“My grandmother said one learns English to woo a girl but when there’s heartbreak, you come back to Urdu,” shares Devyesh Tripathi, a lawyer practising at the Delhi High Court.
The Urdu enthusiast uses his free time to explore the digital Urdu learning platform Aamozish to refresh the skills that he had picked up three years ago. He refers to the platform to remember forgotten alphabets/words while writing Urdu nazms and Hindi poems on his Instagram page. “Earlier, I used to switch between Hindi and Urdu while conversing; that confused the listener. Not any more,” he elaborates.
Aamozish regularly introduces Urdu words and synonyms in Devanagri (Hindi) or English scripts and their translations, on its social media platforms. For instance, the Deepavali post sparkled with new words noor (light), shama (candle), jamaal (beauty), charaag (oil-lamp) and tajalli (brilliance).
Launched by Delhi-based Rekhta Foundation in 2017, Aamozish is an e-learning initiative that seeks to promote the Urdu script.
“Based on the feedback of our portal users — especially the Indian and Pakistani diaspora living abroad — we realised many are interested in learning the Urdu script and understand the nuances of the language. As online learning takes teaching beyond geographical barriers, we came up up with a suitable course,” shares Satish Gupta, head, outreach and communication, Rekhta Foundation, adding the course breaks the myth that ‘there is only one community that could learn Urdu’. “The script (writing from right to left) used in a calligraphy style appears as a beautiful art form.”
- Industrialist Sanjiv Saraf started Rekhta Foundation in 2012 and initiated the process of digitalising rare books. The team has digitised around one lakh books on Urdu art, literature and poetry for easy reference for students, scholars and enthusiasts of which 70,000 books have been uploaded on the website; the remaining 30,000 books will be uploaded soon.
- The organisation’s Jashne-Rekhta is a three-day festival held in Delhi with more than 50 sessions to celebrate different art forms of Urdu including poetry, prose, Dastongoi, ghazal and qawwali. Owing to the pandemic, the festival was not held this year.
A team of in-house scholars conducted a survey last year to enhance the course. Around 40 people, randomly selected from different locations, including two employees from the Rekhta Foundation, with no knowledge of Urdu did an hour of e-learning and finished the course — reading and writing basic words in one week.
The research results came in handy when the lockdown started; the team implemented a seven-day free course.
Explaining the traffic surge during the lockdown, product manager Tanvir Ali says, “We had 50,000 users before the pandemic, then over 15,000 users signed up and now [in October] we have 67,000 users.”
Technology plays a big role — an IT team of 20 members, with a five-member core team handling the Rekhta website have worked on it. In 26 units (chapters), the platform uses its proprietary software to create animations that show how letters of the alphabet are written, audio to learn pronunciation, and self-assessment quizzes after every unit.
Rekhta Foundation also conducts physical Urdu classes and has completed eight batches till now. The editorial team consists of eight Urdu scholars from different universities.
“New members sign up while preparing for a job interview and developing their communication skills. The vocabulary also helps users broaden their appreciation for Urdu poetry,” shares Satish.
Kritika Agarwal, an advocate-on-record in the Supreme Court who had attended the first batch of in-person classes, loves learning new languages.
Having also learnt the Tamil-Brahmi and Punjabi scripts, Kritika says learning Urdu digitally can be challenging. “Urdu script also has many rules that can confuse learners. Just as Hindi’s ‘Sha’ sound has two letters, Urdu has one sound in multiple letters and knowing which alphabet goes with which word comes with practice.”
The platform hopes to launch a vocabulary course with 300 new words and a detailed insight into its contextual application.