How Urdu is scripting a flourish in these turbulent times, Sumit Paul explains

Rekhta ke tumhin ustaad nahin ho Ghalib

Kahte hain agle zamane mein koi Mir bhi tha

-Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’

(Ghalib, you're not a master of Rekhta/ There was a Mir Taqi Mir in the past)

Rekhta Foundation’s recent Trilingual Online Dictionary in Devanagari, Urdu and Roman is a heartening news for those who’re eager to learn Urdu, or for that matter, any language with its script as well, for, script is the soul of a language, especially of Urdu. To quote Urdu poet Naubatrai ‘Nazar’: ‘Rooh hoti hai rasmul-khat kisi zabaan ki/Phir nahin darkaar kisi aur pahchaan ki (The script of a language is its soul/It (language) doesn’t require anything else after)’. So very true. I remember an interview with the late actor Tom Alter. The interviewer asked him what had prompted him to learn the script of Urdu. Tom said that he wanted to learn Urdu comprehensively. So, he learnt its script. He quoted a couplet which still reverberates in my consciousness: Zabaan-e-Urdu seekhi/Aur seekhi toh mukammal seekhi (I learnt Urdu language and when I learnt, I went the whole hog)’.

Urdu uses a modified form of Perso-Arabic script known as Nastaliq. If you exclude the script part, the syntax of Urdu is the same as that of Hindi. Fortunately, or unfortunately, this very similar facet goes in favour of Urdu and also against it. A section of people may think that when the syntax of both the languages is same, why on earth should one learn a script that writes from right to left unlike most of the scripts in India going from left to right? They could be right but until you learn Urdu with its script, you don't realise the innumerable nuances of Perso-Arabic and Turkish inflexions, ramifications and enunciation.

No ethno-centric angle

Sparring over its script and calling it the language of a specific community is a sure sign of being a myopic. Sindhis also resort to modified Arabic script, written from right to left like Urdu, Persian, Arabic or Pashto. So, that ethno-centric angle doesn’t apply here in the case of Urdu.

The extremely limited use of Urdu script in recent years has robbed the language of its nuanced beauty and subtle embellishments, called fanazid in Arabic. Urdu, like Persian and Arabic, is predominantly a lingual-guttural tongue with many fricative sounds and throaty enunciations like Qura’an, Qayamat (not ‘Quyamat’), Qazi (NOT ‘Quazi’) or Qubool. Only when you’re acquainted with the script, can you differentiate in the orthography of Ishq/Ashk/Rashk, though all sound similar.

Script-based knowledge

The script-based knowledge of Urdu makes us see the difference between Kaaf and Qaaf (often erroneously used by the Indian ‘Urdu-knowing’ people as Bada Qaaf/Chhota Kaaf). Only when you learn the script and assimilate the specific sounds in your linguistic consciousness, can you comprehend why Ramzan and Qazi are not Ramadan and Qadi.

The Zwad letter in Arabic is pronounced as Dwad. So, Indians (not being familiar with the script) also pronounce these words like Arabs and enunciate Ramadan and Qadi. They don’t understand that if Ramadan is lingually correct, then why not Ridwan or Madmoon in place of Rizwan and Mazmoon as both have Zwad letter that’s fricative upper-lingual in the parlance of Persio-Semitic linguistics and etymology.

Or why it’s always Ghalat, Gham, Ghalib using Ghayn letter of Arabic. Only the knowledge of the script can enable you to pronounce these words with a light phlegmatic upthrust of sound. The difference of Irfaan (beginning with the Arabic letter Ain, meaning wisdom and awareness) and Irfa (beginning with Alif, means beniyaaz-e-mausiqi or a philistine) can be imbibed only when one’s au fait with the script of Urdu. That the word ‘Shauq’ (not ‘Shauque’) is different from ‘Shauk’ (a homosexual in Arabic) or ‘Zauq’ is different from ‘Zauk’ (a hunter in pre-Islmaic Arabic) will need mastery over the script. By the way, ‘QU’ (Q followed by U) formula doesn’t apply to Urdu/Persian or Arabic words.

Blossoming story

From this perspective, Rekhta’s yeoman service to Urdu in a holistic manner is indeed commendable. Started by one Sanjiv Saraf, it was founded in Nagpur in January 2013 and in less than a decade, it has blossomed like a banyan tree, proving, ‘Woh darakht hoon ke jiski har tahni ek qalam aur har patta ek lafz hai (I’m that huge tree whose every branch is a quill and every leaf a word)’.

One hopes that this dictionary will help the connoisseurs learn Urdu with all its aspects and also egg people on to learn this exquisite language, full of tahzeeb (etiquette) and latafat (loveliness). The dissemination of a language is a sacred linguistic evangelisation. Hope, more and more people will learn Urdu, shelving their presuppositions. A language thrives and survives when it’s properly patronised. Then it also serves as a bridge of bonhomie and assuages the scars. Otherwise, it fritters away leaving no trace.

The writer is a regular contributor to the world’s premier publications and portals in several languages

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