ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Cities Old and New: the Urban Worlds of Aziz Ahmad


Jha Shefali - DA-IICT, Gandhinagar, India


08 – Imagining the city: Literary and religious practices of urbanity in early modern and modern South Asia


 The Urdu writer, critic and historian Aziz Ahmad (1913- 1978), Hyderabadi born and bred, is possibly one of the most urbane and cosmopolitan figures of the subcontinent to have been consigned to relative obscurity, both in the city where he first made his name (Hyderabad) and in the literary-critical world in general. This is not entirely surprising, because Ahmad’s eclectic sensibility and wide-ranging interests made him a bit of a solitary figure, somewhat unclassifiable within the dominant schools of Urdu literature. This is reflected in the subjects he chose to write about, in the age of Progressive Writing.

One such, this paper will show, was a quiet exploration of colonial urbanity, in the context of rapidly changing urban spaces and the diverse sensibilities they were called upon to accommodate. Rather more in tune with the preoccupations of his contemporary writers was his focus on sexual mores, the representation of which grounds this semi-fictional and historically minded work, particularly the asymmetry of gender and class that attended the changes in urban sociality. I will discuss Ahmad’s novels ‘Aisi Bulandi, Aisi Pasti’ (1947) and ‘Shabnam’ (1950), along with some of his better-known short stories in order to excavate his sometimes ironic and sometimes dystopic portrait of urban life in a colonial-modern society.