A final year UG from Columbia University, Mathew Capetola has been living in Purani Haveli since two weeks and meeting scholars

Every Friday night, Mathew Capetola, his teacher mentors and a couple friends sit in a New York café to discuss Ghalib's poetry. “We look for a far out café which is less frequented,” laughs the 21-year-old American budding Urdu scholar with an Italian lineage.

Matt is pretty fluent in Hindi and Urdu. A final year UG from Columbia University majoring in mathematics and linguistics, he has been living in Purani Haveli for the last two weeks and meeting scholars to learn more about Dakhni Urdu. “The Urdu here has seen a mixture of words borrowed from Telugu, Marathi and Kannada giving it a unique touch. However, scholars from the North claim that their language is more pure,” he says. His interest in languages developed when he came to Orissa's hinterlands as a freshman through an NGO two years ago. “I came with an open mind though my mother was worried. I had a problem communicating and the ‘learn Oriya in 30-days' book was useless. I picked up a little Hindi and Oriya interacting with villagers,” he says, sipping Irani tea at the hip cultural house at La Makaan in Banjara Hills.

Back in the US, he decided to learn Hindi and his interest in Urdu was serendipitous. He was being taught Hindi by Dalpat Purohit when he got fascinated with Urdu literature, thanks to the influence of another mentor-teacher, Francis Prichard. Matt returned to learn more about early Urdu literature and toured places such as Allahabad and Rajasthan before coming here. “Urdu evolved in Delhi and quickly spread but literary status came much later,” he explains, dressed in cotton slacks, light blue denim shirt and carrying a bulging bag of Urdu books.

Wherever Matt went, he came across the resigned tone of scholars about the language languishing. “The overwhelming thought is whether Urdu will survive as it's not prominent in public schools. Most boys are sent to English schools for better prospects, whereas girls speak better Urdu as they are sent to ‘madrasas'.

He points out that Hindi and Urdu have the same grammar but different vocabulary. “They supplement each other in the early forms but identity politics have pulled them apart,” he feels. “Urdu words are casually used everywhere without perhaps realising it.” Matt intends to pursue research in the language. “I have a whole lot of data with me. I don't know what I am going to do with it. I may write a book,” he smiles.

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