Gopi Chand Narang, the literary icon, passed away on June 15
was putting the finishing touches to my centenary tribute to the great Pakistani Urdu poet Aziz Hamid Madni on the night of June 15 when I noticed a condolence message on my Facebook feed by Hameed Shahid for Gopi Chand Narang, the eminent writer and critic. Almost simultaneously, as if to affirm Narang’s beloved status in both India and Pakistan, Indian novelist Rahman Abbas WhatsApped another condolence message. That was when it finally hit me: Gopi Chand Narang had passed away at the age of 91 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
With Narang’s passing, we have lost the last of the three amazing critics of contemporary Urdu literature, the other two being Shamsur Rahman Farooqi and Shamim Hanafi who also departed during the last two years. Professor Narang was the senior most though all three were born during the 1930s. All three began with modernism which became the basis for a lifelong friendship that they developed later. Dr Narang bid farewell to modernism towards the end of the 1980s. As for the other two, while their association with modernism diminished, it did not completely end. Farooqi became more attentive to classical literature, and with this very connection, towards Indo-Islamic culture. Hanafi, too, was interested in Indo-Islamic culture, but his association with the dirge for cultural decline and the literature of other languages of India had also increased. With Farooqi and Hanafi, weariness with criticism had greatly increased towards the end. Perhaps, for this reason, they wrote criticism in a different manner than before.
With Narang’s passing, we have lost the last of the three amazing critics of contemporary Urdu literature, the other two being Shamsur Rahman Farooqi and Shamim Hanafi – who also departed during the last two years.
Narang chose an entirely new and difficult route: postmodernism. From there onwards, his literary fame increased. So did controversy. But he never cared and continued declaring that modernism was dead, presenting his case both orally and in writing. He remained ready to raise features of the Western idea of postmodernism along with Urdu’s own peculiar postmodernism; especially the refutation of the centre, the importance of the margin and the ideas of the locality. Likewise, how a margin subverts the centre of authority and the circulation of meaning begins; he would present it in detail and in many different ways. This would enrage many.
Despite everything, he remained firm in his opinion regarding the wrapping up of modernism until his last breath. First modernism and then postmodernism were his ideals for the elucidation of literature. His basic interest was in the Urdu language, its multi-culture, its collective civilisation and its great literary manifestations. Among his most important works are Hindustani Qisson Say Makhooz Masnaviyan (Masnavis Taken From Indian Qissas), Amir Khusrau Ka Hindvi Kalam (The Hindvi Poetry of Amir Khusrau), Imla Nama (Book of Orthography), Asloobiyat-i-Mir (A Study of Mir’s Style), Urdu Ghazal Aur Hindustani Tehzeeb (Urdu Ghazal and the Indian Culture), Urdu Zaban Aur Lisaniyat (Urdu Language and Linguistics), and Fiction, Sheriyat Aur Ghalib: Ma’ni Afreeni, Jadalyati Vaza, Shunyata Aur She’riyat (Fiction, Poetics and Ghalib: Meaning Creation, Dialectical Mode, Mind and Poetics). All these had new insights regarding Urdu literature and brought forth its cultural, linguistic, aesthetic variety and depth in a delightful way. He was also an extraordinary speaker.
Gopi Chand Narang came from Balochistan. He was the scion of a Seraiki family who overshadowed the Urdu territory. He established a change in Urdu literature with his research and critical works and compilations, full and luminous with thought-provoking and enlightening ideas and ideology, thoughtful and artistic consciousness and awareness in the postmodern landscape of the 21st Century. His literary capital will always be valuable for Urdu literature. It cannot be denied that in this postmodern era he played an important role in populating new settlements (nayi bastiyan) for Urdu, so much so that it would be unthinkable to compile the history of Urdu language and literature without mentioning his name. Gopi Chand Narang was not only a faithful servant of the Urdu language and literature but also the last of its modern critics.
Hamari aankh shinawar hui hai kya namnaak/ Sukhan saraaon say zuhra-jabeen chalay gaye hain
[Why, Shinawar, have my eyes become tearful?/ Because poets of exquisite beauty have departed.]
– Shinawar Ishaq
The author is a Lahore-based writer, translator and social scientist. He can be reached at: email@example.com