Urdu and its Allahabadi Life

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Fehmida Riaz, a Pakistani poetess, like other famous Urdu , wrote an elegy in fond memory of Firaq. In her notes to the book, Four Walls and a Black Veil, a collection of poems, talks , Triveni, and Firaq immaculately. Her elegy, Nazar-e- Firaq (Remembering Firaq), is a combination of poetic verses, which talk about the celebrated  and the city of confluence and how both these entities added a new chapter to Indian literature and history. She states that the city was home to a who was an embodiment of India’s secular character and just like this man, the city had a river named after Goddess of Arts – Saraswati, flowing effortlessly concealed from the human eyes, which added to the city’s once electrical atmosphere charged with and intellect. Here Sehar talks about the place of the Allahabad in the development of Urdu literature, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Urdu Hai Jis ka nam hamin Jante hain Dagh
Hidustan mein dhoom hamari zuban ki hai.
(Only I know the importance of Urdu language
There is a celebration of our language in whole India.)
Trans. Ali Jawad Zaidi

From hearty mushairas to casual baitbaazis, the love for Urdu is still a very much prevalent part of Allahabad. Often called the city of bungalows, Allahabad was once a town which thrived on intellectual dialogue and cultural exchange. It was not too long ago when the bungalows of this city echoed with superfluous shayaris by academicians and its  by Tawaifs (courtesans). No guphshup (chitchat) session at Coffee House nor a dinner party or a Chai time baithak ever ended without a couplet being recited by one or more from the group.

In the last article, I decided to traverse the history of Urdu but let me tell you that it was quite a tricky job and I felt not very well equipped for it. But the love for Allahabad and this language became my driving force and hence I began the second one in the series.

Until the 1940s, Urdu remained a popular language used in the Indian subcontinent and till date it remains to be an unknown yet permanent part of many Indian households and geographical regions. It is needless to mention that the and importance the language once enjoyed has now faded away, restricting the language to a certain class and recently a particular community. But for people well versed in the language, it is often easy to spot a domestic help conversing fluently in Urdu to her colleague and inspect elements of the language used commonly in the day to day conversation happening around us.

In one of his works, Ralph Russell writes about the period post-independence in India and the dramatic changes that took place during that era. In one of his excerpts, he writes about how Urdu was being removed completely from the scene in the so-called heartland of Urdu – Uttar Pradesh. This was done after the state government misconstrued the three language formula devised by the central government of Independent India.

In the last quarter of 19th Century, the composite culture and the mosaic of   partitioned into two , Urdu and Hindi. Even after a lot of efforts by the British to divide and rule, the plural culture of India remains untouched in many ways till date.

The major divide came in when Sanskrit origin words, in Devnagiri script became Hindi, and the language with a majority of Persian, Arabic and Turkish words in Indo-Persian script became Urdu. Despite the divide, many indigenous words remain common in both languages. This remains the major reason why many times it becomes tough to identify whether someone is speaking in Urdu or Hindi. Such spoken language still exists, which is called Hindustani, which is a mixture of Urdu and Hindi.

But back in our city, we had someone who was all set to carry forward the legacy and leave the sweet smelling fragrance of still tingling our literary nostrils.

jise samajhte ho nā-mumkin vo us insāñ jaisā thā
insāñ bhī itnā māmūlī jaise apnā ham-sāya
apne sher sunānā us kā aur ḳhud hairāñ ho jaanā
bātoñ meñ māsūm mahak thī āñkhoñ meñ bechain lapak
ḳhāmoshī ke vaqfe yuuñ jaise us ne kuchh dekhā thā
piiḌ bahut jhelī thī us ne itnī baat to zāhir thī
lahja meñ shoḳhī thī jaise raakh meñ chamke añgāra

~ Fehmida Riaz, Nazar-e-Firaq

In the book, The Indian Partition in Literature and Films: History, Politics, and Aesthetics, edited by Rini Bhattacharya Mehta, Debali, they fondly talk about Firaq Gorakhpuri, as a ghazal writing Hindu who upheld the standards of classical Urdu poetry during the 1980s which left an everlasting influence on the forthcoming generations of Allahabadis.

While Fehmida Riaz, a Pakistani poetess, like other famous Urdu poets, wrote an elegy in fond memory of Firaq. In her notes to the book, Four Walls and a Black Veil, a collection of poems, talks Allahabad, Triveni, and Firaq immaculately. Her elegy, Nazar-e- Firaq (Remembering Firaq), is a combination of poetic verses, which talk about the celebrated poet and the city of confluence and how both these entities added a new chapter to Indian literature and history. She states that the city was home to a poet who was an embodiment of India’s secular character and just like this man, the city had a river named after Goddess of Arts – Saraswati, flowing effortlessly concealed from the human eyes, which added to the city’s once electrical atmosphere charged with poetry and intellect.

(Extracts are taken from The Indian Partition in Literature and Films: History, Politics, and Aesthetics, Rini Bhattacharya Mehta, Debali Mookerjea-Leonard, Routledge, 17-Dec- 2014)

The modern era of Urdu literature began in the mid-19th- century with the surfacing of a middle class. One of the most important prose writers of Urdu literature during the 20th century was Prem Chand, about whose life and work I talk about in my next column.

©Sehar Siddiqui

Photos from the internet.

#UrduPoetry #VernacularLiterature #AllahabadPoets #FiraqGorakhpuri #PremChand #Gazal #FehmidaRiaz #DifferentTruths

Sehar Siddiqi

Sehar Siddiqi

Sehar is a communication skills trainer, she has good experience in writing on various issues. She is a blogger, book writer and enthusiastic traveller. A native of Allahabad, she believes in experiencing the small things of life in a big way. Sehar likes to work in groups and learn new things. Her motto is to enjoy life in small packets.
Sehar Siddiqi

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