Our Akbar-esque mannerism

A few days ago I happened to read the famous account of Mughal emperor Jalaluddin Akbar, which tells about the king refusing two Europeans’ request to set up a printing press in the subcontinent. Reason? Its printing lacked the delicacy and beauty boasted by calligraphy of that time.

Although Akbar didn’t know how to read and write, the printing of the press must have appeared crude to his royal disposition. He was proud of the world’s best calligraphers in his palace and enjoyed their craftsmanship. So, the proposal of the European delegation was refused, and the subcontinent was left behind in the race for knowledge — and is still lagging behind.

On the face of it, the incident may be nothing but just another leaf from history. But it is still relevant, at least in one aspect, as it relates an important issue of the modern day. The history repeated itself during the past century when Urdu writing was tried to be mechanised, but we, like Akbar, kept on rejecting all those methods that didn’t resemble Nastaliq’s beauty.

Result: Urdu is still a struggling language on the Internet in this Information Age.

We were being illiterate, like Akbar who preferred beauty to facilitating knowledge. Had disseminating knowledge been our first priority, we would never have yielded to Nastaliqi temptation; we would have adopted Tahoma.

Our behavior, in this case, is similar to minibuses which run through length and breadth of Karachi: seats may be shabby, engine broken down, and filled to capacity — they are still bedecked with buntings or other decorations as if they were a bride. It would be much better if the hundreds and thousands of rupees splashed out on their appearance were spent on the engine.

Urdu is suffering the same fate.

Awaiting the ‘buntings’ of Nastaliq, we have jammed its progress for years. And at a time when much smaller languages than Urdu are light years ahead of it, we are still chasing mirages.

We failed to see the writing on the wall, to say the least. The importance of Nastaliq cannot be denied, but it was senseless to stay idle, turning down anything which falls short of the ideal.

It was during the same days in 2006 when I visited ‘Wikipedia Urdu’ only to find that the only appropriate font available was Tahoma. Although Nafees Web Naskh font was there, and it did benefit me to an extent, I finally compelled myself to get accustomed to Tahoma, and contributed around 1,500 to 2,000 articles to Wikipedia using the font.

My other fellow contributors, who helped Wikipedia Urdu touch 10,000-article milestone, didn’t also wait for an eye-catching, artistic and mind-blowing Nastaliq to do what they did. As a matter of fact, Nastaliq is not the real issue. And those who regard Nastaliq vs Naskh war as a matter of life and death for Urdu must themselves be regarded as mistaken.

Nastaliq is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of Arabic calligraphy, but it is still not a prerequisite to embrace the ‘religion’ of Urdu. What we needed was to get ourselves used to Nastaliq-less (simple) life, but we couldn’t. However now when this need is fulfilled, we must focus on dissemination of Urdu.

Remember that Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook are not going to address this ‘technical weakness’ of ours, because we are not a profitable market. And we have to face this reality. Commercial organisations do not venture into solving such complex issues in a market that offers less or no return at all.

However, foundation has been laid. There are such Nastaliq fonts on the market which can at least kill the propaganda that Urdu hasn’t got Nastaliq font by design. Now the next step is to use national language as much as possible for communication.

Be it a blog or Twitter or Facebook, write in Urdu. And let your pen (read: keyboard) loose on the subject you have expertise in.

Many tourists might have travelled through the world a thousand years ago, but the world only knows Ibne Battuta. Because he wrote what he saw. So start writing and go down in history along with Urdu.