Indian Urdu, Pakistani Urdu
By Kaleem Kawaja
The beautiful Urdu language that was born out of the common man's vocabulary in north India in the late 1700s and was known as Rekhta, gradually acquired many Persian and Arabic words to become a powerful language of the masses and the court. The word 'Urdu' was first used for this language in 1780 by poet Ghulam Hamdan Mushafi. In about one hundred years leading to Ghadar in Delhi, it became a beautiful literary language.
In 1837 the British Indian government recognized Urdu as a replacement for Persian and as one of the major languages of India. In post-independence India, Urdu was recognized by the Indian constitution as one of the 22 scheduled languages of the country. The 2001 Indian government census has certified that Urdu is the native language of 52 million or 6 percent of Indian citizens. Also in Pakistan Urdu is the native language of 10 million Pakistanis.
First there were three important centers of Urdu literature: Delhi, Lucknow, and Lahore. Mid-1800s onwards Hyderabad became the fourth important center of Urdu literature. After the partition of India, Pakistan made Urdu its official language even though it was not the mother tongue of the majority of people in any of the provinces of Pakistan, namely Punjab, Sindh, NWFP, Balochistan, and Bengal. With the active support of the government Urdu literature and language flourished in Pakistan. At the same time with the opposition to Urdu from influential elements in the Indian government, teaching of Urdu in schools in Delhi, UP, Bihar, MP, Hyderabad, where it was the mother tongue of the Muslims, declined rapidly. Urdu is also the native language of many Muslims in Kashmir, Karnatak, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
In undivided India the Urdu afficiandos in Delhi and Lucknow had long felt that in comparison to Punjab theirs was the cradle of Urdu. Punjab produced many highly regarded Urdu poets yet the Avadhi Urduwalas declined to accept them at par. With the rise of Allama Iqbal, the 'Shaaer-e-Mashriq' in Lahore in 1915 onwards, writing volumes upon volumes of highly inspiring and unmatchable poems in luxuriant Urdu, Avadhis had to acknowledge the exalted status of Urdu in Punjab. Yet while in UP, Bihar, MP etc Urdu was the only language of Muslims, in Punjab, Punjabi was the language of the Muslims of Punjab.
Thus one heard parting shots from the Urduwala Avadhis on the Urdu of Punjabis. There is the well known pun of a Urdu noble from Lucknow who visited Iqbal at his house in Lahore. When he returned to Lucknow his friends, awed by Iqbal's exalted status as the great Urdu poet, asked him about the meeting. The snobbish Lucknovi noble said, "Main ji-haan kahta raha aur wuh han-ji kahtey rahay" .
For reasons mentioned above the quality, finesse and literary depth of Urdu in Pakistan has continued to climb to higher levels. The essayists, playwrights, poets of Urdu in Pakistan are continuing to nurture richness in Urdu language. The vocabulary that one comes across from educated Pakistani people in ordinary conversation and in Urdu essays or books of Urdu poetry by poets is of higher quality - the way it used to be before the partition of India. In contrast, the vocabulary and quality of Urdu even from Urdu poets and well educated people in India is a notch below, and either contains Hindi words liberally or uses non-literary sounding Hindustani words rather than Urdu words.
For instance, one does not often hear quality Urdu words like takrar, jirah, atraf, qurbat, ghum, musarrat from India's educated Urduwala Muslims in conversation. But in talking to Pakistani folks you always hear such good Urdu vocabulary. An Indian Urduwala is more likely to use simpler colloquial Hindustani words like bahas, paas, nazdik, dukh, khushi, etc.
About fifteen years ago when I heard Urdu poet Ahmad Faraz say that Pakistan's Urdu shaaers were better than India's Urdu shaaers, my self-esteem made me feel resentful. But as I continued to hear Urdu shaaers from India in mushairas in America and also shaaers from Pakistan, I felt that Ahmad Faraz was right. Not only shaaers who have passed away in recent decades like Faiz, Faraz, Habib Jalib, Parveen Shakir, Qateel Shafaae, Hazfiz Jallandari, but also the current generation of shaaers from Pakistan are using better quality Urdu vocabulary compared to India's Urdu shaaers. Additionally, the shaeree of India's Urdu poets is more melancholic and full of feelings of mazloomiat, hopelessness, despair as Urdu in India has been relegated from darbar to bazar.
When it comes to serious essays, commentaries, plays, analyses in Urdu written in India, the volume of such new material and such writers is very small. Go to India and try to look for Urdu newspapers, magazines etc in the hope of reading some good Urdu material and you will be very disappointed. The only Urdu journalism that one comes across is mostly about India's politicians, political parties and their machinations or complaints of the Muslim community or religious material. As for the Aligarh Muslim University or Jamia Milia Islamia, not even professors from their Urdu departments, are producing much quality Urdu material. As mushairas in India are increasingly becoming entertainment events, one does not even hear much good Urdu poetry there. Instead geets, tarannum and bhandpun labeled as mazahia shaaeri are becoming the staples of mushaeras.
During my recent visit to India I was pleasantly surprised to come across a TV channel on which poet Javed Akhtar regularly gives commentary on the various genre of Urdu poetry, Urdu vocabulary and the growth of Urdu poetry and language. Aside from that for the common Indian Urdu is just an entertainment language that you hear when you are in a bar or in a Bollywood movie cinema hall. At the same time I was very pleased to watch some scintillating Urdu plays on the Pakistani TV channel Zindagee. It is a sophisticated channel that uses no references to any religious issue and is keenly and regularly watched by many non-Muslims in north India these days.
(The writer (email@example.com) is executive director of the Association of Indian Muslims of America, Washington DC)