"The Urdu script is losing its lustre"

Published: 26 October, 2013 01:09 IST | Ruchika Kher |

Padma Bhushan Gulzar is known for his poetry, lyrics and writing. But there is another facet to him � of being a connoisseur of Indian languages. While the 79-year-old's inclination towards Urdu is famous, he also writes, translates and reads other Indian languages with an ever-increasing hunger . Giving voice to this love, Gulzar is part of the ongoing Samanvay IHC Indian Languages Festival in New Delhi. Excerpts from an interview:

Why did you decide to be a part of this festival?
I was attracted to this festival because it is on Indian languages, and Indian languages are my fascination. Though I can’t learn all, I know few languages and I’ve been translating from different languages. For example, I have translated Rabindranath Tagore’s works for children from his book, Shishu, and some more of his works he wrote when he was younger. In fact, my desire is that Tagore becomes a part of school syllabus. I’ve also translated works of Sitakant Mahapatra’s (Oriya), Kusumagraj (Marathi) and more. Now I am in the process of translating from Khasi and Manipuri and few other Northeastern languages.

Gulzar sharing his fascination for languages with us. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

How important is a festival like this in a country where languages change every couple of kilometers?
There is a dearth of such a festival in India. There are 28 languages with scripts that exist in India, out of which we started with 14 in our Constitution. Now, there are 22, there are six more that have to be imbibed into it. But when you count dialects as well, it adds up to nearly 700 languages. So, how can there not be a festival that includes all these languages? Today’s generation should grab this opportunity of meeting greats of this era.

A few years back, UNESCO released an atlas of endangered languages where India topped that list with 197 endangered languages. What steps can be taken to change this situation?
This festival is the beginning – what we can do is have more. There should be an effort to create a meet of all Indian languages annually. In fact, in Patna, Pawan Kumar Verma, who is in the Cultural wing of Nitesh Kumar’s government, has been organise such and event for long. Currently, he organises a big book fair where Hindi books create a sale of over a crore in five days. We think that only English books enjoy good sales because we don’t live beyond our urban areas. But we should realise the range of Indian languages.

Your fascination with Urdu is well documented. Do you feel that the language is losing its sheen?
Urdu as a language is around, and nobody can do anything to it. Most of the Hindi that we speak is actually part Hindi and part Urdu. It’s just that we use the Devanagri script to write it. Ninety percent language that is used in films is Urdu. Hindi and Urdu run parallel to each other. If we call it Hindustani, it will be easier. The lone problem with Urdu is that the script is losing its lustre. It’s not being taught in schools. The script is beautiful, and we should not lose it. We should protect the Urdu script just like how we preserve our folk arts.

Is Hinglish taking away from the purity of our languages?
Nowadays, people find it difficult to frame an entire sentence in one language. It’s not the language’s fault but our folly that we can’t speak using the words of just one language. We have become used to mixing languages. We know the language, but we are forgetting the use.

A Day of work
Briefing about his daily routine, Gulzar explains, “We need to understand one thing. If Pandit Ravi Shankar is scheduled for a performance at 8 pm, then he can’t say that I will play only when I feel like. Because playing a Sitar is his profession. Similarly writing is my profession and I have to write and fulfill my professional commitments. There, I can’t hide behind my mood. From 10.30 am to 5:30 pm every day, I sit in my office and finish my work. But, what I write for myself, I do that when I want. I am free to think about that depending on my mood,” 

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