Literary Notes: Safeer Bilgirami, his Jalwa-i-Khizr and history of Urdu literature.


Byline: Rauf Parekh

PROF Gian Chand Jain in his remarkable research work Urdu Ki Adabi Tareekhen, or Urdu's literary histories, has critically evaluated 27 major and 16 minor histories of Urdu literature. And it does not include Safeer Bilgirami's Jalwa-i-Khizr (1884).

It means Gian Chand either did not consider Jalwa-i-Khizr worth taking note of or ignored it because of its dated style of writing that resembled an old-fashioned literary 'tazkira' rather than a modern-day literary history. In this book Prof Jain has severely criticised Muhammad Hussain Azad's Aab-i-Hayat (1880) and, having pointed out its glaring errors, he concludes that Azad was not a literary historian but had committed 'forgery' (referring to ghazals that Azad himself had composed and included them in Zauq's divan) (page 99). Jain says that Azad has distorted facts, concocted events or twisted them to suit his point of view and no other book has as much damaged literary history as did Aab-i-Hayat. The last lines of this conclusion say that in libraries Aab-i-Hayat should not be placed on the shelves reserved for literary histories or 'tazkiras', but on the shelf labelled 'fiction' (page 100).

A 'tazkira' is an account of Urdu poets and their poetry, with a brief life sketch of poets and their selected verses along with occasional, brief critical views. But 'tazkiras' fell out of favour and fashion in the beginning of the 20th century and now 'tazkiras' are considered, generally, lacking in accuracy and/or details. But at the same time, one has to admit, some 'tazkiras' are the only source on some important literary information and without them many pieces of our literary history puzzle would have been unsolved forever.

Jain declares that Azad's status as a historian is 'not better' than writers like Safeer Bilgirami, Shad Azeemabadi, Naseer Hussain Khayal and Mufti Intizamullah Shahabi (page 100). These are the writers mostly considered unreliable and referring to them in a research work may raise reviewers' or examiners' hackles.

But, the question is: if Azad is so unreliable, why did Jain spare 65 pages to analyse Aab-i-Hayat? And if Aab-i-Hayat was included in his book, why did Jain leave Jalwa-i-Khizr out?

What I want to emphasise here is that Jalwa-i-Khizr is a history of Urdu literature that has its merits, albeit it is not without demerits. Jameel Jalibi's history of Urdu literature is one of the great works, a fact admitted by Jain in this book. But Jalibi Sahib...

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