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Understanding Rekhta

Are Hindi, Hindavi, Rekhta and Urdu different names for the same linguistic, literary and cultural heritage?

The three-day Jashn-e-Rekhta (Rekhta Festival) that concluded on Sunday once again drew our attention to the shared linguistic, literary and cultural traditions that have evolved over the centuries. This was the fourth edition of the annual event and the fact that it was able to attract the youth in great numbers was very significant. Their presence dominated all the sessions irrespective of their nature and young men and women flocked to poetry recitation at mushairas, serious academic discussions and celebrity-driven events.

So, what is Rekhta that was celebrated with such great enthusiasm and passion? It is one of the names by which Hindi / Hindavi / Urdu was known in the 18th and 19th centuries. When Ghalib chose to pay tribute to Mir, he wrote: “Rekhte ke tumheen ustad nahin ho Ghalib, kahte hain agle zamaane mein koi Mir bhi thaa.” (Ghalib, you are not the only master of poetry in Rekhta. It is said that there was Mir too in the past.) Rekhta has at least three meanings – broken, scattered and mixed. In comparison with the sophisticated and well-structured Persian, Rekhta or Urdu sounded broken and mixed as it had the linguistic structure of the khari boli and was colloquial in nature. There is a famous story about Mir, universally described as Khuda-e-Sukhan (God of poetry), who was approached for advice by some members of Delhi’s Muslim aristocratic families who had begun to write poetry in Rekhta / Urdu. After listening to their compositions, he bluntly told them that they were fit for writing in Persian but not in Urdu because the language could be learnt and imbibed only by sitting and spending considerable time everyday on the steps of the Jama Masjid.

Travelling to south

This language had its predecessor in Dakhini that had gone to Deccan from the north. As Amrit Rai has established in his book, A House Divided, the mixed language of the north – Hindi or Hindavi – travelled to the south first with the Nathpanthi Yogis led by Gorakhnath and later with the army of Alauddin Khilji under his famous general Malik Kafur who conquered Gujarat in 1297, Maharashtra in 1304, Andhra in 1307 and Karnataka in 1308. When Muhammad bin-Tughlaq shifted his capital from Delhi to Devagiri or Daulatabad, a large part of Delhi’s population went there and many of them stayed back even after Tughlaq retraced his step. They took there their language Hindi/Hindavi which was a mixture of Punjabi, Haryanavi, Khari Boli, Brajbhasha, Awadhi and Rajasthani.

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Writing Matters: In Conversation with Aamer Hussein

By Sucharita Dutta-Asane

Aamer Hussein

Aamer Hussein was born in Karachi in 1955 and moved to London in 1970. He has been writing short stories since the mid-80’s and has been anthologized across multiple languages. He has written six short story collections, a novella Another Gulmohar Tree and a novel The Cloud Messenger. A master of lyrical writing, his knowledge of languages and cultures informs his story telling. His most recent book Love and its Seasons has been published by Mulfran Press, UK.

Sucharita Dutta-Asane (SDA): Aamer Hussein ji, welcome to Kitaab, and thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Your writing is an inspiration in its lyrical intensity, its telling use of fables and folktales and in the knowledge of cultures and languages that layer your stories and their vast range of characters. They explore rich inner worlds with compassion and empathy that require intense involvement with the characters. This cannot come easily to any writer. How do you approach your writing? Do you usually know what you will write and how you will write it, or do you follow a process that is organic, the story and its characters leading you by the hand?

Aamer Hussein: I’d say that in most cases it does lead me by the hand. I sit down with an image, a line or an impulse, then the story takes un-imagined pathways and the characters do things I had no idea they were planning to do. Often the end is in sight when I begin and I do often know what I want to write, for example when I use a traditional story as a template, or when, as in my new collection, I was inspired by my mother’s diary about her singing; but there is always an element of surprise even in the process of retelling. And in what we now call life writing, there is the crucial question of arranging memories in a pattern and seeing what they reveal, which often is surprising.

SDA: The search for ‘home’ and the inevitable running away from it, the rootless-ness and at times the aimless wandering – this theme and its traces can be found across most of your short fiction as well as in Another Gulmohar Tree and The Cloud Messenger. What does ‘home’ mean to you as a writer and as somebody witnessing the evolving concept of exile and refuge in the world today? Does language, rather than any kind of physical manifestation, contain the sense of ‘home’ / homecoming?

AH: I’m wary of talking about multiple homes but in this case I must. There’s Karachi, the city I was born in and to which I often return (I’m going back in a fortnight), which remains home in some visceral sense – that location between desert and Arabian Sea is where my clay belongs. It’s at the seaside there, near where my father and grandfather lived, that I feel that sense of homecoming. I ran away from it for many years and now I keep running back. There’s London where I’ve worked and lived all my adult life, but I only feel at ‘home’ in my neighbourhood by a canal and in a small, central part of the city where I once studied and taught.  I also have a lost maternal ‘home’ where my grandparents lived in Indore. So yes: I wander among my homes and my notions of home. I’m not in any way an exile or a refugee; today I feel like a fairly privileged expat.  Yes, language as well – or rather the page on which I write, where I look for a landing place. That place too is ambivalent, as I read Urdu when I feel homesick, but rarely write in my mother tongue from any sense of nostalgia; English seems to be my memory-language, so yes, that’s a home too.  Urdu is a retreat.

SDA:   In The Cloud Messenger language seems to be a character with multiple layers waiting to be discovered. In Another Gulmohar Tree, Usman says, ‘You don’t choose the language you write in, it chooses you.’ With your polyglot sensibility and sensitivities, how important has this knowledge of languages been for your writing? Has it created creative dilemmas for you or given a sense of freedom that has helped your storytelling?

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Milestones in Urdu Literature Post-partition

The novel is a social document that asserts its own identity in relation to the socio-political problems of an age. Post-partition, the novel was used to address the budding identity crisis faced by a post-colonial consciousness. Writers turned to literature to pose questions of self-identity as it was under flux from the external social forces of migration and cultural conflict. The Urdu novel took up the 1947 Indo-Pak partition as a major focal point from which to dissect the consciousness of a post-colonial society.

The prominent works of Pakistani Urdu literature include the following.

1.       Aag ka Darya by Quratulain Hyder (1957)

Ismat Chughtai

‘River of Fire’ poses the question of personal and collective identity of a society through generations. The novel moves through centuries and brings to light the thoughts being raised in the mind of a people, as they are colonized by oppressive forces, and consequently, swept into the turmoil of the partition of the Sub-continent. The physical layer of the tragedy conceals a deeper psychological tragedy as the characters wander around in search for ways to reaffirm their identity in the new scheme of things, like the heroes of an absurdist fiction.

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The lesser society reads, the safer writers are: Mustansar Hussain Tarar

Tarar is perhaps the most popular of contemporary fiction and travelogue writers in Urdu. He claims he has the capability to write another Aag Ka Darya, a novel on the Partition written by Qurratulain Hyder, but she could not have written a novel like his Bahao that talks about the disappearance of a civilisation.

Tarar’s mass popularity is perhaps the reason why he keeps distinguishing himself from other Pakistani writers. No other Pakistani writer has been honoured like him, he says: a lake in the northern areas has been named after him. But, in the same breath, he says critics need to pay attention to other contemporary fiction writers, particularly Khalida Hussain and Sami Ahuja.

Source: The Herald


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Speaking in tongues: Literary translation as a work of art

Dividend by language, united by translations, literature from various Indian states, as well as from regions across the world, is now within easy reach of the Indian reader. As former editorial head of Pan Macmillan, translator and founder of Ponytale Books, Pranav Kumar Singh observes: “A country’s literature is part of its soft power. Today, most Indian languages have become just a medium of communication in urban Indian households, and English has become the language of reading. Therefore, it is important to translate the best of Indian literature not only for the benefit of native non-readers, but also for the growing readership in English, both in India and abroad. With the increasing prominence of India globally, a time will come when translations will play an important role in creating an understanding of the Indian experience. On the other hand, despite everything, there will be a resurgence of Indian languages, and a consequent need for both academic and general interest reading material. Therefore, there is need to look at translations both ways.”

“One bit that needs more exploring,” adds writer, columnist, translator and head of Amnesty International India, Aakar Patel, “is the publishing of Indian languages in the Roman script. Turkey made the transition easily. What is the benefit of this? In the modern world, though mobile phones and tablets can use most scripts, it is still simpler to use the Roman. Advertising in India uses Roman-Hindi. The turn of literature will come soon.’’ Patel, like Pranav Kumar Singh, is among the few editors in the country who have the ability to straddle more than two languages with equal ease. “I am a Gujarati,” says Patel. “My favourite poet is Narsinh Mehta, and though I can recite ‘Ozymandias’ or some of Eliot’s stuff, I am moved most by [Narsinh] Mehta’s Nag Daman on the boy Krishna. I began learning Arabic many years ago and did not get far, but because the script became familiar, I began to read Urdu. There is essentially no difference between Urdu and Hindi because the grammar is the same and north Indians who familiarise themselves with the Perso-Arabic script will be surprised to know that there is hardly any difference between Urdu and Hindi.” Read more

Source: Sunday Guardian Live

 


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Found In Our Mother Tongue: Thoughts On Mental Health, South Asian Languages and Poetry

Not so long ago I wrote an open letter on mental health in South Asian communities which was rooted in my own experiences with anxiety (“We Need to Talk About How Mental Health Affects South Asian Men”). After some time, spurred by questions and comments from readers and my own research, I began to have doubts about one element, summarized as this argument:

Languages such as Urdu, Punjabi and Gujarati do not have adequate terms to communicate about mental illness. As a result, derogatory terms are used.

This argument was derived from a study of UK South Asian communities which presented findings that some South Asian languages, including Urdu, Punjabi, and Gujarati, do not have adequate terminology when it comes to mental health illnesses, and therefore often times derogatory terms are used such as ‘pagal’ (‘Breaking Silence’: A Consultation on Mental Ill Health in South Asian Communities, 2008). Other writing like this piece called “Finding a word for ‘mental health’ in Urdu and Punjabi” refer to this point too. The author writes:

At that time I didn’t know it was referred to as a ‘mental health’. Why? Because there is no term for what ‘mental health’ is in Urdu or Punjabi.

In its literal translation it means something like ‘problem with the brain’, which implies ‘being mental/crazy’. In my experience there was a lot of stigma, ignorance, discrimination and oppression against those that were identified as ‘mental/crazy’.

Such derogatory terms and attitudes stem partly from a lack of understanding in regards to these South Asian languages and their capabilities to provide terms to discuss mental health illnesses. Read more


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An era of Urdu literature ends with Kashmiri Lal Zakir

“Jiyenge taaza gulab ban kar, ye teh hua tha, mareinge khushboo ka khwab ban kar, yeh teh hua tha”.

This couplet from the latest ghazal written by the pride of the region and literary stalwart, the legendary Kashmiri Lal Zakir (97), and immortalised by ghazal maestro Vinod Sehgal and others, is the veritable glimpse of the life of Zakir, who died today after rejuvenating the otherwise dying Urdu “adab” for over eight decades.

Zakir held prestigious posts in adult education and literary institutions like secretary, Haryana Urdu Akademi, for over 20 years and later that of deputy chairman. He travelled the world over working onUNESCO projects and for international seminars and mushairas. He felt uneasy this morning and died at 11.30 am, disclosed Zakir’s daughter, Dr Kamlesh Mohan.

Born on April 7, 1919, in Pakistan, Zakir, a postgraduate in English and Education, began his creative journey early on in life.

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Win for Free Speech in India: Urdu novelist Rahman Abbas’ Novel Cleared of Obscenity Charges

Award-winning Urdu writer Rahman Abbas

Award-winning Urdu writer Rahman Abbas

On 19 August 2016, a lower court in Mumbai delivered a judgment on a ten-year-old case against the Urdu novel Nakhlistan ki Talash (In Search of an Oasis). The novel and its author, Rahman Abbas, were acquitted of obscenity charges made under the colonial-era Section 292 (sale of obscene books) of the Indian Penal Code. Abbas feels free today, and vindicated, and so do all readers and writers. But he spent ten years searching for an oasis without regressive, outdated laws, where writers and readers can do what they must without supervision by the thought police.

The book, a romance set in Mumbai after the 1992-93 riots, takes on two themes Rahman Abbas has returned to time and again: love and politics. In 2005, a nineteen year old Mumbai student lodged a complaint against the novel, objecting that two paragraphs in it were “objectionable and obscene”. The publisher, distributor and author were charged. The police went to the author’s home to arrest him. He spent a night in jail; the allegation cost him his job as a school teacher. It also brought him vilification from fundamentalists and sections of the Urdu media for questioning “religion” and “the existence of God”.

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Rakhshanda Jalil

R jalilLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Let me tweak Descartes and say, ‘I write; therefore I am.’ I think by now it is almost a compulsion; it defines who I am.

 Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I always have more than one in various stages. So, there is a biography of the Urdu poet Shahryar which is almost two-thirds done; a translation of a novel by Krishan Chandar called Ghaddar which my publishers are hoping to pitch as a partition novel next year (2017 marks the 70th year of the annus horribilis that was 1947); an edited volume of critical writings on Ismat Chughtai which is nearly done; and a translated volume of short stories and poems by Gulzar on the partition, again due in 2017 to mark the 70th anniversary. And lurking somewhere in the future is a travelogue – on Ghalib’s journey from Delhi to Calcutta and back in the early 19th century.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

KLF LogoI worked for years as an editor in various publishing houses. I have also written journalistic pieces for various newspapers. My training for the Ph D taught me diligence and painstaking research. And then I have also been a translator for decades now. So all of these ‘roles’ have defined my writing style. As an editor, I produce a clean copy and have learnt over the years to do a self edit of everything I write. As a translator, I trained myself to do a close reading of texts and also learnt to value words and tease out their exact meanings. As a columnist, I learnt to write quickly and meet deadlines and be considered a reliable and swift writer. As a researcher, I learnt there are no short cuts to producing good writing. So everything comes together in a happy mix! Continue reading


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Writing is like making love: An interview with Mustansar Hussain Tarar

by Muhammad Asim Butt & Mushtaq Bilal

Mustansar Hussain Tarar

Mustansar Hussain Tarar

Lined with trees on both sides, a narrow alley leads one to the cloistered quarters of the house where Mustansar Hussain Tarar writes. He spends most of his day in this room. Almost all of his novels, travelogues, plays, and columns were written in this room. Despite being in the vicinity of Firdous Market, this particular neighborhood in Gulberg III has an air of tranquility about it. There are two parks in front of Tarar’s house. A few years ago, when I went to meet him for the first time, he had said, while giving directions, “There is a park right in front of the house, with a slide for kids. If you look in the direction in which kids slide down, you’ll be able to see my house.” The slide is no longer there.

The room opens into a small, narrow hall full of antiques worth thousands of dollars. Tarar has been collecting antiques for decades.

There is a kind of deliberation to the way Tarar’s writing table is arranged. Coffee mug-shaped penholders sit in a neat queue by the wall on his writing table, with pens, pencils, paper cutters, sharpeners, a letter opener, and a stapler stowed separately. There is also a solitary ashtray sitting on the table. On one side of the table, there is the latest issue of Loh (The Slate) along with a couple of files and a few documents. There is another table in the room with a folding tabletop. Tarar told me that the carpenter who made the table had died and that this was probably one of the last tables of its kind. He lifted the tabletop and slid open a wooden tray, which converted it into a writing table.

Right next to this table is a tall cupboard stuffed with books. A few paintings hang on one of the walls. One of them is by Sadequain. A huge portrait of Tarar by Saeed Akhtar hangs on the wall adjacent to his writing table. Saeed Akhtar also made a bust of Tarar’s, which is placed on the table by the sofa. There is another portrait of Tarar’s made by Bashir Mirza, which depicts Tarar as a carefree vagrant. Continue reading