Doyen of Urdu literature Shamsur Faruqi passes away

Best known for his magnum opus Kai Chaand The Sare Asmaan written at the age of 70

In the 1950s, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi appeared for the Civil Services interview, a few days before the Republic Day. It was the young man’s first visit to Delhi. One of the distinguished persons in the interview panel asked him whether he would stay back to watch the parade. “No…I don’t like such tamasha,” he replied.

He got zero in the interview.

Faruqi, who died on Friday, was among the finest literary brains in Urdu literature, who redefined Urdu criticism. His greatest feat, perhaps, was his mammoth novel Kai Chaand The Sare Asmaan (The Mirror of Beauty), a work that he began writing at the age of 70. There aren’t many instances in world literature of a novelist publishing a thick masterpiece in their twilight years.

He was born in 1935, in what was perhaps the golden age of Urdu translations. Between 1910 and 1940, several classics were translated into Urdu, including Madame Bovary, The Red and the Black, and even many versions of the Gita. Faruqi’s favourite was rendered by Khwaja Dil Mohammad as Dil Ki Gita. In such an atmosphere, the young boy took early to literature and brought out his first journal, Gulistan, on sheets pulled out of notebooks when just in Class VIII, that had some of his fiction, translations and his sister’s writings.

Seminal influences

He had three major influences in his formative years — the 1942 movement, Thomas Hardy and Shakespeare. In the early 1950s, Faruqi oscillated between various progressive writers’ associations and Jamait-e-Islami, the two broad ideological positions available to an emerging Muslim writer then. However, he soon found that “there was not much difference” between the two because one believed that art existed for the revolution, the other believed it was for Allah.

“I began running away from the both,” Faruqi said in an interview to Udayan Vajpeyi.

It was this commitment to the word that prompted him to chart his own path.

I first met Faruqi as a co-participant at a seminar at the India International Centre, Delhi, in February 2017. The seminar drew its title, Ishq Bhari Patthar, from a couplet of his favourite poet Mir. Among the speakers who spoke on the various forms of love, he was the eldest, and yet most playful and profound. I told him that some of us friends believe that Kai Chaand The Sare Asmaan was the greatest Indian novel of the last decade. He smiled, and a friendship soon bloomed.

What is his contribution to contemporary life? I had been writing a novel on Bastar, and even got some extracts published. His novel, which I read while writing my own, was among the prime factors that convinced me that I must not attempt the genre without adding something remarkable to the existing works.

A filmmaker friend, inspired by Kai Chaand, began working on an ambitious novel that he believed would take at least 10 years to complete. In this world marked by fleeting fame and books written for the instant, only a master could have persuaded you for posterity.

(Ashutosh Bhardwaj’s latest book, ‘The Death Script’, traces the Naxal insurgency.)

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