Not government but Urduwalas responsible for Urdu’s downfall: Let it be a language of market once again

Urdu books galore but no readersBy Firoz Bakht Ahmed*

Interestingly, Urdu, world’s third largest language and considered to be the language of Muslims, globally has 39.66 per cent speakers who are Hindus. Not to mesh or politicize this sweet language of syncretism into the bandwagon of religion, the author’s intent here is to see whether the connoisseurs of Urdu can give it a kiss of life.

Recently, the Urdu world witnessed a lot of activities including the three-day World Urdu Conference by the NCPUL (National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language) at the University of Delhi titled, “Two Hundred Years of Urdu Journalism: Past, Present and Future Prospects”, the Jashn-e-Bahar Mushaira, the Jashn-e-Rekhta,a three-day festival of Urdu, Delhi Urdu Academy Mushaira-e-Yaum-e-Jamhuriya and the sad news of the deaths of Nida Fazli, celebrated Urdu poet in India and that of Intezar Hussain, renowned Urdu critic and novelist in Pakistan. What was so special about the Jashn-e-Rekhta was that of the 100 Urdu litterateurs who had participated, 30 were from across the border — Pakistan.

Historically, Urdu newspapers made a solid contribution to the national cause during the freedom struggle. Having realized Urdu’s importance, national leaders responded well to slogans like Inquilab zindabad, used by Subhash Chandra Bose and songs like Sarfaroshi ki tamanna by Ram Prasad Bismil and Sarey jahan se achha by Iqbal. Urdu was very much India’s lingua franca, a language of our amalgamated cultural heritage belonging to all Indians, irrespective of caste, creed or religion. Umpteen Urdu publishing houses were managed by non-Muslims. Urdu was nurtured equally by litterateurs like Prem Chand, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Pundit Anand Mohan Zutshi Gulzar Dehlvi, Krishna Chander, Ram Lal, Malik Ram, Gopi Chand Narang, and others.

Opines Dr Majid Deobandi, vice chairman, Delhi Urdu Academy that Urdu’s fate was sealed with its ouster from the secular curriculum. After 1947, Urdu was hit by a communalist mindset thinking it was only the language of Muslims.

Some even held it responsible for Partition. This is entirely wrong —languages have no religion, region or community fixation. Sadly, Urdu was erased from our education system but in spite of that, it survived as lingua franca and thrives even today. The last nail in its coffin was the Official Languages Act, 1951, or the Education Order of 1953, ensuring that Urdu education was terminated in its traditional heartland of Uttar Pradesh. Today, Urdu-medium schools are tottering everywhere.

Urdu newspapers struggling for survival
Urdu newspapers struggling for survival

The true worth of Urdu can be seen in the words of eminent Urdu journalist, Shahid Siddiqui, “Urdu is not merelysher-o-shairi, ghazal, qawwali, masnawi and marsiah. It’s the epitome of our Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb (composite culture). Urdu is a language born out of our syncretism accruing out of the commonality of cultures.”

If Urdu happens to be on oxygen today, opined Muzaffar Hussain, Vice Chairman, NCPUL, it is owing to the blatant neglect on the part of the so-called its faithless lovers who swear in its name to sacrifice their lives during tea-time socializing but spurn buying Urdu newspapers send with aplomb, their children to elite English medium schools.

Truth is that it is owing to the thoughtlessness and lethargy of the so-called Urdu lovers, many mainline Urdu newspapers and magazines like, Qaumi Awaz, Al-Jamiat, Urdu Times, Shama, Khilauna, Toffee, Bano andShabistan besides many others have closed down and the Urduwallas haven’t even raised their eyebrows what to talk of protesting and the efforts for their revival. In Belarus when people’s daily Narodnaya Volya, was closed down, thousands of people marched on roads and helped restore parity and publication of their beloved daily. Nothing of this spirit is seen in Urdu readers as they are lackadaisical.

A glaring case in point is the closing down of the millennium’s most sought after and vastly circulated KhilaunaUrdu monthly established in the early 1940s for children. Its circulation, like its sister monthly Shama almost surpassed that of The Hindustan Times, the most highly circulated daily that time. Today’s generation must not have missed it, had some sincere Urdu lovers might have retained their childhood penchant. Alas, nobody, not even Yunus Dehlvi, the editor of the said magazine did anything concrete to revive the Khilauna.

Prof Irteza Karim, the man who had conducted the World Urdu Conference, categorically stated that despite all the loopholes in the system and barely negligible support by Urdu lovers, he hasn’t lost his faith in the sagacity of Urdu. However, he added that need of the hour happens to make Urdu, the language of bazaar as the big brands like Tata, Birla, Dabur, Infosys etc don’t advertise in Urdu press.

Unless Urdu is associated with profession and market as was the case during the Mughal era, and latest technology of apps and tweets Urdu can’t prosper, was the view of Mumbai based PA Inamdar, a social activist. This view was contested by poet-critic, Zubar Rizvi who believed, “If Urdu is our mother tongue, let’s treat it as we do our mother. It’s part of our cultural heritage and let’s learn it whether we get a job through it or not.

Rekhta Shakeel Zada Pakistan Critic
Shakeel Zada: Pakistani critic

Perhaps the best treatise came from two Urdu lovers who both came from Mumbai. Shahid Latif, editor, InquilabUrdu daily stated that modernity must be the watchword of Urdu today as in his daily or the digital divide will set Urdu rather at a low ebb. Toeing the same line was Mohammed Wajihuddin who stated that Urdu newspapers will be on a fast track if they come out of their garb of being conformists and the archaic methodology and mindset. He pointed out that the sad tale of Urdu newspapers is that these are published mostly by Muslims, for Muslims and patronized by Muslims associations and politicians often smacking of yellow journalism.

However, Urdu has its lovers like Ather Faroqui of Urdu Ghar who believes, “Urdu Chairs have been set in the universities of Cambridge and Oxford in the UK and also in the universities in Germany, China, Egypt, Jordan and Malaysia. Urdu is the language plain and simple and easily comprehensible whose future is bright. Urdu is the second language read and understood most in India, third in the USA while fourth in Britain.”

One would be glad to know that the first big Urdu newspaper, Jam-e-Jahanuma, was patronized by a non-Muslim, Harihat Dutt while the best publisher of Urdu text and the holy Quran during the days of Mirza Ghalib was Munshi Nawal Kishore who also published Ghalib’s diwans (poetic collections).

Frankly speaking, the two most widely circulated Urdu newspapers, that is, Inquilab and Rashtriya Sahara, are from non-Muslim, establishments, namely the Jagran group and the Sahara group. However, people like Sanjiv Saraf, the industrialist who has introduced Jashn-e-Rekhta and Kamna Prasad who has been managing Jashn-e-Bahar poetic conclave for the last 18 years. Apart from that Madhav Shriram of the Shriram Industries has been at the helm of the Shankar-Shad Indo-Pak Mushaira, perhaps the best world series of poetic gathering that started by his great grandfather Shriram at Layalpur (now Faisalabad, Pakistan) during the pre-Partition days.

Jashn-e-Rekhta is a festival to celebrate the quintessential spirit of Urdu, its inclusive ethos and creative character.Rekhta, a website of collections of old and modern representative poetry, is an online treasure of Urdu available in Roman, Devnagri and Urdu scripts with correct and authentic text. Today, Rekhta has become the biggest Urdu networking hub.

Some special highlights of the second edition of the Jashn-e-Rekhta festival recently were the birth centenary celebration of legendary Urdu writers Ismat Chugtai and Rajinder Singh Bedi, known as the pillars of Urdu fiction. The birth centenary of Akhtar ul Iman, one of the pillars of modern Urdu nazms and dialogue writer was also celebrated. As a special focus, there was a children’s corner which had storytelling, audio installations and drawing aimed at reviving Urdu literature among children.

Sanjiv Sharaf
Sanjiv Sharaf

The festival also showcased Urdu and its richness through various forms like mushaira, qawwali, dastangoi, ghazals, film screening, dance and plays. It featured a ‘Baitbazi’ section, which is a verbal game and a genre of Urdu poetry played by saying verses of Urdu poems.

Another attraction at the festival was Urdu bazaar, which was a special area dedicated to brass artifacts, a variety of attars (fragrances) and film posters. Jashn-e-Rekhta saw a treasure trove for the taste buds — a food festival with Awadhi, Kashmiri, Deccani, Sindhi, Banjaara, Punjabi, Mughlai delicacies including a spread of choicest street foods of Dilli. People also got to savour Pakistani delicacies. Also, more than 20 varieties of tea were served at the food court.

Today, we find a growing urge amongst non-Urdu speaking groups to learn Urdu. They know, for instance, the Mumbai film industry depends on Urdu. Urdu Academy and other institutions like the Urdu Academy, Ghalib Academy arrange classes to teach Urdu during the summer vacations. Apart from that, the popularity of ghazals, poetry and Urdu dramas is evergreen – even in the two Houses of Parliament, the maximum numbers of couplets quoted are from Urdu poets like Ghalib, Iqbal, Faiz and

*Commentator on social, educational and religious issues, grandnephew of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad




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