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Mehr Afshan Farooqi

By Rakhshanda Jalil
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 482, Rs. 1495.00


The Progressive Writers’ Movement stands out among the literary trends in Indian literature because it came as a breath of fresh air in a literary scenario that was struggling under the onslaught of western values. The movement galvanized a large number of writers across Indian languages. It was formally launched from Lucknow in 1936 with the blessings of eminent writers. Premchand gave the keynote address in Urdu but the rest of the proceedings were conducted in English in order to be inclusive. The 1930s were the times when the split between Urdu and Hindi was being formalized. The movement was especially powerful in Urdu because many of its supporters were Urdu writers; Hindi writers did not embrace it wholeheartedly even though the Progressives attempted to address the rift between Urdu and Hindi by calling several Urdu-Hindi conferences to debate on the prickly issues, an important one being script.   There have been quite a few detailed studies of the movement and the many noteworthy writers it produced. Some of the best known histories were by the Progressives themselves such as Khalilur Rahman Azmi’s Urdu Mein Taraqqi Pasand Adabi Tahreek, Sajjad Zaheer’s Roshnai, Ali Sardar Jafri’s Taraqqi Pasand Adab and Taraqqi Pasand Adab ki Nisf Sadi. There are separate studies focusing on Progressive fiction and Progressive poetry. Carlo Coppola’s pathbreaking PhD dissertation (finally about to be published from OUP Karachi) Urdu Poetry: The Progressive Episode 1935-1970 (Chicago University 1975) opened the doors to a flood of scholarship on the Progressives in English. More recently Priyamvada Gopal’s Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation and the Transition to Independence (2005) have paid special attention to the fiery contributions of Rashid Jahan, Ismat Chughtai and Manto.   Rakhshanda Jalil’s literary history of the Progressive Writers’ Movement is a welcome addition to the corpus. This lengthy book has a wide sweep of roughly a 100 years beginning from the 1850s through the 1950s. The first chapter is titled: The Linkages between Social Change and Urdu Literature: From 1850s till 1920s and the last chapter is The Decline of the Progressive Writers’ Movement. In between, she devotes two chapters to Angarey and two to Progressive poetry and fiction. Jalil has consulted a vast range of primary and secondary sources in Urdu and English; she has interviewed a large number of living literati who were directly or indirectly associated with the Progressives. Jalil, a well-known translator of ...

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