Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, one of the greatest modern Urdu writers, died Friday morning due to complications from Covid-19, at his residence in Allahabad. He was 85.
“The tallest figure in the world of Urdu, his death leaves a void that cannot be filled,” said Anis Azmi, theatre person and former general secretary of the Urdu Academy of Delhi.
Faruqi was not only a celebrated writer and poet, but also a critic who formulated a modernist framework for evaluating Urdu literature. A recipient of numerous awards, he was honoured with the prestigious Saraswati Samman for ‘She`r-e Shor-Angez’, a four-volume study of the 18th-century poet Mir Taqi Mir. His 1982 book ‘Tanqidi Afqar’ that reflected on modern literary and critical theories of poetry won him the Sahitya Akademi award in 1986. His 2006 novel ‘Kai Chand the Sar-e Aasman’, set in 19th century Delhi, set new standards for the Urdu novel. Faruqi translated it into English in 2013 as ‘The Mirror of Beauty’.
In 1966, he founded ‘Shabkhoon’, a magazine that he edited for four decades. It gave space to writers who did not agree with the mainstream Progressive Writers’ Movement, and led to Faruqi being dubbed “an agent of the CIA and American-minded, and a person with borrowed ideas”. But the magazine also gave space to progressive writers, including Ali Sardar Jafri, Ismat Chughtai, and Rajinder Singh Bedi.
“Faruqi sahab put Urdu language, literature and criticism on the world map. He ushered in the trend of modernism in Urdu and gave wings to generations of writers and poets under it,” says Ahmad Mahfooz, Faruqi’s protege and professor of Urdu at Jamia Millia Islamia. Mahfooz had written the first book on the life and works of the Urdu giant titled ‘Shamsur Rahman Faruqi: Shakhsiyat and Adabi Khidmat’ in 1994.
“He was a man full of imagination and gentle wry humour. He had a keen sense of history and was very appreciative of other people’s work and that is what made him a great writer… Faruqi sahab has left a indelible mark of refinement through his indepth knowledge that the world is trying to discover for itself,” said filmmaker Muzaffar Ali.
Born in Azamgarh and raised in Gorakhpur, Faruqi was a chief postmaster-general and member of the Postal Services Board in New Delhi until 1994.
Part of the first batch of the BA programme at Maharana Pratap College in Gorakhpur, he pursued a Master’s degree in English from Allahabad University in 1955. Although he topped the university, he did not receive a first-class, which he thought was probably because “he asked too many questions, or did not dress in the three-piece suits”.
He had chosen to work on a doctorate in English symbolism and the influence of French literature, and poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan was assigned as his supervisor. But after Bachchan came down heavily on him for missing a meeting, Faruqi did not return to pursue his doctorate, he had said in an interview.
In his interviews, Faruqi recalled how he first decided to become a poet at seven and used to produce a house magazine named ‘Gulistan’, along with his sister. At the age of 15, he had written his first novel, ‘Daldal se Bahar’, which was serialised in ‘Meyar’, a magazine published from Meerut.
His library of over a thousand books at his Allahabad home includes the 46 volumes of the Urdu oral romance, the ‘Dastan-e Amir Hamza’, printed by Munshi Nawal Kishore, who had sat down the dastangos, writers and calligraphers, and printed volumes between 1883 and 1905. Faruqi wrote four volumes analysing the dastan called ‘Saheri, Shahi, Sahibqirani’, a feat of scholarship which became the base for the revival of Dastangoi, a form of storytelling.
“His path-breaking scholarship provided the seed for Dastangoi and his supervision and mentoring saw it into fruition as a revitalised performance form. He was not just a mentor but the greatest resource person for all things we do with language, literature, history, poetry and Indo-Persian history. In his passing, we have lost not just our guru but also a beloved father figure,” said Anusha Rizvi, producer and designer at Dastangoi Collective.
A decade ago, responding to a question by a reporter, he had said: “I came to the conclusion that Faruqi until age 35 was created by many Western poets and novelists and dramatists, particularly Shakespeare and Hardy, and Western theorists of literature, and Ghalib. Faruqi after 35 and until age 40 was created and nurtured by a sustained interlocution with Ghalib, closely followed by Iqbal and western writers. Faruqi after age 40 was generated almost entirely by Mir, closely followed by Iqbal, the Sabk-e Hindi Farsi poets, many 18th century Urdu poets, and Ghalib. Now Faruqi is nearly 75 and doesn’t want to go anywhere else.”