Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Beyond the Deccan: Urdu in Tamil Nadu, South India

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By Indscribe

Injustice is done to South India, whenever there is a discussion about Urdu. The focus is mostly North-centric [especially Uttar Pradesh or UP] and to such an extent that the contribution of regions in South is generally ignored.

Apart from Hyderabad (AP), there are vast regions in Karnataka and even Tamil Nadu [yes, TN], where large number of Urdu speakers live. In Tamil Nadu, the region around Vellore has contributed most towards Urdu literature.

Surprising it may seem but there are towns in Vellore where Urdu magazines still sell more than many North Indian towns viz. Agra or Allahabad. 

But the focus remains disproportionately on UP. And this is to such an extent that even contribution of Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra are ignored.

Even Gulbarga [in Karnataka] is one of the most important centres for Urdu in contemporary India but it is always ignored. This happens despite the fact that Karnataka has thousands of Urdu medium schools, compared to nil [zero] in UP.

Renowned litterateur Aleem Saba Navedi wrote his landmark 'Tamil Nadu mein Urdu' ie Urdu in Tamil Nadu, which not only throws light on the Urdu speaking populace and culture of Muslims in this region, but also the literary contribution here.

Muslims here largely speak Tamil but there is a region where they do speak Urdu, with a slight Deccani tinge in their accent. The book tells us that if the first ever Urdu newspaper Jam-e-JahaaN-numa was published from Calcutta in 1822, the second Urdu paper Jama'ul Akhbar was published from Madras.

So Urdu journalism took root here much before Lucknow or Delhi! In fact, it was long after the Urdu paper Jama'ul Akhbar began publishing here in 1823, that the first Tamil paper began publishing [in 1855]. Interestingly, that Tamil paper was brought out by missionaries.

The book also deals at length with Urdu poetry and literature in Tamil Nadu viz. the ghazal, rise of Nazm, masnavi, other genres and art of calligraphy apart from discussions on role of madarsas in popularising Urdu in South India.

Aleem Saba Navedi, himself an eminent writer, has experimented with different genres of Urdu poetry. In this book, he has also mentioned important Urdu poets of Madras, Vaniamadi, Vellore, Krishnagiri, Madurai, Umrabad, Nellore and even those around Bengalore.

Though Urdu ghazal is being penned in Tamil Nadu for almost three centuries now, the book mostly focuses on the period 1824-1986. Readers may be amazed to know that Tamil Nadu has certain towns were Urdu is commonly used as script along with Tamil.

But it is not astonishing you if you realise that the state had around 1 million [10 lakh] Urdu speakers as per last census, much more than the number of people who consider Urdu as their mother tongue in a vast North Indian state, Rajathan [just 6 lakh or 0.6 million].

Urdu was lingua franca for ages and stills transcends regions. It is not a language of 'shumal' [North] alone but 'junoob' [South] as well. Isn't it time, Urdu-walas stop being excessively North-centric and obsessed with Uttar Pradesh in matters of Urdu?