Reviving Urdu, once the official language of India

Urdu, which was once the official language of India is being revived through efforts of linguists and culture enthusiasts.

Published: 07th July 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th July 2019 01:28 PM   |  A+A-

A panel discussion at last year’s Jashn-e-Rekhta

A panel discussion at last year’s Jashn-e-Rekhta

Urdu is synonymous to the language of love. Bollywood songs, shayaris, ghazals and nazms use Urdu extensively.

But it is only recently that this love for the sound of Urdu has extended to its script. Writer Annie Zaidi says that while Urdu runs in her family, she learnt to write the script as recently as 2017.

“I always wanted to know more about Urdu literature, and there is only so much that you can understand through transliterations. Besides, my grandfather (Ali Jawad Zaidi) is an Urdu writer, and it was a shame that I couldn’t read his works in the original. Urdu should have been my mother tongue but, as things stand, I am more fluent in Hindi,” she says.

An Urdu workshop covering the heritage
and architechture of Delhi

The charm and challenge of the script has found new takers.

Some want to learn the script for research, for design, or to write poetry.

Interestingly, Urdu and Hindi share an Indo-Aryan base, but Urdu is associated with the Nastaliq script style of Persian calligraphy and reads right-to-left, whereas Hindi resembles Sanskrit and reads left-to-right.

Theatre practitioner Danish Husain, who curates a session called Mehfil at Prithvi theatre in Mumbai says “The interest in Urdu has always been there, but people are reading works and want access to the original works.”

Hussain also regularly conducts plays using the Dastangoi format of Urdu storytelling. 

The surge of interest in Urdu is directly proportional to the shayari clubs, Urdu readings and calligraphy classes that are being regularly hosted. Foundations such as Karvaan, Rekhta Foundation, Ishq Urdu, are offering short courses, workshops, Urdu heritage tours, word-of-the-day, dictionaries and several other options to induce Urdu in our daily lives.

The key to learning is, of course, social media. Rekhta has a whopping 406,000 followers on Twitter alone where they share lines of famous Urdu poets such as Sahir Ludhianvi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, among others.  

Delhi’s Rekhta also organises the country’s largest Urdu festival called Jashn-e-Rekhta which hosts intellects, writers and Bollywood personalities.

Rekhta has also launched an online education portal, www.aamozish.com, where one can learn the language on their own.

Rana Safvi, a Delhi-based historian and scholar,  says, “Urdu uses the same grammar as Hindi. Not that of Farsi.”

She runs a popular blog called My Name Is Urdu And I Am Not A Muslim, where the author has written extensively about the evolution of the language and recalls Australian linguist Peter Austin’s observation that “Urdu and Hindi have the same roots in the emerging Indo-Aryan language varieties spoken in an area centred on Delhi, and specially the variety called Khari Boli, which spread throughout India under the Muslim armies of the Delhi Sultanate (13th to 15th century).”

Another similar organisation is Urdu Hai Jiska Naam which conducts weekend classes in Urdu. The course covers a brief introduction to the language, understanding grammar, technical aids for writing, reading comprehension, etc.

“This year, there were 300 applicants, but we had resources to register only 100, despite doubling batches,” says one of the organisers.

Another interesting event was Katha Kathan, a series of readings of Urdu’s best literary names. The initiative was led by former ad-man Jameel Gulrays, after he felt the need to share Urdu’s literary wealth.

With plenty of efforts,  language lovers are waking up to the rich culture of Urdu as its been rebranded not just a language of shayari and tehzeeb but also a language that is binding people together.

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