OPINION: Indian people’s language―Is it Hindi or Urdu?

Hindi simply does not have the force and elegance that Urdu has, writes Justice Katju

OPINION: Indian people’s language―Is it Hindi or Urdu? Urdu poems have played a crucial role in the ongoing anti-CAA protest rallies | File; Aayush Goel

I have been castigated by many for saying that Hindi is not the people’s language but an artificially created language, as if I had said something absurd, horrifying or blasphemous (‘Hindi was created by British to divide, it isn’t common man’s language’). In the article, I have said that the uneducated common man’s language in large parts of India was Hindustani or Khadiboli, while the language of educated Indians, whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh etc was Urdu.

While certain vested interests have condemned me for saying so (calling me a Muslim appeaser, Pakistani), the people of India have proved me right. Consider the following:

In the ongoing anti-CAA protest rallies in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh, the Urdu poem ‘Dustoor’ by the Pakistani revolutionary poet Habib Jalib was sung on popular demand, and in the rally by students of IIT Kanpur in support of the Jamia Milia students, the Urdu poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’ by the famous Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz was recited.

During the freedom struggle, the Urdu poem of Bismil ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai’ was on every patriot’s lips, and became our revolutionary anthem, like ‘Marseilles’ was during the French Revolution, or what ‘The International’ was during the Russian Revolution.

Why is it that the patriotic youth of India recite and sing poems/songs of Bismil, Faiz, Josh etc, and no one sings or recites poems/songs of Mahadevi Verma or Sumitra Nandan Pant? It is because Hindi poetry does not have the ‘dum’ (punch) which Urdu poetry has. Revolutionary poetry must be able to inspire people, particularly the youth, to heroic deeds (like Maxim Gorki’s poem ‘The Song of the Stormy Petrel’ ) but Hindi poetry is clearly unable to do so.

For instance, if we translate Bismil’s Urdu poem ‘Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai’ into Hindi it becomes; “Sheesh katwaane ki ichcha ab hamaare hriday mein hai”. Surely this has no punch in it, and no revolutionary would sing it.

Similarly, the powerful Urdu verse of Faiz “Bol ki lab azad hain tere, bol zubaan ab tak teri hai” would in Hindi translation become the impotent “Uchchaaran karo ki onth swatantra hain tumhaare, uchchaaran karo ki jibhya ab tak tumhaari hai”.

I submit that Hindi does not have the power and sophistication that Urdu has. Consider the following simple, but powerful lines of Urdu poetry:

Jinhe naaz hai Hind par woh kahaan hain?” (a simplified form of Sahir Ludhianvi’s verse “Sanaakhwaan-e-taqdees-e-mashriq kahaan hain”), or Majrooh Sultanpuri’s couplet “Sar par hawa-e-zulm chale sau jatan ke saath, apni kulah kaj hai usi baankepan ke saath”.

No doubt there are a few Hindi poets like Dinkar (who wrote ‘Sinhaasan khaali karo ki janta aati hai’), having a degree of ‘veer ras’ (like the poet Bhushan who wrote verses extolling Shivaji ), yet the very fact that they wrote in Hindi, not Urdu, deprived them the power of the latter. Hindi simply does not have the force and elegance (andaaz-e-bayaan) that Urdu has.

Also, the very nature of Urdu poetry is that it is a poetry of protest; protest against the afflictions of the common man and against injustice. Since India is entering a revolutionary transitional period in its history, Indians, particularly the youth, will require a poetry to inspire them in the coming historical struggle for doing heroic deeds.

I submit this poetry can only be Urdu poetry, though it should be simplified Urdu and not the highly Persianised variety.

Justice Markandey Katju retired from the Supreme Court in 2011.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK.