The Deterioration of Urdu Literature

By Satyapal Anand

I get about three dozen Urdu magazines from India and Pakistan. These include Kitab Numa, Naya Waraq, Shair, Mobahisa, Sabaq-i-Urdu, Asbaque, Intisab, Zehn-i-Jadeed, Isbaat, Ajkal, Bebaak, Adab-Saaz, Insha, etc. from India and Kaghazi Paerahan, Montaj, Symbol, Chahaar Soo, Tasteer, Manshoor, Roshnai, Nazm-i-Nau, Nukaat, Dunia Zad, Aaj, Qirtaas, Seep, Urdu Dost, Mukaalma etc. from Pakistan. Money-wise (and I am wise in that respect!), I never send a penny as subscription but they keep on air-mailing these to me hoping that I might condescend to contribute a poem or a story.

In each issue of these magazines, names of the contributors apart (for they are top, mid and low - all levels) poetry (particularly ghazals and nasri nazms) bemoans the constant and continuous deterioration of standards - inhitaat - as it is called in Urdu - and it is getting worse. Of course, it is more evident in India than in Pakistan for Urdu is no longer the high-pedestal rider there.

“Easy does it” is the corner stone of each couplet in each one of the semi-classical ghazals. The same hackneyed metaphors, the same saliva-coated mouthfuls of verbiage, and the same rhyming words - nothing seems to have changed in the last one century or so.

I believe most of these ghazals are composed, nay machine-crafted, keeping in view the exigencies of mushairaas - the audience being easy-to-grab simple subjects and simpler Urdu vocabulary. Then there are the modern masters of the ghazal format, who have nothing better to offer than such couplets, as Bakra minminata hai / Bakri maiN maiN karti hai (Zafar Iqbal) Or Sooraj ko chonch meiN liye murgha khara raha (Nida Fazli). Less said about the dead burden of ghazal format Urdu has to bear, better it would be.

Of the nasri nazm variety, there are jumbled up lines of just plain trash! For one, the term is a contradiction in itself. How can there be “prose poetry” as a genre of literature? There, of course, can be poetic prose. Abulkalam Azad’s prose is one of a highly Persianized poetry in prose.

Krishan Chander’s is an overflow of romantic phraseology with sweet nothings, as it were, of colourful warp and woof of a myriad pattern. What we get, by way of nasri nazm in our magazines today, is neither prose nor poetry; it is something of a dubious genealogical patrimony, gender-wise.

It is the afsana (i.e., short story or short fiction that could mean a long short story) that I am much bothered about. It is as if stories written in the first half of the last century are embracing the experimental stories of the sixties and seventies. The latter variety has characterization liquefied, plot thrown to the four winds, flow of time from past-to-present- to-future all mixed up in a jumble. The sad part of the story is that the same issue of a magazine might include a traditional story or two alongside a jumbled up plethora of insane stuff packed up in a hold-all.

One saving grace is that the nazm category is now slowly but assuredly getting out of the sweet opiate of the Faiz tradition. Noon Meem Rashid is once again installed at the pedestal of uniqueness. If one picks up Naya Waraq or Isbaat published from India or Symbol, Tasteer, or Kaghazi Paerahan from Pakistan, one would see that the theme, subject, treatment, phraseology, or use of similes and metaphors are once again akin to the tradition of Rashid and Majeed Amjad. The title of this piece might be a little too harsh, but if one has to be honest, one must call a spade a spade!

For almost seven decades, Prof Satyapal Anand has lived a wandering minstrel’s life in half a dozen countries in three continents, writing in Urdu, English, Hindi and Punjabi, curriculum planning, course designing, teaching and researching. Comparative Literature has been his forte. His lasting love for Urdu has made him an icon for younger poets and writers. Now retired, he lives alternately in Washington DC, Cambridge and Ontario, Canada. (