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Rewriting fables, dastans and kathas Urdu department of the G.C. University Faisalabad

Rewriting fables, dastans and kathas Urdu department of the G.C. University Faisalabad

Rewriting fables, dastans and kathas Urdu department of the G.C. University Faisalabad

Is it not a strange phenomenon that in contradistinction to modern fiction, works of fiction belonging to ancient times revolve around animals, real as well as imaginary? Perhaps it is truer in respect to Asian fiction. What does this signify? All this has been discussed, with respect to wider implications, in a research work published by Muqtadra Qaumi Zaban (Islamabad) under the title Dastanain Aur Haivanat. The researcher is Professor Saeed Ahmad, who is associated with the Urdu department of the G.C. University, Faisalabad.

Professor Ahmad has limited his study to the symbolic value of animals in Urdu dastans. He has further restricted his research to the Fort William College. In the preliminary chapters, he has chosen to make a survey of animals as they appear in world literature and has thrown light on the symbolic significance of dastans in general. This survey, and a consequent discussion, serves as a background to the main theme under consideration. And then begins an introduction to Fort William College, which played a great part in cultivating Urdu as a language capable of responding to the needs and demands of evolving times in India.

It was here that an ambitious programme for the compilation and publication of books as envisaged by John Gilchrist was planned. And it was under this programme that a large number of old tales, dastans, and kathas were rewritten. For that purpose, a number of Urdu writers, or munshis, were engaged. They were intelligent enough to pick up the new mode of expression as communicated to them by their English guides. So these dastans, as rewritten by them, are a wide departure from the ornate Urdu which was in currency in those times, and carry with them a sense of form. They don’t contain lengthy descriptions full of exaggeration. The supernatural element is there, but it has not been allowed to run riot. Dr Ahmad has provided a full list of these dastans along with the names and introductions of the writers who have rewritten and compiled them.

These dastans belong to two separate traditions of fiction, the Persian-Arabic tradition and the ancient Indian tradition, known as katha kahani. The researcher has written a brief introduction to each, telling us about his original source. When he talks about the appearance of animals in dastans he discusses the given dastan in detail in order to explain the symbolic meanings of the animals appearing therein.

Dr Ahmad has tried to trace the relationship between humans and animals from early times when people too lived almost like animals. It was, in fact, predominantly an animal world. Humans living in this hostile world were living under the awe of animals. It was only after their mental development that humans gradually started to feel superior to animals. But the fear of animals was deep-rooted within them.

This gave birth to many superstitions. They attributed godly powers to a number of animals and started worshipping them. In this situation, how could animals not make their way into folk tales, dastans and mythologies? This is how Dr Ahmad has explained the

Rewriting fables, dastans and kathas Urdu department of the G.C. University Faisalabad

Is it not a strange phenomenon that in contradistinction to modern fiction, works of fiction belonging to ancient times revolve around animals, real as well as imaginary? Perhaps it is truer in respect to Asian fiction. What does this signify? All this has been discussed, with respect to wider implications, in a research work published by Muqtadra Qaumi Zaban (Islamabad) under the title Dastanain Aur Haivanat. The researcher is Professor Saeed Ahmad, who is associated with the Urdu department of the G.C. University, Faisalabad.

Professor Ahmad has limited his study to the symbolic value of animals in Urdu dastans. He has further restricted his research to the Fort William College. In the preliminary chapters, he has chosen to make a survey of animals as they appear in world literature and has thrown light on the symbolic significance of dastans in general. This survey, and a consequent discussion, serves as a background to the main theme under consideration. And then begins an introduction to Fort William College, which played a great part in cultivating Urdu as a language capable of responding to the needs and demands of evolving times in India.

It was here that an ambitious programme for the compilation and publication of books as envisaged by John Gilchrist was planned. And it was under this programme that a large number of old tales, dastans, and kathas were rewritten. For that purpose, a number of Urdu writers, or munshis, were engaged. They were intelligent enough to pick up the new mode of expression as communicated to them by their English guides. So these dastans, as rewritten by them, are a wide departure from the ornate Urdu which was in currency in those times, and carry with them a sense of form. They don’t contain lengthy descriptions full of exaggeration. The supernatural element is there, but it has not been allowed to run riot. Dr Ahmad has provided a full list of these dastans along with the names and introductions of the writers who have rewritten and compiled them.

These dastans belong to two separate traditions of fiction, the Persian-Arabic tradition and the ancient Indian tradition, known as katha kahani. The researcher has written a brief introduction to each, telling us about his original source. When he talks about the appearance of animals in dastans he discusses the given dastan in detail in order to explain the symbolic meanings of the animals appearing therein.

Dr Ahmad has tried to trace the relationship between humans and animals from early times when people too lived almost like animals. It was, in fact, predominantly an animal world. Humans living in this hostile world were living under the awe of animals. It was only after their mental development that humans gradually started to feel superior to animals. But the fear of animals was deep-rooted within them.

This gave birth to many superstitions. They attributed godly powers to a number of animals and started worshipping them. In this situation, how could animals not make their way into folk tales, dastans and mythologies? This is how Dr Ahmad has explained the presence of animals in ancient fiction, while one form of fiction was exclusively reserved for them. That was the fable, where animals appear in the image of man. But those appearing in dastans are not always real animals. We often find mythical birds such as the phoenix, simurgh, humanqa, roc or rukh. At times they seem to betray signs of evil and transform into some ominous animal. But it was left for scholars of later ages to discover symbolic meanings in their existence.

In this study Dr Ahmad has concentrated on their symbolic significance. He has divided the publication into two parts, the short animal stories and the long animal dastans. Taking them one by one he has delved into the symbolic meaning living deep in them and has presented it to us in a convincing way.

But this whole analysis of the dominant presence of animals in fiction appears valid only in respect to ancient times. The fiction of later ages gives the impression of their gradual recession. Does this mean that with the passage of time man has come out of the awe of nature? The wild elements of nature and wild animals no longer seem to have a grip over our imagination and are no more in a position to supply food to our waning superstition. Perhaps to the same extent they have lost their symbolic value, thus their near banishment from modern fiction. They hardly dare to come out from their jungles into the urban areas, and hardly do they find entry in modern novels and short stories.

presence of animals in ancient fiction, while one form of fiction was exclusively reserved for them. That was the fable, where animals appear in the image of man. But those appearing in dastans are not always real animals. We often find mythical birds such as the phoenix, simurgh, humanqa, roc or rukh. At times they seem to betray signs of evil and transform into some ominous animal. But it was left for scholars of later ages to discover symbolic meanings in their existence.

In this study Dr Ahmad has concentrated on their symbolic significance. He has divided the publication into two parts, the short animal stories and the long animal dastans. Taking them one by one he has delved into the symbolic meaning living deep in them and has presented it to us in a convincing way.

But this whole analysis of the dominant presence of animals in fiction appears valid only in respect to ancient times. The fiction of later ages gives the impression of their gradual recession. Does this mean that with the passage of time man has come out of the awe of nature? The wild elements of nature and wild animals no longer seem to have a grip over our imagination and are no more in a position to supply food to our waning superstition. Perhaps to the same extent they have lost their symbolic value, thus their near banishment from modern fiction. They hardly dare to come out from their jungles into the urban areas, and hardly do they find entry in modern novels and short stories.

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