Breathing new life into Urdu


Maangey Allah say bas itni dua hai Rashid

Main jo Urdu mein Vaseeyat likkhoon beta parh lay

All Rashid asks of Allah is just one gift:

If I write my will in Urdu, my son will be able to read.

This gloomy prophecy is likely to come true: even Muslim fathers may soon have to write their vaseeyats in Devnagri or the regional languages for their children to make sense out of it. The brighter side of the picture is th spate of books on Urdu poetry published in English, Devnagri and Punjabi.

Leading the pack is Dr K.C. Kanda of Delhi University. His latest is a full length biography with poems translated in English of Bahadur Shah Zafar and another is a selection of poems of great poets: Glimpses of Urdu Poetry (Lotus). Though his translations are not in verse, they are accurate. Alongside every translated piece are transliterations of the original. Those wanting to try their hand at rhyming have a veritable gold mine opened to them.

Then there is T.N. Raz of Panchkula (Haryana). For the first time a lover of Urdu poetry, Kulwant Singh Suri of the Lok Sahitya Prakashan of Amritsar, has published two of Raz’s compilations in Gurmukhi script: biography and couplets from the pen of Asadullah Khan Ghalib and a selection of couplets on different subjects like love, envy, hatred, drinking, etc entitled Ranga-rang Urdu Shairee.

I am not ashamed to confess that I am thoroughly enjoying reading Ghalib and other Urdu poets in Gurmukhi. Ghalib can be very obscure and his penchant for using Persianised composite words like qaid-e-haayaat-e-bando-gham (prison of life and shackles of life). Often make him hard to comprehend. The absence of punctuation marks like commas, colons, semi-colons, question marks or full-stops in all our languages add to problems of comprehension. These have been introduced in the Gurmukhi version. Raz explains in simple terminology and that makes him a joy to read.

The latest addition to the list of missionaries of Urdu is S.S. Bhatti of Chandigarh. He has compiled Contemporary Urdu Poetry: Contribution of Poets of Punjab (Siddarth). He has selected eight Punjabis of recent times who have made significant contribution to Urdu poetry.

The last and perhaps of the least importance is your humble servent. Between Kamna Prasad and myself, we have produced Celebrating The Best of Urdu Poetry (Penguin-Viking). Starting with Mohammed Rafi Sauda (1706-1781). I have ended with Kishwar Naheed (b. 1940) and Zehra Nigah of Pakistan. We have bits and pieces of all the best known poets like Zauq, Zafar, Ghalib, Momin, Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. I now await with some trepidation what Urdu scholars will make of my verification.

The second assumption — that Urdu is exclusively a language of the Muslims — can be dismissed in one word, rubbish. Neither Kanda, Raz, Bhatti, Kamna nor I are Muslims. Nevertheless, we love Urdu with the same passion as most devout Muslims do.

All that needs to be done is to see that Urdu never dies out is to write it in Devnagari, Gurmukhi or scripts of regional languages and make it a compulsory subject for students in schools and colleges.

Poetic musings

When the jacket of a book does not reveal much about its author, the reader has to conjure up his image in his mind. This is somewhat easier in the case of poetry than of prose or fiction. Most poets cannot help exposing their inner feelings, particularly if they have been disillusioned by love or have broken marriages. I found that reading the first anthology of poems Across the Divide by Ranu Uniyal (Yeti). All she divulges about herself is that she was born in Lucknow, studied in Jawaharlal Nehru University before she went to Hull (England) as a Commonwealth scholar and has written on Anita Desai and Margaret Drabble. At present, she teaches at Lucknow University. From her name, I can guess she is a Pahari Brahmin. I’ve no idea how old she is, single, married, divorced or a mother.

About her first impression of being in a British University, she writes in the title poem:

I know I am a foreigner in this country

Yet how swiftly I unlearnt namaste and wheeled in hai!

That cool ambience with which I ignore

Those I wish nor to exchange words with

I just walk by with an indifferent air.

My long legs, in black-ribbed tights

Spread easily over cans of lager.

Another poem Apparition tells of falling in love:

“Now that you have become/a presence/everywhere/in and out/out and in/the air is heavy/with the burden of your smiles. The streets do not smell the same. They stretch at endless nooks/and my feet are afraid of being worn out./ The walls and bricks suddenly haunt me/and I with a chest soaked in guilt/cringe at every corner/afraid you’d know/I have lost my face/ and can find it no more.

Two verses of a poem entitled What you will Tell about disillusionment with life: “I know of a day/that shed its light/craving for the dark to hold/the sepia autumn grief/of a worn out/leaf that had once been green.

“I know of a man who/loved her truly/but bowed to the winds/that held her fragrance/and whisked him/away to another.

Mom’s wedding

Watching Elizabeth-Arun’s wedding in Jodhpur

Stood aghast Harry, Dick and Tom

Damian, Liz’s son, was one of the Baraatis,

At the wedding of his beautiful mom.

(Courtesy: G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)

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