As I flipped through the pages of ‘Celebrating the best of Urdu poetry”, familiar words and couplets started surfing up, words that brought back fond memories of growing up in a household where family dinners were quite often spiced up with shero shayari. I would admire how effortlessly Daddy quoted Diwan e Ghalib with carefully constructed kheys and zals. I could tell he wisely used his time at Aligarh Muslim University graduating in Chemistry and also learning the classy new language. He never missed a chance to point and correct my basic Urdu pronunciations! I was quite often intrigued how few notations and sounds exclusively belonged to Urdu language, there was no equivalent in English. My siblings and I would practice the sharp sound of kaf at the back of the throat similar to k but not k! Or khey, similar to the sound of ch in Scottish ‘loch’.
Baat Urdu Ki
On some evenings we would have private baithaks or mushaira sessions at home with other Urdu and Hindi scholars. We would eagerly await invitations for front row seats to Mushairas and Kavi Sammelans organized at the college where my father was a Professor. I imitated him as he gleefully clapped and exclaimed irshad! muqarar ! wah wah! To our family’s delight, Doordarshan aired the biographical drama Mirza Ghalib in 1988. We never missed a single episode, that is, if there were no power cuts during that hour.
“Ballimaran ke mahalle ki wo pechida daleelon ki si galiyan…..”
Gulzar’s beautifully crafted ibteda ( beginning) of the theme song for the series was a call for everyone to drop what we were doing and assemble in front of the TV. At times we all chanted selected couplets in sync with the characters. The favorite one being:
Urdu poets owe much of their popularity to ghazals. It is indeed fascinating how a ghazal can be overwhelmingly romantic while there could be plenty of humor and satire that goes around in it too. Each couplet is distinct and can sometimes be quoted independently but when weaved together in a ghazal, the rhyming pattern is consistent. My brother recently recited Wasim Barelvi’s composition for us and I think it is a fine example of how 4 different verses of spirituality, romance, courage and patience seamlessly come together to form a stirring composition.
Hindi cinema still celebrates ghazal as a music genre for a limited audience, with a handful of lyricists who can do justice to it. Nevertheless Urdu poetry seems to remain the most quoted of Indian languages by celebrities, politicians and scholars at literary conventions. Khurshid Afsar Bisrani captures the essence:
The number of exponents of Urdu poetry or even the students taking it as a subject in school is dwindling. Rashid makes a forlorn statement:
(All Rashid asks of Allah is just one small gift, If I write my will in Urdu, may my son be able to read it.)
As for my parents and siblings, we kept shayari alive as a means of communication between us till this day. At my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary celebration my brother recited a nazm specially crafted for the occasion. Family weddings and special occasions always precede or end with everyone sharing classics from Urdu poetry. My dad recently injured his finger while rescuing a dog. I called to check on him. “Is your finger still hurting Daddy?”
His response was: