By Adab Nawaz, New Age Islam
18 July 2013
The 20th century Urdu poet Ustad Rasa Dehlvi must be turning in his grave. He is being presented, of all the places, in school textbooks, as someone who had perfected the art of abusing. Prescribed in Urdu textbook for class 9 and published by Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, writer Khaliq Anjum’s essay on Dehlvi, apart from praising the poet, thus encourages others to learn abuses: “After listening to his abuses, I am convinced that if one acquires complete command over abuses and God bestows upon him the ability to use those abuses effectively, the expression becomes extraordinary…I wish I could have acquired mastery over it.”
It is not just this misguiding material in the Urdu textbook that has unsettled many scholars. They are protesting several other serious mistakes in the textbook which they feel, if not withdrawn, will defeat the very purpose of learning and education. In fact, Mumbai-based Arabic-Urdu scholar Dr Shafi Shaikh is so baffled by dozens of factual, grammatical and contextual lapses in this 112-page textbook that he has compiled all of them in a separate book. Titled A pack of mistakes, negligence, ignorance and lapses, Dr Shaikh’s book exposes the casualness and irresponsibility on the part of the team which prepared it. “One could have ignored them had they been mere printer’s devils or just a few minor mistakes. The book reeks of editorial team’s utter ignorance about Urdu language, its poetic nuances and Islamic history,” says Dr Shaikh. “I felt compelled to point out those mistakes as part of my duty to students and many teachers who might get misguided by it.”
The mistakes are of several natures, from wrong usage of the phrases to messing up with original texts and couplets of noted writers and poets to committing blasphemy. The popular Urdu-Hind phrase unglion par nachaana has been turned into ungli par nachaana. This seems a minor lapse when the beautiful word Baad-e-Bahaari (spring breeze) is written as Hello Bihari. But perhaps the “gem” in the textbook is famous humourist Patras Bukhari’s piece Sawere Jo Aankh Meri Khuli (When my eyes opened in the morning) where Shakespeare’s famous character Lady Macbeth has been identified as Lady Lekith. “The widely read Bukhari could never have done it as it is also proved by his original piece where he correctly writes Lady Macbeth. It seems the team which prepared this book has perhaps never heard of either Shakespeare or Macbeth,” comments scholar-poet Shamim Tariq who first protested these lapses through his recent weekly column in Urdu daily The Inquilab.
Some of the mistakes, say scholars, are blasphemous. In a couplet of Mirza Salamat Dabeer, Imam Hussain, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, has been described as guardian of the Prophet’s izzat (honour). The right word in the couplet, as Dabeer penned it, is itrat (relatives), not izzat (honour). “The poet originally painted Imam Hussain as guardian of the Prophet’s relatives. But replacing itrat with izzat completely changed the meaning. This is blasphemy,” says Zubair Azmi, director of Dongri-based think-tank Urdu Markaz where the issue was discussed a few weeks ago. Different delegations even met minster of state for education Fauzia Khan and minority affairs minister Naseem Khan who predictably promised to do the needful.
The textbook messes with essays and poems of many noted writers and poets long dead—Bukhari, Ghalib, Meer, Iqbal. It doesn’t spare even the living ones. Mumbai-based progressive poet Zafar Gorakhpuri’s acclaimed poem Maan (Mother) has got mercilessly mutilated. In Maa, the word tera (your) has been turned into tara and par (at) into pe. Worse, a word in a couplet has been completely deleted. “I am shocked at this ignorance and negligence. The young impressionable minds will learn my poem with these mistakes. They should be purged immediately,” suggests Gorakhpuri who served as a school teacher for over three decades and was once even appointed as an expert to oversee the preparation of Urdu textbooks for schools in the state. “Till two decades ago, well qualified academicians would prepare textbooks. Now carelessness mars both selection and editing of texts in school books,” adds Gorakhpuri.