Authors of Hoshruba

  • Muhammad Husain Jah (Born: ? – Died: 1891–93?)

Muhammad Husain (pen name Jah) was Urdu’s greatest prose stylist and an accomplished poet. His father, Syed Ghulam Husain, was a rammal or diviner. Hardly any information exists about Jah’s life before he published his first composition, Tilism-e Fasahat, in 1874 through the Naval Kishore Press, Lucknow. He was of the Shia faith and trained in narrating the episodes of Husain’s martyrdom at Karbala. After Jah’s success with Tilism-e Fasahat, Naval Kishore Press hired him to compose Tilism-e Hoshruba. A first volume was published in 1883. According to Jah’s own account, he compiled the legend of Tilism-e Hoshruba using traditions from the three written accounts of Mir Ahmad Ali Rampuri/Amba Prasad Rasa, Muhammad Amir Khan, and Ghulam Raza. He also used traditions from Shaikh Tasadduq Husain, a fellow dastan narrator and dastan writer. The second volume of Tilism-e Hoshruba came out in 1884. But there was a delay of four years before the third volume was published in 1888–89. Considering the popularity of Tilism-e Hoshruba, the Press demanded that Jah finish the subsequent volumes speedily. It appears Jah could not meet those demands.

Jah was also devastated by the deaths of his young son and daughter, which occurred while he wrote the third volume. For awhile he even stopped writing and only resumed it at the encouragement of publisher Munshi Naval Kishore. After the printing of the fourth volume of Tilism-e Hoshruba in 1890, the Naval Kishore Press replaced Jah with another Lucknow dastan narrator, Ahmed Husain Qamar.

We know that Jah’s work on Tilism-e Hoshruba was close to his heart and he continued with it even after his disassociation with the Naval Kishore Press. In December of the same year, he started his own press, named Husaini Press, and privately published the first part of Tilism-e Hoshruba’s fifth volume. Only one copy of this book is known to exist, which was recently discovered by the Urdu researcher Rafaqat Ali Shahid. Its first four pages, in which Jah may have explained his reasons for leaving the Naval Kishore Press, are missing. Nothing could be said with certainty at this time about the exact circumstances in which Jah separated from the Naval Kishore Press and what happened to his other works, if there were any. In a notice printed in the fifth volume of Hoshruba, published by the Naval Kishore Press, Ahmed Husain Qamar mentions that “some chance accidents” brought about the end of Jah’s association with the publisher.

Other notices at the back of the various editions of Tilism-e Hoshruba reveal that Jah’s death occurred between December, 1890, and October, 1893. According to Urdu scholar Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, the time recorded for the death of Jah’s young children and a comparison of his contemporaries’ ages reveals that Jah died at a relatively young age.

Meanwhile, Ahmed Husain Qamar continued his work on the remaining volumes of the Tilism-e Hoshruba. He proved extremely prolific, perhaps in competition with Jah’s Husaini Press, or in reaction to public demand. The fifth volume was published in two parts in 1891. The publication of the sixth volume in 1892 was quickly followed by the seventh and last volume in 1893.

Only fragmentary information is available about the professional relationship between Jah and Qamar. Jah duly credited all his sources. In his first published work, Tilism-e Fasahat, he mentions Ahmed Husain Qamar as his instructor. But according to Faruqi, the uncharacteristic exaggeration and hyperbole he uses to credit Qamar suggests that Jah did so ironically. Qamar himself never made any claims to be Jah’s teacher, although he did make many false and contrary claims to appropriate the credit for the authorship of the Tilism-e Hoshruba from Jah and past authors and narrators of the legend.

From documentary evidence, three people are known to have taught Jah. None of them were dastan narrators and may not have influenced his dastan narration. They were Mir Fida Ali Fida, a nisar or prose narrator; Mushi Ashraf Ali Ashraf, a calligrapher employed at the Naval Kishore Press; and a poet who used the pen name Sehr. The poet Mirza Jafar Husain Qamar Lakhnavi is mentioned as Jah’s pupil.

The Tilism-e Hoshruba became a bestseller and remains the best known legend of fantasy literature in the Urdu language. Eight editions were published from 1883 to 1930 from Lucknow alone.

  • Mir Ahmed Ali (Lived 1850s)

Mir Ahmed Ali Rampuri was a dastan narrator of Lucknow. He later migrated to the princely state of Rampur to join the court as a dastan narrator in the reign of Navab Muhammad Saeed Khan (1840–55). According to Jah’s statement, it was he who invented the Hoshruba legend that was transcribed by his student, Amba Prasad Rasa, who was also a dastan narrator. This was one of the versions Jah used as his source to create the legend of Tilism-e Hoshruba. No further details are available about his version of the Hoshruba legend except that Muhammad Husain Jah had obtained a copy after a long search.

Mir Ahmed Ali has two unpublished manuscripts to his credit. The first book was in Persian and was co-authored with another Lucknow dastan narrator, Mir Qasim Ali. It was the Qissa-e Amir Hamza and contained the Naushervan Nama, Kochak Bakhtar, Bala Bakhtar, and Iraj Nama. Composed in 1853–54, it had 1,052 manuscript pages and was calligraphed by Navab Ali Khan’s secretary, Ratan Lal. Mir Ahmed Ali’s second book was the Urdu language Tilism-e Tahmuras Deoband. It contained 398 pages, was edited by Amba Prasad Rasa and calligraphed by Ghulam Raza. Mir Ahmed Ali taught dastan narration to Amba Prasad Rasa and Hakim Syed Asghar Ali Khan.

  • Amba Prasad Rasa (Born: c.1790—Died: 1886)

Amba Prasad (pen name Rasa) was a famous dastan narrator of Lucknow. His father was Chandi Prasad Kayasth. Rasa was the student of Mir Ahmed Ali Rampuri in dastan narration and followed his teacher to the Rampur court in the reign of Navab Muhammad Saeed Khan (1840–55). Rasa converted to Islam in later life and assumed the name of Abdur Rahman. He died in his nineties in 1886. Rasa compiled the two volumes of Kochak Bakhtar in 1853 and the sixth volume of Naushervan-Nama, which he finished late in life. Until recently, it was assumed that, like his teacher Ahmed Ali Rampuri, Rasa did not compose any version of the Hoshruba legend himself. In Jah’s privately published fifth volume, we learn that he did, indeed, transcribe a version of the Hoshruba legend from the notes of Mir Ahmed Ali Rampuri. Jah obtained it after a long search and used it as one of his sources. No other record of this version exists. Rasa’s son, Ghulam Raza, was his student in dastan narration.

  • Ghulam Raza Raza (Lived 1850–1880 or 1888)

Ghulam Raza (pen name Raza) was the son of Amba Prasad Rasa. He wrote the Hoshruba legend in the Urdu language in fourteen volumes. The manuscripts of his unpublished works, Tilism-e-Hoshruba-e Batin (4 volumes, 1858–59) and Tilism-e-Batin Hoshruba (10 volumes, 1876–80), are preserved at the Rampur Raza Library. Muhammad Husain Jah had a copy of his version of the Hoshruba legend, which he used as one of his sources for composing his work.

  • Muhammad Amir Khan (Lived 1850–1880s)

Muhammad Amir Khan was a Lucknow dastan narrator and a contemporary of Muhammad Husain Jah and Ahmed Husain Qamar. According to one account, Khan specialized in writing the episodes about tricksters. He wrote a version of the Hoshruba legend of which the second volume is preserved at the Rampur Raza Library. The total number of volumes he composed is not known. Muhammad Husain Jah had a copy of his version of the Hoshruba legend, which he used as one of his sources for composing his work.

  • Sheikh Tasadduq Husain (Born: ? – Died: 1911–1917?)

Sheikh Tasadduq Husain was a dastan narrator of Lucknow. He was also a narrator of the Karbala tragedy in the prose and marsia forms. He mentions Mir Azam Ali as his teacher. Muhammad Husain Jah credits him for a segment he borrowed from his version of the Hoshruba legend. Sheikh Tasadduq Husain compiled and co-authored several dastans of the 46-volume Amir Hamza cycle, published by the Naval Kishore Press.

  • Ahmed Husain Qamar (Born: 1845? – Died: February–March, 1901)

Ahmed Husain (pen name Qamar) was a famous dastan narrator of Lucknow and nisar or prose narrator of the Karbala tragedy. He was commissioned by the Naval Kishore Press to finish the remaining volumes of Tilism-e Hoshruba after Muhammad Husain Jah separated from the project. Qamar wrote volumes five (in two parts), six and seven between 1890 and 1893. According to Ahmed Husain Qamar’s own account, his family participated in the 1857 Mutiny against the East India Company forces. Two of his brothers died in the fighting. Qamar survived and was released from the charge of mutiny but as he was not yet of age, he could not lay claim to his estate, which was confiscated by the government. He studied law and became an agent at one of the local courts but when he appeared for his confirmation exam, the old charge of participating in the Mutiny was dug up and cited as a reason for his disqualification. He became interested in dastan narration and took it up as a profession. He was of the Shia faith and continued to narrate the events of the Karbala tragedy as well.

Ahmed Husain Qamar had a son, Ishtiaq Husain, who was a poet (pen name Suhail) and a daughter. While the name of Qamar’s daughter is not known, his son-in-law, Nadir Mirza, wished to pursue a career as a professional dastan narrator but had to give it up because he developed elephantitis.

Besides the three volumes of Tilism-e Hoshruba, Qamar compiled other dastans of the Amir Hamza cycle published by the Naval Kishore Press. He claimed to have written many more dastans as well, but there is no known record.