Ralph Russell (1918-2008) was widely regarded as the leading western Urdu scholar and translator. I learnt Urdu from him, and for the last 26 years of his life we worked closely together. I edited many of his books for publication and I am now his literary executor. I work with publishers to keep his books in print and to bring out new editions. His work has an appreciative audience in India, Pakistan and wherever Urdu speakers have settled, but also makes Urdu poetry accessible to people who know no Urdu.
There’s an interview in the journal Kitaab about him and our collaboration: Working with Ralph Russell
On Urdu literature
Ralph is best known for his work on the great 19th century poet, Ghalib. The Famous Ghalib: The Sound of My Moving Pen introduces Ghalib’s poetry to readers who don’t know Urdu. The new edition brings together his writing on Ghalib and the ghazal over many years.
A YouTube interview about The Famous Ghalib came out as part of the on-line LitFestX and got over 5,000 views. You can listen to it at On Ghalib. Live Q&A with Marion Molteno
A Thousand Yearnings:
A Book of Urdu Poetry & Prose
– a new edition of Ralph’s translations, a personal selection from two centuries of Urdu literature – stories, essays, anecdotes, poetry, and extracts from an early novel. With a new introduction by me about his contribution to Urdu literature studies.
Here’s a review by the historian Rana Safvi:
His earliest books, produced in collaboration with Khurshidul Islam, have remained classics:
Three Mughal Poets: Mir, Sauda, Mir Hasan
Ghalib: Life and Letters
The Oxford India Ghalib: Life, Letters & Ghazals is a compendium which he edited, which also includes much of his own work on Ghalib. Here’s a review by Gillian Wright:
All 3 of these books are available from Oxford University Press, India, and major booksellers.
A Life in Urdu: Essays & Encounters by Ralph Russell, edited by me.
Throughout his life Ralph wrote reflections on his personal, political and scholarly experience, which formed the basis of his autobiography. Together we produced the 1st 2 parts, Findings Keepings and Losses Gains.
Ralph had a huge impact on generations of students, both in SOAS (the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London), and in through courses he pioneered in the wider community in the UK. For more information, see Urdu language teaching.
Before his death in 2008 Ralph set up a website with details of his books: www.ralphrussell.co.uk
Photo credit: Ralph in Delhi with a lifelong friend, journalist Som Anand, 1997 (photo by Prakash Suri)