Understanding Rekhta

Are Hindi, Hindavi, Rekhta and Urdu different names for the same linguistic, literary and cultural heritage? Read on...

Published - December 15, 2017 01:42 am IST

The three-day Jashn-e-Rekhta (Rekhta Festival) that concluded on Sunday once again drew our attention to the shared linguistic, literary and cultural traditions that have evolved over the centuries. This was the fourth edition of the annual event and the fact that it was able to attract the youth in great numbers was very significant. Their presence dominated all the sessions irrespective of their nature and young men and women flocked to poetry recitation at mushairas, serious academic discussions and celebrity-driven events.

So, what is Rekhta that was celebrated with such great enthusiasm and passion? It is one of the names by which Hindi / Hindavi / Urdu was known in the 18th and 19th centuries. When Ghalib chose to pay tribute to Mir, he wrote: “Rekhte ke tumheen ustad nahin ho Ghalib, kahte hain agle zamaane mein koi Mir bhi thaa.” (Ghalib, you are not the only master of poetry in Rekhta. It is said that there was Mir too in the past.) Rekhta has at least three meanings – broken, scattered and mixed. In comparison with the sophisticated and well-structured Persian, Rekhta or Urdu sounded broken and mixed as it had the linguistic structure of the khari boli and was colloquial in nature. There is a famous story about Mir, universally described as Khuda-e-Sukhan (God of poetry), who was approached for advice by some members of Delhi’s Muslim aristocratic families who had begun to write poetry in Rekhta / Urdu. After listening to their compositions, he bluntly told them that they were fit for writing in Persian but not in Urdu because the language could be learnt and imbibed only by sitting and spending considerable time everyday on the steps of the Jama Masjid.

Travelling to south

This language had its predecessor in Dakhini that had gone to Deccan from the north. As Amrit Rai has established in his book, A House Divided , the mixed language of the north – Hindi or Hindavi – travelled to the south first with the Nathpanthi Yogis led by Gorakhnath and later with the army of Alauddin Khilji under his famous general Malik Kafur who conquered Gujarat in 1297, Maharashtra in 1304, Andhra in 1307 and Karnataka in 1308. When Muhammad bin-Tughlaq shifted his capital from Delhi to Devagiri or Daulatabad, a large part of Delhi’s population went there and many of them stayed back even after Tughlaq retraced his step. They took there their language Hindi/Hindavi which was a mixture of Punjabi, Haryanavi, Khari Boli, Brajbhasha, Awadhi and Rajasthani. The first important work in Dakhini is considered to be Meraaj-ul-Aashiqeen by famous 15th century Sufi saint Bandanawaz Gesudaraz. Until the last quarter of the 18th century, the language was called Hindi or Hindavi or Dehlavi and the first-ever use of the name Urdu occurred in a couplet by Mashafi (1750-1824) that has been dated to not earlier than1776. At the same time, it was also called Rekhta and thus Urdu and Rekhta were used interchangeably.

15dfr A House Divided

15dfr A House Divided

The “house” of Hindi / Hindavi / Hindustani was divided at Fort William College that was founded in 1800 at Calcutta (now Kolkata) and where John Borthwick Gilchrist, a surgeon and wandering linguist, was appointed the Professor of Hindustani. On the college staff were three Indian scholars – Sadal Mishra, Insha’llah Khan and Lallooji Lal – who produced three works and played the most important role in crafting two registers or styles of Hindustani that we now know as Urdu and Hindi. Lallooji Lal invented the modern Sanskritised Hindi by weeding out colloquial as well as Persian and Arabic words from spoken Hindustani while Insha wrote in the mixed language. It was at the Fort William College that Sanskritised Hindi was identified with the Hindus while the other register that used words of Perso-Arabic stock was identified with the Muslims.

But the memory of a shared, common language could not be erased as is evident in an address delivered by Premchand in April 1936 under the title “Hindu-Urdu Ki Ekta” (The Unity of Hindi and Urdu). Chandradhar Sharma Guleri, whose short story “Usne Kaha Tha” (She Had Said) ranks among the best in Hindi, had already opined in his book Purani Hindi (Old Hindi), published in 1914, that modern Hindi was born of Urdu. All these opinion notwithstanding, the grim reality is that the linguistic duality has come to stay and, over the past more than two centuries, modern Urdu and modern Hindi have crystallised.

15dfr One Language Two Scripts

15dfr One Language Two Scripts

Against this background, sustained endeavours like Jashn-e-Rekhta can play a very important role in underlining the essential commonness of our linguistic, literary and cultural heritage. Urdu literature, especially poetry, is very popular among even those who cannot read it in the Perso-Arabic script and this fact acquires significance if one were to find ways and means of minimising, if not doing away altogether, the distance between the two forms of essentially the same language that are divided by their respective scripts. Scholars such as Christopher R. King, whose book bears the title One Language, Two Scripts, underline the linguistic unity of Urdu and Hindi. Jashn-e-Rekhta celebrates this in its unique way.

(The writer is a senior literary critic)

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