DK recently sent an email to some of us detailing her experiences in buying Urdu instructional materials in Delhi. It’s a wonderfully funny email and I asked her permission to reproduce it here. But before I get to that, I wanted to revisit my own trip(s) to Urdu Bazaar in Lahore, a few weeks ago, and set the scene for you.
Urdu Bazaar lies adjacent to the Old City and is easily one of the most congested parts of the city. At the one end is Punjab University’s Old Campus:
And it’s slew of street vendors of archaic shastras and sutras (WINDOWs to Kama).
Urdu Bazaar bleeds into a number of other markets – from Surgical instruments to Fish to Optical. And, as befitting for such a medley, is utterly jam-packed. Here, for example, is one of the streets leading in to the market:
The beauty is, of course, the sheer diversity of transportation since large quantities of raw materials (reams upon reams of paper, glue, cardboard) and scholarly output (beautifully bounded volumes) are struggling to find space with cars, scooters, motorcycles and rickshaws.
The chaos on the streets and alleyways is almost a welcome distraction as compared to the chaos of hundreds of small bookstores and publishing houses which take up residence in Urdu Bazaar. My favorite, however, provides this nice view:
I was looking for something specific in my few trips there. And having absolutely no luck. A few booksellers, after gazing at my incredulous face (registering the fact that they did not carry one of the central Urdu writer of the early twentieth century), told me to go to one or two particular booksellers. Why them? Because “they carry Indian maal (merchandise)”. And so they did. I discovered an entire underground network of booksellers who sell “Indian” books are, subsequently, considered unholy by many. Not only that, I discovered that the majority of Urdu historical or literary critical work was available “only in imports” since “No one in Pakistan does Urdu, bhai. It is all over there. Kids here don’t even read the newspaper in Urdu.”
Now, having read this really long preamble, read DK’s email and then laugh at the worlds we inhabit:
So, I decided that I was going to take an intro Urdu class this fall, and went to the Urdu bazaar yesterday opposite the Jama masjid to pick up some books that the instructor told me to look for, published by the National Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language. I am there to pick up some kids’ books, for reading practice once I have learnt the basics of the script. So I ask a bunch of shopkeepers, explain what I want. First of all, they all send me to various other shops, saying *that one* will surely have what I want. Nobody admits to having any NCPUL publications. One guy actually publishes kids’ books himself, so I ask him about them. He rubbishes my desire to buy some books even before my lessons have begun. Why? he says. Wait till you’ve begun, then come back. I tell him I don’t live in Delhi, and my teacher said… Never mind the teacher, he says. Come back in a few months. This carries on for a while before I say, you’re right. I will come back in a few months.
The shopkeeper next door insists I go back to this fellow, and when I tell him that he doesn’t want to sell me his books, says, “Bewaqoof. Madam, woh aisaa hi hai.” But he doesn’t show me any kids’ storybooks either. Like I’m asking for some Urdu softporn. Sends me off to the Anjuman-e-taraqqi-e-Urdu shop, which is shocked that I’m asking them about NCPUL. I persist; insist on not leaving unless they show me some storybooks. He throws me a few. I ask him about any Hindi-se-Urdu, Urdu-through-English guides. After several hems and haws, he says, dekhta hoon. shaayad kuchh hoga. A resentful trickle slowly turns into gentle flow – CM Naim’s Urdu I and II; Gopi Chand Narang’s Urdu readers, workbooks, etc etc – all NCPUL publications!!!! After hotly denying that any such thing exists, let alone that he should carry any of it, the man is stocked to the gills with NCPUL. I buy 5 story books, two readers; the whole thing costs me less than 300 Rs.
I file a prayer in the direction of the masjid, come back and eat two samosas and have a chai, with a beedi.
Am excited about learning Urdu!