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Harbans Singh Virdi, Hindustan Times
July 19, 2013
Urdu may be a good mistress but a bad wife. However, occasional flirting with Urdu may leave a stimulating effect on the mind.   
It is a fact of history that Urdu became a casualty of Partition here just as Hindi suffered a similar fate in Pakistan. Though Urdu was taken off the education roster in Punjab, yet it could not put an end to the yearning for the language. Interestingly, Hindi evokes a similar response in Pakistan.

A few years ago, I was in Lahore and learnt to my surprise that many young men were interested in learning Hindi. Unfortunately, there was no arrangement to teach Hindi to the few interested. The situation is not bad in India where a number of governments still make efforts to promote Urdu. Both Haryana and Punjab fall in this category.

The craze for learning Urdu was nowhere more pronounced than at the Urdu academy that I joined last year to satiate my hunger for this wonderful language. There was a rush for submitting application forms by the young as well as the old. I also enrolled myself for the one-year Urdu course.

When I attended the first lecture in the new session, I was surprised to find the class overflowing with students. There were 85 students, including more than a dozen young girls, in a big hall. Their age varied between 18 and 25 years. 

An over-enthusiastic young lady could not resist the temptation of learning Urdu and attended the class with her two-year-old child, sleeping in her lap. Other women were equally eager as our teacher Dr Mohammed Mustmir taught us the basics of Urdu in a three-hour-long lecture.  

But time passed by, the realisation came over most of the eager students that enthusiasm was no substitute for hard work. Urdu demands to learn its composition and complexity. There are many letters with similar sounds, causing confusion. Similarity of shapes of letters posed another challenge.

Thus, those who failed to keep pace with the hectic teaching schedule found Urdu more a mystery than a language.  Most students realised that Urdu was not meant for the curious but careless.

Actually, Urdu revolves around 'nuktas' (dots) unlike other languages. A 'nukta' differentiates 'khuda' from 'juda'. No wonder most gave up in helplessness as the number of students dwindled from 85 to 55 by the second lecture.

As pressure mounted to finish the syllabus within a year, the more enterprising and experienced (those with a bald head or grey hair) also fell by the wayside in an unfulfilled quest for glory.

The last lecture saw only 20 students sitting like a surrendered Bangladesh army. This did not surprise me a bit as I knew from experience that Urdu demanded a regular study of three hours a day. It is a Herculean task at any given time. Thus, when I submitted my thesis, covering five books in just 11 months, to the academy, Dr Mustmir told me that there were less than a dozen students who had covered the syllabus. Naturally, I felt flattered.

Urdu learning was, indeed, fun. A few Urdu magazines that lay like orphans at libraries have welcomed the new reader in me. When I peep through attractive magazines, most readers look at me with suspicion and disbelief. They think I am looking at glossy pictures of beautiful women in their folds, though in reality I am spellbound by a gripping Urdu romance.

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