Friday, April 3, 2009

Saving Urdu in India--its Birthplace


Popular Bollywood filmmaker MAHESH BHATT, known for films such as Arth, Saaransh, Janam, Naam, Inteha, Jism, Murder and Woh Lamhe, makes an impassioned appeal to save Urdu from extinction in India, the birthplace of the language, in an article published by the Hindu:

Man is memory, and memory is sound. The first sound that resonates in my heart is the Urdu word “Shireen”, meaning sweet; the name of my mother, who was by birth a Shia Muslim and remained one till the end of her days.

Shadowing that sweet memory is a bitter one. My mother couldn’t marry my Hindu father because my father couldn’t go against the wishes of his staunch Brahmin family in post-Partition India. She concealed her Muslim identity in the predominantly Hindu area of Mumbai’s Shivaji Park where we lived because, in spite of the Nehruvian vision of India as a plural and diverse nation, the rising Hindu fundamentalist movement looked upon the minority Muslim community as the enemy within. So, to arm herself from a possible Hindu backlash, she tried her best to fit in by submerging her true identity. “Do not call me by my Muslim name,” she would caution us in private. “I do not want the world to know about my Muslim identity.”

Suspect loyalties

Those were the days when Urdu was looked upon as the language of those who partitioned India. The Indian Muslim’s loyalty was always suspect; he had to regularly re-affirm his Indianness and patriotism to quell the nationalist anxieties of the majority, whose Partition-inflicted wounds had not healed.

Is it any wonder then that this Shia woman who was ‘living in sin’ with a Brahmin filmmaker gave all her children Hindu names, hurled us into Christian Schools run by Italian priests where we learned good English and absurd nursery rhymes and brought us up as Hindus?

At the same time, this same Shia woman who masqueraded as a Hindu, ushered me into the magical world of the Hindu mythology of Shiva, Ganesh and Parvati, Ram, Sita and Hanuman, as well as the great epic of the Mahabharata. “You are the son of a nagar Brahmin… you belong to the Bhargav gotra” she would say. And in the next breath, in chaste Urdu, give me a Kalma while telling me to chant “Ya Ali Maddat” if confronted with an adversary ! What a paradox !

A memory bubble bursts... The year is 1958. I am barely nine years old. The atmosphere in our house is sombre. One of the finest flowers of Indian renaissance, Maulana Azad, is dead. My mother is listening to a live relay of his funeral procession on the All India Radio Urdu service. Suddenly my father, who is equally upset by the death of this great nationalist, storms into the house. On hearing the Urdu relay, he angrily says, “Put this Radio Pakistan off! I want to hear this news in Hindi, not in Urdu!” My mother meekly does so, but I can see that she is deeply hurt.

Personal is political

They say the personal is the political. This incident explains the tremendous odds that lay in the path of Urdu, just as the first decade of Independent India was coming to an end. My father, who was a secular Brahmin, taught me a lesson through that action. That ‘tolerance’ implies superiority... where the majority community, very condescendingly, ‘ puts up’ with the very existence of the minority. But it is always ‘thus far and no further…’ an implied limit on their so-called tolerance.

My mother’s language was dying, and there was nothing that I could do as a child to keep it alive! As the years deepened, the only place I heard Urdu being spoken was on the sets of my father’s films. My father used to make enchanting Muslim fantasy movies like “The Thief of Baghdad” or “Sinbad the Sailor”. Or during secret visits with my mother to the Majlis during Moharram, where the blood-soaked history of Karbala was enacted with passion. Or, in the dark comfort of the cinema hall, watching “Mughal-e-Azam” or “Chaudvin Ka Chand”... and at the home of my actress aunt Poornima who, unlike my mother, was a successful actress. Poornima Aunty felt no need to hide her Muslim identity. And I loved her for being brave and audaciously speaking Urdu.

By the time I became a teenager, I realised that Urdu was the language of the ‘other’; and it also dawned on me that, in spite of all her attempts, my Muslim mother continued to remain an outsider in her own homeland. She would shoot down my rebellious attempts to unveil her real identity by saying, “It’s their country, and we have to get along with them.” But I could never seem to see it her way.

Emotional syntax

I felt Urdu and Islam were a part of my heritage and, as the years went by, I felt this burning surge within me to express who I really was. I couldn’t be myself by denying a part of me. My consciousness resonated with the chants of Hassan Hussain during Moharram; the bells of Mangal Murti Mauriya during the Ganesh Utsav, and the memories of Ave Maria of my Christian school. The only language that could give expression to a paradox like me was Urdu. And though I do not have an arsenal of words in my vocabulary, the emotional syntax of Urdu is my inner melody.

After the 93rd Amendment to the Constitution of India, the right of Urdu speakers to obtain education in their mother tongue has to be recognised as a fundamental right. Therefore to promote the teaching and learning of Urdu at the primary and secondary levels of education is the responsibility of the State. I feel that all Urdu lovers must compel the state to act with a sense of urgency and make this fundamental right a reality.

I wonder when it will dawn on our nation that Urdu is the language of India. I wonder what will it take for those who oppose Urdu to see that this fight to preserve Urdu is a fight for India!

© Copyright 2000 - 2008 The Hindu

Related Links:

An Indian's View of Iqbal, Jinnah and Pakistan

Sir Syed Day Urdu Mushaira in Silicon Valley

Shakespeare in South Asia

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

excellent,
the artcile helps me to understand as to why pakistan had to be created and why it needs to be maintatanied.
The article alos tells the way as to how it can be conquered.
You have a very powerful arsenal mr.Bhat against which no defence system works.
we have to be concious about you but with a strong sense of admiration.
My compliments.

Anonymous said...

exposes hatred in Indian culture. funny they hate it but borrow a lot of Urdu vocabulary in their movies.

Naveen KS said...

This Mahesh Bhatt is a lunatic who is the favourite of the leftist liberal media in India and usually blabbers on our news channels from time to time and no one cares about him.

AFAIK Urdu is doing fine in India and its connoisseurs are taking good care to promote it. It is definitely not a dying language in India.

Anonymous said...

Nice article by Mahesh Bhatt. However, a few responses on the comments:

> Urdu is still going strong in India, and Indians don't 'borrow' Urdu in bollywood because you don't borrow something that already belongs to you. Some of the finest Urdu poets post independence have lived in India and have found bollywood as a medium.

> Post independence, there has been a sanskritization of language in India - concious or not, I dont know. It is much the same way Urdu in pakistan Pakistan looked to Arabic and Persian for linguistic inspiration and 'cleansed' itself of any indian influence. Case in point is the National Anthem, which has words in persian and arabic which few would understand.

Still, Urdu is a a beautiful language and while your concern is appreciated, it is not going extinct anytime soon. To begin with 160 millions speak Urdu (our muslim population). In fact, both Indians and Pakistanis should be more worried about the extinction of Sanskrit, of which there is a real danger.

Anonymous said...

Mahesh Bhatt is transferring his penchant for drama from the reel world to the real world. Makes for a nice readable story - but not much more. He's a fellow-traveler of Arundhati Roy - loony and entertaining.

HH said...

I am sorry to hear the sad story of bollywood filmaker Mahesh Bhatt's mother Shireen.
I can visualize the scene when he writes '..... my mother meekly does so, but I can see that she is deeply hurt...'
But then again I can also visualize that there was his Poornima Aunty 'who felt no need to hide her Muslim identity'.

The 1952's Language Movement started in the then East Pakistan has received worldwide recognition through UN and UNESCO. The world now celebrates 21st February every year as its International Mother Language Day.

Mahesh Batt needs to know that fortunately his father's days of concavity has long gone. He needs to tell his parents (particularly he owes that to his poor mother, if she is still alive) and his wider audience in India (may be using his expertise in creating an epic film based on our Language Movement) that an era of celebrating mother languages has dawned.

Urdu is the language of India too. Those who oppose Urdu in India will surely see that this fight to preserve Urdu is a fight for India!

With best wishes.

Dr.Hasanat Husain
www.voiceforjustice.org
London

Anonymous said...

Urdu is never used in any education institution but for madarassa. It is not only for urdu but for many indian language including sanskrit. English is the universal language. It carries the light for the future with all scientific studies documented in english

But for that all language will be used for speaking and for understanding the past. That shall be the same for urdu also.

Brian Barker said...

Although International Mother Language Day is now over, you may be interested in the contribution, made by the World Esperanto Association, to UNESCO's campaign for the protection of endangered languages.

The following declaration was made in favour of Esperanto, by UNESCO at its Paris HQ in December 2008. http://portal.unesco.org/culture/en/ev.php-URL_ID=38420&URL_DO=DO_PRINTPAGE&URL_SECTION=201.html

The commitment to the campaign to save endangered languages was made, by the World Esperanto Association at the United Nations' Geneva HQ in September.
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=eR7vD9kChBA&feature=related or http://www.lernu.net

I hope that you do not mind me passing on this information

Brian Barker

Anonymous said...

He is a bloody hypocrate and would do anything which get him money. dramatising anything. What is the constructive constribution of mahesh butt for the the muslims or for the urdu. Probably mahesh bhatt must be sent to saudi along with his daughter who poses nude on the press.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Haq,

Urdu is not dying in India. It's alive and well. Any Indian can study Urdu onsite or online at any national university in India. There are couple of Islamic national universities in India such as Jamia Milia Islamia and Maulana Azad university which offer college through doctorate level courses in Islamic studies.

I'm sure Mahesh Bhatt does not know all that. How would he? Mahesh is a poser who
has suddenly discovered the pain for Urdu.

armannajmi said...

i am pained to see the comments on the fear of extinction of urdu language in present day india.i must praise mahesh bhutt for speaking out with such conviction on a subject which touchs a raw nerve in us. according to the latest census the no of urdu speakers exceeds 5 crores. they are above 5 % of the population. is it not their basic right to be educated in their mother tongue like all the other linguistic groups in our country. but this right is denied to them on one pretext or other. this was a reality before partition.but in a secular democratic india our constitution is being negated by the powers that be. urdu is language which is spoken in all the country and it is enshrined in those areas which our media presents as hindi heartland. this is a travesty of truth. the so called hindi heartland is s hindi. urdu heartland. by refusing these realities we are denying some hard historical facts.
it is a known fact that urdu books some times are not made available to the students of urdu medium even by the NCERT the three language formula has already been killed by putting a classical language like sanskrit instead of a modern indian lwnguage like urdu. denial of the rights of the others is a very sad state of afairs, that is gripping us.i fully endorse the views of mahesh bhutt to make the learning and teaching of urdu st primsry and secondary levels a fundamental rught of mure than 5 crores of indian citizens.
arman najmi.mailing address.pili kothi.mohalla baqargunj.PATNA 800004 bihar

kabhihaankabhinaa said...

Thank you, Mahesh ji, for writing on the importance of Urdu for a vibrant, rocking-modern Indianness.
Every one of us who has loved Meena Kumari (Sahibjaan, in Pakeeza, or her again in Benazir, or Gulzar's lyrics, or jagjit singh's ghazal singing, or umrao jaan from 1850s Lucknow, will join you in saying Urdu, tu meri jaan hai. Sirf Urdu hi nahin, but urdu bhi...
narendra panjwani

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Aaakar Patel on Punjabis and Urdu-speakers of Bollywood:

The dominant communities of Bollywood are two: the Urdu-speakers of North India and, above all, the Punjabis from in and around Lahore. They rule Bollywood and always have. To see why this is unusual, imagine a Pakistan film industry set in Karachi but with no Pashtuns or Mohajirs or Sindhis. Instead the actors are all Tamilian and the directors all Bengalis. Imagine also that all Pakistan responds to their Tamil superstars as the nation's biggest heroes. That is how unusual the composition of Bollywood is.

A quick demonstration. Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan are the three current superstars. All three are Urdu-speakers. In the second rung we have Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Kumar, Shahid Kapoor and Ajay Devgan. Of these, Hrithik, Ajay and Akshay are Punjabi while Saif is Urdu-speaking. Shahid Kapoor, as his name suggests, is half-Punjabi and half-Urdu-speaking.

Behind the camera, the big names are Punjabi: Karan Johar, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Yash Chopra of Lahore.

The Kapoor clan of Lyallpur is the greatest family in acting, not just in Bollywood but anywhere in the world. It has produced four generations of superstars: Prithviraj Kapoor, his sons Raj, Shammi and Shashi, their children Rishi and Randhir, and the current generation of Ranbir, Kareena and Karisma.

Bollywood is a Punjabi industry. We have Dev Anand of Lahore, Balraj Sahni of Rawalpindi, Rajendra Kumar of Sialkot, IS Johar of Chakwal, Jeetendra, Premnath, Prem Chopra, Anil Kapoor and Dharmendra who are all Punjabis. Sunil Dutt of Jhelum, Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna, Vinod Mehra, Suresh Oberoi of Quetta, and all their star kids are Punjabis. Composer Roshan (father of Rakesh and grandfather of Hrithik) was from Gujranwala.

What explains this dominance of Punjabis in Bollywood? The answer is their culture. Much of India's television content showcases the culture of conservative Gujarati business families. Similarly, Bollywood is put together around the extroverted culture and rituals of Punjabis.

The sangeet and mehndi of Punjabi weddings are as alien to the Gujarati in Surat as they are to the Mohajir in Karachi. And yet Bollywood's Punjabi culture has successfully penetrated both. Bhangra has become the standard Indian wedding dance. Writer Santosh Desai explained the popularity of bhangra by observing that it was the only form of Indian dance where the armpit was exposed. Indians are naturally modest, and the Punjabi's culture best represents our expressions of fun and wantonness.

Even artsy Indian cinema is made by the people we call Punjus - Gurinder Chadha, Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair.

Another stream of Bollywood is also connected to Lahore, in this case intellectually, and that is the progressives. Sajjad Zaheer (father of Nadira Babbar), Jan Nisar Akhtar (father of lyricist Javed and grandfather of actor/director Farhan and director Zoya), Kaifi Azmi (father of Shabana), Majrooh Sultanpuri and so many others have a deep link to that city.

Riaz Haq said...

Why is the English laguage so dominant and widely used today? It's because language does not exist or grow in vacuum. As a means of communication, it reflects the state of the people whose language it is. The global ascendance of the English language has coincided with the rise of the Anglo-Saxon people beginning with the Industrial Revolution in 18th century England. It marked a dramatic shift of global power from East to West.

http://www.riazhaq.com/2012/07/global-power-shift-since-industrial.html

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan minister confirms the country is switching to #Urdu, dropping #English as official language http://ti.me/1DMF3KB via @TIMEWorld Pakistan is dropping English as its official language and switching to Urdu, a popular language in the Indian subcontinent.

The long-rumored change was confirmed by Pakistani Minister of Planning, National Reforms, and Development Ahsan Iqbal in an exclusive interview with TIME.

Iqbal said the change was being made because of a court directive. The Pakistani constitution, which was passed in 1973, included a clause specifying that the government must make Urdu the national language within 15 years, but it had not been enforced.

Still, Iqbal said the country is not entirely abandoning English, which will still be taught alongside Urdu in schools.

“It means Urdu will be a second medium of language and all official business will be bilingual,” he said.

Some Pakistanis fear that the move is part of an official backlash against the younger generation, which has been more open to Western culture.

But Iqbal argued that the move would help make Pakistan more democratic, since it will “help provide greater participation to people who don’t know English, hence making the government more inclusive.”

Urdu is just one of a number of languages spoken in Pakistan, but it retains a cultural cachet as the language of movies and music as well as the Islamic religion, while English has been more popular among elites and government ministries.

According to the CIA Factbook, nearly half of Pakistanis speak Punjabi, the language of the Punjab region, while only 8% speak Urdu. Several other languages are spoken by a fraction of the population.

The decision to break away from English creates a stark contrast with Pakistan’s neighbor and longtime rival India. English was the official language of the area that now comprises both countries under British rule, which ended in 1947.

Despite a similar language clause in its constitution, India continues to use both English and Hindi as its official languages.

Riaz Haq said...

For the first time in Pakistan's history, a university has awarded an MPhil degree in Hindi. Military-run National University of Modern Languages (NUML) here has become the first Pakistani university to award the degree.

NUML student Shahin Zafar is the first student from a Pakistani university to receive an MPhil degree in Hindi. Her thesis, titled 'Swatantryottra Hindi Upanyason Mein NasriChittran (1947-2000)' was supervised by Professor Iftikhar Husain Arif and endorsed by the Higher Education Commission, Dawn News reported.

A university spokesperson was quoted as saying that due to dearth of Hindi experts in Pakistan, Zafar's thesis was evaluated by two experts from India's Aligarh Muslim University.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/higherstudies/first-ever-mphil-degree-in-hindi-awarded-in-pakistan/article1-1385992.aspx