Ale Ahmad, nom de plume Suroor, is an Urdu critic of the first order. Literary criticism in Urdu before Suroor was more a pastime than an independent branch of literature. Suroor, along with his compeers, fave it a new orientation and a new respectability, and it is with these contemporaries that Urdu criticism has come of age.
Ale Ahmad was born in 1912 in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh. Badaun is a traditional center of Muslim learning and for centuries has been the home of theologians and poets. Poetry here is not a pursuit, but a way of life. The young Ale Ahmad developed a poetic sensibility and started composing poems when he was still in high school. But because his parents wanted him to be a doctor, he studied science and graduated from the St. John's College, Agra. Later he studied English literature. After completing his master's degree in 1934, he taught English and Urdu at Aligarh for awhile and then moved to Lucknow University. In 1955 he was invited to Aligarh to work as the Director of the Sayyid Husain Research Institute. At present he heads the Department of Urdu at Aligarh, and is also the Convener of the Urdu Board of the Sahitya Akademi.
Suroor has published four collections of literary essays and two of verse. He has launched Aligarh History of Urdu Literature in five volumes, the first of which (1200-1700) was published in 1962. He also has translated the Diwan-e-Ghalic into English for the Sayyid Husain Research Institute, which is soon to be published.
As a critic, Suroor has been a phenomenon right from his college days. In the early thirties, Urdu criticism was caught in a rut of tradition and emotionalism. On the one hand were the orthodox classicists, seeped in tradition, on the other hand were the highly westernized novices, unable to appreciate the heritage of the past. In an age of extremes, Suroor struck a note of balance. He emphasized an integrated approach, objectivity and an unemotional and unprejudiced evaluation of literature. He did not confine himself to any particular school of criticism.
He has a highly cultivated and eclectic mind which appeals to both classicist and modernist, impressionist and Marxist, old and young. For the present generation, Suroor has provided a reinterpretation of certain classical writers and has made critical readjustments where misguided criticism had reached wrong conclusions. With his keen sensibility, sharp intellect, and free and unbiased mind, he has wisely refrained, in the main, from overstepping his limited domainthe search of literary values and standards. Though he perhaps has overused catch phrases fro purposes of compression and elegance, many of his terms are of critical service today.
He has finesse and an inborn feeling for style and is the master of a clear, lucid prose, with purple passages, but with its own warmth, insinuating grace, and creative touch. Its apparent ease is the fruit of his study as a critic and his skill as a poet.
Suroor, as the General Secretary of the Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu, is the editor of the quarterly Urdu Adab and the weekly Hamari Zaban, two organs of the Anjuman. The following excerpt is from an editorial of Hamari Zaban (Jne 1, 1964) written following the death of Jawahar Lal Nehru. The prose is marked by a sense of grief and is charged with emotion, yet it is restrained, smooth and precise.