Sample this: A headline in a leading Hindi News channel, ‘Tabaahi ki Taaza Tasveerein’ (Hindi?) Another headline in a leading Urdu daily, ‘Cut-Off Ke Doosre Din Honours Courses Ki Demand’ (Urdu?) And yet the Hindi-Urdu divide has played a crucial role in the history of the subcontinent. Any serious attempt to understand identity formation in India in the wake of the national movement involves the need to grasp the Hindi-Urdu controversy and the role of linguistic conflict in forging communal identity in India, which eventually led to partition. Many studies (A House Divided by Amrit Rai, One Lang-uage Two Scripts by Christopher R. King, The Nationalization of Hindu Traditions by Vasudha Dalmia, to name a few) have approached this issue from different perspectives in their endeavour to untie the knots of this complex linguistic phenomenon. Tariq Rahman’s book under review, however, takes the argument beyond the realm of communal identities that these languages have been associated with. Focusing on the social history of Urdu, he questions the assumptions that associate Urdu with Muslims and explores the situations responsible for the gradual Islamization of the language. In doing so, he relies mainly on thorough linguistic analysis and data.
Foregrounding linguistic history over the political, Rahman convincingly argues that Urdu owes its genesis to Hindvi, Hindi, Gujri, Dakani, and Rekhta and hence has its roots in Hindi, thereby taking a dig at the modern day assumptions, both in Pakistan and India, regarding Urdu being an exclusive Muslim heritage. Rahman uses the authority of Shamsur Rahman Farooqi and linguistic theories and data to establish that the association of the origins of Urdu with military camps and Mughal conquest is inspired by attempts to establish it purely as a Muslim language. This is perhaps the reason most of the scholars involved in this campaign have referred only to works written in Persio-Arabic script in their discussion about the origins of Urdu.
To establish the ancestry of Hindi-Urdu, Rahman goes back to Sufi Tazkaras and Malfuzaat (he also surveys the researchers on these works like Jamil Jalibi) as these Sufi/Bhakti poets were instrumental in creating an eclectic culture in India and also in the mixing of Persian and Arabic vocabulary with pre-existing Indian languages. As an exception to the majority, Mohammad Hussain Azad accepts Braj as ancestor of Urdu, whereas Jalibi, Rahman points out, is one of the few literary historians of Urdu to have mentioned Namdev, Kabir and Guru Nanak. Others have chosen to either entirely ignore them (Abdul Haq) or refer to them only in the passing (Ali Jawad Zaidi, Ram Babu Saxena etc.). Rahman attributes this exclusionist attitude to the political position of identifying Urdu with Muslims and says a similar trend is reflected in Hindi historiography which ignores Muslim poets and writers. To stress the point, he draws attention to theories of Pakistani origin of Urdu (Haafiz Mahmud Shirani) which he says is inspired by the ideological imperatives of Muslim nationalism. Apart from theories about Indic origins of Urdu, Rahman also charts out theories about Munda and Dravidian origins, which according to him are weak. He thus concludes, there was an Indian language that was spoken in the areas stretching from Peshawar to the border of Bengal. He says, ‘All these dialects picked up words from the languages of the newcomers—not only soldiers but also merchants, religious figures, mystics, mendicants and camp followers—but the one around the Delhi area (khari boli) probably picked up more words than the others.’
Rahman establishes Urdu as funda-mentally an Indic language by citing from the earliest writings in Urdu like Masnavi Kadam Rao Padam Rao by Fakhar Din Nizami written in 15th century or Khairul Bayan by Bayazid Ansai written between 1560-70, which use a large number of Hindi, Sanskrit and Punjabi words. Afterwards, Rahman moves on to trace the Islamization of Urdu which according to him began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For this, he refers to the authority of a writer whom he introduces as ‘Khurshid Ahmad, (the) ideologue of the Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan’, and whose essay on Islamic writings in Urdu appears very convincing to Rahman. He then makes a survey of Islamic writings in Urdu and goes on to tell us about the religious writings of different sects. He views emphasis on ‘correctness’ as an outcome of this process of Islamization. Interestingly, Rahman links Insha (who is generally associated with Rani Ketaki ki Kahani and is viewed as a promoter of simple diction in Urdu free from Perso-Arabic vocabulary) to this Islamization campaign. He speaks of Insha as a ‘pioneering socio-linguistic historian of Urdu’. Rahman’s rejection of Jalibi and Muhammad Hussain Azad is also based on their perception of Persianization as a tool of improvement for the language.
In the final analysis, Rahman disagrees with those who blame the British for this linguistic and communal divide (here his thesis appears quite close to that of Amrit Rai). But he also posits that eighteenth century Persianization of Urdu was a class-movement whereas Sanskirization of Hindi was a political movement. While the process of Islamization of Urdu culminated in the creation of Pakistan, in the post-Independence phase, the two parted ways with Urdu becoming synonymous with the ruling elites and their domination over weak ethnic groups such as Bengalis, Pashtuns and others. Further, Rahman devotes a chapter to attest how themes related to the amorous and the erotic in classical Urdu literature were done away with by the reformers in the late nineteenth century.
Rahman’s well-researched chapters on ‘British and Hindustani’ and ‘Urdu in Princely States’ throw light on the transition phase between the Mughal period and the Independence of India and creation of Pakistan. He has also provided a detailed analysis of the various phases of Urdu as a language of employment and its presence in the education system through the British rule to the modern times. The analysis is supported by meticulously compiled and detailed statistics. Rahman infers that Urdu has become more Persianised in the post-Independence environment of Pakistan (a thesis scholars like Intezar Husain reject). Rahman also feels that much as the Indian officialdom has promoted Sanskritized Hindi through the government-controlled media, the Hindi cinema, theatre and television continue to promote Urdu.
Finally, Rahman concludes the book based on scientific linguistic data and historical documents in a rhetorical manner by saying, ‘It is only by not losing sight of the continuities and shared cultural features among Pakistanis and (north) Indians that we can transcend the mutual hatred which threatens to annihilate this ancient land.’ Rahman’s grouse throughout the book against all the historians of Urdu and Hindi is that their views are moulded by their political positions rather than linguistic data. By taking recourse to such rhetoric, Rahman seems to have become a victim of the phenomenon he accuses others of.
The book is a useful addition in the Hindi-Urdu debate for it brings focus on Hindi and Urdu and exposes the negative impact of politicization of these languages which has created a great divide between the pedagogic and performative realities of these languages.