The importance of Urdu poetry in today’s India

By Justice Katju

The Need for Literature in Times of Transformation

Urdu Poetry : I have repeatedly said that the next 10-20 years in Indian history will be a turbulent, stormy period which will culminate in creating a new political and social order, under which India rapidly modernises and industrialises, the great evils of poverty, unemployment, child malnutrition, lack of proper healthcare and good education, etc which plague our country today, are largely abolished, and our people get decent lives.
In this stormy period great literature will be required, to attack feudal forces like casteism and communalism, and inspire people to perform heroic deeds, sometimes even at the cost of one’s lives.This period will witness a mighty united people’s struggle, which will be protracted, arduous, with many twists and turns, and in which tremendous sacrifices will have to be made.

Historical Examples: Literature’s Role in Inspiring Change

For instance, the writings of Voltaire and Rousseau which attacked feudalism and religious bigotry, inspired the people of France and led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the great French Revolution of 1789 which destroyed feudalism in France.. Similarly, the writings of Thomas Paine ( e.g. ‘Commonsense’ ) inspired the patriots in the American War of Independence (1775-81 ). The writings of Maxim Gorki ( see his novel ‘Mother’ and his poem ‘Song of the Stormy Petrel’ ) inspired the Russian people and their Revolution in 1917.

Urdu poetry like Bismil’s poem ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai’ inspired India’s freedom struggle, and Faiz’ poem ‘Hum dekhenge’ inspired Pakistanis in their fight against military dictatorship.
I submit that Urdu poetry ( in its simplified, and not highly Persianised, form ), will be of great utility to the Indian people in this turbulent period.

Urdu poetry like Bismil's poem 'Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai' inspired India's freedom struggle, and Faiz' poem 'Hum dekhenge' inspired Pakistanis in their fight against military dictatorship.

This is because of the dual nature of Urdu, as explained in my article ‘What is Urdu’.

Urdu Poetry: A Unique Blend of Languages and Elegance

As explained therein, Urdu is a language created by a combination of two languages (1) Hindustani or khadiboli and (2) Persian. That is why at one time it was called Rekhta, which means hybrid. While the former is the language of the common man in large parts of urban India even today, the latter was the language of the aristocratic elite in India for centuries during Mughal rule and even thereafter.

Thus while Urdu is the language of the common man ( since its base is Hindustani, as its verbs are all in Hindustani ), it has also the sophistication and polish of an aristocrat, since Persian was the language of aristocrats. While the content of Urdu poetry is the feelings, sorrows, and aspirations of the common man, they are expressed not exactly in the language of the common man, but in a somewhat aristocratic and sophisticated manner, which gives it great power and elegance.

Power and Elegance of Urdu Poetry Compared to Hindi

Take for instance Bismil’s verse ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai’. If we write this in Hindi it will become ‘Sheesh katwaane ki manokaamna ab hamaare hriday mein hai’. Does this have the power and elegance of the former ? It does not.
Or take Faiz’ verse ‘Bol ki lab azad hain tere, bol zubaan ab tak teri hai’. In Hindi this becomes ‘Uchchaaran karo ki onth swatantra hain tumhaare, uchchaaran karo ki jivha ab tak tumhaari hai’. Does this have the power and elegance of the former ? It does not.

I am not against Hindi. It is my mother tongue, so how can I be against it ? But the truth is that modern Hindi poetry does not have the power and elegance which Urdu poetry has.

Urdu Poetry as a Tool for Protest and Expression

In fact in many agitations and protests in India students recited and sang Faiz’ poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’ and Habib Jalib’s poem ‘Main nahi maanta’ and ‘Hukmaraan ho gaye kameene log’

The Journey of Revolution: Toiling through Challenges

I conclude with my own sher ( couplet ) :
‘Hum inquilaabiyon ko naya jahaan banaana hai magar
Yeh safar hai mashaqqat-o-museebaten liye hue’
We, revolutionaries, have to create a new world
But this journey is full of toil and difficulties

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