URDU was once the most important and widely used language of India. But with the 1947 partition, it fell upon lean days, and the decline has continued primarily because it has come to be associated with a particular community.
Urdu is a rich language, and people relish its poetic couplets even when they don’t understand them. It has become a language of the ear rather than of the eye.
One of the reasons for this phenomenon is that it is not linked to employment opportunities. It enjoys, for example, the status of official language in only one state (Jammu and Kashmir), and is recognized as the second official language in some other states, but in practical terms, this does not mean much. In India today English is the king, and all Indian languages take a secondary place – Urdu more so than others.
The sad state of Urdu is ironic because no other language has more state institutions devoted exclusively to its development and promotion. The Union government long ago established the National Council for Promotion of the Urdu Language, and it set up the Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad.
Most states have established Urdu academies charged with the same objective, but these, unfortunately, have generally indulged in tokenism. Besides doling out prizes to authors, publishing magazines in Urdu, and granting financial assistance for selected publication of books, by and large, they have done precious little for the promotion of the language.
It is in this arid landscape, that the publication of Mujtahedi’s three volume “Urdu-English Dictionary” represents a monumental contribution to the language. His opus contains over 90,000 entries in over 2800 pages. Each word and phrase is dealt with comprehensively according to the modern norms of lexicography. The word is also given in the Roman alphabet so that its pronunciation can be easily understood. It is then explained both in English and Urdu with examples of its usage in prose and poetry in a variety of shades of meaning.
This is not the first such dictionary, but it is certainly the best and the most comprehensive work so far in Urdu. It is all the more significant since most of the good earlier works have not been updated or are out of print. The lexicographer has made use of all of them, but has created an entirely original work.
Mujtahedi has brought to bear on his extraordinary work his long experience as an official translator to the government of Andhra Pradesh. His patience, diligence, and scholarship are reflected in the content and quality of the dictionary. He labored hard for a quarter of a century to fulfill his self-chosen mission in life.
The redoubtable Dr. Johnson defined a lexicographer as “a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the significance of words.” Mujtahedi is far from a drudge. He was rightly excited when he announced proudly to his friends and admirers: “mission accomplished.”
Like all persons with a mission, he has had to face many hurdles. No publisher was willing to risk his money in a venture which did not guarantee financial returns.
His friends were able to persuade a Good Samaritan, Syed Abdul Khader Jeelani, chairman of the “Syed Hashim Memorial Foundation, Hyderabad” to sponsor the venture.
Jeelani deserves the gratitude of the lovers of Urdu for his act of benevolence, and Mujtahedi will, henceforth, be known as the ‘Dr. Johnson of Urdu.