The Many Tongues of Delhi
It was Delhi’s day out; a day when the tales of Delhi, due to its languages, had a poignancy and humour to it, instead of the usual horrors. Language, as it is, is wise; they, after all, carry places, codes, insights at a deep civilisation level. Delhi of the tales imbibed some of these characteristics.
“Language is a living thing. It is a fact that is sought to be denied through grammars and dictionaries, which create the illusion that language can be freezed. It was necessarily born out of the need to reach out to others. It is precisely when we are ‘unmerged’ that we need language. The notion of community is intrinsic to language. When a language is violates, it is a violation at a much deeper level,” said Alok Rai, author and former professor at DU, at the second leg of ILF Samanvay’s curtain raiser event, Languages of Delhi, atIndia Habitat Centre.
Launched under the framework of #notonguesbarred conversations, the panel, which included historian Sohail Hashmi and educationist Syeda Hameed, introduced the notion that languages carry the code of our past, but also carry the imprint of our future.
“Languages have to be inclusive; they are dynamic and constantly imbibing. These evolutions are essentially urban, because that is where people belonging to different traditions come together,” added Hashmi. It is true of Delhi too, the city of outsiders.
Delhi was the city of Jats and Gujjars; everyone else is an outsider. “It is this mixing of over 1,000 years that gave birth to the language that we know as Hindustani or Hindi or Urdu, depending on where you stood. It imbibed from a vast territory – Turqs, Pashtuns, Persians, Iranians, Uzbeks and later from the Portuguese, French and Dutch. All of them contributed to the language. Girah, Mez, kursi, kameez – all these words became a part of the Hindvi dialect,” said Hashmi.
This language travelled to Gujarat with the Turk sardars, and then Bahmani kingdom. When this kingdom broke up, Bijapur and Golconda picked up this language and named it Deccani. By then Delhi had ceased to be the capital, it was shifted to Agra by the Mughal kings, who were promoting Braj. Up to Aurangazeb, they all wrote poetry in Braj. “That language transformed to what it is now and it is still transforming,” added Hashmi.
Amidst these history lessons mapping the city’s linguistic traces, Hameed’s reading of Solah Singaar allowed us to step into the world of evolving customs and Fouzia Dastango’s recital took us to witness a kababi’s monologue and a few minutes into the life of a couple of Dhobans. Literature of a language is its wealth. “This poetry is but a glimpse. The dialogue, which is a continuum on languages, must go on,” said Hameed.
Risen out of this need for a dialogue is a project, Langscaping, that ILF Samanvay has conceived. “It will map the city’s linguistic routes. Since we can’t look at languages simplistically any longer, the project intends to map the linguistic spaces in the city. It doesn’t intend to differentiate between a major language or minor language. If any language is marginalised, it is marginalising the speaker. It is important to give an equal footing to all languages,” said Rizio Yohannan, the creative director of the festival.
Ashlin Mathew began with being an engineer, then believed that journalism is her true calling and she is in a no-woman’s zone. She describes herself as a boring centre-left, sometimes centre-right, procrastinator who has nothing better to do than stalk other people’s thoughts.