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Aspirations and Apprehensions

Asma Rasheed

Edited by Mehr Afshan Farooqi
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 304, Rs. 895.00


Ahmed Ali (1908–1994) is better known in the English-reading world as one of the founder members of the Progressive Writers’ Association in 1936, as one among the four of the (in)famous Angaray group. But Ali’s reputation as writer and scholar suffered variously, Farooqi points out in her Introduction, when he separated himself from the PWA and from mainstream Urdu writing as well. This edition tries to examine the many-faceted talents of a man who wrote short stories and poetry, novels as well as essays, enjoyed a considerable reputation as a translator of Urdu literature, and later translated the Koran, which itself ran into several editions, through the different essays included in it. The collection has a curious mix of earlier writings as well as recent pieces: there is an essay on his novel by Ali’s contemporary, Muhammad Hasan Askari, that was originally published in 1949 in Urdu, an interview conducted by Carlo Coppola in 1975, re-worked versions of a 1979 essay by Coppola on Ali’s short fiction and a 1980 essay on Ali’s poetry as well as an essay on Ali’s fictions by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi delivered as a memorial lecture in 2011. The other articles are Ahmad al-Rahim’s contextualization of Ali’s translation of the Koran (2001 edition), Snehal Shingavi’s take on Ali’s anti-colonial stance in his most famous work, Twilight in Delhi and Mehr Farooqi’s analysis of language in Ali’s bilingual work. Let me begin with Farooqi’s article, ‘Language Crossings: Dilli to Delhi Through the World of Ahmed Ali,’ simply because issues of language and translation are also of some interest to me. Ali, who had published an English short story, an Urdu short story and a play in English during 1929–31, contributed two short stories in Urdu to Angaray (1932), an experimental collection of short stories in Urdu published from Lucknow. The project was to lampoon what the contributors saw as the social evils and hypocrisy of religious institutions in Muslim society. The scandal that followed this publication, burnt publicly and banned by the government, helped to solidify the group into an association—the PWA—but Ali parted ways with the rest by 1938. Principally, Farooqi says, Ali differed from the PWA’s adherence to a politicized Marxist socialist realism, and instead felt that art should ‘not become embroiled with politics or it would become propaganda’ (p. 25). It was in the summer of 1938 that Ali began ...

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