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Published in the 1-15 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Urdu gets new lovers

There is a newfound interest in the Urdu language, say participants at a nine-day book fair organised by the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL) at the Saboo Siddik Polytechnic grounds at Byculla.
One indication of this new enthusiasm is the record sale of books at the fair. While books worth Rs 35 lakh were sold last year at the annual fair, this year the sales touched Rs 40 lakh. This is the sixth such fair held so far.

"It is unusual to sell so many books. I have exhausted my entire stock for the fair. There is a new attraction to the language," says Abdul Azim Shaikh of the popular bookstore located in Bhendi Bazaar. 

Dr M Hamidullah Bhat, director NCPUL, says Urdu is reviving despite fears of it being wiped out. "In the aftermath of partition, it was felt that Urdu was the language of a religious minority and would not survive. That has not happened," he says. 

The NCPUL was established under the Ministry of Human Resources Development in 1997 with an annual budget of Rs 85 lakh. The councilís annual grant has been growing since. In the current financial year, the councilís budget is Rs 10 crore.

Bhat says that Urdu language classes held by the council were an indicator to the increasing popularity and interest in the language. Nearly 10,000 students are learning Urdu in the councilís classrooms. "Nearly 60 per cent of these students come from a non-Urdu background," says Bhat. 

However, music director Khayyam, who was present at the fair, said there was a shortage of job opportunities for people trained in the language. 

Around 75 leading organisations and publishers are taking part in the fair .The enthusiasm at the fair notwithstanding; participants say there is little interest in serious literature and research books. 

The stall of the Khuda Baksh Library from Patna is mostly deserted. Shakeel Ahmed of the library says there are few takers for its reproductions of rare Persian manuscripts and research publications. The library boasts of one of the best collections of ancient Islamic manuscripts anywhere in the world.

This newfound interest in learning Urdu is fed by the increase in the number of websites too. If you want to learn to read and write Urdu, want to know what Urdu shairi is and who are the great Urdu poets, or want to know the Urdu equivalent of English, Kannada or Hindi words, all you have to do is to be online. 

This elegant language, many say, is dying. But its protagonists Ghalib, Mir, Iqbal and Faiz are now much more accessible to the masses than ever before, thanks to the Internet. And it is not only for those who know the script, but also for all those who love the language that evolved in the 13th century due to a strong Persian influence. Poems, novels and essays of many leading Urdu scholars are available on Internet sites that also have English translations. 

Urdu lovers in the US, Pakistan and India have hosted most of these websites with the intention of popularising the language round the globe. Researches are being conducted on how Urdu-knowing people can benefit. Amongst many websites, there is one called Langoo.com from where one can download an Urdu keyboard free of cost. You can even e-mail in Urdu and post your own poems and write-ups. 

Another website provides 20 lessons on how to learn Urdu in simple steps. The unique features of these chapters is its simple methodology and practical examples. 

UrduWord.com is the award-winning interactive English to Urdu Dictionary on the Web. The site provides with an instant search for Urdu equivalents. Itís "Quick Look Up" is the fastest way to find Urdu language equivalents of English words. All one has to do is type an English word in the designated textbox and click Look Up. The Urdu translation will be displayed on the respective browser. There is no need of any Urdu font as such. 

Numerous websites in Urdu have focussed on famous poets like Ghalib, Iqbal and Faiz, whose works have been translated into many languages. Shairy.com is also an Urdu Web Media resource with 100 pages having poetry and profiles of great poets such as Iqbal, Mir, Ghalib, Faiz, Ismat and others. The website urdustan.com gives a brief introduction to Urdu for those who do not know it.

The website has debates on different topics and poems and articles of individuals who contributed to the site, mostly aimed at the layman, urducards.com has a good collection of greeting cards for all occasions in Urdu. From Idd greetings to Islamic culture and architecture, the site has a good collection. Many sites are good for the language. These sites are good for beginners or those who want to know the language. Most people can speak and understand Urdu, but they cannot read it. For them, the Internet is really useful because there are many websites which have Urdu contents written in the Roman script.

Mehfil-e-Mushaira is a non-profit website dedicated to Urdu poetry. It is the first site in the world to present Urdu poetry from mushairas (poetry readings) on the Web. The site contains audio clips of Urdu poetry recited by poets themselves in various mushairas held in Pakistan, India, the Middle East, Canada and the United States. The audio files are in RealAudio format. Mehfil-e-Mushaira has won many awards. It has been among the Top 10 Sites picked by the Internet magazine, Spider. urdulove.com provides opportunity for people who like to share their Poetry with others. The site has a data bank of Muslim names. It has a section on Urdu literature. Works of Premchand, Rajender Singh, Amarnath Prem and others are loaded on the site. 

This new treasure trove could well be seen as a sort of renaissance of Urdu Language. According to eminent poet and writer, Gulzar, Urdu has revived in the last three to four years. "The National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language in Delhi, is doing a great job. Now, Urdu software is also available. But its script and publication have suffered. Urdu calligraphy is majestic, but it is not seen since Urdu writing is published in Devnagari. That is the sad part," he said. "Out of prejudice, we should not attach the language to any religion. Urdu is an Indian language, it is born in India. It is not even a Pakistani language, it belongs to us. Itís not a language of Muslims, but of Indians". 

- M H Lakdawala, Mumbai

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