Shamsur Rahman Faruqi was born in 1935, graduating in English language and literature in 1955. He writes in Urdu, a language that was widely spoken and used by both Hindus and Muslims in the Indian subcontinent before the country’s Partition in 1947. After 1947, Urdu, for political and social reasons, became identified with most of the Muslim minority in India, especially in Northern India. Faruqi has, as a Muslim, felt strongly the injustices meted out to Urdu in India over the last six decades and has urged upon the Urdu community not to look for Government favours so much as to make their own efforts, both social and creative, to make Urdu regain some of its former eminence in India. He has also welcomed, albeit cautiously, the few and somewhat feeble steps taken by the Government to promote Urdu. He is at present Vice-Chairman of the National Council for the Promotion of Urdu, an autonomous body under the Government of India. Some years ago he refused the Presidentship of the Government established Urdu Academy in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, which also claims to be the centre and repository of literary as well colloquial Urdu. Although the office carried some attractive perks, Faruqi refused the Government’s offer, saying that the Urdu Academy of Uttar Pradesh is merely an exercise in tokenism and doesn’t really do any substantive service to Urdu in the State. In fact, Faruqi has been critical of the politics of language as practiced in India since even before 1947 and the role of the various institutions in promoting the notion of Hindu=Hindi=Hindustani.
In spite of being acutely conscious of writing in an underprivileged language, Faruqi has managed to have an outstanding career, both as a high Civil Servant under the Government of India, and in modern Indian literature in numerous fields and also in literary journalism as founder and editor of an extremely influential Urdu journal devoted to modern literature, culture and politics called “Shabkhun” (1966-2005).
By virtue of his work as literary critic and theorist and historian of Urdu literature, as well as poet, fiction writer, lexicographer, and translator Faruqi is widely regarded as the chief man of letters in Urdu who has contributed to modernizing its literature and also reviving interest in the Urdu poetry of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century (often called “Classical” Urdu poetry).
Since the 1960’s, Faruqi has been significantly involved in the regeneration of literary theory, adapting, where necessary, western ideas and notions about the nature of literature and criticism, and also making use, in fact rediscovering, the “Classical” Urdu Poetics which he has shown to have, besides being influenced by Persian and occasionally Arabic, a distinct “Indian flavour” which has imbibed much, directly or indirectly, from Sanskrit. While the vast bulk of his output has been in Urdu, he has written in English too. His English essays have been collected as “The Secret Mirror” (1981), “The Flower-Lit Road: Essays in Urdu Literay Theory and Criticism” (2005), “How to Read Iqbal? Essays on Iqbal, Literary Theory and Urdu Poetry” (2007). His “Early Urdu Literary Culture and History” (2001) raised many new questions, gave new answers to old questions, and ruffled many academic feathers. Nevertheless, it also appeared in Urdu translation in both India and Pakistan (2001) and in Hindi in India (2007).
Faruqi’s status as the authoritative voice in Urdu literature is also clear from his contribution in giving canonical status to the Urdu’s comparatively less studied oral literature, especially the vast oral romance-narrative “Dastan-e Amir Hamza” (The Oral Narrative of Amir Hamza). Apart from creating a total theory of the Urdu oral narrative, he has also been instrumental in reviving oral performances of Dastan-e Amir Hamza.
Faruqi was awarded the prestigious Saraswati Samman Prize from the Birla Foundation for his four-volume selection and interpetation of the lyrical work of Mir Taqi Mir (1722-1810). Among his other honours are two Doctorates honoris causa from the Aligarh Muslim University and the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. He has received the Urdu Award from the Sahitya Akademi (India’s National Academy of Letters) and the highest national level Awards from many State Urdu Academies.
Faruqi has produced four volumes of poetry in Urdu. The Colour of Black Flowers (2002), a parallel text English translation of his selected poems, 1959–2001, was well received. Faruqi’s poetry has its passionate admirers as well as detractors, but everybody accepts the fact that he writes like no other Urdu poet writing anywhere today. His poems focus on the perils and possibilities of the modernization of his immediate literary and social culture. His love poems mostly deal with unsuccess, betrayal, and loneliness. He makes use of his extraordinary knowledge of stylistic tools, themes and motifs from classical Urdu poetry as well as western literature to conduct stylistic and thematic experiments in which the pictorial aspects of the language and its evocation of forms and colours takes precedence over any “message” that the poem may have to convey.
He wrote short fiction as a young, struggling writer before turning to other fields. In 2001 he created a sensation with his collection of long short stories called Savar (Rider) Published from both India and Pakistan, these fictions sought to redisdcover and recreate the literary and social culture of the Indo-Muslim world in the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. The sensation was only exceeded by the sensation, discussion and analysis occasioned by the publication in 2006 of his huge novel Ka’i Chaand The Sar-e Aasmaan (Moons Across the Sky), for which he received the national level Hali Award from the Haryana State Urdu Academy. Published from both India and Pakistan, it is at present being translated in Hindi and an English translation is on the cards with publisher, Penguin Books India.
Shamsur Rahman Faruqi lives with his wife in Allahabad. Of their two children, both daughters, one teaches Urdu and Indian-Muslim culture at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. The younger one teaches English at the Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi. Both have translated copiously from and to English and Urdu.
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