Remember the lines – “ Yaar mera khusboo ki tarah, jiski zuban Urdu ki tarah” from the song “Chhaiya Chhaiya” in the Mani Ratnam film Dil Se? (Yes, it is the same song where you see SRK and Malaika dancing atop a train .) Roughly translated, the words mean – “ My beloved is like a fragrance, a person whose language is like Urdu” . While, not discounting the sweetness of every language when spoken or written to convey love, Urdu has its own special flavor.Though I can speak five Indian languages and can read and write three of them, Urdu is a language that I have always yearned to learn. My introduction to this beautiful language was through the medium of music – Hindi film songs and later ghazals! Probably the reason why I associate it with love and romance….
If we look at the meaning of the word “Urdu” it is of Turkish origin meaning ‘camp’ or ‘army’. It is often referred to as “Lashkari Zuban” or the language of the army. A language that was born in our subcontinent ,it is a mixture of Persian, Turkish, Arabic and the local Hindi dialects. However, the British used it as an effective tool to spread the communal divide resulting in the language being associated with Muslims.The court usage of the language continues to dominate its form making it one of the most formal languages that I have ever heard! I firmly believe that it would be difficult to abuse a person in Urdu! Ofcourse, Hyderabadis in Deccan claim that it has a number of crude words. But if you look closely, what passes for “Urdu” in the Deccan is nothing but a F2 hybrid – of Urdu and South Indian languages which is popularly known as Deccani! An exact opposite of its illustrious ancestor, Deccani is very informal, loaded with slangs and spoken in a sing song fashion in the style of south Indian languages.
But coming back to Urdu, I find that it is a language that is fast disappearing from the public space. There used to be a time when some of the best songs in the Indian film industry were loaded with Urdu words. Words like “Amanat” , “ Qayamat”, “Mohobbat” , “Ishq”,”Majboor” rolled over our tongues effortlessly as we sang all these songs in our “Antashari” ( a game that we used to play where we had to sing songs beginning with the last letter of the words of the previous song) times. Lyricists like Sahir Ludhianvi, and Gulzar kept our vocabulary alive with new words. We used to try them out in our Hindi compositions and exasperate our Hindi teacher who probably felt that they were too flowery for school level compositions. Besides, being a Sanskrit scholar she definitely felt more partial to the Government of India style Hindi, making us making us replace “Majboor” with “Vivash” or “Lachaar” in all our formal letters. But despite all that we loved the allegories to “Shama –parwana” ( shama stands for flame while parwana is moth. Just as a moth is attracted to the flame resulting in its destruction so is a lover often destroyed in love) , “Ishq aur Husn” ( love and beauty)I experienced the complete fragrance of this language as I spent one month doing an internship in Lucknow during my college days. While I knew that everyone was always addressed as “Aap” in Urdu ( including kids), what was surprising was that the third person was never used while referring to a someone in their presence. For e.g one would never say “ Inko wahan le jaiye”. They would say “Aapko wahan le jaiye”. When I got back to my college in Bombay, I felt that I was among barbarians. Bombay Hindi in the best of times sounds harsh-after Lucknow it was unbearable!
Today I find a void in the language arena of the Bollywood industry as lyrics are increasing using Bombay slangs and Punjabi words. No, I have nothing against Punjabi words but these words that populate the lyrics do not convey the depth of the meaning that the old Urdu words used to. They sound harsh and very primeval.I am told that there is a general deterioration of the lyrics of film songs these days. While they seem to be including words that are considered more “rustic” and “folksy” they are not able to retain the beauty of folk tradition in them. When they migrate into the land of the big screen they seem to be losing the flavor that they held.
I also think there is a general deterioration of the way love is expressed these days through lyrics. It is no longer poetic , appealing to one’s emotions but more physical appealing to the baser instincts. And probably one no longer celebrates the pain of love these days as lovers are more aggressive getting what they want. The moth no longer flies in the path of self destruction towards the flame. One can see the quest for survival in these new times even among the established lyricists like Gulzar who have started penning songs like “Bidi Jalaile” and “Kajrare” ..!
Before you feel that I am indulging in a lot of stereotyping Urdu as the language of romance, let me also tell you that this is also the language in which some of the very revolutionary literary works have been penned. Ismat Chughtai and Sadat Hasan Manto are some of the Urdu writers whose works have been far ahead of their times. Ismat Chugtai described for the first time , female homosexuality in her short story “Lihaf” ( quilt) during the pre independence days. She was also prosecuted for pornography. People were shocked that “a woman” could write like that! There you see.. goes the image of a hijab clad female speaking this tongue through a veil!
Like any rich language it is also a very strong and effective language for political conscientization. Those of you who have heard the songs of Safdar Hashmi of the Jan Natya Manch will agree with me.I am disgusted with the increasing communal association of Urdu. We do not seem to have moved ahead from those pre independence days. There are some people who actually think the Koran is written in Urdu!!! I also find that these days the Hindi film titles aren’t shown in Urdu like they used to during my childhood! Why this victimization I wonder..? Bus boards in my home town Hyderabad no longer have them in Urdu though Andhra Pradesh does indicate Urdu as one of its official languages. I hope we will not have a situation where the language will start being referred to as language of “minorities” because folks – that it is definitely not! It might be the national language of Pakistan but it is also one our languages!
I remember meeting a lady from Pakistan when I was doing a course in Canada. Being from the same region we started conversing in what I considered was Hindi and what she thought was Urdu and became the best of pals during our one month stay there. We even sang the same song during the valedictory function –“Chalte Chalte”. She had the lyrics written in the Persian / Arabic script and me in Devnagri. I can only conclude by saying that Urdu unlike Sanskrit or Tamil may not be a root language or a classical one, but it is like sugar that has seeped into many of our north Indian languages making them sweeter and stronger in their expression.
( Sorry folks for this long silence! And I must say I am touched by the mails I have received from some of you asking about this) No particular reason - Just writer's block )