Tag Archives: Language in South Asia

Rethinking Urdu Nationalism in Pakistan: Raza Rumi

Guest post by RAZA RUMI

Urdu has been a controversial language in Pakistan despite its official and holy status. The Bengalis rejected it way back in the 1940s when Jinnah, advised by a bureaucracy, with imperial moorings declared in that it would be the official language. Subsequently, Sindhis, Baloch and Pashtuns have also resisted the one-size-fits-all Urdu formula. Yet, Urdu has emerged as the functional lingua franca that connects Pakistan’s federating units, and its conflation with Islam and Muslim ‘nationhood’ remains the paramount narrative in Pakistan.

It takes arduous scholarship and infinite courage to author a book like From Hindi to Urdu: A Social and Political History (Oxford University Press, 2011). Dr Tariq Rahman, ironically, has worked as the Director of the National Institute of Pakistan Studies at the Quaid-i-Azam University and therefore his challenge to the mythical dimensions of ‘Pakistan Studies’ comes from within and not as an outsider. Sixty-four years after the creation of Pakistan, we have not arrived at any conclusion about our ‘national’ or cultural identity. Dr Rahman’s book if anything shatters the myths that we have built around Urdu; and therefore presents a valid alternative to Goebbelsian tone of our official history. Continue reading Rethinking Urdu Nationalism in Pakistan: Raza Rumi

Hindi and Urdu: Sa’adat Hasan Manto

This is MUHAMMAD UMAR MEMON‘s translation of an article by SA’ADAT HASAN MANTO. The translation first appeared in The Annual of Urdu Studies.

The Hindi-Urdu dispute has been raging for some time now. Maulvi Abdul Haq Sahib, Dr Tara Singh and Mahatma Gandhi know what there is to know about this dispute. For me, though, it has so far remained incomprehensible. Try as hard as I might, I just haven’t been able to understand. Why are Hindus wasting their time supporting Hindi, and why are Muslims so beside themselves over their preservation of Urdu? A language is not made, it makes itself. And no amount of human effort can ever kill a language. When I tried to write something about this current hot issue, I ended up with the following long conversation:

Munshi Narain Parshad:  Iqbal Sahib, are you going to drink this soda water?

Mirza Muhammad Iqbal: Yes, I am.

Munshi: Why dont you drink lemon?

Iqbal: No particular reason. I just like soda water. At our house, everyone likes to drink it.

Munshi: In other words, you hate lemon. Continue reading Hindi and Urdu: Sa’adat Hasan Manto

Punjabi Qissas and the Story of Urdu

Heer-Ranjha
Heer-Ranjha in a Pakistani film poster, circa 1970s

The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Literature in British Colonial Punjab
by Farina Mir
Permanent Black, Ranikhet, 2010.
ISBN-817824307-5
pp-277, price Rs 695

This book straddles several anomalies that are rather obvious once stated but are rarely formulated as such. How is it that the world of Urdu literature becomes so dominated by people from the Punjab in a span of fifty years, beginning circa 1900s, and in a sense, continues to remain so? Iqbal, Faiz, Meeraji, Rashid, Bedi, Manto, Krishan Chander and down to our times Mushtaq Ahmed and Zafar Iqbal, a top twenty or top fifty list of modern Urdu litterateurs would likely contain eighty percent Pubjabis. And how is it that Punjabi, which produced such a brilliant and varied repertoire of stories, epics and poems until the late medieval era by such extraordinary luminaries as Baba Farid, Bulle Shah, Waris Shah, Haridas Haria seems to drop out of our horizon in the modern era, where all we know of is an Amrita Pritam or, less likely, a Surjit Patar. Where such poverty after such riches, where such preponderance from such invisibility? And yet, how is it that Punjabi still continues to enjoy immediate and even aural connotations that transcend nationality, religion and, even as it defines a community, a specific ethnicity. What then is a Punjabi community and where and how has it existed specifically in the colonial era but, in many resilient ways, down to our times? Continue reading Punjabi Qissas and the Story of Urdu