ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Poetics and Politics

Persian-Language Littérateurs of Late Mughal Delhi

Persian Authorship and Canonicity in Late Mughal Delhi: Building an Ark by Prashant Keshavmurthy,Oxon: Routledge, 2016; pp 178,7,308 (hardcover).

Prashant Keshavmurthy’s Persian Authorship and Canonicity in Late Mughal Delhi: Building an Ark is a welcome addition to the growing understanding of the intellectual and literary history of the 18th century. The chief protagonist of the book, to whom three out of five chapters are devoted, is Abd al-Qadir Khan, pen-named “Bidil” (1644–1720). Bidil was a deeply inventive, enquiring, and versatile Persian-language poet who lived in Delhi, and thus wrote for both that immediate readership of politically beleaguered late Mughal India (with an eye and ear on other readers of the wider contemporary and historical Persian world), and also, like all writers, for us—the readers of the unknown future. The other two figures of the fourth and fifth chapters are in the lineage of Bidil, and very much in awe of his genius. The first is Siraj al-Din Ali Khan or “Arzu” (1687–1756), a direct student and philological defender of what was “new” in Bidil’s work, even if this defence was often in terms different from those of Bidil. The second figure is Brindaban Das “Khvushgu” (1667/78–1757), a poet and historian who was a student of both Bidil and Arzu, and who wove the divergent lessons of both these teachers, in order to compose a biographical dictionary of Persian poets. His distinctive accomplishment was to combine Bidil’s rhetoric of timelessness with Arzu’s historicism.

In this sense, Keshavmurthy works within a teleology. As the poets come closer to us in time, they seem to view the world in ways that are more familiar to us, that is, in terms of historicity. Bidil writes as if he is out of time, as if he is a contemporary of any golden age, past or future. This is not necessarily ahistorical (or the vanity of poetic genius, or that of the Sufi mystic), for what we may want to focus on is the careful rhetoric of timelessness that is deployed in such claims to ahistoricity. Timelessness is not something that can simply be claimed. Rather, it must be attained through certain effects, presuppositions, codes of the immediacy of visuality, and styles of self-fashioning.

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Updated On : 4th Dec, 2017
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