir
Zindagi main jab tumhare gham nahin the.  Another is the one by Begum Akhtar below.

Another ghazal sung by Mohammad Rafi:

This is a popular Jagjit Singh item Kagaz ki Kashti:

You can listen to a good collection here too.

Romanized text of some of Faakir’s poetry at Urdupoetry.