Why not Persian for the pre-1971 Pakistan ?

Update: I’ve undeleted this since Zach has admitted that he overreacted below. If you want me to trash this post again Vikram just leave a comment below and I’ll do so. -Razib

I understand the nostalgia and desire for an Islamicate language among the Ashraf elite of British North India. After all, Hindus have a similar desire to live in the house of classical Indian languages, and the vast majority of Hindus give their children names from these languages.

But what baffles me is the the Ashraf insistence on Urdu. Choosing Persian as the national language of Muslim South Asia would have had many benefits:

  1. Just like Hindus, whether Kashmiri or Marathi, have a reverence for their classical languages (currently mainly Sanskrit for North Indian Hindutva types, but with a bit of maturity this sentiment also extends to other Indian classical languages), Muslims whether Sindhi or Bengali see Persian and Arabic as their classical language. This would have dramatically reduced the internecine conflicts amongst South Asian Muslims due to language.
  2. Persian as a national language would cement Pakistan’s relation with the Iranic world (and thus the core Muslim world), which is the ancestral land of much of the Muslim Ashrafi in South Asia. South Asian Muslims would come into deeper contact with a sophisticated and highly cultured Muslim population.
  3. Muslims of South Asia would have access to a true, expansive classical literature (including heroic epics, not just romantic poetry) dating back to antiquity, much like Indians have access to classical literatures in Sanskrit, Pali and classical Dravidian. This would diminish the need for extreme religiosity as the glue for holding the Muslim nation together, and produce a far larger, self confident cultural output.

On the other hand, the choice of Urdu created quite a few issues for the preservation and growth of Islamicate culture in South Asia:

  1. At the end of day, Urdu is an Indo-Aryan language with Sanskrit grammar and substantial Sanskrit vocabulary. Even the most Arabo-Persianized version of Urdu (Pakistan’s official Urdu) has at least 40% Sanskrit and Prakrit vocabulary. More so, since Hindus speak Hindi, which has the same grammar, but a steadily increasing Sanskrit vocabulary, it leaves Urdu perpetually vulnerable to an increase of Sanskrit vocabulary.
  2. Some key words in Urdu like aap and sakna have roots in Hindu concepts (aap comes from aatma, the higher self) and sakna derives from Sanskrit shakt, which has a higher meaning in Shakti, the feminine divinity of Hinduism, walla from pal, which means protector.
  3. Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh, already have their own languages and literatures, especially the Pashtun, Bengalis and Sindhis. No wonder the imposition has led to substantial conflicts instead of synergy towards the ultimate goal of a sophisticated, modern Muslim culture in South Asia, which is also shared by these populations.

All this leaves me baffled as to why the Muslim Ashrafi were so insistent on Urdu. My best guess is that they mistakenly felt that Urdu was a variant of Arabic and Persian, with no real Sanskrit influence. This is quite possible since the different language families would not have been widely known then, and since Urdu was written in the Arabic script, which is dramatically different from Indian ones.

In any case, the Ashrafi insisted on Urdu. This led to a breakdown of Muslim nationalism when Bangladesh separated. Bangladesh now uses an Indic script, and speaks a language with mainly Sanskrit vocabulary. On the other side of the subcontinent, for the first time in more than two millennia Pashtuns could be under more Indic influence than Iranic (this might change as Iran rises again). Within India, Urdu has declined dramatically, as Muslim families in UP and elsewhere have reconciled themselves to Hindi[1]. Knowing Urdu leaves Pakistani Muslims vulnerable to a substantial amount of Hindu literature and concepts via television shows and Hindi movies.

None of these could have been the goals of the Ashrafi when they demanded a Muslim homeland.

[1] – Urdu is the only scheduled language in India that registered a decrease in the absolute number of speakers between 2001 and 2011. Its proportion of first language speakers has decreased from 5.22% in 1971 to 4.19% in 2011, despite an increase in Muslim population percentage.

170 thoughts on “Why not Persian for the pre-1971 Pakistan ?”

  1. Bangladesh now uses an Indic script, and speaks a language with mainly Sanskrit vocabulary.

    you act as if this is a new development. but the relationship btwn bengali and islamic identit is complex and long-standing. eaton argues that the afghan rulers of bengal were one of the major reasons that bengali developed out of its pakrit substratum because they patronized it as opposed to sanskrit. during the mughal period and down to the early modern era mughali culture became identified with muslim elite culture even in bengal (dhaka), but it was obviously an awkward fit. when the bengali muslim middle class emerged instead of assimilating to the urdu/mughali identity they remained bengali in their self-conception. this caused tension with hindu bhadroloks who perceived themselves to be the true guardians of bengali high culture.

    in an case, i think persian would be a weird fit for bengal. the more ‘indic’ profile of bengali muslim identity wasn’t coincidental, but conditioned on structural parameters in that society that would have made west asian persian orientation forced and artificial.

    p.s. from what i can tell it’s pretty easy for punjabi and sindhi ppl to learn and speak urdu, which is closely related from the hindustani dialect continuum. the same is not true of bengali.

    1. “eaton argues that the afghan rulers of bengal were one of the major reasons that bengali developed out of its pakrit substratum because they patronized it as opposed to sanskrit.”

      This would be quite inconsistent with the emergence of a host of other Indo-Aryan languages around the same period.

      What is more interesting is the self conception of the Bengali Muslim middle classes as they emerged during colonial rule. It is quite surprising to me that they resisted the Urdu culture. Muslims as far as south as Karnataka identify with Urdu.

      Is it possible that the Bengali Muslim self conception was different because they aware of being a demographic majority ? I ask this because even Sindhi Muslims, who have been self aware as a majority for quite a while now, havent really accepted Urdu despite the difficult situation they are in. This wasnt really true anywhere else in the subcontinent, even Punjab was 50-50 till the early 1900s, with a history of Sikh rule, plus it had a history of Urdu being installed as an official language by the British.

  2. I would appreciate it if this post was deleted, and my account deactivated. It takes a lot of time for people to write comments and I am quite tired of accommodating Zack and his mood swings.

  3. Persian was not chosen because Pakistanis are not Iranian. We don’t speak Persian at home, though yes educated people (including my own grandfather) used to have degrees in Persian as part of their higher education. Urdu was always the language of the Muslims of British India, particularly of those of the UP, who were the backbone of the Pakistan movement. I don’t find it strange that those who were bankrolling the movement wanted their own language used in the new country.

    If any language other than Urdu was going to be used, it should have been Bengali as the majority of the population lived in East Pakistan. But clearly, no one in West Pakistan was interested in learning Bengali. There was a time when both Urdu and Bengali were co-official languages and both appeared on Pakistani currency. In any case, language was not the main issue and if West Pakistan had not treated East Pakistan like a colony, it is possible we would still be one country today (despite the fact that it made no geographical sense in the first place).

    In current-day Pakistan, the native language of the majority of the population is Punjabi, so if Urdu is going to be replaced it should be replaced with Punjabi. Of course, this will only increase the charges of Punjabi hegemony. Urdu serves a very useful purpose as the link language for people all the way from Gilgit-Baltistan to Sindh. Any Pakistani who has been to school can read and write the national language. Even if they are completely uneducated, they can speak enough broken Urdu to communicate. Urdu is also our link to our High Culture and the heritage of the Mughals, who promoted this language. It is after all the Zuban-e-Urdu-e-Mualla of Shahjahanabad.

    Pakistanis don’t feel “vulnerable” to Hindi movies (strange choice of words). In fact, most Pakistanis quite like Hindi movies. Pakistanis and North Indians have the same culture, despite 71 years of existence as sovereign nations.

    1. The argument that Urdu must be chosen since its not Iranian would apply equally well to any other Indo-Aryan language. Persian was spoken widely by the Muslim elite of North India for a very long time and was their language of high culture and record. Urdu’s emergence as the symbol of high culture was very much the result of a British policy, otherwise Muslim poets as late as Iqbal continued to write most of their poetry in Persian (see Love letter to Persia in the Friday Times).

      I think the fact that North Indians and Pakistanis have the same culture is a consequence of Urdu imposition, not its cause. Otherwise, we could have well seen the emergence of an independent modern Pakistani culture with its own forms of expression and its own stories. The impact of Hindi movies would have more qualified been less total.

      Your response did not address the many benefits Persian as national tongue would have brought for Pakistan.

      1. The fact that North Indians and Pakistanis have the same culture is due to the fact that before 1947, Pakistanis WERE North Indians. Hundreds of years of living in North India and being influenced by Hinduism means we have the same culture. All that cannot be wiped out in 71 years. Our marriage traditions are very Indian (asides from the Islamic Nikah). Our food is “Indian” as is our dress. What was the difference between Hindus and Muslims in the UP? Hindus wrote Hindustani in Nagri and called it Hindi and Muslims wrote it in Nastaliq and called it Urdu. This language controversy was the result of a sense of religious nationalism. Otherwise, we are ethnically, culturally and (dare I say) genetically the same. Qurratulain Hyder’s novels make it clear how entwined the Hindu and Muslim upper-classes were with each other in Lucknow even in the decade leading up to Partition.

        Pakistan didn’t necessarily have to choose Urdu, though since the people giving the money for the movement were Zamindars from UP, it’s not weird that they did. But choosing Persian would have been very strange. The grammar is entirely different. And why impose a foreign language on people when Urdu was already understood and spoken by many people who would later go on to become Pakistanis? Our entire civil service was Urdu-speaking. Muhajirs ran Pakistan, at least for a while.

        Allama Iqbal wrote a lot of Urdu poetry as well. Mirza Ghalib wrote in Urdu as well as Farsi as did Mir Taqi Mir. That is our high culture. We don’t really relate to Iran and there is no real reason for us to. The majority of Pakistanis are Indians in an ethnic sense who got our own country for political and religious reasons. That cannot change our basic cultural makeup.

        Anecdotally, when Pakistani and Indian students meet in the States, they are likely to be better friends with each other than the Pakistanis are with the Iranians. This is despite the common religion (though since Iranians are Shia and most Pakistanis are Sunni, it’s debatable how common the religion is). Iranians don’t play cricket nor do they wear shalwar kameez. I also didn’t really make friends with Arabs, despite the fact that we are all Muslim.

        Do you believe in the Two-nation theory because this insistence on the difference between Pakistanis and North Indians makes it seem like you do?

        In any case, Urdu is Pakistan’s official national language according to the Constitution and that is not changing any time soon. Most of the population will continue to speak Punjabi at home. The upper-classes will more and more completely switch to English and Urdu will continue to be used as a link language to speak with your servants and conduct business in the bazaar. Those who are interested in their culture will continue to recite or listen to Ghalib and Faiz.

      2. Urdu’s emergence as the symbol of high culture was very much the result of a British policy

        I very much doubt this. Ghalib and others in the late 18th-early 19th centuries used to write poetry in Urdu. Urdu was strongly patronized by the Nawabs of Awadh. The language itself grew organically in the Gangetic plain over many centuries as a creole of local dialects and the Persian spoken by the Muslim aristocracy (if I had to guess, it was probably similar to how English evolved during the early centuries of Normal rule.)

        1. Thank you, you are absolutely historically correct. Urdu evolved organically out of Khari Boli, the prestige dialect of Delhi.

        2. Numinous I dont want to wade into the Hindi-Urdu controversy here. But the language that evolved naturally in the Gangetic plain was not called Urdu, but Hindustani. Tariq Rehman covers this in his book. The Persianization happened in the early 1800s, perhaps when it became clear that Persian itself was on its way out.

          I think you are confusing the fact that these poets are known more today for their Urdu poetry, without taking into account the fact they all composed as much, if not more in Persian.

          Iqbal, I have already pointed out wrote more in Persian than Urdu. Regarding Ghalib, K.C Kanda writes “He (Ghalib) was very proud of his mastery of the Persian language and the Persian poetic tradition. In fact it was this command of the Persia poetic idiom which bolstered his claim to superiority over Zauq, his contemporary and rival”.

        3. @Numinous

          Yes, while the conparison with English is correct to an extent, neither English nor Urdu are creoles.

        4. The comparison is not apt since English under Norman rule was the language of the underdogs French being elite language. Urdu was the language of the topdogs.

  4. I am not sure if this piece has been written seriously or is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Anyway, my first and last comment – rather long for which I apologise.


    Pakistan was/is a bit of a hastily wrought Lebensraum by a people with far fewer intellectual resources and far more (and more discordant) population to manage than, say, the Zionists had to bother with. So imposition of Persian (or Arabic) on tens of millions of people (with ~88% illiteracy rate) was a task far beyond their ken. In fact, it still is. They couldn’t even sell Urdu properly.

    So Pakistanis (and Indians to some extent with Sanskrit) took the lazy way out and just peppered their own language with more Persian/Arabic vocab to dupe others (and themselves) into thinking that borrowing lexical inventory could affect cultural change. Even that wasn’t done well as almost all of the verbal stems in Urdu are Indo-Aryan, not to mention totally Indic syntax and morphology. So it barely scratches the Indic-ness of the language.

    What’s more, the Urdu imposition on hitherto Iranic-speaking zone West of the Indus has pulled them into the IA sphere too and *increased* the cultural boundaries of India. (Your Bollywood comment is on-the-money).

    PS: We are culturally very correlated people, so these changes aren’t particularly new or revolutionary.


    aap and sakna have roots in Hindu concepts (aap comes from aatma, the higher self) and sakna derives from Sanskrit shakt

    Your etymologies are incorrect and misleading. Don’t trust everything from Wikipedia.

    Hindi/Urdu āp < Skt āpt (participle for the verbal stem āp-). Primary meaning abundant/endowed, secondary intimate/respected.

    Hindi/ Urdu sakna /s/ change is pretty standard across all Sauraseni Prakrits (Punjabi, Hindi, Gujarati etc). The participle “shakt” simply means capable, without any fancy religious connotations. Sure enough, we use the same word hyakath (sh > h, t > th) in Kashmiri in pretty secular usage.

    Part of the reason for your confusion (and this is common enough) is treating everything from Sanskrit through a religious/liturgical prism. The times when Sanskrit was just a language have truly been forgotten.

    1. I don’t think Urdu being an Indian language is a particular problem. Most Pakistanis are ethnically Punjabi and thus ethnically “Indian”.

      I’m not sure why Vikram wants to make Pakistanis Persian as opposed to North Indian Muslims, which is what we are in reality.

  5. The post is obviously a provocation to start another flame war :), but I will play along anyway. To start with, original poster is unaware of currently trending concocted-ancestry fads in Pakistan. If Pakistan were to adopt another national language, it would be Arabic, not Persian. These days Pakistanis fancy themselves as descendants of Arabs. Also, given the fact that Pakistanis are mostly Sunnis, they don’t feel any particular attachment to Shia Iranians. Case in point – farewell greeting “Allah Hafiz” has practically replaced “Khuda Hafiz” in all spaces.

    1. Yes the battle to keep “khuda Hafiz” has been lost, though some of us fight valiently on.

      1. Dont understand the whole Arabs superior than Perisan thing. As someone who has no dog in this fight , if i would have to trace a foreign ancestry why wouldn’t i claim Persian identity over the Arab one. I suspect it might have to do with Sunni vs Shia thing. Had majority of Pakistan been Shia , i think they would have gone with the Persian one rather than the Arab one.

        1. arabic as a language has religious merit. persian is the language of culture.

          what is the culture of south asian muslims? as the culture becomes more ‘demotic’ it’s got less moorings to its turco-persian past in the north. but the religion remains, and it’s indubitably rooted in arabic as the language of revelation.

          1. Even with arabic having religious merit, do you feel shia pakistan would have still gone for arabic rather than persian?

      1. https://tribune.com.pk/story/681106/al-bakistan/
        new name al-Bakistan, the Arabised version of Pakistan, which one finds on the number plates of cars now

        The al-Bakistan phenomenon is, however, different from the qartas-abiaz one. The latter was state-sponsored and people were never too enthusiastic about it so the terms lay buried in dusty shelves. But the new phenomenon is a civil society one and one sees it on aggressive display. But therein lies the danger of it.

    2. Snake Charmer, I dont think the Arab ancestry concoction is very popular among the Pakistani elite. The elites definitely either see themselves or really are descendants of Central Asian families that migrated over the last millennium. The Arab ancestry concoction really started after partition, mainly by newly rich families to gain a leg up over the Iranophilic elite. Also, Sindh and lower Punjab have a long history of Arab influence, and families there have been claiming Arab descent for many centuries.

  6. >Knowing Urdu leaves Pakistani Muslims vulnerable to a substantial amount of Hindu literature and concepts via television shows and Hindi movies.

    Smooth brain OP, in his frenzied attempt to trigger the 1 (one) Pakistani on the blog, stumbles on the fact that knowing Urdu doesn’t mean Pakistanis can read Hindi script.

    1. To Mir:
      [>Knowing Urdu leaves Pakistani Muslims vulnerable to a substantial amount of Hindu literature and concepts via television shows and Hindi movies.

      Smooth brain OP, in his frenzied attempt to trigger the 1 (one) Pakistani on the blog, stumbles on the fact that knowing Urdu doesn’t mean Pakistanis can read Hindi script.]

      May be you should reread? He clearly says…”via television shows and Hindi movies”..

      Also, there are multiple Pakistani posters here (Zach, Omar etc..) but only one trigger happy one.

      Anyways, I agree with many posters on this thread that making Persian the language of Pakistan would have made no sense whatsoever, and this post seems somewhat passive aggressive or something designed to provoke

      1. As far as I know, I am the only contributor on this blog who identifies with Pakistan as the primary aspect of my identity. Omar Sahab identifies with being Punjabi not with Pakistan as such. He can correct me if I’m wrong.

      2. Makes it even more pathetic. He really thinks he’s owning Pakistanis by telling them that adopting Urdu lead to them being susceptible to adopting Hindu concepts via Katrina Kaif grinding her hips and Yo Yo Honey Singh talking about getting hangovers.

  7. There was no intention to start a flame war here. This question was motivated primarily by my reading of Dhulipala’s ‘Creating a New Medina’ which really brings out how critical a highly Persianate Urdu was both as an inspiration, and as a medium to the movement for Pakistan. There was clear allergy to Sanskrit, which persists to this day. The difference between Urdu and Hindi is the extent of Perso-Arabization, and so asking this question is natural.

    One can see the conflict in Cameroon between Anglophones and Francophones as another example of the potential for a high culture/inspiration language to create conflict between people who are otherwise ethnically similar. In India, this was amplified by the feeling of Hindus that Sanskrit was the original and organic language of the region.

    I genuinely believe that Persian would have provided Pakistan with a greater sense of identity and more cultural resources.

    1. Wouldn’t using Persian as a language be far more alien to a majority of the populace than Urdu? The poets and philosophers may have composed in Persian, but it would still have been an alien language to the non-elites. Urdu being a very ‘Indian’ language of the same language family as the other languages of Pakistan is probably what made it easily accepted as a rajbhasha, way more than Hindi will ever be in the rest of India outside the North. Audi economically it’s probably far better in the long run for Pakistan to be plugged into a rising South Asian economy than a moribund theocracy like Iran (much as I admire it’s culture).

      As an aside, I highly recommend Jason Elliott’s Mirrors of the Unseen, a great travelogue that’s made a persophile of me. Learning the Nastaliq script is one of my life goals now!

      Personally, the Hindi-urdu connection is also why I’ve been able to make so many Pakistani friends abroad, something I world have never dreamed of growing up in India.

      1. Its great that you have many Pakistani friends. Familiarity with Hindustani ( whether called hindi or Urdu) serves as a great bond between Pakistanis and north Indians.

      2. Siddarth, Persian has a long history in the lives of South Asian Muslims. Elite Muslim families across North India were fluent in Persian. Urdu does not belong to the same family as Pashtun and Baloch, which are Iranian languages. It had no history in Sindh, and Sindhi is from a completely different branch of the Indo-Aryan tree. The choice and its acceptance were not as well thought as some other commentators seem to think.

        Regarding economic growth, India, especially N India is a lot poorer than Iran. Also N. India is a culturally and economically moribund region with high levels of ethnic conflict and substantial crime against women & children. Even South Indians/Marathi/Bengali people feel queasy about being associated with the place. I find it hard to believe that Pakistanis choose to be associated with the place, it has a lot to do with a lack of choice.

        1. You are being too harsh against North India. North India has had to suffer the brunt of invasions since millenia and equally debilitating colonial depredations. Perhaps since the Gangetic river valleys could easily supply agricultural surpluses in medieval times they were exploited more by the foreign invaders. Even during the British times the literacy rates in South India were considerably higher than those of UP. e.g. Agricultural castes in S.I. had higher literacy rates than UP Brahmins.

          Inspite, of all that we are managing to handle important events like transitions of power more or less peacefully through free and fair elections. It will take time but I believe North India and especially the Gangetic heartland of UP and Bihar will come up. You can’t expect starving peasants to show entrepreneur skills and start businesses. They will need a few generations before having the family network and the support to enable that.

          Also this constant trope that South India has left North India completely behind and is on its way to become Scandinavia seems false to me. South India is definitely better but not that much better. And the gap is definitely not really increasing between the two. The 90s was really the decade when S.I. pulled away.

          1. N. India was the epicentre of the Mughal Empire. All the revenue that regime collected from around India was invested mainly in Delhi and the surrounding region, much like whats going on today.

            But I agree that the colonial zamindari land revenue system (as opposed to ryotwari in West and South India) severely harmed N. India. In any case, I was only meaning to say that there is little reason for Pakistanis to associate with N. India, even if they put the religious differences aside. But perhaps Kabir means this in a historical sense.

          2. Its laughable that you are making a comparison of Mughal spending as some sort of a state spending in North India. That would be akin to say that the British spent whatever they had to in places like Calcutta and Madras since these are the areas they conquered first. And so they got the “best deal” from colonization.

            Coming back to the whole culturally moribund region, i am still waiting for the whole southern culture taking over the North and hearing that sweet sweet carnatic music in Delhi instead of people wearing Kurtas and Shwerwani now in Marriages in Manglaore.

          3. Pakistanis culturally associate with north India as that is where many of our ancestors were from. My paternal grandmother was an Urdu speaker from Agra and my maternal grandfather was from Amritsar (having moved there from Srinagar). We are as north Indian as it gets.

    2. You can genuinely believe whatever you want. Its all theoretical. We are the Muslims of British India, Urdu is our language and it is what we chose as the national language of our homeland.

      1. Just that the whole thing at the end made the punjabi a sort of Sikh language(Muslim punjabis choosing Urdu, Hindu Punjabis choosing Hindi). Its like the opposite of marathi/tamil nationalism

        1. Punjabis in Pakistan gave up their own language (though it is still the main spoken language among themselves) in exchange for effective control over the Pakistani state. Not a bad deal from that perspective.

        1. Even if they don’t, Urdu will remain the lingua franca binding all of Pakistan–from Gilgit to Karachi– together.

  8. When you talk about languages let me give you some material for thinking…

    Serbian language is a phonetic language. Its alphabet consists of 30 letters. One letter corresponds to one voice. Every letter is pronounced in the same way regardless of their positions in any word. It means, that foreigners need only 5 minutes to learn reading Serbian texts without mistake. For example, the letter A is always pronounced the same (like in word Lahore), not as in English where letters A, E, U, I, etc have several ways of pronunciation depending of the particular word and their position within this word. Because English people cannot read someone’s name if it is unknown to them. They ask for spelling and even after that cannot say properly. In Serbian spelling does not exist. It is enough just to know alphabet.

    Several years ago I was contemplating with my Chinese friend to write Chinese texts using Serbian alphabet. It would enable other readers to read Chinese texts after only 10 minutes of learning. Unfortunately, I was busy to undertake this project. Ancient Jews also initially used Serbian alphabet to write their first texts and laws. Serbian alphabet is about 7000 years old, it had 27 out of today’s 30 letters. It is so simple and it is not strange that modern Serbian language remained very similar to Sanskrit after several thousands of years.

    If someone is thinking of reforms in their languages in SA I could help. I even do not need to be involved, I can give only couple directions and someone can do this by himself. Considering that SA consists of numerous languages and ethnic groups this could revolutionize and integrate mutual communication in the region. You even can invent your own alphabet based on Serbian alphabet principles. That would be really a project of enormous significance.

    1. Milan,
      Thanks for your very generous offer to help reform SA languages / scripts:) You should know however that SA scripts are very phonetic, and there is little ambiguity about how to pronounce a word once you know the letters. It’s nothing like what we have with English.
      that’s not to say that you won’t find people who want to make SA languages more like Serbian and take you up on it. Good luck 🙂

  9. whether this started as an intent to provoke, who cares? the discussion has not been retarded. i happen to think persian is a weird non-starter as a proposal, but sometimes in an MCMC you have start with an unrealistic prior and let it converge on a posterior more realistic.

    unlike zach when i step into moderate and expurgate i have no regrets. if i see devolution u know what i’ll do 😉

  10. ps on the role of urdu among muslims. i believe muslims from tamil nandu, kerala and bengal are the primary ones who are not attached to urdu. is this wrong? the major confound is that languages like punjabi and gujarati are much closer to hindustani so urdu is ‘natural.’

    1. You are right as of now. But my understanding is that Marathi and Karnataka Muslims switched to Urdu in the last few decades. Before that Gujarati Muslims switched to Urdu (even ‘Gujarati’ Hindus have switched to Hindi now). Urdu is increasingly popular among Bengali Muslims in India. So there is definitely a progressive Urduization of Muslims of various languages. Strangely, Urdu among Muslims of UP has declined precipitously, who have switched to Hindi.

      1. Sri Lankan Muslims mother tongue is Tamil. Now the younger generation is learning Arabic at the mosques after school hours. Not spoken at homes, as yet. Urudu is not even considered.
        SL Muslim Tamil is not Jaffna Tamil, maybe related to older Malayalam.

        I think the above is pretty true of South South Indian (eg Kerala and Tamil Nadu) Muslims as well.

        1. sbarrkum, this was true of Gujarati, Marathi and especially Kannada Muslims too, so I see no reason why it cant change, especially for Malayali Muslims.

          1. Kerala is not turco-persian. It is maritime Arab, like sri Lanka, Maldives, Lakshadweep, and (more attenuated) SE Asia. It is shafi’i, not Hanafi. Urdu has no purchase there.

            I’m surprised you didn’t mention the urdu-ization of Muslim Kashmir (and I’d love to hear slapstik’s view on this). Kashmiri is dardic, further from Urdu than Bengali is, but the subah us more urdu-ized.

            I would argue that if the valley were part of Pakistan, Muslims Kashmiris would, like Bengalis, adopt a vernacular Kashmiri nationalism. Its always about opposing empire, whether Islamabad or Delhi.

          2. Ikram

            There is a Kashmir which is with Pakistan, and i dont see any “vernacular Kashmiri nationalism” against Islamabad there. This whole opposition to the centre will always be the polar opposite (secular centre vs religious opposition or vice versa) is far too simple. Most of the time the oppostion uses the polar opposite argument so as to differentiate it from the centre/ get support from the neighboring power. But they are far too similar than they think.

            Case in point the whole Pluralistic Sindh vs Religious hegemonic Punjabi centre meme spreaded around by (mostly) diaspora sindhis.

          3. @Ikram

            Kashmiri linguistic nationalism is an actual force to reckon with that has always been at loggerheads with Islamism. This was true even during the early part of the 20th century in protests against Dogra rule in the Valley. In fact Kashmiri ethno-linguistic nationalism is much older than Islamism and a whole topic in itself.

            The trouble with the India is that it, being largely run by people from the Hindi/Urdu speaking BIMARU states, reduces Muslims of the sub-continent to Urdu-speaking automatons in a manner similar to the Pakistani state. (This includes the Nehrus by the way, who were Kashmiris only in name)

            Re urduization of J&K- again a topic in its own right and I may do a post on it. Suffice to say for now there are various factors at play but chief among them is the multi-lingual character of the state. J&K has three geographically and ethnically distinct regions woven into a single political unit governed from Srinagar. And we have Gojri-speaking nomadic Gujjars and a smattering of Burushos thrown in for good measure. None but one of these groups understand Köshur and Urdu stepped in (introduced under Sikh administration) to fill that power vacuum. In fact, aptly enough I was taught Urdu (reading and writing) by a Jatt Sikh teacher settled in Srin. However, this trend is slowly being reversed as Kashmiri has become a mandatory language for all school kids in the Valley now.


            Nobody speaks Kashmiri in Pakistani “Kashmir”. The name’s little more than a joke TBH. Bit like Macedonia without Greek.

      2. Many Gujarati Muslims speak both, but you are right they have moved more in the direction of Urdu. Again this varies by urban vs rural, and socioeconomic class. Although, one thing to note is that the script used is predominantly Devnagari or Gujarati (variant of Nagari), so we are talking of spoken language.

        “even ‘Gujarati’ Hindus have switched to Hindi now”
        This is patently false. I know Gujarati Hindus from all socioeconomic classes and they speak Gujarati among themselves and to their kids with the higher classes speaking it along with English (in this not dissimilar to similar class folks anywhere in India). Nobody speaks Hindi as their primary Indian language.

        The only change from a few decades ago is that most urban and many rural Gujaratis can speak good or at least passable Hindi, most understand Hindi (the languages are not that dissimilar), and the literate ones can read and write in Hindi (it’s a compulsory subject in most schools). Thanks to Bollywood, Doordarshan and the Indian state.

        The languages that have been subsumed by Hindi are Marwari, Mewari etc in Rajasthan, Maithili, Bhojpuri etc in Bihar, Malwi in MP, some dialects of UP etc.. In other words the whole of Hindi belt is becoming one homogenous Hindi speaking region, and that is a great tragedy.

        1. Satya, Gujarati is in serious, and potentially terminal decline. See:


          Consider the fact that the new age ‘international schools’ (Vibgyor etc) have to teach Marathi in Mumbai and Pune, have to offer Kannada in Bengaluru but do not even offer Gujarati in Surat and Ahmedabad. They only offer Hindi and Sanskrit along with European languages.

          1. I skimmed through the articles, and the author has valid points. Most of his points about the decline of Gujarati apply to all Indian languages. For example, most English medium students have a hard time composing a moderately complex sentence in their supposed mother tongue (whether it is Gujarati or Hindi or Punjabi). Other points that he makes about Hindi seeping into the vocabulary are true, but that is a process that is bound to happen as people absorb vocab from the more prevalent languages such as English and Hindi.
            He also hints upon the main reason that people talked to him in Hindi – they assumed from his appearance, wrongly, that he was a non-Gujarati speaker.
            I know folks from Mumbai, some quite upper class, raising young kids away from Gujarat or Mumbai, who talk to their kids in Gujarati (when not talking to them in English).
            Gujarati will change and evolve, it will absorb Hindi words, but it will not be replaced by Hindi in Gujarat like it is on the way to doing so in Rajasthan, MP,Bihar etc..Gujaratis don’t think of themselves as Hindi speaking or Gujarati as a dialect of Hindi..

          2. Also, Gujarati is in decline but in that it is like all Indian (or at least North Indian languages). When the elite and increasingly the middle class abandons a language when it comes to education and expression(except for everyday conversations) there is only way it can go.
            One of the disadvantages of having a multilingual country is that the government couldn’t in any way patronize one language (in the way that Bangladesh or Sri Lanka can do)..and that means English will rule and all other languages (scripts even more so) will decline.
            It is quite pathetic to see Bollywood stars only talking in English during interviews and concerts, and Bollywood increasingly even giving up on the formality of having the name of the movie in Devnagari in the movie titles

          3. Hello Satya,

            What you wrote about the increasing superstrate influence of English on Indian languages is I think true. I believe English is like the new Sanskrit or new Persian, but probably having a lot more effect than either of them combined, as comparatively large numbers of people in India belonging to all castes and classes are literate in both the native tongue and English in this time period. Though the most dangerous problem of complete language shift does not seem to be a thing at least now, over-anglicisation of vocabulary in spoken language and to a large extent, popular media, is very much a thing, at least for Telugu. What could be done to keep this problem in check? I always thought that only the mass media, especially the visual media like entertainment TV and movies, and auditory media like the radio have the capability of addressing this- they can encourage more disciplined use of language and discourage over-anglicisation perhaps. Disciplined here does not mean that the speaker should rigidly read off a script in front of her eyes- but TV anchors, radio jockeys, movie characters (who anyway prepare from a script prior to saying the dialogue finally), etc. can do a lot of good to the language with a hard training and practice. There should also be collaboration between language committees in universities and such and production houses of mass media, to achieve this. I believe there should also be ways to maintain a good balance between the native, Sanskrit and/or Persian, and English, and not completely ideologically reject English or anything- it only widens the gulf between popular society and universities, etc. Like appropriately Sanskritise whenever there is no proper native alternative and also if the English original is abstract and Latinate. Retain the Anglo-Saxon English (and simple Latinate) original for more concrete things of culture like my favourite ‘laptop’ or ‘fridge’ or ‘router’ if there is no similar or close native or Sanskrit equivalent, etc. But my thinking is that it’s probably best to at least try to not get onto the Latin language indirectly through English- i.e. to try to not get ourselves into one more of these ancient classical languages. Sanskrit and Persian (and High Tamil) are very much enough, aren’t they? But probably this is not even a problem as most people speaking language both in spoken communication and mass media infused with Latinate vocabulary are not poets and are thus thankfully not aware of the such classical-much wow things that Latin can do and create new Latinate words themselves, unlike what old classical poets who were the controllers of language during their days would have done. But still, there is the problem of the unnecessary intrusion and fixation of the Latin formal element in most cases when Sanskrit can do the job just fine.

            Probably nothing can solve the problem for spoken language as it appears superstrate influences on vocabulary are biologically unavoidable in a situation of intense bilingualism. We have to be content perhaps that language shift does not seem to be happening. But my thinking is that mass media content produced in a just enough disciplined language can perhaps somewhat reduce the speed of this process too.

            I can expect one objection as that it would be constraining the scope and freedom of media content production houses and probably any of their philosophical commitments to realism, etc.- i.e. any vows to use the language only in the way the majority uses it while speaking commonly, etc. but can’t principles like these be a bit relaxed at least? You can also try teaching the public sometimes, no? You can also cleverly mix all types of words in a given piece, sometimes using a Latinate English word, shortly later using a Sanskrit/Telugu word for the same thing, etc., no? I don’t know why people don’t seem to do that. All I find is English lexis with limited Telugu/established Sanskrit/coined Sanskrit lexis on Telugu structure everywhere on popular media- most popular radio channels like Mirchi, Red, S, whatever and reality TV shows, the vocabulary of the TV anchors, etc. are like so extreme in this regard.

          4. Please also never mind about this above comment of mine. I realise that some parts of it are problematic and not thought out properly. My apologies.

          5. historumsi:
            Not sure which parts of your comment you think were not well thought out, but I actually found your comment to be bang on, and you expressed very well many points that I wanted to but couldn’t or didn’t

            I agree with your diagnosis of the drivers as the potential solutions you propose. Media is disproportionately influential in a semi literate place like India where people hardly read anything other than newspapers and mostly consume tv and bollywood (or other Indian movie industries) for entertainment. They can help change the course on the decline of Indian languages and bring the masses back to some standards in their own languages..But I don’t have any hopes of such a thing happening. If the BJP government tries to encourage media to do something like that, a) They will do it in their own heavy handed clumsy way instantly discredting the idea b) they will be accused of all sorts of agendas and motives.
            It’s a lost battle

          6. Satya,

            It’s just that my assessment of the premodern situation may not have been very accurate- the poets might not have decided the course of the language singlehandedly. After all, there are a lot of Sanskrit words in Telugu usage that do not stay true to their original etymological and historical meanings of spoken Vedic and Classical Sanskrit. Assuming that the classical poets worked very hard in their Sanskrit studies, they evidently did not unleash any ironfisted control on each and every aspect of the larger language. Also, my satisfaction might have been a bit perverse there when I felt happy that people are not thankfully coining new words and making poetry now while speaking- whether it is Latin or Sanskrit. Regarding the poetry-related aspects of the business, I observe that many common people do make poetry while speaking, even if somewhat crude perhaps- it’s just that it is out of their beloved English that they interact with too much during their daily lives and their beloved Telugu- attempting things like alliteration is really very common and people carefully choose expressions like “box baddalavvaDaM”, literally ‘the phenomenon of the box breaking down to pieces’, used typically to refer to all kinds of highly exciting and explosive cultural and other sorts of phenomena metaphorically. People choose the word “box” there deliberately to make the alliteration even when they are very well aware that there are non-English alternatives for “box”. It is rather unavoidable and not such a bad thing also in my view. Regarding the business of making new words, all Indian scientists, engineers, etc. probably already coin words for their discoveries and inventions in Latinate (and Germanic) English, so there is no much difference there compared to the premodern situation (I know there is a difference- earlier lingua franca or something close to the concept being Sanskrit which is a native language and English being a foreign language ultimately, etc. but I personally tend to always be so extremely selfish when it comes to the vernaculars and tend to view everything from Sanskrit to English with the same lens- I also personally don’t like the cold and seemingly rather unfriendly and excessively tight leash of High Tamil a lot of the time). I should really familiarise myself with some Telugu literature to see the situation there- how many new words are made up, the strategies used for making them, the languages chosen (probably mainly Sanskrit and limited pure Telugu with discouragement of English), etc. Anyway, these were the main problematic aspects of my earlier comment as I saw it.

            I stand by the other stuff- I mean it sounds like something worthwhile to do, doesn’t it? You can have a nice three-species ecosystem with large numbers of budding translators on one hand themselves trained by good and experienced translators, language academics on the other, these above two interacting with each other and then in combination providing worthy business services to the mass media production houses, no? I always believed that good translators are the key tool that we can use to address this problem. They are the ultimate experts on all things related to the nature of interaction between two given languages.

            There can be some kind of governmental/civil-organisational policies made perhaps that discourage highly disorderly and irresponsible language use and encourage a more disciplined language use by the popular content producers and thus facilitate the kind of business transactions mentioned in the above paragraph. They do allocate lots of funds for the development of languages, right? How do they use those funds, I wonder. And as you perhaps suggest, doing all this may indeed be a very difficult endeavour, especially for well-meaning individuals and organisations. But ultimately, it is again one of the things that requires genuine awareness, concern and attention on the part of the civil society- if that is there, something can be hoped to be done perhaps.

        2. “In other words the whole of Hindi belt is becoming one homogenous Hindi speaking region, and that is a great tragedy”

          Why is this a tragedy? It is a natural consequence of greater mobility of people as well as vastly better means of communication which are available nowadays.

          This is a very natural process and with this Hindi becomes richer as well by absorbing words, phrases and idioms from all local dialects.

          I am from Eastern UP, a district adjoining Bihar. Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, a very well known Hindi writer most famous for historical books on Bhagat Kabir and Natha Sampradaya was born a few villages away from my own village. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hazari_Prasad_Dwivedi

          Most other great Hindi writers are from UP and Bihar. Others are from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The development of Hindi and its literature has mostly been an organic process with all the participants fully cooperating and cognizant of the need for a standardized version of a pan North Indian Prakrit language which can express complex Indic ideas.

          If this process were not undertaken, we would have had a hopelessly chaotic scenario in North India with no way of creating any cultural or artistic expression which could potentially reach a wide audience.

          Modern day French was actually the language spoken in and around Paris. Since the days of the French revolution the French elite have standardized this version of French and created a whole cultural consciousness around it with many great works of art and literature. That is the way all great languages come into being.

          1. Nice attempt at covering up the linguicide of Bhojpuri, Maithili and Awadhi (all of which predate Hindi btw) by Hindi and its Hindiwalas.

            Hindi has been a disaster for N. India and the whole of Indian civilization. Hindi and its proponents are basically extreme Abrahamics in disguise. A homogenizing, totalitarian vision completely at discomfort with plurality.

            In an ideal world, we would have states for Hindi (Khariboli), Bhojpuri, Maithili, Marwi and Awadhi just like we do for Bengali and Gujarati. The region from Delhi to Saharanpur would have been a Hindi speaking state. Bhojpuri, Maithili and all the other beautiful languages and literatures would have survived. Now moist Bihar speaks the same imposed tongue as desert Rajasthan as does snowy Himachal. I cannot think of a less Indic outcome.

          2. No one is really that concerned in North India about “Hindi imposition” apart from certain political forces opposed to the BJP/RSS since they feel they can replicate the whole language thing in North.

        3. Till 18th century, French was confined to Paris. Centralisation of the French state and especially after the Revolution, French cannibalized all other dialects.

  11. “N. India was the epicentre of the Mughal Empire. All the revenue that regime collected from around India was invested mainly in Delhi and the surrounding region, much like whats going on today.”

    Yeah right. Invested in heavily decorated buildings and tombs as well as clothes and precious stones for the miniscule elite. Not invested in roads, bridges, canals or any other productive venture. What possible benefit did me or my ancestors derive from the Taj Mahal.

    Modern Indian investment too hasnt really touched UP & Bihar in great amounts until very recently. All the green revolution benefits were provided to Punjab and Haryana. Nothing happened in UP or Bihar.

    Infact due to freight equalization rules for Indian railways united Bihar’s capacity to attract industrialization due to having coal and iron ore resources was completely crippled. If a state like Punjab or Tamil Nadu would have had to suffer such laws they would have started an insurgency. Punjab actually did for a lot less.

    1. Janamejaya
      I think your comment on the point about the Hindiization of North Indian states being a tragedy, somehow got deleted.
      Short answer: Because these languages are not really Hindi(Marwari for example is closer to Gujarati than it is to Hindi) and they have a rich literature and heritage, and specific expressions which will all be lost due to the imposition of Hindi.

  12. Dakhani urdu has an old presence in the insular southern peninsula. Its the mother tongue of most muslims in the non-coastal regions of Karnataka, Maharashtra, and unified AP. The northern part of Tamil Nadu also has a substantial population. The muslims of the west coast littoral speak an interesting variety of dialects from malayalam to beary bashe, navayati (a kind of konkani-persian-arabic creole that uses nastaliq script), marathi and others. Although the deccan plateau muslims are almost at complete urdu-ization, I would still guess that a majority have been identifying with the language for more than a few generations. The deccan in general has a great deal of linguistic heterogeneity, so it doesn’t surprise me how a language can live as an archipelago of communities. Its a bit like Yiddish in central and eastern europe.

  13. Yeah.
    Will the moderators please restore my comment. It did not have any abuse or any ad-hominem attacks.

    Languages survive because they serve a function cultural or economical. Since English has taken over all the economical value from almost every other language in the world, if a language intends to survive in India people need to create works of art in them. Or they need to popularize any older works of art. Most people in India understand Hindi or want to understand Hindi because of Bollywood. No amount of central govt. diktats would make Hindi popular otherwise.

    My mother-tongue is Bhojpuri. There are almost no works of art in Bhojpuri although the ShriRamcharitmanas of Tulsidas written in a mixture of Awadhi and Bhojpuri could be an exception. On the other hand since about a century people from my area have been using a heavily Sanskritized Hindi as a literary language. All the literature is in that language which if I trace its origins arose from Western UP and Delhi as Khadi Boli.

    Similar is the case of most dialects and languages in India. Very very few of them have any literature apart from a few medieval religious texts. Almost no pedigree at all.

    Vikram’s original argument in this post can actually work better in the Indian context. India should have adapted Sanskrit as its national language. Perhaps the only possible language which has the necessary pedigree and respect throughout India. (Here too Tamil Nadu might have objected but even they cannot deny the influence of Sankrit on Tamil culture.)

  14. “In an ideal world, we would have states for Hindi (Khariboli), Bhojpuri, Maithili, Marwi and Awadhi just like we do for Bengali and Gujarati.”

    How would you define standard Bhojpuri? Dialects change within 50-100 kilometers. Members of my family who come from Bihar districts like Chhapra, Buxar, Bhojpur each speak a slightly different version of Bhojpuri than the one spoken in eastern UP districts. All these are simultaneously different from each other as well. The process of giving every single variation equal importance and favor which you mention is fractal and will never stop.

    This is an academic discussion at best. I like Bhojpuri but I cannot wish away history of great works of literature which Biharis and eastern UP people have produced in Hindi. Should I stop owning them and reading them? I don’t think anybody held a gun to Dinkar’s head and asked him to write his poems in Hindi. Or on Nirala’s head when he wrote his ‘Ram ki Shakti Puja’ in heavily Sanskritized Hindi.

    By all this I don’t mean to say that regional dialects should just disappear. A Bihari person writing in Hindi would always include some Bhojpuri phrases & words. Thats to the benefit of both Hindi and Bhojpuri.

    Also, UP is too large a state to manage but having Hindi is its official language is not really a reason for that.

    1. Hello Janamejaya,

      The arguments you make are very interesting and attractive to me. I don’t know how standardisations projects that produce standard registers which continue to stay amenable to spoken and literary production without inducing unnecessary diglossia are carried out in various world languages with different dialects (this is an intended study project of mine which I want to take up at some point of time later) but are there any other ways in your mind in which there can be more benefit to Bhojpuri than just by incorporation of some of its lexis (which definitely seems to beneficial to Bhojpuri, I tend to agree, in that it makes Bhojpuri lexis spread to a wider Hindi-reading people on the publication of such works, but one also has to consider how the final adopter deems those words- don’t they lose their Bhojpuri identity and just end up serving the task of enriching Hindi in his mind? Especially considering that these Bhojpuri words which are infused in Hindi texts are likely not large in number? But perhaps there are other completely different ways in which Bhojpuri gains more by this process) in Hindi works by Bhojpuri authors, etc.? Is it considered too costly to produce increasing amounts of literature in pure Bhojpuri while native Bhojpuri speakers continuing to produce literature in Hindi as well? Is state support a mandatory thing speaking in terms of economics of it all? I always have this idea that one can perhaps build new things while not destroying the older things and also maintaining a commitment to continue developing the older things, but perhaps I’m being too unrealistic in my thinking here, oblivious to the feasibility of all this business.

      1. Please ignore the above comment. I seemed to have mainly concentrated on some silly erroneous assumption in my mind that Bhojpuri and such languages are not having “increasing amounts of literature”- an assumption which seems to have been never alluded to, anywhere, in the prior discussion. It was a rather thoughtless comment on my part. Please forgive me.

  15. Within India, Urdu has declined dramatically, as Muslim families in UP and elsewhere have reconciled themselves to Hindi

    this doesn’t seem to comport with your later assertions about how south indian and bengali muslims are switching to urdu. both numerically and culturally. why would they switch to urdu in india when the core UP urdu speakers are dropping it?

    1. Agree its counter intuitive. But its what the data indicate. Muslims are about 20% of UP’s population, but only half that number returned Urdu as their language, and this proportion has been falling every decade. Opposite trend in other states. Will post links when census website comes back up.

  16. re: arabic vs. persian and sunni vs. shia. iran was converted to shia majority only in 17th century. a lot of the persians who arrived in india during that period were sunnis leaving religious persection. so i don’t think there’s a strong resonance btwn lang & religion here (the arabs of the persian gulf are majority shia if you count them up).

    1. Agree, But it was a hypothetical question , Post 1947 had Pakistan been Shia majority would it still have chosen Arab over Perisan. When Zardari came to power, there was some normalcy b/w Pakistan-Iran, one of the reason why he is disliked by the Saudis(they think he is Shia)

      1. isn’t he from a shia background? i thought the bhutto-zadari crew kept it on down-low, but that was my understanding. though the secular muslim elite of pakistan seems to be rather protean in its sectarianness; see jinnah himself.

        all that being said, it would be weird for pakistan to centralize the national culture of a neighbor IMO from a realpolitik perspective. pakistan and iran are bound to come into some tension/conflict due to location and competition for resources/influence in the region. so if pakistan put iran’s ethnic-historical identity at the heart of its nationhood that would be weird.

        though there are deep cultural resonances, a lot of the time proximate power relations matter a lot. it is well known that older bengali muslims (like my grandparents) were pro-pakistan because they had lived through hindu bengali cultural domination. in contrast, ppl of my parents generation lived through west pakistani domination, and tend to have a softer attitude toward hindu bengalis, who are no longer threats to them culturally. this doesn’t mean that one generation is more persian/muslim and the other is more hindu. just that power relations shifted somewhat.

        1. “though there are deep cultural resonances, a lot of the time proximate power relations matter a lot. it is well known that older bengali muslims (like my grandparents) were pro-pakistan because they had lived through hindu bengali cultural domination. ”

          When Nurul Islam was in exile in Kolkata during the war, his bengali muslim host did not support bangladesh and wanted E-bengal to remain part of Pakistan. 😛

  17. Some very interesting points made about Hindi, quite informative. As one who’s most comfortable Indian language is Hindi (though with Tamil as mother tongue and reasonable fluency in Telugu and Marathi by virtue of having grown up in Hyderabad and Mumbai), switching between languages comes rather effortlessly to me like I imagine it does for most Indians who have lived in more than one state. However I see standardisation as an unfortunate by-product of living in a multi-lingual nation with way too many dialects to govern. I recently spent a week in South-central France living at a friend’s farm, and he said that the local language of that region (Occitan) is barely spoken anymore despite efforts to teach it in schools. With the demographic center of India shifting to the North, Hindi is only going to dominate, and it’s probably going to be the standard variety.

    Regarding Sanskrit, I think the Indian government should totally give up promoting it, since it’s (lets face it) a dead language and there are various living languages that are in danger of being eclipsed. Most students who take up Sanskrit in schools only do so as it’s easy to score in – what a farce! Instead efforts should be made to promote translations between Indian languages and from English into them, this will introduce vernacular speakers and readers to a global and contemporary literature while giving these languages a fresh infusion of life. I used to enjoy my Hindi classes at school, but I’d grown tired of the social-realism of Premchand or Sobti.

    And regarding Urdu in the Deccan, the observations that someone had made about it being the de-facto language of Muslims is partly correct, in the sense that Muslims use it to communicate among themselves but they are still fluent in the local language, be it Marathi or Telugu. I noticed this in Mahabaleshwar recently on my last trip there. And even muslim-run shops or businesses use the local scripts, so I would hazard a guess that the written mode of communication of these muslims is still through the local scripts (whether in Urdu or the local language). One does find the odd Urdu newspaper at the local stalls, but I noticed that most muslims still read newspapers in the local languages (except in big cities like Hyderabad). I guess that’s because of the medium of instruction of the government schools being in the local vernacular. In any case, Urdu is as Indian a language as any other, regardless of what anyone says. I had a disagreement with one of Pakistani friends about this, who said that it’s a language that’s derived from Arabic and Persian lol.


    1. It is actually very interesting how modern “French” was standardized. Someone mentioned above how the dialect of Paris was imposed on the whole country, often by force. The invention of print culture also had a lot to do with it. Similarly, Tuscan became the standard for modern Italian. Benedict Anderson’s “imagined communities” has a lot to say about language and nationalism. The European model of nationalism was “one nation, one language”. Urdu is that language in Pakistan.
      To my mind the whole Urdu-hindi controversy was a conflict over script. Muslims were attached to nastaliq and Hindus were attached to devnagri. The spoken language was more or less the same. Even today, one visit to Pakistan will show that people are not going around speaking highly persianized literary Urdu on the streets. Urdu in Punjab has been very punjabized. Some family’s like mine still try to preserve the Urdu of Agra and Lucknow but its a losing battle.

  18. “All this leaves me baffled as to why the Muslim Ashrafi were so insistent on Urdu. My best guess is that they mistakenly felt that Urdu was a variant of Arabic and Persian, with no real Sanskrit influence. This is quite possible since the different language families would not have been widely known then, and since Urdu was written in the Arabic script, which is dramatically different from Indian ones.”

    The muslim Ashrafis insisted on Urdu because it was their language, the one who created Pakistan(muslim minorities of UP,CP). The Punjabis joined the Pakistan train much later, even later than the Bengalis. Had they been speaking swahili they would have insisted on that irrespective of how much literature/heroes etc the language can bestow on them.

    “This led to a breakdown of Muslim nationalism when Bangladesh separated.”

    This is really the soft power of India at its greatest height that it has somehow convinced a lot of people in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh that creation of Bangladesh was somehow breakdown of two nation theory / muslim nationalism. Where some on ground military achievements have been given ideological meaning.

    1. Exactly. The people giving the money for the Pakistan movement were Urdu-speakers from the UP. It is only natural that they would want to preserve their own language in the new country. Also the center of the movement were the Muslim-minority provinces like UP.
      On Bangladesh, it is pretty true that the secession of east Pakistan basically meant the two nation theory was dead. After all, now there are three nations. But then again, language was only part of the reason why Bengalis were unhappy. If they had been treated better, united Pakistan might still exist today.

  19. So do you think the Ashrafis were not aware of the Sanskrit base and vocabulary of Urdu ? Or were they aware of it and comfortable with it ? Their extreme aversion to Hindi doesnt make sense then.

    Siddarth’s response above and some other encounters indicate to me that they genuinely believed that Urdu was derived from Persian and Arabic. Perhaps they thought Urdu was actually superior to these languages, or maybe that it was simply the South Asian version of these languages.

    Another possibility is that they grouped languages by script rather than more abstract linguistic concepts. And here the difference between other Indian languages and Urdu is absolutely stark. Perhaps Urdu was a proxy for Arabic script, hence direct connection to Islam.

    Would like to mention here that Muslim acceptance of Devanagri script (even if they are writing the most hyper Persianized Urdu in it) greatly relaxes most Hindu minds in India. I feel that this is one big reason Indians feel an affinity for Bangladeshis (brought out repeatedly by polls).

    1. Basically for most Indians anything written in an Indic script, whatever the origin, is more easy to accept as Indian.

    2. The issue was script and not the spoken language. Muslims were attached to nastaliq.
      Whether Indian Muslims want to read and write in nagari is not the issue of Pakistanis. We have a country in which Urdu written in nastaliq is a core part of our identity and nationalism. That’s what the UP Ashraf wanted and that’s what we got. We now just have to deal with the fact that proper Urdu is on its way out and punjabized Urdu is here to stay.

        1. You’re welcome. This is what my understanding is. Pakistani identity is defined by two things: Urdu and Islam ( in whichever order an individual prefers, but usually its Islam first).

  20. Thank you, Satya. To be honest I am not expert in SA languages although I know key things. I haven’t proposed reforms of SA languages, I thought that someone maybe thinking about this and probably there is a room for improvement considering more than 1.5 billion people and many ethnic groups and languages.

    Let me as a comparison present situation in former Yugoslavia (about 23 million people in total). Used to be (before WW1) only Serbian language and Serbian state. Other, today’s so-called nations did not exist neither their languages. They lived under foreign rules and they all of them were Serbian offshoots in earlier history. When Austro-Hungary collapsed in WW1, they asked Serbs, one of the WW1 winners, to accept them (1918) and create Yugoslavia. That was a big mistake. Instead of preserving and expanding their own country which they had for hundred years they accepted remnants of former empires which never had their own state and who became a cancer in new state’s body. Vatican and Cominterna (communists) had politics to disintegrate Serbian majority and create artificial nations. Croats Catholics for example did not have own united language, they took Serbian as their and unified themselves based on this language. Now, they call this language Croatian and they don’t want to confess that is the same language as Serbian. Vatican used them as tools against Orthodox Serbs and they committed a huge genocide in WW2 against them and again in 90-ies. After WW2 Communist separated parts of Serbian nation under the names Macedonians and Montenegrins as new nations and artificially invented new languages, changed some grammatical to make impression of new nations with own languages. Communists even organised separate Orthodox churches (!) for these artificial nations. Bosnians are also Serbs who under terror converted to Islam during Turkish occupation. In 90-ies they were also inspired by the coalition of western countries and Islamic fundamentalists to separate as new nation and they also call their language – Bosnian.

    As a result, from one Serbian nation and language, which existed for centuries until 100 years ago, we officially have several banana-republics with so-called own languages: Croatia-Croatian language, Bosnia-Bosnian language, Macedonia-Macedonian language, Montenegro – Montenegrin language (with only 250000 speakers), Slovenia-Slovenian language. There is a pressure to steal another part of Serbia and make new state Kosovo and later to do the same with another 2 regions until the whole Serbia is destroyed.

    These imperial policies are applicable in SA region and colonial imperial powers will do everything to destroy all states in small pieces (divide et impera) to easier manipulate them and play one against others. They tried to do with Russia and almost succeeded but Putin came into power. They hate China because they are nationalists who strongly protect their national interests. This is the main reason why they hate and conduct non-stop propaganda against countries like Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Iran because they want to remain independent and protect own national interests.

  21. Vikram,

    What in your opinion is the difference between a Pakistani Muslim and a North Indian Muslim of the same generation and social class? Other than the fact that one grew up as a demographic majority and the other as part of a demographic minority?
    Pakistan belongs to Muslims and exists to promote Muslim culture and interests. India cannot be said to belong to Muslims though some Muslims are doing very well. The current regime thinks India belongs to Hindus.
    It could be an interesting article to look at how 71 years have influenced a group that was otherwise ethnically and culturally exactly the same ( Muslims in Agra and muhajirs in Pakistan).

    1. Kabir, Muhajirs in Pakistan live in a metro urban area with good economic growth but high crime. Their main political project is competition with Sindhis and Balochis for control of Karachi, and to a lesser extent with Punjabis to ensure that enough national attention is paid to Karachi. Since competition is with other linguistic groups, and due to the legacy of the Pakistan movement, emphasis on Urdu is higher.

      Muslims in N. India live in a variety of smaller and less dynamic urban areas (Delhi aside). Their main political project has been keeping the BJP at bay. Most urban UP Muslims of my generation I come across are usually secular. They almost seem more secular minded than the Hindus of the same class and background (of course the Muslim masses are different in this regard). Marriages with Hindus and Christians are rare, but not unheard of. Its more common among the very elite. They are less invested in Urdu as an identity marker, the main identity marker is city or region of origin (Delhiite, Lakhnavi etc).

      The influence of Gulf money and Saudi Islam is lower on UP Muslims who havent really migrated to the Gulf as much as Muslims on India’s West coast and Muhajirs have.

      You can read the chapters on Muslims from Jaipur, Aligarh, Lucknow, Bhopal and Delhi from Jaffrelot’s book: https://www.amazon.com/Muslims-Indian-Cities-Marginalisation-International/dp/0199327688

      1. Thanks. How much of this “secularism” is fear of expressing their Islam publicly in a country that is increasingly hostile to Muslims vs. true secularism?

        “Their main political project seems to be keeping the BJP at bay”–makes sense since the BJP is perceived as the greatest threat to Muslims.

        I was really interested in the effects of growing up in a 97% Muslim country where Islam cannot be said to be in any danger vs. growing up as a demographic minority. Indian Muslims of my generation grew up in a mostly Congress ruled India while my peers who grew up in Pakistan are very much the product of post General Zia islamization. How have ” Indian values ” or “Pakistani values” changed the same basic population?

        BTW, not all muhajirs live in Karachi. My paternal grandmother was from Agra and in that sense part of my family is muhajir. But she ended up spending most of her married life in Lahore as that is where railway headquarters are. Most of her relatives did go directly to Karachi though.

        1. By secularism I dont mean irreligiosity. They are very much engaged in Muslim traditions, especially festivals, but are also open to Hindu traditions. Images such as these are quite commonly shared on whatsapp groups,

          You can see this in their cultural output, especially in Hindi cinema, where explicitly Islamic themes invoking Allah, Muhammad and Ali (for example songs such as Patakhha Gudi in the movie Highway by Irshad Kamil, which invoke both Ali, a Shia theme, and the tulsi plant, a Hindu theme) are common.

          They are very much influenced by Nehru-Gandhi socialism and secularism. You can see that this in the work of the leading intellectuals from the UP Muslim community, Shahid Amin amd Akeel Bilgrami, both worked extensively on Gandhi. Their voter turnout is substantially higher than Hindus of the same class. In that sense, their values are very Indian, more so than the Hindus of the same class.

          One indicator of the divergence in values is the decreasing number of cross border marriages within this group, and the increasing reluctance of Indian Muslim girls to marry grooms in Pakistan. Would be great to get some data on this.
          See: https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/offtrack/story/20000306-pakistani-women-marrying-indians-discover-a-new-freedom-777159-2000-03-06

          1. I’m wondering how much of this engagement with Hindu themes is voluntary and how much is out of fear of the majority? Of course, people in the film industry have an incentive to broaden their audience as much as possible. It also makes sense for Indian muslims to be involved with INC given that INC did a lot to make Muslims feel part of the nation post 1947
            Philosophically why should any Muslim engage with hindu themes– unless they voluntarily choose to.
            Many Hindustani classical musicians (including myself) sing bhajans. But for us, it is a musical form and not worship.
            My extended family that lives in Agra continues to send their daughters to Karachi to be married. Maybe this will change in the next generation.

          2. Kabir, saying anything more about UP Muslims of my class would be difficult for me, you can perhaps check out quora for more answers directly from them.

          3. Like I mentioned, I have family that lives in Agra (my dad’s cousins and their children). They still live in the ancestral home above their shoe factory. We only visited them once. As far as I can tell, they are just like my family though of course we have never discussed Kashmir or other contentious indo-pak issues.
            In your other comment, you mentioned saris. My dadi wore saris till the day she died (that’s what they wore in UP). My mother, despite being Punjabi, wears saris on almost all formal occasions. A lot of Pakistani women wear saris, though not so much in the Punjab.
            speaking of ‘cultural zones’, I don’t think north India is that different from Pakistan. We all speak Hindustani, eat similar food, wear similar clothes etc. Perhaps I feel this way because my ethnic heritage is from Punjab and UP. Maybe a pashtun would not feel the same connection to India.

          4. Hi Kabir, like I said in my other comment to commentator, a lot depends on the individual’s perspective. I do wish to make clear that I dont have any specific aversion to Arabic, Persian or other non-Indian civilizations, nor do I hold an opinion that Indian civilization is the natural one for all people living in India.

            It would be against freedom of speech and expression to corner UP Muslims who imbibe a Persianate/Arabesque culture (or Russian or Japanese for that matter), because above all else, its their personal, individual choice. And this matters more than anything else.

          5. Factually,urdu is an Indian language. It evolved in the UP and delhi , which are the core areas of north India. Urdu is not part of Arabic or Persian culture, though yes it is written using a perso-arabic script.
            Extrapolating from the script to say that UP Muslims have a significantly different culture from their Hindu counterparts seems strange to me and dangerously close to the two nation theory.
            If you ever visited Pakistan you would probably find it much more similar to India than you think.

          6. “Most urban UP Muslims of my generation I come across are usually secular. They almost seem more secular minded than the Hindus of the same class and background ”

            In N-India , (S-India does not have partition memories/ hindu-muslim antagonism),muslims react the way minorities/blacks do in USA, They vote overwhelmingly left and liberal. That does not say much about inherent liberalism/conservatism.

            “I’m wondering how much of this engagement with Hindu themes is voluntary and how much is out of fear of the majority?”

            It has much to do with the latter and little to do with the former.(even thought its suits both hindu and muslim liberals to say its the former). Fear would be too strong a word though, i would say anxiety and trying to be part of mainstream. They use hindu themes because it gladdens the hearts of hindus since they can also understand hindu themes better than muslims themes.

            “In that sense, their values are very Indian, more so than the Hindus of the same class.”
            What would mean “indian values” are still in contested territory

            “Like I mentioned, I have family that lives in Agra (my dad’s cousins and their children). They still live in the ancestral home above their shoe factory.

            You can watch garam hawa its made in similar lines, it was banned in India when it came out.

      2. Can I ask – who are Balochis and how they got their name? Thanks!

  22. For any language to thrive, it must be made official language with state administration done in that language.

  23. Vikram,

    Very interesting thoughts. And the comment stream for your post has been surprisingly intellectual; good stuff.

    On this though, “On the other side of the subcontinent, for the first time in more than two millennia Pashtuns could be under more Indic influence than Iranic (this might change as Iran rises again)”, I’d say that one might add a few qualifications.

    The Pashtuns of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province have certainly absorbed considerable South Asian influence. Many Peshawari Pashtuns can’t count in Pashto anymore, and there is the constant “ji, aw ji” thing that has clearly been caught from Punjabis/Hindkowan.

    Despite that, anyone who enters KPK (and has eyes to see, and a mind to think) from the direction of Punjab can tell that they’ve entered a different cultural zone. Decades of “Pakistanification” has had very interesting effects, but one can still tell that KPK isn’t a part of South Asia proper, or at the very least not South Asian in the sense that Punjab or Sindh are South Asian.

    Rather, it has all the hallmarks of a transitional region, simultaneously tied in social organization and cultural affinity to northern South Asia (the Punjab), southern Central Asia (now, only Tajikistan, and even that is a bit of a weak connection. But there was once a Central Asia of Iranic peoples, rather than Turkic ones, and they actually spoke languages very closely related to Pashto, not Farsi/Dari/Tojiki), and eastern West Asia (good old “Khurasan”). And that’s just looking at culture, habits, traditions, and social organization. As most Pakistanis will note, you can physically tell most Pashtuns apart from true northern South Asians, with the exception of the populace found in many parts of eastern KPK (but many of those people are “Qasibghar”, and thus actually descendants of the pre-Pashtun population which was deeply rooted in KPK).

    And once you go beyond KPK into the “Ghar Aliqa” (“forbidden territory”), officially known as the “Federally Administered Tribal Areas” (FATA), the strong South Asian imprint seen in places like Peshawar or Swat nearly disappears. Here, as the great Sir Olaf Caroe once wrote, “the men are the men of Central Asia, not of the sub-continent he has left behind…”.

    Anyway, the broader culture of Pashtuns was never really connected to that of Iran, as understood today. Pashtuns are descended from Hepthalites; the Iranic component is connected to Central Asia, and the ancient steppe. Sedentary Persianate peoples are actually not looked at in a positive light by many tribal Pashtuns. Those folks often associate “Parsiwan” with “effeminacy”.

    That being said, Persian influence is undeniable.


    With regard to Bollywood, interestingly enough my Tajikistani and Uzbekistani friends have told me (independently of each other) that people in their countries can’t get enough of Indian cinema. Looking even further afield, my Palestinian-American ex girlfriend (back in the day, lol) told me that Amitabh Bachchan was a big deal in the Levant, when her dad was young.

    India has always had some serious soft power.

    1. Thanks commentator for the kind words and the insightful comment.

      Regarding Iranic vs Indic influence, I do remember a dissertation by an Afghan humanities student about television and media in Afghanistan, which mentioned that contemporary Iranian art and culture are seen as ‘sangeen’ (serious) whereas Indian cinema although popular was seen as lighter fare. Therefore my assumption that Persian culture is the high culture for Pashtuns ?

      I would also say that a lot of these categories (‘South Asian’ vs not) can depend on the level of consciousness of the observer. To an Indian like me, Pakistani Punjab and Sindh will feel like very alien places. Different people look for different things, and I would quickly realize from the absence of Indic scripts on signs, saris, shikhars of temples, the lack of easy availability of vegetarian fare, and the overwhelming presence of Perso-Arabic civilization (Arabic script, architecture, meat as staple) that I am in a very different cultural zone. Of course, Perso-Arabic influence is present in India as well, but it is not as overwhelming as that in Pakistan and beyond.

      Similarly for a Pakistani Punjabi, KPK and beyond may feel like a much more familiar place than India does depending on the perspective he/she takes.

      1. Vikram,

        I find your writing, and perspective, to be exceedingly interesting.

        And you are absolutely correct; the high culture of Pashtuns is suffused with “Persianism” (my own neologism, lol).

        But with regard to Pakistani Punjabis, I think things are more complicated than that.

        In my experience, many Pakistani Punjabis actually evince a fondness for the language of Sikh Indian Punjabis (something about it being “purer”, or whatnot. I wouldn’t know), and the culture is still quite similar. I’m sure that there are differences, and the differentiation will only increase with time, but the deeper cultural foundation is a shared one.

        By contrast, some Pakistani Punjabis view Pashtun culture as being quite alien/foreign to their own. And you can’t really blame them. I mean, Pashtuns aren’t familiar with “jati/biraderi”, and are organized into tribes or “qawmuna” which have more in common with Bedouin Arab social structure than any sort of social structure in India. And unlike Punjabis, they don’t have any memories of a Hindu past. Furthermore, Pashtuns have complex traditions concerning guest/host and hospitality which have no analog in the Greater Punjab, and are big on revenge/blood feuding (which, again, just doesn’t occur in the Punjab at the levels seen with Pashtuns, who often live their lives in the shadow of retribution). In addition, Pashtuns eat food which is bland and spice-less to the taste buds of the average Punjabi, and which is too centered on lamb flesh for the average Punjabi. If that wasn’t enough, the “average” Pashtun has different facial features and skin tone to the “average” Punjabi. Not to mention the different musical traditions.

        At the same time though, although they view Pashtuns as being quite different from themselves, the ones I’ve known still show great respect, and have an interest in the culture. And in places where both ethnic groups are found, there are no restrictions on intermarriage.

        This is in great contrast to how they view Baloch (contempt) and Sindhi (amusement), at least in my experience.

        1. “At the same time though, although they view Pashtuns as being quite different from themselves, the ones I’ve known still show great respect, and have an interest in the culture. ”

          I think it has to with all the stereotypes. It as Indian stereotype to look at Pathans as martial people(afghans cant be conquered etc) but at the same time as Islamic tribal people who have to be left alone or “civilized”. Some respect is due to pakthunwali/badhsah khan etc but not that much.

          “In my experience, many Pakistani Punjabis actually evince a fondness for the language of Sikh Indian Punjabis (something about it being “purer”, or whatnot. I wouldn’t know), and the culture is still quite similar.”

          This is true of all non sikh punjabi , they feel sikhism is more truer punjabi thing.

          I feel that the whole punjabi vs pashtun thing is similar to whole israeli vs palestinian thing in a limited sense that both ethnicity feel they are the victim( irrespective of the ground situation) . Funny enough the pashtun also has same sterotype for pakistani punjabi people which the pakistani punjabi people have for indian people(baniyas, eats dal chawal, non fighter etc). This stereotype is prevalent in also Nepalese, N-E indian about mainland India who calls mainland Indians “dhotis”

          We feel that people who are discriminated against cant be racist themselves.

        2. Commentator, I feel that overtime there will be convergence between Pashtun and Punjabi Muslim culture. A thoroughly Persianized Urdu will act as a linguistic bond between the two populations, and the Islam of Punjabi Muslims will take on a form more recognizable to Pashtuns. There is a lot of academic work that points to Islamic piety being ascendant, and eschewing of more rural Islam (said to be influenced more by Hinduism) as rural low caste Punjabi Muslims urbanize and move up the social ladder.

          1. How “Persianized” do you think Urdu is? One visit to Pakistan will show you that people do not speak literary Urdu on the streets. If anything, Urdu is becoming Punjabized. It is no longer the Urdu of the ahl-e-zaban.

            Punjabi Muslims don’t need to adopt anyone else’s culture. They are the ones running the country. The other ethnic groups may become more Punjabized.

          2. There is a lot of academic work that points to Islamic piety being ascendant, and eschewing of more rural Islam (said to be influenced more by Hinduism) as rural low caste Punjabi Muslims urbanize and move up the social ladder.

            transnational islamic piety doesn’t lead to persianization. it leads to DE-PERSIANIZATION.

            the traditional elite islamic identity in northern s. asian is turco-persian in its inflection. a ‘pure’ international islam often appeals to arab motifs and models.

            we already noted this with allah vs. khud hafez.

            you see the same thing in bangladesh. my family is traditional hanafi ulema and ppl go to the gulf and bring back arab ways, including shafi and hanbali forms of prayer stance.

            also, many northern indian/pak muslims have persian names. but in more religious/pious circles this is looked askance, as you should have an arab one.

          3. It is generally a very bad idea to predict the evolution of systems that embody knowledge (genetic or cultural). It is also a bad idea to under-estimate linguistic nativism.

            E.g. 100 years ago there were around 38% Welsh L1+L2 users in Wales (with 6% Welsh monoglots -rural herders/farmers). Today L1+L2 are in a thin majority (around 50-55%) but no monoglots. That is a result of the Welsh language act of 1993 and measure of 2011. In fact, it is far more easy now for a person to get by speaking only Welsh all her/his life in Wales than it was a century ago. That was just not possible to predict in the early part of 20c.

            I personally find the Urdu-sprachbund prediction to be rather fantastical.

        3. This is in great contrast to how they view Baloch (contempt) and Sindhi (amusement), at least in my experience.

          mebee. but pakistani punjabis and mohajjirs say shitty things about pashtuns to bengalis from what i can tell. two examples

          1) when my dad was a student in islamabad in the 1960s he was told to avoid pashtuns cuz they were violent and scary people liable toward murder and vengeance (i guess this is neutral/descriptive?).

          2) a punjabi close friend of the family once started to assert that if arabic was the language was heaven, pashtun was the language of hell. i remember my dad getting kind of uncomfortable, i think because he always had arguments about language with pakistanis and urdu-speakers from india, and so reflexively didn’t want to disparage some other group’s language.

          1. “…but pakistani punjabis and mohajjirs say shitty things about pashtuns to bengalis from what i can tell.”

            Trust me bro, I’m pretty sure that they say shitty things; but only when we’re not around, lol.

            1). Truth be told, if we’re talking about the 60’s, I would construe that as being neutral/descriptive, rather than slander (even if it was meant as insult by the people in question).

            Boy, the stories I could tell, just by looking at my own family’s condition in that decade. No one here would even believe what I’d write.

            In fact, I think the 60’s constituted the last decade for that way of life in KPK. A lot of bleeding on all sides, but the bleeding started to see containment in the 70’s, and seemingly stopped by the 80’s. Interestingly, the last person in my family to die from an act of revenge passed away in 1975. Ever since then, all has been quiet, at least where we happen to be from. (The last person in the family to have “notches on his belt” passed away in 2005, at the age of 95 or thereabouts, and all of his “notches” were collected between his approximately 15th and approximately 40th birthdays)

            Oddly enough, the grandchildren of all of those rough and wild men are now clean cut lawyers, doctors, and business owners (mostly jewelry, lol). Telling you dude, the world is a strange place.

            2) I think that’s actually a common saying in Punjabi. In Pashto, we have a very old verse in response which essentially translates as so:

            “The enemy knows it to be the language/way of hell, but with pride I shall enter heaven with my Pashto”.

            For Pashtuns, Pashto simultaneously refers to both the language itself, and to the traditions/ethical code (“language/way”), so the use of “Pashto” in the verse is a play on that (“going to heaven” by following the ways of the ancestors, hospitality, generosity, etc. Or something along those lines).

          2. The mohajirs thought they will rule Pakistan by proxy, soon enough the fact that they dont have the numbers caught up with them. I guess this will be probably be the last election where they will count electorally.

            “transnational islamic piety doesn’t lead to persianization. it leads to DE-PERSIANIZATION.”

            Just to nitpick transnational sunni piety will lead to Arabaization , the shia variant will lead to persianization.

  24. “Extrapolating from the script to say that UP Muslims have a significantly different culture from their Hindu counterparts seems strange to me”

    Kabir, two points. First, this isnt a binary division. I think there is a spectrum views here. Ranging from virtually no tolerance to Indic (Pak nationalist, Indian left), acceptance of Indic as substratic influence (Pak liberal), equal immersion in Indic and Perso-Arabic (secular Indian Muslim), acceptance of Perso-Arabic influence at lower levels than Indic (mainstream Hindu) and complete rejection of any Perso-Arabic influence (extreme Hindu nationalist).

    Second and more importantly, for me this isnt really about culture. Like I said, I see cultural practices from the perspective of individual satisfaction, not group identity. Its more about politics. I have good reason to believe that the acceptance of the Constitution by much of the Muslim mass is merely tactical, or not even that. Secular Indian Muslims have failed to argue on its behalf to their community’s mass.

    I find it better to trust the BJP, which for all its communal rhetoric, has never changed India’s legal framework in a way which allows Hindus to restrict the freedom of anyone else in India. This is in contrast to the Congress’s conduct, which changed the Constitution to restrict Muslim women’s right to seek alimony, prevent them from challenging a divorce practice that violated Fundamental Rights and has instituted various other mechanisms to allow orthodox Muslims to restrict the rights of other Indians.

    1. Vikram, you are grossly misrepresenting the Shah bano case here. (Though I suspect you don’t realize it.)

      More broadly, the right wing hindutvadi idea that the BJP is the defender of liberal Muslims against an Islamic conservative orthodoxy is bizarre, and has almost no Indian Muslim supporters.

      There are many (bad) reasons to support the BJP — “saffron defender of liberal Muslims” is not one of them.

      1. Ikram,
        Yes, I too find the idea that the BJP is a defender of “liberal Muslims” extremely bizarre. They took up triple talaq for their own agenda.

        This is a party that stands by and watches as Muslims are lynched and that doesn’t reprimand their ministers for saying things about “Ramzaade” and “haramzaade” . That they have an iota of sympathy with Indian Muslims stretches belief.

        1. There is two ways of “othering” a community.

          a. Not give political representation. A subtle form where you just do things for your own community , there is no need to actively go against the other
          b. Riots, Lynching

          The BJP tends to more of (a) then (b), but since (b) is the grabs headlines people feel its only (b), but the converse (a) also happens so people feel they are “saffron defender of liberal Muslims” and its not that bad.

    2. Vikram,
      I think you need to define the term “indic” more precisely and then make a case for why Urdu is not an “indic” language, although it is written in a non “indic” script. At this point, you seem to be using the word as a proxy for Hindu which I find problematic.

      If you are going to trust the BJP, I really have nothing more to say to you. Go ahead and trust the party bent on destroying Nehruvian secularism. See how that works out for you.

          1. you shouldn’t presume. i lean more to the “pakistani” position on kashmir than the “indian” one.

            i don’t talk about it too much because as an american it’s not a major issue for me and i don’t want to get involved in neverending threads on this.

      1. Kabir, what do Gurmukhi, Devanagari and Gujarati scripts have to do with Hinduism ?

        1. So your problem with Urdu is that it uses the Perso-Arabic alphabet despite the fact that most of the spoken content of the language is exactly the same as Hindi? Unless someone is speaking literary Urdu or literary Hindi, you can’t really tell the difference. The language of the bazaar is essentially the same.

          The argument that Nastaliq script makes Urdu a non-“Indic” language is just ridiculous. Urdu written in Devanagari or even in roman letters is still Urdu if its grammar and vocabulary is still Urdu based. This obsession with the script smacks of communalism.
          I know that signs in Delhi have the same thing written in Devanagari, Nastaliq and English and I don’t see that this really bothers most people.

          A language which evolved in Delhi and Lucknow–the core areas of North India– cannot be said to be anything other than an India language. Pakistanis are neither Arab nor Persian. We are the descendants of the Muslims of British India. 60% of us are Punjabi and therefore ethnically “Indian”.

        1. Yes, I just wanted some clarification about what exactly makes Urdu non-“Indic”. As someone whose ancestry is partly from the UP, I find it kind of offensive actually to be told that my grandmother was not “Indic” enough. The whole premise that the founders of Pakistan should have given up their own language and started speaking Persian is actually kind of weird. Sure, elite North Indian Muslims knew Persian but knowing a language and having it be your native tongue are two different things.

          1. The whole premise that the founders of Pakistan should have given up their own language and started speaking Persian is actually kind of weird.

            i think it’s not reasonable and the post was kind of “wut!?!?!” inducing to most people.

            but with a few semantic substitutions you are making the same argument i heard in arguments btwn bengalis and pakistanis constantly at social events when i was a kid (the argument here being bengali that should just have gone with the most numerous language if u want a lingua franca, rather than have majority give up own language, which would just induce laughter and disbelief from the pakistanis).

          2. I believe that elite Bengali members of the Muslim League (such as the Nawab of Dhaka) were fully on board with Urdu as the national language of Pakistan. They understood that Pakistan was primarily the project of UP Muslims.
            Anyway, we saw what not respecting Bengali and at least giving it equal status with Urdu led too. Though expecting the entire western wing of the country to learn Bengali would also have been strange. Urdu was probably only acceptable to most Pakistanis because it was not the language of any one community and was associated with the high culture of north India. If we are going to go with the language of the majority, than Punjabi should be the national language of Pakistan. But I don’t think any of the non Punjabi ethnic groups would go for that.

  25. Saurav,

    All your comments are in moderation for some odd reason. But I just wanted to say that I have seen “Garam Hawa” and my dad did basically hint that it was very similar to the story of his family (I was quite young when I watched this movie). Agra is still a big force in our lives 71 years after my dadi left it.

  26. I believe that elite Bengali members of the Muslim League (such as the Nawab of Dhaka) were fully on board with Urdu as the national language of Pakistan. They understood that Pakistan was primarily the project of UP Muslims.

    a lot of these people spoke urdu and identified with the urdu-speaking elite of UP.

    i even have branches of my family of this background. though i’m not sure if they were bengali first and became urdu speakers and switched back (this is plausible, this happened in finland with finnish nationalists from swedish backgrounds who were actually ppl whose ancestors switched from finnish to swedish as they scaled the class hierarchy).

    bengali was obv. a non-starter for a national language. and urdu does make sense. the key confusion/’wild card’ is that a really strong variant of violent bengali linguistic-nationalism emerged among the muslim middle class in the 20th century. why?

    my parents are not particularly nationalistic, but they flip out this issue (they get physically agitated).

    1. I looked up the Nawab of Dhaka subsequent to writing my last comment and it does seem the family was originally Kashmiri. There were a lot of Urdu speakers in Bengal and Urdu was considered to be the default language of all educated South Asian Muslims (at least its partisans believed that).

      I guess the Bengali linguistic nationalism really began when Jinnah went to Dhaka soon after the creation of Pakistan and told an audience at Dhaka University that anyone who tried to tell them that any language other than Urdu could be the national language of Pakistan was a traitor. People don’t generally like having someone else’s culture imposed on them, especially when the only South Asian Nobel Prize in Literature had gone to Tagore. Devaluing Bengali and seeing it as a “Hindu” language was not a smart move. Later on, Ayub Khan’s racist comments about Bengalis being “half Hindu” obviously didn’t help. As far as I know, even Bengali Muslims are really into Bengali culture (Tagore etc) and having the West Pakistanis look down on that culture didn’t help national reconciliation.

      An interesting aspect of the whole East Pakistan/Bangladesh thing was how language was used to “other” people. Tahmima Anam explores this in her novel “A Golden Age”. She describes the main character’s love for Urdu as follows:

      “She spoke, with fluency, the Urdu of the enemy. She was unable to pretend, as she saw so many others doing, that she could replace her mixed tongue with a pure Bengali one, so that the Muslim salutation, As-Salaam Alaikum, was replaced by the neutral Adaab, or even Nomoshkar, the Hindu greeting. Rehana’s tongue was too confused for these changes. She could not give up her love of Urdu, its lyrical lilts, its double meanings, its furrowed beat” (47).

      There were quite a lot of Urdu-speakers in East Pakistan. Anam’s character, Rehana, was from Calcutta and moved to Dhaka after marriage. Then there were all the “Biharis” who spoke Urdu and whom Pakistan doesn’t want and Bangladesh (as far as I know) still doesn’t really consider first class citizens. Language and nationalism is not the best combination.

      I think the whole idea of one country separated by 1000 miles of hostile territory made no sense in the first place. A United Bengal as a third dominion with India and Pakistan would have made more sense. I believe this idea was also floated at one point but the Congress refused to give up Calcutta.

      1. There were a lot of Urdu speakers in Bengal and Urdu was considered to be the default language of all educated South Asian Muslims (at least its partisans believed that).

        i think this is true. the bengali-speaking muslim bourgeois group seems to have emerged during the british period. and later during that. the bengali renaissance was all hindu.

        (not sure that urdu was so ascendant in the far south; the shafi muslims of kerala are from a different cultural stream, but bengali islam is mostly hanafi).

        bengali muslims are somewhat shizo to be honest from what i have seen. their fixation on their shared culture is extreme, but they also exhibit conventional anti-hindu prejudices. my family’s social circle in the USA when i was growing up was

        1) bengali, mixed hindu muslim
        2) pakistan & bangladeshi, almost all muslim

        my family had feet in both campus. my dad is big fan of mughals. but he flips out if pakistanis express urdu hegemony.

        . Then there were all the “Biharis” who spoke Urdu and whom Pakistan doesn’t want and Bangladesh (as far as I know) still doesn’t really consider first class citizens. Language and nationalism is not the best combination.

        a fair # of bihars have assimilated. i have cousins whose grandmother is bihari. not a big deal. the grandmother speaks perfect bengali so i wouldn’t have known, but my mom mentioned it offhand.

        and as i said, my father’s paternal lineage were urdu speakers who ostentatiously didn’t give their kids bengali names. but now they’ve all assimilated except for the ones who are professional ulems (they don’t speak urdu anymore, but still don’t give their kids bengali nicknames).

        1. It was my impression that Bengalis (of whatever religion) are really into Tagore. My music teacher was Bengali and he used to sing Rabindra Sangeet and Nazrul Geeti as well as Hindustani Classical. He never taught them to me though. I guess he thought since I was from a Pakistani background, I should learn Ghazals instead. His children did have Bengali nicknames though their official names were Arabic.

          1. yeah. tagore is an obsession. the only exception are islamist types.

            His children did have Bengali nicknames though their official names were Arabic.

            the norm is to have an arabic name and a bengali nickname that is for intimates/friends. this seems a modification of the bengali hindu practice. jhumpha lahiri’s nickname is jhumpha. her official name is different (‘razib’ comes from ‘rajib’ which is my pet-name, though i legalized razib in the USA since the two-name system is irrelevant/hard to maintain in the USA).

            some more devout types feel nicknames are unislamic, and don’t give them. this was the practice on my paternal side because my paternal grandfather was an ulem. bu all his grandchildren got nicknames.

          2. Yes, in Lahiri’s “Namesake”, the kid’s name is actually Nikhil (If I recall correctly) but everyone calls him Gogol.

            My music teacher’s son is commonly called Mithun.

            For what its worth, I have a clearly Hindu “nickname” that my parents call me. They even picked Kabir because he was an Indian saint. My mom really doesn’t like Arabic names and my father has a very strong South Asian identity.

      2. ” I believe that elite Bengali members of the Muslim League (such as the Nawab of Dhaka) were fully on board with Urdu as the national language of Pakistan. They understood that Pakistan was primarily the project of UP Muslims.”

        We have\had figure like that in India as well. I feel it has to do more with deracinated individuals who couldn’t understand/very poor in democratic politics. Rajgopalchari (tam-brahm in periyar land)was one such figure who in 1930s supported hindi as the national language and as 60s rolled became vehemently anti hindi as public mood swinged. Add to that the muslim league was even less democratic than congress so it wasn’t a surprise that the Nawabs et all couldnt understand the public mood.

        “. Later on, Ayub Khan’s racist comments about Bengalis being “half Hindu” obviously didn’t help. ”
        It was a mercy that he looked on bengalis as half hindu, should read his book to know what he says about full hindus though . Still he is held as some sort of progressive ideal by Pakistani/foreign moderate people is beyond me.

        What amazes me is the ease with which urdu become the language of Punjab. That you had no linguistic opposition however small is truly historic.

        1. Punjabis have been completely bamboozled by Urdu. Part of this Faustian deal is that hegemony over Pakistan is assured. From what I read Punjabi has been relegated to second or third tier in education and social sphere.

          1. Punjabi is not taught in schools (unlike the other provinces of Pakistan, which do teach their provincial languages). A lot of people nowadays think Punjabi is a language you use to address your servants. But then a lot of people think Urdu is also a language to address servants and conduct transactions in the bazaar. The upper-classes are increasingly moving towards English.

            You are correct that Punjabis gave up their own language as part of Pakistani nationalism, especially after 1971, when they realized that they were half the population of the country.

        2. Do you also find it surprising that Hindi has become the language of Punjabi Hindus? Didn’t Hindus and Muslims abandon the Punjabi language in equal measure?

          1. Punjabi Hindus living in Punjab speak Punjabi, learn Punjabi in school and conduct official business with the state government in Punjabi. There was a communal division for a period, where Punjabi Hindus returned their language as Hindi for political purposes, but this did not become permanent. And Punjabi Hindus in Punjab do not oppose Punjabi as the preeminent language of Punjab in any way.

            See the row corresponding to Punjab in this census document: http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011Census/Language-2011/Statement-3.pdf

            Punjabi Hindus living in the rest of North India, especially Delhi speak Hindi just like Punjabi Hindus in America speak English.

        3. Ayub modernized the economy and reformed Muslim Family Law. As far as dictators go, he wasn’t bad. He was extremely racist towards Bengalis, of that there is no doubt.

          Pakistani Punjabis very early on decided to trade the Punjabi language for the chance to rule Pakistan. I believe even during British rule, Urdu was the official language of the Punjab. Also, as someone mentioned, Punjabi was seen as a Sikh language and Urdu as a Muslim one. Of course, most Punjabis still speak Punjabi at home and among themselves.

        4. Saurav
          You bracketing C.Rajagopalachari as a deracinated individual is ridiculous as well as calling Tamilnadu Periyar Land. CR was a conviction politician with a conservative bent of mind , one may call him ‘progressive conservative’ . As an Indian nationalist , his conviction in the 1930s was that people should learn Hindi in schools as a second language. In the 1950s, 60s he fell out with Nehru over economic, foreign and other policies and his views on language policy also changed. He supported Dravidian parties – who were regular Indian parties – since he saw Congress as a bigger danger. What is so deracinated about it. He was also a prolific writer in Tamil (and English) and he was the first to start a Tamil Science Terms society.
          See ‘Contributions to literature and music’ in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._Rajagopalachari#Contributions_to_literature_and_music
          as also

          E.V.Ramasamy Naicker aka Periyar was a crude, rabble rouser . You cannot mistake political froth from Tamilnadu as a truth. EVR aka Periyar was a diisive figure and we need not go into this here (except see a recent discussions in The wire https://thewire.in/history/periyar-right-liberal-critiques). See also my comment as Vijay Vanbakkam.

        5. Perhaps it’s because of Punjabi’s proximity to, or location on, the Hindustani dialect continuum? In Kannada for instance the various dialects, when spoken by illiterate people in particular, could be described as mutually unintelligible. Now of course, because of mass media and education which inculcates a standard dialect, the variation may be closing. I imagine this is the case with many of our major languages like Telugu, Marathi and Bengali. In the case of Konkani in Maharashtra, which is a distinct language of a highly educated community, it has conceded greatly to standard Marathi. That Punjabi would concede to Hindi isn’t that surprising, the languages are easily mixed, and it seems to me a Punjabi speaking his own version of Hindi doesn’t feel like an imposter.

          1. Punjabi is a distinct language (not a dialect) with an even older literary tradition than Hindi-Urdu. Baba Bulleh Shah and Fareed Ganjshakar wrote Sufi poetry in Punjabi. The Guru Granth Sahab is entirely in Punjabi.

  27. Just to nitpick transnational sunni piety will lead to Arabaization , the shia variant will lead to persianization.

    why do you say this? you know iran was only made mostly shia in the 17th century right? the safavids brought lebanese missionaries. i don’t know too many ppl from shia backgrounds who are south asian, but they don’t seem more persianized at all.

    i think non-muslims overemphasize the persian aspect of shia islam a lot (as opposed to being pro-iranian, which can happen). the most persianate iranians are the least religious, and the most religious are the least persianate.

    1. Shia is equally spread among Arabs including Arabian peninsula. Even Albanians had a kind of shiaism.

      1. they still due. the bektashi is still around. that being said, a lot of these ghulat sects are only shia cuz they aren’t sunni. the zaydi are very similar to sunni. the twelvers arguably more like sunnis in deep ways than they are like ismailis, let alone very heterodox groups like alawites and alevis.

        1. When I went to Albania, I went to a disused Bektashi place, ‘mosque’ may be a misnomer I think. Since the Albaian govt banned all religions for 60 years, the place was going to ruin, still good to look at.
          Shia comes in a whole range of sects , making Sunnis nervous . If Sunnah means Orthodox (from what I understand) Twelvers are equally orthodox . Alawites generally prefer a secular government since that will stop giving orthodox Muslims undue advantage . Even Druze don’t bother about who rules government as long as they are left alone.

    2. I have Shias in my extended family and they are really into Iran (but then again these are the people who are of Iranian ancestry).

      1. i have encountered religious shia who are super into the iranian regime. but these are not persian-obsessed. the people who are into iran for its persianness seem to be 1) more secular 2) have some reputed or real connection genealogically

        1. I should have been more clear,what i meant as Persianized was more current day shia Iran, not Cyrus’s Persia.

          “Shia is equally spread among Arabs including Arabian peninsula”

          Thats is what i meant irrespective of being Arab/S-Asian if you are shia you are Iranized(if you dont like the term persianized).

          1. Thats is what i meant irrespective of being Arab/S-Asian if you are shia you are Iranized(if you dont like the term persianized).

            what does that mean? unlike south asian muslims arab shia don’t have iranian names. seriously, i’ve never met a twelver shia from lebanon that seems iranian in any way.

            in the middle east ppl say ‘pro-iran/shia party.’ not ‘iranized’. that’s a cultural term that has definite valence (the shia cities in iraq are mildly iranized due to migration of iranians over the past few centuries).

          2. I am talking about the today’s world politics of Arabized vs Iranized, not names. You can have the most Arabic sounding names from Arabs who follow Shia-ism, thus relating more with the Iranian regime (thus Iranized). Ditto for S-asian having the most sanskrit sounding name and being a shia(if that’s possible).

  28. you must be saying this because you know shia ppl who are ‘iranized.’ what does that mean besides being pro-iran???? if nothing, that that’s not a deep affinity at all. ismailis don’t care about iran.

    1. Meaning irrespective of geography they would look to Iran to suggest where their community should stand on certain issues(not simply being pro iran). Just a small example.


      In Lucknow, Rafsanjani commended India’s secularism to a cheering Shia crowd, and at his press conference in Delhi, dismissed a Pakistani journalist’s question on Babri saying there was no “need for further propaganda in this regard”

      From that point onward you have seen the whole Babri mosque issue wholly taken up by Sunnis.

      Across the border

      As such, over a thousand Shiites from Pakistan, principally from the Shia Turi tribe of Kurram tribal region and the ethnic Hazaras from Quetta, have travelled to Syria to join the Iranian-backed Shia militia, Liwa Zaynabiyoun

      1. i think the issue here is semantic. you’re talking about the ‘shia crescent/bloc’ dynamic. which is going to be iran-centric due to iran’s role as the only large shia majority country.

        but ‘iranized’ and ‘persianized’ i took/take to be analogous with ‘arabicized’, which is cultural as opposed to political (yeah, there is some alignment to saudi arabia, but there are so many sunni countries that there isn’t a good analog)

  29. Kabir, a language carries with it a set of ideas, and civilizational ethos or a socio-cultural project. Here, Urdu as spoken by South Asian Muslims in the 19th and early part of the 20th century, and in modern Pakistan is a completely different entity from the Hindi (or Hindi-Urdu) spoken in the modern India despite their technical similarities.

    The former Urdu represents a civilizational reset. It does use Sanskrit grammar, but absolutely none of its non-basic vocabulary derives from any Sanskrit or other Indian literature (whether Hindu or not). It reprsents the cultural achievement of Islamic political supermacy in North India, where the resources and surplus of India could be directed towards a Perso-Islamic cultural project. The speaker of true Urdu embodies a Persianate cultural ethos and an Islamic morality. Indic concepts like dharma, nishkam karma, cyclical time (these arent just Hindu) would be alien to such a person.

    This is why Hindi words like sweekar (acceptance), nischit (definite), apeksha (expectation) mean absolutely nothing to modern day Pakistanis. You will not hear these words in daily speech, a speech of any Pakistani political leader or news broadcasts. You will hear them in India at all these levels.

    Hindi of India is a different ideology. It does contain healthy chunk of Arabic and Persian origin words, which can be used either directly in place of Sanskrit equivalents, or to convey a different meaning or emotion. Even the most right wing political leaders in India will use Perso-Arabic origin words in their speeches, all of which do have Sanskrit equivalents (haqeeqat – vaastav, ehsaan – aabhaar, mehnat – shram).

    I am not sure why you are insisting that the Persianized (and lately Arabized/Punjabized) Urdu of pre partition South Asian Muslims and today’s Pakistan is an ‘Indian’ language. Apart from the highly technical perspective of linguistic families, this simply isnt true. We’ve been over this many times now, and I am not responding unless you have a more substantive argument than Hindi and Urdu are the ‘same’ due to classification.

    1. I am not sure why you are insisting that the Persianized (and lately Arabized/Punjabized) Urdu of pre partition South Asian Muslims and today’s Pakistan is an ‘Indian’ language. Apart from the highly technical perspective of linguistic families, this simply isnt true. We’ve been over this many times now, and I am not responding unless you have a more substantive argument than Hindi and Urdu are the ‘same’ due to classification.

      this is a ridiculous comment. lol. kabir is totally right and you are wrong. the fact that i am saying this should perhaps give you pause that though no one can move your position you’re going down the road of solipsism in word games. any definition of ‘indian’ languages that doesn’t include urdu is a ridiculous definition. ask any farsi speaker if urdu is indian and they’ll tell you what’s what.

      you can engage in sophistry and say it’s “highly technical”, but as a bengali speaker the similarities of urdu and hindi are clear and audible to me. bengali, despite its indo-aryan nature, is clearly the ‘outgroup’ compared to urdu-hindi (and even hindu/gujarati/punjabi). in contrast, when i hear oryia and assamese it’s clearly affinal.

      this is like arguing english is not a germanic language because a lot of the new french and ultimately latinate borrowings. that doesn’t negate that when we english speakers hear frisian being spoken it is strange. or that when we are in finland and hear finnish hearing swedish is jarring because it is so familiar.

    2. Vikram, maybe all the linguists in the world are wrong and you are correct. But I doubt that possibility very much.

      A language which evolved from Khari Boli in Delhi and Lucknow (Core North India) is an Indian language according to most reasonable people. It certainly is not a Middle Eastern language.

      Your examples like “sweeker” etc are all very familiar to any Pakistani who has watched Hindi dramas. My maternal grandmother, who lived in Pakistani Punjab all her life, had no issues following Indian soap operas. Once you get used to the fact that “parivar” is being used instead of “khandan”, it was fairly easy to do. As depicted in your soaps, North Indian Hindu culture is exactly like Pakistani culture.

      I find this tendency to “Otherize” Indian Muslims very distasteful and as I said offensive on a personal level given that my ancestors were from the UP. Just because they went to Pakistan in 1947 doesn’t change their basic ethnicity or culture. You seem to believe in the TNT, whether you will admit it or not.

      Common Urdu as spoken by people around me in Lahore is not highly Persianized. A visit to Pakistan would disabuse you of that notion very quickly.

    3. ” Apart from the highly technical perspective of linguistic families, this simply isnt true.”
      That is a bit strange argument. Hindi and Urdu have the same grammar and there is mutual intelligibility 100%. Whatever Modi speaks in India, Pakistanis can understand, and whatever Pakistani PM speaks Indian – generally North Indian to make the argument simpler – audiences can understand at all levels of society. It was earlier called Hindustani . They are same languages with slightly different vocabularies due to political and cultural reasons ; much like Serbian and Croatian.

      1. Just for fun, I picked a random clip from a public meeting in Pakistan .


        I would be interested to know if any Hindi speaker does not understand what is the speaker saying., in part or wholly. Even me, with my dodgy Hindi can understand something.

      2. Thank you. Someone else recognizes reality. Urdu and Hindi are basically the same language. Linguists say they are two standardized “registers” of one language (Hindustani).

        There are differences in vocabulary obviously. We say “Pak Fauj” while you say “Bharitya Sena”. We use the word “Khala” for mother’s sister while Hindi speakers use “maasi”. But a little bit of familiarity with each other’s media and these are not insurmountable challenges. The script is more of an issue. Pakistanis would have to be really motivated to learn to read and write in Devanagri and Indian non-Muslims would have to be really motivated to learn the Perso-Arabic alphabet (Indian Muslims know this alphabet already if they can read the Quran in Arabic).

        1. In the case of Tamil also, a new script called Arwi (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arwi ) was used by Tamil Muslims in India and Srilanka , which basically wrote Tamil sounds in Arabic script with few other sounds not found in Tamil , presumably to make Quran reading easier. It was more prevalent in the 19th century . This is also called Arabu Tamil. Books have been printed in the script and I believe there is a Unicode set for it.

          Arwi script is used to write Tamil Language using Arabic Script, with the inclusion of few extra characters and diacritics. Arwi script is used by Tamil speaking Muslim communities in Tamil Nadu, Malaysia, Singapore, etc

          This is not well known to Tamils at large. I suspect Nastaliq is the Hindi version of Arwi. I can’t read either Nastaliq or Arwi

    4. sweekar (acceptance), nischit (definite), apeksha (expectation)

      Good heavens, mate .. where do you live?? Who uses “sweekar”, “nischit” and “apeksha” in a normal Hindi conversation?

      Suffice to say no dude ever got a girl with “apeksha hai ki tum merey pyar ko nishchit hi sweekar karogi” in North India in the last 1000 years 😀

      1. LOL. I think I’ve heard “sweekar” on a Hindi soap. I used to watch a few of them and started using Hindi words in my Urdu and my parents looked at me funny. I think once I said “Main aapki baat say sehmat hoon” instead of “Main aapki baat say itefaq raktha hoon” or something like that.

        Also I remember saying “Chinta na kijiyay” instead of “Fiqr na kijiyay”. But other than a few funny looks and a lecture about not watching trashy soaps and movies (and I have to admit they are trashy), there was not much of a reaction.

        1. Why does your family consider words like sehmat and chinta a product of bad influences ?

          1. Well, they clearly aren’t Urdu words, I think that was the point. That was not the Urdu that grandma spoke in Agra.

            The “bad influences” were more the stupidity of the soaps. I don’t think any rational person would call “Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai” high art.

          2. Do they react similarly if you use English vocabulary ? Like ‘main is baat se agree karta hu’ or ‘tension mat lo’.

          3. We were taught to either speak correct English or correct Urdu, depending on the situation.

            Using an English word is acceptable when you don’t know the proper Urdu word, but the idea is to speak both languages correctly. Of course, we tend to think in English and so expressing complex concepts in Urdu is difficult, especially for me since I grew up in the States and by default English is my first language.

        2. In the examples above, sehmat is perfectly OK. It is a clear borrowing from Sanskrit, but Hindized enough (sah > seh, lit. with, together).

          Regarding your other example, “kijiye” would be a little too formal. N Indians would typically use “kareiN” or “karo”.

          BTW there is no qaf in fikr, فکر. You are hyper-correcting and this isn’t the first time I have seen Pakistanis do that.

          1. We use “kijiye” in my family. “Karein” is considered rude. Maybe that’s just us. My dad’s mother was from the UP, so the politesse was kind of built in. She always referred to herself as “Humein” and thought “Mujhay” was quite lower-class. She used to have heart attacks when she heard my maternal grandmother speak Urdu. “Main” for I (which is a Punjabi thing) used to drive Dadi insane.

            I have no system for romanizing Urdu. I just write it like it sounds. Not a linguist obviously.

      2. Slapstik, I think a lot depends on the original background of the Hindi speaker. You will find such words used a lot in the Hindi spoken by folks outside of North West India (Delhi, Punjab, J&K). Sweekar, Nischit and apeksha are used very often by my relatives in Indore, as well as my wife’s family (who are from West UP). A lot changes with generations.

        But I agree that the trend in cities is towards more English vocabulary, but this will change as people’s goals in life switch from material acquisition to living in a desired cultural milieu.

  30. For what its worth, I have a clearly Hindu “nickname” that my parents call me. They even picked Kabir because he was an Indian saint. My mom really doesn’t like Arabic names and my father has a very strong South Asian identity.

    i was born with a compound name with various constituents. kabir was one of them.

    i just did a quick mental review. it seems that my family’s ‘official’ names have a form where the *forenames* are arabic but the “surnames” (or titles) are persianate. never thought about the pattern before. this may reflect arabicization then, since forenames are more conscious choices in the present and the “surnames” are inherited (though also chosen, my maternal grandfather’s family was from the hindu kayastha caste before they converted hundreds of years before, and remembered their names as “sarkar”…they picked a persianate surname that sounds very similar to that ;-).

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