Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ancient thought and science preserved

Published in Chandigarh Tribune, 16 November 2017

100 years of Rai Bahadur Lal Chand Research Library

The Lal Chand Research Library, housed in DAV College, Chandigarh, is a treasure-trove of rare manuscripts rescued from Lahore during Partition

Kuldip Dhiman

In the wake of partition, not just human lives were lost, but invaluable cultural wealth was also lost in the form of valuable books, manuscripts, paintings and artifacts.

However, there were some very dedicated and fearless individuals who somehow managed to rescue some of this priceless wealth.

Among such great individuals was Lala Mehar Chand Agarwal, of DAV College, Lahore. While others were running for their lives, he risked his life in order to smuggle out, at least some rare manuscripts and books by managing to hide them under food stock in Army trucks. Unfortunately, most of the rare manuscripts and books could not be brought to India. The ones that were saved are now archived in DAV College, Chandigarh's Lal Chand Research Library, which was established in 1917 in Lahore.

The library boasts of 8,360 rare manuscripts, and more than 10,000 ancient books. Out of the manuscripts, 6,450 are paper manuscripts with illustrations, others are of palm leaves and birch bark. The manuscripts are in the Devanagari, Sharada, Grantha, Gurmukhi, Utkal, Banga, Nandi, Nagari, Kannada, Malyalam, Tamil, and Vartula scripts. Many of the manuscripts are inscribed on Tarpatras (palm leaves) with the oldest dating back to the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, a number of Bhojpatras (birch bark) were damaged after partition.

Dr BC Josan, Principal, DAV College, Chandigarh says, "What we have here is invaluable. In monetary terms, its worth runs into millions and millions. It is a vast reservoir of wisdom of life in a capsule form, and we would like to share it with others as much as we can. I looked at some of the books on architecture and was amazed. I believe, all the knowledge in this little brain that weighs 300 grams, is right.  And it is in the same measure in all human beings. All we need to do is to learn how to tap it, like these ancient seers did."

After the horrors of partition settled a little, these manuscripts were first kept in Vishveshvaranand Vishwa Bandhu Institute of Sanskrit and Indological Studies, Hoshiarpur, under not-so-ideal conditions. Fearing that they might deteriorate because of the extreme weather and lack of funds to preserve them, Dr Krishan Singh Arya, who was principal in the 1980s, brought most of them to DAVC, Chandigarh. However, because of his extremely busy administrative and academic activities, he could not devote much time towards their upkeep. It thus was left to Dr RC Jeewan, principal from 1997 to 2001, to establish a modern archiving research centre.

"We managed to get a grant from the Ministry of Human Resources in1999 to preserve these manuscripts,” says Dr RC Jeewan. "The economic assistance was not much but it was still good enough to get us going. Dr Krishan K Dhavan, the then lecturer of Sanskrit at our college, was a great Sanskrit scholar. I reappointed him after his retirement from Hisar, at a nominal honorarium to help us with the cataloguing of the manuscripts. He did a great job of identifying the manuscripts and guiding us regarding their worth."

After the yeoman work done by Dr RC Jeewan and Dr Krishan Dhavan, the library really took off, and slowly began to attract renowned scholars from all over the world such as Dr Ernst Prets of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Institute for Asian Studies, Strohgasse (Austria); Jeevan Deol of St. John’s College, Cambridge; Dr Heidrun Bruckner, Eberhad-Karls-Universitat, Tubingen, Germany; and Dr Prabhakar Shastri from Rajasthan University.

Recently, the library got a boost, says Deepti Madaan, librarian, "Our vice-president, SP Lohia has given us financial assistance to not only preserve the manuscripts but also to digitise them. It is because of his generosity that we have managed to buy latest equipment such as a scanner worth Rs 22 lakh. We are now scanning the manuscripts and linking them with Lohia’s website (  for the benefit of researchers."

Talking about the kind of manuscripts, Deepti Madaan says, "We have the Ashvalayan Shraut Sutra and Karika Ratnam, dating back to the 15th century. Ashvalayan Shrauta Sutra is perhaps the first Shraut Sutra of the Rig Veda. We also have Valmiki Ramayana, Mahabharata, Brahmasutra with Shankar Bhashyam, Shri Guru Granth Sahib and a lot more. We have some very rare ones on Ayurveda. However, in many manuscripts that we have, the year of composition is not mentioned. Most writers did not even give their names to the scriptures they wrote. We also have a rare book on medicinal plants by Major BD Basu that was published by Panini Office, Allahabad in 1918.”

It is one thing to have manuscripts and quite another to preserve them. Rajni Jindal, assistant librarian, says, "When we received the manuscripts, most of them had pages that were stuck to each other. It was with great difficulty that we got them separated using water. To preserve them, we use coal dust, lemon grass oil, neem leaves and naphthalene balls. We also have a fumigation chamber where we use thymol crystal to drive insects and worms out of the manuscripts."

With undying zeal and love for the preservation of cultural heritage of the archivists, and with the aid of latest technology, it is heartening to know that this treasure will not only be preserved, but also easily shared with researchers all over the world. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

The script of love and lyrics

Published in the magazine section of The Tribune, 30, July 2017

Urdu, the language of Mir, Ghalib, Faiz and Firaq has a rich literary tradition, which must not be allowed to wither away

Kuldip Dhiman
When poet Jaleel Manakpuri was being felicitated by an organiser who was not familiar with the nuances of Urdu, a friend sitting next to the poet said, “Jaleel sahab, aaj aap zaleel hone wale hain.” (Jaleel sahib, today you are going to be humiliated). This is because a slight difference in pronunciation can change the meaning completely in Urdu. Jaleel means ‘glorious’, and if pronounced zaleel, it means ‘to be humiliated’.
Urdu, along with its twin sister Hindi, has been a language of the masses for more than 700 years. Both grew out of what is called khari boli, the general language of communication in northern India. While Urdu is normally written in the Persian script, and has more Persian, Turkish and Arabic words, Hindi is written in the Devanagari and inclines more towards Sanskrit. These are virtually indistinguishable to the outsider. 
The name ‘Urdu’ has its origins in the Turkish word ordu which means ‘army camp’, and over the centuries, it has produced great literature, especially poetry.  A single sher (couplet) of Urdu can help you express what cannot be said in a thousand words. However, with the rise of English as the lingua franca, and with an unfair association of Urdu with religion, this beautiful language seems to be losing favour with the masses. Many Urdu aficionados have begun to feel that the language is slowly dying, while experts in the field hold that Urdu is doing much better than before.
Rekhta, an organisation devoted to the promotion of Urdu language and literature, recently held a mushaira (poetic gathering) at the Tagore Theatre, Chandigarh. If numbers are any indication, it was heartening to see that the hall was jam-packed with young and old, with many of them standing outside the theatre hall to listen to the poets. The same is true of wherever mushairas are held. Litterateurs from Punjab such as Saadat Hasan Manto, Sahir Ludhianvi, Krishan Chander, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Gulzar and hundreds of others have made tremendous contribution to popularise Urdu.
Its popularity notwithstanding, Urdu certainly remains in the shadow of English. Dr Kumud Bansal, Chairperson, Haryana Urdu Akademi, Panchkula, observes, “Not just Urdu, all Indian languages are suffering. Children are not being taught their mother tongue anymore. Most parents want their children to learn only English. This is because of the slave mentality we have. This is the reason we need Urdu academies. Have you heard of an English academy?”
We move over to Malerkotla, a town rich in Urdu culture. Talking about the current health of Urdu, Dr Rubina Shabnam, Secretary, Punjab Urdu Academy, Malerkotla, says: “Urdu is the language that emerged in the undivided Punjab. In his book, Punjab Mein Urdu, Hafiz Mehmood Khan Shirani, the great linguistic and researcher, has shown through research based on historical evidence that the greater Punjab was the birthplace of Urdu. So Urdu is rooted in this region.” However, not all scholars agree with Shirani.
Talking about the academy and its aims, Dr Shabnam says, “We started in 2014, and we have a budget of only Rs 50,000 per annum. Even with this meagre sum, we have managed to hold stage programmes but have not been able to publish anything. Now, the government has given us a one-time sum of Rs 3 crore. With this, we hope to realise the aims of the academy. Recently, I met Manpreet Badal, Finance Minister, and he said he would give us a hundred crore rupees. If we got this amount, we would be able to encourage Urdu writers, and poets. Presently, we are starting free Urdu learning centres in six cities of Sunam, Bathinda, Ropar, Amritsar, Ludhiana, and Patiala.”
Regarding the popularity of Urdu, Prof Mahmood Alam, former professor at Government College, ex-secretary, Punjab Urdu Academy, Malerkotla, and writer of a poetry collection Shikast-e-Khwab, says: “If you ask me about the current status of Urdu, I would say it is far better than before. Two decades ago, Urdu was not being taught in as many schools as it is being taught now, and there were not as many students as we have now. During my time, there used to be four teachers, and we had about four or five students who wanted to learn Urdu. Now you have 30 students, but unfortunately only one teacher. Many wish to learn Urdu but they get discouraged because it does not offer employment opportunities.” 
Rubbishing language politics, Professor Alam observes, “People say that there is friction between Hindi and Urdu. They say languages create conflict between different people, but this is not so. Languages bring people together. If Hindi and Punjabi speakers learn Urdu, their Hindi and Punjabi pronunciation will improve, and vice versa.”
One has to learn the finer points of this language in order to speak it well. As Dagh Dehalvi puts it: “Nahin khel ai Dagh yaron se kah do; Ki ati hai Urdu zaban ate ate” (O! Dagh, tell friends that learning Urdu is not a child’s play; It takes its own time to be mastered).
Amarnath Wadehra, a diehard Urdu protagonist, remembers the days of his youth when Urdu poets were a rage in Lahore, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and the rest of Punjab. “There used to be regular mushairas that went on all night, and people came in hordes to listen to their favourite poets like  Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Firaq Gorakhpuri and many other stalwarts. Urdu poets did a lot to fan the flames of the freedom moment, and bring about a social change. Many freedom fighters sacrificed their lives for the country singing ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mei hai’. The younger generation should learn English for getting jobs, but they must also learn Urdu to enrich their personality.”
Born in 1937, Pakpattan, Pakistan, Dr HK Lall has been teaching Urdu for the past four decades. “Urdu is in my blood. My father taught it to my brother and me.” Even at 81, he continues to teach the language untiringly. “Khidmat-e-Urdu karunga umr bhar; Yeh meri puja, mera imaan hai.” (I will serve Urdu all my life; It is my worship, it is my conscience).
Disappearing readers
Propagators notwithstanding, the fact is that the circulation of Urdu newspapers and magazines is going down by the day. In 2001, the total number of Urdu newspapers in the country was 2,906, but many have been forced to go online or have closed shop because of falling circulation. In a telephonic conversation, Sham Dass Khanna, news editor, Hind Samachar, the number one Urdu daily in Punjab, said, “The situation is alarming. From 1,20,000 copies per day until the 1990s, our circulation has come down to 37,000 copies per day. Our readers are disappearing because Urdu does not promise career options.”
Measures needed
In order to improve the condition of Urdu, Dr Nadeem Ahmed Nadeem, who conducts certificate and diploma courses in Urdu and Persian at Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University, Fatehgarh Sahib, says: “We plan to start special classes for students who are doing post-graduation and doctorate in Punjabi because there is a close relationship between Punjabi and Urdu. The knowledge of Urdu is important even for religious studies because the poetry of Guru Nanak Dev, Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Gobind Singh is replete with Persian words and phrases.”
Urdu is the language of Punjabi culture because it was born in Punjab, observes Dr Nadeem. “It is essential to learn Urdu, because once you learn how to read and write it, doors open to eight languages because they all used the same script. These languages are: Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Kashmiri, Pashtu, Dogri, Sindhi, and also Punjabi because in Pakistan, it is written in the Persian script. If you examine Punjabi and Urdu, you will notice that there are so many similarities. For example, chhabeel comes from the Arabic word sabeel; ardas comes from arz-e-dash.”
Dr Mohammad Ayyub Khan, programme in-charge, Haryana Urdu Akademi, points out the practical problems in the propagation of Urdu: “There is an acute shortage of teachers. At Panjab University, Punjabi University, Guru Nanak Dev University, and Sri Guru Granth Sahib World University, they have appointed only one Urdu teacher, and this one teacher runs the entire department. How can they do justice to their jobs? In MA classes, we have eight subjects, so we need at least four Urdu teachers. It is not that there are no posts, but I fail to understand why these are not being filled up. It is not that the government is not giving funds to promote the language; the funds are not being properly utilised.”
Muhammad Rafique, lecturer, political science at Government Senior Secondary School (Boys), Malerkotla, says: “A team from Delhi came here to study the status of Urdu in this tehsil, and they gave a good report about it. They said, in other states, about 1,200 Urdu teachers have been appointed but their output is very poor. We have only 45 teachers, but their output is tremendous.” 
Sahibzada Ajmal Khan Sherwani, a poet belonging to the royal family, suggests that if we want people to learn Urdu, we must produce excellent literature, films, TV serials and plays in Urdu. We see that the rise or downfall of a language is directly linked to the rise or downfall of its literature. “Urdu is very popular, and one of the reasons is the extensive use of Urdu in the film industry. Another reason for its popularity is various TV channels that telecast Urdu programmes, serials, seminars, and mushairas. In addition to this, the government must open more institutes and encourage students to learn it in schools and colleges so that great writers and poets are produced.”
Speaking of Urdu, he wrote a verse: “Hoon main Urdu, hai dilon mei mera maskan dekho; Kaun kehta hai ki meri koi jagir nahin” (I am Urdu, and my abode is in the hearts of people, Who says that I have no legacy?).
The legacy of Zauk, Sauda, Momin, Iqbal, Hali, Faraz and others is alive indeed in the hearts of the masses.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

O Monsoon! Come soon

By Kuldip Dhiman. Illustration by Vishu Verma

It is monsoon time, it is fun time, it is romantic time. It is a time to chat with friends and eat really chatt-patti spicy things such as pakore, malpude, kachori, and not to forget steaming hot jalebis. Outdoors, it is a great sight to see people running for cover, some tripping over wet earth and having a great fall, others watching and laughing, a car passing by and splashing water all over you. 
The fascination with the rains is due to the fact that water is the source of all life. That is why this season is a time for procreation not only among humans but nearly all creatures. No wonder it has a strong association with romance. 
Traditionally called Sawan- Badhon, the two months of rainy season mean different things to different people. For children it is a time to make paper boats and swim in the muddy pools. This was well expressed by the poet Sudarshan Fakir when he reminisced: Wo kagaz ki kashti wo barish ka pani. To the farmer, good rains mean good crop; to cricket aficionados, rain on the day of the match means disappointment; and to the lovebirds, it is the season for physical closeness as Zeenat Aman urges her lover to leave his job and come back: "Teri do takeyan di naukari, mere lakhon ka Sawan jaye re ...."  (For your two-penny worth job's sake, my priceless rainy season is going wasted.) 
Coming to the classics, Kalidasa gave a vivid picture of the rainy season in Meghadootam and Ritusamharam. Urdu poets have written profusely on the wet season, often with a tinge of irony. Making fun of his dilapidated home, a poet wrote: Mere ghar ki muflisi ko dekh kar badnaseebi sar patak ke rah gayi, Aur ek din ki muktsar bearish ke baad chatt kayin din tak tapakti rah gayi. (By looking at the dilapidated condition of my home, even misfortune was moved to tears; Because after only a day's brief rain, the roof kept leaking for days).
The poet Gopaldas Neeraj also wrote tongue in cheek: Abke Sawan me shararat ye mere saath hui, Mera ghar chhod ke kul shahar me barsaat hui. (This rainy season played mischief upon me; Leaving my home aside, it poured all over the town.)
Hindi films often have a rain song whether the story demands it or not. This is because it gives a good excuse to show the curves of the heroine. For decades rain songs such as Barsat mein hum se mile tum, (Barsat 1949), Zindagi Bhar nahin bhoolegi ye barsat ki raat (Barsat ki Rat 1960), Sawan ka Mahina pawan kare shore (Milan,1967), Rim jhim gire sawan (Manzil,1979), Tip tip barsa paani  (Mohra,1994); Sanson ko sanson mein (Hum Tum, 2004) and Yeh saazish hai boondon Ki (Fanaa, 2006) have been a raging success with the audience. 
Closer home, Hans Raj Hans sang his popular Saun mahina kin min kin min and Babbu Maan came up with Saun di jhari, evoking the romance of the rains. Not to forget Chaman Lal Chaman's Saun da mahina yaaro sung by Jagjit Singh.
Rains also mean fun and jokes. My maternal grandfather used to sing this funny limerick long before Hinglish and Pinglish came into vogue. The scene is of a little boy who is walking to his school but is stuck on the way because it is raining: "O! My master how I come; Godey-godey paani te mee chamacham'; Ik pair fisaleya te ho jaye ghadam; Upar my basta te heth I am." (O my teacher, how should I reach school. The water is knee-deep as it is pouring, and I might slip and have a fall with schoolbag above me and me beneath it.) 
Not too long ago, children just ran out and got wet in the downpour least bothering about their clothes or belongings, but in this age of comfort, most of us have forgotten the sheer joy of getting wet in the rain. It is time to be a child again, it is time to give up all inhibitions and get wet and have fun.