Thursday, June 3, 2010

A little Urdu Scholarship

Continuing to practice Urdu -- after making major progress late last week in basic reading. Still struggle when I open BBC Urdu pages, however. I also took a peek at a Premchand story (Kafan; The Shroud) posted by Fran Pritchett, and struggled there too. One of the biggest limitations is of course vocabulary.

Fran Pritchett's definitive Urdu literature resources:

Pritchett's C.M. Naim resources

Premchand's Kafan in Urdu:

Kafan in Roman script:

Shurawardy's critical survey of the development of Urdu short stories and novels:

David Lelyveld in Annual of Urdu Studies (1994):

The Turkish word urdu, as a military encampment, appears in Indo-
Muslim texts from the middle of the twelfth century. Babar in the
sixteenth century refers to his own urdΣ-e mu‘all≥, the exalted camp. But
the word is not explicitly associated with language until the middle of the
eighteenth century. It was then that Arzu, Mir and others began to use
phrases like zubaan-e urdu-e sh≥hμ,2 zubaan-e urdu-e mu‘allaa, or, more
modestly, mu√≥vara-e urdu-e mu‘allaa—the idiom of the exalted camp. And
only at the end of the century do scholars begin to find scattered
references to the word urdΣ alone as a metonym for a language, which is
still more usually called Hindi. The idea that one could name a language
“military camp” had a built-in ambiguity, which comes out in the
floundering attempts of the early British grammarians to locate the
language and decide what it was and what it could be used for. Was it a
lingua franca, a “jargon” associated with the large, dispersed military
bands that so pervaded the Indian scene, a language of bazaars? Or was it,
as Gilchrist argued, the real spoken language of respectable people, in the
British sense, and an admirable literature?

But this name ‘Urdu’ became in later years an allusion to past time,
and an interpretation of it—specifically to Mughal India. From the Parsi
theater, the plays of Agha Hashr Kashmiri, the films of Sohrab Modi and
others, most notably K.K. Asif’s Mughal-e a‘zam (Mughal e Azam), what counts as Urdu for many people is bound up with images of Akbar, Jahangir, Nur Jahan and
Anarkali. My own interest, as an historian of more recent times, is in
these processes of cultural construction in the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries. In this paper, however, I will offer a brief speculation about the
nature of language and society in relation to the cultural authority of the
Mughal regime.

Most immediately, this paper is a response to Amrit Rai’s book, A
House Divided: The Origins and Development of Hindi-Urdu, first
published in 1984 and recently reissued in paperback.

Much of the rest of Lelyveld's essay is untangling some of the mess from Amrit Rai's 1984 book, A House Divided.

* * *

Alok Rai, in Annual of Urdu Studies

It might be interesting, at this point, to look at the evolution of the
name Hindustani. The colonial origins of the name are well-known. It
seemed entirely logical for the colonizers to assume that the people of the
place that they had conquered—Hindustan—should have a language that
could be called Hindustani. Apparently, the name “Hindustani” was not
unknown even before the advent of the British—although, obviously,
only outsiders could feel the need to name the unknown language(s) of
the strangers whom they encountered in the land of Hind. Thus, there are
sundry occurrences in sixteenth and seventeenth century Persian texts
(Faruqi 2001, 30). But the name of Hindustani never caught on among the
locals, as it were. Indeed, Gilchrist, writing in the late eighteenth century,
went on to say that he would use the name Hindustani, in preference to
all other names “of the popular speech of the country … whether the people
here constantly do so or not” (in ibid., 32; emphasis added). The interesting
question here concerns the limits of colonial knowledge, and also
the limits of the effectiveness of colonial knowledge—and, indeed, colonial
ignorance (see Lelyveld 1994). Thus, the ascription of a unity, albeit
false—and a misnomer—on the intercommunicating languages and dialects
of the people, particularly as this translated into administrative
practice and publishing activity, could hardly be without effect. Thus, the
colonial authorization of the name of “Hindustani” was bound to be
something akin to a self-fulfilling prophecy, with an ambiguous impact on
the fact or real existence of Hindustani, as a language-system that enabled
at least contigual communication even in precolonial times, particularly in
alliance with modern communication technologies. Gilchrist cites the famous
Orientalist H. T. Colebrooke on the existence of an
"elegant language which is used in every part of Hindoostan and the
dukhin, which is the common vehicle of intercourse among all well-educated
natives and among the illiterate also, in many provinces of India; and
which is almost everywhere intelligible to some among the inhabitants of
every village…."
(Rai 2000, 13)

This language, which could be called Urdu and Hindi, can only be Hindustani,
capacious and tolerant as it spans the range from the speech of
“well-educated natives” down to the demotic dialects of diverse peoples.
The name of Hindustani, however, remained confined to colonial
usage, in the main. Until we come to the latter half of the nineteenth
century, that is. Once it became crucial for the emergent Hindi-Hindu
savarna proto-élite, in the period after 1857, to make space for themselves
in the colonial administration1 the shared and overlapping linguistic space
had to be divided and split up. Then, the name “Hindustani” could mean
either that overlapping part of the continuum which was common to both
Hindi and Urdu—which was no fun at all if one was thinking of making
space for oneself in the zero-sum game of the colonial administration; or
“Hindustani” could mean that part of the continuum which was neither
Hindi nor Urdu—in which case it disappeared altogether, as it did for Mr.
Ghanshyam Gupta. As the politics of dissension gathered steam, and—
mixing metaphors madly—snowballed and ramified, “Hindustani” came
to denominate the terminological compromise which was advocated by
Gandhi, among others. However, compromise was the last thing anybody
had on their minds at that time, and “Hindustani” left both of the combatants
dissatisfied and suspicious: each saw the name as a Trojan horse for
the other side—even as it sought, with manifest contradiction, both to
distance itself from, and to claim, also for its democratic legitimacy, the
common terrain! In this kind of force-field, Gandhi’s compromise formulation
“Hindi or Hindustani” was doomed to failure. That “or” could connote
either alterity or identity. It could mean either that Hindi was the
same as Hindustani, so the mullah was up in arms, or that Hindustani was
an alternative to Hindi, so the pandit, quite as pugnacious, would have
none of it.

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