Saturday, Oct 08, 2022
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In Praise Of Urdu

A fine introduction to the new Urdu poets of India and Pakistan

A major casualty of the partition of India in 1947 was the division of Urdu into two: in Pakistan it was imposed as an official language over Punjabi, Pushto, Sindhi and other dialects spoken in their regions; in India it was rapidly replaced by Hindi and slowly shrank into a language written and read by Muslims. The only state where it was recognised as the official means of communication was Kashmir where the spoken languages were Kashmiri, Dogri, Ladakhi and Hindi. However, both in Pakistan and in India it continued to thrive as the language of film songs and dialogues, and mushairas drew large crowds of admirers. Urdu poets on both sides of the border evolved different styles of composition. In Pakistan, the vocabulary remained heavily Persianised and under long periods of dictatorial rule it also became the main language of protest. In India there was a large influx of Hindi words and with the rising tide of anti-Muslim Hindutva it was increasingly used to emphasise Indian roots of Muslims and fight anti-Muslim prejudice.

It was time some scholar compared the development of the language in the two countries since they parted company 50 years ago. This was no easy task as both countries shared a common linguistic heritage and claimed classical writers as their own: Meer, Sauda, Ghalib, Zauq, Dagh, Hali are as widely read as before in both countries. Allama Iqbal, regarded in Pakistan as one of its founding fathers, has several Iqbal chairs in Indian universities. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Noon Meem Rashid, Miraji, Majaz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Akhtarul Imam, Kaifi Azmi and a few others are equally respected. But of the new crop of writers little is known. Once in a while, when poets are allowed to cross the border to participate in mushairas, we hear of men and women we have not heard of before because there is no exchange of publications. For this reason Anisur Rahman's anthology should be widely welcomed and acclaimed.

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