To mark the 70th anniversary of the Partition of the Indian sub-continent and the birth of the two countries, India and Pakistan, New York University held its second international Urdu Conference on the 8th of October. The first one was held in 2015, with a focus on recent research in Urdu literature and education carried out outside Pakistan. Tahira Naqvi, Senior Urdu Language Lecturer at NYU is the moving spirit behind the conference. She pointed out that the difference between NYU Urdu conferences and other ones that take place in North America is, that at NYU they seek to engage the community rather than other academics.
In a short interview with youlinmagazine.com Tahira Naqvi said that, “this is the 70th anniversary of the India-Pakistan Partition and by focusing exclusively on Urdu Partition literature and its relationship to film and art, we hope to bring the work of scholars and artists into the public realm”. She further explained, that the focus of the conference “is the examination of themes of historical rupture and violence, aspects of despair and hope, and the disappointment and inspiration that emerged during the months of dislocation in 1947”.
An interesting program was put together for this one day conference held on October 8th: from a keynote address by Professor M.U. Memon on “Partition and Urdu Literature”, to recitations of Faiz, and Raza Rumi on “Manto and the Partition”, readings by Dr Saeed Naqvi and Tahira Naqvi, while Sarmad Sehbhai discussed Manto’s Toba Tek Singh. These sessions were interspersed with a presentation of the classic Indian film Garam Hava by Professor Mukherjee of Columbia University, Romeena Kureishi sang Faiz, and a visit to the gallery to see the exhibition of Zarina Hashmi’s work, Dark Roads, about one of the largest migrations. She is the artist in residence at the Asia/Pacific /American Institute at NYU. The day long activities and talks wound up with a mushaira, in which some of the participants of the conference displayed their talent as poets. It was an innovative mixing of various mediums of communication on one theme: from singing of Faiz accompanied by guitar, to showing segments of the film followed by discussion, to the exhibition of Hashmi’s art on the same subject.
When Youlin asked Tahira Naqvi her opinion about the future of the Urdu language, she saw it as very bright because it is taught in a growing number of universities and colleges as well as in community schools here. She opined that the study and teaching of Urdu has enjoyed federal support through grants in the last 10 years, for teaching students and training Urdu instructors. As a result, New York University has established a Summer Teacher Training Institute where modern principles of language teaching are taught. She said that recently the Alliance for the Promotion of Urdu Studies or APUS had been formed, which, along with the South Asian Languages Program, sponsors events related to Urdu all year long. She described NYU as an epicenter of a series of events celebrating the cultures of the Urdu speaking communities in Pakistan, India and beyond. She declared that the diaspora community in the U.S. was an exceptionally vibrant one and organized regular mushairas, film screenings and musical events along with festival celebrations all over the United States, which were nearly always well attended.
There have been a spate of articles on the Partition in the western press, critically evaluating the actual process of Partition 70 years on, and whether the blood bath and the dislocation of millions could have been avoided, or at least its scale reduced. The focus of NYU’s conference on language, nicely shifted the discussion to the rich literature on the subject in Urdu.
The success of the conference can be gauged from the fact that they had to move to a larger room to accommodate the audience, and even then additional chairs had to be brought in. Reaching to the community paid off, as they listened with rapt attention and participated in the discussions that took place after each session. Professor Emerita Frances W. Pritchett of Columbia University summed up her impression of the conference well when she said that it was, “interesting, diverse and full of innovative thoughts”. Sadly, there was no time to show a movie on Kashmir, a wound left by Partition to fester, but it is scheduled later.
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