URDU: part of India’s diverse culture – 3

URDU: part of India’s diverse culture – 3

This is the third part of a series of articles based on a speech by Mr Justice Markandey Katju of the Supreme Court of India. The speech, presented at Jamia Millia Islamia,
New Delhi was titled ‘What is Urdu?’

By Markandey Katju

We must, now, first understand something about Khariboli (or Hindustani) which is the foundation on which Urdu was built.

What is Khariboli?

Khariboli is simple or spoken Hindi, as contrasted to literary Hindi which is used by many writers and public speakers (for instance, in Khariboli (or Hindustani) we say “udhar dekhiye”, while in Hindi we say “udhar avlokan keejiye”). Khariboli is an urban language. It is the first language of the common man in the cities of what is known as the Hindi speaking belt (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, etc.) and is the second language in the cities of many parts of the non-Hindi speaking belt, not only in India but also in Pakistan.

To illustrate this let me relate a personal experience. I was travelling in a taxi from Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh to Gulbarga in Karnataka where I had to attend a function. The taxi driver was a Telugu speaking person while the professor of Gulbarga University who came to fetch me was a Kannada speaking gentleman, but they spoke to each other in Hindi. I was surprised, since both these persons were South Indians, and I asked them why they were speaking in Hindi. They said that that was because Hindi was the link language for them both.

How did Khariboli come into existence?

Almost all cities in the world originated as market places (mandis). This was only possible when the productive forces had developed to an extent that people were producing more than they could themselves consume, and hence the surplus had to be sold or exchanged. In other words, commodities (i.e. goods for sale or exchange and not for self consumption) began to be produced.

Since the seller and the purchaser had to have a known place where the transaction of sale and purchase could take place, market places (mandis) were created, which later became cities. Now the seller and purchaser must have a common language, otherwise the transaction of sale would not be possible. Hence Khariboli arose as that common language of the market.

To give an illustration, in Allahabad (where I have mostly lived) Khariboli is spoken in the city, but in the rural areas around Allahabad city the dialect spoken is Avadhi (in which Tulsidas wrote his Ramcharitmanas). In Mathura city Khariboli is spoken, but in the rural areas around Mathura Brijbhasha (the language of Surdas) is spoken. In Benaras city or the other eastern cities of U.P. Khariboli is spoken, but in the rural areas around these cities Bhojpuri is spoken. In parts of northern Bihar Maithili is the rural dialect (in which the great poet Vidyapati wrote) but in the cities there also Khariboli is spoken. In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh Khariboli is spoken in the cities, but in the rural areas local dialects (e.g. Mewari and Marwari in Rajasthan) are spoken which an outsider cannot understand.

This shows that in vast areas of north India the rural population speaks different dialects, but the urban population had a common language, Khariboli. How did this happen?

This happened because a vast common market had been created in India (due to the development of the productive forces) even before the coming of the Mughals. A trader travelling from Bihar or Madhya Pradesh could easily sell his goods in a city in Uttar Pradesh or Rajasthan or Punjab because there was a common language, Khariboli, which both seller and purchaser knew (apart from knowing their local dialects). Thus Khariboli is the common language of the cities in large parts of India. Even in many parts of the non-Hindi speaking belt Khariboli is understood and spoken as a second language. Thus, if one goes to Kolkata, Bangalore, Gujarat, Lahore or Karachi or even in many parts of south India he can converse in Khariboli with people living in the cities (though there might be difficulty in rural areas).

Having understood the nature of Khariboli, we can now proceed to understand Urdu. As I have already mentioned, Urdu is the language created by Persian superimposition on a Khariboli foundation. This, too needs to be explained.

About Persian

For centuries Persian was the court language of India. This was because Persian had been highly developed in Persia by writers like Firdausi, Hafiz, Sadi, Roomi, Umar Khayyam, etc. as a language of culture, grace and sophistication, it spread to large parts of the oriental world. Persian poets developed highly sophisticated forms of poetry e.g. ghazal, qaseeda, masriya, rubaiyat, etc. Urdu poetry is in a sense continuation of Persian poetry but in a totally different setting and a different language.

Of all these forms, the ghazal is the most popular. It is in fact a marvel of condensation, and most Urdu writers have used it in most of their poetry. It is characterised by qaafiya, radeef, matla and maqta.

The Mughals were Turks, not Persians, but though their mother tongue was Turkish, they accepted Persian as the court language as it was more developed than Turkish. Thus, though Babar wrote his autobiography, Tuzuk-e-Babri, in Turkish, his grandson Akbar got it translated into Persian and called it Babarnama. His own biography, Akbarnama, written by Abul Fazl is in Persian, and so is the autobiography of his son Jehangir (called Jahangirnama) and the biography of Shahjehan (called Shahjehanama).

This phenomenon of a foreign language being accepted as the language of the upper class or the court is nothing unique. For instance, French was the language of the Russian and German (and indeed much of European) aristocracy up to the 19th century. Thus in Tolstoy’s `War and Peace’, we find that the Russian commanders (who were all aristocrats) often spoke to each other in French, although their enemy, Napoleon’s army, was French. Similarly English is the language of the elite in India even today.

Persian was the court language of India for several centuries, and hence it exerted its influence on the common language of the cities, which as already mentioned above, was Khariboli.

(To be continued)

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