Thursday, December 02, 2004

Cry, my beloved language!

Laloo Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan are Bihar’s biggest leaders today. They were allies in the last election and are Cabinet ministers in the Central government. And they are fighting for the spoils in Bihar.

Big deal? Politicians are expected to be hypocrites, more so those from Bihar. A popular saying in eastern Bihar (I studied there, thankfully in a college time has failed to snatch the prefix prestigious from) that goes: “Gaay-bhains ki ladai mein ghaas-paat ka ninaan (When bulls fight, the shrubs around get crushed.)”

To snatch the Muslim votebank from Yadav, Paswan is promising them a separate education system. Paswan promises to complete the process of alienation (clad in the figleaf called protection/promotion) that Yadav began.

An Urdu university, to our politicians, means a Muslim university. Politicians across party lines presume Urdu is a religious language, though none of the Islamic scriptures are in Urdu. These are the people who have alienated Urdu from the mainstream, alongwith the Muslims.

Neither Paswan or Laloo or Amar Singh (who's fighting for another Urdu university in UP) for that matter can read or write the language. What they know of Urdu are the popular couplets they read in Devnagari script. I studied Urdu and I still occasionally get to read books in the language. I did it for the love of the language and explore the rich literary heritage not accessible to me at that time. All Hindi speakers know Urdu, because Urdu is what we speak. Outside the few Arabic- and Persian- origin words, it’s like Hindi when spoken.

But the separate religious identity, perpetuated by the parochial, has alienated the language so much that I have been asked by an otherwise educated new colleague whether I was a Muslim. Just because I was carrying a book in Urdu I had just bought at Moti Masjid, Connaught Place.

You get the drift? Most Urdu books are sold in Muslim areas or institutions because only Muslims read Urdu.

You get the drift again. Muslims live in Muslim areas. I do not see a Christian ghetto, but Muslims, Indians all, have been segregated by design or default and we have a country where people fear going into each other’s areas.

A colleague next to me expressed that in those many words when we went to Jama Masjid to get some music. Why? Because that kind of music is not available anywhere else.

We say we are united but we live in our own little ghettos, physical and psychological. We hardly know each other and we are afraid of everything that we don’t know much about. Human instinct.

Politicians recognise that instinct. They know how to exploit them. And to perpetuate them. They have an excuse: Unity in diversity. Diversity of faith is not something we can decide because most religions are based on birth. But, sadly, we are divided in more ways than one: vote banks, language, education and so on. Who’s responsible? We are.

The saddest truth in all this is that our future generations will not be able to bridge the gap we will leave them with separate universities and institutions (non-religious ones, at least). They will grow in ghettos (majority or minority).

And by the way, Urdu originated in India. It’s an Indian language and it’s not a language of one sect or religion. The script may be Arabic but it’s not Islamic. Language does not have a religion. People before Prophet Muhammad (PUBH) read and wrote in Arabic.

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