Urdu is regarded to be the most poetic of all languages in India. Spoken by more than 28 million people in the country, the language has been written in the Perso-Arabic script. The word Urdu (court or camp) stems from the Persianized Turkish word 'Ordu', which meant ‘the camp of a Turkish army’. Unfortunately, the lyrical language of Urdu no longer enjoys the same position that it used to. However, Urdu is still encouraged in a number of Indian states, especially Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and Hyderabad. Present day Hindi has borrowed a lot from Urdu, in terms of grammar, diction and even idioms.
North Indian Muslims moved to south and central India with their own dialects and settled among the Marathas, Kannadigas and Telugus. The dialects used by them formed the basis of a literary speech known as Dakhni or the ‘Southern Speech’, and was spoken in the Deccan. Later, north Indian Muslims, who came with Aurangzeb, for his conquests down south, and some Dakhni writers saw the possibility of evolving a new language. This language, based on the literary traditions of Dakhni and having Persian script, along with generous usage of Perso-Arabic words, idioms and theme ideas, came to be known as Urdu.
Shamsuddin Waliullah, a famous poet of the Dakhni, actually started North Indian Urdu. Other poets also joined in this new literary upsurge and subsequently came to Delhi. With this, the Delhi style of Urdu took birth. Court circles, Persian and Arabic scholars and especially the Muslims of Delhi adapted this language with great eagerness and by the end of the 18th century, the Mughal house turned only to Urdu. The term Four Pillars of Urdu is attributed to the four early poets: Mirza Jan-i-Janan Mazhar of Delhi, Mir Taqi of Agra, Muhammad Rafi Sauda and Mir Dard.
During this time, Lucknow became a rival centre for the patronage of Urdu literature and masters of Urdu poetry received patronage from the court of the Nawabs. The most illustrious poets of the pre-modern period were Muhammad Ibrahim Zauq of Delhi and Nazmuddaulah Dabiru-i-Mulk. However, Urdu literature can never be complete without the mention of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib. A Sufi mystic, Ghalib wrote in both Urdu and Persian. The humane feelings, Sufi sentiments, simplistic lines and deep observations of Ghalib made him the greatest Urdu and Persian poet of all times.
Modern Urdu Literature
Modern Urdu literature covers the time from the last quarter of the 19th century till the present day and can be divided into two periods: the period of the Aligarh Movement (started by Sir Sayyid Ahmad) and the period influenced by Sir Muhammad Iqbal. However, Altaf Husain Panipati, known as Hali or ‘the Modern One’, was the actual innovator of the modern spirit in Urdu poetry. Hindu writers of Urdu were not far behind and among the earliest writers; we can count Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar and Brij Narain Chakbast. One of the most famous poets of modern Urdu was Sayyid Akbar Husain Razvi Ilahabadi, who had a flair for extempore composition of satiric and comic verses.
Modern Urdu Writers
After 1936, Urdu picked up a progressive attitude and leaned more towards the common problems of life. Poetry, novels, short stories and essays were the avenues of liberal expression. The main exponents of this new line of approach were the short story writers Muhammad Husain Askari, Miranji, Faiz Ahmad ‘Faiz’, Sardar Ali Jafari and Khwajah Ahmad Abbas. Munshi Premchand, the greatest novelist of Hindi, initially began writing in Urdu, but switched to Hindi later on. In spite of Urdu being considered a little tilted towards Islamic lines, there have been some great Hindu writers, such as Krishan Chandar, Rajindar Singh Bedi and Kanhaiyalal Kapur, who made the language their very own.