With English being the lingua franca of our digital age, the list of dying languages, including Urdu, around the world is getting longer. In fact, today all languages are facing an equal crisis of survival. The loss of languages along with the art and culture that goes with them would be irreversible unless something is done soon to revive them.
Today, one is forced to forsake one’s mother tongue to embrace the dominant language of our age: English. The easiest explanation could be that the fate ordained these languages to fade away after the advent of English. But if we delve deeper into the causes of Urdu’s decline, to take one example, a lot lies underneath than what meets the eye.
Urdu is perhaps the only surviving secular language which is both anti-fundamentalist and anti-conventions. Abdur Rasheed, Assistant Professor of Urdu in Jamia Millia Islamia, says, “In the beginning, sometime in the 17th century Urdu was called Hindivi, for the very reason that it was a mix of languages of Hindustan. Later it was called Rekhta and became the language meant for foreigners to communicate with the Indians.” According to popular myth, Urdu is a “camp language” or “lashkari zaban” because it was born in the army camps of the Mughals. “The soldiers from diverse backgrounds were recruited into the Mughal army and to communicate, they also used this new language. This view is based on the fact that ‘Urdu’ is a Turkish word and it literally means lashkar or army or an army camp,” he adds.
Saraf’s association with Urdu was limited to Bollywood songs and ghazals until his fascination with the beauty of Urdu grew into a passion. Four years back, he decided to learn the script and later thought of the idea of Rekhta.
The language which once was burgeoning and was embraced by the Indians irrespective of their backgrounds is nearly extinct today. The tale of Urdu is a sad one: sad not only because there are more mourners of Urdu than speakers, but also because along with the language, its riches of poetry and prose are also feared to be soon consigned to oblivion. Rekhta Foundation is an initiative of an ardent Urdu lover and a Delhi-based businessman, named Sanjiv Saraf. His website has a world of material in Devanagiri, Roman script and Urdu. According to Saraf, the aim of Rekhta is to revive Urdu in India and make it accessible to the non-Urdu speakers. “Before learning Urdu,” he says, “When I was reading Devangiri and Roman scripts, it was difficult to get the material online. Infact, Urdu adab’s (literature) accessibility was almost impossible, there was very little available at that time. So the idea was to make Urdu poetry and literature accessible with the proliferating use of the internet. To bridge this gap and for the love of Urdu, we established Rekhta in 2013.”
Saraf’s association with Urdu was limited to Bollywood songs and ghazals until his fascination with the beauty of Urdu grew into a passion. Four years back he decided to learn the script and after a year or two into learning, he conceptualise the idea of Rekhta. “It’s wrong to label Urdu as a language which belongs to a particular section, region or country. It’s a language of the subcontinent, where else can you find Urdu speakers?” he questions. “It’s unfortunate that we have allowed the sentiments of the damage and division done by the Britishers to our culture and heritage to still linger. We could never bury the misunderstandings created by them among us.”
Rekhta is not only facilitating the process of revival but it is also preserving the rare books and scripts through digitisation. It has digitised 14,040 books which are available in its ebook section on the site and the process is ongoing. Apart from that it also has an online dictionary. The user can look for the meaning of any Urdu word in a ghazal or sher by clicking on the word. It has a search engine to find any poet, prose, sher or meaning of a word. Rekhta’s research team is also working hard to validate and find the poets of awara shers (shers without authors). They are also trying to find the missing parts of incomplete couplets. For instance, in some couplets a line is missing, so through research they are trying to complete them. “We work in collaboration with various libraries and institutions to help us with authentic Urdu texts. We also take books from the personal collections of Urdu scholars and poets,” says Farhat Ahsas, editor of Rekhta.
Rekhta has gained momentum among Urdu lovers from all over the world. According to Dharmendra Saha, general manager of Rekhta, the website gets traffic from more than 150 countries. “We will be soon launching an Urdu learning application, which will ease the process of learning through its unique module.” The website covers 1625 poets, 16836 ghazals, 3528 nazms and 10833 shers.
The aesthetics of Urdu emerged mainly through the poets who explored deep depth of their souls through poetry. Saraf asserts that it is difficult to find a rich language like Urdu where in, one can say so much in limited words said under subtle emotions. “It is a beautiful language that cannot be forsaken. It is bound to have its resurgence sooner and later.” Urdu, like a Phoenix, must indeed arise resurrected from the flames.