How Urdu was killed in its birthplace

Each year, as the International Mother Language Day, February 21, nears I get somewhat agitated and restless. Why? Because I have been directly or indirectly deprived by the establishment, from learning my mother language, Urdu. Yes, as I, an Indian Muslim, feel upset about this deprivation, more so as it’s done along communal lines.

Image from page 122 of "The candidates' aid to the lower and higher examinations in Urdu" published by Arya Darpan Press, Shahjahanpur in 1901

And though my parents did engage a maulvi sahib who could come home to teach Urdu and Arabic to me and my sisters, but as these two languages were not part of the school syllabi so we didn’t really take maulvi sahib’s teaching too seriously. Many years later, it was Khushwant Singh who told me rather too directly that without my knowledge of Urdu I will not be able to grasp the beauty of Urdu poetry and prose. He had even persuaded me to restart learning Urdu, to upgrade my feeble grasp to a full-fledged one, but though I had tried but it seemed too late. Yes, a bit too late!

After all, in your mid-years there are far too many work compulsions cum survival necessities, so to sit learning a language isn’t on top priority list. In fact, the schooling stage is the apt stage to start off… But sadly in our country even languages are not spared the communal onslaught. In accordance with the popular perception, Urdu is the language of the Musalmans so it’s not just neglected but even kept off the school syllabi of a majority of schools in North India.

Sadly none of the politicians and the administrators of the day are countering this hate propaganda against a language which could have been the connecting language of the day as the fact stands out that Urdu evolved from a mixed linguistic heritage. Not to overlook the fact that Urdu carries words from several languages - Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Hindi, Sanskrit, Braj, Dakhani…

It’s a pity as it’s not just one segment or community that is deprived but an entire lot, the masses. Not to overlook the fact that the passion dripping strains in Urdu couplets/verses are enough to distract one from the complex realities of the day. Yes, just about enough to nudge and take you away from the mundane.

Today Urdu has been reduced to such lows by political cum communal onslaughts that knowledge of Urdu cannot ensure even basic means of livelihood. Tell me where are the jobs for Urdu-speaking academics? Tell me where are the openings for Urdu research scholars? Tell me where are Urdu teachers or seekers? Tell me why are the Urdu publications facing rough and tough times? Tell me why is the condition of the Urdu medium schools and colleges so very dismal? Tell me, is it sufficient or even apt to open a couple of Urdu universities in the country without bothering to study the basic backgrounders or providing jobs for the graduates of such universities?

To hold a mushaira or to dole out funds for a ‘sufi’ concert or to announce from a political dais that Urdu teachers would be appointed, is part of the façade that Urdu is alive. The truth is far away from these tamashas.

Urdu is ‘alive’ only for Bollywood’s commercial needs. Or for poetry sessions for the benefit of the poets on the social circuit! Otherwise, this ‘connecting language’, Urdu, lies dumped somewhere in the backwaters. It’s a known fact that this language has been crushed along politically communal lines.

In fact, Khushwant had minced no words, hitting out at the systematic way Urdu was getting killed, as he would say –“Urdu is dying a slow death in the land where it was born and where it flourished. The number of students who take it as a subject in schools and colleges is dwindling …Apart from Kashmir, where Urdu is taught from the primary to the post-graduate levels, in the rest of India it is a second or third language. With the passing of years it has come to be dubbed as the language of the Muslims, which is far from the truth.”… Khushwant would often  recite verses of Urdu poets Rashid and Khurshid Afsar Bisrani, to relay the tragic treatment meted out to the Urdu language -

Rashid’s verse –“Maangey Allah se bas itni dua hai Rashid /

Main jo Urdu mein vaseeyat likhoon beta parh ley.”

(All Rashid asks of Allah is just one small gift/If I write my will in Urdu, may my son be able to read it.)

Khurshid Afsar Bisrani –

“Ab Urdu kya hai ek kothey kee tawaif hai /

Mazaa har ek leta hai, mohabbat kaun karta hai.”

(What is Urdu now but a whore in a whorehouse/Whoever wants has fun with her, but who love her?)


Perhaps, the best or shall we say the most hitting verse to this tragedy is

Sahir Ludhianvi’s absolutely hitting verse tucked in the pages of the volume ‘Anthems Of Resistance’ (by Ali Husain Mir & Raza Mir - India Ink/Roli Books):

“The same cities where once Ghalib’s voice resounded

Now have disavowed Urdu, made it homeless

The day that announced the arrival of freedom

Also declared Urdu a cursed and treacherous language

The same government that once crushed a living tongue

Now wishes to mourn and honour the dead

The man you call Ghalib was a poet of Urdu

Why praise Ghalib after suppressing his language.”


Leaving You With These Lines Of Faiz Ahmad Faiz - on his birthday - February 13…Born on February 13 in 1911, he passed away in 1984.


Wearing the hangman’s noose, like a necklace,

The singers kept on singing day and night,

kept jingling the ankle-bells of their fetters

and the dancers jigged on riotously.

We who were neither in this camp nor that

just stood watching them enviously.

shedding silent tears.

Returning, we saw that the crimson

of flowers had turned pale

and on probing within, it seemed

that where the heart once was

now lingered only stabbing pain.

Around our necks the hallucination of a noose

And on our feet the dance of fetters.”