Charting historical narratives through script

In 2020, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra posted a picture of a signboard at Dehradun Railway Station on Twitter

author_img Anjani Chadha Published :  16th March 2022 11:41 AM   |   Published :   |  16th March 2022 11:41 AM
A few images posted on Sasha Patel and Ali Monis Naqvi’s Instagram

A few images posted on Sasha Patel and Ali Monis Naqvi’s Instagram microblog titled ‘Khushkhat’

Urdu is a language that has a rich literary legacy. From the timeless works of poets such as Mirza Ghalib and Mir Taqi Mir to its continual use in Indian cinema, one cannot ignore how this language has trickled into aspects of everyday life. But, over the last decade, Urdu has been on a decline. Irked by the same, Jangpura resident Sasha Patel (23) and Alaknanda-based Ali Monis Naqvi (26) started Khushkhat, a digital archive of Perso-Arabic type and lettering found in different forms across India. The term ‘Khushkhat’ translates to ‘good or pleasing handwriting’ in Urdu. This digital archive—it launched in January 2021—focuses on Urdu by acting as a repository of the instances of its use in public spaces.

Saving the language

Naqvi—an independent photographer—grew up speaking Urdu. “I grew up reading both English and Urdu newspapers. My parents speak Urdu and my grandparents are very fond of Urdu poetry,” he shares. Patel, on the other hand, had her first tryst with the language in 2016. “I am trained in Hindustani music and was introduced to Urdu through music. I, thus, started learning it,” shares Patel, who works as a researcher and sound artist.  

Through images—a worn-out advertisement providing details of a chiropractor, a name inscribed on a tree, and more—posted on Khushkhat, Naqvi and Patel documents the routine instances of the language so people are able to appreciate the script. “We often get to travel to different cities and are constantly on the lookout for Perso-Arabic script,” they share. They have documented Urdu type from several parts of India—Old Delhi, Lucknow, Chennai, Kannur, and more. The duo also invite submissions from across India as well as neighbouring countries—they have received submissions from Dubai and Pakistan—which they share with a translation in the caption. The location where the image was clicked provides further context.

Also readAnup Jalota sings Bhagavad Gita verses in Urdu in Pakistan

Addressing the climate

In 2020, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra posted a picture of a signboard at Dehradun Railway Station on Twitter. The image showed the name Dehradun written in Sanskrit instead of Urdu— alongside Hindi and English—thus implying the former replaced the latter. While the name on the signboard was briefly replaced, it was reverted to the Urdu version. Addressing such instances, Naqvi says, “The removal or replacement of Urdu signs has become common. When I was staying in Mumbai, I met an auto driver who told me that there was something written in Urdu on his auto. He had to remove that because some people were objecting to it.” Khushkhat attempts to promote Urdu and seeks to bring attention to how the country’s current political climate impacts the existence of the script.

Naqvi and Patel also address how Urdu is often seen as an aesthetic language. “Brands use Urdu for aesthetic purposes but when the language is shown in a bad light, those brands don’t speak up,” concludes Naqvi.

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