Monthly Archives: December 2012

Raza Ali Abidi tells us Urdu ka haal

Raza Ali Abidi’s Urdu ka haal is the story of Urdu language entering the twenty-first Century. The story comes from a person who has been in the profession of words his whole life and who virtually lived off Urdu. He is known for the words he spoke and now writes, adding to the vast literature in and about Urdu.

The book is a must  read  for all those interested in Urdu linguistics. Photo: Sang-e-Meel Publications
The book is a must read for all those interested in Urdu linguistics. Photo: Sang-e-Meel Publications

Grammar says talib-e-ilm‘s plural should be tulaba-e-ilm, but what Urdu world knows is talib ilmon. And the word was varsa; we made it virsa. Abidi sahib says changes like these have been accepted into Urdu language. But he highlights the need to correct the Urdu pronunciation of many of our radio and TV presenters.

He tells us that Idrees Siddiqui had authored a 70-80 page book, Ye masael-e-talafuz, that documented the frequently-mispronounced words. The book has been consigned to oblivion and is out of print now.

Abidi sahib has travelled far and wide in Indo-Pak. He says he found Urdu wherever he went, be it the village Upshi in Ladakh or Pakistan’s northern areas.

After the Partition, Indian govt. tried to replace many of the Arabic and Persian words with heavy and strange-to-ears Sanskrit words in Devanagari script.

The Hindi Doordarshan and Akashvani broadcast is not the language the ordinary Indians spoke and understood. People’s Hindi was and is what we see in theater and Bollywood. Wherever in India Raza Ali Abidi spoke Urdu, people told him, “Aap bohet sundar Hindi bolte hen.”

One wonders whether we are losing Urdu script because popular Urdu poets like Ghalib, Fraz, and Parveen Shakir are selling more in India in Devanagari script than in Urdu one. And in Pakistan, youths are more comfortable with roman Urdu.

Urdu in today’s India: There are dozens of state-run Urdu academies (including Urdu Academy (Delhi), Anjuman Traqqi-i-Urdu (Hind), Traqqi-i-Urdu Board, National Book Trust of India, Traqqi-i-Urdu Bureau, National Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language (Delhi), and National Academy), courtesy a thriving democracy. Urdu is the 2nd official language in Bihar and is also thriving in Bengal. Uttar Pradesh, however, feels uncomfortable with its very own language.

Abidi sahib disagrees that Urdu is the language of Muslims only and not of Hindus and other Indians.

A chapter details the eccentricities of Urdu Mushaira (poetic symposium).

Of international Urdu conferences, Abidi sahib advises Urdu world would do well to implement the past resolutions than to hold more conferences.

The book also talks about the communication gap between the new and older generations in Urdu speaking families in the UK, the US and Canada, where one asks in Urdu and is responded back in English.

Two chapters discuss Urdu kay qaiday. Many of them were written in 19th and 20th centuries and are still in use in Indo-Pak.

The book pays glowing tributes to Molana Ismail Meeruthi’s Urdu ka qaida and his Urdu readers. Many generations learned Urdu words from Meeruthi’ qaida and his readers. They are still educating our children and serving Urdu. What Urdu needs today are modern readers and teaching methods, observes the author.

Urdu in Britain: Urdu came to England with the household staff East India Company’s Britons brought with them from India. And today, Pakistani and Indians form a big chunk of population of Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester, Sheffield and Leicester.

Urdu and Punjabi are widely-spoken languages in these cities. To cater to Urdu/Hindi-speaking population, BBC Birmingham started the programme Apna Hi Ghar Samajhiye (meaning “Make Yourself at Home”) in 1960’s. Today, there are a couple of private Urdu/Hindi broadcasters in Britain.

BBC started Urdu programmes during the World War II to propagate their version among Indians and to reach to Indian soldiers fighting at various frontiers around the world. And now the BBC’s Urdu website is one of the best Urdu news websites in the world.

How Rabte ki zubaan (lingua franca) is different from the national language? Abidi says they are as much different as the Urdu word aurat and khatoon.


For the love of Urdu!

It was a usual chilly December evening and fish eateries at Rawalpindi’s Committee Chowk were doing good business. Beyond the fish-vendors, most of the booksellers awaited customers. There, however, was hustle and bustle at a grand bookstore.

Located a few shops from the Committee Chowk, Ashraf Book Agency boasts the largest Urdu collection in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

The main hall, behind-the-wall store rooms and the upper story are full with nothing other than Urdu fiction and non-fiction. The bookshop doesn’t trade in English books. It does not sell the low-quality — both in print and content — exam guides either, like many book shops in the area do. The owner Ijaz Ahmed says this is because of his love for Urdu language.

“My father ran Ashraf Library, an aana library, at the Committee Chowk and we have been running this bookstore for twenty years now,” he said. “Is your father alive?” “No,” came his reply. But his legacy remains, I thought to myself.

One enters the store and finds a whole wall of the Sang-e-Meel Publications‘ top selling authors: Mustansar Husain Tarar, Ashfaq Ahmed, Bano Qudsia, Dr Younas Butt, Manto, Amjad Islam Amjad, Raza Ali Abidi, Razia Butt, Fateh Muhammad Malik etcetera.

Fashion and cooking magazines, jantaries, new arrivals, Raza Ali Abidi’s latest Tees Saal Baad are piled on the floor. Though I don’t know what a jantari is, that day I knew that there is a Sunni jantari and another Imamia Jantari.

Photo by Sang-e-Meel Publications
Photo by Sang-e-Meel Publications

Beside Sang-e-Meel, another genre that strikes one is popular romantic Urdu poetry. Another rack features mystic Punjabi poets Bulleh Shah, Baba Farid, Waris Shah’s Heer and Mian Mohammad Baksh’s Saif-ul-Maluk. I pick them one by one, they are cheap, hand-written prints and certainly need accompanying explanatory text in today’s Punjabi. Ahmed says a certain class of readers still buys these titles.

Another rack tells me that Mumtaz Mufti wrote many titles other than Alakh Nagri, Ali Pur ka Aeeli and Talash. He published an account of his trip to India, Hind Yaatra. Another row is the gentleman series by Colonel (R) Ashfaq Husain.

The upper most shelf that touches the ceiling contains kulliyats of many of the writers including Alif Laila Kay Qissay and Leo Tolistoy’s War and Peace‘s Urdu translation.

Ahmed tells me that Urdu readership has certainly gone up over the past 2-3 decades. Unlike many booksellers and publishers these days, he says there has been a steady increase in his clientele. But then he concedes that not many young people frequent the store.

Store’s bestselling authors are Ashfaq Ahmed and Umaira Ahmed. The latter, he says, is quite popular among women.

Though the prima facie of the shop is Urdu fiction, there is a quite thick section for Qur’an, its Urdu translations, Ahadith and other religious literature. Ahmed says people usually tend to religious books as they grow old.

Another shelf contains Wehshatnak kahaniyan, Dracula kahaniyan, holnak kahaniyan, jinnati kahaniyan, khofnak kahaniyan, khoon asham kahaniyan, wehshat angez kahaniyan and the list goes on. I wonder who reads them. Small books of stories of Tarzan, sheikh Chilli and Umru Ayar reminds of the childhood.

I also came across Mansha Yaad’s Punjabi novel Tanwan Tanwan Tara. It’s in plain Punjabi. Beside it, stood its Urdu-ised PTV serial Rahen. One hopes to have time and read Sir Denzil Ibbetson’s Punjab Ki Zaaten (Punjab Castes) and Kuniya Lal’s hand-written, Persian-ised Urdu of Tareekh-e-Islam. Josh Malihabadi’s autobiography Yaadon ki baraat also looks an interesting read.

“Yes the Internet is redefining the way we live but I see no existential threat to the printed book in the next 50 years,” says the upbeat bookseller. But what the scenario will be fifty years down the lane, only the time will tell.

Pakistani women continue pushing the limits

Photo by uusc4all, taken on March 31, 2008 in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan
Photo by uusc4all, taken on March 31, 2008 in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan

Article 25 of the constitution of Pakistan says all citizens are equal before law, are entitled to equal protection of law and that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.

Though women from upper social classes enjoy relative freedom and can pursue professional careers, it’s the female in the lower and middle classes that is still shackled to more traditional roles. They are still dependant on their fathers, brothers, and husbands even to open a bank account or apply for a visa.

The Pakistan Citizenship Act (1951) guarantees citizenship by descent only through the father. There is discrepancy in the law: minimum age of marriage for girls is 16 and 18 for boys. Furthermore, women do not have an equal right to divorce. Right of divorce given to women through delegation (Tafweez) is permissible in Islam, yet the attitude of the majority has led to its misuse. And then the procedures of women seeking divorce are very complex.

There are laws that hinder women’s development in the society. Legislations regarding sexual crimes against women favour men. The Zina ordinance confuses rape with adultery and, Society for Advancement of Community Health, Education, and Training says, places female victims rape as well as that accused adultery at particular risk.

The Muslim family Law Ordinance (1961) made marriage registration mandatory and introduced a uniform marriage contract form. The ordinance laid down a procedure for divorce. However, it lacked a fair post-divorce settlement.

Some relatively recent legislation for women empowerment includes the 2006 revision of the Hudood laws, resulting in the Protection of Women Act.

The incumbent parliament has enacted a number of legislations for the women empowerment. They include The Protection Against Harassment Of Women At The Workplace Act 2010, The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011, and Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill 2010.

Over 22 per cent seats in the 342-member national assembly are held by women parliamentarians.

Pic 2

Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union (
Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union (

And women MPs are actively engaged in the legislation process. A report on parliament’s performance by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) says during 2008-09, female parliamentarians introduced and co-introduced the highest number of private members’ bill.

“In 2009-10, the maximum numbers of questions — 607 — were asked by female parliamentarians and the maximum numbers of calling attention notices — 60 — were also submitted by three outstanding female parliamentarians.” reports Dawn.

What needs to be done is to implement the women empowerment legislation done by the parliament.

There is an increasing awareness that women’s empowerment is a must for the country’s development. Literacy rate is improving; more and more youths are entering universities. The judiciary is more independent than ever before.

A vibrant media is leaving no stones unturned and parliament is more powerful in this nascent democracy. All these factors contribute to women’s empowerment. There certainly is a lot more to do, but the situation is gradually improving.