(Last Updated on : 14/02/2013)
Short story in nineteenth century Urdu literature
saw a major growth during the era. At the start of the nineteenth century, printing and publishing activities at the newly founded Fort William College of Kolkata
resulted in an unprecedented output of prose narratives in Urdu and Hindi. Most of these books were adaptations or translations of different classical and popular Indian tales, Persian Qissas and Masnavis, etc., meant for the instruction of British officers and employees of the British East India Company
Alongwith these, other works of prose fiction, printed at various Urdu presses, started to appear in considerable number, especially from the 1830s onwards. These were Urdu translations or adaptations of Persian Qissas and Perso-Arabic moral tales, of stories from the Arabian Nights, stories about the Prophet Muhammad
and his companions, collections of witticisms (Lata'if), short anecdotes, and fables (Naqlen, Naqlat or Naqliyat) of humorous, amatory or other nature (originally based often on Sanskrit sources like the Shukasaptati). All these seem to have been very popular, and their traces can be distinguished in later works of fiction.
In all the major works of fiction of the period, the majority of Indian writers were influenced by the Puranic tradition of oral narratives and the memory of episodes from Ramayana
. The increasing number of publications based on traditional narratives in the course of the nineteenth century reveals their popularity and pervasiveness. The contents range from sexual encounters and other such adventures over jests and jokes, to moral tales. Similarly, even in the Urdu stories, the narrator cites tradition or older texts as sources for his material, however without names or titles. Certainly, quite a number of these anecdotes must have been part of oral transmission as well. In the case or such short narratives, the attitude that seems to have prevailed was typical of the treatment of poetry: they were seen as existing in a timeless mode.
The first collections of this type were produced under Gilchrist at Fort William College with the clear aim of providing material in simple prose for the language instruction of the East India Company's British employees. Early examples are the Naqliyat compiled by the head Munshi (scribe; tutor) Mir Bahadur Ali Afsos (vol. 1: 1802, vol.2: 1806?); Akhlaq-i Hindi (Indian Ethics/Manners) compiled by Mir Bahadur Ali Husaini in 1802 and printed in 1803; Naqliyat-i Luqman (Aesop's Fables); Lata'if-I Hindi by Lalluji Lai (Indian Witticisms, written 1800, printed 1810, 1820 and 1840); Tota Kahani (The Tales of a Parrot, 1801) by Sayid Haidar Bakhsh Haidari; Bagh-i Urdu (The Rose-garden of Urdu, 1802) by Mir Sher Ali Afsos; and Khirad Afroz (Illuminating the Intellect, 1803) by Hafizuddin Ahmad, to name some of the most popular texts. These are more or less free versions of Persian sources, the majority of which were based on Indian tales. From the number and the geographical range of later editions, it can be understood that they soon started to spread beyond the confines of classrooms for foreigners. As later Urdu and Hindi readers show, some came to be included in the syllabus for native speakers, which was in line with the practice of teaching Persian on the basis of moral and didactic tales from the Gulistan and other books on ethics and manner.
Apart from these collections sponsored by the British, similar volumes of tales, fables, witticisms and anecdotes started to appear via private/independent publishing houses. By far the greatest number seems to have been produced for entertainment. The spread of printing facilities after 1840 is reflected in the growing number of publications from that decade onwards. Different names have been used to denote short 'traditional' narratives, of which Naql appears to be the broadest and most widely used, at least in the titles of different collections. It functions almost like an umbrella term covering all sorts of short stories based on tradition (written or oral or both), these varying in length between a couple of lines and several pages, the majority being less than a page long.