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A Fictional-Historical Account

Nadeem Shah

By Mirza Farhatullah Beg. Translated by Akhtar Qamber
Orient Blacksman, 2010, pp. 192, Rs. 295.00


Mushairah is a poetic symposium in which contemporary poets congregate and recite their original poems. In its classical form, a Mushairah is a literary spectacle where poets of the day exhibit their tremendous creative energies, combined with deep imagination and emotional intensity in their poetry. The event follows a prescribed framework of aesthetic convention, developed by the great masters of olden times. The text under review is basically a fictional-historical account of what might have been the last great Mushairah under the auspices of the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar. A modern Urdu classic by any concrete standards, the account titled Dehli ki Akhri Shama is a lucid narrative of an event of a Mushairah in Old Dehli. Mirza Farhatullah Baig, the celebrated author of the text, lends historical veracity to his work by drawing from manuscripts, documents and living memory. The richness of the imaginative details provided by him, for instance, to describe the personalities of the contemporary Urdu poets including their appearances, mannerisms and susceptibilities makes his work a unique modern contribution reflecting the literary-cultural realm of Dehli in the middle of the 19th century. The present volume is the first-ever English translation of Farhatullah Baig’s account, accompanied by a long introduction, textual and other annotations, and extensive glossary. Notwithstanding the enormity of complications involved in translating the minute linguistic nuances of Urdu—its diverse and context specific imageries and metaphors—the volume is a brilliant effort at taking up the challenge. The rigorous scholarship and keen insight of the translator are more than evident in the work. Mirza Farhatullah Baig belonged to the Mughal stock of Shahjahanabad. Educated at the Dehli Madrassah, Hindu College and St. Stephens College, Delhi, he was Director of Education in the State of Hyderabad. Later, he became the Registrar of the High Court of Hyderabad. Akhtar Qamber obtained graduate degrees in English literature from the universities of Lucknow and Columbia. She taught at Isabella Thoburn College, Lucknow, and at Miranda House, Delhi, and visited the International Christian University at Tokyo and Western College for Women at Oxford, Ohio, on teaching assignments. After retiring from academic life, Qamber devoted her time to translating from Urdu and Persian into English. Her earlier publications include a collection of poems written originally in English, and a book on the relationship between the work of W.B. Yeats and Noh drama of Japan. In the ...

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