Jaan hai to jahaan hai – Urdu expressions

There are some expressions that have become part of our language, so much so that very few of us know the origin or even the full couplet where they come from. Muhammad Ramzan Abdul Shakoor has made it easy for us to find those ashaar by compiling them all in one book.

Here are some samples:

Gul phenke hain aalam ki taraf balke samar bhi
ai khana bar andaaz-e-chaman kuchh to idhar bhi — Sauda

mat sahal hamein jano phirta hai falak barsoN
tab khaak ke parde se insaan nikalte hain — Meer

na chherh ai nikhat baad-e-bahari, rah tak apni
tujhe aTkheliyaaN soojhti haiN ham bezaar baithe haiN — Inshaullah Khan Insha

“Jaan hai to jahaan hai pyaare” is from a Meer sher. A tempo in Delhi in 2011 displays a slightly modified line. [Photo: TwoCircles.net]

baja kahiye jisse aalam, usse baja samjho
zabaan-e-khalq ko naqaara-e-khuda samjho — Zauq

ye kahaaN ki dosti hai ke bane haiN dost naaseh
koi charah-saaz hota, koi gham-gusaar hota — Ghalib

panchviN pusht hai shabbir ki maddahi meiN
umr guzri hai iss dasht ki sayyahi meiN — Meer Anees

iss ghairat-e-nahid ki har taan hai deepak
sho’la sa lapak jaaye hai aawaz to dekho – Momin

ham aah bhi karte haiN to ho jaate haiN badnaam
wo qatl bhi karte hain to charcha nahi hota — Akbar Ilahabadi

vai-e-nakaami mataa-e-karvaaN jata raha
karvaaN ke dil se ehsas-e-ziyaaN jata raha — Allama Iqbal

khird ka naam junooN parh gaya, junooN ka khird
jo chaahe aap ka husn-e-karishma saaz kare – Hasrat Mohani

dil ki basti purani dilli hai
jo bhi guzra hai ussne loota hai — Basheer Badr

qatl-e-hussain asl meiN marg-e-yazeed hai
islam zinda hota hai har karbala ke baad — Muhammad Ali Jauhar

Book: She’ri jawaharaat aur zarbul misaal
Pages: 148
Price : Rs. 50
Edition: 2008
Address: 447, Dasvin Gali, Islampura, Malegaon (Maharashtra).

or contact Urdu Book Review (urdubookreview@gmail.com)

Whose Urdu is it anyway?

Urdu has an identity crisis in India -is it an Indian language or just a Muslim language? Liberals will claim that it is a secular language and list names of non-Muslim writers and poets who are still counted among the legends of Urdu. But if it is a secular language and belongs as much to non-Muslims as Muslims of India then “where are the non-Muslim writers, poets, and intellectuals who love Urdu language and literature and have made teaching Urdu a mission of their lives?” asks Arif Iqbal, editor of Urdu Book Review in the Apri-June 2011 issue of the magazine.

Urdu bazar sign

Urdu Bazar Road sign in Delhi, but where is Urdu? [Photo: TwoCircles.net]

But then is it right to say Urdu is a Muslim language? Iqbal asks how many Darul Ulooms have separate departments of Urdu established? and “what are their contributions in collecting and protecting Urdu’s knowledge capital?”

We have been busy discussing in futile debates like what should be Urdu’s script or whether this language should be linked to employment.

There haven been some sensible suggestions e.g. instead of asking for Urdu-medium schools rather ask Urdu to be made an elective subject in school, colleges, and universities. But then Arif Iqbal asks “who will start this struggle?”

Read more about Arif Iqbal and Urdu Book Review here.

To subscribe UBR:

Urdu Book Review
1739/3 (Basement)
New Kohinoor Hotel
Pataudi House
New Delhi 110 002
Phone: 91-9953630788

Reading Iqbal

Growing up as a Muslim in India I had ambivalent feelings about Iqbal. One wants to sing ‘saare jahaan se accha…” from the top of his lung but then how do I reconcile the fact he was the first person to make public demand for Pakistan.

But it is impossible to avoid Iqbal growing up in Urdu-speaking households. One can grow up without singing nazm “bache ki dua” popularly known as “lab pe aati hai dua.” Then there are numerous ashaars of Iqbal quoted during discussions, speeches, and even in everyday conversations.

To truly appreciate Iqbal you need to have good understanding of religion, history, and philosophy not to mention a good dictionary to look up meanings of difficult words (many in Persian and Arabic), reasons that made me avoid Iqbal for so long.

Recently, on a request from a friend, I made an effort to start reading Iqbal and I finally I opened my copy of bang-e-dara, bought 15 years ago. With “Firoz-ul-lughat” by my side, I started with his first nazm titled “Himala” (Himalaya). What a treat it was to read and understand this nazm, Iqbal at his finest was on display in this nazm, even though it is reported to be his first nazm ever recited or published.

Who is the best Meer singer?

Meer Taqi Meer is a big name in Urdu poetry. In fact, he is so big that it seems people are afraid to touch him. There has been lot of work on Ghalib and Iqbal but Meer has been denied the attention that he really deserves. His brilliance is his simplicity of language and use of words that not only fit perfectly in ashaar but also the sound is also just right for the mood of that sher.

Meer portrait as calligraphy by

Dil ki baat kahi nahi jaati: Mohammad Rafi

hasti apni hubaab ki si hai: Barkat Ali


dekh to dil ke jaan se uth-ta hai: Mehdi Hasan

Ulti ho gayiN sab tadbeereN : Mehdi Hasan

hontoN pe kabhi unke mera naam bhi aaye: Amanat Ali Khan

Dikhayi diye yuN ke bekhud kiya : Lata, Khayyam


patta-patta, boota-boota : Ghulam Ali

Ibtida-e-ishq hai rota hai kya: Jaswinder Singh

Faqeerana aaye sada kar chale: Roop Singh Rathod

An album of Meer ghazals by Pankaj Udhas:


You can play all videos here as a playlist here:

Marsiya : a form of Urdu poetry

I am happy to see this news about opening of a school to revive/preserve the art of marsiya writing.

Marsiya is a fully developed form of Urdu poetry and it is wrong to think that is just a lamentation for the dead in Karbala. Karbala, of course, has an important place in Islamic history and therefore in Muslim literature. Almost all Urdu poets use Karbala as a symbol of great tragedy or epic battle between good and evil.

Probably the most famous and often-quoted sher about Karbala is from Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar:

Qatal Hussain asl meiN marg-e-Yazid hai
Islam zinda hota hai har Karbala kay bad

Majlis-e-marsiya are organized in Lucknow during Moharram.

The usual form of marsiya is four lines of same radef/qaafiya and two lines of different radeef/qaafiya. The marsiya is well-developed form of poetry. The intensity of pain and suffering described in a marsiya is unparallal in any other literture.

Meer Babar Ali Anees [1800-1874] and Mirza Salamat Ali Dabeer [1805-1875] are the biggest names of marsiya-nigaari.

Zia Mohyeddin reciting Anis’s marsiya

But marsiya is not merely Urdu poetry, it is also a performance art where emotions of the words need to be conveyed to the audience so that they visualize the battlefield, feel the pain of sufferings, and learn the lessons of Karbala.

In three-parts is a wonderful recital of marsiya by Zulfiqar Ali Bukhari:

Marsiya continue to be practiced but probably all poets now old. Here is a recording of a majlis-e-marsiya in Lucknow. Feel the poetry:


Found another video that shows more prominently the story-telling component of marsiya. In two parts:

My friend Afzal Usmani informs that Allama Shibli Nomani wrote a book comparing the poetry of Mir Ali Anis and Mirza Dabeer: “Mawazina-e-Anis-o-Dabeer” ( http://shibliacademy.org/publications )

Our English Is Urdu

By Dr Wasim Ahmad,

Sometimes it occurs to me that we use English as Urdu. There isn’t much difference between the writings in both the languages. I thought that English was introduced in our education system – along with the ‘modern’ subjects – to give us some more ideas. I thought that I will encounter more analysis and more objectivity (which of course I do many a times). But I come across it less frequently. I mostly read Urdu even though it is English.

When I find more words and fewer meanings I consider it Urdu. When I find less reason and more emotion I consider it Urdu. When I find that we are not trying to get world class ideas because we are using a world-class language I consider it Urdu. There is nothing wrong with a language. There may be something (seriously) wrong with a people and the institutions as well as the traditions that they have developed.

When I find that there is less focus on the issues and more on persons it is categorically Urdu. When I find that some of the issues we have blown out of proportion I feel that it is clearly Urdu. When I find that the blame entirely lies with the communal forces and the West I feel that I have started reading Urdu now. When I find that we are not quite willing to deliberate on the ways of promoting critical and scientific thinking among our youngsters it appears as if we are not communicating in English – even though apparently we are.

When we start a topic and do not take it to its logical conclusion localizing the responsibility and stopping the buck it seems that we have switched over to Urdu. When I see that it is exactly the same email about the tearing of passport pages on Indian airportswhich is being forwarded for a couple of years without first verifying the content and the claim, it seems that now I am reading Urdu. When we unconsciously contradict ourselves every now and then and we do not know what we stand for then it occurs to me that I am reading more of Urdu.

When I find that we are glued to the past personalities and are basking in their reflected glory and are not mindful of the fact that we, too, will not live forever on this earth I find that the glorification is in Urdu. When I find that we are not willing to change our thought patterns and are most comfortable with the existing ways of looking at things I find that the expression of this desire and trait is in Urdu.

When I am satisfied with my existing situation and am contented with what I am doing or have achieved and I am expressing it, too, then I feel that the language of expression has changed from English to Urdu. When I read words like “great service” and “Islam ki khidmat” then both of these expressions seem to be Urdu to me.

When we talk about reservations for Muslims so frequently and do not do so with any reservations – completely forgetting that the Muslims should be the givers I feel that we have switched over to Urdu. When we talk of the minority character forgetting the real minority character I feel that we are communicating in Urdu.

When we leave the core issues and discuss the non-issues it is most likely to be Urdu than English. When a piece of writing starves the opportunities and feeds only the problems it sounds to be more in Urdu.

When we brand the people and label them with the names we desire then we have switched over to Urdu. When we summarily reject some people and do not deal with each point of discussion dispassionately we are not communicating in English. It is purely Urdu. The history bears it.

When we do not see the link between one piece of writing and another – no matter how distant the subjects may seem – then it has the dual distinction of being English and Urdu both. But then it ceases to be tahreer. Because it does not ‘liberate’ – the literalmeaning of tahreer. A piece of writing could be called a TAHREER only if it liberates – de-conditions. It should alter the schema. Only then it is TAHREER.

When we underestimate ourselves, talk more of hurdles and pass a lot of buck I feel that all these expressions are in Urdu. But by the same token there may be some whose Urdu is English if it has more meanings and reason. I may not know them but I salute them.

(The author is Head of the Dept of Islamic Studies, Preston University, Ajman, UAE.  Email: malikwasimahmad@gmail.com)

The Annual Of Urdu Studies: Urdu Scholarship In English Language

Urdu scholarly journal seeks immediate help to continue publishing

News of Urdu’s demise has been written many times. But Urdu has continued to grow at steady pace because of a few dedicated souls, one of them being Prof. Muhammad Umar Memon. He is the editor and publisher of the Annual of Urdu Studies, the only scholarly journal about Urdu in English language.

The Annual of Urdu Studies (AUS) was started in 1980 by Prof. C. M. Naim of the University of Chicago, who published it from 1981 to 1990. Three years later, Prof. Memon at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, took over the responsibility of this journal. He has published this journal without a break since 1993. It is an annual publication and has so far published 24 issues.

Video review of the AUS

The importance of this journal can be gauged from the fact that many eminent writers and scholars have contributed to it, writers like Ralph Russsell, David Matthews, Mushirul Hasan, Alok Rai, Muhammad Hasan Askari, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, and Agha Shahid Ali among others. About 50 international universities representing 13 countries are its subscribers. It is indexed by many journal databases and therefore its articles are accessible and available to researchers interested in Urdu language and Urdu literary culture of South Asia.

From its inception the journal has been priced so that it is affordable to everyone. In 29 years, when the price of everything else has gone up many fold, the Annual still sells at its original price of $18, plus postage=$25 (for individual subscription), by far the cheapest scholarly journal available. Tastefully published on expensive paper, it is a high quality publication with equally high quality content. In any of its issue you will find scholarly articles about various aspects of Urdu literature, selected Urdu prose and poetry translated especially for the journal. The journal also has a section of selected Urdu works published in Urdu text. All in all, each issue is a collector’s edition and adds to the richness of any library.

Considering that a vast number of people interested in Urdu language live in South Asia and do not have access to libraries or are unable to take out a subscription, the journal has maintained a website since 2001. The current as well as all the 23 back issues of the journal are available at the website for free download; this has increased the usability and accessibility of the journal. But it has also meant that many libraries now prefer to get the journal for free online rather than pay for the printed copy. The AUS has lost many subscriptions since launching the website.

Funding is an important consideration for the continued existence of a scholarly enterprise. The AUS was never run as a business. It also depended on financial support. Since moving to Madison, Wisconsin, the AUS has been partially funded by American Institute of Pakistan Studies (AIPS). It would appear that the AIPS has been trying to stop the funding in the recent years; in fact a committee was setup in 2008 to report to AIPS about whether they should continue their partial funding to the AUS. The committee of Elena Bashir, Jennifer Cole, and Frances Pritchett looked into all aspects of the journal and recommended continuation of funding. But for some reason the AIPS has now acted against the recommendations of its own committee and decided to terminate its full funding in June 2010, offering instead a miniscule amount that will effectively kill this valuable publication.

Prof. Umar Memon

All those who are familiar with this journal will agree that it should not cease publication. Prof. Memon has sent a letter of appeal to supporters around the world for financial help. Support has come from different corners of the world but still not enough and not at the level that will ensure the continued survival of this important journal.

An urgent and big effort is needed to save this journal and Urdu. As the committee wrote in its report, “given the inroads that English is making in South Asia, the future of Urdu depends partly on people around the world taking an interest in it, beyond the narrow scholarly community.” The Annual of Urdu Studies is serving an important need. The AUS is run not as a journal but as a mission by Prof. Memon and Assistant Editor Jane A. Shum, and their important work needs to be supported by people who claim to love Urdu.

Make your contribution/donation by check payable to

The University of Wisconsin / Board of Regents

and mail it to:

Muhammad Umar Memon

Professor Emeritus

Dept. of Languages & Cultures of Asia

University of Wisconsin

1220 Linden Drive

Madison, Wisconsin 53706

(Please Note: The contribution of U.S. donors will be tax deductible. In December such donors will receive a letter of thanks acknowledging their contribution to file with their income tax papers. The University’s Tax ID, in case it is needed, is: EIN 39-1805963.)



Kashif-ul-Huda is a subscriber of the journal and has also contributed one article.

26/11 And Urdu Press

Urdu Press, India

Mubasshir Mushtaq

Contrary to the popular myth that the Urdu press is a monolithic entity, it represents a diverse range of issues, opinions, points and counter-points. The tragedy of 26/11 proved to be a litmus test. On a careful analysis, it becomes abundantly clear that Urdu press accommodated views that could not find space even in the mainstream media. Continue reading 26/11 And Urdu Press

A Poem On Mumbai Attacks

Mumbai Gateway Of India

Shiddat Pasand

Mujhe yaqeen tha, Ke mazhabon se
Koyee bhi rishta naheen hai unkaa
Mujhe yaqeen tha, ke unka mazhab
Hai Nafraton ki hadon ke andar
Muje yaqeen tha, Woh la mazhab hain
ya, unke mazhab naam hargiz
siwaye ‘shiddat’ ke kuchh naheen hai
Continue reading A Poem On Mumbai Attacks

Ghalib: Ode to Benaras

Banaras GhatsThe cancer of communalism and bigotry in South Asia continues to haunt us. These days, the Muslims are once again a subject of intense, though not always fair, scrutiny in India: their loyalties are being questioned and many are potential terrorists if not already abettors of violence. The post 9/11 world has contributed to the demonising of the Muslim identity and history to surreal heights. Continue reading Ghalib: Ode to Benaras