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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Saaray Jahaan Mayñ Dhoom …

When Nawab Mirza Khan, known to most of us as Daagh Dehlvi, wrote this shayr
Urdu haé jiska naam, hameeñ jaantay haéñ, Daagh,
Saaray jahaan mayñ dhoom hamaari zübaañ ki haé!
he had certainly not seen what was to become of the National Language of Pakistan.

Urdu certainly seems to have become less written or read in India (and even more so from just a few years ago) … but it is also disappearing fast in its own 'Official Country'.

Pakistan made Urdu its National Language, allowing the Mohajirs (people who went to Pakistan after the 1947 Partition) to 'own something', I guess. Others, of course, had a land that they could call their own.

(The local people had their own languages in Sind, Baluchistan, NWFP, which they chose as their Provincial Language. Punjab, despite its own well-spoken language in all of its areas, chose Urdu as its Provincial Language. This was fought against heavily by others in Punjab, but to no avail.)

When I arrived as a child in Pakistan (a story that you can read of in parts of my own blog Windmills of My Mind), I discovered that the language all my neighborhood children spoke had many words I had never heard of — but we adopted those, too. Children came from Katch, Bombay, Hyderabad, U. P., Bihar (all in India) and the local kids came from Sind, Baluchistan, Punjab, and an occasional one from NWFP. The Bambayya market language was the most common one - I think, at least among the groups that I played with - as many Gujratis and Parsis spoke that often, and so did many Christians when they decided to speak in Urdu. The Anglo-Indians spoke 'thorough' English :)

In my own house, Urdu was a very strongly important area. I was not to use the 'stray' words I picked off the streets when talking to my parents! (Purbi - which some older women in the family spoke - was something I loved but could never speak it.)

Urdu plays took place, often, and mushaaeraas took place every few days, from little ones at houses to large ones at public places. Poets from India and Pakistan were all to be seen at most of them. The English Newspaper, Dawn, had an Azeem-ush-Shaan Mushaaerah (which eveyone called Azeem-ud-Dawn Mushaaerah). On Jigar Sahab's Death Anniversary one of the finest mushaaerahs took place in Karachi and is still remembered by anyone who heard it.

When I was at sea for 25 years, in the Merchant Navy, I spoke in English to even our own people whenever ship agents came on board ... because we'd been taught that its rude to use a language that others can't comprehend. Germans, Dutch, Belgians, and the French, sat through with us at dinner and spoke as often to each other in their own language as they did to us in English ... but they hadn't been ruled by the Brits who'd set these 'laws' for us!!! When the 'foreigners' were not around, we generally spoke Urdu.

Each time I returned home from a trip I found it strange to see people speaking to each other, increasingly, in English. The waiters at restaurants would answer in English even if my questions and conversation were in Urdu. Soon, some of them even seemed to have forgotten common words. If I wanted more ice in my drink and said "Zara aor barf (or ''baraf', if that's how you pronounce it!) chaahiyay…", I'd get stared at by the waiter who'd then ask "You mean Ice, sir?"

An American Professor visited me from the USA just 4 years ago and stayed in Pakistan for 9 days. On his website he wrote that in his years of going around the world Pakistan was the only country where he noticed that families spoke to each other in English at restaurants and other public spaces.

A school teacher at KGS - the most respected school in Karachi - while teaching my daughter's class - said that children must take Urdu books from the Library so that they can understand it and speak it better. She added, "otherwise how will you speak to your servants if you don't know their language" ... which certainly put an end to the National Language question in the student's minds!

Of late, many people have come up asking how to get rid of this crazy Englishophobia. I don't think there is a direct answer or even if there should be one. However, the Urdu language isn't that difficult, is it? In Pakistan, and in India, we listen to ghazals, geets, watch films that are Urdu-Hindi-Hindustani, whatever you want to call it. Ghalib is heard and liked (despite some terrible mistakes in the well-known play). Faiz still gets people jumping with joy when a singer recites his verse. Akhtari Bai's and Talat Mahmood's ghazals thrill thousands.

The problem is the fact that people can't read! I wish they could ... but it's not the biggest problem at all. I can't read many languages and have to read their translations… and some of them could be nowhere near the original work. But technology has changed. Recordings of Urdu works (equally usable in Pakistan, India, and for our many citizens abroad) can now be easily available.

Enter, Usman Siddiqui!

Usman has a degree in Industrial Enginering and Operations Research. An avid reader, he also runs The Readers Club (, a book rental service for Karachi. With his colleague Jawad, he has started his latest initiative. Urdu Studio (, which aims to be the premier online portal for delivering high quality digital Urdu Audio Books. If you own iPhone you can download his app now. Soon his audio books will also be available on Amazon.

Given the amount of time that most people spend in the car (or, in my case, in the bathroom!), audio books are a tremendous area to get into. I adore them.

Urdu Studio has several good books, short stories, and loads of poems and selections from mushaeraas. Go there and download one. Right now!

So far there are many things available and much more is expected to join in very soon. Take a look at some of their current Audiobook selections:

Asghar Gorakhpuri, Iqbal Azeem, Mustafa Zaidi, Obaidullah Aleem, Waqif Muradabadi, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Muzaffar Warsi, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Athar Nafees, Iqbal Safipuri.

One of their examples will give you an idea of the quality: Qasmi Sahab reciting his ghazal Andaaz Hoo Bahoo Teree Aavaazé Paa Ka Tha

Saadat Hasan Manto, Mirza Azeem Baig Chughtai, Mehram Ali Chishti, Col. Muhammad Khan, Ibn-e-Insha, Qudratullah Shahab, Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi, Patras Bokhari

Thanks, Urdu Studio. Wish you the best!!!

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Anonymous Jehan said...

We are very proud of what Usman and Jawad have done with Urdu Studio. Might be worth mentioning that they came to P@SHA with this idea and we gave them a grant of Rs. 850,000 from the P@SHA Social Innovation Fund to begin turning their idea into a reality.

14 July, 2013 21:22

Blogger Salman Siddiqui said...

As someone who is really concerned about Urdu's future, and the potential loss of its literary gems, due to our never-ending quest to become more modern and westernized - I am really appreciative of the work Jawad and Usman have put in More power to them!

15 July, 2013 03:55


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