Miscellaneous / 22.02.2018

Shamsur Rahman Faruqi’s The Sun That Rose From the Earth: Insights into the world of Urdu poetry in the Late Mughal Era By Kabir Altaf South Asians continue to be fascinated by the Mughal period. Whether one sees this period as the origin of North India’s high culture (the view of most Pakistanis and partisans of the Islamicate culture) or as hundreds of years of slavery under the Muslims (the view of the Hindu Right), it is clear that the Mughals remain central to India’s history and to the country’s conception of itself. This period was also the time when there was a great flourishing of the arts, including music and poetry. For example, it was during the reign of Muhammad Shah “Rangila” (r. 1719-1748) that khayal gaiyki—presently the main style of classical vocal music in North India—was developed. Some scholars also state that it was in...

Language/Meaning / 29.07.2011

By Anjum Altaf Any discussion of the future of Urdu arouses heated emotions turning swiftly into a test of one’s loyalties. But love of the language should have no bearing on a candid consideration of its prospects. I believe such a consideration is possible and wish to revisit the issue in light of aspects of the language I have been thinking about lately. As part of the exploration of some aspects of Urdu speech, I have already discussed the rise of King’s Urdu in the courts of the later Mughals where, according to many, it attained its zenith during the reign of Bahadur Shah with whom the dynasty came to an end. Did that event mark a major turning point in the trajectory of Urdu?
Language/Meaning / 28.07.2011

By Anjum Altaf A native Urdu speaker took a class in Portuguese and earned the following evaluation: “You were among the best students in the class but you speak like a robot.” Was it the student or was it Urdu? It is an intriguing thread to follow. The ensuing speculations, by one with no training in linguistics, are recorded in the hope that something of interest about the language might fall out as a result. There is little doubt that the delivery of what may be termed King’s Urdu (of which, more later) is flat in terms of stresses, inflections and intonations of speech. If tonal languages like Chinese, which rely on variations in pitch to convey meaning, are at one end of the spectrum, then Urdu, which seemingly does away with tonality altogether, must certainly be at the other.
History / 18.09.2009

I am grateful to reader Ganpat Ram for suggesting a new line of thought with the following comment on Emperor Akbar: Every Muslim ruler with rare exceptions showed great concern to contain and push back Hinduism. Even the relatively broad-minded Akbar destroyed Hindu temples. My response to Ganpat Ram was that this was one opinion in the spectrum of opinions and I recalled an article (East and West: The Reach of Reason) by Professor Amartya Sen published in the year 2000 in which a contrary opinion had been expressed.
Cities/Urban / 23.05.2009

By Anjum Altaf Being a Tribute to Dr. G.M. Mehkri  The 2006 Sachar Committee report on the status of the Muslim community in India found that Muslims were amongst the poorest of the poor in the country. How do we square that with the fact that up until 1857 Muslims had ruled parts of India for over 800 years? I mention this fact because, in the minds of some people, Muslims had expropriated all the wealth of India during this period and oppressed all the non-Muslims. India has been independent for a little more than 60 years, so this transformation from being the owners of the land to being the poorest of the poor could not conceivably have occurred during this short period. So, did the decline of the Muslims occur during the less than hundred years of British rule between 1857 and 1947? If so, how? I don’t know.  I...

Cities, India / 23.05.2009

By Anjum Altaf Being a Tribute to Dr. G.M. Mehkri  The 2006 Sachar Committee report on the status of the Muslim community in India found that Muslims were amongst the poorest of the poor in the country. How do we square that with the fact that up until 1857 Muslims had ruled parts of India for over 800 years? I mention this fact because, in the minds of some people, Muslims had expropriated all the wealth of India during this period and oppressed all the non-Muslims. India has been independent for a little more than 60 years, so this transformation from being the owners of the land to being the poorest of the poor could not conceivably have occurred during this short period. So, did the decline of the Muslims occur during the less than hundred years of British rule between 1857 and 1947? If so, how? I don’t know.  I...

Modernity / 02.05.2009

In this episode we were scheduled to move into the period of the British encounter with India. But there is nothing inevitable about schedules. We take a step back because we have found another vantage point from which to observe the path and the past that we have already traversed. This step back comes courtesy of Ian Almond who had no white friends till he was sixteen and, growing up amongst South Asians, answered only to the name of badam. Sharmila Sen, who writes about him, picks up on the phenomenon of collective memory and reminds us what an odd thing it can be: “We can remember a collective past that never existed and bring nations, religions, and cultures into existence. We can also suffer from collective amnesia and bring ourselves to the brink of destruction.”