TASHKENT: In the middle of Central Asia, a professor has studied and taught Urdu for over half a century.
Professor Dr Tash Mirza is as passionate about the language now as he was in 1961, when he completed his doctorate in Urdu from Moscow University. His studies have taken him as far as Delhi, though his home for almost all his life has been Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.
Mirza frequently visits Pakistan and India to attend seminars and conferences on Urdu literature. Now 75, he teaches Urdu at the city’s State Institute of Oriental Studies.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Mirza says that Pakistan is his second home. From 1983 to 1987 he was the director of the Soviet Culture Centre in Karachi; he retains a strong attachment to the city.
Recognising his long service to the Urdu language in Central Asia, the Pakistani government honoured him with the Sitara-e-Imtiaz in 2011.
“I used to go to Pakistan two or three times a year. Recently, I attended the concluding functions and seminars regarding Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s centenary celebrations.” Faiz and Allama Iqbal, Mirza says, are the two totems of Urdu literature, although his admiration extends to many classical poets.
“Iqbal has a special place. There is a translation of his poetry in the Uzbek language, in which research has also been conducted. On December 22 we are going to organize a grand function on Allama Iqbal here in Tashkent.” Faiz’s poetry has also been translated into Uzbek, Mirza says, by a student in his department.
Mirza is concerned about the different trajectories Urdu is taking. “I feel it is going on two different platforms, and becoming a different language in Pakistan and Hindustan (India). I have been researching the characteristics of Pakistani Urdu and Indian Urdu, what is common and what is different between them.”
He has also written a compact Urdu-Uzbek dictionary, and he translates in both directions. Recently he published Urdu translations of several poems by Ali Sher Naovi, a renowned Uzbek poet.
However, disappointment can be glimpsed in his eyes when Mirza talks about the lack of interest from the Pakistani government in his Urdu Department in Tashkent. “Urdu has been taught here since 1947, but no single teacher from Pakistan has come here, which is really disappointing, though I know Urdu teachers from Pakistan go to different countries,” he says.
“Everywhere you will see professors from Pakistan but I don’t know why we have not been honoured with any teacher from Pakistan.”
There are more than 50 students currently learning Urdu at the institute – and all of them, Mirza says, want to visit Pakistan. Despite their enthusiasm, they face difficulties. “Despite the great wishes of our students to visit Pakistan, no such opportunity has been given to them yet.”
Mirza’s great ambition is to write a Urdu-Russian dictionary, and he has already started work on this project. “Publishing this dictionary is my mission now. I have to seek a publisher in Pakistan to publish it for the sake of the Urdu language. It will be a real asset for Russian students of Urdu.”
Concerning his award from the Pakistan government, he is delighted and modest. “I wonder if I am worthy of such a great honour or not. On August 15, one of my friends in Pakistan called me and congratulated me. At first, I was thinking it is because of Independence Day so I also congratulated him in return. But he said, ‘No, your name is in the list of Sitara-e-Imtiaz’. At first, I took it as a joke but then I read it in newspapers.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2011.