A Short Biography

Shamim Hanfi was a leading Urdu Critic, dramatist & one of the leading voices of Modernist movement in Urdu Literature. His books on Modernism like “ Jadeediyat ke Falsafana Ahsaas”, “Jadeediyat aur Nai Shairi” and “ Nai Sheri Riwayat” are considered as the most path-breaking and profound work.


Early Life 

Shamim Hanfi was born in Sultanpur on November 17th, 1938.Son of a renowned advocate, Mohd.Yaseen Siddiqui and Begum Zaibunnisa ,He was the eldest of the six siblings. His Father was an Aligarian and a literary enthusiast who completed his education from AMU in 1932-33. Shamim Hanfi recalls that his father used to prepare a list of literary classics, which he had to read every month. He was introduced to Tagore, Doestovosky,Dickens and others quite early in his life. Being a veracious reader, during his school days itself, he read the likes of Zafar Umar, Tirath Nath Firozpuri, Krishna Gopal Abid, Rashid Akhtar Nadwi, Shibli Nomani, Hali, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Nazir Ahmad and Others.

Zehr-i-Ishq, the masnavi by Mirza Shauq Lucknavi (1780-1871) was the first major book of poetry he ever read – at the tender age of 9. While the theme did not leave a permanent imprint on his mind, its aesthetics, inundated with plenty of sensual metaphors, did. While he kept reading classical texts of Urdu literature — Meer and Ghalib in particular – his forte was modernist and contemporary literature of Urdu as well as Western and Indian languages.


He did his schooling from Sultanpur. He learnt Persian from Maulvi Mugheesuddin, whereas his interest in Urdu literature was the result of his father’s perseverance and close proximity with his Urdu,History and English Teacher Syed Moinuddin Qadri ( Translator of many noted English literary works).

While in Intermediate he translated in Urdu, the Persian play “ Aakhiri Yaadgaar-e-Nadir Shah” of renowned Persian Playwright Saeed Nafisi.


He shifted to Allahabad to pursue his college studies. At Allahabad University he came in contact with Firaq Gorukhpuri, Dr. Aijaz Hussain, Prof. Ehtesham Hussain, Prof. S.C. Deb who left an indelible impact upon his sensibilities. They were not just teachers, but also intellectual guides and a mentor for him . He completed his D Phil from Allahabad University in the year 1966, His subjects were English Literature, History and Urdu.

He was the first regular student of D.Lit in Aligarh Muslim University In 1976, working under the supervision of Ale Ahmad Suroor, he completed his DLitt thesis titled Jadeediat Ki Falsafiana Asas that established his credentials as a literary critic.


After completing his PhD from Allahabad, Hanafi was appointed lecturer of Urdu at Indore University in 1965 and soon became head of department for Urdu, Farsi and Arabic. In 1969, he was appointed lecturer at Aligarh Muslim University.

He served as a faculty in Aligarh Muslim University and here he met some of his closest friends.Syed Wiqar Hussain, Retired as Professor and Head Department of English (who was also a colleague in Indore),Khaleel-ur-Rehman Azmi, Shahryar,Waheed Akhtar, Aale Ahmad Suroor ,Asloob Ahmad Ansari,Khwaja Masood Ali Zauqi & some others .The most prominent social and academic circle in AMU was a source of inspiration for so many younger  creative minds at that time, they used to spend most of their evenings at the University Staff Club .

After spending 7 years at AMU, he joined Jamia Millia Isalmia Delhi, where he served as professor of Urdu, dean and director till his retirement in 2007. In recognition of his services to education and literature, he was appointed a professor emeritus by Jamia Millia. He also edited Jamia, the university’s research journal.

He remained active after retirement, writing, travelling, attending seminars and conferences and consulting for India’s National Council of Educational Research and Training.

Aside from within India, Hanfi’s scholarly and literary works were extremely popular abroad. He presented a valuable essay on Iqbaliyat at the international Iqbal seminar in Heidelberg, Germany. Before this, he had read an article at Iqbal’s alma mater, Government College University, Lahore, which was acknowledged as a healthy addition to the understanding of facets of Iqbal’s thought. He presented thoughtful research addresses also on Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi and Ghalib at Pakistan’s University of Sargodha and University of Faisalabad respectively.


His literary oeuvre is  vast and diverse. He has over 50 books to his credit ranging from criticism to drama, poetry, translation and children’s literature. Rekhta published his first poetry collection by the name of “ Aakhri Pehar ki Dastak”


Shamim Hanfi on Hindi & Urdu

 Shamim Hanfi is one of the greatest advocate of bonhomie between Hindi and Urdu and for that reason he travels worldwide to express his views and his articles on this subject are published across the globe and he has participated in talk shows, discussions and also participated in events like Hindi Urdu Flagship programme of University of Texas (USA).

 Shamim Hanfi maintained that Hindi and Urdu are historically close to each other but politics has created a rift between them. He is of the opinion that a curriculum should be designed where both Hindi and Urdu should be taught together as this will bridge the gaps between the two languages and also revive the mutual tradition of both the languages. He emphasized that there is a need to protect both the languages from religious extremism and politics. He is of the view that if both Hindi and Urdu respect each other’s space and don’t intrude then both the languages will flourish and complement each other in the best possible way.

Shamim Hanfi on Manto

Shamim Hanfi’s book on Manto “ Manto Haqiqat se Afsaane Tak” was published in 2012 by Delhi Kitab Ghar, acts as a knowledge resource regarding Saadat Hasan Manto. He divides his text into four chapters- “ Dastaveez ( Legal Papers), Manto Apni Dafa mein ( Manto in his replenish), Mubbahis(Arguments),Ikhtetamiya(Conclusion).

According to Hanfi, Manto addresses cosmic realities in the framework of ground realities. In other words, he, like all great artists, observed earthly phenomena but then, through a creative touch, elevated it onto an altogether higher plain.


Shamim Hanfi on Miraji

Shamim Hanfi’s Book “ Miraji aur unka Nigarkhaana “ sheds light on one of the most eminent poet Mohammad Sanaullah Sani dar (Miraji) who was contemporary of Faiz and Rashid but never got his due. Shamim Hanafi is of the opinion that the spirit of 20th century couldn’t be understood without acknowledging the work of Faiz, Rashid and Miraji. He pointed out that unlike Faiz and Rashid, Miraji existed in many spheres at a time. He remarked that Miraji achieved many things including altering the geography of Urdu Poetry, since the “jungle” played a key role in his poetry.

Shamim Hanfi on Literature

Shamim Hanfi noted that In the Modern world, we have seen the world being split into blocs with new boundaries coming up every now and then but as far as literature is concerned , there are no boundaries , “Literature is the common heritage of all societies regardless of caste, colour, creed or race”

He further quoted “ Books respect our solitude

Nasir Abbas Nayyar Quoted “Throughout his critical writings, we find him reiterating that “Adeeb ka samna jeeti jagti zindagi say hae’’ (a writer has to encounter the daily reality). This may account for his aversion to retrieving ideas from literary texts. Again, unlike some contemporaries, he detested extracting meaning and then setting on interpreting them in some social, Marxist, historical or psychological perspective. “We don’t read poetry to remember the idea a verse contains, rather it is the lingual and sound image that our mind retains”, he contended. He was also of the view that in poetry the word and the meaning are not distinct or divisible realities. The word per se turns into an image of reality. He contended that “a word doesn’t communicate an idea or thought or some information; but a totality of the poetic experience”. In this context, his dislike of post-modernism, entrenched in linguistic binaries, is understandable.

To him, the act of reading poetry was not social or cultural but personal. Poetry, he said, spoke to our senses, to our soul, to our whole being. In poetry, the divide between body and soul, present and past, becomes redundant. Writing on Zahid Dar in Bazm-i-Hamnafsan, Hanfi went on to assert that insistence on the truth of the body did not entail denial of the soul as it was the body where the soul resided. Furthering the idea of personal engagement with poetry, he claimed that the rebirth of the moment of creativity can take place in the very act of reading. To him, reading poetry was not just seeking something out of it, rather, it was replicating a creative experience. However, he was not oblivious to the fact that creative experience is not just psychological but also embedded in a tehzeeb. He had an aversion to history and psychology and at times would not hesitate to scold those engaged in studying literature in the perspective of extra-literary disciplines. He was all praise for contextualising poetry and fiction in their respective tehzeeb and its values. In this way he appreciated mythology and symbolism and writers like Meeraji and Intezar Hussain whose writings are steeped in mythology.

It was his love for literature rooted in a jeeti jagti zindagi that led him to realise the significance of the writings of Bengali Hungry generation poets, Dalit writers, Black writers, and African and Latin American writers, for all these writers portray their immediate, real, ordinary, existing reality. Hanfi co-edited a book on Siah Faam Adab. In that too, he said that literature produced by the Third World was free from the ideological shackles of the First and the Second Worlds, creating a distinct niche in the history of world literature. Elaborating on the distinctions of black literature, he quoted lines from a black poet: “White races need to nurture a habit of listening while Blacks are required to nourish the habit of speaking (to white).” The courage to speak to White people has been integral to the project of decolonisation. Interestingly, a hint of decolonisation surfaces in his writings. Reviewing a critical edition of Masnavi Gulzar-i-Naseem, edited by Rashid Hasan Khan, Hanfi said that without decolonising our collective taste, character and consciousness, we could not realise the full significance of our past and the sensibility ingrained in our classical works. He was also of the view that until we juxtaposed our classical works with our contemporary sensibility in a bid to reveal their contemporary significance, our engagement with the past was of no value. The present is privileged to determine the value and significance of the past; it hence enjoys a “semantic leverage” to change the past and administer the future course.”


Shamim Hanfi on Intellectual Extremism

Shamim Hanfi maintained that extremism in following the classics or modernists or even the progressive was harmful. He looked at the critics’ role and is of the view that critics had learnt jargons, which they had borrowed from different sources, which had made them unable to come up with something worthwhile.

Shamim Hanfi is of the opinion that intellectual Extremism had crept into writers in their endeavor to get closer to power centres.

Other Interests

He was not only a well-versed scholar of English, Persian and Hindi, but also a connoisseur of music, painting and theatre. Unlike some contemporary critics, he did not believe in formulating different canons for classical and modern literatures. He held that literariness was where classicism and modernism converged. In Khayal ki Masafat, one of his representative works on criticism, he went on to claim that all classical literature of the world is the common heritage of the modern world.

His sense of aesthetics was unique and rich and is evident in his passion for performing arts, painting, pottery etc. This is the reason that some of his close friends were from the artist community-Gogi Sarojpal,Ved Nayyar,Ramachandran Nayar,Arpita Singh, Rajiv Lochan ,Paramjit Singh,Jatin Das to name a few.

He also served as the member of AMU court in 2010.