Affection for language

Reviving the passion for Urdu among younger readers demands a collective and collaborative effort

Affection for language


he roots of Urdu literature can be traced back to the Delhi Sultanate in the 14th Century, when Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, a royal poet who also wrote in Persian, began writing in Urdu. Although the exact moment or era when Urdu emerged as a language cannot be pinpointed, it is clear that it evolved from Persian and acquired its vocabulary from other languages such as Arabic and Sanskrit. Urdu gradually took shape and structure as people shared ghazals, qasidas, fables, and accounts of their travels, particularly between the 1720s and 1840s. The 19th Century saw the rise of Urdu as a prominent language. As time passed, more authors used Urdu to express their views and insights. This included luminaries like Altaf Hussain Hali and Muhammad Husain Azad.

Urdu literature has had many defining moments. One of the most significant was the publication of Nazir Ahmad Dehlvi’s Mirat-ul-Uroos in 1869. Widely regarded as the first novel written in Urdu, it paved the way for the introduction of historical novels. Azad’s works, including Qisas ul-Hind, Darbar-i-Akbari, and Sukhandan-i-Fars, explored important themes in Indian history and culture. His book Aab-i-Hayat showcased Urdu poetry in a chronological form. As the 19th Century progressed, Urdu began to take on a more human focus, with writers using the language to tell stories that resonated with their readers. A notable example is Agha Hasan Amanat’s stage play, Inder Sabha, which captivated audiences with its blend of music, dance and storytelling. These and other works helped shape Urdu literature and cement its place as a vibrant and vital part of South Asian literature.

The emergence of Urdu as a language for the masses paved the way for authors to express their thoughts and ideas through novels and stories. Among them, Saadat Hasan Manto gained prominence by fearlessly discussing social issues that were considered taboo during his time. Humour also found its way into the narrative as Patras Bokhari, Ibne Insha, and Mushtaq Ahmed Yousfi wrote humorous and satirical pieces that shed light on diverse aspects of society. Patras Bokhari’s Hostel Mein Parna, Kuttay, and Marhoom Ki Yaad Main are must-read stories. Ibne Insha’s Awarah Gard ki Diary and Urdu Ki Akhri Kitab are some of the finest works. Non-fiction titles and thought-provoking narratives also emerged. These included Qudrat Ullah Shahab’s Shahab Nama, a manual for self-reflection that unearths the truth hidden in plain sight with a sheer sense of purpose.

Urdu owes much of its early popularity to the art of dastangoi, which emerged during the 13th Century. The tradition involved travellers sharing their experiences and adventures with friends, neighbours and strangers upon returning home. Dastangoi included epic tales, fables, and romantic stories that captivated audiences. In the 19th Century, the translation of some Persian dastans into Urdu began in Lucknow, further contributing to the language’s evolution and popularity. Dastangoi played a crucial role in developing Urdu literature and helped establish it as a language for storytelling and entertainment.

Mir Baqir Ali (1850-1928) was a renowned storyteller and dastango. He played a vital role in promoting oral art in the sub-continent. He contributed immensely to the development of Urdu literature through his captivating storytelling skills. Some of the notable Urdu dastans include Sab Ras Qissa-i-Husn-o-Dil by Mulla Wajhi, Bagh-o Bahar by Ameer Khusrau and Dastan-i Amir Hamza were not only entertaining but also played a significant role in shaping the literary landscape of the Urdu language.

Saadat Hasan Manto’s Naya Qanoon tells the story of Mangoo, a horsecart driver who expects new legislation to bring positive changes for him and is disappointed. Mumtaz Mufti’s Ali Pur Ka Aili provides a powerful introspective account of the challenges faced by the protagonist.

Urdu literature has a rich and diverse history. The authors have explored a wide range of fiction and non-fiction topics. There is a need for more Urdu readers in Pakistan.

Musharraf Ali Farooqi, the founder and publishing director of KITAB, believes that there is a pressing need for engaging stories for children at the primary and middle school levels. He insists that textbook boards should not have a say in selecting supplementary reading materials. Farooqi argues that the lack of interesting reading material is a primary reason the youth have become disinterested in Urdu literature. “Children do read with interest when good stories with beautiful illustrations are provided to them.”

To truly comprehend Urdu literature, we must delve into the vast collection of prose and poetry that has been compiled over centuries. Special efforts are needed to instill a love for Urdu in students from primary to higher-secondary levels and help them understand the essence of the language. Children should be taught proper pronunciation of Urdu words and be introduced to literature that is appropriate for their age.

Television programs and social media initiatives, and documentaries that showcase the language’s historical aspects and contemporary trends should be developed and targeted to various age groups. In addition, a concerted and collaborative effort is required to rekindle the love for Urdu among the masses, especially Generation Z.

The author is a fiction writer and columnist. He is the author of Divided Species, a science fiction novel set in Karachi. For info:

Affection for language