There is nothing new about Hyderabad attracting American students. But four of them are here on a totally different mission – to learn Urdu. When you bump into them don’t try to converse in English. Try Urdu and you will be in for a surprise.
Yeah, they may not have the native accent but they can sure speak the language fluently. Florence Kerns, Caity Martin, Sabina Shaikh and Yahya Muzzafar Khan are the new generation Americans drawn to Urdu.
Students of the University of Texas, Austin, they are pursuing the Hindi-Urdu Flagship programme and are now in India as part of the ‘overseas immersion year’ to get first hand information about the language and its culture. The undergraduate programme is designed to impart proficiency in Hindi and Urdu to those majoring in a variety of courses.
“Urdu is a very sweet language. I am particularly enchanted by its poetry,” says Florence, who wants to become an Urdu professor. She renders the famous ghazal of Hyderabad’s founder, Quli Qutb Shah, to prove her point.
Piya baaj pyaala piya jaae na
Piya baaj ek din jiye jaae na
Caity and Yahya are learning Urdu with the idea of getting into the foreign service. “Urdu and Hindi will be helpful if we are posted in India or Pakistan,” they say.
Sabina has an edge over the others as her parents are from Pakistan and speak Urdu. She herself was born in the US and plans to study medicine in India. Syed Akbar Hyder, who teaches Asian studies in Texas University, says there are 60 students who are learning Urdu. There are different reasons why Americans want to learn the language.
Some want to understand Ghalib and Iqbal – two of Urdu’s greatest poets -- while some are interested in working for the State Department. There is another interesting reason why Urdu means so much for Americans. “They want to understand Bollywood films in a much better way,” remarks Mr. Hyder.
Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan are a rage in the US and many want to understand their films thoroughly. There is yet another factor why people who have migrated to the US from the subcontinent make their children learn Urdu. They want them to converse in Urdu with their grandparents.
Whatever, Uncle Sam has many takers for Urdu although the language is going through a rough patch in the place of its birth.
The Texas students’ love for Urdu comes out clearly from the couplet of Faiz Ahmed Faiz embossed on their T-shirts.
Bol ke lab azaad hain tere
Bol zaban ab tak teri hai
Urdu apart, the American students are also floored by Hyderabadi delicacies. Having partaken of ‘biryani’ and ‘shikampur’ kebab they plan to move on to ‘haleem’ and ‘paya’. Howzatt!
“Urdu is a very sweet language. I am particularly enchanted by its poetry,” says Florence, a student of University of Texas