Learning Urdu

I began by making notes. I pulled up the Arabic character set off of Wikipedia, the whole alphabet, and then did the same for Urdu. I recognized the Arabic characters, and hence also all the common Urdu ones. Then I figured out which ones I didn't recognize and what sounds they made and how they were used. Here, knowing Hindi was very helpful because it is written phonetically. Here, on the right most is the Urdu alphabet. In column two are the names of the letters, in Column three and four are the sounds they produce. In column five are the way the letters look when they are written in the middle of a word.

All the characters have rules as to they must join the other characters, for example the character Alif never connects to the character that comes right after it. If one connects it, it may be read as the character Lam, which produces the “l” sound. Fortunately, I didn't have to learn these rules since I sort of remembered them from Arabic. I also didn't have to worry about learning the grammar or the accent of speech in Urdu because Hindi and Urdu when spoken are almost unintelligible, except for specific vocabulary. At around this time, I was also reading City of Djinns, by William Dalrymple, which is about the year that he spent in Delhi. The narrative weaves in and out through the centuries, skipping back and forth, much like the city itself is now, a patchwork of different peoples and rulers.

From this book, for the first time, I saw this about Delhi: the idea of a cultural shift from pre-partition Delhi to post partition Delhi. I also see it as a cultural shift for the whole of Hindustan, (by which I mean modern day India as well as what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh). In Delhi, suddenly, the majority of the Urdu speaking Muslim community, which made up most of old Delhi, and had comprised it for the past 500 odd years, upped and fled to Pakistan, leaving in their stead all of the refugees from the Punjab. So the majority of the 2000-year-old Delhi’s population now is a mere 68 years of age, and its native tongue, had partition not taken place, Urdu, has diminished vastly. Pakistan, on the other side of the border, declared it their National language. This feeling of the loss of the language of my city, as I saw it, made me begin to think harder about the subject. With such a beautiful language, to listen to, to look at, I wondered how I could take it forward. In the meanwhile, I kept studying the alphabet and trying to read things I saw online. I wanted to read it fluently enough to read Faiz and Manto in their original Urdu.

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