Hardly any novel in Urdu has generated so much heat in recent years as renowned litterateur Shamsur Rahman Faruqi’s ‘Kaii Chaand thay Sar-e-Aasmaan’, which is probably the first literary work in Urdu published by Penguin.
Faruqi’s literary standing is such that Urdu world naturally expected a magnum opus from him. The fact that he is a critic, a poet, a linguist and former publisher of the now-defunct Shabkhoon, apart from having received awards like Saraswati Samman, it is not unjust that we expected the novel to be truly outstanding.
At the function to release the novel sometime back, encomiums were poured on the novel, which Ahmad Mahfooz termed as a ‘Jadeed Aab-e-Hayat’. Syed Hamid said that it will help the reader in understanding the Indo-Islamic culture.
The central characters of the novel are Yusuf Saadakar, his daughter Wazeer Khanum and their family. It starts from Yusuf’s grandfather Makhsus Ullah and the last generation is Wazeer Khanum’s grandson Waseem Jafar.
The novel starts from Kishangarh where Makhsus Ullah, an artist lived, and one day he draws the picture of a woman ‘Bani Thani’ (bedecked woman), which has a strange resemblance with the daughter of the Maharawal. It remains a mystery how the painting has such resemblance with the photograph of Manmohini.
The family is forced out of the princely state and they move from Uttar Pradesh to Kashmir. The story continues with Makhsus Ullah’s son Yahya Badgami and later his sons Dawood and Yaqoob. Circa 1803, British take upon themselves the task to rescue Emperor Shah Alam from the ‘captivity’ of Marathas and the brothers fight on the side of the English.
The families of Dawood and Yaqub are killed and only the latter’s son Yusuf, who is a 10-year-old survives the war. A tawaif, Akbari, brings him up and marries her daughter Asghari to him. Asghari’s daughters, Anwari, Umda Khanam and Chhoti Begam, take the story forward.
The eldest gets married to Maulvi Nazir. Nawab Syed Yusuf Ali Khan Bahadur liked Umda Khanam and she went to live with him without marriage. The youngest of the three, turned out to be a rebel. Due to the death of her mother, she was closer to her grandmother and this naturally influenced her ways. She says to her sister, ‘Jo mard aayega, chakhungi, pasand aaya to rakhungi’.
She starts living with an Englishman Morriston Black. They plan to marry in 1829 but he dies in a riot. She returns from Jaipur to Delhi and is sought by Resident William Fraser and also Nawab Shamsuddin. She goes with the latter and they have a son Nawab Mirza. After Shamsuddin is exectured for suspicion of killing Fraser, she gets married to Mirza Fakhru, who had his upbringing in the Qila-e-Moalla in the era of Bahadur Shah Zafar…
Faruqui is unquestionably the biggest name in Urdu linguistics and the ease with which he has brought the language used in 18th and 19th century to the pages of the novel written in 21st century, is simply amazing. The depiction of the era especially the exploitation of Indian peasantry and masses during British rule, is remarkable.
Such is his mastery in depicting the sexual encounters and love scenes that if the novel was written in modern Urdu, it would have sold by lakhs, says Haider Qureshi, an eminent poet. As it is a novel about Indo-Islamic culture and Mughals, the finest couplets of Urdu and Persian poetry abound in the book.
In fact, the novel enlivens the entire culture and the bygone era in front of the reader. The book is published in Pakistan also where it has attracted the Urdu lovers. ‘Kai Chaand the Sare Asman’ is a novel worth buying. You can get it from Shabkhoon Kitabghar, Post Box Number 13, 313, Ranimandi, Allahabad 211003 (Uttar Pradesh) India.