Art & Culture

Javed Akhtar on Urdu as a language of love, life and folk

Ursila Ali
Ursila AliFeb 15, 2016 | 13:44

Javed Akhtar on Urdu as a language of love, life and folk

The language we communicate in rarely every impresses us. It is a necessity, a mere utility that fails to make us realise that when used aesthetically, the same becomes an art form. Urdu has been called the language of love. But it is also the language of the awaam (the common people), argued Javed Akhtar. Those present at the packed grounds of Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts today at the concluding day of Jashn-e-Rekhta were captivated by Akhtar’s hour long eloquent speech on his love for Urdu.

It wasn’t romantic poetry that Akhtar wanted to talk about. He made sure to comment on the politics of the language and its state today. Language and culture are two dynamic aspects of any society. For them to evolve they must keep alive the robust tradition of staying close to the masses. While crassness and vulgarity inadvertently creeps in (Akhtar mentions the degradation of Bollywood music standards in the country here), but by maintaining aesthetics one can ensure that language stays an integral part of the society.

He then directed his anger towards the elite and privileged who send their children to English-speaking schools and let them forget their vernacular roots. The vernacular, trapped in a class bias, then is left with the under privileged, and like a chameleon, moulds itself to its surroundings. This "dirty" language is then refused to be accepted by the elite. Akhtar urged the audience to stop the vicious circle, though adding that it was his failure that he couldn’t educate his children, Zoya and Farhan Akhtar in the language that was mastered by him and his forefathers.

Furthering the topic about the politics of language, the writer and lyricist also mentioned about the inevitable comparison of Urdu with Hindi. People don’t realise that syntax, grammar and style of the two are 90 per cent similar. No sentence of Urdu is complete without the presence of the devnagri script, and similarly Hindi too, has around 5000-6000 Urdu words in its script. If politics is played in making either pure of another, it would be an impossible task. It just like peeling an onion to find it, he says, when the onion itself is its peels. The quest for purity is a dangerous wish.

There were many in the crowd who asked the poet what he felt about Urdu being labelled as language of Muslims. Akhtar laughed this off mentioning that each form of poetry, hymn or song always had religious inclinations. Urdu had no such religious commitments. It was the language of the liberal, secular and anti-fundamentalist. Initially the champions of this language were the Rind (drunk) or the Ashiq (lover). Interestingly, the villains of the language were the orthodox maulanas. Akhtar mentions that in 1798, when a maulana, Shah Abdul Qadir translated the Quran in Delhi, a fatwa was passed against him for insultling the holy book.

Akhtar concluded by urging youngsters to channel their interest and passion towards Urdu poetry by understanding the craft of the poetry and language. While there may not be schools of poetry in the country, the only way to understand Urdu poetry is by studying its masters, classical and modern poets like Mir, Ghalib or Faiz and Kaifi.

Shamsur Rahman Faruqi on Mir Taqi Mir, the misunderstood poet of Urdu shayari

Ask shayari lovers about their favourite classic Urdu poets, and you will perhaps find Mir at the bottom of the list. Mir is an infamous shayar. Blamed to be a hearbroken lover, his anguish and distress reflects in his poetry. For those who have loved and lost, Mir’s shayari of grief is relatable as he bares his heart in his poetry, but for others, this constant melancholia is annoying and at times irritating.

These accusations on Mir at the last day of Jash-e-Rekhta were extremely amusing for Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, the noted critic, theorist and Urdu poet who has studied Mir at length.

Taking Mir’s famous verses — mat sahal hamein jaano, Faruqi urged the audience at the session, of which Javed Akhtar and Vikram Seth were also a part of, to understand the broader questions of existence asked by Mir. The poet talks about existence and creation of the universe. From the metaphysical he comes to the evolution of mankind but mentions that man only became human recently. It is this ability of understanding the cosmos that Mir shares with Ghalib.

It is inevitable that Mir and Ghalib aren’t compared at a platform that discusses urdu shayari. Faruqi revealed that it is a common misconception that Mir wrote in easy words compared to the complexity shown by Ghalib. One doesn’t need a dictionary for Mir but this doesn’t mean his greatness diminishes, added Faruqi.

Every shayar holds with himself the purpose of lending depth to words and thereby existence. Mir may be the shayar of Dard (pain) and Soz (conflagration) but to say that was all he was is a great injustice to his ideas and to Urdu shayari, to which he gave his invaluable contributions.

Faruqi mentioned the need of understanding classicist poets by understanding their influences, rules of writing and their contemporaries as well. Decoding a shayari and coming up with one interpretation is an injustice to the poet’s work. People read Mir, but refuse to acknowledge his life and misery that the poet lived in.

We have our own set of presumptions about a shayar, what he may look like, a fakir maybe with a long beard, or a madman, a heretic living a forest. Mir sadly is a victim of this classification. What many don’t know is that Mir excelled in Shehreshob—the poetry that mourns the loss of a city.

Citing another example of lack of people’s knowledge while discussing poets, Faruqi shared an important fact that we were completely oblivious of. Most classicists and modern shayars have made it a point to include Bulbul, a bird in their shayari.

Faruqi explained that Bulbul is indeginous to Iran and has never been seen in India. Where is it that these Bulbul find a way to be a part of the writer’s poetry? The bird is a metaphor for beauty. The use of Mazmun (or that which is implied) is abundant in Mir’s poetry and hence its simplicity is a mask that unveils the depth of human existence Mir constantly questions.

Last updated: February 15, 2016 | 21:15
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