Contemporary Urdu Journalism in Delhi

Book: Dehli Mein Asri Urdu Sahafat: Tasweer Ka Doosra Ruk

Author: Shahidul Isalam

Publisher: Educational Publishing House, Delhi-110006

Year 2016

Price: Rs. 350


K. K Khullar


Oscar Wilde once said that journalism is unreadable and literature is unread. This may not be true of the contemporary English scene, but it fits like glove on the contemporary Urdu journalism of Delhi, where once upon a time it was a mission, today it is a business bordering on trade. The author, Shahidul Islam, a 39 year old scholar who works as news editor in the Urdu daily Hindustan Express, has made startling revelations about Urdu dailies of the capital. I have read this book with great pride and intense grief: pride in the moral status of the Delhi’s past editor and grief that it has now fallen in unscrupulous hands. Thomas De Quincey of Blackwood Edinburg Magazine of the early 19th century had said “If you want to know the extent of English genius read Shakespeare, but if you want to know its corruption, read his critics. In the same vein one can easily say: If you want to know the beauty, the elegance and the sweetness of Urdu language read Maulana Azad, Hasrat Mohani and Shibli Nomani, but if you want to know the decline of those values, read contemporary Urdu newspapers. There have been committees and commissions on the promotion of Urdu but fundamental faultlines have remained unaddressed. Shahidul Islam has belled the cat. His analysis is thought-provoking and every chapter is absorbing,

An important disclosure the learned author has made is that almost all  Delhi newspapers, without shame, and with impunity, lift articles from Pakistani newspapers such as Jung. Even Hindustan Express, where Shahidul Islam works, has been doing it for quite sometime and using such lifted pieces on their editorial page. About circulation, the editors have been giving false figures. A Delhi newspaper with the declared circulation of 71,242, on  verification, has a circulation of only 1,060. Of the 85 Delhi Urdu dailies listed for DAVP advertisements, more than six dozen, the author says, he has never seen.

There are four chapters in the book. First relates to the historical part, second is on challenges to Urdu journalism, third focuses on the impact of modern technology and fourth mentions  ethics and code of conduct. There is an excellent introduction by Prof. Shaheen Nazar, an eminent communications expert formerly associated with The Times of India, Patna, and an equally provocative article entitled “Faceless Journalism” by Haqqani-Al-Qasmi adds another feather to it.

The emergence of Urdu newspapers in India was a direct outcome of East India Company making Urdu its official language in 1830. The credit of starting the first Urdu newspaper in Delhi, seven years after this declaration, goes to Mohammad Baqar laying the foundation of Urdu journalism. It was a weekly which had all the elements of  a daily newspaper. Mohammad Baqar was a tehsildar of  Delhi and as such was fully conversant with the lanes and by lanes of the walled city, it’s denizens, their language and their longings. It ran for four years as the only Urdu newspaper of Delhi. Baqar was not only the editor of the paper but also its manager, its correspondent, its proof reader. It was a one-man show. During the 1857 revolt Baqar’s role was exemplary. He gave shelter to Mr. Taylor, the principal of Delhi College, who betrayed him, leading to his martyrdom. An editor like him  is hard to come by.

The purpose of journalism, he wrote, was to raise the moral stature of readers with authentic news, through the example of the editor who should be a man of principles, his integrity beyond doubt and above suspicion, like Caeser’s wife.

Urdu journalism, however, from the very beginning was, and continues till today, as “speech journalism”. It seems that the editors in their editorials are addressing a crowd as in Ramlila Ground  or at  Jantar Mantar. They write like a tragic hero suffering from a deep sense of hurt. In other words, they are always agitated and demanding. The result is that even the educated people whose mother tongue is Urdu and Urdu scholars are going away from Urdu and read English or Hindi newspapers. Besides, Urdu is no longer a language of employment or social status. It is therefore, no use behaving like a crow crowing every morning that his father was a sultan (pidram sultan bood). Shahidul Islam has delved deep into these issues in his “Tasweer ka dusra rukh” (the other side of the picture).

Besides, Urdu newspapers have neither good translators, nor trained proof readers. You invariably come across “white paper” translated as “safaid kagaz”’,”copyright” as “durast copy”, “Galli Ballimaran” as “Cat killers’ lane”, “red light area” as “surakh bastion ka ilaqa”, “proof reader”as “saboot parhane wala”. Even the Urdu-knowing khushwant Singh, Mulk Raj Anand made horrible mistakes in translation. Kuldip Nayar, who started as Urdu journalist, abandoned Urdu in favour of English while Mohan Chiragi who spent his lifetime in Quami Awaz regretted having wasted his life for Urdu.

Shahidul Islam closes his book on a note of optimism. He is sure that a messiah would emerge, sooner than later, as an agent of change, to clean the aegean stables of Urdu journalism, and that the ravaged fields would smile once again and Urdu will regain its glories where the strong are just and the weak secure. The task is difficult, but not impossible.

It is said that after every victory Alexander used to distribute the war booty amongst his soldiers. One late evening his general Selucus asked him: “O, son of God, you give everything to everybody. What have you kept with you?” Alexander looked at the rising stars and said “Hope”. Shahidul Islam is no Alexander, but has hope which springs eternal in every human breast and upon which the whole world survives.

The reviewer is a former director (Languages), Ministry of HRD, New Delhi. He is author of several books in Urdu, Hindi and English. 

His book Urdu ka Akhri Naqqad (The last critic of Urdu), was  hailed as a landmark in Urdu literary criticism.