Obituary: Shamim Hanafi, Urdu scholar and critic - Hindustan Times
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Obituary: Shamim Hanafi, Urdu scholar and critic

ByShafey Kidwai
May 12, 2021 02:23 PM IST

A renowned disciple of Firaq Gorakhpuri, Professor Hanafi, who wrote extensively on Ghalib, Iqbal, Meer, Manto, Qurratulain Haider, Meeraji, Intizar Hussain, Premchand, Firaq Gorakhpuri and Akhtarul Iman, put a premium on initiating a cordial collective dialogue through literature

“No human folly is bigger than reconciling with despotism. Blind adherence to emotional beliefs always dispels doom. But literature and fine arts inculcate an intense internal and spiritual violence, which enables us to live up to the challenges thrown up by the external world that revels in brutality,” asserted Professor Shamim Hanafi (1938-2021). A widely-respected literary polymath and Professor Emeritus of the Aligarh Muslim University, Professor Hanafi succumbed to Covid in Delhi on May 6.

Urdu author, critic, dramatist and poet Shamim Hanafi (Courtesy Shafey Kidwai)
Urdu author, critic, dramatist and poet Shamim Hanafi (Courtesy Shafey Kidwai)

His thorough grounding in classical and modern literature, creative dexterity and critical acumen meant the octogenarian author produced more than three dozen books that covered criticism, cultural studies, poetry, drama, sketch writing, children’s literature, translation and poetry. He emerged as an exponent of syncretic culture and the liberal ethos. In his trailblazing article on the concept of humanism in literature, he repudiates the notion that war is fought between people and points out that innumerable blood-soaked conflicts took place between religions and ideologies. Human beings across the globe share similar worries and joys; they nurture the same dreams, hopes, and despair at the same failures. War hardly resolves issues; indeed, it is the biggest obstacle.

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A renowned disciple of Firaq Gorakhpuri, Professor Hanafi wrote extensively on Ghalib, Iqbal, Meer, Manto, Qurratulain Haider, Meeraji, Intizar Hussain, Premchand, Firaq Gorakhpuri and Akhtarul Iman but Saadat Hasan Manto was his favourite. He analysed Manto’s 20 stories on Partition and communal riots and concluded that the author never depicted violence through the prism of religion. For him, human suffering overrides all barriers and genuine literature cannot be produced if one pays no heed to lies and the truths that live inside those lies. If one does so, literature becomes more moral than morality itself. Hanafi’s criticism is replete with these sharp insights.

Shamim Hanafi translated Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s India Wins Freedom into Urdu.
Shamim Hanafi translated Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s India Wins Freedom into Urdu.

In a society that is hyper-mercantile and driven by information technology, people tend to talk at, instead of talking to each other. This prompted Hanafi to put a premium on initiating a cordial collective dialogue through literature sans rhetorical flourishes.

Professor Hanafi was close to a range of prominent art and cultural figures such as Jatin Das, Satish Gujral, Gogi Saroj Pal, Ramchandaran Nair, Rajesh Lochan, Parmjit Singh, Ashok Vajpayee, Kedar Nath Singh and Sachitanandan among others. He creatively explored all that the 20th century and first two decades of the 21st century offered and described our era as one in which violence is not restricted to physical cruelty but is perpetuated in an unprecedented way in the cultural, linguistic, political and emotional spheres. Such all pervasive subjugation makes human dignity meaningless.

“We live in a society that exults in uncurbed hedonism; it no longer holds down its voice and senses. One has to look up to art that provides a survival kit in the form of a defence mechanism. Literature produces silence bred resistance that thwarts the attempts to subjugate the human spirit,” he said.

One of his couplets translated by Anwarul Haq reads:

Our relationship with the present is for the name sakeeither we exist as a past or as a future.

Silence too has different connotations and Hanafi asserts that it is immoral to suppress the truth by being reticent.

His doctoral thesis on the philosophical framework of modernism in Urdu poetry is held in high esteem. A careful appraisal of several celebrated poets committed to modern sensibilities prompted him to conclude that the colonial and liquid modernity manifested in Urdu poetry and modernism seems to be an extension of romanticism. His criticism drew heavily on radical humanism, new historicity and post colonialism and he tried to locate Ghalib, Iqbal, NM Rashid, Meeraji, Zahid Dar, Kishwar Naheed, Zeeshan Sahil, Intezar Hussain and others within the broader framework of cultural pluralism.

Shamim Hanafi rendered Nehru’s Years of Struggle and Maulana Azad’s India Wins Freedom into Urdu.

He was recently conferred the Majlis Farogh-e-Urdu Adab award. Besides this, Urdu academies in Delhi, Maharashtra, UP, West Bengal and Bihar have also bestowed their highest awards on him.

He taught at Aligarh Muslim University and at Jamia Millia Islamia for more than four decades and was a regular participant at literary Festivals and seminars held in Pakistan, UK, USA, UAE, Mauritius and other countries.

His departure marks the end of a momentous era in Urdu literature. Eminent critic and former President of the Sahitya Akademi, Professor Gopi Chand Narang described him as an erudite critic and scholar who expanded the frontiers of Urdu criticism. Ashok Vajpayee referred to him as a critic with unfailing empathy and sharp insights and concluded that he was the spokesman of our plural culture, a genial civilised human being in these murderous times.

Nasir Abbas Naiyer, prominent bilingual critic from Pakistan, said that Shamim Hanafi had produced nuanced and insightful studies of Ghalib, Iqbal, Manto, Qurratul Ain Haider and Intizar Hussain. He meticulously spelt out the contours of new poetic idiom and his writings mapped out new terrains of cultural studies in Urdu.

Shamim Hanafi was deeply perturbed by bigotry and hatred as they reduced the cities to uninhabitable places:

A strange voice whispers in my earsCities can no longer stay inhabited.

Shafey Kidwai is a Professor at the Department of Mass Communication, Aligarh Muslim University.

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