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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Calcutta 1911: Remembering Ismail Merathi's Urdu primer

Calcutta was capital till 1911& still is, in the Urdu primer
Exactly hundred years after British shifted the capital from Calcutta to Delhi, another major change has taken place as the Left front's empire ended after over three decades.

It is not my aim to write about Mamata Banerjee's victory as already tonnes of ink has been spent by experts over the crumbling of the communist citadel.

What I do find interesting that the most famous series of Urdu primer written by Maulvi Ismail Merathi till recently mentioned 'Bachcho Kalkatta, hamare mulk ka darul hukumat hai' [Calcutta is India's national capital].

The fact that Maulvi sahab died long ago, and it was felt improper to tamper with his text, has ensured that without exaggeration, millions of children, read this lesson about Calcutta [Kalkatta, as in Urdu]. Things which you read in childhood remain with you all your life, and thus even though many Bengali friends don't remember it, the fact that Calcutta was India's capital till as late as 1911, remains stuck in my mind.

Merathi sahab was a tremendous writer who focused on kids. His poems, particularly, the ones on 'pavan chakki' and 'gaay' [cow] are famous for their simplicity. Many of you might have heard about these poems. The first stanza of the poem on cow starts with:

Rab ka shukr adaa kar bhai
Jisne hamaari gaay banaai

Similarly, there are poems on innumerable topics including festivals, trees, fruits, seasons and other objects. The set of his preliminary books for kids remained best-sellers till 90s in India, even though colourful primers were launched in the market.

I haven't checked whether there is still demand for book. However, it is a fact that for decades it was believed that you can't improve your language until you have read Maulvi Sahab's books. Old books remain fun to read not just because you can discern the change in language over the period but also because you see how the world has changed a lot.

Merathi, who was born in 1844, wrote numerous couplets that became famous.

sair kar dunyaa ki Ghaafil zindgaani phir kahaaN
zindagii gar kuchh rahii naujavaani phir kahaaN

mile Khushk roTii jo azaad rah kar
to voh Khauf-o-zillat ke halwe se behtar
jo TuuTii huii jhoNpRii bezarar ho
bhali us mahal se jahaaN Khatar ho

Ulfat ka jab mazaa  hai ki voh bhi hoN beqaraar
DonoN taraf ho aag baraabar lagii huii

New Delhi became the capital. India attained independence. Calcutta turned Kolkata. And Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has failed in keeping the legacy of Jyoti Basu in West Bengal, handing over the reins to Mamata. Perhaps, it's time again to check Mr Merathi's books.