Volume: 8, No: 06 ; June-2014
Language has always been of utmost importance to Lucknow. Urdu and that too Luckhnawi Urdu is a natural part of day to day conversation of the people of Lucknow, irrespective of their mother-tongue or their religion. A devout Hindu too in Lucknow would use this dialect without any inhabitations, while the grace and style of Urdu in Lucknow comes quite naturally to him as it would to a person of Muslim faith, all by virtue of being born and lived in Lucknow.
Langauage of Lucknow was by all means superior to the languages of Delhi and Hyderabad that were other two seats of refinement, grace and style. Mirza Ghalib of Delhi could not resist the charm of Lucknow’s language and in spite of his refinements in language did accept being inferior to the refined dialect of Lucknow.
After all what makes Lucknow’s language so very different ? Difference between the Mughal culture and Awadhi culture lies in the fact that the royal dialect of the courts of Awadh came on the streets and in the lanes to evolve and flourish among the common subjects in Lucknow, while Mughal courts were like all other royal courts that had a difference in the culture and language of the courts and the common subjects.
Use of ‘Hum’ which stands for ‘we’ is still spoken by an average Lucknowite in his day to day language to refer to himself in place of ‘Mein’ or ‘I’. Now this particular difference elsewhere can only be found in the royals referring themselves as ‘we’, while the common subjects calling themselves as ‘I’.
Josh Malihabadi, the great Urdu poet, who migrated to Pakistan after independence, took umbrage when the Nawab of Hyderabad used “tum” for him. Ghalib wrote, “Teri Mahfil mein aakar bade beaabroo huay / Aap say tum aur tum say tu huay” (I got humiliated in your company / Aap got relegated to tum and finally to tu).
Ghalib himself frowned upon the use of tum and called it a gaali (abuse). It’s said that the main reason of Ghalib’s growing disillusionment with his favourite city, Delhi, was the fast intrusion of tum and tu in the local lingo of the 19th century Delhi. Ghalib’s coeval Daagh Dehlawi was so worried about this undesirable invasion of tu-tum that he almost stopped talking to strangers, lest they used tum for him! “Abuse me, but don’t say tum to me,” Daagh once ruefully remarked.
There is a famous and a popular quoted anecdote in Urdu literature. The great Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir was once returning from Delhi to Lucknow. One gentleman from Delhi offered to give him lift in his tonga. That man incessantly kept talking during the journey from Delhi to Lucknow. Mir remained silent. When he reached Lucknow, he profusely thanked that man for giving him a lift and gifted whatever money he got from the Mushaira in Delhi. That man asked him,”Mir Sahab why didn’t you utter a single word during the whole journey?” “Because I didn’t want to spoil my language by replying to your questions couched in an inferior tongue,” calmly replied Mir Taqi Mir.
The late Urdu poet Anand Narayan Mulla wrote of the legendary Urdu poet Firaq, who never ever used ‘tum’ even for his pet dog! Once Mulla went to meet Firaq at his home. Firaq himself opened the door. His dog was sleeping on the sofa. Seeing it asleep, Firaq mildly scolded the dog, “Mehmaan tashreef laaye hain aur aap so rahay hain? Jaaiye andar jaakar laytiyay!” (The guest has arrived and you’re still sleeping? Go inside and sleep!) Firaq’s dog calmly woke up and went inside! Mulla wrote later that I was flabbergasted to see a man like Firaq talk to his dog in such a gentle manner and addressing it “Aap”! Moreover, his dog also understood the ultra-refined language of his master! Firaq once said proudly, “My dog starts barking the moment he gets to hear ‘tum’ and he faints if someone calls him tu! Just imagine, whose dog was so used to hearing such superlative language, how eloquent his master must have been !
If one is lucky, one can still witness an argument between two elderly persons in old Lucknow localities. You’ll never hear a single cuss word and ‘tu’ or ‘tum’ in their heated argument. Arguing without abusing is something one can learn from the older generation of Lucknow. Use of abusive language is another great point of view that differentiates a Lucknowite from others. A typical Lucknowite would in a fight or an argument use ‘Aap’ that denotes respect instead of ‘Tum’ that is derogatory to refer to someone, though both mean the same, ‘You’. “Muaf kariyega, agar aap nein ek lafz bhi aagey bola, toh hum aapkee ammi-jaan ke shaan mein gustakhi kar deingey” This simply mean, “Excuse me, if you speak a single word more, I will be sorry to use foul language for your mother”.
But in our linguistically loose times that we live in, conversations start with tu and do not end with fighting anymore. So in this rather uncouth era, and as a contradiction to the usage of ‘aap’, we justify the use of ‘tum’ and ‘tu’ as the language of aap. Remember the immortal ghazal sung by Mehdi Hasan: “Pyaar jab had sey badha saarey takalluf mit gayay; Pehlay aap, phir tum huay, phir tum sey tu wo ho gaye” (When love exceeded its limits, all formalities took the back seat, first it was ‘aap’, then ‘tum’ and finally ‘tu’).
Sub-continental Urdu directly originated from Mughal Persian, which was devoid of Aap or tum. It’s worthwhile to mention that Persian has just “shuma” (aap) in its vocabulary. It was Arabic, a language rich in expletives as well, that influenced Persian and today one can find abuses, as well as tum or tu in modern Persian.
It’s worthwhile to state that in Urdu culture, Allah is always addressed with tu. And the rationale is: there’s no formality between Allah (God) and banda (worshipper).
Today too, language is considered to be an area of utmost importance and finesse in Lucknow while ‘Begumati Zuban’ (language spoken by the ladies) of Lucknow is considered the purest and the correct language without any adulteration. It is said, often the linguists picked up clues on the best language usage and skills from the ladies of the royal houses. At times of confusion they even went a step further to secretly listen to the conversation of the ladies when talking among themselves and later use it in their writings. It was and it still is quite important to understand and speak in the Luckhnowi dialect, no matter what religion one belongs to. A person born and brought-up in Lucknow will still be identified by his language and the style, though this highly sophisticated language that once Lucknow was known for, is fast depleting and at times the older generation seems quite worried about the way we in Lucknow are heading to. If one compares the language of Lucknow with that of other cities, one would still find a huge difference, though seldom would a Lucknowite today take your permission to abuse you, but for sure we still do not use ‘tum’ and ‘tu’ and often the use of these terms still become a reason of dispute between the two Lucknowites.
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