Urdu and Persian poetry

Archives at NCBS | Informal Talk Series


Origins, Separations, and Unions
A scientist’s perspective on Urdu and Persian poetry

Amitabh Joshi


Friday, Mar 22, 2024. 4:00pm.
Archives at NCBS, ELC Basement, NCBS

Details: https://archives.ncbs.res.in/aits-aj-poetry

Poetry and science have many points at which they mirror each other. Both involve metaphorical representations of reality, one primarily focusing on the world without, the other on the world within. Both embody creativity, but a creativity that is also encumbered and circumscribed by formalisms. Both are affected by the zeitgeist, one perhaps more explicitly than the other, and both have a history in time and space. Both can justifiably be considered as among the pinnacles of civilizational achievement.

In this conversation, I will use Urdu and, to a lesser degree, Persian poetry as a case study through which I will explore issues of what poetry at its core is, how it evolves over time and space, its intersections and commonalities with science and other societal activities. I will also touch upon the relevance of this perspective to what C. P. Snow (in)famously termed the problem of the ‘two cultures’ and share some thoughts I have on where the real dichotomy lies. The conversation will be interspersed with poetry, some of it my own. My perspective on this theme is a dual and intertwined one: as a poet – and someone who enjoys poetry – and as an analytical scientist who nevertheless has a great empathy for so-called mystical thinking.

Bio, in Amitabh’s words:
I am a geneticist by training, and have been studying and teaching evolutionary biology and population ecology at JNCASR since 1996. I was a poet before I became a scientist: I have been writing poetry in English since I was about ten, in Urdu since I was sixteen, and occasionally in Persian since I was eighteen. In addition to my core interests in technical science, I have considerable interest in the philosophy and history of science, especially of genetics and evolution, and also in literature, history and philosophy in general. I have recited poetry in public and private gatherings in Delhi, Agra, Gurgaon, Pullman, Irvine, Berlin, Kabul, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Gulbarga, Pune, Chindi, Mohali, Patiala, Mysore, Varanasi and Patna.