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Reviving children’s Urdu literature

2002 :‫کےبعد)جامعہ اُردو(اسالم آباد)سال اشاعت‬
ٔ ‫آزادی‬،‫اُردومیں بچّوں کاادب‬:‫(مقالہ نگار‬
Undying penchant for Urdu, the language of heart and composite culture
“Mein ne Urdu apni maan ke doodh ke sath pi hei!” (I have consumed my mother tongue, Urdu
with her breastfeeding me). This is how I express love for the sweetest and most civilised
language of the world; of course never to look down upon other languages as these all travel in
the same boat. While my mother used to recite Urdu songs like, Chanda mamun door ke… and
the lovely stories, it all got percolated into my soul and gave me the impetus to write kids’ stories
while as a kid only.

My children, who were wary and disapproving of learning Urdu, were warned by me that if they
won’t read and write Urdu, my ghost would follow and scare them. The ploy worked and I
enrolled them with Jamia Millia Islamia’s Arjun Singh Centre for Distance and Open Learning
Urdu Certificate Course where anyone can learn Urdu via Hindi or English medium.

Quite interestingly, here I was told that even the USA settled granddaughter of Krishan Chander,
celebrated Urdu short story writer and novelist, had enrolled herself here as she wanted to read
the all-time favourite stories by him.

I’ve taught my children to read Urdu so that when I die, the stupendous collection of Urdu books
and magazines I have, must not go to garbage collectors and are retained as proud cultural

Children’s story writing, the forte

For me, the story-writing in Urdu for the children began from 1971 when I began with riddles,
jokes, letters, and short anecdotes. It’s another thing that in the field of inter-faith concord and
anti-terrorism issues, education, secularism and socialism, etc, through my trilingual (Urdu/
Hindi/ English) writing, I’ve made a dent felt on the national fabric; however, writing in Urdu for
children has still been my penchant and will remain forever with me.

As in 1973, barely at 13, I had contributed my first story, Kis ki zindgi bekar hei? in Children’s
monthly Urdu magazine — Payam-e-Taleem, never to look back and to follow it up with added
zeal with stories, cartoons, poems, questions from the editor, riddles, etc, in other children’s
magazines like — Khilona, Toffee, Ghuncha, Bachchon ka Akhbar, Noor, Jannat ka
Phool, Aankh Micholi, Chand Sitarey, Achha Sathi, Taleem-o-Tarbiat, Cartoon, Nikhar,
Kausar, Chandanagri, Honhar, Hilal, Shagoofa, Hidayat, Prem, Shareer, Phulwari, Phool, Kalian,
Naunihal, Naubahar, Kaleem, Azeez, Ataleeq, Guldasta, Masoom, Ummeed-e-Bahar, Atfal-e-
Adab, Kaleem, Nirali Duniya, Ghunche aur Kalian, Shaheen Digest, Gehwara, Sathi, etc.
Except Noor, almost all these magazines have closed down.
Those were the days!

That was a time when we used to write with the help of sarkande ka qalam (reed pen). My Urdu
handwriting was so stunning that it appeared as if printed or perfectly calligraphic. For writing
purpose, a takhti (wooden tablet) was used that was coated with Multani mitti (mud) which was
mixed in water and turned into a thick liquid for providing a smooth, white and perfect writing
surface. The siyahi (ink) used to be made by soluble black granules in water and kept in
a dawaat (inkpot) closed by a rubber lid.
O, those were the days where the childhood was spent in the serpentine lanes and by lanes of the
Shahjahanabadi walled city of Delhi. Basically, the culture of Delhi was Urdu culture and the
capital according to emperor Shahjahan was nothing less than bahisht (paradise) in his Persian
words, “Agar Firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast/ Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast!” (If there is
Paradise on the earth/ It is here, it is here, it is here!). Truly the days spent in childhood were
classic and flavoured.
I’ve taught my children to read Urdu so that when I die, the stupendous collection of Urdu books
and magazines I have, must not go to garbage collectors and are retained as proud cultural

The PIL expert — pen is mightier than sword

In the words of Rais Amrohvi:

Likhne wale se zyada koi bebak hei kya

Qalam ki dhak se badhkar bhi koi dhak hei kya

Aslah ahley sahafat pe na tano warna

Koi hathyar qalam se bhi khatarnak hei kya

(Can there be someone more daring than one wielding a pen

Journalists are most valiant of all men

Must you not aim daggers at scribes to threaten

Can there be a weapon dangerous than pen)

Apart from the children’s stories, my lifetime achievement for the connoisseurs of Urdu and
Delhi’s monuments has been the restoration of world’s most celebrated Urdu poet, Mirza
Ghalib’s haveli at Gali Qasim Jaan via PIL in Delhi High Court. Besides, through my PILs
(Public Interest Litigation), I’ve been able to save from illegal encroachments, the historic Anglo
Arabic School, Maulana Azad’s mausoleum, the Shahjahani Jama Masjid of Delhi and the famed
Sufi shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya besides fighting for Qaumi School whose building was
razed to the ground during the infamous emergency in 1976. Sometimes these PILs were fought
at the risk of life in cases of Ghalib’s mansion and Anglo Arabic School where the encroached
had threatened to shoot me outside while I got flak from my wife for “wasting my time in
fruitless junctures”!

Putting the cajoled and hapless Urdu medium schools on a fast track

Not only this, I’ve taken up the cause of Urdu writing in mainline English and Hindi dailies and
journals regarding the pathetic state of Urdu medium schools. I also formed an NGO Friends for
Education with the help of my friends like Atyab Siddiqui and Iqbal Mohammed Malik for the
uplift of Urdu medium schools. Some 15 years ago their class 10 and 12 pass percentages used to
vary from, zero to 25; however after the relentless struggle with the help of media, today the
results vary between 70 to 100 per cent.
These cajoled, forlorn and hapless schools face problems like — vast number of vacancies, non-
availability of Urdu medium text books, non-serious attitude of most of the Urdu medium
teachers, non-availability of funds and resources by the state government, numbness on the part
of parents, almost defunct managing committees and their managers, total lack of motivation and
extra-curricular activities resulting in big numbers of dropouts, no coordination between
principals, teachers, parents and students, non-Urdu knowing principals and teachers in Urdu
schools, translation woes for Urdu medium question papers.

Qaumi Urdu School demolished

The worst example of the neglect of the Urdu medium schools in Delhi can be seen in Qaumi
Senior Secondary School, managing from Delhi Eidgah in tents since the infamous emergency
from 1976 as its 5-storey and 23-roomed building was razed to the ground (on a promise of
being rebuilt within six months) for erecting Janata flats that have been sold for the last 39 years
and the school is shedding tears of blood! For the last 31 years I’ve written to all the authorities
including presidents, prime ministers, MPs, MLAs and concerned agencies, but all in vain.

Proclivity to writing in blood

Though I have graduated to writing columns; my penchant for writing kids’ stuff hasn’t receded.
Recently, I’ve got four Urdu books published which are all meant for children, namely —Neki
ka Inam, Majid ki Aqlmandi, Urdu Taleem aur School and Hanso aur Hansao: Bachchon ke
Lateefey (in press, to be published by National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language).

To date I’ve written more than a thousand children’s stories in Urdu and roughly half of the same
number in Hindi for magazines, like — Lotpot, Raja Bhaiya, Bal Bharti, Milind, Parag, Madhu
Muskan, etc. Frankly speaking, story writing was in by blood as I had inherited it from Maulana
Azad, who was the younger brother of my grandfather Maulana Ghulam Yasin ‘Abu-n-Nasr
Aah.’ Both the brothers were litterateurs in of their time in Urdu, Arabic and Persian. Though my
father Nooruddin Ahmed wrote very pleasant Urdu and English as he had studied at St Xavier’s
College, Calcutta; however, he had never written a book.

The NCPUL (National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language) had also awarded me for
writing for children at the Bengaluru National Urdu Book Fair last year. I still remember how
umpteen people used to write appreciative letters to the editor in the Urdu magazines where my
stories published with titles: Neki ka Inam, Karamati Puncture, Majid ki Aqlmandi, Bijli ka
Engineer, Bandar ka Insaaf, Mohammed Ali Clay, Tohfa etc.
Urdu magazines fighting for their survival

As mentioned earlier, in my childhood, there were many children’s magazines but today there
are hardly any except Noor, published by Maktaba Al-Hasanat (Rampur), Payam-e-Taleem by
Maktaba Jamia Ltd (Delhi), Gul Bootey (Mumbai), Umang Urdu monthly by Urdu Academy
(Delhi) and Bachchon ki Duniya (Delhi) by the NCPUL. The tragedy is that there are hardly any
kids left to buy and read these Urdu monthlies. Nobody bothers these days and it’s almost
impossible to earn a living from these publications. Two of these magazines are government
while the others are fighting for their survival. There was a time when Urdu most widely
circulated Urdu monthly Shama had its circulation all over the word and its editor Yunus Dehlvi
claims that in the 1960s and early 70s, its readership was even more than that of any major
English daily, namely, The Times of India.

The glorious Shama-Sushma era

When we are reminded of the Shama era, let me vouch that the contribution of the Dehlvi family
to the development of Urdu ambience in India, Pakistan, UK and the Gulf countries was
meteoric. Yunus Dehlvi, Idrees Dehlvi, Ilyas Dehlvi and their father Haji Yusuf Dehlvi’s Urdu
publications from the 1940s to the early 1980s were astonishingly considered to be most widely
read magazines in any language in the world outmanoeuvring the biggest players like — The
Illustrated Weekly (India), Time (UK) and the Newsweek. The publications included, Shama,
Sushma, Khilona, Shabistan, Doshi, Mujrim and Bano.
It’s unfortunate that the political hawks have slotted Urdu as a “Muslim language” or the
language of “Partition”. That’s a fallacy. Urdu is a language of cultural synthesis

Golden flavours of childhood

Incidentally, I have retained a huge collection of the incomparable Khilona Urdu monthly to
delve deep down memory lane and have my gala time buried in the golden flavours of childhood.
Apart from that I also have some copies of other children’s Urdu magazines. All this is my
treasure trove, more significant and far from the madding crowd and the rut of daily routine, I
take refuge in these Urdu friends!

I remember clearly how eagerly I used to wait on every 1st of the new month for my
newspaper wala who used to bring the inimitable children’s Urdu monthly, Khilona, with the
title, “8 sey 80 sal ke bachchon ke liye” (Meant for children from 8 to 80) Though a children’s
monthly, it was equally popular with the oldies. People of my age had learnt flavour of choicest
Urdu from Khilona.

1954 :‫سا ِل اشاعت‬، ‫"قادرنامہ ایک مطالعہ"از ڈاکٹروحید قریشی‬

The stories and poetry were not only informative and entertaining but the nature of these Urdu
was secular as they contained poems on Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, Guru Nanak, Gandhi, Indira
Gandhi, Buddha, Diwali, Holi etc. The trend of Urdu writing for children was also prevalent in
the storybooks basically form Khilona Book Depot with attractive titles as — Chand
Shehzadi, Gauhar Pari, Mano ke karnamey, Ghasita ki Bhutnashahi… Now, only the childhood
flavours of Khilona linger!
Politicisation of Urdu

It’s unfortunate that the political hawks have slotted Urdu as a “Muslim language” or the
language of “Partition”. That’s a fallacy. Urdu is a language of cultural synthesis. Historically,
Urdu newspapers made a solid contribution to the national cause during the freedom struggle.
Having realised Urdu’s importance, national leaders responded well to slogans like Inquilab
zindabad, used by Subhas Chandra Bose, and songs like Sarfaroshi ki tamanna by Ram Prasad

Urdu is like a fragrant flower

An Urdu pioneer, Barbara D Metcalf states, “Urdu is undoubtedly one of the fragrant flowers
whose beauty is essential to any linguistic garden.

” Urdu still remains the language of bazaar, cities and many regions of India, as it was at the time
of Partition and till date serving as the lingua franca throughout the whole of the subcontinent.
Owing to its cultural appeal, Urdu has significant presence as third most widely studied language
in countries like the UK and USA after French, German and Spanish according to Prof MJ Warsi
of Department of Linguistics, Washington University in St Louis.
As an activist for the uplift of the language, I fi rmly believe that a revival of Urdu is vital for
the rejuvenation of the Indian national and social ethos. Urdu’s renewal will show the survival of
our secular credentials. Urdu cannot survive as a language of cultural expression in poetry or
celebrations unless it forms part of our educational paraphernalia.

)‫کراچی(پاکستان‬،‫ب اطفال"پروفیسرڈاکٹرسیّدمجیب ظفرانوارحمیدی‬

ِ ‫"بابائے اد‬

:‫شیر تعلیم برائے وفاق برائے گــریــڈ‬

ِ ‫ ُم‬:‫سابق‬MP_I
As per the trilingual formula, Urdu must be introduced
centrally in all government and private schools as an option for students. Besides, the tottering
Urdu medium schools need a kiss of life.

By:Prof. Dr Syed Mujeeb Zafar Anwaar Hameedi

Contact # 0335-2364-711