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OTTOMAN THEATRE: دختر هندو [Dukhter-i Hindu / The Girl of India].



The first edition of one of ‘Dukhter-i Hindu’ [The Girl of India], a ‘romantic and exotic drama’ by Abdulhak Hamid, a foremost late Ottoman poet, playwright and statesman, immortalized in Turkish literature as ‘Dahi-i Azam’ [The Grand Genius]; the work is of profound historical importance for its daring poetry which transcended traditional rhyming schemes, embracing controversial social questions of contemporary life.

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This is the uncommon first edition of the revolutionary play Dukhter-i Hindu [The Girl of India], one of the earliest works of the legendary Ottoman dramatist, poet and diplomat Abdulhak Hamid.  The play, composed of five acts, is a romantic-exotic drama feature a cast of Turkish, Indian and English characters.  In the spirit of the liberal reforms of the Tanzimat [‘Reorganization’] Era, the work touches upon previously taboo subjects such as the role of women, sexuality and interracial relationships, although executed in a clever, subtle manner.  Critically, the work features poetry which radically departs from Turkish-Persian traditions, eschewing established rhyming structure and content in favour of freer from and contemporary subject matter.  The play was favourably viewed, and carefully composed it narrow managed to pass the government censors.  It is considered one of Abdulhak’s most original and entertaining masterpieces.

Abdulhak Hamid Tarhan (but known for most of his life simply as Abdulhak Hamid) was born in Constantinople in 1852 into an esteemed family of intellectuals and statesmen.  His father, Hayrullah Efendi, was a leading historian and ambassador, while his grandfather Abdulhak Molla was a poet and court physician to the Sultan. 

Abdulhak was partially raised in Paris where his father was posted, gaining a magnificent education in French language and literature.  From 1864 to 1867, he followed his father to Tehran, where he studied Persian and Arabic languages and poetry.  By the time he returned to Constantinople to apprentice in the Ottoman Foreign Ministry, in 1867, aged only fifteen, he was profoundly knowledgeable of great genres of foreign literature, theatre and music.

He published his first work of prose, Macera-yı Aşk [Love Affair] (1871), a memoir of his time in Persia; which was followed by the plays Sabr-u Sebat [Perseverance in Patience] (1875), İçli Kız [The Oversensitive Girl] (1875), and the Dukhter-i Hindu.

Abdulhak ‘s work was revolutionary in that he created a unique manner of writing both prose and poetry that departed from both traditional forms in both style and subject.  Writing with elegant subtlety, he addressed sensitive issues such as the role of women, sexuality and multiculturalism.  He was heavily influenced by French Romanticism; the enlightened political reforms of the Tanzimat Era (1839-75); and the works of his older colleague, the author Namık Kemal (1840-88).  While his work broke from tradition, his writing always maintained sophisticated echoes of the great Turkish, Persian and Ottoman classics for which he maintained reverence.  

In 1876, Abdulhak was appointed to the Ottoman Embassy in Paris.  In 1878, he published the play Nesteren in Paris, featuring a protagonist that rebels against a tyrannical emperor.  Sultan Abdul Hamid II was so offended by the performance that he fired Abdulhak from his diplomatic posting, although he remained on the Foreign Ministry payroll.

Abdulhak was appointed consul general to Poti, Russian Georgia in 1881, before receiving a big promotion to head the Ottoman consulate in Bombay in 1883.  However, he was compelled to return home in 1885, whereupon his beloved first wife, Fatma, died en route.  This tragic even caused Abdulhak to pen the poem Makber [The Grave], which became immensely popular.

Abdulhak continued in the diplomatic service, being posted in London and The Hague.  He continued to write and publish regularly and was, once again, suspended from his overseas postings for publishing his play Zeynep.  

In 1908, Abdulhak supported the Young Turk Rebellion and became a Senator.  He spent part of the World War I in Vienna, but returned to Turkey in 1923, upon the creation of the new republic.  He still wrote and published great works, including the powerful play, Garam [My Passion] (1923).  As a friend of the Turkish President Atatürk he saw his political star rise, and in 1928 was elected member of the National Assembly for Istanbul.  Adopting the surname ‘Tarhan’, he spent the last part of this long life as one of the Turkey’s leading elder statesmen and perhaps its most revered intellectual figure.  Atatürk accorded him a full state funeral upon his death in 1937.

Abdulhak Hamid is to this day admired as one of the legendary figures of Turkish literature, immortalized as ‘Şair-i Azam’ [The Grand Poet] and ‘Dahi-i Azam’ [The Grand Genius].  Many of his three dozen or so published works of poetry, prose, drama and autobiography remain best sellers.


References: OCLC 312689083, 22097843, 1064918246, 48190943, 236016281.

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