First lecture in Languages in History Series
October 31 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm
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Since time immemorial, India and Iran have had civilizational contacts and their languages played a vital role to enrich their civil societies. In the early medieval period, the Indian Panchatantra provided a literary nucleus to Iran to develop its vast literary corpus whose lives swelled into the Kalilag wa Dimnag, the 1001 Nights, the Masnavis of Rudaki and Rumi, etc. The medieval and early modern South Asia saw the emergence of a Persianate society in its heartland gifted with all forms of art. The Indian poetic gardens appeared prominently in the artistic landscape of the country. The cultural map of India was dotted with poetic centers and attracted poets from as far as the Euphrates and the Tigris and the Amu Draya and the Syr Darya to the Indus, the Yamuna and the Ganges. The Gangetic plain became fertile with the poetic seeds of wisdom of Persia. In the Indian Summer, Persian poets like Amir Khosro, Faizi, Bedil, Ghalib and Iqbal began to chirp their distinct notes. This Persian poetry was of the Indians, for the Indians, and by the Indians and it came to be recognized as Sabk-i-Hindi or Indian style of Persian. Mirza Ghalib appeared on the literary scene of early modern India in the first half of the 19th century. Centuries old Indo-Persian poetic essence percolated into his Persian and Urdu works. His literary oeuvres reveal his life and times and art and articulation with a vehement emotion. The life and letters of Ghalib show us 19th century India. Undoubtedly, History has recorded it in its annals but the literary genius of Ghalib creates motifs on Indian canvas, fills color in the physical map of India and develops prospective and space for 21st century Indians not only to see the rise and fall of empires in 19th century India but also celebrate the beauty of syncretism of Indian culture. All the major poetic forms: poems, odes and lyrics are speaking pictures in the album of Ghalib. They reveal to us the decadent Mughal Empire falling like the house of cards and paramount Britain engulfing north India as time marched on, the old rang in the new. The poet sings the swan song of Indo-Persian poetry in the twilight of Delhi. One of his pupils thus lamented at his burial: Dehk lo aaj pher na dekhoge Ghalib i bemisal ki sorat ( Lo, for never thou shalt see the face of the one and the only Ghalib). Ghalib died in the year 1869 but still South Asia resonates with the sweetest songs of the poet that tell of saddest thought.
Syed Akhtar Husain is Professor in the Centre of Persian and Central Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. During his academic career, he has published thirty four articles in leading journals of Persian studies in India and abroad, and has two books to his credit. He has recently co-edited a volume–Essays on the Arabian Nights–published by IIC. He is actively engaged in literary activities all over India. As President of Indo Persian Studies, he has organized five international conferences and three Summer Schools for students of Persian studies in various parts of India. He has represented his university at national and international academic fora where he presented on aspects of Persian language and literature. He has delivered several lectures at the Academic Staff Colleges of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Calcutta University. He is on the editorial boards of international journals such as The Iran Namag, department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilization, University of Toronto, Canada, and Journal of Epic Research, Payam-i-Noor University, Taft, Iran.