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Published in the 16-31 Jan 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Book Review

Contribution on Urdu education

By M Atyab Siddiqui

Book: Urdu taleem aur school [Urdu]
Author: Firoz Bakht Ahmed
Price: Rs 200
Pages: 251
Publishers: National Council for Promotion of Urdu,
West Block-1, Wing-6, R.K. Puram, New Delhi 110066

Emphasis on education and stress on modern (and even sometimes western) values, community's redemption through learning with the concept of ijtehad (independent reasoning) being the password and emotionalism on Babri taking a back seat, are some of the thoughts with which Firoz Bakht Ahmed gives the reader a pleasant surprise in his book Urdu taleem aur school.

The message in Urdu School aur Taleem, is loud and clear? Change or perish! Firoz has tried to invigorate a tired Muslim community jotting it from its morbidity and slumber. He is perhaps, the first Muslim teacher of our times who has the courage of castigating the so-called Muslim leadership that has been intoxicating the masses with an overdose of religious reform. His thoughts are blatantly courageous to say the least.

The sorry plight of Urdu education is a fact well known. In about three million madrasas and 10,000 Urdu medium schools, Urdu remains either the medium of instruction or a subject. Firoz, a community worker for the uplift of Urdu medium schools, has compiled a book about his experience of working for the beleaguered Urdu medium schools. 

This 251-page book has an attractive title and is printed with the assistance of National Council for Promotion of Urdu, is being considered a treatise on the subject by the Urdu pundits as books on this subject are rare. The problems of Urdu have been presented after a research and groundwork for years in the walled city areas of Delhi, Bihar, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.

It has 45 chapters, so it hasn't neglected any aspect connected to Urdu be it the works of Maulana Azad, his grandfather, the question of modernization of madrasas, lack of good literature for children in the language today or the victimization of Urdu by politicians. 

"Gone are the days when the children used to sit and read storybooks and novels. The existence of libraries in the gali-mohallas (lanes and by-lanes) and children carrying books and magazines home for a kiraya of ek aana, are now things of the past. Classic Urdu magazines for children like Khilona, Toffee, Chandanagri, Phool, and many more have all closed down. They are part of history," laments Firoz.

Bakht believes that it is very essential for a person to begin education with one's mother tongue. A child who is fluent in his own mother tongue, can easily master other languages in no time.

About Urdu's ailments he feels that the day Urdu got marginalized by the political class and was termed as the language of Muslims, its downfall started. Seeing Firoz's efforts for educational uplift of the hapless children, one easily concedes that he may just be the Sir Syed that the Muslims of India are trying to find today.

Firoz, the grandnephew of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, is a social activist devoting time to the upliftment of Urdu besides having a keen interest in places of cultural heritage. Through his PILs, he got the old Delhi haveli of Mirza Ghalib restored besides protecting the renowned Sufi shrine of Khwaja Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia from vandals and encroaches. The reconstruction of the mazaar of Zauq, the poet laureate at Bahadurshah Zafar's court and his tutor too was at his behest.

Urdu according to Firoz, is a symbol of a composite culture and is a bridge between the communities. Urdu is a language of all Indians, not Muslims alone. 

"There is no sense of achievement attached to Urdu! It's in a state of confusion! There are efforts to change the script of Urdu. This is linguistic fascism. Urdu gets its identity from its script," he laments. True, an Urdu wala will never say, baithoji (Sit down). He'll always say, tashrif rakhiye! Urdu is a language of tehzeeb (culture). Delhi's real culture was Urdu culture.

Dimly-lit rooms (rather dungeons), dilapidated structures, choked and stinking lavatories, moth-eaten furniture, dangerous fittings, unhygienic water to drink, absence of co-curriculars, absent teachers, indifferent parents and wandering students happen to be some features of Urdu schools all over India. 

"Qaumi School now pitched in tents at the Delhi Eidgah hasn't got a building since 1976 when its new Sarai Khalil building was razed to the ground during emergency by B R Tamta of DDA and Rukhsana Singh. It's a senior secondary school where the children have to hold the tents along with the help of teachers from being blown away by strong winds, besides facing the predicament of moth-eaten furniture and almost no labs," says Firoz. 

That's true because even the well to do of the community do not come forward to adopt schools. Rather the trend is to let these institutions die a dusty death.
About Urdu and Punjabi being accepted as second languages by Delhi, Firoz says, "Well, it's merely a cosmetic change and a lollypop in the hands of Muslims and Punjabis for electoral gains. But more heinous is the motive behind it to divide the Delhites into Muslims and Punjabis part of the Congress cajoling Muslims all these years!"

Will Urdu die one day? "Urdu will certainly live!" pat come Firoz's reply. He is mighty sure that Urdu will always live and says that even the MPs in both the Houses of Parliament keep quoting Ghalib, Mir, Iqbal, Faiz and Firaq. If Urdu dies, Mumbai's popular filmdom and FM's exhilarating programmes too will die. It would have been much better had the book also been translated in Urdu for the benefit of a wider audience. 

The reviewer is a lawyer and writer on Indian Muslim issues.

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