From Hindi to Urdu: A Social and Political History

Amit Julka is Research Intern at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • September 2012
    Book Review

    Hardly any language in the subcontinent has a history as contested as that of Urdu. The history of Urdu is not just a story of linguistic evolution, but of the evolution of culture, of societies and of communities. Thus, undertaking the task of narrating this journey is in itself an act of courage and Tariq Rehman does it wonderfully well.

    More than Pakistan, the question of Urdu is crucial to understanding the contestations surrounding identity and secularism in post-independent India. The biased narrative of the Hindi chauvinists and the lip service of the so-called secularists have ensured that Urdu and Indo-Islamic culture have been ghettoised to an extent that they have become caricatures. This practice permeates our popular culture, where it is only the bearded Maulvi Sahab (cleric) or the tawaif (courtesan) who speaks Urdu, and no sentence is complete without infinite numbers of Subhan Allahs and Masha Allahs thrown in. The best example of this pigeonholing was the movie Jodha Akbar, where Jodha, a Rajput princess, spoke in Sanskritised Hindi that one doesn't hear outside the confines of Doordarshan's newsroom, while Akbar speaks in chaste, Persianised Urdu that probably wasn't even developed during the real Akbar's reign.