A few weeks back, a virtual Social List brawl nearly broke out among defenders of their favorite poetic tradition.  Yes, blog readers.  Fletcher students will take time away from case studies, thesis writing, extracurricular activities, and the job hunt to argue about Urdu poetry.  As I haven’t had a chance to do the discussants the courtesy of checking with them, I’m going to share the points of discussion without using names (but I can tell you that their cultural or national origins include Pakistan, India, Armenia, Iran, and possibly others).  Also, I don’t endorse any particular viewpoint (being ignorant on this great topic), and I can’t vouch for the accuracy of anything written below.  Plus, I haven’t included the many wikipedia links that were part of the discussion.  With all those disclaimers in place, the great Urdu Poetry debate:

Message 1
Dear Fletcher,
Tufts is organising an Urdu poetry recital on Thursday. Urdu is the language of the poets — that is why Urdu-speaking individuals (namely Pakistanis) are die-hard romantics.   If you are interested in the recital of some of the most influential and famous Urdu couplets — that were responsible for social movements and the spread of ideologies (including Communism), or were just some poor, talented, heart-broken dude venting — come to Cabot 702 on Thursday at 6:30 pm.

Also, we’re trying to find translations for most of the poems.  Another incentive to be there: Chai.  See you all there!

Message 2
From wikipedia:  “There are between 60 and 70 million speakers of Urdu:  There were 52 million in India per the 2001 census, some 6% of the population; 13 million in Pakistan in 2008, or 8%; and several hundred thousand apiece in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, United States, and Bangladesh.”

Clearly there are more romantics in India.
#win!

Message 3
Haha!  C’mon, let the Pakistanis have the upper hand in SOMETHING! And citing Wikipedia won’t convince me. :)

Message 4
…and the tradition of Couplet poetry in the subcontinent began when Persians fleeing Shiite conversion settled in the then Mughal Empire. Writing in Persian.  See: Kabir and many others.

Indians, Pakistanis: thanks for the upper hand :)

Message 5
Are you sure?  Kabir died in 1518.  The Mughals’ reign didn’t start until 1526 when Barbur came to power.  Besides, Kabir wrote in Hindi not Persian.

Try again.

Message 6
Yes, I am sure.  Even before the Mughals, the Ghaznavids and Delhi Sultanate were jampacked with Persian poets:  Amir Khusro, the father of Qawwali; Zeb un Nissa, daughter of Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb.

Message 7
The reciting of couplets on the Subcontinent stretches back into far greater antiquity than mere mediæval Gunpowder Empires.  But the Persian tradition is beautiful, and among one of its many adherents who roamed the streets of Lahore and Delhi in the seventeenth century happens to be someone close to my heart.

Upper hand, anyone? Anyone?

Message 8
There actually wasn’t ever a real divide between Persian and Hindi/Urdu in the Subcontinent’s literary tradition.  Amir Khusro wrote in both Persian and Hindvi, as did many other poets of the Mughal era.  (Hindvi being the old version of Hindustani, which would eventually evolve into Hindi and Urdu).  Urdu poets still wrote in Persian, even after Hindi and Urdu developed their own formalized languages and literary registers.  One of the great 20th century Urdu poets, Iqbal, also had an extensive catalog of work in Persian as well.  My uncle studied Persian in school while growing up in Bombay in the 1950s, and he would apparently even recite Persian poems in his sleep (much to the chagrin of my father, who was sleeping in the same room).

The fact that this is a Social List debate makes me think that Fletcher should have a Persian/Urdu poetry night…we clearly have a constituency for it.  (I’m imagining dueling Persian-Urdu ghazals…)

Message 9
And I can add that the fact that there is such a debate on the SL makes me even happier to be here at Fletcher ;) You are incredible!  Have a great day. :)

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