Safekeeping Urdu depends on the next generation's zeal to embrace it

Urdu scholars discuss how the revival and preservation of the language depends on the next generation's zeal to embrace it

author_img Anjani Chadha Published :  15th November 2021 11:49 AM   |   Published :   |  15th November 2021 11:49 AM
Illustration by Amit Bandre

For representational purpose.(Express Illustration by Amit Bandre)

Widely recognised for its literary value, Urdu- a language spoken in various parts of India- has seen a decline in speakers, thereby jeopardising the multi-religious, cultural diversity attached to it. A number of Urdu collectives are working considerably to revive this language.

However, in order to safekeep Urdu, it is paramount to acquaint children with it to generate an interest.

Literary appeal 

Urdu poet and story writer Azra Naqvi who is currently associated with the Rekhta Foundation grew up reading an Urdu magazine called Khilauna. "It was an integral part of my life," she says. While Khilauna went out of print in 1987, Naqvi's vivid memory of the magazine is a testimony of the impact that books can have at an early age.

Over the last few years, there have been successful attempts to revise Urdu books and magazines from its black and white avatar to make it colourful and attractive. "Children prefer things that are pleasing to the eye.  Urdu literature, thus, needs to be published in a manner that appeals to them, something books in other languages already do. We also cannot ignore the importance of digitising books and creating more audio-visual material to impart knowledge of the language," says Ibne Kanwal, former Head of Department of Urdu, University of Delhi. 

Discerning the urgency in following this idea, the Urdu Academy of Delhi has recently revamped the design of Mahnama Umang - a monthly magazine that started in 1986, for those aged between eight and 18 - by printing it in colour.

"Since April this year, we have started printing the magazine in colour, with better design and text. The magazine is also available on the website of Urdu academy. We have also made it a point to ensure that the content we publish is not related to any religion," says Shiraz Hussain, former member, Governing Council, Urdu Academy, Delhi.

Hussain, also a multidisciplinary visual artist who runs the Khwaab Tanha collective - a social media page that intends to make visible Urdu literary stalwarts through visuals - has also designed a set of posters with his team, which can be used by Urdu teachers as learning material.  

Language Wars 

India has had a three language formula since 1968. Following a revision under the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, the government has made two regional languages compulsory for students in an attempt to "promote multilingualism as well as national unity".

However, given the dearth of Urdu teachers and resources to help learn this language, as well as the massive inclination of parents and students to pursue foreign languages - French, German, Spanish or even Japanese - over other Indian languages, Urdu often suffers.

A resistance directed towards Urdu as well as the misconceptions surrounding its origin further taints the language's importance and legacy.

"The reason students do not want to study Urdu or any regional language is because they do not see an economic value attached to it. Students often make a decision based on which language as a subject will help them score the most marks. They thereby choose European languages because of their resemblance to English," comments Ali Taqi, a teacher of Urdu who founded Zabaan School for Languages.

Preserving for prosperity

Talking about the many methods to preserve the language, Naqvi suggests that children should begin by reading basic Urdu literature. "There are a lot of books available that can help children learn Urdu. Mohammad Shafiuddin Nayyar and Hamid Ullah Afsar are writers whose works can be read by children. There is also Bachchon ki Duniya, a magazine published by the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language; it has great cartoons and worksheets for children,' he said.

Discussing the potential measures that can help channelise a child’s interest and attention towards Urdu, Taqi explains how the desire to learn this language is often passed down from generation to generation.

"Children won't want to study a language until and unless they see their parents do the same. If a child is aware that their parents have learnt Urdu, they would also want to learn the same once they grow up," he says.

Taqi also suggests referring to resources like Rekhta Foundation's literature collection, or watching shows on Doordarshan Urdu, Urdu theatrical plays and old Bollywood films as vital in learning Urdu.  

Language Politics

The language politics that exists between Hindi and Urdu has been part of this discourse since the beginning. Over the years, Hindi has come to be associated with those belonging to the Hindu community. Urdu, on the other hand, is often hinted at as the language of Muslims.

Addressing this thought, Kanwal adds, "Since Urdu seems similar to Arabic and Persian, it is considered the language of Muslims. However, this is fuelling a big misunderstanding. It is because of such politics that languages often suffer in countries."

Kanwal further explains that a few of the most successful Urdu writers and poets were Hindus while some of the earliest writers who chose to write in Hindi were actually Muslims. "One of the first short story writers of Urdu was Premchand; Daya Shankar Naseem is hailed as one of the greatest Urdu poets;  Krishan Chand, Ram Lal, Joginder Pal, they are all Hindus but wrote in Urdu. Similarly Rahim and Raskhan were Muslims who wrote in Hindi," he concludes, thereby debunking the claim.

EXPERT OPINION: 


Ali Taqi, founder, Zabaan School for Languages suggests;

  • Watch Urdu plays, DD Urdu, and classic Indian cinema

  • Refer to Rekhta’s collection of Urdu literature

Azra Naqvi, Urdu poet and writer suggests; 

  • Read texts and listen to audio-visual text simultaneously 

  • Refer to Urdu magazines for ease

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