If Urdu didn’t exist, Bollywood villain Mogambo would be left without his iconic line, “Mogambo khush hua.” He’s probably have to declare, “Mogambo prasann hua”, which simply doesn’t have the same ring to it.
That is among the memes created by the team behind Ishq Urdu, which aims to educate Facebook users about the beauty and indispensability of the Urdu language using images and ideas that would appeal to young people.
“Many think that Urdu is a language spoken by some kind of obscure species,” said Nasheet Shadani, a creative strategist at Facebook India who started the Ishq Urdu page. “Most websites, blogs represent Urdu in a very boring way. Most are just e-books, directly uploading content from books. There is no curation. There was a need to curate and contemporise the language in terms of visual look and feel to make it more accessible.”
Shadani, helped by a small team of artists and writers, came up with the memes in which he replaces Urdu words in movie titles and dialogue with Hindi ones, or shares the incredibly innovative insults Urdu-speakers can deploy, such as khabees or disgusting, begharat or shameless.
Since the page began in August 2015, Ishq Urdu has garnered 2.05 lakh followers. Every visitor is greeted with a “khushamdeed”, which means welcome in Urdu.
Shadani, 30, grew up in a household full of Urdu literature and music, where reading Payam-e-Taleem, a children’s Urdu magazine, was as par for the course as reading Hindi or English comic books. It was during his work with an advertising agency, when Shadani designed some logos in Urdu, that he realised the language needed saving, or rather, credit needed to be given where it was due.
Urdu is used in everyday speech but is yet considered an “old-world” language, he said. “Even predominantly Urdu lyrics in Bollywood, like kar de mushkil jeena, ishq kameena do not register as Urdu to most,” he said. “There was a need for a space that encouraged people to reconnect with the language, but not in a boring or conventional way. It needed to be made interesting and engaging.”
“I discovered the vast zakheera or store of invaluable literature in Urdu language – from thoughtful Urdu poetry to Angaray, a publication marking the start of the Progressive Writers’ Movement,” said Shadani. “I started feeling an urge to share this knowledge with friends through my personal Facebook profile.”
The positive response on his posts encouraged Shadani to start a page dedicated solely to his love affair with the language, giving birth to Ishq Urdu.
Shadani wanted to communicate his idea to younger people so he needed to find topics and themes that his target audience would identify with.
“Their conversations are about rappers, TV show characters, trending memes, long weekends, Bollywood gossip and so on,” he said. “So, we made it visually contemporary and quirky at times. We have also gone beyond the Urdu script and used Roman and Devnagari script to reach out to people who are not aware of Urdu script or whose first language is not Urdu.”
Several others have also taken on the task of making the language more relatable. Artykite creates creative merchandises like lamps, notebooks and coffee mugs featuring Urdu script and poetry, while a YouTube channel, Urdu Studio, started by Mumbai-based film-maker Manish Gupta features dramatic poetry recitations by personalities like actor Naseeruddin Shah and film-maker Imtiaz Ali to revive an interest in Urdu poetry. Artist Shiraz Husain’s Facebook page Khwaab Tanha Collective too uses graphic design and GIF’s to educate people about Urdu literary figures and their works.
Along with the more light-hearted posts, Ishq Urdu also has a classics section populated by poetry and couplets by writers, like Mirza Ghalib, Saadat Hasan Manto, Munir Niazi.