Introduction by F.W.P.
What a juicy and complicated little treat I have here for all you variously interested readers! I am bringing on, with a great flourish, a fascinating pair of joined-at-the-hip translator-annotators who will act as guest editors for this extremely important text. So many kinds of interest converge in Bagh-o-bahar that I'll have trouble restraining myself; but I'll try to be brief, and to provide links to further information elsewhere. The main topics I want to mention are:
=(1)= *Bagh-o-bahar and Fort William College*
=(1)= Bagh-o-bahar and Fort William College
Bagh-o-bahar was the single most popular Urdu publication of Fort William College. Eventually, though not at once, it became known as a strong influence on the development of Urdu prose. Fort William College in Calcutta, established in 1800 as a language training center for British colonial administrators, is often taken to mark the beginning of modern Urdu and Hindi prose (though this view can be disputed on various grounds, depending mostly on what is meant by "beginning" and "modern"). For example, here's a view (Saksena 1940) that *emphasizes the importance* of Fort William, and another (Sadiq 1984) that *denies the significance* of its role. Fort William’s series of commissioned publications included popular romances and stories, fairy tales, and didactic fables of all kinds, drawn from many different sources. These traditional tales, intended as readers for language students, were largely restricted to a simple style-- a style which at its best was lively, clear, and unpretentious, and at its worst could be flat, monotonous, and childish. (Remarkably, Fort William also first published the monumental Urdu ghazal kulliyat of Mir, but that's another whole story.)
This *Fort William College Bibliography* gives an idea of the extraordinary range of its publications-- especially, thanks to John Gilchrist, in Urdu and Hindi, two distinct "languages" that he was very careful to separate, even when the natives themselves did not do so. For further discussion see Chapter One, pp. 24-36, of *Early Urdu Literary Culture and History* by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi. For another Fort William example, see *Baital Pachchisi* (The Twenty-five Tales of the Vampire, 1802). For more on Gilchrist's theories of language, see the second appendix to *The General East India Guide* (1825); and consider *others of his works*, many of which have titles that themselves say a lot about Gilchrist's mind and methods.
Fort William publications included a good number of qissah texts, of which Bagh-o-bahar was by far the most famous. (The seemingly irrelevant title Bagh-o-bahar ("Garden and Spring") is really a *chronogram*: the numerical value of its letters adds up to 1217 AH (1802/3), and thus encodes the year of composition.) After being called into existence by British fiat, for some decades these early printed qissah texts excited no special interest, and remained white elephants of a sort. As far as can be judged from existing records, most of them were scarcely reprinted at all in the Urdu/Hindi-speaking area during the first half of the nineteenth century. In his famous history of Lucknow (composed c.1913-20), 'Abdul Halim Sharar gave an acid account of the reception accorded to Mir Amman’s masterpiece:
Although the skill of Mir Amman as a writer may have come to the notice of the British in those days, it had not been recognized by any Urdu-speaking person. This was so because the effects of British education had not yet changed the country’s literary style and oriental taste in literature.... Therefore to think that when Chahar Darvesh was written, except for its popularity with the British, who did not even understand Urdu, it was accorded any literary merit by learned men of India, is completely unrealistic. ['Abdul Halim Sharar, Lucknow: The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture, trans. and ed. by E. S. Harcourt and Fakhir Husain (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1975), p. 89].By the last two decades of the nineteenth century, however, as mass publishing began in earnest, Bagh-o-bahar became one of the hardy perennials of the genre of printed qissa literature, and it's never been out of print since (though nowadays it appears more often in scholarly rather than popular editions). For further discussion, see *"Qissa and Mass Printing"*.
Mir Amman's introduction to Bagh-o-bahar famously provides an early account of the history of the Urdu language. It's an account that's very convenient to Mir Amman's British colonial sponsors, and one that is unfortunately still all too current. Like so many other things about Bagh-o-bahar, it has proved to be lastingly influential. But it is WRONG. It is wrong not just in small nuances, but in its most important claims-- that Urdu originated as a 'bazaar' language, and that Urdu is a 'blending' of 'the languages of the Hindus and Musalmans'. For a well-documented (and extremely interesting) refutation of Mir Amman's claims, see Chapter One, pp. 24-36, of *Early Urdu Literary Culture and History*, by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi.
In addition, Mir Amman is wrong about the history of the Bagh-o-bahar itself: he follows folk tradition in ascribing its Persian source to Amir Khusrau. Amir Khusrau is a magnet for such claims: he is commonly said to have invented not only the sitar, but all kinds of other musical and poetic modes and practices as well, often including the Urdu ghazal. (Somebody once actually insisted to me that he had also invented the sari.) For a convincing refutation of Mir Amman's ascription of the story to Amir Khusrau, see *'Abdul Haq's Introduction*.
Mir Amman also inaccurately implies that he himself worked directly from this Persian text. In fact, as 'Abdul Haq documents very clearly, Mir Amman closely followed an earlier Urdu text (itself translated somewhat freely from a Persian original), Tahsin's Nau tarz-e murassa' [New Style of Adornment], composed in the early 1770's.
In short, when it comes to matters of literary history-- including his own-- Mir Amman is not a reliable narrator.
We see in Bagh-o-bahar a famous and in many ways representative example of the Persian-Urdu qissah tradition. The term qissah is sometimes used interchangeably with dastan; I have discussed both terms and their early Persian history in "The Medieval Persian Romance Tradition," the first part of the introduction to *The Romance Tradition in Urdu* (1991). In that work, the text I was chiefly studying was the dastan par excellence in Urdu: the astonishingly long and elaborate dastan, or qissah, of Amir Hamzah. In my dissertation, *Marvelous Encounters*, I also considered (in Chapter Three) an example shorter than Bagh-o-bahar, the famous story of Hatim Ta'i. In Bagh-o-bahar too, an anecdote about Hatim's generosity is what first motivates the quest of the Second Darvesh. Our translator-in-chief Duncan Forbes himself also singled out the Qissah-e Hatim Ta'i for translation (though he used a Persian version of the story, rather than the Fort William retelling). He also published (1852) an edition of Haidari's Tota kahani (1804), another Fort William qissah text.
I had planned to go on to discuss Tahsin's Nau tarz-e murassa' (early 1770's), and Mir Amman's huge (and flagrantly unacknowledged) debt to it, and the connection of both these qissahs to the Persian story tradition. But when I started reading *Maulvi 'Abdul Haq's introduction* to his Urdu edition of the text, I decided to add value to the website by letting him do the work. Not only is he a thoroughly capable researcher, but he's also a landmark in his own right: the thoughts of the "Baba-e Urdu" [Grand Old Man of Urdu] will always have a special interest for students of Urdu literary and cultural history. In the history of qissah literature and other early Urdu prose in the North, both Nau tarz-e murassa' and Bagh-o-bahar loom large; and for the study of Urdu in the twentieth century, 'Abdul Haq himself is a towering figure. This Bagh-o-bahar project is turning out to be even more complex, and more multivalently useful, than I expected it to be.
Bagh-o-bahar is also part of the great international folktale and fairy-tale and romance ocean that includes on the high end the Arabian Nights, the Kathasaritsagara, the Decameron, and countless other such texts, and on the low end the ever-spreading and intermingling waves of oral storytelling and folk narrative that provide them with raw material. Cross-cultural plot comparisons of all kinds constantly present themselves: in the tale of the Second Darwesh, the Princess of Basra's reply to her father's question has more than a hint of Cordelia's speech in King Lear-- a drama that itself is based on a traditional tale. Dozens of other such echoes are apparent to the knowledgeable reader; many of the stories told by the four Darwesh (and Azad Bakht as a fifth narrator) are of well-known types that are found all over the world. (If you're interested in such comparisons, check them out in the Aarne-Thompson index.)
I've considered the nature of such material at some length in the chapters "Qissa as Oral Narrative" and "Qissa as a Genre" from *Marvelous Encounters: Folk Romance in Urdu and Hindi* (1985). On this website I also maintain a special *Folk Narrative* page with many relevant links.
Everything I've said above amounts to a revisiting and pulling-together of things I've been working on for years. But now comes the new and very interesting and (mostly) enjoyable part of the present project: I've had the chance to get to know these two thoroughly opinionated and somewhat cranky translator/annotators, Forbes and Smith. The original inspiration for this project came from Project Gutenberg, which put the *Forbes 1857 translation* online in its own plain-vanilla style. Once I found that version, the possibilities began to germinate in my mind, and one thing led to another, and I couldn't possibly resist. I happened to have that same Forbes edition in my own collection; and when I started tracking down more information about Forbes and his work, his debts to Smith began to emerge very clearly, and I realized that this project could and should have a number of layers:
=a traditional Persian qissah about four darvesh: *'Abdul Haq's introduction*
In the three successive introductions (Smith's; Forbes's as editor of Smith's; and Forbes's in his own right), we see two kinds of progression: advances in academic knowledge of Urdu (improved transliteration, etc.) over time; and also a steady incorporation of Smith's translation and annotations into Forbes's own versions of both. This latter process isn't really anything underhanded, since Forbes acknowledges quite explicitly (especially in the 1851 edition) what he's doing; but it's certainly a kind of radical assimilation or even consumption (like a cobra steadily digesting a rabbit) that's close to the limit, it seems to me, of how scholars may ethically treat each other's work. In the 1857 translation that we study here, many parts of the translation, and many of the notes, are originally Smith's, yet now they all appear smoothly assimilated into Forbes's own work, with (for the most part) only Forbes's name on them. Traces of this process can be seen in the three introductions reproduced on this site. Anybody who's interested can easily track the process in full detail by comparing the relevant texts.
I've compared Smith's original notes (1813) with Forbes's later versions (1857). The difference of decades, and of Smith's cheerful amateur relish versus Forbes's ostentatious and sometimes irritable professionalism, would have made it fun to be able to separate their notes like layers in an archaeological dig, but many individual notes in Forbes 1857 are hybrids, so it would have been unfeasibly complicated to label them all. Since in the 1857 edition Forbes omits some of Smith's notes, reworks others, and adds many new ones, it's reasonable to conclude that all the notes in the 1857 edition are endorsed or sponsored by Forbes, so I've taken them broadly as his. What I did do was to restore most of the comments by Smith that Forbes had omitted entirely; these appear in the notes within square brackets under the rubric '[S:]'. There aren't too many of these, for in fact Forbes uses almost all Smith's notes, though often in substantially reworked forms. Both commentators are vigorously opinionated, and enliven their annotations with observations on their own culture and with comparisons between "Eastern" (or "oriental") and "European" mores. I am tempted to quote some of their morsels of cultural commentary, but I think I'll leave it to the reader to discover them in situ; that's really the proper context in which to come upon them.
The Smith-Forbes annotations are valuable in several ways. First, they explain many particular physical objects and cultural practices that Smith and Forbes could observe at first hand, to which we now have no such direct access. Second, they illustrate the attitudes and values of their (British colonial) time and place, sometimes enjoyably and sometimes quite unpleasantly. (I haven't censored their views in any way.) And third, they aim to help the learner acquire a good understanding of Urdu: this makes them useful both to Urdu students today, and also perhaps to anybody interested in the history of linguistic analysis and language pedagogy.
Other than inserting the [S:] notes, I've made almost no changes in Forbes's own work. I've corrected a few typos, but otherwise have basically left intact his remarkable (and to me often wrong-looking) parentheses, punctuation, and spelling. One change that I did make, however, was to eliminate his frequent use of italicization, typical of his time, for proper names. Forbes's careful diacritics have been lost to the exigencies of online display, but since I'm providing jpg images of a large chunk of the Urdu text, and since the whole Urdu text is widely available, this shouldn't inconvenience anyone unduly. Where Forbes refers in one note to another note, I've re-identified the second note appropriately and provided a suitable hyperlink. All my own editorial comments within the notes are in square brackets; and everything in square brackets within the notes is mine (Forbes uses only parentheses in his notes). In the text itself, Forbes uses square brackets, so anything I insert will be in double square brackets.
Duncan Forbes (1798-1868) was a scholar of remarkable versatility and range-- and astonishingly prolific as well. A look at his *list of publications* would put most of us to shame. He's a figure well worth some attention in his own right. I'd like to take more of a look at him in the future.
If you're learning Urdu, here's an excellent practice reading: a sample of early-nineteenth-century prose, in early-twentieth-century calligraphy, edited by Maulvi 'Abdul Haq (1869-1961) himself. The text from which I've drawn the jpg images is: Bagh-o-bahar ya'ni qissah-e chahar darvesh, edited, with an introduction and a glossary, by Maulvi 'Abdul Haq (Delhi: Anjuman-e Taraqqi-e Urdu (Hind), 1944; second edition); here's *the title page* of that edition. The particular copy I'm using comes from my own collection, and it's sacrificing its frail life with the stress of being handled, read, and scanned. The script is attractive and clear, very suited to reading practice. (Remember: that thing that looks like a word-final chhoTii ye is really an archaic form of a baRii ye; and remember also that traditional Urdu punctuation is much freer and more casual than modern usage.)
I'm only providing Urdu page images for the introductory material (including 'Abdul Haq's introduction) and the story of the First Darvesh. The First Darvesh's story is the longest and most detailed of the four; if you're an Urdu student looking to sample the language and style of the text, you might want to read this much, and then move on to other material. Of course, if you want to read the rest of the text in Urdu, its longstanding popularity makes *other editions* easy to come by. The ones in the Bibliography are the main scholarly ones only; there are literally dozens of others floating around in bookstores and libraries; there are definitely Devanagari ones too.
Please note that I haven't compared Maulvi 'Abdul Haq's text with the original Fort William edition, so I'm presenting his Urdu text as a primary source in its own right. In view of his own literary and historical influence, this choice of his text makes a good deal of sense. 'Abdul Haq's text will be satisfactory to most readers, but serious researchers in some fields may want to compare other editors' texts (including those published by Forbes himself), or even track down the Fort William original.
== BAGH-O-BAHAR index page == Glossary == FWP's main page ==