Lament for lost era
S. D. Sharma

Urdu litterateur Akhlaq Mohammad Khan, popularly known as Shahryar, who shot to fame for his songs in Umrao Jaan, talks of the language’s fading charm and efforts for revival

Urdu hai jiska naam sabhi jaante hain Dagh, sarre jahan mein dhoom hamari zuban ki hai..." This couplet by poet Dagh Dehlavi is a candid comment on the epoch-making era of the Urdu language and literature, when these were at the zenith of popularity under the patronage of Mughul rulers.

Akhlaq Mohammad Khan
Akhlaq Mohammad Khan

But with the perpetual change in the social milieu and influence of alien cultures on the lifestyles and aptitude of the people over a period of time, the Urdu language, too, underwent many ups and downs, only to get resurrected, at least, for now, observes the Aligarh-based Urdu litterateur, Dr Akhlaq `A0Mohammad Khan, popularly known as Shahryar.

Recipient of India’s highest Jnanpith literary award of Rs 7 lakh in 2008 and the Sahitya Akademi honour, Shahryar had no legacy in the realm of art, rather he is the only one to wield the pen in a family of Army and police officers. Credited with over a dozen literary works, penning lyrics for a few films and participation in international poetic symposiums, Shahryar retired as chairman, Department of Urdu, Aligarh Muslim University. In the city recently for a seminar on the invitation of the Chandigarh Sahitya Akademi, he shared his views on contemporary Urdu language and literature.


The Urdu language and literature are losing sheen and are almost on the verge of extinction. What inspires you to be so optimistic about their future?

Languages never die and Urdu, too, will survive to grow and regain its lost glory. Despite the fact that Urdu learning is not employment oriented and its takers are much less in educational institutions, if the comparative burst of activities like the publications of books, magazines and holding of mushairas at the national and international levels are anything to go by, Urdu is certainly looking up. The translation of Urdu books, now available in Devnagari script, too, has augmented its scope and popularity in India and among Indians living abroad.

How do you rate the role of Urdu akademies in the promotion of Urdu ?

Without any prejudice, I wish to state that all state Urdu akademies are more or less following the same agenda, fighting with their financial limitations. Most akademies rely on the holding of seminars, mushairas and workshops, which can only can be relished by the Urdu-knowing audience alone and not the masses. Akademies must publish children’s literature of all type, preferably bilingual, to woo the young.

Urdu ghazals and film songs have a global acceptance and beget popularity for the lyricists, too. Comment.

With poetry at its heart, the ghazal is the ultimate in lyrical expression and ghazal maestros like Jagjit Singh, Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Begum Akhtar and others had transformed it into a spectacular literary phenomenon. Even my ghazals in films like Umrao Jaan, Gaman, Anjuman, Faasle and others made me famous the world over.

I myself had experienced instant popularity after my songs like Dil cheez kya hai... were immortalised by film Umrao Jaan, which reached a wider audience through the medium of films in a Hindi script. The public bought and read my other books, too, and in the process, they relished my serious literary works also.

An intellectual Urdu litterateur or a film lyricist — which sobriquet do you relish more?

In fact, both are complementary, but I prefer to be a serious author though films gave instant and wider popularity and admiration. People bought my other books to read, which was an eventual gain.

What are the challenges before a writer in sculpting poetry and its genres like the ghazal, jadeed ghazal, nazm or film song to a given situation and its parameters?

For any accomplished and experienced author gifted with a vision and rich vocabulary, it is so simple. Like a nazm, blank verse, any film song reflects the same mood, while writing a ghazal is curious art work, where each couplet is itself a poem, complete with its own metaphor. While the traditional ghazal centres around romantic love themes alone, the modern (jadeed) ghazal brings the whole spectrum of human emotions `A0and socio-cultural themes into its ambit.