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Friday, July 25, 2008

4. Mir Amman, the first thriller-writer in Urdu

This is a series of blogs about the creation and philosophy of Pakistan and its key actors. These accounts are based on historical facts and references are linked at the bottom.
Mir Amman of Delhi wrote Bagh-o-Bahar, or the Tale of the Four Dervishes in simple Urdu in 1803. The same year, the Mughal Emperor accepted protection of the British East India Company. The Muslim political rule in India was over.

In the twenty years from 1807 to 1826 we find a growing interest in Urdu prose and most of this activity can be traced back to the influence of Amman’s work. Since Amman had been commissioned by John Borthwick Gilchrist of Fort William College, Calcutta, his purpose had been to adjust this classic tale of Persian (already translated into flowery Urdu some thirty years ago) to the tastes of the British officers. Was it in some uncanny manner a way of acquiring freedom of imagination at a time when political freedom could not be preserved? And using the conquerors in acquiring such freedom!

Regardless of how much of the work was Amman’s own and how much of it ought to be credited to the previous writers of Persian and stylized Urdu, Bagh-o-Bahar presents a symbolic portrait of a society temporarily suffering from chaos and disorder but inwardly brimming with hope and a certain belief that order and glory shall return. Here we find nobles and princes turned into dervishes, fortunes overturned suddenly, and good times prophesied by the spirit of Ali, the cousin of Prophet Muhammad and the acclaimed founder of Sufism.

The plot-structure is intricate. Four dervishes narrate their tales. Each is a wealthy heir suffering from a reversal of fortune. Each has been guided by Ali, who has prophesied that afflictions shall be over and the order restored when the King of Istanbul (the highest seat of Muslim power) joins the company of dervishes. It is difficult not to read a secret message embedded in this storyline: spiritual reconstruction of society.

Interestingly, this first “thriller” of Urdu prose was based on a Persian classic commonly attributed to Amir Khusro, one of the greatest Sufi writers of all times who lived in the 13th Century. The plot thickens?

Next Installment: Mirza Ghalib, the Secrets of the Self

You can find out more about Mir Amman of Delhi at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mir_Amman while a nineteenth century English translation of Bagh-O-Bahar can be downloaded from http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/12370
or an online resource visited at
http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00urdu/baghobahar

2 comments:

  1. Greetings,

    What an intriguing figure.

    All good wishes,

    robert

    ReplyDelete