'What a beautiful but sad language' — 8th International Urdu Conference begins in Karachi

Published 09 Dec, 2015 09:55am

Peerzada Salman

Continuing till December 11 first day saw two keynote speeches regarding status of Urdu as a language in Pakistan

Professor Sahar Ansari addresses during one of the sessions. — Publicity photo
Professor Sahar Ansari addresses during one of the sessions. — Publicity photo

KARACHI: The 8th International Urdu Conference organised by the Arts Council Karachi began on Tuesday afternoon with two illuminating keynote speeches on the pitfalls and benefits of making Urdu the official language of Pakistan.

Renowned Indian scholar Prof Shamim Hanafi set the tone for his talk by quoting a line from an Urdu poem ‘kis qadar pyari zaban aur kitni dukhyari zaban’ (what a beautiful but sad language).

He said that languages travelled like human beings. In that context, he drew the attention of the audience towards the fact that the 20th century was a turbulent time period in history; it was an era in which a great many dreams were quashed, and the world witnessed one of the biggest mass migrations (in 1947). Some of the issues that marked the 20th century carried on, he said.

Prof Hanafi said the subject of Urdu should be viewed in relation to two aspects: one, the origin of Urdu against the backdrop of north India; two, all Muslims in the subcontinent did not speak Urdu (for example, Qazi Nazrul Islam spoke Bengali). He emphasised the need for examining the topic in light of what eminent critic, the later M. Hasan Askari, referred to as the Indianness of Urdu (Urdu ki Hindustaniat).

Prof Hanafi said cleanliness in human beings’ lives depended on the clarity of their minds. The 21st century had arrived with a technological revolution, he said. He was not one of those who considered technology as a cause for moral degradation, he added. However, he made the point that information technology could also be a source of misinformation.

He said people should distinguish between a science-based welfare state and science-based warfare state.

Prof Sahar Ansari delivered the second keynote speech of the inaugural session. He said though Urdu had been revered and respected, concerted efforts had never been made to standardise it (vis-à-vis pronunciation, spellings, etc).

For a long time, linguists equated philology with linguistics, he said. It was once planned that a linguistic map would be created for regional languages, but the plan never materialised, he said. He said 56 languages were spoken in the country, out of which 16 had their scripts. It was decided in 1973 that Urdu would be the official language of Pakistan, and efforts were even made during Benazir Bhutto’s tenure to implement it, but to no avail.

It needed to be known as to who had the power to implement the decision, he raised the question. He was of the view that the bureaucracy was in the way of Urdu becoming the official language of Pakistan. Citing a recent example to back his argument, he said after former Chief Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja’s verdict on Urdu, a bureaucrat wrote in a newspaper that it could not happen because there were many technical terms which were not translatable in Urdu.

Disputing that claim, Prof Ansari said there were words such as ‘download’ which could not be translated but were readily understandable. He highlighted the need for having a darul tarjuma in every province.

The 8th International Urdu Conference begins at Arts Council

After the keynote addresses, some of the literary luminaries who were on stage were requested to say a few words. Those who spoke included Dr Alia Imam, Imdad Husaini, Nisar Khuhro, Dr Pirzada Qasim, Kishwar Naheed, Dr Abul Kalam Qasmi and Intizar Husain. Prof Ajaz Faruqui gave the vote of thanks. Earlier, secretary of the Arts Council Ahmed Shah welcomed the guests to the conference.

Giving the background to the topic of the day, Mr Shah said giving importance to Urdu did not mean that anyone was being less considerate towards English or regional languages.

The second session, which was chaired by Dr Pirzada Qasim, was on Urdu curriculum.

Anis Zaidi said it was the need of the hour to rework curriculum. Prof Haroon Rasheed talked about the difference between learning Urdu as a language and as a dialect. Prof Anwaar Ahmed Zai said after the 18th amendment education had become a provincial subject which meant it had become easier to revise the syllabi and curriculum.

He also touched on the difference between curriculum and content, and attached more importance to the latter. Dr Jaffer Ahmed said it was a structural problem that needed to be addressed, as the Centre to date had its say in making the courses. Mazhar Jamil was of the opinion that curriculum should relate to what society stood for.

Dr Anwaar Ahmed, by recounting the time when Prof Karrar Husain was the vice chancellor of Balochistan University, spoke on the significance of fikri qayadat (visionary leadership) instead of the America-induced focus on governance. Dr Pirzada Qasim said the issue should be dealt with seriousness (sanjeeda ravi).

The day ended on a high note as the renowned artiste Zia Mohyeddin, in his inimitable style, read out pieces of prose and poetry from Urdu literature. He started off with Ibn-i-Insha’s masterful ‘Ustad Marhoom’ that rib-tickled the audience with every punch-line.

But he immediately changed the mood of the show by reciting Ayub Khawar’s nuanced poem ‘Dua’ as the audience listened to it in hushed silence. Next up was a piece by Josh followed by a poem ‘Darvesh’ by N M Rashid. He rounded off his stint with a piece by Musthaq Ahmed Yousufi that had the audience in stitches.

The conference will continue till Dec 11.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2015