When I first saw Syed Mahmood Kazmi at the Maulana National Urdu University campus some time back, I was intrigued. The first thing that came to mind was that the gentleman could be ‘show piece’ to give the message that MANUU was also following the government guidelines in appointing differently abled persons. But slowly I got to know him through his colleagues and then by speaking to him briefly on different occasions. I found him to be an immensely knowledgeable and articulate person. I decided to speak with him for siasat.com.
The surroundings of the first meeting were tinged with disappointment. Kazmi is head of the department of Translation Studies. Next to his office is a washroom (urinal could be another word for it) for men and opposite it there is one for women. There is also a water cooler near the washrooms for the girls that is mostly crowded by the students. They come there, drink water and spend a few minutes chatting.
Do the room of Kazmi or the one next to that where another teacher Faheemuddin Ahmad sits need to be so close to the washrooms or the water cooler?
No. The University administration should immediately shift washrooms or the rooms of the teachers from that place.
There is also another point that was distressing. Looking out of the windows in that lobby I could see the wilderness filled with dried grass and other plants that shows that the University management does not think of keeping the place neat, clean and attractive. Sad.
Now back to the subject I had gone to MANUU campus.
Kazmi was born in a well known family in a qasba close to the historic and perhaps the biggest city in Uttar Pradesh Allahabad. Its name was changed in recent times by the BJP government of Yogi Adityanath to Prayagraj.
The 1968 born Kazmi was struck by polio when he was about four years of age. That was the beginning of a long arduous struggle. But hats off to his determination and the support he received from his family that he could continue his journey without any major interruption. Amazingly, the effect of the setbacks he has gone through could not be traced while talking to him. He was smiling, laughing and cutting jokes before, during and after the interview. He did not show any signs of the difficulties he must have gone through or still facing.
After completing his MA in Urdu, he began working as a translator in a government department in Prayagraj. In 2004 when MANUU invited applications for recruitment in the Departments of Urdu as well as Translation Studies he submitted applications to the two departments. As luck would have had it his application did not reach the Urdu Department. Or that was what he was told. He appeared for interview only for the Bureau of Translation Studies and got selected. He completed his Ph D in 2008.
In 2006 he tied the knot.
While the family was looking for a bride for him, there was storm going on in his mind. First, he thought he should prefer a differently abled person as life partner. Then another thought crept into his mind. How would two differently abled persons raise children? What would they be, like most other children or different from them? Even as these thoughts were raging there came a proposal that got converted into a reality. Now 22 years into a blissful marriage he has a 14-year-old child who goes to school. His doting wife drives him around in their car and also helps him in his studies. She, like a traditional Indian wife, also takes care of his parents and regular stream of visitors.
Moving into campus
He was among the first batch of staff to move into campus that was filled with rocks and bushes where snakes slithered around day in day out. Wild stories of huge snakes coming out during nights and dancing around were common among the staff.
In the beginning the University had its focus on distance education mode. There was hardly any concrete plan to get the students on to the campus. But things began changing slowly. Now, there are thousands of students pursuing huge number of courses in the campus. There are also a couple of hundred faculty members who impart education to the students up to doctoral level. Even his Translation Studies is offering Ph D course along with several other departments.
The status of Urdu
He rubbishes the statements of some Hindutva elements that said Urdu is not an Indian language. “We should not even talk about such statements,” says he.
He recalled an historical incident. Punjab and Haryana had to be formed and there was a debate on what should be the language of these states. The protagonists from both the sides were writing to Prime Minister Nehru demanding either Gurmukhi or some other tongue as the language of their State. Pandit Nehru was amused over the fact that the demand was being made to him from both sides in letters written in Urdu.
Urdu is best suited for expressing a variety of emotions. Two lines in Urdu would be enough to write volumes. To support his statement he cited a couplet.
Tum aasmaan ki bulandi say laut aao(You come down from the heights of heavens
HameiN zameeN kay masaael par baat karni hai
We need to discuss the problems faced on earth)
The talk about changing the script of Urdu is illogical as there are at least 50 other languages that use the same lettering. Even if it is compared with English, it is much better because it has a distinct sound for each letter and every word has it own character.
There are two kinds of discourses that are best expressed in Urdu—religious and secular. The secular discourse in this language could be compared with the literature in any other developed language.
He considers Ghalib as the best poet in Urdu but agrees that Meer is superior in expressions. He finds flow of connectivity between Meer, Ghalib and Iqbal with each one excelling in a different area. Ghalib gives a jumpstart to the mind by asking questions while Iqbal tries to find philosophical answers. He also talks about Faiz and Faraz lovingly but says there is more romanticism of the modern kind in Faraz.
“Personally speaking I love the poetry that is essentially difficult to comprehend,” he says.
His last line in the chat was memorable. The languages do not belong to any qaum (nation); qaumeiN (nations) have their languages.