A few years ago, at a restaurant in Jabalpur (MP), seeing me read an Urdu daily Inquilab, an old but upright gentleman asked me politely, “Maaf keejiyega, aap ko Jabalpur mein ‘Inquilab’ kahan mila?” (Excuse me, where have you got Inquilab in Jabalpur?)
I told him the place I picked up a copy of the Urdu daily from. Curious, I asked him, “Aapko Urdu aati hai?” (Do you know Urdu?)
“Urdu hi aati hai,” he chuckled. This intrigued me. How come, I asked him.
He started narrating his love for the Urdu language. He was a Rajput from Sikar in Rajasthan. His name was Bhupat Singh and he had retired from the Army as a Brigadier. Right from his childhood days, he was interested in the language. Way back in 1967, when he was posted in the Valley as a Major, he started learning Urdu from a maulavi, who was a religious teacher in his unit. He wanted to learn Urdu with its Persian script (Urdu script is based on Persian rasm-ul-khat). Soon, he not only learnt the script, but also mastered the language so well that he appeared as a private student and earned a master’s degree in Urdu from Kashmir University! He also taught his wife how to read and write Urdu. His daughter was four years old at that time. “Meri dukhtar ka kakahra alif, be, pe se hua; ka, kha, ga se nahin” (My daughter began with Urdu alphabets of alif, be, pe rather than Devanagari’s ka, kha, ga), he told me proudly.
Interested in Urdu poetry and a lover of Ghalib and Faiz, he began to write ghazals in his free time and when he was transferred to Ahmednagar in Maharashtra in the mid-seventies, he started honing his poetic skills under the tutelage of a Ustad shayar Salam Ahmednagari, who gave him a takhallus (nom de guerre), junoon (craziness) seeing his craze for Urdu! He put his daughter at Chand Sultana Anglo-Urdu School, and she went on to pursue her MA in Urdu from Pune University, securing the third position on the merit list.
I was awestruck. I remember his pithy words that still echo in my consciousness, “Ye siyasat-e-zabaan mere idraak se baahar ki baat hai. Zabaan kisi qaum-e-makhsoos ki milkiyat nahin hoti” (This politics of languages is beyond my understanding. A language is not a prerogative of a specific community). I nodded in agreement. His sheen, qaaf and ain, ghain were just perfect.
Throughout my life, I’ve interacted with scholars of Urdu, Persian and Arabic and interacted with the ahle-zabaan (native speakers). But Brigadier Bhupat Singh had no background or grounding in Urdu, yet he mastered the language admirably. A consummate gentleman, he insisted on footing the bill, being much senior to me. I’m still in touch with Brigadier Bhupat Singh, who in this age of e-mails and WhatsApp, writes to me in a cursive Nastaliq style without a mistake in orthography and sends his ghazals across. Whenever I visit Bhopal or Jabalpur, I make it a point to meet my old friend whose Urdu fascinates me. Let’s all emulate Brigadier Bhupat Singh in this age of rabid linguistic chauvinism.
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