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.