Pseudonym, or takhallus, in Urdu: some interesting facts
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By Rauf Parekh | 6/6/2016 12:00:00 AM
THE small graphical sign placed over the pen name of a poet is called `batt`. It is an Arabic word. In Urdu, the gemination (or `tashdeed`) over the second letter of the word was dropped to make the pronunciation easier. In Arabic, it means, literally, `cutting`. Initially, it was used as a full stop to end a sentence, hence the name: when a sentence was needed to be `cut`, the sign was placed over the last word. It also came in handy to mark the digits in accounts (such as amount of money) or proper nouns. The sign was put over them.

With the passage of time the extent of its use was restricted to names alone. And then in Persian and Urdu literary texts, the sign began to denote a takhallus, or the pen name of a poet. For instance, Mirza Asadullah Khan took the takhallus Ghalib and he is almost always referred to by this penname. In royal courts, poets adopted the pen name to save their works from being plagiarised by the other court poets. Sometimes the geographical belonging is added to the takhallus to make it more distinct and examples in this regard abound, such as, Aatish Lukhnavi or Daagh Dehlvi.

How the tradition of `takhallus` began in Persian and how it was borrowed by the poets of Urdu is an interesting tale. But I am not going to deliberate on it as Dr Syed Abdullah in his scholarly work `Mabahis` (Lahore, 1965) has narrated it quite well. Dr Abdullah has also discussed the nuances of the Arabic word `takhallus`, which means, literally, `to get liberated` or `become secure` The purpose of this piece is to enlist some interesting pen names, or pseudonyms, assumed by some authors of Urdu.

But let there be no confusion that sometimes in Urdu a takhallus is quite different from a pseudonym. In Western literary culture a pen name or pseudonym is used toeither conceal the identity of a writer or as a part of marketing gimmicks. For instance, George Eliot, the famous English novelist, poet and the creator of the works such as Adam Bede and The mill on the floss, was born Mary Ann Evans and she adopted the pen name George Eliot so that her works `would be taken seriously`, since in those days women writers were known usually for writing itty-bitty love stories and romantic tales.

A takhallus is meant to give an author a distinct identity. But sometimes the writers of Urdu too adopted a penname to camouflage their identity. Women writers` writing by their real names was frowned upon in the conservative society of the subcontinent, so Zahida Khatoon Shervaniya, a talented woman poet who died quite young, used her initials: Ze Khe Sheen. On the other hand, some male writers created a shadow writer, their female literary double, to lure the readers, as in theearly 20th century an aura of mystique and romance surrounded woman writers. According to Qurratul Ain Hyder, female fiction writers were considered mysterious personalities. Qamar Zamani Begum was not a real person and Niaz Fatehpuri wrote some pieces by this pseudonym.

Tahira Devi Sherazi created a sensation among the readers in 1930s but it was a fake identity, just a pen name used by Fazl-i-Haq Qureshi. The erotic Urdu novels with the name Wahi Wahanvi printed on the title were the creation of Shaukat Thanvi.

Though he had penned a few, later a plethora, of such cheap works flooded the market, all written by a host of ghost writers.

Even in the latter half of the 20th century, many so-called `socio-romantic` Urdu novels by women writers were ghostwritten by male writers, as the market for such worl(s consisted mainly of women and a novel by a woman writer would have been moreattractive for the female readers.

Similarly, almost half of the romantic short stories and serialised novels appearing in the digests published for women are ghostwritten by men.

Aside from that, if we have a look at the pseudonyms adopted by some of the famous writers and poets of Urdu, to hide the identity either for some literary or `aesthetic` reason or political issues, we find quite a few interesting facts.

First, let us have a look at the `literary-sounding` names adopte d by the writers and poets for aesthetic reasons: Ibn-i-Insha`s real name was Sher Muhammad Khan.

Firaq Gorakhpuri was born Raghupati Sahay. Dhanpat Rai Srivastuv`s nom de plume was Munshi Premchand. Muhammad Umer assumed the pen name Shaukat Thanvi. Jigar Muradabadi was born Ali Skinadar.

Now here is a list of writers and their pseudonyms, which theyadopted most probably to disguise their personality for certain reasons: Farhatullah Baig assumed the pen name Mirza Alam Nashrah. Mehfooz Ali Badayuni used many names, including Sham-i-benoor. Sultan Hyder Josh used to write as John Bill in Nageeb. Allama Zareef was Tajwer Najeebaabadi`s pen name. When Chiragh Hasan Hasrat began writing for Nai dunya, a newspaper published from Kolkata, he assumed Columbus, Koocha-gard and Sindbaad Jahazi as his pen names, though he already had Hasrat as his takhallus.

Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi wrote many columns by the pen name of Panj-darya and Anga. Ibn-i-insha used Darvesh Damishqi, Haji Baba Isfahani and Pehla Darvesh as his pseudonyms. Khamabagosh was Mushfiq Khwaja`s pen name. Dr Waheed Qureshi used to write a literary column under Mir Jumla Lahori.