No autobiography in Urdu in recent times has hooked readers to the extent as Professor Ghaus Ansari’s ‘Umr-e-Rafta’, which tells the fascinating journey of the writer, his early days in Lucknow, his struggle and subsequent migration to Europe.
Such is his eye for minute details and his memory that the reader becomes a fellow traveller with him in his sojourns. Ansari, was born in 1929 in Firangi Mahal in Lucknow. He recounts how the caste-system was prevalent among Muslims to the extent that even in Madarsa, the students sat as per their caste and the son of a sanitary worker had to sit outside at the place where footwear were kept and had only the privilege to listen to the lessons and learn whatever he could hear.
Perhaps, these experiences played an important role in his life and he turned to leftist ideas, even joining Communist Party and going to jail after Independence. The account of his early life and teenged years make interesting reading. He was in the school when he started writing stories that were published in reputed magazines and he also brought out a couple of periodicals, one for children and the other was a semi-literary magazine on film industry.
Along with the events of his life, Dr Ansari’s detailed analysis of the communal polarisation and the politics in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the first half of 20th century give valuable insight to readers about the freedom movement. More so, his own association with leaders of freedom movement, interesting incidents and anecdotes make this autobiography unique.
However, the hopes were dashed after independence. Ghous Ansari was also disillusioned with the culture of sycophancy, bribery and the communalisation. A humanist to the core, Ansari who had umpteen close Hindu and Sikh friends, recounts the experiences of dealing with bureaucracy and later decides to leave for England.
His life in London where he stuggled hard to eke out his living and later his stay in Vienna (Austria) for his doctorate on Casteism in Indian Muslims, is truly inspiring. And makes the two volumes of Umar-e-Rafta, a must-read for any teenager or youth. An anthropoligist, Prof Ansari had stopped writing in Urdu after leaving India but when he wrote the autobiography recently, one can only marvel at his grasp of Urdu idiom. You can see the Lucknow of yore, alive in this khud-navisht (autobiography).
Besides, his long stay in Iraq where he taught in University and later in Kuwait, are also recounted in the second volume. His wife Vadia, hails from Baghdad. Ansari has also written about the politics of oil and the turbulent era in Middle-East.