A nostalgic journey with writer and Sahitya Akademi Award Winner, Ather Farooqui…

To those who can’t get entry into the regular postgraduate degree courses at JNU, even nondescript courses like the part-time Diploma in Urdu journalism or the full-time course in mass communication run in the JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) campus by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting present a window of opportunity to be a part of this great institute. It is great with regard both to work ethic and ideology. To those who wished to work hard, these courses were/are a boon, as their mere presence in JNU campus would motivate them, irrespective of whether classes were conducted regularly or whether the course had any utility.

…The idealism inculcated in JNU stays with you, it seeps into your every pore and translates into action. This is why, even now, whenever there is public outrage over unjust government policies or an act of violence, JNU students and faculty are often seen leading protests, facing police tear gas and browbeating, and generally expressing their outrage in diverse fora and on social media. However, when they leave the familiar and venture out through JNU’s gates into the wide world outside, they realize that even the train ticket back home comes at the cost of greasing someone’s palms and that corruption is omnipresent, and also that the world doesn’t set much store by JNU idealism. It is this shock that most JNUites experience when they leave their beloved campus and which is why, whenever I meet a non-JNUite, I don’t tell them that they were unfortunate to miss out on the JNU experience, but rather that they are fortunate they didn’t go to JNU—because JNU spoils you for life.

…But life has also taken its toll on JNU. Its pride in its tolerance of diversity of every kind among its faculty, administrative staff or students, whether regional, linguistic, religious or of dress, is dented every time an attempt at uniformity occurs and every time dissent is pitted against one’s loyalty to the nation. The continent in which JNU was an island is catching up with it. Luckily, JNU still has the strength to resist and retain its pride.

I joined JNU in 1986 to pursue a part-time diploma in mass media in Urdu. I hail from the sleepy town of Sikandrabad in district Buland Shahr, located some 60 km from Delhi’s Kashmiri Gate Inter-State Bus Terminus (ISBT). I don’t think that in 1986 my one-horse hometown was any different from what it had been in 1947. The privileged lifestyle now enjoyed by the elite and some sections of the middle class was then the prerogative of just a handful of families. The Delhi of 1986 was not as claustrophobically or catastrophically crowded as it is today; it was quite unorganised and dirty nonetheless, despite the fact that existing roads had been widened and some new ones built, leading up to Asiad 1982.

Tasveer-e Urdu and the Centre for Indian Languages (SLLCS), Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi), plan to hold a two-day conference on the popular culture of Urdu language on 8-9 September 2017 in New Delhi. The organisers seek proposals of presentations that can lead to engaging discussions on the theme, outlined in the concept note shared below.

For submissions, a short abstract (not more than one page) should be sent in Urdu or English, with a short bio of the presenter’s past work, latest by 10 April 2017 to conference@tasveereurdu.in.

Once the submitted abstract/concept is selected for participation, the selected submissions will have to send the full paper (5000 to 8000 words, in Urdu or English) by August 10, 2017.

For more details visit: www.tasveereurdu.in

Concept Note:

While Urdu is typically celebrated as a language of romance and classical poetry by Ghalib, Mir, and Faiz etc., its lesser-acknowledged popular culture of movie songs, detective fiction, ghazal gayeki, poetry inscribed behind vehicles, mushairas, and qawwalis, has probably kept the language alive and kicking among the masses even as its more virtuous practitioners lament that Urdu is dying in India. So what are these popular forms that continue to thrive in the underbelly of classical Urdu and how different they are from its elite cultural life? More importantly, where does one draw a line between popular and classical in Urdu? Although some examples mentioned above are part of what we call ‘popular culture’, these were never really disconnected from what can be called ‘classical’. Urdu is not a monolithic entity in time and space – it has been changing over centuries in its vocabulary, usage, demographics and poetics. There have been multiple dilutions within Urdu that have redefined the notions of ‘Classical’ and ‘Popular’, not to mention the local or regional differences in Urdu’s use.