Renaissance Urdu man Gopi Chand Narang has passed away

Prominent Urdu scholar, linguist, literary critic and former president of Sahitya Akademi, Gopi Chand Narang died last night aged 91. He lived with his son Tarun Narang in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Narang, who was admired in the subcontinent among the masses and scholars of Urdu with equal enthusiasm, was recognized by both the Government of India and that of Pakistan (he received Padma Bhushan in India and Sitara-i-Imtiaz (star of excellence) in Pakistan). He worked extensively to explain and analyze the works of Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir and later Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Firaq Gorakhpuri beyond thematic and typical writings, wrote about 60 books during his career and did his utmost to keep the language beyond communitarianism. Apart from this, he has also designed 10 books for children under the title “Let’s Learn Urdu” in English and Hindi.

While one of his most important works, Urdu Ghazal aur Hindustani Zehn-o Tahzeeb (Urdu Ghazal and Indian Mind and Culture) traced the origins of the ghazal, emphasizing that it was not just a piece of love poetry, but that the genre included views of both Hindus and Muslims. “Bhasha ka koi mazhab nahi hotahe would often say. But it was his first work, Urdu Readings in Literary Urdu Prose (1968) that attracted much attention. Wherever Urdu is read and taught in the world, the book may be part of the curriculum of all those universities.

Born in Dukki, a sleepy little village in Balochistan, Narang was introduced to literature by his father, himself a specialist in several languages, including Baloch and Pashto. He was also a scholar of Sanskrit and Persian. Narang moved to Karol Bagh in Delhi after partition and lived in a peon’s residence while trying to find work to survive. After some time, he joined the Masters program in Urdu at Delhi University under Prof. Khwaja Ahmad Faruqi. Soon, he received a research grant from the Ministry of Education to complete his doctorate. It was at this time that Narang received advice from renowned names such as Dr. Zakir Husain (who later became the President of India), Dr. Tara Chand and Dr. Syed Abid Husain among others. He started his teaching career in 1958 at St Stephen’s College and joined Delhi University a year later. He then taught at the University of Wisconsin but returned to people who spoke the language he loved. He traveled the world, taught Urdu, and in the process broadened his perspective by reading and understanding world literature.

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