“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.