Dr Kusum Gopal
THE study of languages is critical in understanding not just our past or the present, but what it holds for our futures. Tariq Rahman’s monograph explores the genesis of the Hindi/Urdu divide which continues to afflict linguistic tensions in the Subcontinent, an estrangement exacerbated by the last bloody partition of the Subcontinent.
Philology the precursor to modern linguistics reminds us that languages are not just beings of phonology, morphology, syntax, lexicon or script but created by human societies, its socialities, its cultures. It is unfortunate that several recognised historians of the Subcontinent do not grasp its languages, rarely going beyond syntax or literal appreciations to interpret allegories, morphemic usages, metaphors or fables in narratives; nor indeed, do they undertake the requisite fieldwork immersing themselves in cultures; it is the word of the colonial archives. Regardless, they publish prolifically making lofty pronouncements. In contrast, it is to Rahman’s scholarly credit that he has painstakingly studied for five years Persian from the Khane-e-Farhang, then taught himself the Devanagari script to read Hindi to study exhaustively sources in Urdu, Hindi and obscure vocabularies of Chagtai Turkish. Undeniably this research is a labour of love, pitted against as he laments deep apathy, narrow-minded provincial scholarship bodies that discourage funding of such studies in Pakistan. His social history re-affirms the continuities of shared cultures concluding, It is, after all, only the truth to say that even now after about two hundred years of separation and drifting apart spoken Urdu and Hindi are the same language.
Rahman agrees that the origins of Urdu origins lie in the establishment of the Sultanate in Delhi whenceforth it has continued to the present. Until the advent of colonial rule, it is clear that Hindustani, Urdu, and Hindi were indistinguishable in defining Urdu or Hindi: Hindustani, Hindavi, Rekhta, ‘of Hindustan’ was the colloquial language and lingua franca. The Mughal Empire which covered almost the entire Indian Subcontinent including present day Afghanistan, Pakistan, undivided Bengal. The Mughals being of Turko-Afghan Timurid descent. Persian was not just the language de la cour, it was used exclusively in administration as indeed, in contemporary literature; a noteworthy example, Dara Shikoh, Shah Jahans eldest son translated the Bhagvad Gita and Sirr-e-Akbar (The Great Secret) translation of fifty Upanishads to Persian among other texts, are important facts that Rahman has not included.The fragmentation of the Empire, the breakdown of the mansabdari system, a variant of Khari Boli, one of the successors of apabhramshas vernaculars came to gradually replace Persian as the lingua franca among the educated although Persian still retained its pre-eminence. The term Hindustani literally “of Hindustan” was the name given to that variant of Khariboli during this time acquired more Persian words. As a language, he notes, Urdu gained formal recognition in the late eighteenth century, ‘Zaban-e Urdu-e moalla-e ShahJahanabad’ the language of court of Shahjahanabad under the royal patronage of the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam 11 1759- 1806 who favoured Urdu over Persian with the Arabic-Persian Nastaliq script in place. The grammar of Urdu was Hindvi and not Persian and Arabic.The Emperor chose to speak only in Hindustani eulogising its sophisticated beauty in a lengthy (uncompleted) dastaan or romantic prose narrative Ajaib-ul-qisas or Most Wonderful Tales. To add to Rahmans arguments even the later Nizams of Hyderabad prefer Dakani to Persian. Whilst tracing the evolution of Urdu literature– literary Urdu came to be was historically as Hindavi, Urdu, and Rekhta or mixed derived primarily from the Khari Boli dialect of Delhi and apabhramsa vernaculars incorporated a large amount of vocabulary from Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit tadbhava and Chagatai. Shamsur Rahman Faruqi’s Urdu ka Ibtidayi Zamana notes that the earliest use of the metonym Urdu ” as a name for the language seems to occur for the first time in 1780 in the poet Musahafi’s (1750-1824) first divaan: Musahafi in his work Kulliyat praised the superiority in Rekhtah– albatta rekhtah mein hai musahafi ko da’va ya’ni ke hai zabandan urdù ki voh zaban kaa,
Rahman traces the evolution of Hindustani literature with many interesting observations looking at quatrains, traditions of rhyme and rhythm, However, he constantly errs in describing these traditions as Islamic rather than of the Subcontinent –Indo-Islamic. Perhaps he might have benefited from delving deeper into the literary cultures of those times and focused on great literary figures. For example, Amir Khusrau, tuti- i-Hind (who self-styled himself as the parrot of India) is mentioned but what is not discussed is how the great poet celebrated Hindwi or Dehlavi. To quote from Ghurra-ul-Kamal, Khusrau wrote, “A few poems that I have composed in Hindwi. I have made a gift of them to my friends. I am a Hindustani Turk. I compose verses in Hindwi with the fluency of running water. Or, in his words again, to speak the truth, I am an Hindwi Parrot. If you want to listen from me some subtle verses, ask me then to recite some of my Hindwi poems.” His poem, Kaliq Bari is a lexicon composed of synonymous words, from four languages, Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Hindwi. His prose and poetry is very much in demand and Bollywood music remains inspired by the tender lyrics emulating all styles of Hindustani Arabic and Persian poetry from Khaqani’s forceful qasidas to Nezami’s khamsa. All these were undertaken by traditions of apprenticeship ustadi-shagirdi tradition, the poetry recitation sessions mushairas, These continue to the present day witness the Jahan- e- Khusrau performances which glorify Hindustaniyat something Rahman has failed to include as these are celebrate Urdu/ Hindustani milaap. Exploring the writings of other writers such as the Abdul Fazl and Sheikh Bahauddin Bajan could have provided valuable insights.
Here again there are several important omissions. Urdu is present in all languages – Khari Boli Brij Bhasha, Punjabi Gujarati, Rajasthan, Marathi, Telugu, Kannada. Indeed, Rahman has not sufficiently investigated Dakani in the southern region. Urdu historians trace the language’s roots to Dakani, and a literary tradition starting with Quli Qutub Shah (1565-1611) and its literature was flourishing in the Deccan, covering a wide range of subjects that ranged from the allegorical to the romance style in traditional ghazals, and, included the ‘chakkinamah’ (a genre of folk poems) that were popular among women, usually sung while performing household chores. So much of its vocabulary being derived from Brij Bhasha/Khadi Boli from Telugu, Gujarati, Marathi, Arabic, Farsi and Turki. Indeed, the first Dakani Urdu poets were Sultan Mohammed Shah of Golconda who founded Hyderabad city, also well versed in Telugu, who married a Hindu devadasi, Bhagyamati and Wali Dakani. Literature in “Urdu” thus developed earlier in the regions away from the Mughal capital. It was Wali Aurangabadi’s (1665- 1708) historic presentation of poetry in the capital in 1700 that illustrates how complex, sophisticated, abstract, metaphoric poetry was possible in a language other than Persian or Indo-Persian. Urdu scholars identify it early Urdu but which was known as Hindi/Hindvi/ Rekhta/Dakani. The poetics of this language was more indigenous than Persian: Oh Wali, the tongue of the master poet is the candle that lights up the assembly of meanings, ay vali sahib-e sukhan ki zaban bazm-e ma’ni mein sham-e roshan hai or,Doors of poetry are open forever. raah-e mazmun-e taza bend nahin ta qiyamat khula hai baab-e sukhan. Abdul Jamil Khan has made some interesting similarities- between Dakani and Urdu Ankheyan ankheye (eyes); Bitth baitho ( sit); awagl uglo(them) Uccal /ucal( sit)Rokkaram /roka (stop) and so forth.
Integral to understanding Hindustani/Urdu is tasawwuf or Sufism. The Bhakti and Sufi conventions were accompanied by devotional music which is also significantly omitted in Rahmans analysis. Amir Khusrau introduced qawwali”, ghazal, Masnavi, Qata, Rubai, Do-Beti, Tarkibhand with khayal and tarana styles which incorporated Arabic, Persian elements enriching Hindustani classical music. The literature of Kabir, Dadu, Guru Nanak, Malik Muhammad Jaisi Padmaavat, indeed Quadiani Muslims and, other Wahabbi sects along with the Marisyas as pointed out by Yusuf Ali in 1917 all were part of Hindustani. As scholars have noted, the Hindustaniyat of Hindustani music in kasbah after kasbah reflect how the cultures on both sides of the Indus had mingled, and merged with each other, a syncreticism spanning nine centuries. These cultures were given the name of ganga-jamni tehzeeb, traditions initiated by mystics such as the Sufis, Nath Jogis and others that remain alive. Mystics from Baghdad and Khorasan came to India at the same time as Mohammad Ghori entered India in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. With their penance and austerities and their everyday miracles, the pirs and fakirs sought neither to colonise the local people nor preach down at them like missionaries or seek material wealth. As scholars have noted, through centuries the spiritual outlook of the people has remained attuned to the Jogi, the wandering mendicant and seer. When the Sufis came, in their own special way, they simply reaffirmed the existing patterns of the collective psyche. Though men and women of great learning, their way was to sing and dance in the love of the divine. The Sufis settled in and around Lahore and Multan, Delhi, Ajmer Srinagar, Hyderabad, Mysore into a welcoming land: the Sufis belonged here and they had merely come home. At the same time, during the eleventh century as the Sufis arrived in India, the Nath Jogis travelled from Hindustan outwards: from Peshawar out to Central Asia and Iran, carrying their ektaras or one- stringed instruments with which they sang songs of mystic love and union. Many of them were the disciples of Baba Gorakhnath, the initiator of one of the most celebrated of Jogi paramparas. The Jogis belonged to a bardic tradition which is centuries old. To this day versions of the ektara, called yak taro in the Sindh of olden times, the tun-tuni, the gopi yantra, and the hudka are found all over the countryside. They recited songs in Urdu and vernaculars.The ektara is the ancestor of the latter-day tamboora which first with its six and now its four strings, has come to symbolise the astral reach. To this day it is referred to in whispers as ‘guru ki deh’, the ‘spiritual body’ of the guru. The Sufi fakirs and the Nath Jogis roamed up and down absorbing the folk melodies and songs of the soil through which they passed. As their movements widened, they finally created several orders and paramparas. Thus came both the early as well as the later mystic poets of Hindustan: from the Chishtis and Suhrawardis, to the Vaishnav poets of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and the Baulswhose poetry would provide the single most important inspiration for musical forms in the coming centuries, most noteworthy being the khayal. It was the mystics who taught the people about the unknown, for it was believed that the life of the spirit could only be lived through devotion to the divine, whoever that might be. The Nawabs of Lucknow built temples and non Muslims would serve the moahorram procession with refreshments. Indeed, Begum Hazrat Mahal was a devotee of Hanuman and named her son manglu after him. In Hyderabad, as a scholar has noted, it was well-known that Muharram was to be enthusiastically observed and the Kayasths kept alams’ in their homes and built ashoorkhanas. Many Kayasth and other non Muslim families even fasted like Shias. Hindu festivals such as Ramlila celebrations were privately sponsored in Shahalibanda. For example, she notes the Malwala family was the wealthiest family in Chowk Maidan Khan locality. The family supported the neighbourhood mosques and donated money during Ramzan.During Muharram, the Malwala family displayed alams’, set up abdarkhanas’ to serve sherbet’ to people.These are not just gestures but people believed in them and lived them. These traditions still remain, and need to be acknowledged.
Pursuing the Urdu/ Hindi Divide
Rahman asserts the origins of the Hindi Urdu divide are pre-colonial– in the 1750s when Sanskritic words were discarded: the removal of local bhaka and Sanskritic words, the substitution of Iranian and Islamic cultural allusions and metaphors in place of Indian and Hindu ones, and the replacement of the Indian conventions about the expression of love (woman to man) by Persian ones (man to woman or adolescent boy). For example, he notes more than 4,000 words were purged such as: nain (eye), prem (love), mohan (dear one) and these do exist in songs and some other forms of poetry, they were removed from the ghazal by poets such as Shah Hatim (1699-1786), Imam Baksh Nasikh (d. 1838), Insha Ullah Khan Insha (1752-1818) as words that were obsolete, unfashionable and rough.Indeed, Rahman himself quotes from Hatim’s Divan Zada written in 1756, had stopped using the local idiom which was called bhaka bhaka goend mauquf karda.These developments led to a new words being added to the dictionary Navadir-ul- Alfaz by the Persian poet, Arzu. Thus, to call this Islamisation of Urdu is indeed poor scholarship. Scribes of renown in many languages have discarded words and replaced them and in this case it is clear that Sanskritic features as sandhi, guna and vrddhi vowel gradations, types of nominal compounds, and derivational prefixes and suffixes might have been seen as less ornate than the Persian. Indeed, revolutionary literature since 1857 until Independence circulated was in Urdu by a significant majority of Urdu-speaking people, regardless of faith including writers and poets were active participants in the struggle for freedom . Many rulers were killed in the battle, others hanged, jailed and deported including the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar.Mirza Ghalib recorded these events. He is celebrated for his Urdu poetry which appears to have a recurring theme–the idea that life is one continuous painful struggle which can end only when life itself ends. Also we must mention the Makhzan of Lahore and the Zamana of Kanpur for their contributions to Urdu poetry. Rahman does not mention, the numerous renowned writersand poets who were non-Muslims, notable among them being as Brij Narayan Chakbast, Prem Chand, Krishen Chand, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Josh Malsiani, and Ram Prasad Bismil who provided the inspiring anthem for Bhagat Singh and the generations that followed: Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna Ab Hamare Dil Mein Hai Dehkna Hai Zor Kitna Baajuen Qaatil Mein Hai. Tere Sone Roop Ko Hum Ek Nayi Bahar Denge Apne Hi Lahoon Se Tera Rang Hum Nikhaar Denge– The desire for struggle is in our hearts We shall now see what strength there is in the boughs of the enemy. These were based on the Urdu arkan (formula of lyric) of Beher-E-Ramal (Mazahif Musamman) Faailaatun, Faailaatun, Faailaatun, Faailun. Its meter is called Geetika Chhand/Parivartit Ashtpadiy and sutra is Raajbhagaa, Raajbhagaa, Raajbhagaa, Raajbha
Rahman’s appears to have a weak understanding of the history of the Subcontinent. One reason maybe that in Pakistan many events and important people have been removed from text books such as Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and the Khudai Khidmatgars and many do not know of the cultural syncreticism deeply rooted in the Subcontinent.
On Hinduism and Islam
Further, at that time there was no religion defined as Hinduism with adherents who called themselves Hindus. Indeed, all inhabitants on this side of the Indus were known as Hindukoi, Hindwi or Al Hindi including Muslims and all other faiths. In Baluchistan there are still languages called Hindukoi. The term Hindu is extra local and was brought into usage by the British. Another great shortcoming of Rahman’s work is that he has not examined the term Hindukoi and thus presumes incorrectly a pre-colonial communal consciousness. What is extraordinary is that Rahman has not explored the institutional importance of Fort William set up in 1800 to differentiate languages in terms of script and vocabulary-delineating arbitrary specificities to stick in the craw. The college was established for imparting instruction to British civil servants in Indian affairs. Its courses included, inter alia, courses in ‘classical’ Indian languages and the ‘vernaculars’, namely Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Bengali, and ‘Hindustani’. In absence of any agreeable textual material available in the ‘vernaculars’, the college decided to produce its own books and thence own interpretations. ‘Hindustani’ Khari Boli tradition in prose writing was discarded as its prose was sophisticated and Sufi which was not appreciated. Four munshis (authors) were therefore engaged to write books in ‘Hindustani’. The different scripts – Urdu and Nagari – were used. In the texts compiled under this scheme, words of Arabic-Persian origin were replaced with synonyms from Sanskrit, or Sanskrit-based local, less formal words and phrases. For example, Sadal Mishra, a munshi writes in his Ramcharitra: “One day Mister Gilchrist ordered and dictated me to write spiritual Ramayana in a language that does not contain Persian or Arabic. Then, I started writing in Khari Boli [Hindi] and finished it consciously doing as he had instructed.. Similarly, a scholar has noted, in 1847, J.R. Ballantyne, principal of Banaras College, was keen to develop a sensitivity for ‘Hindi’ among his students. When he introduced ‘Hindi as a subject he notes, it was met with puzzlement and resentment by the students. They said, ‘We do not clearly understand what you Europeans mean by the term Hindi, for there are hundreds of dialects, all in our opinion entitled to the name, and there is here no standard as there is in Sanskrit ….. If the purity of Hindi is to consist in its exclusion of Mussulman (Muslim) words, we shall require to study Persian and Arabic in order to ascertain which of the words we are in the habit of using every day, is Arabic and Persian, and which is Hindi. Indeed, it was generally understood that the early Europeans in India found that ‘Hindustani’ was spoken all over the Indian Subcontinent.
Nevertheless, a policy directive from the Court of Directors of East India Company in 1832 was promulgated to replace Persian with local vernaculars as the language of the courts for the British to gain greater control over local knowledge The notion of Hindi and Urdu as two distinct languages was instituted at Fort William College and given official endorsement by the NWP and Oudh government in 1900.These were the official policies to divide a single language ‘Hindustani’ into two categories of Urdu and ‘Hindi’ on the basis of script and vocabulary, conscious deviations introduced by the British in the extant traditions of the ‘Hindustani’ language notably beginning with John Gilchrists publication, “A Grammar of the Hindoostanee Language.” His successor Price writes: “The great difference between Hindee and Hindoostanee consists in the words, those of the former being almost all Sunskrit and those the latter, for the greater part Persian Arabic”, John Hurst noted in 1891 that the Hindustani or Camp language or Language of the Camps of Moughal courts at Delhi was not regarded by philogists as distinct language but only as a dialect of Hindi with admixture of Persian”But it has all the magnitude and importance of separate language The correspondence of these officials needed to have been explored in greater depth by Rahman as it led not just the legislation but to bring to the fore politics of colonial linguistics. As Nietsche noted perceptively in another context in his work, We Philologists Consequences of philology: arrogant expectations; philistinism; superficiality; overrating of reading and writing; Alienation from the people and the needs of the people. . . . Task of philology: to disappear.
Separatism was deliberately encouraged by dividing languages and people who had shared over thousand centuries of syncreticism. These were strengthened by accompanying political developments that sought to crush opposition to colonial rule. With the Partition of Bengal in 1903-04, for the first time a Muslim League came into being in 1905. And, at this time also in the United Provinces, Grierson founded the Hindi Pracharini Sabha.The development of institutions such as Hindi Sahitya Sammelana of Allahabad (1910) and Nagari Pracharini Sabha of Banaras (1893) for the promotion of Hindi and popularization of Devanagari on the one hand, and Anjuman-e-Taraqui-e-Urdu (1903) and the Urdu Defence Association of Allahabad (1898) for the promotion of Urdu, on the other, as documented by King provide ample evidence of such consciousness. These groups developed into movements which expanded under the Muslim League and Hindu nationalists which gathered in strength undermining popular sentiments. Rahman discusses these themes but is limited, however it provides a useful bibliographical addition.
As Fabian has noted, forgetting and remembering are the human activities that underlie the epistemic qualities of time. Indeed the irony is that while Punjabi is the most widely spoken language, it was the Muhajirs who brought Urdu to Pakistan and enforced it. They lobbied successfully to make Urdu the official language. Jinnah, indeed did not know Urdu nor did he attempt to learn to write in the Nastaliq script. In India, Gandhiji had long proposed “Hindustani” as the possible national language. For Gandhi as scholars have noted, Hindustani was a practical choice, as it did represent the most commonly spoken language and was at least widely understood in villages as well. He was also aware that because of its inclusive quality, Hindustani would also stop the growing split between religious communities and, he undertook the study of the Nastaliq script. In one of his speeches in 1917, he says: It is argued that Hindi and Urdu are two different languages. It is not correct. In north India, the Hindu and Musalman speak the same language. It is the educated sections that have created the difference. It means that the educated Hindu section had made a Sanskritized Hindi, which most of the Musalman cannot understand. And Musalman brothers of Lucknow have stuffed Urdu with Persian, making it impossible for the Hindus to follow it. Both of these languages are full of punditry, without any place among the masses. In India, many national leaders following Gandhi were averse to the idea of the Sanskritization of language, and to the replacement of commonly understood words, derived from Persian and Arabic, by coining Sanskrit terms for them. Some easy examples from judicial language were words such as Qanoon meaning “law” and Vakil meaning “lawyer” that were replaced with new Sanskrit constructions, like Vidhi and Vidhivakta or Adhivakta, respectively. Nehru who spoke chaste Urdu states, “We dare not live in an ivory tower of purists and precisionists” … it is a dangerous thing to allow a language to become the pet child of purists and such like people because then it is cut off from the common people.” Qazi Syed Karimuddin resisted the idea of Sanskritized Hindi, arguing in the Constituent Assembly: “In 1947 the Indian National Congress had agreed to make Hindustani, written both in Devanagari and Urdu script as the national language of India, but today we are told that only Hindi in Devanagari script could be the national language.” He contended that this change in attitude arose only in reaction to Pakistan’s declaration of Urdu as its national language, and that developing a national language out of reaction was not a good idea.
Further, Errington has noted that images of originary purity helped most practically to develop just-so stories justifying efforts to describe and propagate unitary, territorially distinct languages. However tenuous the historical evidence for such narratives, they legitimized linguists’ selections and marginalizations of dialects. Indeed, there were greater commonalities between Hindi and Urdu than Hindi and Brajbhasha, Awadhi. As Cohn argues that the British Orientalists’ study of Indian languages was important to the colonial project of control and command. He also asserts that an arena of colonial power that seemed most benign and most susceptible to indigenous influences–mostly law–in fact became responsible for the institutional reactivation of peculiarly British notions about how to regulate a colonial society made up of “others.” He shows how the very Orientalist imagination that led to brilliant antiquarian collections, archaeological finds, and photographic forays were in fact forms of constructing an India that could be better packaged, inferiorized, and ruled. The creation by the colonial government of a social and physical landscape in its own image and for its own requirements tended to undermine, oppose, disrupt and destroy that landscape as it was perceived by the indigenous people.
The debilitating tragedy of this Divide remains as Alok Rai notes modern Hindi or Khari Boli is an artificial construct which, while pre-serving the grammar and diction of Urdu, ‘cleansed ‘it of’ foreign’ and’ rustic’ words and substituted them by Sanskrit synonyms. This process was carried further after Independence as the Raghuvira Commission coined yet more words from Sanskrit. This may have been necessary in some measure to expand the limited range of everyday Hindi to meet the requirements of modern living, governance, science and technology. But words in currency were also replaced. In the process, Hindi was isolated from the populace of even the Hindi-speaking areas and deprived of genuine commitment from its heartland. The challenge mounted by Hindi was therefore doomed to failure. The 1967 amendment to the Official Language Act 1963 constituted a defeat, retaining as it did English as the associate official language until such time as all states agreed. Education in Sanskritised Hindi has led to many children failing in schools, indeed the media in Hindi needs to simplify the news and programmes. What is glaringly obvious is that literary output has suffered tremendously and we need to return to Hindustani.
The Urdu/Hindustani Divide is part of the larger experience of European colonisation in many parts of the world. As Johannes Fabian in his study on the appropriation of Swahili in the Belgian Congo observes among the preconditions for establishing colonial authority was communication with the colonised. Verbal exchanges depended on a shared communicative praxis providing common ground on which unilateral claims could be imposed. Use of, and control over, verbal means of communication were needed to maintain regimes – military, religious-ideological, economic – in power. In the Belgian Congo brutal physical force never ceased to be exercised. What were the authorial interests that animated such writings? The ideological and institutional milieu that enabled and shaped them and the authoritative character they took on? Prior to the British colonial presence at the turn of the previous century, what later became southern Rhodesia and then Zimbabwe was spanned by a graded continuum of Shona dialects. By 1930, Protestant and Catholic missions had produced three mutually distinct languages within their territorially delimited spheres of spiritual influence. As Ranger has discussed – although Jesuit and Trappist Marian hill missionaries shared the Catholic faith, they produced languages-Zezuru and Chimanyika, respectively-sufficiently different that removal of territorial boundaries between the two missionary districts in 1923 engendered active resistance among converts. Methodist, Episcopal, and Anglican missionaries were able together to “create … rather than merely reflect … one specific dialect of Shona because their spheres of influence were economically and geographically complementary –large-scale maize producers and smallholders, respectively. Similarly, as Moriyama has pointed out the Dutch recognition of Sundanese as a language and ethnicity distinct from Javanese only came in the mid-nineteenth century, for instance, as a direct upshot of moves to train indigenous officials to administer a plantation economy Political cultural conditions led the Dutch to fear the effects of Christian missions in this largely Islamic area. Another example is Irvine and Gal’s report in 2000 of the French military’s legitimizing of their own invasion of the Senegambia area of West Africa. They viewed speakers of the Sereer language as resistant to Islam, unwarlike, and “primitive;” so they could diagnose the relatively widespread bilingualism in Wolof that they found among Sereer speakers as evidence that they had in the past fallen prey to that more aggressive, sophisticated, Islamic group. Bilingualism, diagnosed as the residue of past conquest and present tyranny, thus motivated the French answer to the call of their own mission civilatrice. Such pernicious legacies points to the need to re-read philological scholarship, paying explicit attention to political, intellectual, and biographical conditions of its production, as well as the ideologically salient metaphors they incorporate.
The passage from Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a Gikuyu writer from Kenya needs reflection: A specific culture is not transmitted through language in its universality, but in its particularity as the language of a specific community with a specific history. Written literature and orature are the main means by which a particular language transmits the images of the world contained in the culture it carries. Languages as communication and as culture are then products of each other. . . . Language carries culture, and culture carries, particularly through orature and literature, the entire body of values by which we perceive ourselves and our place in the world. . . . Language is thus inseparable from ourselves as a community of human beings with a specific form and character, a specific history, a specific relationship to the world
That is why all languages should be treated with the greatest reverence as every language carries with it deep emotional and literary traditions that cannot be superimposed upon. It would be a travesty! We have been forced to live with the bitter legacies of the Partitions and we must learn from it. Certainly as has been noted by Alok Rai, Sanskrtised Hindi has failed to deliver and gain support. I am of the firm opinion that we should choose to learn Sanskrit but speak Hindustani and, both scripts can be taught. Hindi should not be Sanskritised, rather we need to resuscitate in the official domain Hindustani and celebrate its music, poetry: it remains the language of the people. In many Indian states Urdu is being re-introduced and in the fullness of time, there is good reason to feel optimistic that the syncreticism of Hindustaniyat will come to prevail as reverence for inter-faith traditions are deeply rooted in popular consciousness.
Tariq Rahman, From Hindi to Urdu: A Social and Political History
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2011
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