Umrao Jaan Ada – An Urdu novel by Mirza Hadi Ruswa

Umrao Jaan Ada  is an Urdu novel by Mirza Hadi Ruswa (1857–1931), first published in 1899.It is considered the first Urdu novel by many and tells the story of a courtesan and poet by the same name from 19th century Lucknow, as recounted by her to the author. Umrao Jan Ada, first published in 1905, is generally acclaimed as one of the greatest Urdu novels. It is the story of a girl abducted in her early age and sold to a procures who trains her for prostitution. The novel has rapid change of pace, realistic detail, and a central monolithic character in Umrao Jan Ada, who in her old age remorsefully recounts the story of her life. The Nawabi culture of India mainly in Lucknow, in pre-modern India, patronised art and entertainment in the form of music, poetry and the courtesans’ performances. Attending a mushaira, a social gathering elite where poetic expressions also led to a battle of wits among the participating poets, was a mark of cultural elitism. The lady- performers known as the tawaifs who learnt to read and write in Urdu. They were also skilled at the classical dance and music. Their company was sought not only for physical pleasure, but also for cultural entertainment. They reside is a kotha which is different from a brothel. They are educated, well-versed and highly skilled entertainers who uphold the Urdu high culture. MIRZA Muhammad Hadi Ruswa is famous for one of the earliest novels of Urdu, Umrao Jan Ada. It is based on the tragically sensational life story of the courtesan and poetess Umrao Jan. Umrao Jan Ada, though not a picaresque novel, contains many picaresque elements. The story is told in the first person as autobiography; it is episodic in nature; the plot consists of a series of thrilling incidents and the heroine moves from place to place, providing an opportunity gor satirizing the corruption and hypocrisy of a whole society and epoch. Ruswa, with incomparable energy, has individualized each character and each room in the procuress’s quarter, giving the “social center” and the spirit of the age. The total effect is a panorama of early 19th-century life in Oudh before its annexation by the British in 1856. The looting, killing, abduction and prostitution; the voluptuous maids, the amorous stinging not dancing girls, their education, habits and etiquette; their clientele, the lascivious nawabs, the God- fearing ascetics, coarse criminals, reckless gamblers, seasoned aristocrats, and naive social climbers; the entrancing musical concerts and moonlight poetical symposiums—all these are integrated into the structure of the plot to secure a unity of tone and form hitherto unknown in Urdu. Ruswa was eccentric, quick-witted and possessed a fine sense of humor. Capable of rare achievements, he switched fields of endeavor often, moving from creative writing to astronomy to alchemy to philosophy. He produced some 50 volumes, including philosophical and religious discourses, metrical romances and translations and adaptations. Of his three original novels, one is Umrao Jan Ada, on which his fame rests; the other two are of uneven quality and have gone into oblivion. Ruswa died in 1931.

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