“Urdu is a lashkari language,” the elders always say.
Lashkar here refers to army troops that frequented Hindustan (India) well before the area was divided the way it is today. Muslim conquests brought a wealth of different languages together as troops would flood in from different regions across the continent. Over time, Farsi, Arabic, some influence from Turkish and many shared roots in Sanskrit led to a beautiful, highly poetic language today known as Urdu.
Over the years, political and religious opposition within India has inferred associations to the languages: Hindi being the language of Hindus, Urdu the language of Muslims. The Indo-Pak partition further carved this divide, but not everywhere.
Languages are sacred and don’t always evaporate so easy from mere hominine conflict. And one of the surprising and most prevalent places these languages still exist in harmony together is none other India’s massive film industry: Bollywood.
Many Indian poets and writers today compose using a large breadth of Urdu. These include individuals like Gulzar and Javed Akhtar among many, many others. Lyricists help erase the air of divide as Hindi and Urdu, both mutually comprehensible, flow together beautifully in bollywood song verses.
I’ve selected three samples to share. A lot gets lost translating over, but I’ve added the meaning as well as some notes on phrases that need a little more explanation. Since these are intended to be song lyrics, the occurrence of each word has even more effect in audio. I’ve included song clips of the lines I’ve shared after each verse:
Lose not heart nor let yourself stop on the path
When on these thorns, you tread
soon will you meet the shadows cast in the blooming spring
Lyricist: Majrooh Sultanpuri Film: Imtihan (1974)
Sample 1 Audio
Stride not into the garden
with yellow sunlight donned on
The bumble bees will tease you—
walk not into the flower beds
Softly, softly laugh again
Beautifully, beautifully laugh again
Like the freshly fallen leaf
lying on the lush green lawn
The seven colors of Spring
are wrapped up
in one gesture of yours
are all like you.
Lyricist: Gulzar Film: Saathiya (2002)
Notes: the word ‘sabz’ roots from ‘sabzi,’ the Urdu word for vegetables. It’s used here to describe the lushness of grass.
Sample 2 Audio
The way alleyways are the life of a neighborhood
the way buds impatiently insist on blooming
like the fists of winds that belong to the weather
they are the answered prayers of our elders past
See that they are not lost—
these stars on earth.
Sometimes they speak like a little grandmum
Sometimes they bounce about like splashing water
Sometimes they become a string of innocent questions and curiosity
Like laughter sounds within an isolated space
Like happiness feels on lips that have long not smiled
They are like light that rains upon homes, making destinies bright
They are like the moonlight that shimmers in the lake,
like the shoulder of someone beloved, among a crowd of strangers
like the whimsical river raises foam and says something
like the sweet nap that comes while sitting around
like the loving, soft stroke and tap
like music that sounds on the ears, every moment,
moment after moment
See that they are not lost…
See that they are not lost…
Lyricist: Prasoon Joshi Film: Taare Zameen Par (2007)
Notes: this entire song is about the preciousness of children. A variety of metaphors and analogies are used to describe children, illustrating what they mean to our lives.
- ‘Mum mum paani’ refers to baby talk. When children in Urdu/Hindi speaking households are learning how to speak. Even though the word for water is ‘paani,’ they usually start off calling water ‘mum.’ This is so common that even adults will call it that while speaking to babies.
- ‘dheemi si thapki’ I’ve translated as soft stroke and tap. This refers to when one might be lying in someone’s lap or being put to sleep, and they gently stroke your hair or tap your back lightly so you can drift calmly into sleep.
Sample 3 Audio