April-June 2002 issue
Perhaps the sweetest language in India is Urdu. We are told that Bengali
is equally sweet. Since we do not know that language, we can not draw any
comparison. Imagine the delicacy of the language 'Mai nay suna ki aap kay
walid buzurgwar kay dushmanoo ko bukhar aiya tha'. (I have heard that your
venerable father's enemies had fever). This is what was called Lucknowi
andaz of 19th century. One of the reasons perhaps is that the language
grew up in an era, which in modern parlance, we would call feudal society.
The principle was that a man's status in life would be determined by his
birth. A land owners son, would be a landlord whereas Ryat's son would
be a Ryat, generation after generation. Coming to think of it, the modern
geneticists say "You are where you come from". But in today's industrial
society, more perhaps a consumerist society, 'Meritocracy' is a ruling
factor for determining an individual's standing. Genetic inheritance is
not a straight line factor. In any individual genes of some earlier generation
could be predominant. To this writer the name of Krishna Dwaipaira Vyasa,
author of Mahabharata comes to mind. He was the illegitimate son of muni
Parasher, an Aryan and presumably fair complexioned and Matsyagandha, the
fisher girl, later to become Mahadevi Satyavati. She must have been a ravishing
beauty because King Shantanu (of Mahabharata) fell in love with her. With
this parentage Vyasa was considered dark complexioned, ugly looking individual.
The commentators say perhaps genes of some forgotten ancestor were inherited
by him. But what brain? The modern world icons like Einstein and Hawking
pale into insignificance, considering the overall development of human
society, some 5000 (?) years back. The development we see around us, is
not more than 100-300 years old.
Coming back to our subject, the Aryans, who most likely came from
Iran, spoke Sanskrit. 'Sans' means complete and 'Krit' means done. 'Done
complete' or cultured. They called it 'Dev Bhasha' - language of the gods,
limited to well educated people only. Infact lot of similarities have been
found in Vedic Sanskrit and Zend Avesta - the Zoroastrian religious literature
founded by Zorthustra, (the Parsis of India). Yet the vast population would
not be educated. So they spoke the language called the 'Prakrit' (pertaining
to Prakruti or nature). Some kind of corrupted Sanskrit or heavily borrowed
from it. In a vast country like India, several Prakrits came up viz: Magdhi,
Pali, Surseni, Maharashtri etc. which later became languages in their own
right. Even the well educated people had to deal with uneducated people,
who would not understand Sanskrit. They also had to resort to local Prakrit.
Buddha and Mahavira spoke entirely in Prakrit, the language of the masses.
Subsequently great literature, produced by future generations of thinkers
and various Prakrits, now called Indo-European languages, became prominent,
except Tamil. This language alone was the original Indian language and
is wholly unconnected with Sanskrit. ( Some aver that Oriya and Telugu
also belong to this genre. But this writer has no authentic reference to
During 11th century of Christian era, in the area of Braj Bhoomi,
which largely consisted of Gokul, Mathura, Vrindaban and adjoining areas,
the local language spoken was what we today call, Braj Bhasha. It was also
a Prakrit but yet unsullied by future influence of Arabic, Turkish and
Persian words. No literature of the era is available, so no comments can
be made. But in 1193 AD, Shahab-u-Din Ghori conquered Rai Pathora. A well
known poet wrote 'Prithvi Raj Rasa' in local Braj Bhasha. He had made literal
use of Persian and Arabic words, often mutilated, which gave the impression
that foreign languages had made an impact on local languages. In the 15th
century AD during the time of Sikandar Lodhi, Kyasthas (supposed to be
the descendants of Chitragupta, the account keeper of our good and bad
deeds, according to Hindu Theology) started learning Persian to gain entrance
into higher jobs and positions. This brought Persian words, into their
non-professional or even private lives too. By the time it was Akbar's
rule (1542-1605 AD), Hindus and Muslims had accepted one another and Hindus
even copied the Muslim ruling elite's dress, language, mannerism etc. By
then Amir Khushroo (died 1325 AD) had said his say, which is repeated even
to this day. And who is not aware of Kabir, the illiterate poet, who has
said a lot. He has used a mixture of Braj Bhasha and Persian and
Arabic words. Guru Nanak (1469-1538 AD) or even Sant Tulsi Das, who translated
Ramayana into Hindi have used Persian words. Then Shahjehan (1592-1666
AD) became the emperor of India. He declared Delhi as the Capital, which
attracted all sorts of people, with different language backgrounds. Here
is where we come to Urdu.
Urdu, basically is a Turkish word. The word literally means 'Military
Bazar' (The present Rajinder Bazar of Jammu was called 'Urdu Bazar' prior
to Independence. Since any armed force would be drawn from different parts
of a country or even other countries, the language they spoke came to be
known as 'Urdu' . The other word for Urdu is Rekhta (mortar). Mortar is
used in construction and consists of several materials. Similarly
Urdu consists of words of various languages. But in earlier stages, it
was a spoken language, borrowing words from several other Indian or foreign
languages, with bias towards Persian. Any prose was rarely written and
it was so Persianised that one who understood Urdu alone would be able
to understand, leave alone appreciate the delicacy of expression. But the
language was used essentially by poets. Poetry has a special appeal to
the human psyche. The words are the same, but it is the construction and
musicality, which lends a special appeal to it. Hali, a celebrated poet
of Galib era has said this couplet:-
" Aiy sher dilfareb na ho too to gum nahin,
Poets can also take liberties with facts. Infact in English we often
use the words ' Poetic fancy' or even 'Poetic justice'. Prose cannot take
such liberties. The poets would use Urdu language to write 'Love Poems'
(called Ghazals) or poems in praise of Kings, Nawabs or sundry Aristocrats.
They would receive pecuniary benefits or even high level of appreciation
from their friends and admirers. Otherwise the official and court language
continued to be Persian.
Par tujh par haif hai jo na ho dilgudaz too"
The English then operating from Fort William in Calcutta decreed
that the local language should be written and learnt by Englishmen. Some
books were written by some luminaries to educate Englishmen about Urdu.
In 1803 AD, Dr. John Gilchrist wrote Urdu Grammar in English and other
such books to educate his country men about Urdu language. In 1807 AD,
Mir Inshaullah Khan wrote Urdu Grammar and other rules of Urdu language
in Persian script. Same year Maulvi Shah Abdul Kadir translated Holy Koran
into Urdu. After that Maulvi Ismail wrote some magazines for greater understanding
of general Muslim public. In 1835 AD, Urdu language was used for official
correspondence. In 1836 AD, the first newspaper was published in Urdu from
Delhi. In 1842 AD, a Society was formed in Delhi to translate Technical
English books into Urdu.
The language was simple and officially encouraged. It became popular
in relatively shorter period of time. But then it had its own limitations.
Since it was 'Rekhta' (Mortar) the components were from other languages
viz: Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Sanskrit etc. The Western world invented
new scientific terms which were named and published in English language.
These ideas were very modern. There was no equivalent in parental languages
like Persian, Sanskrit etc. To that extent the language remained poor.
Shamas Wali Allah, a scion of well known family of Shah Waji-ul-Din,
a resident of Ahmedabad (Gujarat) moved to Delhi. He is believed to be
the first Urdu poet who fired the imagination of local population with
his poetry. He is called Adam of Urdu poetry. In literature he has been
compared with Chaucer (1328-1400 AD) of English literature. It was the
beginning of Urdu poetry. Before Urdu came into vogue in prose form, Poets
sprang up singing ditties in the language, followed by love songs (Ghazals)
eulogizing love, beauty etc. In the feudal atmosphere, the poets found
it financially rewarding and intellectually satisfying to sing the praises
of the rich and the famous. The upper crust also found it satisfying when
their praises were sung by better known poets Viz: Galib for Nawab of Rampur
or Momin for Bahadur Shah Zafar. There were numerous poets big and small
who were on the regular pay-roll of feudal Nawabs and Aristocrats.