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Highlighting the Treasures of the Naqvi Collection: A Typewritten Urdu Translation of Wajid ‘Ali Shah’s Reply to the Blue Book

(The following is a post by Charlotte Giles, South Asia Reference Librarian, Asian Division, and Megan Eaton Robb, Julie and Martin Franklin Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania.)

Wajid ‘Ali Shah (1822-87), the ruler of Awadh (also spelled Oude or Oudh) in northeastern India, found himself indecorously exiled from his state in 1856. The British East India Company saw him lacking as a ruler and desired his kingdom’s natural resources. As a result, they annexed the state.

The primary record of this bureaucratic drama was a collection of parliamentary papers titled “Papers Relating to Oude,” also known as the Blue Book of Oudh. This document claimed that Wajid ‘Ali Shah ruled lavishly to the detriment of his people and that his favoritism interfered with the government’s efficient functioning. Under the weight of such allegations, he responded in kind by writing a refutation of these allegations in English. A little over a century after Wajid ‘Ali Shah sent his indignant response, his great-grandson, Kaukab Qadr, translated it into Urdu in Lucknow, India. The Library of Congress holds this typed manuscript of the partial translation in the Asian Division’s Naqvi Collection, named after “Allama” Zamir Akhtar Naqvi (1947-2020). While the circumstances leading to its translation are still unclear, it hints at a wealth of possibilities for researchers and enthusiasts of Indian history.

Picture of a man in royal outfit.

This wood-block illustration of Wajid ‘Ali Shah, the King of Awadh, is from the 1899 Marathi work “Ayodhyece nabāba: Ayodhyā va Lakhanau yethīla sthalavarṇanāsaha” (The Nawabs of Ayodhya: Together with Descriptions of the Sites of Ayodhya and Lucknow). South Asian Collection. Library of Congress, Asian Division. This book is also available online through the Library’s collection on the Internet Archive.

A map of India.

This map depicts India and its provinces circa 1903. The green-colored northeastern province along the Nepali border is labeled as “United Provinces of Agra and Oudh.” Library of Congress Geography & Maps Division.

The Naqvi Collection’s translation of the response to the Blue Book of Oudh has the punchy title, “Javāb-i ān̲ g̲h̲azal: t̤amācah baruk̲h̲sār-i fal̄ān̲, yaʻnī, Bart̤ānvī Avadh Blīū buk kā javāb,” meaning “The reply to that ghazal: a slap in the face of someone, or, Reply to the British Awadh Blue Book.” A ghazal is popular type of Urdu poetry and its use in the title, “Javāb-i ān ghazal”, evokes the intense competition between poets in the late Mughal period. In this atmosphere, poets would recite often blistering “replies” to each other’s work. The title, hand-written on the cover in ballpoint pen, was added sometime between the creation of the typed manuscript and before its acquisition. The title may have been added by “Allama” Zamir Akhtar Naqvi.

The history of this responding “slap” sheds light on the political landscape of mid-19th century British India. While scholarly mentions of the English reply are plentiful, scholars may not be aware of its Urdu translation, rendering this treasure of the Asian Division’s Naqvi Collection significant to the study of colonial Awadh and postcolonial India alike.

Throughout the 19th century, the British East India Company had tightened its grip on the Indian subcontinent. The 1856 Annexation of Awadh was a watershed in the transition from political hegemony to formal rule. British Company officials justified their claims in the document formally entitled “East Indies and East India Company: Papers Relating to Oude.” Wajid ‘Ali Shah’s response, “Reply to the charges against the King of Oude,” stated that the charges of mistreatment laid against him were entirely false, and argued that annexing Awadh was illegal, citing the Treaty of 1801 between Awadh’s ruler Saadat Ali Khan II and the East India Company. In addition, he wrote to Queen Victoria directly, imploring the ruler to treat him justly. Nothing came of either his formal request or his personal appeal. In fact, although the government received his official “Reply,” Queen Victoria never received his personal letter.

Wajid ‘Ali Shah, along with his retinue, was exiled to Kanpur and then to Kolkata. Even in exile, he remained an influential figure. Soon after the annexation, on May 10, 1857, a group of sepoys, or Indian soldiers in the East India Company’s employment, were so energized to protest against their conditions under British hegemony that they sparked a country-wide revolt. Wajid ‘Ali Shah’s popularity rendered him a potential rallying figure for the revolutionaries. Guarding against this possibility, the British locked him in Kolkata’s Fort William until the end of the revolt. Without seeing his kingdom again, he passed away in Kolkata in 1887.

The Naqvi Collection, jointly held by the Asian Division and the African and Middle Eastern Division, includes many items whose circumstances of creation or compilation remain obscure. These items in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and others, reflect the Naqvi family’s multilingual history and culture. The collection, acquired by the Library of Congress in 1999 with the support of a grant from the James Madison Council, reflects the network and interests of its originator, the scholar and orator “Allama” Zamir Akhtar Naqvi.

A collage of four images from two books.

The structure of the translation’s preface, the lower two images, mirror the structure of the preface of the English-language “Reply,” the upper two images. The earliest version of the Reply, sent directly to Queen Victoria, is in the Royal Archives. One copy of the “Reply,” bound in London by the printers Reed and Pardon on Pater Noster Street, was probably intended specifically for the Queen’s personal reference. This privately produced copy is lined in marbled paper and bound with expensive gilded leather with an embossed floral medallion on the cover. Within a few years, J.F. Bellamy at the Englishman Press in Calcutta published an edition for the public in the late 1850s. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021, used with permission.

Born and raised in Lucknow, India, Naqvi migrated to Karachi, Pakistan in 1967. Before his migration, he was a regular contributor to the Lucknow weekly periodical Nazārah (Scene). The editor of the paper was Fazal Naqvi Lakhnawi, whose son-in-law, Kaukab Qadr, was a great grandson of Wajid ‘Ali Shah. Qadr began a translation of Wajid ‘Ali Shah’s reply to the Blue Book. News of this appeared in Nazārah in the 1960s. It is not yet clear whether Qadr completed his translation or published it; the item in the Library of Congress’s collection appears to be a partial translation. It is not known whether Qadr intended to complete it. His familial connection to Wajid ‘Ali Shah would have lent the translation fame; the document also may be an important clue to how Urdu books were printed in postcolonial India.

This item is a window into the lithographic printing process. The history of lithography – a form of planographic (flat-surface) printing, which used chemically-treated materials like limestone and metal to reproduce faithfully detailed images – is tied to the success and the aesthetics of Urdu printing in South Asia. Metal typeset printing was prohibitively expensive and often aesthetically unappealing to readers of Urdu and Persian. With the arrival of lithography, the strength of calligraphic schools and workshops aligned with a hunger for mass-produced reading material to create an explosion of printing in Persian and Urdu in 19th-century colonial India. By the 20th century, even printers in small towns could produce thousands of copies of periodicals for international audiences. Indeed, lithography remained a popular mode of publishing in Urdu until late into the 20th century, when digital printing tools surpassed it.

Qadr’s typewritten copy of the translation may have been a guide for the calligraphers who would have prepared the content for lithographic printing. If this were true, this typewritten copy would also be an important piece of Urdu printing history, demonstrating that translators and authors would use mechanical typewriters to prepare their pieces for copying by calligraphers.

While the use of typewriters may initially seem counter-intuitive, considering the early resistance to metal typeset printing and reverence for the handwritten word, mechanical typewriters offered advantages to scribes and printers. Postcolonial Lucknow saw a dramatic disinvestment in Urdu both education and also employment requiring Urdu expertise after independence. Shikasta, a Persian calligraphic script which allowed scribes to write quickly, was difficult to decipher and posed obstacles to scribes preparing material for publication. Typewriters thus helped scribes to copy an original text accurately.

Qadr’s priority was to complete a simple, intelligible translation targeted to a contemporary readership. To accomplish this, he used everyday vocabulary. For instance, the English phrase “certain individuals” is translated using the Urdu phrase “ba‘az log,” in a colloquial register unlikely to appear in official responses. More elevated word choices would have included the Persian-derived “ifrād” or “ishkhās” or even the words “anfār” or “nufūs” derived from the Arabic.

The way that the errors in the manuscript were corrected makes it clear that a typewriter was used to record the translation. “Javāb-i ān̲ g̲h̲azal: t̤amācah baruk̲h̲sār-i fal̄ān̲, yaʻnī, Bart̤ānvī Avadh Blīū buk kā javāb.” Naqvi Collection, part of the South Asian Rare Book Collection. Library of Congress Asian Division.

We know that Qadr used a typewriter by how the words sit on the page. There are gaps between characters of the cursive script, and errors were corrected using the slash key to mark out incorrect words (a common strategy for early typists before White-Out’s invention in 1966). The appearance of the type is consistent with Remington, Olympia, Matura “Triumph,” and Godrej typewriters, all common in 20th-century Lucknow.

The Remington Typewriter Company advertised a line of “Vernacular Remingtons” in Urdu, Gujarati, Arabic, Marathi, Devanagari and Gurmukhi scripts in 1917. “Times of India”, August 9, 1917, p. 6. Library of Congress Serials Division.

The Blickensderfer Agency had a “Special Short Advt”, or advtertisement, for an aluminum typewriter in Gujurati, Urdu, and Hindi, with mention of “other characters being prepared” in 1910. “Times of India,” November 5, 1910, p. 5. Library of Congress Serials Division.

Urdu typewriters had been part of the life of intellectuals, authors and businessmen since the early 20th century. The Remington Typewriter Co. (India) advertised “Vernacular Remingtons” including Urdu script typewriters in August 1917, as an extension of its already extensive sales of English typewriters. Even earlier, a company named Blickensderfer Agency in 1910 announced in the “Times of India” that it was preparing Urdu characters for its aluminum typewriter. Not until the Independence period (post-1947) did a domestic company, Godrej, develop a line of “Godrej Prima” typewriters working in multiple scripts including Urdu. While it is not yet clear which typewriter Qadr used to record his translation, he was using a technology entrenched in the everyday workings of journalism, business and art in the South Asian subcontinent. Typewriters were an important part of the lifecycle of Urdu printing.

Many questions remain regarding “Javabān-i Ghazal.” Was the typewritten translation the rough draft for an official printed edition? Was the typewritten translation used by the scribes who prepared the final copy for printing? How did the periodical “Nazārah,” in its coverage of the translation, argue for the relevance of this document to the Shia intellectual community of Lucknow in the 1960s? Additional research into the Urdu translation of an important English document promises to yield insight into these questions and postcolonial Lucknow’s socio-political history.

For more information about the Naqvi Collection, please contact the Asian Division for Urdu items, or the African and Middle Eastern Division for Arabic and Persian items.

Dr. Megan Eaton Robb will be speaking virtually at the Library of Congress on September 3, 2021 at 12:00PM EST (11:00AM CST/9:00AM PST) about how a small-town newspaper used lithographic technology to cast a significant slice of Urdu journalism conversation as distinctively Muslim. Click here for more information and to register for “Printing the Urdu Public: Madinah Newspaper and Lithography as a Muslim Technology.”

Learn More

Hakala, Walter. “Diction and Dictionaries: Language, Literature, and Learning in Persianate South Asia.” PhD Dissertation. University of Pennsylvania, 2010.

Llewellyn-Jones, Rosie. “The Last King of India: Wajid Ali Shah.” London: Hurst & Company, 2014.

Llewellyn-Jones, Rosie. “Engaging Scoundrels: True Tales of Old Lucknow.” New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000.

[Lucas, Samuel and Jon Robert Taylor]. “Dacoitee in excelsis; or, The spoliation of Oude by the East India Company, faithfully recounted.” Lucknow: Pustak Kendra, [1971].

Robb, Megan Eaton. “Print and the Urdu Public: Muslims, Newspapers, and Urban Life in Colonial India.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.

A collection of pamphlets from and about India includes two important works for the study of Awadh: “Has Oude Been Worse Governed by Its Native Princes Than Our Indian Territories by Leadenhall Street?” (1857) and “Oude: Its Past and Its Future” (1859).

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