He is the noted poet, lyricist and scriptwriter from Bollywood, who has penned the screenplay of super hit films like ‘Sholay’ and ‘Don’. Yes, you guessed it right; we are talking about Javed Akhtar.
Sporting a green chequered kurta, with a matching jacket and a brown shawl, Akhtar saab looks very much ready for a mushiara. Sitting in Mughal Tent at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival, Javed Akhtar spoke about Urdu zubaan.
Javed Akhtar minced no words when he said that Urdu in India is an ‘endangered’ language. In fact, before starting his discourse on the position of Urdu in post-independent India, Javed said that he was confused whether to continue in English or in Hindustani. Javed was at his wittiest best when he said that it is quite strange that with passing time, there are less people who want to read Urdu in comparison to those who love the language.
Talking about the dynamics of the language, Akhtar said that it is neither script nor language, it’s purely grammar – syntax. He then historically traced the origin of Urdu, which began somewhere in thirteenth century. However, with time, the language slowly and gradually came into being and became rich through various sources, one being Khadi boli.
Akhtar emphasised on the fact that Urdu was a secular language, fundamental and agnostic in nature. It was a language of cultural synthesis. He cited examples from the verses of Mir and Ghalib to show the agnostic nature of Urdu:
“Hum maut ki zindgi se vakif hain,
Yaani aage chalenge dum lekar.” Mir
“Hum ko maloom hai zindagi ki hakikat,
Dil ko behlane ke liye yeh khayal accha hai” Ghalib
Further, Akhtar told us that during the early nineteenth century, the English people decided to bifurcate Hindi and Urdu speaking people. An ethnic cleansing of Urdu was propagated so as to take away the Khadi boli from the language. Javed turned emotional when he stressed that how can one divide language.
Akhtar took a quantum leap when he came to the point of post independent India and the location of Urdu in it. During the mid twentieth century, progressive writers of India were lead by a galaxy of liberal, secular and pro-poor Urdu writers. However, the biggest tragedy of Urdu was its predicament in post-independent India. Suddenly, it became an outsider – a pariah. In order to kill the language, its economic utility was wiped away and the language was left to languish.
Focusing on Bollywood, Akhtar said that the filmmaker is hard pressed for communicating with his audience and that’s why he uses the commercial aspect of Urdu language.
Finally, Javed concluded his session by delineating the rich cultural heritage of Urdu, which is not community specific but for everyone.