Monday, October 31, 2005

Urdu speakers according to 1991 census of India

It is amazing that even after 58 years of open war on Urdu, it continues to be one of the top three languages in 9 populous states.

States with significant Urdu speaking populations are

Bihar(including Jharkhand) - 8.5 million (9.9%)
Uttar Pradesh - 12.5 million (9.0%)
Maharashtra - 5.7 million (7.3%)
Andhra Pradesh - 5.5 million (8.4%)
Karnataka - 4.5 million (10.0%)
West Bengal - 1.5 million (2.1%)
Rajasthan - 0.9 million (2.2%)
Delhi - 0.5 million (5.4%)
Haryana - 0.2 million (1.6%)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

WORD FOR WORD : Khaled Ahmed

Khaled Ahmed's article appear in Pakistani newspaper "Daily Times." He is a linguist and it is amazing to read how word are connected to each other and how one word is derived from another or transforms into yet another. This is important because it shows how human language evolve and how one culture is related to another. Here read one of his column:

WORD FOR WORD: Why is North ‘no good’? —Khaled Ahmed

Each civilisation reacts intriguingly to directions. How were East and West named? What was the method of designating directions? We know that the sun determined directions in most civilisations.

In India, directions were determined by facing the rising sun. The name purva (east) means early, prior and first. English previous is of the same origin. Russian pervi (first) is from the same group.

When you face east towards the sun, on your right hand is south which is daksh. This is an auspicious direction and the right hand is considered sacred. When you give alms you give with the right hand. That’s why it is called dakshina. In Urdu at times we call south dakkan.

In Arabic east is mashriq. It is from the root shrq meaning hole. Light comes out of it. The motto of Punjab University is ex oriente lux (out of the East comes light).

The Greeks named the Arabs from the direction they said they had come: east. Sarakenos, a form of sharq. This came to English as Saracens and to French as Sarazzin.

In Urdu, we use ishraq as a kind of enlightenment. Mashriq doesn’t have a bad connotation.

As one stood facing the sun, the right hand (yemen) was south, and left hand (shamaal) was north. Yemen is the name of the country in the south of Arabian peninsula. It means the right hand and that means auspicious.

But the north gets a rough deal in Arabic. It is shamaal. In the Quran the people of shamaal will go to Hell and the people of yemen will go to Heaven. It becomes clear that directions have good as well negative meanings.

It is said that in Egypt when the shamaal (north) wind blew people started preparing their shrouds because of its deadly effect. From there anything that covers you like a shroud is shamlah. Today we use it to describe the cloth we wind around our headgear.

When a large piece of cloth is wound around something it gives us a sense of containment. Hence any contained matter is shaamil, but the truth remains that it comes from an inauspicious root that makes shamaal (north).

Inclusion, a good word, is shamuliyat. All the habits that make the package of our personality are called shamayal. When in Urdu you describe your sweetheart as hur-shamayal you are pointing to her habits and physical attributes. The name shamayala means beautiful.

On the other hand all names derived from yemen mean good. From yameen to maimanat all good names come from the right hand, so to speak. Even Al Qaeda’s Ayman al Zawahiri derives his name from the same root. Amir Khusrau’s rag aiman was derived from the same sense.

The left hand has a raw deal. Syria is Shaam in Urdu but the Syrians prefer the ancient name Surya. Because of its location in the north, Shaam is derived from the root shm meaning left hand. We use shumi in Urdu as misfortune. Shum is a miser — the most unfortunate man according to the Quran.

But Arabic devised a way to bestow honour on the left hand too. It is done through the sense of making things so easy that they could be done with the left hand. The left hand is in the root ysr in Arabic. Yassir is someone who makes things easy. Making the Quran easy for children is Yasr nal Quran. When you have good times the period is called yussr.

In Urdu, west is maghrib. It comes from the Arabic root ghrb meaning to go away or leave. It points to the departure of the sun. We also get ghareeb meaning strange, one who goes away or someone who is in foreign lands. In Urdu it means poor. *

Sunday, October 16, 2005

ghazals in bollywood

"Can you name one ghazal in a film that actually has saath sher," challenged Urdu poet and artist Tilak Raj Seth, looking around confidently, expecting silence to follow. But pat came the reply: "`Rang aur Noor ki Barat' from the film Ghazal."

The remarkable thing about the recent discussion at Oxford Bookstore on the role of ghazals in Hindi cinema, in fact, was a sharp and focused audience which ensured that the discussion did not meander into nebulous, nostalgic bylanes.


The discussion started on predictable lines with Tilak Raj Seth elaborating on the format of the ghazal and reading his own ghazal on the ghazal form. He talked about how "nobody in films has done full justice to the form" and how film ki majboori compels lyricists to tailor poetry to already set tunes.

Television anchor and Urdu scholar Sabiha Zubair sung praises of the language that is mohabbat ki zuban, tehzeeb ki zuban... so on and so forth. Zafar Mohiuddin, actor, writer and architect, read a few exquisite poems from Javed Akhtar's collection Tarkash. Singer Ramnagaraj rendered a couple of ghazals from films.

But what got the discussion really focused on the topic of the evening was the intervention by Milansar Ahmed, a man well versed in Urdu literature and a programme executive with the All India Radio. Rather than lament over the decline in standards, he urged the gathering to look at why ghazals are rarely used in films.

Ghazal is a form that is guided by a strict structure. It has to have an opening rhyming couplet called matla and should be followed by verses that are independent thought units without a unidirectional narrative flow.

The rhyme of the opening couplet is repeated at the end of second line in each verse, forming a specific pattern. Considering that songs in films are situation-bound, it would be unreasonable to expect filmmakers to use this demanding form, he said. "What pass of for ghazals in films are usually not ghazals at all, though some of them start of in a ghazalish style," he said.

Milansar pointed out that ghazals that adhere to the format, such as "Dikhayi Diye... " in Bazaar, were not composed specifically for the film. Though we tend to assume all that Javed Akhtar writes for films are ghazals (because of his use of Urdu diction and imagery), only one of his film songs is a classic ghazal — "Tumko dekha tho yeh khayal aya" from Saath Saath.

Milansar then drew the attention of the audience to a crucial socio-political factor that has made ghazals particularly rare in films.

Most Urdu poets who wrote lyrics for early Indian films came from the progressive movement (with exceptions like Shakil Badayuni) and were not particularly keen on the ghazal form which carried with it the feel of a decadent socio-cultural ambience.

Even as he agreed with him, Zafar added that even when songs by Urdu poets are not always written strictly in the ghazal format, they carry the spirit of the form in their language and use of imagery. So, films deserve to be credited with keeping the tradition alive and vibrant.

Chiranjeev Singh, former IAS officer and a connoisseur of Urdu literature who was in the audience, added that Urdu songs in films could be better described as ghazalnuma, or ghazal-like compositions.

"The format of a ghazal is demanding like that of a sonnet," he said. Only highly academic composers such as Anil Biswas, who chose their lyrics first and then set them to music, did justice to the form. Hindi film music, he added, deserves to be seriously studied because it has brought together musical forms from several corners of the world, creating a rich synthesis that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.


Then came a fundamental and daring question about the form of ghazal from a young member of the audience: can anything new be said in this old form?

Is it time Urdu focused its attention to something entirely different in both form and content?

Milansar again intervened to say that these questions spring from the widely held misconception about ghazal being a form fit only for speaking of mehboob, maikhana, paimana, parwana...

"But you can talk about anything under the sun in the ghazal form," he said. "The ones which revolve around the theme of love have always been more popular, though."

He quoted the line of a poem by well-known Kannada poet G.S. Shivarudrappa which talks of how an old form can hold fresh and new thoughts: "Haadu haleyadadarenu bhava nava naveena."


alif se amaar bangla

Bengali is the only Indian language to win the Nobel prize for litterature. It is one of the sweetest language with rich literary traditions not unlike Urdu. So it is surprising that Bangla speakers are picking up Urdu as a new language to learn. Read this article that appeared in Outlook magazine.

Alif For The Bhadralok
Bengalis, from city and kasbah alike, are falling for the gentle tug of Urdu literacy

History is repeating itself in Calcutta after two centuries. What the College of Fort William did to Urdu in the early 19th century, the West Bengal Urdu Academy is doing now: popularising and propagating the language and taking it, once again, beyond the confines of religion.

And, since last year, the academy’s efforts have started bearing fruit, with non-Muslims signing up in droves for the basic and advanced courses it conducts.

Last year, 155 persons, all non-Muslims, enrolled for the basic, one-year Urdu diploma course designed by the National Centre for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL) under the Union HRD ministry. This year, nearly twice as many have enrolled for the course that commenced in mid-September. The only state where non-Muslims are displaying a growing interest in learning the language, West Bengal is also the only state where study centres are being opened in even the smaller district towns.

The College of Fort William, set up by then Governor General Marquis Wellesley in 1801, too had become the only centre for developing Urdu and propagating it in Asia.
It was the first institution in the subcontinent to have a department of Urdu. The first Urdu printing press in the world was set up in the college in 1809. It sponsored Urdu scholars to translate Persian and Arabic works. Books by college-commissioned scholars, like Mir Amman’s Bag-O-Bahar (1802), Sher Ali Afsose’s Araish-e-Mahfil and Bag-e-Urdu (1805) and Haider Baksh Haider’s Tarikh-e-Naderi, occupy prime place in Urdu literature even to this day.

The reasons behind the resurgence of interest among non-Muslims in Urdu, says West Bengal Urdu Academy secretary Ikhlaque Islam, are several. "It could be the popularity of music talent hunts and reality TV shows which lay stress on proper pronunciation of Urdu words and terms. There’s also the growing realisation that Urdu is a very rich language that lends itself beautifully to poetry and prose. Bengalis are also more culturally inclined than others," he says. The students—from different professional backgrounds and age groups—agree. "Urdu is a beautiful language. I’ve always been very fond of ghazals and shairi. I know how to speak Urdu, but not how to read and write. Urdu strikes a chord in me like no other language does," says Supriya Newar, principal consultant with leading PR firm Hanmer & Partners. Newar signed up for the diploma course this year.

For Bharat Bhushan Biswas, it was his love for ghazals since childhood that lured him to Urdu. "It was only after retirement that I had time to learn this rich and sweet language," says Biswas, who retired as a senior officer of the Ordnance Factory Board five years ago. He completed the basic course last year and has now signed up for the one-year advanced course.

"The diploma and advanced courses are in the distance education mode. Since there are no regular classes to attend, people can learn in their spare time. This is perhaps why the two courses, started last year, are becoming so popular," says Islam. The students tend to concur. "It’s the distance education course that’s made it convenient for me," says Sandipan Roy Choudhury, a graduate in electronics and communication from the Regional Engineering College, Jalandhar, and presently a junior engineer with BSNL. Gautam Basu, a senior journalist with the Times of India, confesses: "Learning Urdu, being able to converse in it and writing it would break many mind-blocks."

The academy received permission to open seven Urdu learning centres this year in several districts as against the 10 it had requested the NCPUL.

"Next year, we’ll open six more," says Islam. These centres are attached to institutions like schools, colleges and madrassas where Urdu is taught through regular courses.An Urdu teacher is appointed to conduct contact classes thrice a week in the evenings for those who enrol for the diploma and advanced courses. But attendance is not compulsory. The students are given course material—books by Gopichand Narang and Roop Kishen Bhatt (both renowned Urdu scholars), a Bengali to Urdu dictionary brought out by the academy and audio-video cassettes to help with diction. "Students are also given ‘response sheets’ each quarter. Grades are awarded based on NCPUL evaluation," says Islam. Now, the academy is planning a series of interactive programmes for the benefit of the students.

Those who have completed, or have enrolled, for the diploma course include doctors, engineers, housewives, school and college teachers, government employees, businessmen and journalists. For most, it’s the passion for the language that’s driven them to the academy. A few, though, want to learn Urdu for practical reasons. "Learning Urdu will help me in my PhD programme since I’ll be able to read and comprehend a lot of Urdu source materials," says Leena Sarkar, a lecturer in History at the Milli Al-Ameen College in Calcutta. Tridip Mustaphi, an orthopaedic who’s involved with an NGO that works in Muslim-dominated rural areas, says: "Many of the people in the areas I go to are Urdu-speaking; it’ll help a lot if I can communicate with them in their language. Reading Urdu literature is of secondary interest to me."

Many are from small towns in Bengal, like Pranab Acharya, additional district sub-registrar of North Dinajpur, a few hundred kilometres north of Calcutta. "I want to be able to recite shairi and want to write in Urdu," says Acharya, who has enrolled for the diploma course this year and plans to attend contact classes at the nearest study centre at Malda, 95 km from his town, at least once a week. Ditto for Soma Mukhopadhyay, a lecturer in electronics at the Chandannagore Polytechnic College about 60 km from Calcutta who plans to travel that distance three times a week to attend the contact classes.

But then, Mukhopadhyay, Acharya and others like them are merely following an old Calcutta tradition. This city was, from the early 19th century till a few decades ago, the prime centre for Urdu. "Calcutta evolved as the primary centre for learning, research and enrichment of Urdu due to a number of reasons," says Urdu scholar Fayez Ahmed Khan. "The Fort William College gave a boost to Urdu and many scholars settled here from various parts of the country. This was the capital of British India till 1911. Also, when the families of Nawab Wajed Ali Shah and Tipu Sultan settled here in exile, exponents of Urdu literature in their courts followed them. Bengalis, be they Muslims, Hindus or Christians, were great lovers of art and culture and patronised the language. Calcutta was known as a centre of excellence for Urdu and many prominent Bengali Hindus were renowned scholars in the language." Bangla may be in no danger of being read right to left, but its speakers are certainly leaning that way.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Director of NCPUL arrested

We earlier reported about the financial irregularites in the NCPUL, India; Govt. of India has setup a committee to investigage.

Now, we have the news of Dr. Hamidullah Bhatt's arrest following CBI raid in his house for "possessing disproportionate assets." "Hamidullah Bhatt, working as Director for National Council for Promotion of Urdu under the HRD Ministry was placed under arrest after the documents recovered from his showed that he possessed property of over Rs two crore, CBI sources said."

read the earlier blog about the probe here

I hope officers of other Urdu organizations will learn from this and mend their ways.