The charming lingo of Bhagnagar
By Narendra Luther
When I first came to Hyderabad in 1959, I felt at once something strange and familiar in the language spoken here. Even the written language had terms, which I had not come across in standard Urdu texts before. It took me some time and a reading of the works of some medieval poets and writers before I exclaimed ‘Eureka’. What had a ring of déjà vu about it was the profusion of Punjabi words in it.
To understand the reason for that we have to go back into history.
Birth of Urdu
Mehmood Ghaznavi conquered Punjab in 1020 A.D. and made it a part of his empire. The conquering army spoke Persian, while the local population spoke Punjabi. This conquest also led to extensive and repeated waves of immigration into India from area where Persian was spoken. Mohammed Ghouri overthrew Ghaznavi in 1186. Seven years later, in 1193, one of his generals, Qutubuddin Aibak captured Delhi and became its Sultan. So, for 173 years while Punjab was under the occupation first of Ghaznavi and then of Ghouri, this interaction continued. The inevitable intercourse gave birth to a new language -- Urdu. It can be said to be an offspring of Persian and Punjabi and its motherland is Punjab
So the language which the first Sultan of Delhi brought to it was a mixture of Punjabi and Persian.
Influence of the South
A century later, in 1295, Allaudin Khilji conquered the South. The language, which he and his troops brought with them, was the language born in Punjab and developed in and around Delhi. In 1327 Muhammad Tughlaq shifted his capital from Delhi to Devagiri and named it Daulatabad. A number of people, including nobles and some 500 Sufi saints followed the royal train. They supplemented the language already brought by Khilji. In 1347 the local chieftains revolted against Muhammad Tughlaq and established the Bahmani Empire. As a policy the new rulers did not keep any connection with the North. From then on therefore the Urdu of the North and that of the south developed independently of each other. The southern branch of the language naturally absorbed the influences of the neighbouring languages like Marathi, Telugu, and Kannada. Expressions like ‘hau’, ‘nakko’ and ‘kaiko’ and many others come from Marathi. In Telugu, while parting, one doesn’t say: ‘I will go’. Instead he says: ‘I will come back.’ In Andhra, I had once waited on and on for my boss who had said good-by to me in these terms. My deputy told me that when he had said “I shall come back’, he meant that he was going. This Telugu idiom amongst others influenced the lingo of Hyderabad.
Dakhni as a dialect
That was the language used by the poets of the South, like Feroz Shah, Burhanuddin Janam and Quresh Bidri, and later Gawwasi, Vajahi and Mohammad Quli. It was in 1555 that for the first time the term ‘Deccani’ or ‘Dakhni’ (from ‘Dakshin’ meaning South) was used for that language in the anthology of Feroze Shah. That language is full of Punjabi words. I once analyzed the glossary of Deccani words given in the anthology of Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah edited by Prof. Mrs. Syeda Jaffar. Quli, incidentally, is the founder of Hyderabad and the first Urdu poet to have a published anthology to his credit. Out of 2466 words listed in the glossary, 1009 or 41% was of Punjabi origin. Out of those, 494 words or 49% are now obsolete in Urdu but still current in Punjabi.
In 1687 when Aurangazeb conquered Golkonda, the Urdu of the North came to overpower Dakhni, which by that time had become a fully developed language. The comparative absence of Arabic and Persian words and the predominance of purely Indian sentiments and imagery characterized it. For example, Quli refers to God by the Hindi appellations like ‘Kartar’,’Sain’and ‘Datar’ etc. rather than ‘Khuda’ or ‘Allah’. Scholars like Dr. Masud Husain Khan have called Dakhni ‘old Urdu’. The poets and writers were proud of the language and as early as in 1613 AD, the poet Quresh Bidri had exhorted the people: ‘Tu Deccani hai pyare, tu Deccanich bol’ (You are Deccani, dear friend speak in that language).
The Current Scene
By the middle of the 18th century, it ceased to be a literary medium and was reduced to a dialect and the imperial Urdu of the North became the standard language. The natives now only speak Daikin. Some poets and prose writers specialize in it. For an average listener, some of its terms and idioms and the way they are rendered create spontaneous humour. The actor Mehmood employs it in the Hindi cinema to arouse laughter. Poets like the late Suleman Khateeb of Gulbarga, Ali Saib Mian and Sarvar Danda used it to great effect in mushairas. Amongst the contemporary poets of Dakhni the names of the late Ashraf Khundmiri and Himayatullah are worth mentioning. Khahmkhah mixes it with Urdu to create laughter. Fareed Anjum is a good contemporary poet in the dialect. In prose, the humorist Maseeh Anjum who passed away recently was undoubtedly the best exponent of the rural idiom of the dialect. As a language, Dakhni is now all but gone.
My two children had picked up the colloquial Deccani from their friends and servants. Their spontaneous expression like ‘nakko’ for ‘no’, ‘kaiko’ for ‘why’ and ‘hau’ for ‘yes’ evoked such laughter from our relations in the North that they used to be teased only to hear these expressions. There is a famous joke about a stranger to the city who enquired from a young boy whether the road he was standing on led to Charminar. The boy replied casually, ‘hau’. A respectable middle-class passer-by heard this. He called the boy and admonished him for using a vulgarism like ‘hau’.
The boy asked meekly; “What should I have said, Sir?”
You should have said: “Ji han ” replied the old citizen somberly.
“So ‘hau’ is a vulgar word?”
“Hau”, confirmed the elder involuntarily.
Now small islands of the Deccani dialect are coming up on foreign soils like England, the U.S. and Canada etc. where Hyderabadi emigrants have settled down. Most likely, it will be frozen there like, for example, the old Norwegian language has in America.
But while it is still here, let’s enjoy its quaintness.
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