Issues

Delectability of Persian

One of my pet peeves is bad language. Incorrect language puts me off. Weaned on Persian and Urdu literature and particularly the exquisite poetry of these two languages, I’ve grown up hearing the pristine and most sublime form of these tongues. I remember, I was the only non- Muslim student in my class to study Persian in a school, where all other students were Muslims.

“Why have you opted for Persian, you could have chosen French,” gently asked my teacher as non-Muslim students in Tehran could opt for French and other modern European languages. “Because it fascinates me,” I said to him. Thus began my lifelong affair with Persian. The very first lesson of Persian is seared on my memory forever. “It’s the language of polite conversation with ‘shuma’ (Aap: You) being the only mode of address to anyone, irrespective of age,” told my first teacher of Persian in Central Asia. Since then, I’ve never used ‘tum’ or ‘tu’ for anyone even in Hindi.

The desirably feminine beauty of Persian language prompted the writer and explorer Sir Richard Burton to opine that the finest species on earth is a beautiful woman conversing in delectable Persian. It’s indeed a language that’s tailor-made for the most refined kind of conversation. Without sounding partial to Persian, I must say that despite knowing French and other so-called “delicate” European languages, what I’ve found in Persian is unparalleled in any other language.

The Persian poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi, Hafiz Shirazi, Fariduddin Attar, Sanai, Iqbal and Ghalib can mesmerise anyone and transport the readers to a different sphere. It’s worthwhile to mention that Ghalib’s Persian was better than his Urdu and he often sounds a tad laboured in the latter. His friend and biographer, the great Urdu poet Altaf Husain Hali of Panipat wrote in the biography of Asadullah Khan Ghalib, “Yaadgaar -e- Ghalib”, that he (Ghalib) rued the fact that, “Mere Urdu ash’aar yeh log nahin samajhte, mera Farsi kalaam kya samjhenge?” (My Urdu couplets are unintelligible to these people, how can they comprehend my Persian poetry?).

But it must be mentioned that despite Mughals’ ruling for more than 300 years (1526-1857), sub-continental Persian could never be compared with Iranian or Central Asian Persian. The reason being adulteration. Persian of the sub-continent got adulterated by Indian languages and dialects like Khari boli Hindi, Braj and Awadhi. I heard a local version of Persian in Khorasan (many of the artisans and masons who built Taj Mahal, came from this region) that had innumerable words from ‘Purbi’ i. e., Bhojpuri, Shahbadi and Patiyali (spoken by Amir Khusro because he was born at Patiali village in the vicinity of Mainpuri-Etawah and Mirzapur). This “Indianised Persian” is justifiably looked down upon in Iran. Guru Govind Singh, spoke “Purbi Persian” as he was born in Patna. The Afghan chieftain Shershah Suri was in the eastern part (Sasaram and Saharsa in Bihar) and he spoke Dari (variant of Persian, spoken in Afghanistan). After 16th century, sub-continental Persian became ‘early Hindi Persian’. I for one, could never like Persian written by Abul Fazl (Aina-e-Akbari) and his brother Faizi. It smacks of Indian languages and is far removed from the delectability of the Iranian Persian. That’s the reason, the sub- continent has not yet been able to produce anyone, except for Allama Iqbal and Ghalib, to be put alongside the very best of Persian literature. Even great Ghalib and Iqbal lack that uninterrupted flow of language in their otherwise smooth Persian. Their Persian has the absence of dialectical idiosyncrasies of the Iranian Persian and pristine idioms of colloquial Persian and Pehalawi. In Iqbal’s ‘Baal-e-Jibreel’ (The wings of Gabriel) and ‘Payam-e-Mashriq’ (The message of the East) as well as Ghalib’s ‘Dastanboo’ (compilation of his Persian missives), the scholars of Persian can detect the incorrect usages of typical Iranian phrases used in rural Iran.

Now, I’m in the sub-continent, where Persian is seldom heard or spoken, yet the nuances of this beauteous language are embedded in my consciousness and I still speak Urdu a-la Persian.
 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 August 2012 on page no. 2

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