Urdu scholar Gopi Chand Narang fought religious fanaticism and parochialism in literature
Another Urdu heavyweight has fallen. Professor Gopi Chand Narang was a pillar of Urdu. When he was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2004, he was the only Urdu critic to also be awarded the Padma Shri. There is hardly any Urdu forum which has not honored it. The same goes for the Iqbal National Open University in Pakistan. So many Urdu and Persian awards were heaped on the teacher. And, interestingly, Professor Narang was the single most interviewed Indian Urdu critic on Pakistani television. Among the most wanted Indian personalities in Pakistan, Narang was second only to former Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee. Incidentally, both were so popular in the country across the border that a mere mention or reference of their names helped a person get a Pakistani visa!
In 1977, he was awarded Pakistan’s National Gold Medal for his research on Iqbal. Even today, in Pakistani literary circles, Gopi Chand Narang is known as the cultural ambassador of India. Writers know that Narang had always raised his voice against parochialism, religious fanaticism and social injustice. Communalists, whether from the Hindi or Urdu lobby, had always tried to derail it. According to Narang, one can be an activist, but in a democracy one does not need a party card to enter the field of letters.
A writer’s fundamental commitment is to the sanctity of shabda, concern for humanitarianism, and a sense of nationalism. Sahitya Akademi, of which he was the president, happens to be the largest literary body in the world dealing with 22 languages. At the same time, he was also a consultant to the largest Urdu government body ever established, namely the NCPUL (National Council for the Advancement of Urdu Language). But according to him, the fact remains that even today, it is extremely difficult for writers of Indian languages to make ends meet by writing full time.
Narang was interested in formulating an encyclopedia of Indian Katha Sahitya and an encyclopedia of Indian poetics. The famous Bengali intellectual Sisir Kumar Das had completed the painstaking work. The National Bibliography of Indian Literature from 1954 to date is another endeavor that Narang nearly completed. Narang also happens to be that famous rare intellectual who had spurned the lure of the office to pursue his school work.
Narang, according to senior civil servant-writer and now politician Pavan K Varma, is renowned for his blunt candor when it comes to the issue of defending Urdu. Its “literary adversaries” (of which there is no shortage!) can do anything but ignore it.
Having been raised in the dry, mountainous terrain of Balochistan and Narang’s mother tongue being Saraiki (a mixture of Western Punjabi, Sindhi and Pashto), his background conspired against him. Even at his Musa Khail school, Pushto was the medium but he held strong for Urdu. His father, Dharam Chand Narang, was also a scholar and scholar of Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit, which inspired Gopi’s interest in literature.
Some of Narang’s famous and award-winning books include – Hindustani Qisson se Makhuz Urdu Masnawiyan, Urdu: Dilli ki Karkhandari Boli, Urdu ki Taleem ke Lisani Pehlu, Puranon ki Kahanian and Amir Khusrau ka Hindvi Kalaam. He finds Urdu to be one of the best products of composite literature. Among the courtesy of Urdu scholars, Narang is highly regarded. The truth is, no one can match his stylistic vocabulary.
Narang has also proven to be the undisputed master of Urdu phonetics according to Dr. Aqeel Ahmed, Director of National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language, Delhi, Urdu, according to Narang, has been the language of interfaith harmony and has served as a common bridge between Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims as early as Amir Khusrau in the 13th century.
Narang believed that the politicization of Urdu had brought about its downfall. The Urdu card played by politicians has led to its degradation. “Urdu is not the language of Muslims. If there is a language of Muslims, it should be Arabic,” said Gopi Chand. Urdu belongs to the composite culture of India, really.
An illustrious student of Delhi College (now Zakir Hussain College), Narang had taught at various universities, including the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota.
Once, speaking to his Pakistani poet friend Ahmed Faraz, he said, “Don’t monopolize, fanaticize or politicize a language. Urdu is one of the national languages of India and not a natural language of a single region of Pakistan, from Karachi to Lahore and from Quetta to Peshawar. The writers of both countries must interact with each other. (The author is a former Chancellor and commentator on social and educational issues).