As the freedom movement took off, so did a dispute between what the official language of India would be. Some said Hindi because it was spoken by more people, others said Urdu because much of the law and history was in it.
Gandhi’s instruction was that all Indians should learn Hindustani language in both its Devnagari and Persian scripts. But it soon became a religious dispute.
Manto found the whole thing stupid as this piece shows.
I must admit to giggling along as I translated this sitting in my garden. It’s the sort of silly Indian conversation that must be read or overheard (or imagined) in an Indian language.
This essay was published in 1954 as part of the compilation ‘Manto kay mazameen’.
Hindi aur Urdu by Saadat Hasan Manto, translated by Aakar Patel
Hindi and Urdu have been fighting for some time now. Maulvi Abdul Haq, Dr Tara Chandji and Mahatma Gandhi understand the details of the squabble but I confess it is beyond me. And it isn’t that I haven’t tried.
Why do Hindus waste their time in supporting Hindi? Why are Muslims anxious to protect Urdu?
Languages are not created, they make themselves and no human effort can destroy one already made.
I started to write an essay on this subject, but what came out as I put pen to paper was instead a conversation. Here’s how it went:
Munshi Narayan Prasad: “Iqbal saheb, are you going to have this bottle of soda?”
Mirza Mohammad Iqbal: “Yes I am.”
Munshi: “Why don’t you have a lemon soft drink like me instead?”
Iqbal: “Just so. I like soda. Our family has always had soda.”
Munshi: “So you dislike lemon?”
Iqbal: “Not at all. Why should I dislike it, Munshi Narayan Prasad? Since it was always soda at home it’s now become a habit. Nothing special. In fact I’d say that lemon is tastier than soda.”
Munshi: “Which is why I was astonished that you would choose to set aside something sweet in favour of something bland. And lemon’s not only sweet but also fragrant. What do you think?”
Iqbal: “You’re absolutely right. But…”
Munshi: “But what?”
Iqbal: “Nothing. I was about to say that I’ll stick to soda.”
Munshi: “Aren’t you’re being stubborn? Someone might think I’m forcing you to down poison instead of a fizzy lemon drink. Arrey bhai, what’s really the difference between lemon and soda? Both bottled in the same factory. Both filled in by the same machines. If we were to remove from lemon the sugar and the essence, what would we be left with?”
Munshi: “Exactly. Then what’s the problem with having lemon?”
Iqbal: “No problem at all.”
Munshi: “Excellent. Then here — have mine.”
Iqbal: “What will you have?”
Munshi: “I’ll call for another bottle.”
Iqbal: “You don’t need to. What’s wrong with having this soda?”
Munshi: “No… problem… as… such.”
Iqbal: “So have it.”
Munshi: “What will you have then?”
Iqbal: “Me… I’ll ask for another bottle.”
Munshi: “You don’t need to. What’s wrong wiith having this lemon?”
Iqbal: “Nothing. Wrong. At. All. What’s the problem with having this soda?”
Munshi: “No. Problem. At. All.”
Iqbal: “Then thing is that soda is a little better.”
Munshi: “In my opinion, lemon is a little better.”
Iqbal: “Must be. But I’ve heard from my elders that soda is better.”
Munshi: “What of it? Even I’ve heard from my elders — lemon is better.”
Iqbal: “What’s your personal opinion?”
Munshi: “What’s your personal opinion?”
Iqbal: “My opinion… My view… Is that… But why didn’t you tell me what your opinion is?”
Munshi: “My opinion… My view… Is that… But why must I reveal my opinion first?”
Iqbal: “This way we’ll never know. Let’s both cover our bottles and settle this at leisure.”
Munshi: “That’s not possible. The bottles are already open. Now we’ll have to drink them. Decide quickly else we’ll lose all the gas. And the gas is the main thing in these drinks.”
Iqbal: “I agree. And I see you also accept that there’s no real difference between lemon and soda.”
Munshi: “When did I say there’s no difference between lemon and soda? There’s a lot of difference. Lemon has sweetness, fragrance, sourness. That is, three things more than soda. What does soda have? Only gas — and so much of it that it gets into the nose. Compared to this, lemon is delicious! Have a bottle and you’ll be good for hours. Soda is for those who are unwell. And you admitted a while ago that lemon was tastier than soda.”
Iqbal: “All right. But I didn’t accept that lemon is better than soda. Being more tasty doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more beneficial. Pickle is very tasty but you know how bad it can be for you. Merely being fragrant and sour doesn’t make something good or better. Ask any doctor and you’ll know that sourness brings indigestion. But soda! Now here’s a great thing for digestion.”
Munshi: “Look, let’s settle this by mixing the two.”
Iqbal: “I’ve no objection.”
Munshi: “Then fill that glass half with soda.”
Iqbal: “Why don’t you fill it half with lemon first?”
Munshi: “What’s this? Why don’t you want to pour it first?”
Iqbal: “I want to have a mix of soda-lemon.”
Munshi: “And I want to have a mix of lemon-soda.”