The recent controversy about creativity in Urdu is already archaic

Urdu has become a moribund language at many frontiers. Most of our thinkers have no clue about the nature and scale of the changes that have already taken place and are probably going to overwhelm Urdu as a language. Yes, Urdu literature is alive and one can see creative expression evolving. Many metaphors in Bano Qudsia's novel 'Raja Gidh' are new expressions: for example, 'nai kar jesi larki' is a new expression, reflecting the change in the lifestyle of Urdu speakers. But there is another frontier on which Urdu is not going to win the war unless our policymakers comprehend this scenario. This frontier is information technology and the world wide web. Unless we can use Urdu alphabets in the address bar (the place where we type of Internet Explorer and can enter Urdu text in mirc chatrooms and msn messenger's chat window, we do not stand a chance. Our Intizar Hussains et al are already one or two career generations behind this phenomenon. Many of our policymakers and senior bureaucrats, those whose opinions matter because of their seniority, still find the mobile phone menu language overwhelming. 

The problem is that Urdu cannot be used in the address bars in its present script but only in Roman script. While our software developers who work with codification of Urdu for computer processing are still trying to develop a universal standard for Urdu letters and diacritical marks, an entire generation is busy romanizing Urdu ad hoc in chat rooms and emails. The users of Urdu have developed their own ways of coping with the lacks created by our policymakers. The young generation has developed its own shortened versions of aslam o ulaikum in SMS messages and now type an abbreviated 'AoA' on the mobile keypad. In this popular sphere, Urdu is developing and responding healthily to the influence of globalisation. The area in which Urdu is in serious need of sustenance is the response of the official and formal sector to the global changes. The informal sector of Urdu users is creative enough to ensure its own survival. 

Another area where Urdu is evolving too fast for the nastaliq types is the world of advertising. The 'thund program' of Sprite, the romanized promises of 'moj and masti' on many potato-chip products, the promises of maza and slogans of 'jago aur jagao' by Nestle, should have already told the guardians of our cognitive and linguistic purity that the rules of the game have changed for ever. 

With this perspective, Rahat Kazmi's diagnosis hits the proverbial bull's already cliche-ridden eye. This started a debate in the national press and Intizar Hussain and Khalid Ahmed joined the fray. All of these analysts discussed the situation with their own conclusions already determined. Khalid Ahmed was against the influence of official ideology and declared Urdu to be part of the national discourse in one breath in his response to Intizar Hussain. Both of these terms, 'discourse' and 'ideology' belong to two different sets of political vocabulary. Foucault had intended the word 'discourse' to be an opponent of the word 'ideology' because 'ideology' as a term assumes some areas of human life to be independent of ideological influence and therefore 'true'. The word 'discourse' was deployed because there was no ideology-free knowledge and then everything was just discourse. In other words, our analysts need to do their homework before they start deploying analytical tools. 

Khalid Ahmed is against the market-driven state and considers the market to be a non-creative influence on the language. Marquez, and his brand of magical realism, is then supposed to be a creative evolution of language and literature. All this is also already passe. Magical realism was also part of the market-driven business of international publishing houses. The problem of Urdu literature may be that it does not produce anything marketable internationally. Most of our litterateurs are concerned with identity politics of the Punjabi-versus-Mohajir kind. How is this globally relevant? Nobody knows. The language of chat rooms and SMS and the column in the Urdu Sunday magazine of Jang newspaper titled 'Net-beetiyaan', is more relevant to the existing times. 

Both the identitarian novelists like Intizar Hussain and the soft-leftist analysis of Khalid Ahmed need to upgrade their analytical tools. The times have already changed. Even the madrassahs will have mandatory computer literacy soon. It will be a pleasant surprise if mullahs-in-training start enjoying chatting with students in American universities. They will get to know the objects of their teachers' hatred more intimately and will perhaps not want to wage jihad against their chat buddies. It is all quite possible, since many mullahs are already enjoying the pleasures of television, Toyota Corollas and mobile phones. The world is increasingly becoming a one-way street. There is no cure for the internet and the seduction of consumerist ecstasy in sight. Identity will become another marketable commodity. Urdu will evolve through thumbs-on mobile buttons and fingers on ecstatic keyboards. We will see the evolution of Urdu literature when our novelists start writing about the cyber love-affairs and break-ups of purdah-clad girls and depict all this agony in virtual dialogues in SMS-style Urdu. Art should imitate reality.

Published in The News on Sunday

dated September 17, 2006