“A writer’s forte is his freedom of mind. Litterateur’s role ‘mainly’ is oppositional and anti-establishment. A genuine writer’s voice is the voice of his inner self and truth as he sees it. Most writers who display political badges, in fact, want to make mileage in the name of ideology”, points out Gopi Chand Narang, whom Sahitya Akademi elected Fellow, its highest honour, reserved for ‘the immortals of literature’, along with Ramakanta Rath, a modern Odai poet, on 17 February 2009, under the chairmanship of Sunil Gangopadhyay. Narang, one of the twenty one literary luminaries of the nation, occupies a prominent place among the critics and linguists of Urdu for the impressively wide range of his study and research.
One of the outstanding Urdu scholars of India, he was the first in India to apply stylistics and structuralism to literary criticism. Being educated and having taught at a number of esteemed institutions of learning in India and abroad, he has developed a healthy cynicism against those who use Urdu for political gains. Narang has often told to his Pakistani friends “do not politicize a language. Urdu is also one of the national languages of India, and not a natural language of even a single region of Pakistan, from Karachi to Lahore and Peshawar to Quetta”. A Professor of Urdu and a National Fellow, he is a many-sided scholar, writer and literary critic, linguist, academic, theorist, and a guardian as well as entrepreneur of culture.
Recognition has come to him from many sides at the national and international level for his commendable position as a scholar and critic. The Italian government, as part of the bi-centenary celebration of their greatest revolutionary leader Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-72), a utopian idealist, political dreamer, apostle of the democratic evangel, and the prophet of Italian freedom and unity, conferred its precious ‘Mazzini Medal’ for the first time in India on prominent personalities from different walk of life: S. Jaipal Reddy, then Minister for Information and Broadcasting and Culture, Nirmal Deshpande, veteran Gandhian, Amit Mitra, Secretary General, Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Gopi Chand Narang, then President, India’s National Academy of Letters (Sahitya Akademi), Lokesh Chandra, Director, International Academy of Indian Culture, Ravindra Varma, Chairman, Gandhi Peace Foundation, K. Jayakumar, then Joint Secretary, Department of Culture, and Fabian, Former Indian Ambassador to Italy, for their contribution towards knowledge and culture.
To celebrate the bi-centenary all over the world, earlier in the month, an exhibition and a seminar on ‘Italian Resurgence’, was held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi, in the presence of the President of Italy, H.E. Mr. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. Presenting the Medal on 16 March 2005 at the Italian Embassy, Antonio Armellini, then Italian Ambassador to India, said that high level Committee on behalf of the Government of Italy made the selection of eminent Indians and these awards were being given for promoting excellence in democratic and humanistic values. Receiving the award as one of the first recipients, Narang said, “It is extremely gratifying to receive such a prestigious award from a country like Italy, which has such a cultural depth. Mazzini as a hero of freedom always inspired me.”
University of Delhi, in 2005, made him as Emeritus Professor, in recognition of his immense learning. This apart, he was conferred with the second highest civilian award, ‘Padma Bhushan’ (2004) by the Government of India along with Amrita Pritam, Gulzar, Jayant Vishnu Narlikar, Venkatchaliah, Kamath, N. Rajam, and T.N. Sheshgopalam. Receiving the award he said, ‘‘at the field of art and literature calls for a sustained dedication and commitment. I take Sabdavadhana as a part of Tapasya. The real award is the response of the readers. Nonetheless, if recognisition comes from literary bodies or the State it is fulfilling. An award like Padma Bhushan given at the hands of the Rashtrapatiji is certainly a national honour and is gratifying”.
For the year 2003, Narang was awarded ‘Bappu Reddy Jaateeya Sahithi Puraskaram’, a national award, instituted by the Dr. J. Bappu Reddy Literary and Cultural Foundation Trust. “The award is being given to Gopi Chand Narang, a reputed Urdu scholar and literary critic in appreciation of his contribution to modern Indian literature and promotion of national integration as well as propagation of our cherished values”, says the Trust. Narang was also the recipient of the 7th ‘Alaim Farogh e Urdu Adab Award’ along with Shaukar Siddiqui, an eminent writer from Pakistan. Set up in 1996 by Majlis Farogh¬-e Urdu Adab, the award was presented to him in October 2002 at a special function in Doha, Qatar.
Mohammed Atiq, Chairman of the Majlis Board of Patrons, and Mujeebur Rhaman, Founder of the Majlis said in a Press Statement, “We congratulate the winners and renew our pledge to continue serving the cause of promoting Urdu at an international level”, being chosen for the award, Narang said, “Urdu is a cultural idiom par excellence of South Asia. Lately it has been creatively connecting people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the countries of the Gulf. The Majlis Farogh e Urdu of Doha, Qatar, has been doing yeomen service for the promotion of Urdu culture. No words are enough for my sense of gratitude. I am a lover of this idiom and committed to the cause of peace and brotherhood which constitute kernel of this idiom”.
‘Perhaps’ the most noted Urdu literary critic in the subcontinent, he has made a major contribution in developing an epistemological and theoretical framework of literary evaluation by roping in stylistics, structuralism and post-structuralism and Eastern poetics with fine imagination and thoroughness. His works cover a wide range of interest, from the influence of Indian thought and culture on Urdu poetry, and Indian folk tales in Urdu Masnavis to modern Urdu poetry and fiction. His literary criticism is marked by a high degree of originality and depth of thought. A distinguishing feature is his application of stylistics and structuralism to Urdu literary criticism, by which he has provided new insights, and a new interpretation of tradition and modernity in Urdu literature.
Muhiuddin Zore was the first Urdu scholar to take up phonetic analysis of Urdu sound in his treatise in English titled Hindustani Phonetics, published from Paris in 1930, and in Urdu titled Hindustani Lisaniyat in 1993. Masud Hussain Khan had published another treatise in English titled Phonetic and Phonological study of words in Urdu. Besides these two, a number of substantial articles on various aspects of Urdu language and general linguistics were contributed by many other scholars and writers. However, Narang, author of Karkhandari Dialect of Delhi Urdu, has written articles on stylistics, semiotics and socio-linguistic, and established a new school of literary criticism.
Over a period of five decades, his prolific pen, endowed with an awe-inspiring stylistic prowess, slides from one topic to another, with grace and felicity inexhaustible in its intellectual nuances and subtleties, has produced fifty-six books of scholarship, literary and cultural criticism, and linguistic studies, in Urdu, Hindi and English, published in India and abroad. He has written more than 200 articles of brilliant and original research for Indian and foreign journals of U.K, U.S.A, Norway and Czechoslovakia. He knows seven Indian languages including Siraiki, his mother tongue, a blend of western Punjabi, Sindhi, and Pushto. Most of his books have been translated into several Indian languages and been subject of doctoral investigations.
These works fall into two main categories: (a) language and linguistics, and (b) criticism and research. In linguistics, his Karkhandari Dialect of Delhi Urdu and Urdu Ki Talim Ke Lisaniyati Pahlu, both published in 1961, present a perceptive socio linguistic analysis of a neglected speech used by the indigenous workers and artisans of Delhi. His core books: Urdu Ghazal aur Hindustani Zehn-o-Tehzeeb (2000), and Hindustani ki Tehreek-i-Azadi aur Urdu Shairi; are considered as valuable contribution in Urdu cultural studies. Besides, Naranga’s works on Urdu Orthography are very important. His Hindustani Qisson se Makhooz Urdu Masnaviyan, a book of criticism, was published in 1962. It is an important socio cultural study that brings to light the deep involvement of our literature in Indian themes and India’s rich cultural heritage. It won him the ‘Ghalib Prize’, from the U.P. Urdu Academy, as the best research work of the year.
Through structural analysis, Narang has highlighted the poetical trend of the symbolic use of the motifs associated with Karbala for expressing the present day socio political concerns in Saneha e Karbala Bataure She’ri Iste’are (1986). His Saakhinyaat, Pas¬-Saakhitiyaat aur Mashriqi She’iryaat (Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, and Eastern Poetics, 1994), a philosophical and theoretical tour de force of scholarship of Narang, is regarded as a major and significant contribution to literary criticism in Urdu. It is a work of profound thought. It offers in depth analysis of literature and poetics.
The volume provides a real overview on the concept of language and its constructs reality. It also points out how structuralism strikes at the roofs of metaphysical concept of reality. Narang, here, attempts to set up a tripartite dialogue between Sanskrit poetics, Arabic-Persian Poetics and Structuralism, initiates a new model of criticism and stimulates quest for a universal and national identity. “For the vastness of its discourse, its critical examination of various literary paradigms and its polemical rigour, it won him the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1995”, says the Award Citation.
Fiction Sheriyaat: Tashkeel-o-Tanqeed (Poetics of Fiction: Formation and Criticism, 2009), his book on criticism, veritably explores a perceptive discussion on how fiction readjust innate human impulses. The book delineates a close study of eminent fictionists like Premchand, Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chander , Balwant Singh, Intizar Hussain, Gulzar and Sajid Rasheed and makes it clear that ideology, philosophy, history, aesthetics, and linguistics constitute the cultural space from which a piece of literature draws its breath.
Narang’s Amir Khusrau Ka Hindavi Kalam, (Hindavi Poetry of Amir Khusrau, 1987) which unearths a hitherto unknown manuscript of Khusrau’s Hindavi along with the original Khusrau manuscript from Berlin MSS of the Springer Collection, was published by the Amir Khusrau Society, Chicago, in 1987. Its first and second editions in 1991 and the third edition in 1992 were published from Lahore and Delhi, respectively, based on the Hindavi pahelis of the poet. Adabi Tangeed aur Usloobiyaat (1989), his major critical work, has received wide acclaim. His landmark book on cultural studies, Urdu Zaban aur Lisaniyaat (2006), bears testimony of his tremendous sweep in socio-cultural and historical studies. Urdu Language and Literature: Critical Perspective (1991) presents select studies of Narang on Urdu literature, both classical and contemporary. Earlier, his articles on this subject were published in Indian Literature, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Hindustan Times, Indian Poetry, Today, Seminar, and Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. The articles run through a full gamut by touching upon various phases of the development of Urdu as a composite cultural expression of the people in the subcontinent and as one of the most popular vehicles of our national freedom struggle. Urdu Par Khulta Dareecha (2005), the selected articles of Narang, analyses his deep insights into the critical aspects of Urdu studies. The articles touch and suggest the reading of whole gamut of Urdu literature.
The studies include the ghazal, the masnavi, suffism, Ghalib, Iqbal, Faiz, and Firaq Gorakhpuri and also carry a substantial section in Urdu fiction and include his seminal study on the metaphorical and mythical roots of Rajinder Singh Bedi. Besides, there is also a section on Urdu language comprising studies in the place of Urdu in the Three Language Formula, and the development and use of writing system across cultures. Critical attention has also been paid to the unique problems involved in adopting the Semitic-Iranian orthographical model for the indigenous Indo¬-Aryan languages.
As an able editor and compiler, Narang has edited and compiled many books for various institutions of national repute. He has edited the Anthology of Modern Urdu Poetry (1981) for Indian Council for Cultural Relations. He was the Editor, Urdu Section of Masterpieces of Indian Literature, published in 1997 the National Book Trust as a special offering to mark the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of India’s Independence. He has also written Puranon Ki Kahaniyan (1976) in the Dr. Zakir Hussain Series of NBT, which got him a National Award of National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in 1977.
He has edited three volumes of selected stories in the Series of Urdu Fiction for Sahitya Akademi. In Rajinder Singh Bedi: Selected Short Stories (1989), he has attempted to make the anthology fully representative of Bedi’s writings in two genres. Unique in his delineation of female characters, Bedi treats them with a Buddha-like compassion. There are strong suggestive elements in his stories, which link him with the mainstream of the Indian tradition and bring out the Indianness of his stories. It runs through the full gamut by touching upon the various phase of Bedi’s development. Discussing Rajinder Singh Bedi, Narang defines the problems of style in short story writing. He observes that there are three styles in Urdu, employed by Prem Chand, Manto, and Krishna Chander, which are still alive.
In Krishan Chander: Selected Short Stories (1990), the second in the series, Narang has selected six short stories of the author, widely acclaimed as one of the finest in Urdu after Premchand, who protests against the exploitation of man by man, and pleads passionately for harmony and understanding. The third in the series, Balwant Singh: Selected Short Stories (1996) is a collection of 18 short stories of the writer. The book is an attempt to bring Balwant from out of the oblivion and present to the readers some of his best writings. Narang has given an erudite introduction on the Art of Balwant Singh followed by a detailed life sketch of the author.
Besides, Sahitya Akademi has accepted the Anthology of Urdu Short Stories, edited by him for UNESCO’s Collection of Representative Works: Indian Series, for publication. He was the Urdu Editor cum Advisor for the Encyclopedia of Indian Literature (6 volumes), a prestigious publication of the Akademi, comprising surveys of literary movements, trends and notes on established authors and of significant books in 25 Indian languages.
Along with Mary Seidlinger, Narang has compiled A Bibliography of Urdu Short Stories in English Translation, which includes a supplement by her. He has prepared Urdu-teaching materials in English for use at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota. He has also edited two books in Hindi for Sahitya Akademi entitled Balwant Singh Ki Shreshth Kahaniyan (1977) and Samrachnavad, Uttar Samrachnavad even Prachya Kavyashastra (2000). He has written another book in Hindi for the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language entitled Urdu Kaise Likhen (How to Write Urdu, 2001), a method to teach to Urdu for the beginners. It treats as manual for the learners for Urdu script for those who are conversant with spoken Urdu and Hindi and want to learn Urdu script in the shortest time.
In 1981 his Anis Shanaasi came out as an elegantly produced volume along with a collection of critical articles in Urdu Afsana. His criticism in Hindi Urdu Par Khulta Dareecha appeared in 2004. Very recently Karnataka Urdu Academy, Bangalore, has published Dekhna Taqreer Ki Lazzat: Gopi Chand Narang Ke Adabi Mukalamat edited by Mushtaque Sadaf, which is a collection of interviews given by Narang, during his visit in India and abroad. Three volumes in a series, project taken by Khuda Baksh Library, Patna, are in pipe line. The first volume consists of letters of Khwaja Ahmad Faruqui, an eminent writer, poet, and critic, written to Narang. The rest volumes consist of letters from other dignitaries written to Narang, entitled Mashaheer-Banam-Narang.
His formidable scholarship and forceful presentation make his studies a memorable feast for the connoisseur. Alfaz a leading Urdu journal from Aligarh had brought out a special number in his honour in 1987. Manazir Anshiq Harqanavi, a modern poet, who has written free ghazals, has published a book on Narang titled Gopi Chand Narang aur Adabi Nazariya Saazi (1995). Shahryar, who had made a mark as a modernist of the sixties along with Abuyl Kalam Qasmi, edited a book on him entitled Gopi Chand Narang: Shakhsiyat aur Adabi Khidmat (1995). Bihar University, Muzaffarpur, awarded a Ph.D. degree to Hamid Ali Khan in 1962 for his thesis on Gopi Chand Narang: Life and Work, and also published it in 1995.
This apart, ten books have been written on Narang. He is the only Urdu critic from India ‘happens’ to be interviewed by Pakistan T V. Even today Narang is known as the cultural ambassador of India in Pakistan. Shahid Siddiqui, Editor Nai Dunia, an Urdu weekly, comments, “Narang has published a string of pearls during the last three decades. The truth is that in Urdu language there is no other authority today”. As a distinguished writer and linguist critic, Narang has contributed papers and has participated in several Indian and International seminars, conferences, and workshops on language and literature. He participated in the 27th International Orientalists Congress held at Michigan University as delegate of the Government of India (August 1967).
Invited by the Government of Norway, he visited Oslo in August 1981 to address the Writers Union and various literary and cultural organizations. He delivered lectures at the University of California, Arizona, Wisconsin, Chicago, Minnesota, Cornell, Philadelphia, Toronto and London (1982). He participated in the International Forum on Nuclear Disarmament and Peace in Moscow, and visited Central Asia, and delivered lectures in Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkent in 1986. He was a delegate at the Asian Literary Perspectives Conference, Washington D.C., (April 1997).
The rare intellectual was born on 1 January 1931 in a small village Dukki in Baluchistan (now in Pakistan). After his schooling in Leiah, he planned to study agriculture at the Agricultural College, Faisalabad. But he abandoned that plans. The young ‘cultural refugee’ then came to India in 1946 to pursue higher studies and obtained his M.A. in Urdu with Persian honours in 1954, as well as a Diploma in Linguistics. Narang was awarded Ph.D. in 1958 from the University of Delhi. With a highly distinguished educational background, he was offered a teaching job in the same year at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.
After a brief stint in the college, he joined the University of Delhi in 1961 as Reader. He became a Visiting Professor of Urdu Language and Literature at two American Universities, Wisconsin and Minnesota (1963¬-65). During his stay, he completed his Post-Doctoral courses in Acoustic Phonetics and Transformational Grammar at Indiana University, USA in 1964. Thereafter he joined as Professor of Urdu in Jamia Millia Islamia where he taught till 1986.
Narang rejoined University of Delhi in July 1986 as a Professor of Urdu and was serving till his retirement in 1995. Besides, he was twice Visiting Professor at the South Asia Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, U.S.A. for some time during 1968 70, and at the Department of East European and Oriental studies, Norway University, Oslo, in the Fall Semester, 1997.
Narang is the recipient of numerous awards and honours, including a ‘Padma Shri’ in 1990; ‘President of Pakistan Special Gold Medal’ for his work on the poetry of Iqbal in 1977, ‘National Educational Council Award’ in 1979 in recognition of his work spanning over more than fifteen books published at home and abroad; the ‘Ghalib Award’ of Ghalib Institute, New Delhi, for lifetime achievement in 1985; ‘Urdu Hindi Sahitya Committee Academy of Urdu Language and Literature Award’, Toronto in 1987; Urdu Academy Award’, Delhi, for literary scholarship and criticism in 1993; ‘Rajiv Gandhi Award for Excellence in Secularism’ by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Kanpur Chapter, 1994; ‘Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Award’ of U.P. Urdu Academy for literary service in 1994; ‘Maikash Award and ‘Khalsa Tercentenary Award’, both in 2000.
There is hardly any Urdu forum that has not honoured him. In recognition of his academic distinction, he was selected for a number of Fellowships: ‘Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship’, for Residency at Bellagio Study Centre, Italy (1997); ‘Fellow’ of the Royal Asiatic Society, London (1963 72); and ‘Commonwealth Fellowship’ for research in U.K. (1963). He was awarded a ‘Ford Foundation Grant’ to attend the Linguistic Institute, Indiana University (1964). He held a Senior Fellowship of the Department of Culture, Government of India (1998-99); and was also awarded the Indira Gandhi Fellowship, IGNCA (2002).
He has occupied several distinguished offices like Vice Chancellor (Acting) for a short period in 1981; Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Languages (1981 82); and Director, Urdu Correspondence Course (1975 85) in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi; Vice Chairman, Urdu Academy, Delhi (1996 99). Narang has also been associated with number of literary and academic bodies: Member, All India Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu (1973-92); Member, Executive Board and General Council, Sahitya Akademi (1983-92) and its Vice-President (1998-2002); and Vice Chairman, National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language, Ministry of Human Resources Development (2002-2003); Fellow, UGC (1992-95); Member, Urdu Advisory Board, NBT (since 2000); Member, Trust, NBT (1992-2003), President (2002-07) Sahitya Akademi, the biggest literary body in India, which oversees 25 languages.
Besides, he is associated with a number of Indian and foreign literary and learned bodies in different capacities and with activities in the field of Urdu literature and language at regional, national and international levels. One of his lifelong obsessions has been to show the people of India and convince them beyond the slightest shadow of doubt that "Urdu is not only one of the finest products of the composite Indian culture but also the most important binding force for the people of this country and perhaps the strongest vehicle of national integration”. He believes that the plurality of India is inscribed in its variegated languages. Narang maintains that Urdu as a highly cultivated and sophisticated idiom, is like a linguistic Taj Mahal among Indian languages and is a great source of strength for Hindi.
To him Urdu has been the language of inter faith harmony and has served as a common bridge between religious in India: Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim right from Ameer Khusro to Prem Chand, Firaq Gorokhpuri and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. According to him Urdu is not the language of Muslims. If at all there is any language of Muslims, it should be Arabic. Urdu belongs to the composite culture of India. Hindi and Urdu are, he opines, supplementing and complementing. Like sisters they are strengthening each other. Narang is, at present, busy in writing history of Urdu literature and structuralism, a contemporaneous and unparalleled one, at par with the work done in French, German and English, which deals with post-modernist and post-Marxist structuralism.