Gopi Chand Narang (pic with caption courtesy gopichandnarang.com) and his alleged plagiarism has shaken the world of Urdu literature. Several questions have been raised on Narang's award-winning book Sakhtiyat, Pas-i-Sakhtiyat Aur Mashriqi Shi’riyat (Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, and Eastern Poetics). The issue was taken up by C M Naim, after it was first vigorously brought up by Imran Shahid Bhinder.
C M Naim’s (pic courtesy Azra Raza) arguments are clumsy and faltered on factual counts and unwittingly he is caught on the wrong foot. Naim’s problem is that he has not read Narang’s book from cover to cover. Needless to say it is an integrated book of more than six hundred pages but poor Naim zeroes in on the first 200 odd pages and that too against the backdrop of exaggerated allegations made by a motivated academically naive third party. That is why he had to revise time again what he had written earlier.
Having been away from home for too long to teach elementary Urdu to US students, it now appears that Naim needs a complete honing up of his Urdu as will be shown later, but before I take that up, let me put first things first.
1. Basing his assertions on hearsay and distorted information passed on by others, Naim lately has raised the sensitive issue of censorship and black mailing the publisher of Jadeed Adab. Only an extremely irresponsible person would hurl such a wild allegation in the absence of any first hand information. Naim always has been on a slippery ground but this time he enters the realm of pure speculation bordering on blasphemy. To expose the absurdity of such an allegation and to nail down the lie, the statement issued by the publisher is being reproduced below:
Educational Publishing House (3108, Gali Azizuddin Vakil, Kucha Pandit, Lal Kuan, Delhi-110006), publisher of Jadeed Adab has recently issued a statement clarifying that “The Journal is being regularly published by us, and to say that Prof. Gopi Chand Narang has black-mailed us and stopped its publication is not only baseless but absurd. We categorically contradict and condemn any such charge. The journal is appearing without any interruption.”
(Sd/- Mustafa Kamal Pasha)
5 September 2009.
Obviously this does not need any further comment. C M Naim’s other charges are also of the same nature.
2. Naim has once again quoted Narang’s response from Nand Kishore Vikram’s book, though based on a tertiary source as pointed out earlier. Needless to say he has yet not seen the original book which is easily available. It is naive to think that Narang has said this in self-defence. If one knows Urdu well and can appreciate the wider nuances of Narang’s words, it is a statement where in all humility he is saying that he was not born with all this information which he shares with his readers. He has gleaned up, culled, derived, adapted and abridged it and assimilated it to make it understandable in a language that lacks strict theoretical discipline and rigour. Naim with his ostensible prejudice turns it upside down to suit his purpose. Furthermore, akhz-o-qabool and ifham-o-tafheem in Urdu are phrases with wider semantic implications and mere literal translations of separate words cannot do justice to the full range of meanings. Much before Vikram’s book Narang has said all this very clearly in the Preface of his book (Pp. 11, 13, 14, 1993). He has even gone to the extent of issuing a disclaimer that all what he has presented belongs to the thinkers, philosophers, theorists and experts; the shortcomings if any are his but the credit for the discourse goes to the thinkers. The concepts and ideas are of the others only the interpretation and communication in Urdu is his. Narang also said that he was enlisting all the sources comprehensively so that the inquisitive reader should go to the authorities. (P.14, 1993). These statements read with the reply in the interview, the Dedication lines and the chapter-wise bibliographies are more than enough to prove that how ill- founded and ill- conceived the campaign against Narang has been.
3. Naim’s discussion on Saussure and Christopher Norris is also misleading. A couple of pages before coming to this point Narang has introduced Norris’ book to the reader as one of the best expositions of theory. Norris also finds mention in the bibliography with an asterisk underscoring the point that Narang has used this source. Then follows the discussion on the subtle point of how language constructs reality independent of others. To illustrate the point to his reader, Narang besides citing examples from French, German, and English etc. from the original and driving the point home to his oriental reader ropes in ample examples not only from Urdu, Persian and Arabic but also from Hindi, Punjabi, Marathi and Bengali. All this obviously is beyond the range of Naim. In his awful hurry to join issue with Narang, Naim cites two sets of examples and in a show of pedantry he again falters forgetting that by doing so he is contradicting his own charge of plagiarism as he unwittingly admits that all this interpretation is Narang’s. Further, he also fails to appreciate the crux of Saussure’s arguments that there is no essentiality between word and meaning, and every language constructs meaning arbitrarily and independently by a system of differentiation.
4. Naim’s assertion about Wittgenstein is also equally flawed. Since he has not read the whole book, he does not know that Wittgenstein also finds mention on page 37 in chapter 1. While on page 219, the reference is to Philosophical Investigations, the reference in chapter 1 is toTractatus Logico – Philosophicus. Both the books are fully cited. Perhaps only a person of myopic vision can not see. Furthermore, in the same chapter elaborating the implications of ‘logos’ as discussed by Derrida, Narang alludes to both the Sanskrit and the Arabic traditions. Discussing the wider implications of Vak in the Indian tradition he has cited Bhartrihari’s giving three stages of Vani or Saraswati in Vakyapadya, i.e.,Vaikhri, Madhyma and Pashyanti (Para / Pratibha, P. 209). For Naim and his “academic greenhorns” all this must also be derived from the western sources.
5. One does not understand why Naim derides Norris, Culler, and Selden etc. by describing them as mere commentators. Even an ordinary student of literature knows that be it Kalidasa, Shakespeare, or Ghalib, their commentaries are as much part of the Kalidasa, Shakespearian or Ghalibian discourse. It is well known that in Sanskrit studies while reading Panini’s Ashtaadhyayi, or Anandavardhana’s Dhvanialoka, equal attention is given to Patanjali’s Mahabhashya and Abhinavagupta’s Dhvanialoka Lochanam. The same is true of the commentaries of Saussure, Derrida, Foucault, etc. They are as much part of the theoretical discourse as the basic texts. Narang dealing with both the oriental and the western traditions has freely and frankly used all sources, and introduced them to his reader. If this is a disservice, then Naim and associates are most welcome to undertake some true service and produce a better book. I know this is beyond their tether.
6. The pinnacle of Narang’s presentation and arguments lie in his constructing and suggesting a model of literary criticism for Urdu (Pp. 565-573). Before embarking on that he has given a candid appraisal of developments how the progressive writers’ movement in Urdu fell prey to its own regimentation and totalitarianism, and later how the project of modernism was hijacked by the neo-classicists and fundamentalists, and shorn of egalitarian agenda, it was reduced to an ennui and turned into a tool of sectarianism and revivalism. Narang believes that the true role of criticism is ‘oppositional’ and in this he derives his strength from Derrida, Foucault and Edward Said. It looks pertinent to reproduce a quote:
“In its suspicion of totalizing concepts, in its discontent with reified objects, in its impatience with guilds, special interests, imperialized fiefdoms, and orthodox habits of mind, criticism is most itself and, if the paradox can be tolerated, most unlike itself at the moment it starts turning into organised dogma.” (Edward Said, P. 496).
The model suggested by Narang has in fact been quite discomforting for the well -entrenched revivalist Urdu establishment. So if their sympathizers attack Narang, it should not come as a surprise.
7. But why Naim of all the people has written with such a vendetta? It might be interesting to note that this is not the first time that he has betrayed this sort of ‘kindness’. The fact is while Narang was at the University of Wisconsin, and his book Readings in Literary Urdu Prose was taken up for publication by the University of Wisconsin Press, incidentally Naim was one of the reviewers. He wrote a scathing review to thwart the publication of the book but that was not to be as the other two reviewers were extremely favourable. The book has gone into many editions and is still popular in foreign universities. It is on the recommended list of Urdu readings in the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University and is generally referred to as ‘Narang Reader’. A very recent reaction of a distinguished former student will not be out of place:
From: Christopher King <email@example.com>
Date: Monday, 24 August, 2009, 11:19 AM
Dear Gopi Chand Narangji,
You will remember that we met again in 2005, …, after having first met so many years ago at the University of Wisconsin.
Your book, Urdu: Readings in Literary Urdu Prose has been such a wonderful aid to me these last few months in learning the Urdu script better and in increasing my Urdu vocabulary. Thank you so much for creating such a useful and 'fun-full' book! I know it was many years ago that you produced it, but thought that you might like to hear from a former student of yours how useful it still is for him.
(Copied to Dr Maula Bakhsh, firstname.lastname@example.org)
The second episode is related to the publication of Narang’s highly debated article “How Not to Read Faiz Ahmad Faiz” in the journalSoughat, Bangalore (1990). Naim again wrote a deriding review trying to tear apart the article which had discussed the clash between the ideological and the aesthetic project in Faiz, and how one cannot be prefaced over the other. Later the article caught on, appearing and reappearing in India and Pakistan, and then in Narang’s Hindi book Urdu par Khulta Dareecha (2005). Recently Dr. Baidar Bakht translated it into English for the journal Indian Literature (IL-249, Jan-Feb 2009). About the nature of this article a recent comment by an unknown discerning reader should suffice:
From: Chander Verma <email@example.com>
Subject: How Not to Read Faiz Ahmad Faiz?
Date: Wednesday, 6 May 2009, 12:42 PM
Read your translated paper which appeared in ‘Indian Literature’ titled "How not to Read Faiz Ahmad Faiz?"
I have no words to admire you for your intellectual work and unusual insight into Faiz Ahmad's poetry. Criticism of this quality is rare and unseen. We are proud to have scholars like you in India.
God Bless you!!
(Copied to Dr Maula Bakhsh, firstname.lastname@example.org)
This would amply show how uncharitable Naim all along has been to Narang. The reasons must be best known to him.
8. But one wonders the timing? Perhaps Naim himself has provided a clue towards the end of his latest note. Shifting his position from plagiarism to culture and education, he has cited the latest honours given to Narang by the Maulana Azad National Urdu University and the Aligarh Muslim University. Perhaps it is the honour by the Aligarh Muslim University that has irked him the most. A friend from Aligarh remarked that Narang received the accolades for his dedication and sustained life long contribution and for his unflinching faith in Urdu but what is the contribution of his adversaries. For that matter if Naim thinks that Aligarh has forgotten his shady deal in the past, he is mistaken. It is well known that way back in the seventies he had invited Prof. A. A. Suroor, Head of the Urdu Department at Aligarh Muslim University to Chicago on the pretext of Ghalib Centenary, and later in return Prof. Suroor invited him to Aligarh Muslim University as a guest lecturer. Since Naim had not completed his Ph.D., he was denied tenure appointment at Chicago. To bail him out, Suroor appointed him to the post of Reader overnight superseding many senior teachers. Using Aligarh’s Readership as a jumping board, within months Naim returned to Chicago assured of his greener pasture. It is quite clear that he not only abused Aligarh’s hospitality but also betrayed the trust of his teacher.
9. Lastly can C M Naim who is exuberating self-righteousness and has tried to assume high moral grounds deny that he has links with an Urdu caucus deeply rooted in fundamentalism? The nucleus is in Allahabad and its overreach in centres outside India. (See: “Adab mein Talibaniat ka Aghaaz aur Adabi Taliban”, in Aalmi Akhbar, dated 29 August 2009)