Ibtida-e-Urdu Urdu Bazaar


My tryst with languages is like an old love. You try to get over it, but somewhere sometimes it invariably shows up. I learnt my first foreign language when I was around ten years old, in my school. Given the choice between Sanskrit and French, my heart won over my little brain and chose the latter. For the little me, French was a sunny side walk by the Eiffel tower. The textbooks of French were also sleeker and fancier than Sanskrit books. I was lucky then, today I might have been labelled as an anti-national and slapped sedition on.

Those French lectures were the most fascinating part of the otherwise dull school hours. I would sit on the first bench, repeat after my French madame very religiously and scored exceedingly well. I still have my textbooks saved if I ever wish to return back. I could not finish my course as I changed my school. That love remained unrequited.

"Once you overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films" said Bong Joon Ho after his South Korean film Parasite won the Academy award for best film. Language is a barrier. It stops us from exploring the wide range of art and culture that is out there. Someone said that art doesn't recognize language, it is free from it. But language does prevent us from truly understanding and exploring it. For quite some time I have tried to explore the regional cinema of our country and I was shocked by the amount of the talent and content that the incapable Bollywood is capable of shutting out. I also watched German, Spanish and South Korean movies and my worldview changed. I realized how much I was missing out, because of my lack to overcome that 'language barrier'. I realized that I had forgotten what the 10 year old me felt in that French class. I realized I had to go back to experiencing the thrill of learning a new language.

Though I have digressed a bit, the background was necessary to make you realize my inspiration. The title is also a foreshadowing to what language I ended up teaching myself. If you are a fan of fine Bollywood songs, Urdu is synonymous to romance and tehzeeb(sophistication). I also watched many Urdu dramas to understand the process of speaking the language. I also got sucked into the world of shers, ghazals and nazms. One day, with all that love and excitement, I decided to learn this language.

And then, one day saw an advertisement in the newspaper about an Urdu course. It was a correspondence course, I was elated. God works in mysterious ways. I applied! Within a week I had my first workbook. It was the ABCD of the language, quite literally. With the comfort I have developed using my mother tongue for all my conversations, I had completely forgotten what going back to ABCDs felt like. It was a struggle. Urdu is a calligraphic language and you cannot mess with it lazily, neither the letters allow you that. They have to be carefully scripted and you need to keep their gracious curves intact. For a week, I practiced the alphabets and their sounds. With the learning, you also have to do a lot of unlearning; of the set standards of our habitual languages. I wonder how as a child, the first thing that we are taught are letters and words. Even then, all our life is a journey of finding the right words at the right time. It may be about giving that perfect comeback in a fight or confessing love to an old crush.

I applied for the course days before the protests rocked the capital. Before the streets fired up with 'Hum Dekhenge', I knew the verses by heart. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was already up on my walls. I went on with the course more vigorously as I felt this was my little contribution to the cause. The cause of inclusion and celebration of an Indian identity. I was giving the language the due, it always deserved. Urdu deserves to be celebrated. I was on the streets through the pages of my notes. I never knew that learning a language could turn political. I was reminded that everything is political; personal is political.

Today, I am a proud follower of many Urdu pages on Instagram. I order many Urdu books. That joy of translating a word and understanding it is indescribable. I have proudly obliged to multiple requests of translating one's name in Urdu. I quote shayari of Faiz, Fazli and Sahir now. I sometimes write my daily diary in Urdu. I have also started a small and raw podcast for beginners like me.  It is still work in progress, but I have a new section in my brain that can think and understand in a different language. How exciting is that?

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