Urdu dies a gradual death as govt looks the other way

The ‘connecting language’ stands bypassed and side-tracked after a section of the society has unofficially declared it as the lingo of Muslims of the country

New shockers await each single day. The biggest, of course, is rightwing’s supposed hold on Facebook! Captivated we sit, under all those facades! This big shocker followed by the other shockers — a high percentage, as high as 37 per cent, of those killed by the Uttar Pradesh police force in the various encounters in the last 40 months, were Muslims. This grim fact gets compounded by the fact that the percentage of the jailed Muslims is higher than their population ratio. It’s about time to ask the basics: Why are more Muslims sitting jailed? Why are more Muslims getting blatantly killed in encounters?

Needless to detail that in the midst of this scenario, the Muslim community is battling challenges on every given front. So much so that there is fear of big lasting dents on their identity. And this quite obviously includes their mother tongue, Urdu. In fact, this brings me to write that last week I was dismayed to know that for a post-graduation diploma course in Urdu Journalism offered by a New Delhi situated Institute, there were no takers for the 17 seats. Yes, no takers till the very last day of the submission of the admission forms.

This, in itself, is a pointer to the bigger picture. Urdu stands bypassed and side-tracked after the communal brigades have gone and declared it as the language of the Musalmaans! Urdu stands reduced to such lows that knowledge of Urdu cannot ensure employment; not even the basic means to survival. This ‘connecting language’, Urdu, lies crushed and deadened.

When I was a visiting professor at the Jamia Millia Islamia, I met a researcher,Valerio Pietrangelo. He was pursuing advanced study of Urdu and Arabic from the University of Rome and travelled to Jamia Millia Islamia as part of his research work on ‘Partition Literature in Urdu, written by women.’ And with that in the backdrop, I’d asked him to comment on the Indian Muslims he’d been meeting in the country and together with that his comments on their mother tongue, Urdu….Valerio was forthright- “As my main concern has always been Urdu language and literature, my contact with the Muslim community in India has always been filtered by my perception of the language issue. My impression is that Muslims are in a certain sense a backward community, at least many of them. As I met Muslims, I realised how dramatically they are shifting to Hindi and other Indian languages since the government is not promoting Urdu language and literature. I think the language is an essential element of group identity, therefore, I feel that Muslim identity is threatened.”

And Khushwant Singh had minced no words, detailing the slow death of this language, “Urdu is dying a slow death in the land where it was born and where it flourished. The number of students who take it as a subject in schools and colleges is dwindling…Apart from Kashmir, where Urdu is taught from the primary to the post-graduate levels, in the rest of India it is the second or third language. With the passing of years it has come to be dubbed as the language of the Muslims, which is far from the truth.”

In fact, Khushwant would recite these verses of Urdu poets Rashid and Khurshid Afsar Bisrani, focusing on this near-death of Urdu.

Rashid’s verse –

Maangey Allah se bas itni dua hai Rashid /

Main jo Urdu mein vaseeyat likhoon beta parh ley.

(All Rashid asks from Allah is just one small gift/ If I write my will in Urdu, may my son be able to read it.)

Khurshid Afsar Bisrani’s verse –

Ab Urdu kya hai ek kothey kee tawaif hai /

Mazaa har ek leta hai, mohabbat kaun karta hai

(What is Urdu now but a whore in a whorehouse /Whoever wants has fun with her, very few love her.)

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Sad and unfortunate, this treatment meted out to a language that carries that subtle power to heal and control emotions and much more long the strain. A study conducted by the Lucknow based Centre for Biomedical Researches (CBMR) published in a recent edition of international journal ‘Neuroscience Letters’ states that reading Urdu script and Urdu couplets helps in brain development.

This report, based on extensive research, goes to prove that learning and reading Urdu couplets helps in controlling emotions, coping with stress, delaying dementia. It could also be helpful for children with learning disabilities.

I can say with much confidence that another positive is that Urdu couplets, dripping with passion and romantic strains, carry the ability to distract one from the dark realities of the day.

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Perhaps, this particular verse of Sahir Ludhianvi relays the stark dark truth of the hypocrisy ridden times we are surviving in:

“The same cities where once Ghalib’s voice resounded

Now have disavowed Urdu, made it homeless

The day that announced the arrival of freedom

Also declared Urdu a cursed and treacherous language

The same government that once crushed a living tongue

Now wishes to mourn and honour the dead

The man you call Ghalib was a poet of Urdu

Why praise Ghalib after suppressing his language.”

We have lost a gem of an artist — with the passing away of Mohammad Yasin

On August 18, the well -known New Delhi based artist-calligrapher, the 92 year old Mohammed Yasin, passed away. Born on January 4, 1928, in Andhra Pradesh’s Mugalgidda village, he started off as an artist during his student days. Recipient of prestigious international and national awards, he held 37 solo exhibitions in the country and in Paris and Portugal. His works are in the collections of galleries, art institutions and museums.

Yasin sahib was a widely respected artist. He was humble and un-assuming and right till the end maintained a very low profile. I met him only once several years back, at the opening of calligrapher Qamar Dagar’s exhibition, and to this day recall that meeting. Soft spoken and articulate, he came across a gentleman artist. As Qamar Dagar describes him: “He was an inspiration for us…a sincere and noble person …an artist of excellence who was like a father figure, always inspiring and guiding artists.”