Title: From Hindi to Urdu - A Social and Political History Author: Tariq Rahman Publisher: Oxford University Press, Pakistan (January, 2012) Pages: 476, Hardback Price: PKR. 1095 ISBN: 9780199063130
It is generally maintained that Urdu was born in military camps during the Mughal period. But the fact is that the antecedents of modern Urdu and Hindi had existed for around four hundred years earlier, commonly referred to by various names such as Hindvi, Hindi and Dakkani. During those four centuries, language was influenced by a number of factors arising from social changes and political developments in India. The book under review is a detailed study of how various factors kept on shaping and re-shaping Hindi and Urdu, and how these evolved as two different languages due to political considerations.
A number of theories exist regarding the area in which Urdu was born. Two well-known theories are advanced by Hafiz Mahmud Shirani and Syed Sulaiman Nadvi. The former maintains that Urdu was born in the Punjab while the latter advocates Sindh as its birthplace. There are other theories as well, one of which even regards Urdu as a descendant of the ancient language of the Indus Valley. The author has discussed and analyzed all these theories and in doing so, has also described the political imperatives behind them.
Though it was the British who fully separated Urdu and Hindi along communal lines, Urdu underwent a process of ‘Islamization’ during the eighteenth century. This process consisted of an excessive use of Persian and Arabic words and references to the elements of the Muslim culture in India. Subsequently, a large number of religious books in Arabic and Persian were translated into Urdu and, at the same time, original works of a religious nature were also written in this language. Religious translation has been undertaken on such a large scale that now it is often claimed that ‘after Arabic, the biggest treasure of Islamic literature is in Urdu.’
Since the medieval ages, Urdu was also used by Sufi saints and other holy men for preaching as nonMuslim natives could not understand Arabic or Persian. Devotional songs recited in the Mehfil-e-Samaa were often in Urdu. Additionally, reformist groups such as the Deobandis and the Barelvis, mostly used Urdu in their literature.
Besides religion, erotic and amorous themes have also contributed to the spread of Urdu but most of such literature is in the form of poetry and not in prose. The book surveys such literature as well.
While these developments were taking place, the protagonists of Hindi as a different language, continued their efforts in that direction. Besides the use of Devanagari script, they inducted words of Sanskrit into Hindi and eliminated the use of even the most familiar words of Persian and Arabic.
The British played a very signifi- cant role in making Urdu or Hindustani, as they often called it, an India-wide language. The author is of the view that the British considered it to be a lingua franca for the whole of India which ‘probably it was not, before their arrival.’ According to Tariq Rahman, they spread the language throughout the country by using it in the army, in administrative and legal domains at the lower levels, and in conversations with their domestic servants. They also wrote grammar and phrase books and
Another important aspect of the British use of Hindustani was that they favored the Persio-Arabic script for writing it. Historical research shows that the Hindustani they spoke was much closer to Urdu than to Sanskritized Hindi.
The princely states of India, most of which adopted Urdu as the official language, also played an important role in strengthening the position of Urdu during the pre-Independence days. Hyderabad, one of the two largest Indian states, had a Muslim ruler while the majority of his subjects were Hindu. Kashmir, the other such Indian state, had a Hindu ruler but the majority of his people were Muslim. Both of these states adopted Urdu as the official language.
In a largely illiterate Indian society, many more people followed the spoken word, rather than the printed word. As such, radio had a large audience. Soon after the advent of radio in the sub-continent in 1927, WWII ensued. The countries that opposed Britain began using the radio for propaganda against it in British India. The author maintains that the language of those broadcasts were invariably Urdu as it was believed that this was the language understood by most Indians.
However, in its domestic operations, the language of the broadcasts perpetually remained a matter of debate between the high bureaucracy of radio and the officials of the elected government. The bureaucracy maintained that Urdu was the most suitable language for most of the broadcasts while the officials of the elected government, being Hindus by faith, advocated the use of Hindi.
According to the author, after In- dependence, Sanskritized Hindi began to be used in India for news bulletins and other official programs. Later, separate news bulletins were introduced in Urdu. Entertainment programs, however, used the popular Hindi-Urdu.
Discussing the situation in Pakistan, the author states that Persianized Urdu is employed in news bulletins and other official programs. However, Hindi-Urdu continues to be the language of entertainment programs. The author reveals that
during the early years of Pakistan, efforts were made to ‘Islamize’ classical music. This was done by eliminating or replacing words like kanhiya, krishna and shyam from
thumris and dadras, which led to ridiculous results.
Parsi theatre preceded the cinema in India. The author states that initially the language of this theatre was Gujarati. But soon Urdu became its major language ‘mostly because of business imperatives.’ However, this was not the refined language of Lucknow but the language of the market place of Bombay.
When the cinema made its debut, it adopted a language of wide intelligibility, which was closer to spoken Urdu than to Sanskritized Hindi. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that many film personalities engaged tutors to learn Urdu or to polish their accent.
Pakistani films, too, use a language quite similar to that of Indian cinema. Of course, words of very obvious Sanskrit origin are eliminated. Within the electronic media, the computer is the latest entrant. The book also refers to the use of Urdu on the computer.
The central argument is that Urdu was not created in military camps even though this Turkish word does mean ‘camp.’ It is therefore not correct to associate it with Muslim armies or military conquests. Rahman also believes that even after two hundred years of drifting apart, spoken Urdu and Hindi is basically the same language. Scholars on both sides of the border can lay emphasis on shared cultural elements and, the author hopes, this would restrain the mutual hatred that threatens to destroy their land.