Rakhshanda Jalil enters the bustling Oxford Bookstore in Connaught Place, book in hand, and is welcomed by an audience who are reciting Urdu poetry to one another as they wait for the launch. Writer, critic, and commentator on Hindustani, Jalil was working on her Phd on the pre-Independence All-India Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA) in India, a couple of years ago, when Oxford University Press decided to publish her research as a book titled Liking Progress, Loving Change: A Literary History of the Progressive Writers’ Movement in Urdu
Jalil reads out from the introduction which tells us what compelled her to write about a movement that dates back nine decades. “The importance of the movement is highlighted, and how it paved the way to revolutionary writing standards in our country. I have not focused on the individual merit of the writers, because I am not interested in evaluating the work I studied, as a critic. I am more interested in locating and exploring the movement like a literary historian would,” says Jalil.
The PWA India involved many Urdu literary stalwarts including Ismat Chughtai, Kaifi Azmi, Krishan Chandar and Saadat Hasan Manto, who shaped the consciousness of people during the independence struggle. “The emphasis had always been on nation building and social transformation,” she says. The book interweaves primary sources and personal collections of Urdu prose and poetry to trace the evolution of this movement from its heady days in the 1930s to its decline in the 1950s.
The PWA penetrated more through vernacular languages, says Jalil. “Urdu was the most used, most radical and open to change,” she says.
She talks of her interest in Urdu writers, “These writers reflected a mind-boggling variety of styles.” There are chapters on what made the writers of the movement so intriguing. “The book poses one vital question: ‘What is progress and what made these writers so progressive?’” she says.
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