Mohammad Arif Iqbal


Muhammad Arif Iqbal is the editor of Urdu Book Review magazine. Through this magazine he has given a new platform to Urdu books and helped raise the quality of book reviews in Urdu. This is an exclusive interview to www.IndianMuslims.info by Asif Anwar Alig.

IMI: [tell us] something about yourself. Where were you born and brought up?

A: I was born on March 26, 1962 in the Muzaffarpur district of Bihar. I did my matriculation in 1978 and my I. Com in 1980. After completing B.Com in 1982, from Bihar University with distinction, I joined Mithila University in Darbhanga to pursue my M.Com. While getting my

Masters, I joined a public school in Muzaffarpur as a teacher. Later I was promoted to Principal of that same school. My association with the student organization, Students Islamic Organization of India (SIO),gave me the chance to serve in its headquarters at Delhi as Secretary of Official Activities. I moved to Delhi in 1985. Unnecessary delays in the session delayed my Masters examinations till 1986. Unfortunately it was delayed further due to my fulltime involvement with SIO.

I retired from SIO by the end of 1989 and joined Markazi Maktaba Islami as Production Manager. During my stay here I got enough chance to contact publishers from different languages including English. I keenly observed and learnt the working style of Urdu publishers. My relationship with the Delhi Publishers Association developed, and I participated in most of its seminars, symposia and workshops. Most major amongst them was the ten-day international publishing workshop of the internally acclaimed institute, Institute of Book Publishing, Delhi (founder S.K Ghai).

IMI: How did you form your bond with Urdu literature?

A: My association with Urdu began during my childhood. I studied Urdu and Persian in school and was fortunate that I got the best teachers in both the subjects. I read books by eminent authors and Islamic scholars in 8th class, and read some chapters of Gulistan & Boostan. I studied books by Allama Iqbal, Maulana Hali, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Abdus Salam Bastawi, Sir Syed, Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi, Ibn Safi and Prem Chand as well. Besides Alif Laila I studied some volumes of Tilism-e-Hosh Ruba.

By matriculation I had studied hundreds of books by dozens of authors. From the very beginning I had an interest in suspense novels and read Ibne Safi who was my favorite novelist. After matriculation, I studied English suspense fictions of two prominent authors, Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. But I found less realism in their books compared to Ibn-e-Safi. Reading and writing in Urdu was my interest that's why I chose it as one of the subjects in intermediate. I studied the famous book Tarz-e-Nigarish and was made aware of the methodology and technique of translation from English into Urdu. Till graduation I didn't have any problem in choosing streams of study but afterwards I looked for a specialized subject of study. I studied literature, history, sociology, Islam, biographies and books on religions. Later I also studied books of science and information technology.

IMI: How did you come to launch Urdu Book Review, and how is it different from other journals?

A: My association with the publishing industry and chances to read books of that nature, particularly a book by Marshal Lee Bookmaking and other books How to break into publishing by Margan, gave me ample chances to understand the real picture of modern book publishing. The materialistic mindset of Urdu publishers & vested interest towards Urdu brought the picture in the forefront that their hollow claim of “love for Urdu" is nothing but an empty rhetoric. In style, technique and commerciality, Urdu publishers were lagging behind the publishers of English and other languages.

On the other hand so called custodians of Urdu literature --- publishers, intellectuals, authors and poets didn't see the gloomy picture of the Urdu language. Their motive was earning big bucks. In conclusion, their association with Urdu was customary. Still, they were making the utmost efforts to help Urdu survive. A few years before I planned to launch Urdu Book Review, I had studied Islamic Book Review published from England. When I was associated with the publishing industry I studied an English journal Book Review. These journals inspired me to launch Urdu Book Review.

Urdu has an abundance of litterateurs, poets, intelligentsias, Ulemas, teachers, research scholars and students at each and every age. But in independent India nobody thought to publish a journal on the Urdu book industry for the Urdu readers. Seeing this dilapidated situation and negative approach of Urdu book publishers, I felt an ardent need to publish a journal. Though this work was not easy, the first issue of Urdu Book Review came into existence on November 1995 with the help of some of my friends. This thirty-two paged issue got tremendous accolades, and Dr. Aquil Hashmi, the then chairman of Department of Urdu at Osmania University in Hyderabad, wrote a detailed review on it in the Urdu daily Siasat. That initiative placated many magazines/newspapers in India and abroad to publish reviews on Urdu Book Review. Due to its content, presentation and objective approach, Urdu Book Review was recognized in the Urdu world and became famous as a unique journal.

IMI: You have been publishing Urdu Book Review for eleven years now, what kind of difficulties you have faced in this endeavor?

A: Because Urdu Book Review was neither inaugurated by any organization nor did it have any individual support, it faced monetary difficulties from the very inception. Its life members made all efforts to help it run, though. In the beginning, some Urdu litterateurs created an environment of non-cooperation, but the Almighty fortified their efforts. Teachers of Urdu didn't give any support to Urdu Book Review either. A large number of them are not cooperating even today.

In contrast to them, teachers and students from other areas of study not only appreciated Urdu Book Review but also supported it morally and financially. These were life members belonging to science and engineering faculties. This journal has not only become a necessity for the Urdu world but also fulfills its requirements with firm determination. There is a lot to be done in order to make it more efficient and beneficial for the masses. Due to lack of funds and associated problems, we don't have a proper office nor do we have staff. But for the past eleven years, Urdu Book Review has been published bimonthly without any interruption.

IMI: What changes you have seen in the last eleven years for Urdu books?

A: In the production of Urdu books, it has of course improved in quality of presentation and publication aspect. There is now a variety in the selection of subjects. The abundance of books on Urdu poetry is not enough though. Other issues are almost untouched or less preferred. There is a dearth of books on comic literature. It is unfortunate that in the 20th century, even after imitating Europe and America, there has been no drastic change amongst the Urdu publishers. There is an increase in the piracy activities.

Development in science and technology has helped make Urdu publishers more ambitious. But Urdu textbooks for curriculum are still in dearth, in science and technology topics Urdu is almost bleak. Also there is not one good Urdu dictionary. If our literati had had a positive approach for Urdu, it would have grown to some extent.

IMI: Why arenĂ¢â‚¬â„¢t there any Urdu books on the Sciences & Information Technology?

A: When your mood is upset it isn't even possible to eat the best foods that are being served. Likewise, if a language is deprived of the practical life, its creative importance dies down. Creative knowledge is creative literature. Once upon a time Urdu had books in abundance on each and every field of learning. French scholars used to translate contents from Urdu into their own languages for gathering knowledge on different sciences. When Urdu was deprived from practical lives, it lost charm. People began to realize that this language was defunct and so they cut their relations with it instantly.

I myself have studied Chemistry and Physics in Urdu. Hyderabad has seen its golden age where science was taught in Urdu. For the last sixty years Urdu has lost credence due to biasness. Its identity was lost because it didn't have any relation to practical life. If Urdu can be associated with practical life then, I hope, there will not be any scarcity of Urdu books for all areas of sciences and other subjects too. This work has already started in Pakistan. In India NCPUL has attempted in this regard and has published books of science in Urdu.

IMI: Why do you think it is that professors of Urdu don't purchase Urdu magazines and newspapers?

A: When they are provided free then why should one purchase. But it is a truth that if the mental level were changed the output would be likewise. Unfortunately the post independent educational system was designed in such a way that scholars and talents found the scope of their educational achievements in a few scores of bread. University and College professors come into the same group discussed above. They secure degrees, get jobs and have no worries --- their future is secure. They become part of this "political paradox of knowledge". If they don't get jobs in universities/colleges they simply join some office.

Reading habits develop through parental inheritance, the environment and from where one belongs. These not only educate generations but also prepare them to learn morality. This is not confined to professors/teachers but applies to all who get an education and have the goal to get a career. Their drawing rooms are full of precious items but they don't have a single shelf where an Urdu book can find a place.

IMI: Why is it that Urdu does not have a magazine like Competition Master?

A: If the custodians of Urdu look into this area there is no reason why such magazines cannot come out before us. Attempts have been made in Maharashtra recently, to achieve this.

IMI: What can you tell us about the future of Urdu Book Review?

A: I am anxious about the future of Urdu instead. The future of Urdu Book Review is conditional. If Urdu stays alive then, of course, this journal would also remain alive. If determination continues and there is a will to do something, even a lack of funds could be overcome. But without funds and determination this can't be continued for long. If this condition doesn't change, it's possible that this journal would have to be shut down. But I am hopeful that the next generation would look into its progress. They would have to have concrete plans and employ the best of efforts to make it better than me.


Copyright © 2005 Mohammad Hanif