Cosmopolitan Dreams: The Making of Modern Urdu Literary Culture in Colonial South Asia
Published by: University of Hawaii Press
Imprint: University of Hawaii Press
Published: December 2021
Imprint: University of Hawaii Press
Page Count: 192 Pages
Illustrations: 3 b&w illustrations, 1 map
Dimensions: 152.00 x 228.00
192 Pages, 152.00 x 228.00 mm, 3 b&w illustrations, 1 map
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In late nineteenth-century South Asia, the arrival of print fostered a dynamic and interactive literary culture. There, within the pages of Urdu-language periodicals and newspapers, readers found a public sphere that not only catered to their interests but encouraged their reactions to featured content. Cosmopolitan Dreams brings this culture to light, showing how literature became a site in which modern daily life could be portrayed and satirized, the protocols of modernity challenged, and new futures imagined.
Drawing on never-before-translated Urdu fiction and prose and focusing on the novel and satire, Jennifer Dubrow shows that modern Urdu literature was defined by its practice of self-critique and parody. Urdu writers resisted the cultural models offered by colonialism, creating instead a global community of imagination in which literary models could freely circulate and be readapted, mixed, and drawn upon to develop alternative lines of thinking. Highlighting the participation of readers and writers from diverse social and religious backgrounds, the book reveals an Urdu cosmopolis where lively debates thrived in newspapers, literary journals, and letters to the editor, shedding fresh light on the role of readers in shaping vernacular literary culture. Arguing against current understandings of Urdu as an exclusively Muslim language, Dubrow demonstrates that in the late nineteenth century, Urdu was a cosmopolitan language spoken by a transregional, transnational community that eschewed identities of religion, caste, and class.
The Urdu cosmopolis pictured here was soon fractured by the forces of nationalism and communalism. Even so, Dubrow is able to establish the persistence of Urdu cosmopolitanism into the present and shows that Urdu’s strong tradition as a language of secular, critical modernity did not end in the late nineteenth century but continues to flourish in film, television, and on line. In lucid prose, Dubrow makes the dynamic world of colonial Urdu print culture come to life in a way that will interest scholars of modern Asian literatures, South Asian literature and history, cosmopolitanism, and the history of print culture.
Dubrow’s book is an elegant and apt contribution to the history of Urdu literature, capturing an essential set of modern voices in a late 19th century Urdu public characterized by diversity and polyphony. Demonstrating an agile command of a wide-ranging primary source archive, Cosmopolitan Dreams is a crucial contribution to the complicated history of Urdu literary publics and to multiple modernities; it is also a delight to read. While the place of religion and ethnicity in this modern Urdu public is debatable, Dubrow offers a compelling argument for the modern character of the late 19th century Urdu public as it does for the underestimated force of periodicals in the history of Urdu literature. Megan Eaton Robb, University of Pennsylvania, Journal of Urdu Studies, 1 (2020)
The book bears testimony to Dubrow’s genuine interest in archival material, her novel methodology, and commitment to painstakingly thorough research. . . . Accompanied by her accessible and eloquent writing style, Cosmopolitan Dreams stands out among its peers as an engaging and insightful read. These factors make Dubrow’s book eligible for recommendation to not just enthusiasts of colonial literary history and Urdu literary history but it will also interest the lay reader who can enjoy the witty factual anecdotes and translated pieces from nineteenth century periodicals. Ayesha Abrar, Language, Literature, and Interdisciplinary Studies (LLIDS), 3:4 (2020)
In Cosmopolitan Dreams, Dubrow not only breaks new ground by presenting a thoroughly researched background, but develops and applies a highly plausible new framework for looking at the interlocked development of the vernacular newspaper and the novel in the colonial era. . . . Her insights are innovative and invaluable, particularly since such phenomena of popular culture have largely been ignored by scholars of Urdu literature. Dawn Pakistan
Cosmopolitan Dreams plunges us into the rich world of nineteenth-century Urdu journalism, of sketches and dialogues, witty prose, satirical poetry, and serialized novels that happily crossed all kinds of genre boundaries. In lively depictions and often biting characterizations, sharp pens tackled the new conditions, aspirations, and challenges of colonial modernity. Nothing was spared and every kind of sanctimonious or pompous behavior was ridiculed. Urdu readers from all over India responded enthusiastically. Treading knowledgeably but lightly through a vast archive, and alternating between close readings and broader vistas, Cosmopolitan Dreams is a delight to read and will hopefully send readers scouting for those magazines in old libraries and online repositories. Francesca Orsini, SOAS University of London
Dubrow judiciously leads us into the Urdu cosmopolis, a fascinating crisscrossing of times, languages, religions, and technologies. Readers will be struck by the brilliant theoretical insights aligned with careful empirical evidence mined from the treasures of periodicals, satires, and novels. This work will certainly inspire us to rethink South Asian language politics, gender, colonialism, and resistance in exciting new ways. S. Akbar Hyder, The University of Texas at Austin
This delightful slim monograph—no more than 120 pages of text—by Jennifer Dubrow underlines the resurgence of Urdu studies in the academy, as it does of new and recent scholarship, much of it still in the works awaiting publication, of Muslims under British colonialism in India in the nineteenth century. . . . This is a very useful work for scholars working on Urdu or on Muslims in colonial India and teaches us much. It has an excellent and wide bibliography and provides new insight on the relationship between print media and readership. It will become part of the new and emerging scholarship on Indian Muslims in colonial India and will supplement what one hopes will become a rich field of knowledge. S. Akbar Zaidi, Columbia University, H-Asia, H-Net Reviews
In her engaging and enjoyable Cosmopolitan Dreams, Jennifer Dubrow draws upon her reading of Ratan Nath Sarshar’s famous picaresque work, Fasana-e Azad (lit. “Tale of Azad”), to argue that this “first novel in Urdu” helped create a modern literary culture—an Urdu cosmopolis— from what had been the premodern culture of classical Urdu. . . . Students and scholars both will want to read this book in conjunction with Dubrow’s other published work, and we look forward to more from this gifted scholar. Carla Petievich, The University of Texas, Austin, Pacific Affairs, 93:4, 2020