Literary Notes: Online information on Urdu literature may be misleading
Although information technology is a boon for anyone looking for any kind of information, it may well be a bane when it comes to searching correct online information on Urdu literature and language. Information available on the net may be incomplete, or even sometimes inaccurate.
The problem is that the cyber-world, generally speaking, has no gates, no boundaries, no watchmen and no editors. On the other hand, in print media, or other conventional forms of publishing, there is almost always a minimal threshold, which one has to pass before one’s filed copies get printed.
On the internet, there is an absolute lack of any authority that may decide what is fit to be published and what is not. As a result, anybody can post online information regardless of its accuracy, decency and suitability. Sometimes contents are removed forcibly, but only after people have seen it, and have, probably, been misguided.
What is more concerning is the fact that many students and common readers (and, I am sorry to add, even some editors working in mainstream print media) have such a great faith in online information that they simply refuse to believe anything which is not verifiable online.
In reality many pieces of information on Urdu language and literature available online have errors or are incomplete.
This is not to say that all or most of the online information about Urdu is incorrect, but, as a recent study carried out in the US found, many Google searches may not reflect the actual recommendations of experts in the field on issues even as serious as health.
As for Urdu, students (and editors!) must remember that Urdu is a domain that is relatively less explored in the cyber-world and some of its areas remain virtually unknown to those contributing online.
While we cannot, legally or morally, stop someone from writing something, we must be careful about what we read online. For example, some websites, while describing the life and works of an Urdu author, do not give the complete list of their literary works. And if you tell someone who relies heavily on the net that the writer in question has written some other pieces, too, they do not agree simply because “it’s not on the net”.
There are hundreds of authors of Urdu and thousands of Urdu books on which not a bit of information is available on the net. Will you deny their existence just because the net has nothing to tell you about them?
The examples of inaccurate and misleading online information on Urdu language and literature abound, but only a handful can be presented here. These are taken from just one website:
•Wikipedia says in its article titled Mirza Hadi Ruswa that Umrao Jan Ada was “published in 1905”, but even a student of Urdu literature knows that Ruswa’s book appeared in 1899. Interestingly, the article on Umrao Jan Ada on the same website quotes the year correctly.
•The said article wrongly states that Umrao Jan Ada “is considered by many as the first Urdu novel”, whereas in the field of Urdu research the real debate is whether or not Nazeer Ahmed’s Miraat-ul-aroos, written in 1869, be considered Urdu’s first novel, since some researchers believe that Khat-i-taqdeer a novel written by Munshi Kareemuddin in 1862 is Urdu’s first ever novel. The online article does not bother to inform who those “many” are who consider Umrao Jan Ada Urdu’s first novel — and by what standards.
•Moulvi Abdul Haq’s correct date of birth has been an issue and several scholars have mentioned different dates. But the issue was settled once and for all when the facsimile of Moulvi Abdul Haq’s application for arms licence was published in August 1962 issue of Ham qalam, a literary magazine published from Karachi. In that application form Moulvi Sahib himself had mention, in his own handwriting, his date of birth as August 20, 1870. It is the date inscribed on his tombstone at Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu’s backyard in Karachi. But Wikipedia says his date of birth is November 16, 1872. •According to Malik Ram, one of the most celebrated researchers of Urdu, Akber Allahabadi, the famous humour poet, died on September 9, 1921. But Wikipedia thinks it is February 15.
A number of websites on Urdu literature are run by amateurs who simply do not care about crosschecking the facts. They sometimes gather scraps of information from different sources and cobble them together without bothering to evaluate or verify them; which could be incorrect.
Students must remember that books, literary magazines and research journals are still the most authentic sources on Urdu literature and language. Some websites reproduce these sources in image forms and they should be preferred.