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Wednesday, May 23

The vows of scripts

I have often read/heard people rant about the bad status of Urdu in Hindi heartland, place where it originated and from where some of its best poets and writers came. Cities like Aligarh, Lucknow used to be centers of Urdu adab but no longer.

As usual blame goes to the government, a claim of systematic bias against Urdu due to which it was removed as a medium of instruction by the early governments of UP. It was only in the last decade that Urdu was again given the status of official language in UP and that too because of political considerations and not any love for the language.

I have no reason or evidence to doubt that indeed there might have been bias against Urdu in the years right after Independence. Partition and creation of Pakistan, the usual association of Muslims and Urdu, adoption of Urdu as the official language in Pakistan may all have played out in the minds of early policy makers, consciously or unconsciously. But even before partition, Hindi literature saw very strong movement towards more Sanskrit oriented vocabulary and attempts to replace Persian, Arabic and Desi words. This lead to the creation of some Hindi literature that was beyond the understanding of large masses because the spoken and day to day language retained its character and vocabulary.

I however have a very different caveat and my own explanation of why Urdu continues to suffer and I draw from my own personal experience. First thing to point out is that I have come across many people who wish they could read and understand Urdu. Urdu has a special appeal to young, primarily because of its poetry, its sher-o-shayari that is almost entirely love poetry. So the question remains, why does it continues to loose ground then?

I think one of the main reason is the almost exclusive use of Arabic script to write Urdu. I come from Lucknow and my language has a fair amount of Urdu but if you write something in Urdu in front of me, I cannot read it at all. If somebody could read it to me, I would understand but I am paralyzed by this lack of reading ability. USA and Britain are called two nations divided by the same language. I think Hindi and Urdu remain the same language divided by a script. Just by removing this high entry barrier, we can be sure that Urdu will attract many more admirers and pursuers. But just like religion, matters of languages are sensitive. I don't know how deep, if any, the attachment to the script runs but I once hared that Basheer Badr's original poetry collections were available in only Arabic script for a long time.

I have been making efforts to learn Urdu script to be able to read more of poetry and probably some other literature as well. My interest is strong enough to do it. Majority of the people just give up and rely on whatever small they can find or get their hands on which is really sad. Urdu is a beautiful language and I believe that making it readable without extra effort will go much further than an artificial identity forged around a script.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

simple use roman/devnagri script untill u learn Urdu script.

Anonymous said...

hey if u accept it as ur language then write in what ever way u want. If it is not urs then write the way it is written..

Jaya said...

Well - anonymous. His problem is not how to write it, but rather how to read what others have written, when it is in a script he does not understand.

But Abhaya, I am not sure script is that simple a thing to be given up. How would you feel at a proposal that Hindi should be written in Roman to make it more universally readable?? If you think that the analogy is not right, why so?

Anonymous said...

How to read :

* bas ek sada pyan ki...
* khush raho tum sada..

sada - Always

sada- Voice

both will be written in same way in script other than urdu.

Masood Faruqui said...

I agree - Roman script can be used. Such a transformation would not be the first - Malay (spoken in Malaysia and Singapore) is now written using the Roman script. Khushwant Singh has been calling for this for a long time.
Urdu is written using the Persian script. There are many characters (and hence sounds!) in the Persian script that are absent in the Arabic script - e.g., P, (hard)T.

abhaya said...

anon 1,2: I think Jaya already answered your question. I am talking about the problem in reading and not writing.

Anon 3: Every language has words that have different meanings in different context. In fact that is the norm and not the exception. Humans are very good at recognizing the right meaning from context irrespective of what script it is written in.

Jaya : There are two reasons why writing Hindi in Roman is different from writing Urdu in Devanagari. First is that, even after writing in roman, Hindi doesn't become readable by a person not knowing Hindi Language since English and Hindi are very different languages. It is comparable to writing Kannada using Hindi alphabets. But that might still be a good idea for beginners. second reason has to do with the sound inventories of the two languages. Sound systems of Urdu and Hindi are quite close. The differences are far fewer than between Hindi/Urdu and English. So Roman script is not very suitable to writing Hindi/Urdu but Devanagari would be almost perfect for Urdu given that already many of the special symbols like nukta etc have become part of standard Devanagari character set in Unicode.
In fact, Hindi and Urdu are more and less the same language as of today, differing mostly in vocabulary. As languages change, it will probably diverge away from Hindi over time. However script is not very strongly connected to language till the languages are of same type (so writing Chinese in roman or other character based languages in very hard since it is a very different kind of language) and there are many examples of different languages having the same script, character set (Hindi/Marathi, French/Spanish/German/Italian etc). So any fears that changing the script would just assimilate Urdu into Hindi do not hold much ground either.

shunix said...

I encourage you to learn reading/writing urdu .... this opens up a large avenue .... you will easily read arabic & farsi too ....

اردو ایک خوبصورت زبان ہے، اس سے محروم نہ رہیے ۔ ۔ ۔

abhaya said...

shunix: The question is not about me or let's say a handful of people. I am talking at a bigger level. If somebody loves the language enough, he will go ahead and learn Urdu script but that won't be the case with masses. Learning a new script takes time and energy which are available less and less these days.

Vineet said...

Since 2003( My first year in college ), I had been trying to learn Urdu for reasons similar to Abhaya's. This year in March, I put in one night-out with a simple tutorial from the net, and that was it!
About the point of changing script. The Roman script has evolved over time in Europe. The Devanagari and Nastaliq have their own divergent histories. Two reasons for me being against changing the script are :
1. Our scripts are our legacy and by no means are inferior to the Western scripts. It will be a defeat of our civilization if we bow to them. Death of a script/language is like the death of a species.
2. Phonetic accuracy has always been central to Hindi and Urdu. Use of Roman for them would lead to gradual changes to the pronunciation, an unnecessary complexity.
There are several other reasons.
Anyway, the use of Devanagari over Nastaliq may not be acceptable to a significant mass of Urdu speakers.
I prefer learning both.