For many, Urdu is the “high priest” of all Indian languages. One of the 22 official languages recognised by the Constitution of India, it’s the favoured language of many poets owing to its specialised vocabulary. While Urdu has arguably given a unique dimension to modern Indian literature, romance and classic poetry, not many of us notice that the language also has a quirky presence in the popular sphere. To celebrate this facet of Urdu, a three-day international conference titled “Exploring The Popular Culture of Urdu Language” is being organised by Tasveer-e-Urdu at the Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU), starting September 8.
“While Urdu is typically celebrated as a language of romance and classical poetry by the greats — Ghalib, Mir and Faiz, it has a lesser-acknowledged popular-culture presence in film songs, detective fiction, ghazals, mushairas, qawwalis and even as poetry inscribed on trucks. That has probably kept the language alive among the masses even as its more virtuous practitioners lament that Urdu is dying in India,” says Yousuf Saeed, an independent scholar, who has conceptualised and coordinated the event.
Professor Mazhar Hussain, Centre of Indian Languages, JNU, is the conference’s convener, while the India Foundation for the Arts, Bengaluru, under the Arts Research Programme, is supporting the venture. The event, says Saaed, aims to raise certain questions. “What are these popular forms that continue to thrive in the underbelly of classical Urdu and how different are they from its elite cultural life? More importantly, where does one draw a line between popular and classical in Urdu?” he says.
The conference has sessions on “Popular Imagery of Urdu Speaker in Hindi Cinema” by Irfanullah Faruqui from Aligarh Muslim University; “Dialogue as a Character in Mughal-e-Azam” by Delhi-based researcher and translator Rana Safvi; “Dil dhoondta hai phir wohi fursat ke raat din: Popularising the Classical” by Delhi-based scholar Saba Bashir; and “Ibn Safi ke Navilon mein Akhlaqi Iqdar” by Shabnam Hameed from the Allahabad University. There will also be a dastongoi performance on September 9 by Ankit Chadha.