Urdu: Complacency and Indifference | Syed M. Naseem

Although I have no credential or qualification but would like to put my two cents opinion on the present status of Urdu into little perspective: Urdu language developed and thrived in Mughal Courts and was people’s common mode of communication in Mughal army.
Hindi is one of the official languages recognized by the Constitution of India.  For the unity of nation, Mahatma Gandhi recommended that the national language of India should be Hindustani with both Urdu and Hindi scripts; Congress party disregarded his suggestion and incorporated Hindi in Devnagri script as an official language, which gives the erroneous impression that Hindi is the national language of India. At the same time Urdu was downgraded to the level of 18 other regional languages. When I left India (1970), Hindi was still rather in a maturing mode, and generally communication in Hindi belt was more like in Urdu style.  However, trend changed in recent years, news and the Parliamentarians speak a language, which is not used in either films or Indian plays or TV serials. Unfortunately, the news transmission and other written media started using the language laden predominantly with Sanskrit idioms and unintelligible vocabulary for larger masses of North and South Indians.
Historically speaking, Urdu has been the language of both Hindus and Muslims. The problem started immediately after independence, when Hindu extremists, including the Congressmen, began to identify Urdu with Muslims alone, and openly expressed their aversion for Urdu. In 1978, Sahir Ludhinvi in presence of Indira Gandhi recited his famous poem, at Ghalib centenary celebration:

Jin Shehron Me Goonji Thi Ghalib Ki Nawaa Barson
Un Shahron Me Urdu Ab Be-Naamo-Nishan Thehri
Aazaadi-e-Kamil Ka Ailaan Hua Jis Din
Maatoob Zaban Thehri, Ghaddar Zaban Thehri

In recent years, many deprecated that Urdu (in India) contains an excessive number of Arabic and Persian words and insisted on that the language should be simplified for all to understand clearly. Urdu of course derived its vocabulary from various languages, such as Hindi, Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, and abundantly from Turkish language.  During the early phase of language development both poets and writers used heavy Urdu dominated by Persian and Arabic words, though the trend changed in mid-eighteenth century and was mostly simplified in third decade of the last century. However, spoken language (which is really dominated by Hindi expressions) remained unchanged until now. There always were/are four schools of thoughts in Urdu Literature, represented by Delhi (western UP), Awadhi (Eastern UP and Bihar), Hyderabadi (South Indian), and Lahori-Punjabi, portraying to some extent different Urdu style, culture, and ethos.

In spite of current pathetic condition of Urdu, this language is plainly denting Hindi in almost all zones of India, probably by the popularity of Ghazals, Qawwalis, Mushairas, film songs and TV plays. However, Urdu needs Urdu authors and book-lovers to prosper.  People who read Urdu script are vanishing while those who are enthusiastic to learn Urdu are growing.

Often question has been raised if Urdu is short of Arabic and Farsi words, what will be its effect on the language, particularly literary Urdu and not the spoken/colloquial.  It could be exemplified by a failed experiment in Turkey, where the Turk government sponsored massive language reforms (around 1920), with a change of script and the expulsion of much of the classical Arabic and Persian vocabulary from the Turkish literary language. Turks have learned that such a reaction in the face of official pressure was ineffective and the experiment failed. Similarly, Urdu will not be Urdu, if we delete script and integrated words of foreign origins, including Hindi and Sanskrit.
Urdu cannot be divorced from its script and largely I agree with the comment made by Syed Shahabuddin (former IFS and MP):
“Urdu without its script is not Urdu; it becomes a style of Hindi. Urdu without its script will die out faster because Urdu, unlike European languages with a common Roman script and Indian languages with a common Devnagri script, has no homeland”.

Our apprehension for Urdu is self-inflicted and no one should be blamed for our own faults.  Maulana Abul Kalam Azad once said while addressing Muslims:
“You have spent several nights of indifference (Urdu-ghaflat) and complacency (Urdu-sarshari).  Truly, Muslims have enjoyed Urdu language for long, and now showing insensitivity to the mother tongue.”
Level of our appreciation of the language is well depicted here in the USA, where in Mushairas, any entertainer or comical poets are most popular compared to poets of prominence.  Also in the USA, majority of universities offer courses in South Asian languages including Urdu.  Furthermore, students have to take few credits of unnecessary but compulsory courses of their choice.  We never encouraged or persuaded our children to take Urdu language even for communication with their grandparents and relatives back home. In India, Muslim children invariably use language, which is not Urdu, but mixture of Punjabi and Hindi, and these children not only can read or write but also now cannot even speak proper Urdu.

Ye Daur Hai Wo Daur Ke Jis Daur Me Yaro
Dilli Ki Zaban Aur Hai Ghalib Ki Zaban Aur

Urdu was never the language of the mainstream Muslims of India, except Perhaps only in Hindi belt (U.P., Bihar and Delhi). In other Indian States about 10% converses in Urdu, often in various dialects, sadly few of them can read or write. Factually, the number of Muslims who could read and write in Urdu script is declining rapidly and at alarming rate, and the harsh reality is that there is no chance for any improvement in the situation.
The above-mentioned status of Urdu is also true in the Bollywood where more than 99% movie-makers cannot read or write Urdu. The real language of Bollywood is Urdu in Devnagri script and not in Persian script.  We should understand that the current fascination with Urdu culture is due to its gracious and pleasant characteristic, which came from the influential Muslim societies of the past, and even to this day continue to attract non-Muslims to its fold. Though that civilization is no more, still its effects are well entrenched in Urdu ethics. Bashir Badr puts it:

Wo Itr-daan Sa Lehja Mire Buzurgon Ka
Rachi Basi Hui Urdu Zabaan Ki Khushbu

In spite of current pathetic condition of Urdu, this language is plainly denting Hindi in almost all zones of India, probably by the popularity of Ghazals, Qawwalis, Mushairas, film songs and TV plays. However, Urdu needs Urdu authors and book-lovers to prosper.  Many Urdu works of genius, such as, Dewan-e-Ghalib, books on Mir, Firaq, Faiz, Faraz, Prem Chand etc. are mostly available in Devnagri script. Therefore, people who read Urdu script are vanishing while those who are enthusiastic to learn Urdu are growing. Some argue that Urdu would survive in Devnagari script, and it would survive in Arabic script only in Islamic seminaries or Madrasas. In support of Devnagri script, a friend of mine said that:

Nasha-e-Mey Ko Talluq Nahin Paimane Se

A script is only a jam, a sabu, a bada, or a paymana but it is not essential to a maynosh (alcoholic). In the words of Ghalib:

Pila De Ok Se Saqi Jo Mujh Se Nafrat Hai
Pyala Gar Nahi Deta Na De, Sharab To De

The question of the very survival of Urdu is repeatedly asked, and solutions to what seems to be a persistent problem are constantly sought. It is now well recognized that Urdu cannot be detached from Hindi in India, whether exists in Devanagari script or Urdu rasm-ul-khat. Urdu along with Hindi can still be regarded as the potential link language of the whole of the subcontinent, and therefore Urdu deserves much more recognition than it has at present.
At least we the (Urdu-speaking community) living in Western world have consolation, and have convinced ourselves that what we have inherited must be venerated and should be protected by organizing and holding Mushairas in October to pay tribute to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and propagate Urdu language in USA.
Views express by author are personal.
Published on: Jun 17, 2016 @ 19:16
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