The death of Urdu in India is greatly exaggerated – the language is actually thriving

An Indian currency note is a wonder of linguistic diversity. Take a Rs 100 note, for example. The amount “rupees one hundred” is written in a staggering 17 scripts. Most of the scripts represent different sounds: in Bengali, it reads “eksho taka” and in Marathi “shambhar rupye”. Yet, oddly enough, two of those 17 scripts read out the same way : “ek sau rupye”. The two are, of course, Hindi and Urdu.

On May 19, a few Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh workers forced an artist to deface his own graffiti in praise of the capital. What ticked those people off was that the sher, or couplet, was in Urdu which was not to be “tolerated”. For good measure, the artist was even asked to go back to Lahore.

The fact that the name “Urdu” ­– meaning royal camp or city – refers to Delhi, where the language originated, was only the tip of the irony iceberg. The incident was also followed with the almost by now de rigueur lamentations about the death of Urdu by well-meaning if misinformed people.

Here’s a thought experiment, though. If the very same couplet – Dilli tera ujarna, aur phir ujar ke basna. Woh dil hai toone paya, sani nahi hai jiska – had been written down in the Devanagri or Roman script would the RSS gundas have gotten so worked up? And if millions of people, many of them Bengalis, Kannadigas or Marathis, go around India saying “ek sau rupye” ­– which we know to be Urdu from our currency notes – how is the language then dying?

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