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.


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