Qadirnama: a juvenile versified bilingual dictionary by Ghalib
FRANCIS Bacon once wrote: “We see then how far the monuments of wit and learning are more durable than the monuments of power, or of the hands. For have not the verses of Homer continued twenty-five hundred years, or more, without the loss of a syllable or letter, during which time infinite palaces, temples, castles, cities have been decayed or demolished?.”
Even 145 years after his death, Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1897-1869), one of the greatest poets of Urdu, keeps on growing in stature and popularity. Both his Urdu poetry and Urdu prose have stood the test of time, though meanwhile many monuments were destroyed and many a government was toppled. Though he took pride in his Persian poetry, and is still considered a major Persian poet of the subcontinent, it is Ghalib’s Urdu poetry and Urdu letters that have made him immortal. But in the glare of his Urdu poetry and prose some of his other works have been eclipsed and Qadirnama is one of them.
One of the reasons for it being ignored or less-known is, perhaps, the fact that Qadirnama is a work intended for children: it is a versified dictionary that explains the meanings of Persian words in Urdu. Though it consists of only about 125 couplets or so, its importance can be gauged by the fact that it is a part of the old tradition of writing Nisabnama, or textbook, for children. Nisabnama, apparently a kind of poem, was in fact a versified bilingual dictionary. It usually consisted of 200 couplets that explained Arabic words into Persian. The purpose was to help students learn Arabic. Such Nisabnama were quite common in Persian in the 13th century and later eras. Abu Nasr Farahi is believed to have written the first Arabic-Persian Nisabnama of its kind. This tradition took root in the subcontinent and some Persian-Urdu Nisabnamas were composed. Khaliq Bari, a Persian-Urdu Nisabnama, or a versified dictionary for children, was penned in the era of Mughal emperor Jahangir and is considered to be the first of its kind. Though many believed, and many scholars still do so, that Khaliq Bari was written by Ameer Khusrau, Hafiz Mahmood Sherani disagreed. Whether penned by Khusrau or not, Khaliq Bari proved to be the first drop of rain and we find a steady flow of Persian-Urdu Nisabnamas in the 17th century and in the following centuries. This continued till early part of the 20th century and some multi-lingual Nisabnamas were written, some of them included English vocabulary with Arabic, Persian and Urdu.
So, Ghalib’s Qadirnama is very much rooted in history and is a sample of something which is now out of fashion and favour, but it is not without Ghalib’s usual wit and mastery. First published in 1854, Qadirnama once remained a subject of research study because a great Ghalib-scholar like Ghulam Rasool Mehr was sceptic about its genuineness and doubted that it was written by Ghalib. In his landmark work on Ghalib titled Ghalib, Ghulam Rasool Mehr wrote: “A copy of Qadirnama printed in 1873 is housed in the Punjab University library. The publisher claims that it is written by Ghalib, but I doubt it”. In the footnotes, he referred to Maulvi Abdul Haq and Malik Ram, and said that they believed on the basis of some innate and inherent evidences that it was penned by Ghalib but he (Mehr) could not know of those evidences.
But Mehr did not describe any other reason for his doubt. Later, Malik Ram wrote an article and explained the evidences on the basis of which he had declared that Qadirnama was genuinely Ghalib’s creation. When Ghalib’s 100th death anniversary was commemorated in 1969, Punjab University published all of Ghalib’s Urdu and Persian writings and it included Qadirnama. Compiled and annotated by Dr Muhammad Baqar, this edition included an intro by the compiler. But Dr Shaukat Sabzwari took exception to Dr Baqar’s notes and objected to some parts of the text edited by him. Despite some reservations about some errors in the text, both Dr Baqar and Dr Sabzwari agreed to Malik Ram’s notion that Qadirnama was Ghalib’s creation.
Now Idara-i-Yadgar-i-Ghalib (IYG) has published a new edition of Qadirnama, which was launched last week to coincide with the death anniversary of Ghalib. The text published by the IYG is based on the text edited and published by Tehseen Sarvari in 1959. It includes Tehseen Sarvari’s foreward and also the three papers written by Malik Ram, Dr Baqar and Dr Sabzwari. An introduction sums up the entire background.
The fact that Qadirnama was published twice in Ghalib’s lifetime is so clear an evidence that it removes every shadow of doubt as to whether it is Ghalib’s creation or not. Ameer Meenai, a contemporary of Ghalib, too, had mentioned Qadirnama as Ghalib’s work in his Tazkira-i-Intikhab-i-Yadgar.
Indeed Qadirnama is an interesting piece but, as Tehseen Sarvari has written, the fact that it is written by Ghalib is enough to rouse interest and to convince us that it is an important work.