CHENNAI: Gone are those days when Mushaira sessions - social gatherings dedicated to Urdu poetry - permeated the air at the Urdu department of the Presidency College. The situation in which the century-old department finds itself today is a far cry from its glorious past.
With no teaching faculty to run the department over the past two years, the lone student who joined merely a few months ago was shifted to BSc Physics, leaving the Urdu department facing the prospect of imminent closure.
Ever since Yasmeen Ahmed, associate professor and head of the only academic department in Tamil Nadu to offer co-education undergraduate Urdu major, retired in 2014-15 academic year, his post has remained vacant with not even guest faculty to keep the course running.
But it was not as if no one was interested in filling the void. H Abdul Rehman, secretary of Mohidbbaane Urdu, was one among the four who applied for the department’s guest lecturer post this year. “But none of us was called for an interview. Instead, the lone student of the BA (Urdu) course was asked to switch to BSc Physics,” Rehman alleged.
The situation hadn’t always been this dire, said Rahman, as he pointed to the efforts taken six years ago when the college secured special permission to accommodate 14 students as against the sanctioned strength of 10. The then head, Yasmeen, even paid the fee for many of these students, he recalled.
When contacted, the principal of Presidency College, T Pramananda Perumal, told Express that the college had already forwarded the vacancies list to the State government, which is the sole authority for appointing permanent staff.
Even as the 150-year-old Urdu department at the Presidency College finds itself on the brink of closure, Principal T Pramananda Perumal is far from apologetic about the sorry state of affairs.
Denying the charge that he had not been proactive enough, Perumal insisted that it was the lack of cooperation from some of the faculty members that had been hampering the day-to-day activities of the college.
“I had asked a faculty member of a different language department to assume charge of the Urdu department until a new appointment could be made. But he refused and went on medical leave. Finally, I asked the Hindi department HoD to hold the additional charge,” he said.
“There were no takers for the Urdu course last year, while only one student sought admission this academic year. The student voluntarily chose BSc Physics since there were no faculty for Urdu, and we accommodated him,” he claimed.
A source in the University of Madras, who has witnessed the rise and fall of the department over the past few decades, recalled that several reputed scholars of Islamic Studies and Urdu like the former principal of the college, M Abdul Huq, Syed Abdul Wahab Bukhari, Raheem Ahmed Farooqui and Hyder Ali Khan used to encourage students to take up creative writing and engaged them in the art of versification.
During their tenures, over 200 students were studying Urdu. They had a literary magazine called Zia, which published short stories and research articles.
“There was an active Urdu Literary Association of Presidency College through which the students used to conduct Mushaira, inter-collegiate Urdu competitions and quiz programmes, among others,” he said.
Over the years, several prominent figures have been associated with the Urdu department, including former Jammu & Kashmir chief secretary Moosa Raza, former pro-vice chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University and chairman of Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission Abdul Huq, the first Urdu novelist from Tamil Nadu, Rasheed Madrasi, New College principal Farhathullah, senior advocate at the Madras High Court Habeebullah Badsha and public prosecutor Salahuddin Basha Bukh.
Urdu not the only ‘dying’ language in the college
Starting out as a school in 1840 before getting elevated to a college in 1854, the institution was the only one offering courses in all South Indian languages - Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam - besides Sanskrit, Hindi and English.
About two decades ago, the Kannada department was closed, while the Hindi, Sanskrit and Malayalam departments were left with only one full-time faculty who is also the Head of Department. There were no takers for BA Malayalam, where the faculty’s work is now limited to signing the register. The Telugu department is relatively better-off, with three faculty members.
In stark contrast, the Tamil department has 21 full-time faculty including 16 associate professors and five assistant professors. The English department has 23 faculty, including 6 associate professors and 17 assistant professors.
New College offers free BA Urdu course
All is not lost for Urdu enthusiasts, as New College in Chennai has introduced BA Urdu course from this academic year for free. This was made possible by the former head of Urdu department, Mohammed Ubaidur Rahman, and the honorary secretary and correspondent of the college, A Mohammed Ashraf, who contributed `1 lakh each towards student enrolment fees.
Rahman told Express that 12 students have been admitted so far. However, admissions are open only to male students. Contrary to popular perception, Urdu graduates are still in demand, with some IT companies having ‘Urdu system assistant’ posts.