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Prof Azurdah’s hard journey—from treating cows to becoming a literary giant

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz/Srinagar

It is hard to believe that the author of 50 books, winner of the Sahitya Akademi award, and one of the leading Urdu writers in the world, had started his journey of life as a veterinary stock assistant.

Mirza Mohammad Zaman Azurdah of Hassanabad, Srinagar, is such a person. He was born in Amritsar and was two years old at the time of partition of India’s Partition occurred, and the resultant displacement of lakhs of people on the grounds of religion.

For Azurdah’s father Mirza Abbas, a trader of Kashmiri handicrafts, Lahore was 16 miles away and Srinagar 300 miles. He made a choice and shifted his family to the valley and settled there.

In Amritsar, Dr. Iqbal Hassan, Dr. Muzaffar-uz-Zaman Drabu, and other Kashmiris, who were students of medicine and later became famous physicians, used to frequently visit Mirza Abbas’ home at Amritsar. Mirza also wanted his son to become a doctor.

By the time Azurdah did his Matriculation in 1959, his father was too old to work, and his brother Mohiuddin, who later became a film producer and director, was too young to support the family. 

Mirza Azurdah with literary Kashmiri gianst like Pro Rehman Rahi and others

Azurdah joined Srinagar’s Sri Pratap College in the science stream but soon changed his mind. He left college to join as a veterinary stock assistant in the Animal husbandry department.

Five years later. Azurdah became a government school teacher and he also completed his graduation along with his job. He later obtained a Master of Arts degree in Urdu and became the first private candidate to top the examinations. Soon he embarked on his Ph.D on Mirza Salamat Ali Dabeer, a top Urdu Marsiya poet of the 19th century.

Soon Azurdah joined the University of Kashmir as a lecturer.  Azurdah retired in 2005 after rising to become a Professor and heading the departments of Urdu, Kashmiri, Hindi, and Sanskrit at the University. 

He also served as Librarian at the University’s Iqbal Library two terms as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and one term as Dean of the Faculty of Oriental Learning.

At 78, Azurdah is a celebrated author.

“In the beginning, it was an incredibly tough struggle. It was like breaking a glass ceiling as no private student, no veterinary livestock assistant had become a man of letters, a University professor of Urdu literature. I was like Alice in Wonderland”, Azurdah narrated to Awaz The Voice’.

“Even after I was appointed as a school teacher in 1964, I found it hard to pursue my dream of becoming a University faculty. I was posted in Jammu’s Gool Gulabgarh, in the middle of the Pir Panjal mountain and I felt cut off from the entire world. But I didn’t give up. I gave a dogged fight to every adversity till I got my mission accomplished. Nine years later, I was teaching Urdu language and literature at the University of Kashmir”, said Azurdah who did not have any formal education at a college or University.

 Azurdah’s tryst with literature started during his posting at Hajan—a village of eminent litterateurs and cultural activists in northern Kashmir. While running his department’s programme of Liver Flu Eradication, Azurdah came close to the men of letters like Prof Mohiuddin Hajini and Mohammad Ahsan Ahsan. He developed a passion for prose and poetry and wanted to rub shoulders with the biggies at Radio Kashmir (AIR, Srinagar).

Prof Mirza Mohammad Zaman Azurdah

“One day a neighbour’s cow recovered after I treated it. As a favour he got me booked for a talk on Radio Kashmir Srinagar. My department objected to it and said I was not authorised to broadcast a talk on the radio. However, the Radio had aired it and to stick to the government rules, the author’s name was edited out”, said Azurdah.

At the University of Kashmir, Azurdah grew under the tutelage of eminent Urdu writers like Prof Mohammad Hassan and Prof Shakeelur Rehman. He also joined Mirza Ghulam Hassan Beg Arif’s Kashmir Cultural League besides Halqa-e-Azad Hajan and Adbi Markaz Kamraz.

Azurdah’s first collection of Urdu essays Gubaar-e-Khayaal  was published in 1973. The same year he became a lecturer at Kashmir University. The next was a short story collection Aur Who Top Kar Gayi and his second collection of essays Shireen Ke Khatoot.

In 1980, Azurdah published Fikri Hinz Tikir—the first-ever collection of essays in Kashmiri. Three years later, he published his second collection of essays in Kashmiri, titled Essay which won him the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1984. 

Under the title of Thorns and Thistles, it was translated by senior journalist T.K. Kaul and published in 1986. In 2021, Tarika, Assistant Professor of English Literature with Satyawati College of the University of Delhi translated and published it as Meditations, for the Sahitya Akademi.

A recipient of scores of awards including the Ghalib Award, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Award, and Urdu Akademi awards from the States of UP, Bihar, West Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh, Prof Azurdah is now the author of 50 books—fiction, non-fiction, essays, translations, curriculum. His Urdu and Kashmiri poetry has been published in different literary magazines and a collection is expected later this year.

Azurdah’s books are in the curriculum of several universities across India and overseas. Even the textbooks he wrote 30 years ago for elementary to high school levels in Jammu and Kashmir are still there.

During his research on the Urdu elegy master Dabeer, Azurdah traversed libraries and universities across India. “I had extensive interactions with eminent Urdu researchers like Barrister Qazi Abdul Wadood of Patna, Masood Hasan Rizvi Adeeb of Lucknow, Imtiyaz Ali Arshi of Rampur and Malik Ram of Delhi. For 21 days, I stayed at Masood’s house, for several days at Raza Library Rampur”, Azurdah said.

Azurdah recollected his close association with high-profile Urdu litterateurs like Ali Sardar Jafri, Allama Jameel Mazhari, Ali Jawad Zaidi, Hayatullah Ansari, and Shamsur Rahman Faruqi. Many of them also visited his Srinagar residence. He supervised over a dozen Ph D theses and M Phil dissertations. While a research scholar at Bhopal University completed a doctorate on Azurdah’s life and works, two scholars of Central University Hyderabad and the University of Calicut did M Phil on Azurdah.

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Azurdah also worked as a senior research fellow with the Central Institute of Indian Languages at Mysore for two years. For 10 years he acted as Convener Executive Board member and General Council member of Sahitya Akademi.

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