Introduction to the Glossary
by Prof. *Christopher Shackle*


nah puuchh naamah-e aa((maal kii dil-aavezii
tamaam ((umr kaa qi.s.sah likhaa hu))aa paayaa

No wonder that the record of our deeds beguiles
For in it we have found our whole life's story told.

As those who have read the whole of Umrao Jan Ada in Urdu may recall, this verse appears as the epigraph to the final chapter. There it neatly evokes Umrao Jan's complex reaction to reading for the first time the ghosted autobiography of herself whose progressive compilation by Rusva, as heroine and narrator tease each other in exchanges richly decorated with verses, makes this wonderfully teasing novel so much more than some straightforwardly documentary "Life Story of a Courtesan." It has to be said, though, that no one yet seems to have done critical justice to the many fascinating qualities of Rusva's unique masterpiece with its multiply layered narrative and the ingenious intermingling of verse and prose which is first established in the opening lengthy description of a musha'ira.

Nor are these qualities fully captured in either of the two available English translations, whether Khushwant Singh and M A Hussaini's The Courtesan of Lucknow (Delhi 1961) or David Matthews' Umrao Jan Ada (Delhi 1996). Since there is thus really no substitute for reading the novel in the original Urdu, there is perhaps still a place for the extended Urdu-English glossary which I compiled so long ago and which has now unexpectedly been given a fresh lease of life for the twenty-first century through being posted on the internet. In something of the same way as Umrao Jan was moved to reflect on the vicissitudes of her dramatic life by reading Rusva's account of it, this unforeseen chance to look again after a number of years at my  Revised Notes prompts a number of reflections on the now distant circumstances in which they were produced.

I was appointed to the SOAS staff in 1966, the year after David Matthews had joined the Urdu section then headed by Ralph Russell. In a way hardly imaginable today, we both came as autodidacts without any prior formal qualifications in Urdu, and once appointed were very much left to get on with the business of training ourselves to be scholars and teachers of the subject. Since we found that much of Ralph's energies as a teacher had been absorbed by the production of a large but highly idiosyncratic first year language course, the most useful task for us to begin with seemed to be the production of Urdu-English word-lists. These had the double purpose of first closely familiarizing ourselves with a range of literary texts, then helping our students to get to grips with them more easily. Since this was long before the modern flexible approach to language-based courses, with its wide range of student choice and emphasis on practical skills, our students, like most of those in British university language departments at the time, were expected to get through a generously prescribed selection of mostly pre-modern literary texts, and so naturally welcomed all the aids which we could give them.

In the beginning, these word-lists were of a fairly primitive kind, being written out by hand and directly run off as roneos from stencils for cheap sale to students as ring-bound volumes. But once this preliminary set of teaching aids was built up, we were able to move on to bringing out revisions. The "Revised Notes" to Umrao Jan Ada were the product of this second phase of our production of teaching materials to support the study of Urdu literary texts. Numbered in the series as Book XIII, ring-bound and numbered in two parts as Volumes 1 and 2, they are so entitled because they were designed to replace a hand-written glossary which had been produced by David Matthews as an earlier volume in the series.

Produced in the early 1970s, these two bulky volumes are in more ways than one evocative of that period in SOAS history, which is described in my chapter on "Language Studies" inSOAS since the Sixties, edited by David Arnold and myself (London 2003). Generous government funding, to which I owed my own appointment, fostered a comfortable if rather conservative institutional culture, from which most of the urgencies of present-day academic life were pleasantly removed. With relatively large numbers of staff and small numbers of students, not to speak of the absence of the modern imperative to publish, there was then plenty of time for such tasks as the compilation of these large glossaries.

This was also a time when the influence was still felt of the forceful personality of the linguist J. R. Firth, although he had by then retired from the SOAS academic staff. One of his hobby horses was the use of a phonetic script for the languages of India which would avoid the use of diacritic dots and macrons through the adoption of special conventions like the adoption of "Welsh" y and w for the short i and u, and the use of numerous special phonetic characters. This Firthian transcription, used in T.G. Bailey's old Teach Yourself Urdu and in Ralph Russell's Urdu course, was still generally favoured in the department, whose office possessed a specially customized manual Imperial typewriter with double-shift keys containing the schwa, the long-tailed retroflexes, and all the other special characters which the system required.

Our long-serving departmental secretary Susan Madigan was an expert operator of this rather clumsy machine, and the clarity and accuracy of the typescript is testimony to her unusual skill. This was of course a time long before the era of the word processor, so the glossary was produced by typing out my original manuscript onto stencils from which the print-outs were then run off by roneo. In those days, though, the sheer amount of energy that had to go into the production of this sort of thing was of course taken for granted. If my "Revised Notes" to Umrao Jan Ada have any particular value, this is due to the special circumstances in which the material for them was initially gathered.

My initial appointment to the SOAS staff was to a three-year training Fellowship in Indian Studies. After a first year in London largely spent reading Urdu texts, and compiling glossaries for some of these, I was sent to South Asia for the year 1967-68. Most of this immensely valuable time was spent in Lahore, where I first developed the interest in Panjabi which has been a central concern of my academic career, starting with my first published article "Panjabi in Lahore," which appeared in Modern Asian Studies 4 (1970). But while Panjabi was my particular enthusiasm, part of the purpose of the year was to receive further training in Urdu. This was arranged for me with various teachers by Professor Ibadat Barelvi, who had worked with Ralph Russell at SOAS, and who was then head of the Urdu department in Oriental College. As is often the way with such ad hoc arrangements, some of the training I received seemed a little eccentric, like the hours spent in the Oriental College gardens with a lecturer in the department who thought that the close study of Muhammad Husain Azad's poems in the Victorian mode was the best way to train a young Englishman to appreciate what was best in Urdu literature.

But with one teacher, perhaps partly because he was not himself an academic, things turned out very much better. Through a private arrangement, the person assigned to read novels with me was Hakim Habib Ash'ar Dihlavi, and I not only count the months which I spent working with him among the most valuable parts of my professional training, but have also always remained grateful for the unique insights which he helped give me into the values of Urdu literary culture, of which he was himself a distinguished representative. A member of the family of the famous Hakim Ajmal Khan, his maternal grandfather, he migrated to Lahore after partition, but maintained the proud appearance and attitudes of a gentleman of Delhi, with his spare frame always impeccably turned out in achkan and tang pyjama, and his mind always keenly aware of the Panjabi milieu as definitely Other. "How, Mr Shackle," he would say, "would you as an Englishman feel if you found you had to spend your life among Texans?"

Besides being known as a leading hakim, Habib Ash'ar was an active and widely respected member of the Urdu literary life of Lahore. Besides being co-editor with Ahmad Nadim Qasmi of the long-running literary journal Funun, he was a pioneering translator into Urdu of Kahlil Gibran, and produced an edition of the Urdu divan of Nawab Mustafa Khan Shefta, the one-time patron of Hali, for the Meri Library series (Lahore 1965). But such are the vicissitudes to which literary reputations are subject that in the holdings of the British Library he seems to be represented only in his professional capacity as a hakim by his book Husn-o Sihhat, "Beauty and Health" (Lahore 1966).

We used to meet three times a week, variously in Oriental College, in Hakim Sahib's downtown homeopathic clinic and dispensary, and in the comfortable house in the then-fashionable suburb of Gulberg owned by his prosperous cousin, whose generous hospitality was extended among other notable figures to the poet Josh. Amongst the texts which I had been set to work through with him, I remember his impatience with the preachifying content of Nazir Ahmad's Taubat un Nasuh, in spite of its ostentatious use of Delhi idiom. Once we had got through it, he suggested we move for relief to the Urdu version of Nishtar published by the Majlis-e Taraqqi-e Adab, another novel set in the world of the courtesan originally written in Persian, and which I believe has now been translated into English by Qurratulain Hyder. This proved much more fun, not least because the numerous mistakes in the printing of the Persian verses with which the novel is filled kept him reaching for the works of Naziri and others, so that I came to learn as much Persian as I did Urdu, and have never lost the Indian pronunciation of Persian which I first acquired from him in those sessions.

Of all the texts we read together, though, we both enjoyed Umrao Jan Ada the most. After I had prepared as carefully as I could in advance with the aid of a dictionary, Hakim Sahib would then explain the puzzles I still had, besides filling me in on many other points which I would then write up, and which were eventually incorporated into the "Revised Notes." If when looking through these again, I have more than once been struck by a qualitative difference in learning from the other glossaries which we produced at the time, I am equally well aware of just whose learning they reproduce.

I hope therefore that those who use the glossary to study one of the finest evocations of old Lucknow will recall the anonymous but indispensable contribution made to it by an outstanding representative of old Delhi, the late Hakim Habib Ash'ar, whose subsequent death sadly prevented me from ever seeing him again after the year in which we worked together, but whose memory I am grateful at last to have been able to record here.

10 July 2006



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