Shamsur Rahman Faruqi – T.S. Eliot of Urdu Literature

From deciphering the poetry of Ghalib to reviving the ancient art of Dastaangoi, the contributions of Shamsur Rahman Faruqi to Urdu literature are immeasurable.

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Shamsur Rahman Faruqi was born in Pratapgarh, was raised in Azamgarh & Gorakhpur, settled and flourished in Allahabad.

Faruqi was born on September 30, 1935 in Kalakankar House, Pratapgarh, at the home of his maternal grandfather’s, Khan Bahadur Muhammad Nazeer. His Nana was the manager of Courts of Wards in those days, where his paternal family originally belonged to a village Koriyapar (Now in Mau, then in Azamgarh). His ancestors came from Delhi around 1388 after the death of Firoz Tughlaq. The first person who came and settled here was known as Kauria Shah hence his village got its name Koriapaar.

Faruqi’s Family

His grandfather Maulvi Muhammad Asghar was a reputed Aalim and his entire paternal family was religiously associated with Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, the great scholar of yesteryears. The whole atmosphere at his paternal family was permeated with religious piety and devotion to religion. They all were educated, organized, punctual and strict disciplinarians. Maulvi Asghar (D. 1946) spent his life as teacher in Normal School Gorakhpur and returned to his village after retirement.

Faruqi’s father Maulvi Khalilur Rahman (d.1972) retired as a Deputy Inspector of Islamic Schools in 1970 and settled at Allahabad. He too was a man of caution and piety who never missed a Salat and his night prayers. He would pack his own food whenever he visited the schools for inspection. Khalilur Rahman was so upright that he never brought a pencil or a pin from office to home. He penned his autobiography Qasas ul jameel fi sawanih al Khaleel

Faruqi’s mother also came from an affluent family with a long tradition of Persian and Arabic Scholarship, settled in Banaras. His mother’s grandfather Maulvi Abdul Qadir Banarsi and his grandfather were scholars of Persian and Arabic. We see that from both sides he inherited a fondness for poetry and literature.

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SRF started his education at Wellesley High School, Azamgarh. He was a born reader and virtually a book worm. His father Maulvi Khalil ur Rahman records his fondness in his memoirs. He was so fond of books that he would sit at the book-binders shop till late evening to read there. It is reported that he would go to school reading with a book in his hand. As a result, when he turned 13 or 14, the intensity of reading forced him to wear spectacles.

In 1949, Faruqi passed the 10th from the Government Jubilee High School, Gorakhpur. And intermediate in 1951 from Mian George Islamia Inter College, Gorakhpur. Here he was urged by the English teacher Mustafa Khan Rashidi to read English literature. It was here that he had started participating in Mushairas.

While doing BA in 1951 at Maharana Pratap College, he would spend his time at the famous Wahid Library of Gorakhpur. This reading of classics developed an interest in him, a fondness for Urdu literature.

After finishing his MA at Allahabad University in 1955, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi joined Satish Chandra Degree College at Ballia as an English lecturer. From there he moved to Shibli College Azamgarh where he remained from 1956-58 as a lecturer.

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In 1958, he sat for and cleared the Indian Allied Services examination in his first attempt. He then opted for the Indian Postal Services. He got his first posting as Superintendent Post Offices in Guwahati. Faruqi moved from being a Deputy Director General Personnel in New Delhi, to the Chief Postmaster-General Bihar and (UP) in Allahabad, and finally as Member, Postal Services Board New Delhi from where he retired in 1994.

Start of his Literary Journey

Faruqi started his literary journey as a struggling short story writer and sometimes as a poet. Almost all of those works were rejected by the editors of that time. Soon he developed an interest in literary criticism that reduced his interest in stories and poetry for a while. He studied the western literary trends and examined the scene in the Urdu world.

He founded and edited a highly influential literary journal Shabkhoon (Night Ambush) from Allahabad in 1966. It ran till 2006, and was considered to be the flag bearer of Modernism in Urdu Literature. Through this journal he presented or rather regenerated his ideas regarding modern literary theory and there is no doubt Shabkhoon changed the notions about the nature of criticism in a substantial way. Although unpopular initially, his views gained acceptance with the passage of time.

This journal produced a galaxy of new poets and writers who got fame in the literary world through his journal. As he was critical of Progressive writers, with this journal he generated a counterpoint to the kind of literary corpus that was being promoted by the Progressive Writers’ Association.

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Esteemed Works

His Sher, Ghair Sher aur Nasr ( Verse, Non-Verse and Prose ) was a path breaking work. His explanations of form, prosody and meter were refreshingly new and his perception of the subject also earned him great respect and established his authority in the Urdu World. In fact, if he had not written anything except She, Ghair Sher aur Nasr, his name would have been there in history for this important work.

"The Sun that Rose from the Earth" by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

In his monumental Sher-i-Shor Angez (4 volumes), Shamsur Rahman Faruqi analyzed and explained the verses of Meer Taqi Meer, the great poet known as Khuda-i-Sukhan , in a way that was unusual and like an eye-opener for the readers. His interpretation of multilayered and multifaceted meaning in Meer’s poetry made the world sit and look at Meer with a new perspective. It certainly changed the way of understanding of classical Urdu poetry and is now considered an immortal work in Urdu Literature. Faruqi was awarded the prestigious Saraswati Samman from the Birla Foundation for this four-volume work on Mir Taqi Mir (1722-1810).

In Tafheem-i-Ghalib, he unravels the hidden meanings of complex verses of Ghalib. His language, imaginative use of expressions with a strikingly beautiful use of Persian couplets opened a new world towards understanding Ghalib. These works were remarkable for his unbiased and decisive commentary.

Short Story

In 2001 came his collection of short stories, Sawar aur Dusre Afsaney. It created a stir in the literary circles with the sheer mastery of storytelling, his proficiency in weaving and showcasing the Mughal culture into a fine tale was well received and widely acclaimed.


His novel “Kai Chand they Sar-e Aasman“, translated by himself as “The Mirror of Beauty” is considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written in Urdu . His other novel “The Sun That Rose From The Earth“, include five novellas based on the lives of various Urdu poets of Mughal era has also been highly acclaimed.

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One of Faruqi’s most outstanding works was the re-discovery of the classical form of story-telling or dastaan-goi.  His four-volume study of the Dastan-e Amir Hamza called ‘Saheri, Shahi, Sahib-qirani’ is a monumental work that enabled the revival of this art. This revival of Dastangoi is itself an immortal achievement to his credit. With more than 46000 pages and more than 20 million words, it is perhaps the world’s largest Oral Romance available in printed form.
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Literary Criticism

Shamsur Rahman Faruqi played a pivotal role in the formation of fresh models of literary appreciation. Undoubtedly, he read and absorbed western principles of literary criticism. After adapting those to the sensibilities of Urdu, applied them to Urdu literature.
"Tafheem-e-Ghalib" by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

He bombarded the literary establishment with new unconventional writing, and aggressive reviews. This firmly established him as an authoritative voice in Urdu World. He came out as a critic who devised his own elegant but incisive style, reasoned and free from the fudge and the fuzz that was the main characteristic of most Urdu criticism of the day. It is not strange that he was considered as T.S. Eliot amongst the Urdu critics.

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"The Mirror of Beauty" by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

When he delved into the origin of words, two outstanding works came from him. One is Lughat-i-Rozmarrah and the other Tazmeen ul Lughat. Lughat I Rozmarrah tells us about the correct pronunciation and the gender of a word. Tazmeen further explores the abstruse world of classical language and studies subtleties of coinage of new words.

Urdu ka ibtidaayi zamaana. In this work he explores the origin and root of the Word Urdu which rests the debate giving the genealogy of the language.

Apart from translating two of his books into English — the novel The Mirror of Beauty (2013) and The Sun That Rose From the Earth (2014), a collection of five novellas, he also translated Muhammad Husain Azad’s famous book Abe Hayat: Constructing a Literary History, A Theory of Poetry and a Canon (2000 )into English .

His English essays have been collected as “The Secret Mirror” (1981), “The Flower-Lit Road: Essays in Urdu Literary Theory and Criticism” (2005), “How to Read Iqbal? Essays on Iqbal, Literary Theory and Urdu Poetry” (2007). Others include “Early Urdu Literary Culture and History” (2001) Expression of the Indian Mind in Urdu Ghazal’ (1978); ‘Conventions of Love, Love of Conventions: Urdu Love Poetry in the 18th Century’ (1999) and also ‘A Stranger in the City: The Poetics of Sabk-i Hindi’ (2003).

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A Lasting Legacy

During his later years, especially after the death of his wife in 2007, he had immersed himself to literary pursuits. His talks and sittings have certainly become a cause of esteem and distinction. There is a long list of awards that he received including the Saraswati Samman in 1996; and the Padma Shri in 2009, among many others. Undoubtedly Shamsur Rahman Faruqi was among those fortunate people who became a legend during their lifetime!

Faruqi died in Allahabad on 25 Dec, 2020 due to complications from Corona. He stayed in Delhi for over two months for treatment before he was flown to Allahabad on the 25th. He passed away within half an hour of his arrival.

With the passing away of Shamsur Rahman Faruqi Urdu has lost the last of the greatest critics who introduced modernism, rose like a star on the Urdu literary horizon with an astounding command across genres– lexicology, criticism, short story, poetry, fiction, and literary history, prosody and grammar. The amount of work he did is certainly immeasurable. The ease with which he commanded all the genres and the way he dominated the Urdu literary scene, we certainly don’t find any litterateur like Faruqi in the history of Urdu literature. 

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