Reception/reaction in the Urdu literary/non-literary community of Pre Independent India and the effects of the English translation in the contemporary times
By Semeen Ali
Semeen Ali
The Nizami Press of Lucknow had no idea that a book that was going to be published by them would change the course of Urdu literature for times to come. Angaarey was published in December 1932. The four young contributors for this book were – Rashid Jahan, Ahmed Ali, Sajjad Zaheer and Mahmud Zafar. This collection of short stories was banned in 1933 by the government of the United Provinces. Reason: the writers had critiqued the social and moral conventions of the time and rejected them. The book laid the basis for the establishment of the Indian Progressive Writers’ Association in London in November, 1934 and which later matured into Progressive Writers’ Association in 1936. Known as Anjuman Tarraqi Pasand Mussanafin in Urdu and Akhil Bharatiya Pragatisheel Lekhak Sangh in Hindi, they were united in their vision of using writing as a means to attack class and gender discrimination.
In modern Urdu literature, Angaarey was the first ferocious attack on society[i]. Aziz Ahmed writes - “It was a declaration of war by the youth of the middle class against the prevailing social, political and religious institutions.”[ii] Angaarey defied all the traditional norms of the society. Exposed to the Western school of thought, the writers of this book were from the middle class or upper middle class families. “They located themselves within the matrix of conflicting worldviews which included the attempt to usher in egalitarianism, liberalism and individualism against the rising tide of fascism. The vision of a classless and oppression less society, free from religious and social dogmas, gender and class oppression and political subjugation is what fired their writings.”[iii]  The writing style and the themes were inspired by writings of DH Lawrence, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and a few Marxist writings. In this collection the themes that have been dealt with are varied and can find echoes even today. Rashid Jahan’s Dilli ki Sair looked at the oppression of women as did Mahmudzafar’s Jawaan Mardi. Jahan’s second story – Parde ke Peeche looked at how a woman was controlled by the codes of the society set down by a patriarchal system. Ahmed Ali’s Mahavato ki Raat as well as Sajjad Zaheer’s Phir Ye Hungama and Neend Nahi Aati look at a sense of loss that the characters feel. The hypocrisy of religion was critiqued in the stories Badal Nahi Aate by Ahmed Ali and Jannat ki Basharat by Sajjad Zaheer. Another story by Sajjad Zaheer titled Dulari looked at the discrimination on the basis of one’s class and gender.
Ahmed Ali wrote: “...We were filled with a zeal to change the social order and right the wrongs done to man by man… we dreamed of winning for Urdu and the regional languages the same respect and for the Indian people the same dignity which other civilized languages and societies enjoyed.”[iv] 
The public reaction to the book was that of an outrage. Medinah, published from Bijnor, wrote in its issue of 13 February 1933:
“We could not find in them anything intellectually modern except immorality, evil character and wickedness. To mock at the creator of the world, to ridicule religious beliefs and to make indecent jokes are the main characteristics of this bundle of filth. There is no regard for the greatness and majesty of God nor any respect for the sanctity and honour of prophets, nor any respect for human dignity. Instead one finds a bold and shameless display of every kind of foul language...”[v]  
There were also voices which came in support of the book. Akhtar Hussain Raipuri, a reputed scholar and critic published his fifteen page long review of the book, praising Angarey in the journal Urdu which was edited by Maulvi Abdul Haq. Professor Mohammad Mujib who taught at Jamia Millia Islamia wrote in Jamia monthly
Angarey is ‘angare’, glowing coals – and not merely stories- in the true sense! …Their purpose is to impact our senses in a very unique way- to burn and demolish much that exists in our society. …Stark images of poverty, helplessness, vulnerability and illiteracy present in Muslim society coexist with this. There is also a clear protest against the tyranny of the empowered classes. Our social values and predilections must not obsess us to the extent that we begin to perceive difference of opinion as disrespect of these values.  The arrogance that sees criticism as humiliation, differences as enmity, and the informal expression of thought as impertinence is the strongest enemy of sincerity and faith…”[vi]  
On March 15, 1933 the book was banned by the Government of the United Provinces under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. Only five copies remained of the book. Two of them were sent to London while three of them were kept with Keeper of Records in New Delhi (now the National Archives of India). Such a reaction was not expected by the young writers of the book and Ahmed Ali wrote-
‘We knew the book would create a stir, but never dreamt it would bring the house down. We were condemned at public meetings and private; bourgeois families hurried to dissociate themselves from us and denied acquaintance with us, especially with Rashid Jehan and myself, and even Sajjad Zahir's mother (a dear old lady) accused me of spoiling her son. People read the book behind closed doors and in bathrooms with relish but denounced us in the open. We were lampooned and satirized, condemned editorially and in pamphlets . . . Our lives were threatened, people even lay in wait with daggers to kill us…’[vii]
In response the writers of the book issued a statement on April 5, 1933 in The Leader, a newspaper published from Allahabad which came out with an article titled: ‘In Defence of Angare. Shall We Submit to Gagging?’ as under:
…Coming to the contents of the book itself, the stories of my friend S. Sajjad Zaheer are concerned chiefly with the criticism and a satire of the current Moslem conceptions, life and practices. His attack is directed primarily against the intolerable theological burden that is imposed from childhood upon the average Moslem in this country-a burden that leads to a contortion and a cramping of the inquisitive or speculative mind and the vital vigours of body of both man and woman. Ahmed Ali essays into the realms of poverty, material, spiritual and physical, especially the poverty of the Moslem woman, and imagination and admirable boldness breaks through the veils of convention to expose the stark reality. Rashid Jehan, who is also a Doctor of Medicine drawing on her practical experience, also portrays vividly the ghastly plight of the woman behind the purdah. My own single contribution is an attack on the vanity of man which seeks to find an outlet at the expense of the weak and defenceless womanhood. Nobody can deny the truthfulness of those portraits, and anyone who chooses to exert himself can see that they are not drawn for the sake of literary 'flair', but spring from an inner indignation against 'this sorry scheme of things.' The authors of this book do not wish to make any apology for it. They leave it to float or sink of itself. They are not afraid of the consequences of having launched it. They only wish to defend 'the right of launching it and all other vessels like it' ... they stand for the right of free criticism and free expression in all matters of the highest importance to the human race in general and the Indian people in particular. They have chosen the particular field of Islam, not because they bear any 'special' malice, but because, being born into that particular society, they felt themselves better qualified to speak for that alone. They were more sure of their ground there. Whatever happens to the book or to the authors, we hope that others will not be discouraged …
It is important to note that Angaarey was written in Urdu. Mohammed Hasan’s work on post partition Urdu writing[viii] explains how ‘Urdu language did not have a religious stamp on its literature. It is after Partition that the language was looked upon as the language of the Muslims.’ He continues to explain… ‘If Progressive writing emphasized on the role of literature as an instrument of social change, the modernist writing stressed on non-commitment of literature to any ideology. It saw itself as a vehicle of meaningful identification of the self and its relationship with the outside world.’ The book was written in Urdu and had a far wider audience in Urdu as compared with publications in English. Maleiha Malik writing on the reception of Angarey by the British observes – “The British colonial authorities could have pointed out to some support for the publication within the Muslim community if they had wanted to support critical discussion of Islam and Muslim politics but instead they preferred to ban the book. Their priority was to re-establish social order rather than to safeguard the individual freedom of speech of their colonial subjects.”[ix]  
In 1987 the microfilm of the book was found preserved in the British Museum, London and Qamar Rais, the then head of the Urdu Department, Delhi University played an important role in bringing the microfilm to India. The book was published in 1995 in Urdu by Educational Publishing House, Delhi and was edited by Khalid Alvi. The collection received a phenomenal response and has run into several editions since the time it was published. It was only in the year 2014 that Angarey was transliterated in Hindi by Shakeel Siddiqui, published by Sahitya Bhandar, Allahabad. The English translations were brought out by Rupa Publications, Delhi translated by Vibha S Chauhan and Khalid Alvi and the Penguin, Delhi edition by Snehal Shingavi.
 When translating a text from its original language, it is necessary to maintain the intended complexity of the story[x]. As Dr Sukrita Paul Kumar describes, “A translated text is an autonomous aesthetic entity on the one hand, and on the other, it has to achieve a certain degree of equivalence with the original.”[xi] The Hindi text of Angaarey is a transliteration and it is a sensitive cognition of the target language with all its cultural baggage therefore a lot of Urdu words which are difficult to understand have been smoothly replaced by their Hindi equivalents and do not disrupt the reading of the text whereas it is the translation of the original in English that demands a lot of attention from the translator. The Rupa version of the original text has done a commendable job in retaining the essence of the original- the anger, the frustration with the norms as well as the creation of the atmosphere that the original created has been brought out very well. According to UR Ananthamurthy, the translator becomes a collaborative author, the original text a focal point of reference.
S.P Jain in his seminal essay on Angaarey in 1988 wrote – “The possibility cannot be ruled out that if published even today in free India, Angaarey may meet the fate it did in the year 1932.”[xii] 
I conclude my paper with an unpublished nazm of Raashid Banaarsii which was written for Urdu as a language but I feel it extends to the text Angaarey –  
Bahut samhje the ham is daur ki firqa-parastii ko
Zubaan bhi aaj shaikh-o-barhaman hai ham nahin samjhe

Agar Urdu pe bhi ilzaam hai baahar see aane ka
To phir hinduustaan kis ka vatan hai ham nahiin samjhe

Chaman kaa husn too har rang kee phuuloon see hai Raashid
Koo'ii bhii phuul kyoon nang-i chaman hai ham nahiin samhje

[I understood a lot about the prejudices of this age.
Today languages too are Brahmins and Sheikhs? I don't understand.

If there are charges against Urdu, that it too is an outsider.
Then whose homeland is India? I don't understand.

The beauty of the garden comes from flowers of every colour, Rashid.
Why is any flower at all a disgrace to the garden? I don’t understand.][xiii]

End Notes:

[i] Mahmud, Shabana. “Angare and the Founding of the Progressive Writers’ Association.” Modern Asian Studies. Volume 30, Number 2 (May 1996).
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Angarey (trans) Vibha S. Chauhan and Khalid Alvi. New Delhi: Rupa Publications India, 2014.
[iv] Ahmed Ali, ‘The Progressive Writers Movement and Creative Writers in Urdu,’ in: Marxist Influence & South Asian Literature. Ed. Carlo Coppolla (Michigan, 1974), p. 36.
[v] Mahmud, Shabana. “Angare and the Founding of the Progressive Writers’ Association.” Modern Asian Studies. Volume 30, Number 2 (May 1996).
[vi] Angarey (trans) Vibha S. Chauhan and Khalid Alvi. New Delhi: Rupa Publications India, 2014.
[vii] Quoted by Coppola, Carlo, ‘The Angare group: The Enfants Terribles of Urdu literature,’ in Annual of Urdu Studies (1981), p. 6I.
[viii] Hasan, Mohammad. “The Wounded Sensibility- Urdu Writing in the Post Partition Era.” India International Centre Quarterly. Volume 15, Number 1 (Spring 1988). Pp. 107-111.
[ix] Malik, Maleiha. “Angare ‘the burning embers’ of Muslim political resistance: Colonial and Post Colonial  Regulation of Islam in Britain.” Colonial and Post Colonial Governance of Islam - Continuities and Ruptures (eds.) Marcel Maussen, Veil Bader and Annelies Moors. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011.
[x] Kumar, Sukrita Paul. “The Act of Translation.” Indian Literature. Volume 40, Number 3(179) (May- June, 1997) pp. 174-178.
[xi] Ibid.
[xii] Jain, S.P. “Angare: A Reappraisal: About a proscribed, trend setting anthology.” Indian Literature. Volume 30, Number 4 (July – August, 1987) pp. 101-107.
[xiii] Christopher Lee, “Hit it with a Stick and It Won't die: Urdu Language, Muslim Identity and Poetry in Varanasi, India,” Annual of Urdu Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1 (2000), pp. 377-8.

No comments :

Post a Comment

We welcome your comments related to the article and the topic being discussed. We expect the comments to be courteous, and respectful of the author and other commenters. Setu reserves the right to moderate, remove or reject comments that contain foul language, insult, hatred, personal information or indicate bad intention. The views expressed in comments reflect those of the commenter, not the official views of the Setu editorial board. प्रकाशित रचना से सम्बंधित शालीन सम्वाद का स्वागत है।