Hyderabad: The Telangana Government declares Urdu as second official language of the state. This serves as a beam of hope for the Chatta bazaar’s odd seven Urdu calligraphers who want to preserve this art. Since the 1990’s when computers entered into the domain of the art followed by Urdu font, the patronage enjoyed by the Urdu Khushkhat ended and severe blow came from Urdu news papers which once recruited calligraphers for chronicling the city’s daily life, had moved on to the cost effective digital medium.
For Mohammed Ghouseuddin Azeem, one of the Calligrapher, khushnawees or khushkhat (calligraphy) is more ‘grammar’ than art. “It may seem like we are writing it anyway we want, but if I draw the alphabet ‘ba’ in font size 12 and font size 60, the distance between the first part of the letter to the end part will be same across the two sizes.”
Another Katib, Azhar Hashmi says that “we are the only few remaining who know this art. We have to do this, we have to keep at it, so we ensure this stands the test of time.”
There is no sight of women in the male dominated Chatta Bazaar. “Once women used to write for the fortnightly or weekly papers, but on the advent of the digital medium they too lost their importance and remained in homes. Now they do write but just as a hobby, not as a commercial activity,” says Afzal Mohammed Khan.
“My father, Ghouse Mohammed Khan was the best katib in town in the 60s and 70s. He made all these,” says Afzal, as he turns the 50-odd pages of the book to show off his father’s artistry. One of his art depicts Rajeev Gandhi, with words in Urdu reading, ‘Humara Maseeha’. Another shows the masthead of the daily, Rehnumaye Deccan, another shows the masthead of a paper Munsif. “This was a pandra-roza, or fortnightly,” he says, pointing to the cut out of the masthead his father designed. An old picture falls off the leaf — that of Ghouse, with some dignitaries. Afzal turns over the photo to read the lines written: “This was clicked over 35 years ago with the Education Minister Muddu Krishnama Naidu.”
Urdu katibs lament that their art barely has any takers outside the Old city which will always be the market for old city dwellers who want wedding cards and other special correspondence written.
There are thousands of fonts of Urdu, but there are just seven fonts used for Katibs. These fonts are unique not just in the way they are recreated on the paper but in terms of their usage and significance. They are— Nastaleeq, Riqa, Diwani, Suls, Nasq, Kufi and Diwani Jali. While a Suls is preferred for headings, a Kufi finds its place on the walls of a Masjid and Riqa decorates the Quran. Pens with nibs of varying sizes are used which range from 1mm to a 3cm. These are entirely made with bamboo. Pens with metallic nibs are called ‘Baru ka Kalam’ by some.
Mohammed Abdullah says that “Calligraphy as done before is hardly seen anymore. We use any water based ink now. Earlier we used to go to a colour shop in Gulzar House where a special color called Kala Kankar was available. We would heat it in decoction to make ink,” Now the color shop has gone, Gulzar house has changed and so has the katib’s precious art form.
Only time will tell whether the Telangana Government’s decision to give Urdu a new fillip will rewrite the Katib’s tale and fortune.
Professor Naseemuddin Farees, of Maulana Azad National Urdu University says that I’m happy that Urdu is getting its due finally. The move to make Urdu the second official language of the state is a good one. Now, the government must employ translators at all offices from Mandal to Secretariat level to ensure that those who learn Urdu will get employment as well because the perception that it is only spoken by minorities is plaguing its growth.