August 2013


Greetings from the Berkeley Urdu Initiative. We share with you here the highlights from the past academic year and also offer you a glimpse of some activities planned for this coming year, 2013-14.

Highlights of 2012-13

On September 25, 2011, the Urdu Initiative launched a fundraising drive to create a permanent endowment of $300K to protect the position of the Urdu lecturer as well as Urdu instruction at UC Berkeley. Just over a year-and-half later, in the spring of 2013, we reached our goal!

Hai kaainaat ko harakat tere zauq se
Partav se aaftaab ke zarre men jaan hai

          Creation has movement because of your taste
          Just a ray of sun gives life to a sand grain
                                                                           --  Ghalib

Our individual supporters included: Nasreen and Asghar Aboobakar, Shaista and Muhammad Akbar, Vasudha Dalmia, Helen and Raj Desai, Gunpreet Dhindsa and Safwan Shah, Naveeda and Javed Ellahie, Fariha and Aaref Hilaly, Sara and Javaid Iqbal, Amna Jaffer and Rafat Pirzada, Rehana Kausar and Farooq Khan, Uzma and Ahmed Khaishgi, Imrana and Muhammad Khalid, Ameer Khan, Shaheena and Javed Khan, Shaq Khan, Zareen and Umair Khan, Z.A. Khan, Aruba and Adnan Lawai, Barbara and Tom Metcalf, Naila and Khalid Mahmood, Sohail Muhammad, Irum and Bilal Musharraf, Amjad Noorani, the Pakistani Students Association (Berkeley), Steve Poulos, Tabinda and Syed Rahman, Shameela and Hasan Rizvi, Wasim Siddiqi, Jalil Shaikh, Naheed and Aamir Shaikh, Amir Shakil, Sadia and Sajid Sohail, Nasir Sufi, Clare Talwalker and Munis Faruqui, Javed Umerani, Paru and Zia Yusuf, and Aisha and Fawad Zakariya. Among our corporate benefactors were Computers and Structures Inc. and the Habib Foundation.

With support from the Berkeley Urdu Initative endowment, UC Berkeley, and the Dept. of Education’s Title VI Grant, Urdu instruction will now be offered at the beginning, intermediate and advanced levels every semester, for the foreseeable future. UC Berkeley is one of only three universities in the United States to make such a deep commitment to Urdu. We are extremely grateful for the generous support of everyone who made this possible.

Over the past year the Urdu Initiative sponsored five events.

  • On October 6, 2012, Mahmood Farooqui gave a stirring Dastangoi -- an Urdu story telling -- performance in the Bancroft Hotel. His hour-long act included a section of the Dastan-i Amir Hamza and a short story based on the life of the noted twentieth century Urdu short story writer Saadat Hasan Manto, titled “Mantoiyat.” Most of the 200 people in the audience had never seen a live dastangoi and, judging by the standing ovation and loud applause, everyone greatly appreciated the opportunity to engage with this difficult and rare art form.
  • On November 1, 2012, Prof. Akbar Hyder (UT-Austin) gave a talk at the Center for South Asia Studies titled Manto and his Peers. The focus of the talk was on the Urdu short story writer Saadat Hasan Manto and his contemporary, the Urdu poet Yaganah Changezi. As Prof. Hyder’s talk indicated both men were known iconoclasts who often infuriated their peers. Both men paid a heavy price for their behavior. A lively Q&A session followed, engaging many of the 35-odd people in the audience.
  • On November 29, 2012:  Prof. Munis Faruqui (UC Berkeley) gave a talk based on his recently published book, Princes of the Mughal Empire, 1504-1719. Trawling a vast archive of European and Persian sources, Prof. Faruqui's engaging book takes the reader from the founding of the empire under Babur to its decline in the 1700, and discusses how, as the princely institution atrophied, so too did the Mughal Empire.
  • On November 30, 2012, Prof. Sunil Sharma (Boston University) gave a talk at the Center for South Asia Studies titled The Shifting Landscapes of Mughal poetry and painting. In his talk Prof. Sharma undertook a close reading of rekhta poems on public life in Delhi by the nobleman Fa’iz Dihlavi, supplemented with an analysis of paintings from the same period. According to Prof. Sharma, Fa’iz Dihlavi’s works broaden our understanding of the period of transition between Persian and Urdu court literature in North India. Around 30 people, drawn from different departments on campus as well as the broader community, were in attendance.
  • On April 14, 2013, Berkeley held its 8th Annual Urdu Culture Show, Jashn-i Bahara, showcasing the talents and energies of Berkeley’s undergraduate students. Entirely organized and managed by the Pakistani Students Association, the Urdu Culture Show has become the largest collegiate event devoted to celebrating Urdu in the United States. As well as tapping into and nurturing UC Berkeley’s large and growing community of Urdu enthusiasts, this year’s event also drew participants from other Bay Area schools. The event was held in the Chevron Auditorium and was packed with more than 400 people. All the proceeds from the show – around $5000 – were generously donated to the Edhi Foundation.
In 2012-13 the Urdu Initiative also co-sponsored four events. They included:
In the fall semester of 2012 the Berkeley Urdu Initiative had the pleasure of hosting Prof. Akbar Hyder as a visiting research fellow at the Center of South Asia Studies. Prof. Hyder, on leave from the University of Texas-Austin, used his time to undertake research in the large Urdu collection in UC Berkeley’s Doe Library and to complete his eagerly anticipated book on the noted twentieth century poet Josh Malihabadi. Prof. Hyder’s presence at Berkeley was an enriching experience for everyone involved in the Urdu Initiative and also a powerful reminder of the need to build a critical mass of scholars working on Urdu literature in the United States.


Although the Urdu Initiative has reached its goal of raising $300,000 to protect Urdu instruction on campus, we hope to create a larger eco-system designed to nourish Urdu at Berkeley and in the Bay Area in the years ahead. Toward this end, we will continue to solicit funds to support regular Urdu programming at UC Berkeley as well as create an artist/scholar-in-residence program at UC Berkeley.

To make an online donation to the Urdu Initiative, please click HERE

In The Coming Year

For two weeks in early November 2013, the Urdu Initiative will host Mahmood Farooqui as a visiting artist-in-residence. Mr. Farooqui, a well-known Delhi-based poet, literary figure and Urdu booster who has been credited with almost singlehandedly reviving the art of Urdu public storytelling (dastangoi) will offer a series of dastangoi performances at Berkeley and in other parts of the Bay Area as well as host two day-long workshops (spread over two weekends) to train the first generation of Urdu dastangos in the Bay Area. For further details on individual programs please see here.
In spring 2014 we will host a concert that will feature the best Urdu ghazal performers in the Bay Area singing their favorite ghazals.
We sincerely hope to see you at our events through this coming year. We look forward to your feedback and invite your suggestions. We remain extremely grateful for your continuing interest in and support for the Berkeley Urdu Initiative.

Best Wishes,

Munis Faruqui
Saba Mahmood