Hindi and Urdu: Sa’adat Hasan Manto


This is Muhammad Umar Memon’s translation of an article by Sa’adat Hasan Manto.

The translation first appeared in The Annual of Urdu Studies.The Hindi-Urdu dispute has been raging for some time now. Maulvi Abdul Haq Sahib, Dr Tara Singh and Mahatma Gandhi know what there is to know about this dispute. For me, though, it has so far remained incomprehensible. Try as hard as I might, I just haven’t been able to understand. Why are Hindus wasting their time supporting Hindi, and why are Muslims so beside themselves over their preservation of Urdu? A language is not made, it makes itself. And no amount of human effort can ever kill a language. When I tried to write something about this current hot issue, I ended up with the following long conversation:Munshi Narain Parshad:  Iqbal Sahib, are you going to drink this soda water?

Mirza Muhammad Iqbal: Yes, I am.

Munshi: Why dont you drink lemon?

Iqbal: No particular reason. I just like soda water. At our house, everyone likes to drink it.

Munshi: In other words, you hate lemon.

Iqbal: Oh, not at all. Why would I hate it, Munshi Narain Parshad? Since everyone at home drinks soda water, I’ve sort of grown accustomed to it. That’s all. But if you ask me, actually lemon tastes better than plain soda.

Munshi: That is precisely why I was surprised hat you would prefer something salty over something sweet. and lemon isn’t just sweet, it has a nice flavour. What do you think?

Iqbal: You are absolutely right, but…

Munshi: But what?

Iqbal: Nothing. I was just going to say that I’ll take soda.

Munshi: Same nonsense again. I’m not forcing you to drink poison, am I? Brother, what’s the difference between the two? Both bottles are made in the same factory after all. The same machine has poured water into them. If you take the sweetness and flavour out of the lemon, what’s left?

Iqbal: Just soda… a kind of salty water…

Munshi: Then, what’s the harm in drinking the lemon?

Iqbal: No harm at all.

Munshi: Then drink!

Iqbal: And what will you drink?

Munshi: I’ll send for another bottle.

Iqbal: Why would you send for another bottle? What’s the harm in drinking plain soda?

Munshi: N… n… no harm.

Iqbal: So then, here, drink the soda water.

Munshi: And what will you drink?

Iqbal: I’ll get another bottle.

Munshi: Why would you send for another bottle? What’s the harm in drinking lemon?

Iqbal: N… n… no harm. And what’s the harm in drinking soda?

Munshi: None at all.

Iqbal: The fact is, soda is rather good.

Munshi: But I think that lemon… is rather good.

Iqbal: Perhaps, if you say so. Although I’ve heard all along from my elders that soda is rather good.

Munshi: Now what’s a person to make of this: I’ve heard all along from my elders that lemon is rather good.

Iqbal: But what’s your own opinion?

Munshi: And what’s yours?

Iqbal: My opinion… hum… my opinion. My opinion is just this… but why don’t you tell me your opinion?

Munshi: My opinion… hum… my opinion is just this… but why should I tell it first?

Iqbal: I don’t think we’ll get anywhere this way. Look, just put a lid on your glass. I’ll do the same. Then we’ll discuss the matter leisurely.

Munshi: No, we can’t do that. I’ve already popped the caps off the bottles. We’ll just have to drink. Come on, make up your mind, before all the fizz is gone. These drinks are worthless without the fizz.

Iqbal: I agree. And at least you do agree that there’s no real difference between lemon and soda.

Munshi: When did I ever say that? There’s plenty of difference. They’re as different as night and day. Lemon is sweet, flavourful, tart-three things more than soda. Soda only has fizz, and that’s so strong it just barges into the nose. By comparison, lemon is very tasty. One bottle and you feel fresh for hours. Generally, soda water is for sick people. Besides, you’ve just admitted yourself that lemon tends to be tastier than soda.

Iqbal: Well, that I did. But I never said that lemon is better than soda. Tasty doesn’t mean that a thing is also beneficial. Take achaar, it’s very tasty, but you already know about its harmful effects. he presence of sweetness and tartness doesn’t prove that something is good. If you cnsulted a doctor he would tell you the harm lemon does to the stomach. But soda, that’s something else. The thing is, it helps digestion.

Munshi: Look, we can settle the matter by mixing the two.

Iqbal: I have no objection to that.

Munshi: Well, then, fill this glass halfway with soda.

Iqbal: Why don’t you fill half the glass with your lemon? I’ll pour my soda after that.

Munshi: Makes no sense. Why don’t you pour your soda first?

Iqbal: Because I want to drink soda-lemon mixed.

Munshi: And I want lemon-soda mixed.

By Shivam Vij. Reproduced from Minds@UW and posted December 5, 2011 in “Kafila” at http://kafila.org/2011/12/05/hindi-and-urdu-saadat-hasan-manto/

Shahmukhi: from whose mouth?


A few years ago, a Punjabi poet and acquaintance of mine, dismissed the term “Shahmukhi” as something that did not (or should not) exist. He has since anointed it the “Lahori” script, reasons of which I am not sure, other than that Punjabi may be written in the script in and around Lahore.

The term “Shahmukhi”  means “from the mouth of the king (shah).” Which king is a matter of conjecture. One may surmise “Shahmukhi” sprang from the mouths of the Muslim rulers of the Punjab or from Ranjit Singh who maintained the use of Persian in his court and the use of its nastalliq script style, the style most commonly used for Shahmukhi.

Unlike the Gurmukhi and Devanagri scripts, Shahmukhi does not constitute a separate script. We can define Shahmukhi instead as the name given to the Perso-Arabic script when used to write Punjabi, including several letters for sounds found in Punjabi. The term itself is rather quaint and seems to have deliberately been coined so as to have Shahmukhi play partner to Gurmukhi.

But Shahmukhi exists; it has a name and has been naturalized into Punjabi. Those who consider Gurmukhi to “be” Punjabi do Punjabi a disservice. For Punjabi has not only the facility of Gurmukhi, but also the elegance of Devanagri and the beauty of Shahmukhi. From whose mouth then did the term spring? Perhaps not from a king, but from a Punjabi so let it spring some more!


As the official language of the Union of India, Hindi is a potent reminder of the political and cultural effects of nineteenth century communalism and twentieth century partition. The creation of certain upper-caste Hindu communities, Hindi, with its Devanagri script and Sanskrit vocabulary, privileges the culture of those communities to the exclusion of others. Its association with “Hindu” in the slogan “Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan” moreover (versus ‘Urdu, Muslim, Pakistan’) leaves one to question its implications for India’s “unity in diversity.”

Since 1947, the Government of India has presented diversity as natural to the idea of India. India has “instituted” diversity whereby symbols and institutions are (re)imagined to reflect the “unity in diversity” credo. So, we have the Indian flag, the national anthem-state-sponsored documentary films on the life of the nation and the pageantry of the Republic Day parade. Each of these is officially patronized, sold to India’s citizens, “naturalizing” the idea of a pluralistic and multicultural India.

Hindi though is a major exception to this rule, naturalizing instead the idea that one particular Indian culture or community is officially more deserving of recognition than others. With over six decades having passed since partition, India can reconfigure Hindi so it is less communally colored and more inclusive in its vocabulary and borrowings. Like any national symbol of institution, Hindi is an ongoing historical project which each passing generation of citizens is free to renegotiate, reinstitute and pursue.

Alongside Sanskrit, Hindi can add words from Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi, English or Japanese, Yoruba and Basque. Where Hindi can really become a common language and create common civic space and inheritance though, is to bring it back into touch with Hindustani, and in particular, Urdu. While at the level of popular culture Urdu and Hindustani are already subsumed into Hindi through cinema, film songs, popular music and poetry, so too has the Devanagri script proved accommodating with magazines like Sarai which sports a Hindi with a mix of Sanskrit, Urdu and English words and Mahakta Anchal, an “Urdu” monthly magazine, published in Devanagri script but with a higher proportion of Persianized Urdu vocabulary.

An official Hindi that can grow and absorb easily will not help in its own development but can more properly be called the property of all citizens who wish to debate, deliberate, dream and protest in it. If after sixty-five years, a Hindustani or Urdu influenced Hindi proves popular culturally, so too should a more open and demotic style of Hindi officially, a common enterprise in which all citizens can partake, a move at least in spirit toward “unity in diversity.”