September 2012


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, 2012-13.

Highlights of 2011-12

The Berkeley Urdu Initiative was officially launched on September 25, 2011, with a Guftugu celebrating  Faiz Ahmed Faiz -- an event that marked the centenary celebrations of the celebrated Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz. The roughly 250 guests were treated to readings and musical renditions of Faiz’s poetry as well as a talk by Prof. Sean Pue (Michigan State University) in which he discussed the aesthetic quality of Faiz’s poems. The chief guest of the evening – Faiz’s daughter, the scholar, artist, educationalist and activist Salima Hashmi – offered two especially memorable contributions to the evening. The first was a conversation with the Berkeley Urdu Initiative co-chair Prof. Saba Mahmood (Anthropology) about Faiz’s life. In addition, Salima Hashmi moved the audience deeply with her lecture on how Faiz’s poetry continues to influence Pakistani and Indian artists.
The second event hosted by the Berkeley Urdu Initiative was a Guftugu on Contemporary Pakistani Art. Held on October 16, 2011, the focus of this Guftugu was Naiza Khan the widely acclaimed Pakistan-based artist – who talked about her artistic repertoire as well as her most recent project that focused on the changing physical and psychological landscape of Manora (a small island off the coast of Karachi). Hosted at the Berkeley Art Museum, the event was attended by over 100 people.
The third event hosted by the Berkeley Urdu Initiative was a Guftugu titled “The Last Mughal.” Held on February 28, 2012, it featured William Dalrymple (author of City of Djinns, The White Mughals, The Last Mughal) and noted classical singer Vidya Shah. The show highlighted readings by William Dalrymple about courtly life and culture in Delhi before and after the Mutiny/Rebellion of 1857) interspersed with ghazals from the same period sung by Vidya Shah. This show performed to a packed house of around 300 people.
Other Urdu-related events either directly hosted by or co-organized by the Berkeley Urdu Initiative this year were:
  • the US premier of a documentary film titled 40 Years of Camp Life: Bangladesh’s ‘Bihari’ Camps. Screened on February 23, 2012, the film portrayed Bangladesh’s Urdu-speaking community and its adjustment to the reality that repatriation to Pakistan is no longer possible. Around 25 people were in attendance.
  • A talk on November 10, 2011 by Dr. Nosheen Ali (Scholar-in-Residence at UC-Berkeley) titled “Poetry, Power, Protest: Re-imagining Muslim Nationhood in Northern Pakistan,” in which she examined the role of Urdu poetry in articulating the meaning of nationhood and citizenship in the border region of Gilgit-Baltistan. A lively Q&A session followed, engaging many of the 30-odd people in the audience.

Over the past year the Berkeley Urdu Initiative has worked extremely hard to raise $300,000 toward a permanent Urdu lectureship. Once this goal is reached, Berkeley will match every dollar raised by us with $3. Berkeley’s generosity reaffirms the university’s place as one of the premier instructions for the study and propagation of Urdu in the United States. This is a history that goes as far back as the late 1950s when Berkeley was one of the first institutions in the US to offer Urdu instruction at all levels. As of the summer of 2012, we have raised $250,000. Generous support has come from a large number of individual donors including: Vasudha Dalmia, Helen and Raj Desai, Gunpreet Dhindsa and Safwan Shah, Fariha and Aaref Hilaly, Uzma and Ahmed Khaishgi, Zareen and Umair Khan, Aruba and Adnan Lawai, Barbara and Tom Metcalf, Naila and Khalid Mahmood, the Pakistani Students Association (Berkeley), Shameela and Hasan Rizvi, Naheed and Aamir Shaikh, Sadia and Sajid Sohail, Clare Talwalker and Munis Faruqui, Paru and Zia Yusuf, and Aisha and Fawad Zakariya. Among our corporate benefactors, we are especially grateful for the generous support of Computers and Structures Inc. and the Habib Foundation. With your help and support we hope to raise the remaining $50,000 in the near future. 

Other Urdu-related Campus News

In other Urdu related news, we are pleased to say that at the start of AY 2011-12, we welcomed Mr. Qamar Jalil as our new Urdu lecturer. Jalil Sahib comes to Berkeley with over twenty five years of Urdu teaching experience. As well as a decade in the Berkeley Urdu Language Program in Pakistan (BULPIP), Jalil Sahib spent six years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he worked in close association with Prof. Muhammad Memon (editor of the Annual of Urdu Studies). Over the past year Jalil Sahib has been responsible for teaching Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced Urdu at Berkeley. According to his students, he is a passionate, caring and rigorous instructor. We are very fortunate to have him with us.

On April 28, 2012, Berkeley held its 7th Annual Urdu Culture Show, “Sitaron Se Aage”, 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, the event this year also drew participants from UC-Davis and San Francisco State University. Almost 500 people were entertained for over three hours by a program of jokes, skits, videos, music and dance. Tashie Zaheer, a noted Urdu poet and founder of the Urdu Academy of North America, was the keynote speaker. All proceeds from the event – around $6000 – were generously gifted by the show’s organizers to the Berkeley Urdu Initiative.

In February 2012, the Center for South Asia Studies signed an MOU with the Habib Foundation to offer general curricular and faculty support to Habib University, a new Karachi-based liberal arts and social sciences university that is expected to induct its first class of freshman in 2014. From the perspective of the Berkeley Urdu Initiative this partnership is particularly valuable for its potential to promote the study of Urdu at Berkeley (through targeted faculty exchanges and sponsored talks on campus) as well as offer opportunities for advanced Urdu students to study at Habib University for a semester.
Berkeley’s South and Southeast Asia Library (SSEAL) celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. The library serves students, faculty and researchers in over 40 departments who use materials in more than 30 languages. Under the able stewardship of SSEAL Head Librarian Adnan Malik, the library continues to build on its already substantial Urdu collection (widely considered one of the finest university collections in the world). Adnan Malik has also been at the forefront of an innovative web-based project called e-Kitab that aims to digitize the entire Berkeley Urdu collection and make it freely available to any one with access to the internet.
An Urdu poetry reading group – engaging students, faculty and community members – has met once a month for the past year. Facilitated by Ali Hassan (graduate student, Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies), the group focused on the poetry of one of Urdu’s greatest poets: Mirza Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’ (d. 1869). The reading group will continue to meet in the forthcoming year. The poet to be studied is yet to be decided

In the Coming Year
  • On October 6, 2012, we will host a Dastangoi (storytelling) performance by Mahmood Farooqui, a well known Indian poet, literary figure and Urdu booster. Mahmood Farooqui has been credited with almost single-handedly reviving this once popular form of public entertainment. By all accounts Mahmood Farooqui’s show will be spellbinding.
  • In November, we will mark the 100th centenary of the birth of Saadat Hasan Manto (one of the greatest Urdu short story writers) with a series of readings, talks, and live conversations.
  • In spring 2013 we will host a concert featuring the best Urdu ghazal performers in the Bay Area.
  • Finally, we are pleased to welcome Prof. Syed Akbar Hyder (UT-Austin) as a scholar-in-residence for the entire 2012-3 academic year. One of the leading scholars of Urdu in the United States, Prof. Hyder hopes to use his year at Berkeley to undertake research on a project focused on Josh Malihabad and Urdu aesthetics in the twentieth century. We hope that he will not only give regular talks at Berkeley but also be an active participant in the Berkeley Urdu Initiative.
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 support.
Best Wishes,

Munis Faruqui
Saba Mahmood