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Urdu treated as a servant’s language

By Hasan Ansari

January 12 2015

Rahat Kazmi may have been known for his effortless portrayal of characters in television dramas, such as Dhoop Kinare and Parchaiyan, but these days, his role as a teacher in real life is what poses a challenge to him. The problem is fairly simple but significant. The freshmen at the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa), where Kazmi teaches, are unable to read and enunciate Urdu. This is why the veteran actor-turned-teacher has introduced a basic course in Urdu for students at Napa.

“How does one expect students who are not well-versed in their mother tongue and are unable to express themselves to communicate with the audiences?” says Kazmi, who serves as the head of the Napa Theatre department. Amid growing concern over the students’ weak Urdu diction and general lack of awareness about literature, Kazmi feels it became essential to initiate a course to polish the basics.

Students being taught the basics, Urdu grammar and pronunciation, and are also being introduced to the writings of literary legends such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz. “It is imperative for students to know about literary giants the likes of Faiz due to their invaluable contribution to Urdu literature,” comments Kazmi.

The veteran laments over the second-rate treatment of Urdu among Pakistanis. “I have taught at several institutes, including universities and schools. I have taught at A-level institutions, such as The Lyceum School, where I taught Literature in English and Urdu,” says Kazmi. “One thing I noticed there was that people treat Urdu like a servant’s language.”

He holds that a prime reason for the decline is the “government’s policy with regards to language.” He validates his argument by quoting research conducted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in 1961, which suggested that primary education should be offered in the vernacular language.

“Primary-level education should be in the vernacular language as children are in their formative years till the age of nine and, if they are not taught Urdu during that time, it becomes difficult for them to grasp the language later,” Kazmi explains. He fears that the problem is more deep-rooted than it appears and needs to be resolved on the grass-roots level.

Kazmi shares that even more disappointing than the decline in Urdu is how it has become a non-issue for people to the point that they don’t even talk about it. The widespread indifference towards perfecting the language has translated into artistic mediums, such as film, TV and the purest medium of performing arts — theatre. “The language being used in TV dramas these days is saddening and even worse is the language being used in some of the plays being performed in Pakistani theatre,” he states.

Apart from teaching a course in Urdu, Kazmi shares that Napa has introduced a course in basic English after noticing a similar trend in students’ grasp over the language. The actor is currently busy rehearsing for his upcoming play Aik Diary Jo Kho Gayi, which is an adaptation of Neil Simon’s play The Brighton Beach Memoirs. The play is scheduled to be performed on January 15.

Originally published by Tribune Pakistan 

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