A self-effacing Litterateur: Professor Najmul Hoda

By Mohammad Sajjad for TwoCircles.net

In this era when modesty is no longer a virtue, and everybody shares his/her accomplishments via social networking sites, it is indeed almost unbelievable to find someone who is sort of in a mode of denial about his no ordinary literary accomplishments. Becoming reclusive while reaching an age of 80 years, this self-effacing litterateur remains reluctant about writing his memoir despite lot of persuasions. Professor Najmul Hoda of Muzaffarpur (north Bihar) is fond of talking about his teaching career, publications, and other literary activities he had undertaken in the Madras University, during 1977-88, where he served on an Extra Ordinary Leave (EoL) from the Bihar University, Muzaffarpur.

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Prof Najmul Hoda
Prof Najmul Hoda

In the prestigious Madras University he not only headed and expanded the Department of Urdu, Persian and Arabic, he also introduced postgraduate teachings and promoted researches in the literatures of the three languages. Besides, he also joined the ‘Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu’ of Tamil Nadu to popularise and promote Urdu in Tamil Nadu. He made efforts towards establishment of ‘Urdu Academy’ in Madras, which fructified, and he joined an agitation to secure second official language status for Urdu in Tamil Nadu. This was the time when his friends and colleagues in Muzaffarpur were doing the same. While the latter succeeded in fulfilling the demand in Bihar, the agitation in Tamil Nadu did not succeed. However, such efforts did popularize Urdu on a big scale in Tamil Nadu. His nostalgia about Madras (now called Chennai) remains undiminished, for which he composed a poem, “Saahil-e-Madras” (The Coast of Madras).

In 1983, he contributed his essay in English language on “Nationalism and Akbar Allahabadi” in the Annals of Oriental Research (of Madras University), wherein he analysed the anti-colonial satires of Akbar’s poems. This was long before Shamsur Rahman Faruqi wrote his incisive essay on Akbar Allahabadi (1846-1921). Besides, Najmul Hoda also wrote another essay, “Universal Brotherhood and Islam” for the journal. In both these essays he reflected upon the ideas of nationalism and patriotism.

Aleem Saba Nawedi of Madras and Najmul Hoda remember each other quite fondly. In 1988 when Professor Najmul Hoda was leaving Madras to re-join his services in Muzaffarpur, more than hundred people went to see him off on the railway junction with tearful eyes.

Professor Hoda rose to prominence with his book on literary criticism in Urdu, Fann-e-Tanqeed aur Tanqeedi Mazaameen (1966). Though written arguably in a little ‘difficult’ prose, tinged with Arabic and Persian diction, it ran into several editions. It encompasses and evaluates the journey of Urdu literary criticism from Altaf Husain Hali’s Muqaddima to Shamsur Rahman Faruqi’s interventions. In the 1990s, he was supposed to expand this work taking into account the subsequent generation of critics, but he met his distraction when his colleagues in Muzaffarpur threw him into the vortex of legal battles. In the Patna High Court, eventually he won the battle of seniority in the Department of Urdu in the Bihar University in Muzaffarpur, and went on to serve as the Head of the Department as well as the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities of the University. But this battle changed him forever and he gradually tilted towards becoming reclusive. Meanwhile, his book found itself ‘translated’ into more lucid prose of Urdu by other authors of better provisioned universities. Shedding rancour against being robbed off his intellectual property, he prefers to downplay and euphemise the act of plagiarism as a ‘translation’. After all steeped deeply into Sufism, he is a forgiveness personified!

Born on August 2, 1938, in a prominent family of Motihari (Champaran), with a formidable ancestry from Dr. Rajendra Prasad (1884-1963), Hoda inherited the tradition of composing poetry from his father, Nurul Hoda ‘Zabt’, who was a police inspector and after retirement he practised law. ‘Zabt’ published his poetry in prestigious Paisa Akhbar, Lahore. Likewise, Professor Najmul Hoda published in the leading Urdu periodicals brought out from Delhi, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Karachi, among many others. Najmul Hoda’s maternal uncle was quite an accomplished writer and former Union Minister, Professor Shakeelur Rahman (1936-2016).

Professor Najmul Hoda started his teaching career from the Millat College (Darbhanga) in 1961 and also provided editorial assistance to the Urdu fortnightly (now daily), Qaumi Tanzim. In 1962, he left it to join the L. S. College, Muzaffarpur, from where he had graduated, and then moved on to the Bihar University, Muzaffarpur, where he served till his superannuation in 1998, and is now settled there in Muzaffarpur.

His other claims to fame are his books, Masnawi Ka Fun aur Urdu Masnawiyan (1976); and Kirdaar aur Kirdaar Nigari (1980), dealing with disjunctions between fictional and real-life characters. It received reviewer’s laurels in the prestigious Urdu monthly, Shaayer (January 1981). However, he identifies himself essentially as a poet and seems to be much in reading about the English poets such as T. S. Eliot, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats. Of the Urdu writers, he is fond more of Raashidul Khairi (1868-1936), Shibli (1857-1914), Maulana Azad (1888-1958). His personal library is quite rich. Lot of scholars derive benefit from him and from the books in his personal collection.

He has written many long essays, including few on Nazeer Akbarabadi (1735-1830), Iqbal, Premchand (aspects of class struggle), and also on his acquaintances like Alqama Shibli, besides on his own teacher in Muzaffarpur, Professor Akhtar Qadri; and the one on a novel by Ghazanfar. Only few of these essays have been collected in his Masaael o Mabaahis (1983).

The inquisitive people, with quest of learning, flock around him where he offers very good hospitality. Long conversations with him pay lot of dividends. Of his teachers in the Patna University he claims to owe a lot to Jameel Mazhari (1904-82), and Akhtar Orainwi, among many others, whereas among his students, he showers more of his laurels upon Professor Jabir Husain. One of his distinguished batch-mates, elder to him by almost two decades, was Kaleem Aajiz (1920-2015), the famous poet.

People around him are eager that he should start working on his memoir. Besides vivid details of many aspects, this will be an account of the progress and marginalisation of Urdu in Bihar, at popular as well as academic level. Though, just out of courtesy he does reiterate his commitment to write one, he doesn’t seem to be sincere about keeping this promise as revealed in the title of one of his poems, “Aarzu-e-Gumnaami” (Quest of Anonymity), so is a couplet of one of his ghazals:

Dil ki baateiN kaun sunaaye, kaun yahaaN sun-ney wala hai
Jo hai apni zaat meiN gum hai, har insaaN bas bol raha hai

The author teaches Modern Indian History at the Aligarh Muslim University, and has published two books: Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours (Routledge, 2014); Contesting Colonialism & Separatism: Muzaffarpur (Primus, 2014)