Calligraphers

in homistan| noted

“Urdu is sweeter when written by hand,” he said. A writeup in Wired of an Urdu newspaper being created by hand in Chennai – typically in the Nastaliq (or naskh-e ta’liq/ the hanging script) ‘font’ – along with a gallery. A word of caution: The article, by Scott Carney, does contain gems like, “While the Musalman is a Muslim newspaper, it is a hub of South Asian liberalism, employing both women and non-Muslims”. Just roll your eyes.

  • Also, this is flat wrong: “Calligraphers mastered the swooping Urdu script in ivory-tower institutions and penned copies of the Koran for wealthy patrons”. You must mean the Arabic script, Mr. Carney (and ivory-what?).
  • Also, also: “But when British colonizers swept across India importing printing presses and English, Urdu ceased to be the official court language”. Um, you mean Persian as the official court language, right? Besides, Hindoostani was taught vigorously at Fort Williams to Company officials (a nastaliq font for Persian/Urdu printing was being developed as early as 1770s) and the Urdu/Hindi divide also occurred well after 1857 and, well, I will just note that the Portugese installed the first printing presses in India in 1542.
  • Also, also, also: the part about this being ‘the last of …’ or ‘the end of …’ is off by a Turkish-word-for-an-Army-Camp-mile. There are numerous dailies published in Pakistan [mostly all are evening editions] using lithograph or typograph printing – not to mention hundreds of books and pamphlets, many of whom still employ calligraphers to create the first full draft. Sure, in the last decade or so, national dailies have started using digital word-processing and fonts etc. and, perhaps, things will trend towards the unicode future…but, let us wait to write the obituaries when the day actually arrives.

I guess, don’t read the article, just go look at the pictures (also avoid reading any captions).

Of course, the art of Khattati (calligraphers) – with variant and robust traditions in Arabic, Persian or Urdu – is still practiced widely. In Pakistan, outside any Court building, one can still find a katib [writer] selling his services [write a petition, fill out a form] at a reasonable price. And in the bazaar, one can still buy beautifully scripted art works of Ghalib or Hafiz and even the full Aya’t al-Qur’si.

My own urdu handwriting is horrible compared to my father. He was schooled in proper khat techniques, I mostly skipped my lessons – which often consisted of copying out articles from newspapers and were quite boring.

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