When languages are lost in translation

The Noida Sector 15 building of the Rekhta Foundation for the past few months has been abuzz with a new kind of frenzy. The foundation, primarily known for popularising Urdu among the masses, stays busy these days with students and teachers of all hues pursuing a one-of-its-kind short-term Urdu learning course. “The 30- hour Urdu rasm-ul khat (script) was my first experience of teaching the basic Urdu script and alphabets to adults. And it’s worth it,” says professor Abdur Rasheed of the Urdu department of Jamia Milia Islamia.

And to think a personal venture of a businessman, Sanjiv Saraf, has done for a language what most government organisations have failed to do despite wasting crores of rupees on its promotion. In the six months since the course began, it has taught at least a few hundred to read and write in Urdu. This, is in sharp contrast to the deplorable state of Persian, the once-court language of India. According to a recent story, most Persian manuscripts lie unused and locked in our libraries and archives with no efforts to document, digitise and preserve them.

Of course, that’s too much to ask for when there’s no love left for the ancient language and it is frowned upon as that of the colonisers. Specially in these times when everything is viewed through micro-prisms of high-pitched hypernationalism. Urdu and Persian are identified not as Indian languages, but as languages of Muslims, the ‘others’. It hardly matters to us that Persian has been proved to bear distinct links to Sanskrit, and Urdu happens to have its roots in this very country and its many dialects.

It is a strange paradox that while we stamp Urdu and Persian as languages of the colonisers, we feel much at home with English. The flagbearers of Indian nationalism, who never forget to remind us of Babington Macaulaý’s  ugly intent behind the introduction of English in India, forgive him with much ease when their kids are to be admitted in expensive public schools, where the mode of teaching of course, is English.

How stupefied have we become in our petty pursuits to go about losing all the richness of our land, without even realising the folly of it all! Thankfully, people like Saraf are beacons of hope in these dark times.