LITERARY NOTES: Reprint galore as Urdu publishers turn to classics | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

LITERARY NOTES: Reprint galore as Urdu publishers turn to classics

Pakistan Press Foundation

IT has become something of a ritual to complain about dying reading habits. Urdu publishers say that now books don’t sell and people do not read anymore. However, talk to someone interested in reading and you will have to bear with the laments about all the substandard material being published these days. Hardly any new Urdu book worth reading is published now, and if at all, the price is exorbitantly high, literature buffs moan.

Urdu publishing scene in Pakistan is not very rosy these days as good new works are far and few between. New writers and poets are particularly considered hopeless. The collections of poetry by “young and promising poets” are usually self-published or self-financed and are given away complimentarily because they don’t sell well. In fact they don’t sell at all.

The arrival of Urdu software a couple of decades ago got us rid of the notoriously slow and error-prone kaatib, or calligrapher, who handwrote the manuscript for the press. So, publishing a book became ridiculously easy, that is, if one had a few thousand rupees to spend. But on the downside, it opened the floodgates for works of literature that can be labelled only as so-so, if put mildly. Hence began in Urdu publishing an era of what is called ‘vanity publishing’ in the west: a book that satisfies the ego of the writer, although it may not be quite up to the mark.

Though vanity publishing existed in Urdu before, a computer with Urdu software unleashed in everyone a desire to become an author. One feels that these days most of the Urdu publishing houses should be named The Vanity Press.

Perhaps the writers themselves are to blame for it: they don’t work hard enough and try to achieve their non-existent greatness through publicity and public relations. The publishers have no choice but to either ask writers to pay for getting published or turn to some blockbusters from the past, just as the movie makers have resorted to remakes.

Urdu classics and some bestsellers from not-so-distant past sell quite well as a market exists for such works, which proves people do read. In recent past we have seen a steady flow of reprints of some famous works of the yonder years. Many Urdu publishers both from India and Pakistan are now engaged in reprinting classics or bestsellers on regular basis.

For instance, Oxford University Press (OUP) has been publishing selections from Urdu verse for some time and is now publishing some selected prose works as well. Mullah Wahidi’s Dilli ka Phaira, Noon Meem Rashid’s Jadeed Farsi Shaeri, Safia Akhter’s Zer-i-lub, Pitras Bukhari’s Pitras ke mazaameen, Ghulam Abbas’s Jazeera-i-Sukhanvaran, Sarshar’s Alf laila, Salma Haqqee’s Shaheedan-i-Vafa ka Khoon Baha Kya, Tilism-i-Hoshruba, Dastan-i-Ameer Hamza, works of Manto and selected Urdu short stories are some of the works that OUP has come up with.

Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu, a literary organisation established in 1903, has also published some new editions of older books in addition to some new titles. Anjuman has recently reprinted Mulla Wahidi’s Dilli ki Chand Ajeeb Hastiyaan, Mulla Wajahi’s Subrus, Aziz Hamid Madani’s Jadeed Urdu Shaeri (two volumes), Moulvi Abdul Haq’s Qavaed-i-Urdu and Divan-i-Ghalib edited by Kalidas Gupta Reza.

Majlis-e-Taraqqi-e-Adab has been engaged in publishing Urdu classics since its inception. Many of its publications have now run into second and third editions. Some of such works are Nazeer Ahmed’s Taubat-un-Nusooh, Jameel Jalibi’s Tareekh-i-Adab-e-Urdu, Abdul Haleem Sharar’s Firdous-i-Bareen, Najmul Ghani Rampuri’s Behr-ul-Fasahat, Shibli Naumani’s Mavazna-i-Anees-o-Dabeer, Kulliyat-i-Meer, Maqalaat-i-Sir Syed and Divan-i-Ghalib edited by Imtiaz Ali Khan Arshi.

In fact Divan-i-Ghalib and Kulliyyaat-i-Iqbal are among those evergreen Urdu books that have never been out of print. Recently National Book Foundation (NBF) published a few new editions of both the classics and priced them quite reasonably. The NBF has also reprinted Noor-ul-Lughaat and Jameel Jalibi’s Pakistani Culture.

Idara-i-Yadgar-i-Ghalib has reprinted Ghalib ka Mansookh Divan, Ghalib’s Qadir nama, Altaf Hussain Hali’s Yadgar-i-Ghalib, Malik Ram’s Talamiza-i-Ghalib, Sialkoti Mal Varasta’s Mustalahat-i-Shuara, Ameer Meenai’s Sanamkhan-i-Ishq’ and Jafer Thanesri’s Kala Pani.

Recently Poorab Academy, Islamabad, reprinted Imdad Imam Asar’s Kashif-ul-Haqaeq, Masood Hasan Rizvi Adeeb’s Hamari Shaeri, Altaf Hussain Hali’s Muqaddama-i-Sher-o-Shaeri and, yes, Shibli’s Mavazna-i-Anees-o-Dabeer. The emphatic comeback of Shibli’s Mavazna surprises one. An edition from India too was published a few years ago.

Some other reprints that have appeared during the last few years include Rubayyaat-i-Anees edited by Taqi Abedi, Shamsur Rahman Farooqi’s Shear-i-Shor Angez, Jaame-ul-Qavaed by Abul Lais Siddiqi and Ghulam Mustafa Khan (in two volumes) and Tazkra-i-Jalva-i-Khizr by Safeer Bilgirami. Itr-i-Fitna, a collection of Mr Dehlvi’s humorous and satirical poetry, has been reprinted with some additional verses.

Some of the Urdu classics that Indian publishers have marketed include Behr-ul-Fasahat, Noor-ul-Lughaat, Bagh-o-Bahar, Fasan-i-Ajaaib, Gulzar-i-Naseem, Sehr-ul-Bayan and many more.

Patna’s Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Library has taken the lead in reprinting by publishing entire volumes of some literary journals in addition to reprinting rare works such as Tazkra-i-Mashaheer-i-Kakori, Qaamoos-ul-Mashaheer and Jog Bashist, the Urdu translation of Dara Shikoh’s Minhaaj-us-Saalikeen.

Reprinting classics and bestsellers is simply wonderful as many works that were previously out of print are now available. Students, common readers and scholars benefit from them alike. It proves that people want to read and do buy books. The problem is that the new writers just do not come up to the expectations of the readers. And one of the reasons for their lacking is not having read the classics. One hopes these new editions of classics will help new entrants sharpen their skills.