Urdu is not just our national language. It also represents our culture and the evolution of our sub-continent society. Dozens of intellectuals such as Allama Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Saadat Hassan Manto have used Urdu as a medium to express their extraordinary ideas and thoughts. This language has been used for centuries and has evolved greatly over time. Many words from different languages such as Persian, Arabic and English have also made their way into it.
Sadly, the bitter truth is that we as a nation don’t value this language as much as we should.
Our pseudo-modern society firmly believes that Urdu is the language of the lowly, the illiterate or the ‘untouchables’. Even our institutions have overlooked Urdu. When I was in 7th standard, I was very much fond of short stories especially in Urdu. Unfortunately my school library never had even a single Urdu book. Like most schools, they only focused on teaching us English. I am not criticizing the learning of any other language but the disregard of Urdu in our society is alarming and quite frankly, shameful.
At my college, I observed the same trend.
Fortunately, there was a Urdu Adab society present in my college. Although the society would work to promote the language through various activities and events such as the Iqbal day, it was still less active as compared to the other societies. Nevertheless, at least our teachers were putting in an effort to keep Urdu alive, and that was appreciable.
I, for one, was lucky to have developed an interest in reading and improving my Urdu skills. Not many individuals of my generation are being exposed to the gems of this language. The real problem lies in the fact that not many people care about this issue.
My interest in Urdu literature got momentum when I began to read the works of Faiz Ahmad Faiz. I was impressed by how he always portrayed the reality of society even after paying a heavy price for doing so.
Getting the exposure which is necessary
Following this, I decided to explore the most controversial writer in the history of Urdu literature, Saadat Hassan Manto. I was pleased to discover a similar flavor in his writing. He also described the reality unapologetically. Due to the open and bold nature of his writing, he was labeled as an indecent writer. I firmly believe that society misunderstood his work. People were unable to understand the genius and purpose behind his writing. He aimed to fight the social evils and taboos by exposing and openly discussing them. But many saw that as wanting to spread vulgarity and immorality.
As I was developing more interest in Urdu gradually, I started getting recommendations for further reading. A friend suggested that I must read ‘Basti’ by Intizar Hussain. I was devastated to hear a few days later that the writer had recently passed away. The same coincidence happened when I read the work of Fatima Surayya Bajia for the first time. The death of these two masters shook my mind and soul. I had just begun to realize their importance and felt that they had departed too soon. It did not just feel like a loss of two lives, but also a demise of an entire genre of Urdu Literature.
Reigniting the flame, before it is too late
These incidents opened my eyes to a disturbing reality. Many questions surfaced in my mind. Are we neglecting our heroes who are attempting to rescue our endangered language? Is it necessary to wake up only when such personalities die? If this negligence continues, how long is Urdu going to survive? If we are losing out on Urdu ourselves, then how will the language be transmitted to the future generations? Will the coming generations get to listen to, speak and read proper Urdu? Is it so important to learn English and other languages that we can compromise our national language, our identity for that? How should we rescue this language ourselves? What roles can the mainstream media and the social media play? What about the education system and the other social institutions? How can individuals help?
I think it is high time that each one of us ponders over these issues. And attempts to answer these questions in order to do something about them.