Urdu, an exquisite language, entangled in Indian politics

"Woh zabaan jo iss sarzameen se upaji Wahi zabaan apne vatan mein begaani ho gayee"

(The language that originated from this very soil/Is now an alien tongue in its own country)

The recent controversy regarding Punjab University's decision declaring Urdu as a foreign tongue, reminded me of the aforementioned Urdu couplet from the fascinating quill of Kunwar Mohinder Singh Bedi 'Sahar,' an ICS, who was a poet to boot. That of all places and states in India, Urdu will be branded as a foreign language in Punjab is something that bespeaks the intolerant times we're living in. Urdu and Punjab have a long association with the old generation knowing and enriching it. Be it Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishna Chandar, Arsh Malsyani, Sampooran Singh Kalra 'Gulzar', Sahir Ludhainavi, Firozpur-born Sudarshan Kamra (better known as Sudarshan Faakir) among others. Punjabis have remarkably contributed to the blossoming of this exquisite language. So, it shocks and saddens all the more when the management of the University in that state thinks that Urdu is a foreign language.

This is the current linguistic scenario in today's volatile India. We're sparring over innocuous languages, be it Hindi or Urdu. A kind of Philo-Linguistic-Apathy (from Jacques Derrida's Theory of Deconstruction) seems to have crept into India's linguistic consciousness. We all have become a tad too touchy about languages and begun to pigeon-hole them as theirs and ours. Barring its script, i.e, Persian, the syntaxtual pattern of Urdu is same as that of Hindi. Raghupati Sahay 'Firaq' Gorakhpuri wrote: "Faqat rasmul-khat se zabaan badal gayee/Vagarna zabaanein toh dono(n) ek hi hain" (Just because of the difference in scripts, two identical languages have become different). He himself was a Hindu-kaayasth, who once said, "Sochta hoon Urdu mein, likhta hoon Farsi mein/ Meri zabaan kahlaati hai Hindustani (I think in Urdu, I write in Persian/My language is called Hindustani).

The perfect amalgam of Ganga-Jamuna Tahzeeb (composite culture), Urdu belongs to us sans any religio-sectarian affiliations. Ergo, dove-tailing Urdu to ONLY Muslims is not only a disservice to the language, it also vindicates Ludwig Wittgenstein's famous statement that, "The limits of my language are the limits of my world." The rapidly growing linguistic chauvinism and 'otherness' have compartmentalized languages.

I read, write and speak mainly in Urdu and Persian without belonging to any man-made faith or sect. When I visit different Indian varsities to teach Urdu, Persian and Arabic, I find students coming from a particular community. This deplorable state of affairs is what's known as 'linguistic ghettoisation.' I feel really asphyxiated in such constraining times. After independence, the politics of languages stymied the growth of many a tongue, Urdu being the foremost. The new generation is not at all aware that Munshi Premchand (but, are they familiar with Premchand in the first place?) wrote both in Urdu and Hindi and his first drafts were always written in Urdu script? Urdu poet and justice Anand Narayan Mulla (indeed an interesting combination!) of Allahabad High Court, always wrote his verdicts in Urdu. He once said in court: Qalam meri samajhti hai bas ek hi zabaan/ Woh hai Urdu, meri humnavaan (My pen understands only one language and that's Urdu, my boon companion).

He was a Kashmiri Brahmin like Dr Jagannath Azad, the ultimate authority on Allama Iqbal, whose father Trilokchand 'Mahroom ' was also a poet of a very high order. Listen to the impeccable Urdu of Ralph Russell of England. Khushwant Singh called him the greatest interpreter of Ghalib's recondite Urdu/Persian poetry. Khushwant Singh himself wrote in Urdu script and wasn't au fait with the Devnagari script. A Hindu from Lucknow, Dayashankar 'Naseem' wrote Masnavis (parables in Persian) in such an authoritative manner that the Urdu critic Yawar Saeed called him the Rumi of Urdu. It's worthwhile to mention that Dayashankar died at the age of 32. Had he lived longer, he would have eclipsed all. Pandit Brajnarayan 'Chakbast ' of Lucknow, translated Ramayan into immaculate Urdu. Naubatrai 'Nazar' wrote very fine poetry in Urdu. Jodhpur's Urdu poet Sheen Kaaf Nizam (Shiv Kishan Nizam) is still writing. Examples are galore. The point is: The forced and perceived Islamization of Urdu is fast confining it to Muslims only. Give the dog a bad name and hang it, is happening in the case of Urdu.

William Dalrymple rightly says that Urdu is the repository of whatever beautiful is left on the sub-continent. Not a hyperbole. Urdu is indeed the last bastion of dwindling finesse in all walks of life. Urdu poetry warms the scockles of all hearts. Whether it's Ghalib, Faiz, Faraz, Firaq or Mir Taqi Mir, we still go ga-ga over their ineffably beautiful poetry. FB accounts of many Indians living in India and abroad are chock-a-block with Faraz and Faiz's poetry. That Urdu couplets are often erroneously transcribed in English is inconsequential. Remember, 'Saleeqe se jo havaaon mein khushboo ghol sakte hain/Abhi kuchh log baaqi hain jo Urdu bol sakte hain’ (Deftly can they make the air fragrant/ There're still a few souls left who can speak Urdu).

Urdu needs sane people's support to thrive and survive. It needs those who're above all pettiness of language, state and ethnicity. If we allow Urdu to be politicised, the day is not far when it'll cease to exist. Don't let it die on its own soil and pledge with a poet Nashtar Ahmadnagari, "Toofan-e-ta'assub na taale jayenge/Ab alfaaz kya sambhale jaayenge/Humeen hain jo diraaz-e-imtiyaaz mein/Urdu ki bheek daale jayenge" (The tempest of discrimination can't be staved off/ How can we save the helpless words?/We're those who, in the bowl of prejudice/Will pour the alms of Urdu).

Always remember that language is not a prerogative of a specific community. Had this been the case, the English scholar Sir Hamilton Gibb wouldn't have been considered as the greatest ever speaker of classical and modern Arabic. Urdu is our (own) language and we all have an inalienable right to it. Such a lovely language cannot and shouldn't peter out due to our attitude of otherness and political interference. Finally, let me round this mazmoon (article) off with my own two-liner in Urdu: Rahe zinda humesha Urdu ki ravayat/Go arbaab-e-siyasat ko hai iss-se badi shikayat (Let the magnificent tradition of Urdu remain unabated/Though, the politicians have always held a gripe against it)

The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilizations and cultures.

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