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Across the Divide: Looking for the common ground of Hindustani

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 July 2018

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This article investigates some of the institutional and poetic practices around the idea of Hindustani in the period 1900–47. It charts the establishment of the Hindustani Academy in 1927 and explores some of its publishing activities as it attempted to make a positive institutional intervention in the Hindi–Urdu debate and cultural field more broadly. It then considers some aspects of poetic production in literary journals, including those associated with the Academy. Ultimately, it is an attempt to explore the grey areas that existed between Hindi/Hindu and Urdu/Muslim in the pre-Independence decades, and to make the case for studying the literature of both traditions simultaneously, along with emphasizing that attempts at compromise—including the perennially contested term ‘Hindustani’ itself—must be taken on their own terms.

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*I would like to thank Francesca Orsini for her generous advice and support throughout. Shabnum Tejani and Amina Yaqin also made very helpful interventions in earlier drafts of this work, and Geeta Patel was generous in discussing Miraji. I thank too audiences at the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London and the University of Chicago, who heard earlier versions and offered many helpful comments. Librarians and archivists in the Hindustani Academy, Allahabad; the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, Allahabad; and the British Library, London, have my deepest gratitude for their assistance and generosity. The research for this article was conducted as part of a PhD at SOAS University of London which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


1 Manto, Saadat Hasan, ‘Hindī aur Urdū’, Manṭo ke maẓāmīn, Delhi, Saqi Book Depot, 1997 [1942], pp. 71–5, p. 75Google Scholar; translated by Memon, Muhammad Umar, ‘Hindi and Urdu’, Annual of Urdu Studies 25, 2010, pp. 205–8, pp. 207–8Google Scholar.

2 Christine Everaert makes the same suggestion in her brief discussion of the story: ‘One could wonder whether the names Iqbāl and Praśād are consciously chosen as a hint at the authors Muḥammad Iqbāl (1877–1938) and Jayśaṇkar Prasād (1889–1937), who can be seen as promotors of Persianized and Islamized Urdu and Sanskritized Hindi respectively.’ Everaert, Christine, Tracing the boundaries between Hindi and Urdu: Lost and added in translation between 20th century short stories, Leiden, Brill, 2010, p. 67Google Scholar.

3 The classic account is Rai, Amrit, A house divided: The origin and development of Hindi/Hindavi, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1984Google Scholar. For a study of the politics of this division, see King, Christopher, One language, two scripts: The Hindi movement in nineteenth century North India, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1994Google Scholar. See also Dalmia, Vasudha, The nationalization of Hindu traditions: Bhāratendu Hariśchandra and nineteenth-century Banaras, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1997Google Scholar; Orsini, Francesca, The Hindi public sphere, 1920–1940: Language and literature in the age of nationalism, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002Google Scholar; Rai, Alok, Hindi nationalism, New Delhi, Orient Longman, 2001Google Scholar; Faruqi, Shamsur Rahman, Early Urdu literary culture and history, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2001Google Scholar; and Rahman, Tariq, From Hindi to Urdu: A social and political history, New Delhi, Orient Blackswan, 2011Google Scholar.

4 For a discussion of the latter process, see Lunn, David, ‘The eloquent language: Hindustani in 1940s Indian cinema’, Bioscope 6, 1, 2015, pp. 126Google Scholar.

5 See, in addition to the studies already mentioned, Washbrook, David, ‘“To each a language of his own”: Language, culture, and society in colonial India’, in Corfield, Penelope J. (ed.) Language, history, and class, Oxford, Blackwell, 1991, pp. 179203Google Scholar; Cohn, Bernard, ‘Command of language and the language of command’, in Guha, Ranajit (ed.) Subaltern studies IV: Writings on South Asian history and society, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1985, pp. 276329Google Scholar; Lelyveld, David, ‘The fate of Hindustani: Colonial knowledge and the project of a national language’, in Breckenridge, Carol A. and van der Veer, Peter (eds) Orientalism and the postcolonial predicament, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993, pp. 189214Google Scholar; and, most recently and comprehensively, Alison Safadi, ‘The colonial construction of Hindustani: 1800–1947’, PhD thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London, 2012.

6 Orsini, Hindi public sphere, pp. 359–60.

7 Lelyveld, ‘The fate of Hindustani’.

8 Rai, Alok, ‘The persistence of Hindustani’, Annual of Urdu Studies 20, 2005, pp. 135–44, p. 140Google Scholar.

9 See King, One language, for a full discussion of the issue of script.

10 The Academy's origins lay in plans for a translation bureau attached to the Ministry of Education of the United Provinces government, making it a quasi-official body. In time, the proposed institution outgrew this rather limited conceptualization, and became for its proponents an important tool in the wider and interlinked projects of literary and linguistic enrichment, education, and societal progress.

11 Writing the editorial of the first issue of the Academy's twin Hindi and Urdu journals, both called Hindustānī, Dr Tara Chand, History professor at Allahabad University and the Academy's general secretary, traced the histories of various notable academies—from those of Plato and Aristotle, to the Medici family during and after the fifteenth century in Florence, Richelieu's L'Académie Française, and the Royal societies and British Academy in England—and situated the Hindustani Academy in this genealogy. But he also emphasized the Indian context, suggesting not just a universal relevance, but also a particular timeliness:

Hindi: Is dhāī hazār baras ke itihās se patā caltā hai ki ekeḍemī kā sthāpit honā jātiyoṁ kī unnati meṁ ek viśeṣ mahattva rakhtā hai. Pratyek jāti ke itihās meṁ ek samay ātā hai jab jāti ke netāoṁ ko yah anubhav hotā hai ki jñān aur sāhitya kā āśray jātīy lābhoṁ kī rakṣā ke liye āvaśyak hai. T. Chand, ‘Sampādakīya’, Hindustānī (Hindi) 1, 1, January 1931, pp. 118–27, p. 126,

Urdu: Is ḍhā’ī hazār baras kī tārīkh se yah ma‘lūm hotā hai ki ekeḍemī kā qiyām qaumoṅ ke naśv-o namā meṅ khāṣ ahmiyat dikhtā hai. Har qaum kī tārīkh meṅ ek zamāna ātā hai jab rahnumāiyāṅ-e qaum ko yah eḥsās hotā hai ki ‘ilm-o adab kī sarparastī qaumī mufād kī ḥifāẓat ke li'e ẓarūrī hai. T. Chand, ‘Adārīya’, Hindustānī (Urdu) 1, 1, January 1931, pp. 142–52, p. 151.

(Two and a half thousand years of history show that the establishment of academies retains a particular importance in the progress of a people. A time comes in the history of every people when the leaders of that people realize that patronage of learning and literature is essential in order to secure the prosperity of the people.)

12 The phrase is William Marris's, then governor of the United Provinces, at the inauguration of the Academy. Reproduced in Tara Chand, Report on the workings of the Hindustani Academy, United Provinces, Allahabad, 1927–39, Allahabad, Hindustani Academy, 1939, pp. 79–88.

13 See Chand, Tara, ‘Hindustānī ke sambandh men kuch ghalatfahmiyān’, Hindustānī (Hindi) 7, 3, April 1937, pp. 279–97Google Scholar; Varma, Dhirendra, ‘Hindī, Urdū, Hindustānī’, Hindustānī (Hindi) 4, 3, July 1934, pp. 195200Google Scholar.

14 Orsini, Hindi public sphere, p. 135. See also her discussion of Hindustani in ibid., pp. 358–65.

15 Varma, Dhirendra, Hindī bhāṣā aur lipi, Allahabad, Hindustani Academy, 2005 [1938], p. 45Google Scholar. Varma's critique of the vacuity of Hindustani finds resonance in, for example, the discussion of the term in the context of Hindi films: see Trivedi, Harish, ‘All kinds of Hindi: The evolving language of Hindi cinema’, in Lal, Vinay and Nandy, Ashis (eds) Fingerprinting popular culture: The mythic and the iconic in Indian cinema, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 5186Google Scholar.

16 He mentions Dhirendra Varma in this connection, praising in particular his stance on Hindi as rājbhāṣā as opposed to raṣṭrabhāṣā. Singh Sharma, Padma, Hindī, Urdū yā Hindustānī, Allahabad, Hindustani Academy, 1932, pp. 34–5Google Scholar.

17 Ibid., pp. 151–2, emphases added. Sharma's use of the motif of a divided family would have had a strong resonance among members of his audience.


18 For example, Shyam Sundar Das's edition of Satsāī Saptak (1931, Hindi), Lala Sita Ram's edition of Mahatma Akshar Ananya's Prem Dīpikā (1936, Hindi), or Jalil Ahmad Qidwai's Dīvān-e Bedār (1937, Urdu). Avadhi writers such as Tulsidas and Biharilal were slotted into the Hindi canon and their works published in Devanagari, while Bedar's Urdu verse remained confined to the Urdu script and tradition. The same is true for the literary biographies published by the Academy in its early period (in Hindi: Tulsidas, Bhartendu Harishchandra, and Sant Tukaram; in Urdu: the famous iconoclast and contested icon, Kabir), and for the articles in the Hindi and Urdu versions of the journal Hindustānī. Literature-related articles in the Urdu Hindustānī tended to focus on figures such as Sauda, Mir, Hali, Ruswa, and Ghalib, and on subjects such as modern Urdu poetry, Urdu literary histories, other Urdu journals, and so forth. There were only occasionally articles on elements of the Hindi canon, and even what we could term ‘Hindu themes’ were most often considered from the point of view of their relation to Urdu. The opposite situation applied to the Hindi journal. See, for example, Shah Mu‘in ud-Din Ahmad Nadvi, ‘Urdū Śā‘irī meṅ Hindū Kalcar aur Hindustān ke T̤ab‘ī aur Jughrāfī As̤rāt’, Hindustānī (U) 9, 3, July 1939; Bhagvatdayal Varma, ‘Fārsī lipī meṁ hindī pustakeṁ’, Hindustānī (H) 3, 4, October 1933, pp. 378–86. Important exceptions to this general trend exist, such as Upendranath Ashk's articles (see below).

19 Mufti, Aamir, Enlightenment in the colony: The Jewish question and the crisis of postcolonial culture, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2007, p. 45Google Scholar.

20 The number of literary translations produced was not large. By 1939, after 12 years in operation, the Academy had published only nine: two plays by the eighteenth-century German writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (Nathan der Weise (1779): Urdu tr. by Muhammad Naimur Rehman as Nātan in 1930, and in Hindi by Mirza Abul Fazl in 1932; and Minna von Barnhelm (1767): Hindi tr. by Mangal Deo Shastri as Mīnā in 1937) and four plays by the contemporary English dramatist and novelist John Galsworthy (Justice (1910): Hindi tr. by Premchand as Nyāya in 1930, and Urdu tr. by Daya Narain Nigam as Insāf in 1939; Skin Game (1920): Urdu tr. by Jagat Mohan Lal Rawan as Fareb-e Amal in 1930, and Hindi tr. by Lalit Prasad Shukla as Dhokā Dhārī in 1931; Strife (1909): Hindi tr. by Premchand as Haṛtāl in 1930; and The Silver Box (1906): Hindi tr. by Premchand as Chāndī kī Dibyā in 1930). Galsworthy would receive the Nobel prize for literature in 1932.

21 Chand, ‘Nivedan’, in Premchand (tr.) Haṛtal, pp. 4–5.

22 If we ignore the slippage between asal in the Hindi and aṣlī in the Urdu, there are only four variations: prakar/taraḥ for way or method (though it should be noted that tarah is used later in the Hindi passage); samay/vaqt for time; nirṇay/faiṣlah for determination; and dharm/dīn for faith. These slight changes are significant precisely because they are so slight. Even more significant are the moments of continuity: the Persianate mālum honā remains consistent in both iterations, as does the Indic angūṭhī, and of course the broader syntactical and grammatical framework is identical. Fundamentally, the high poetic style of Lessing's work was rendered here in easily understood prose, with a minimum of lexical and syntactical variation.

23 See also Tara Chand's remarks on Hindi and Urdu in the introduction to Ashk's volume, the clearest articulation of Hindi and Urdu as both shared languages and literary traditions, the patrimony of both Hindus and Muslims:

Hindī aur urdū donoṁ ek des hindustān kī bhāṣāeṁ haiṁ. Donoṁ ek sī hālatoṁ meṁ paidā huīṁ, phalī-phūlī aur baṛhī hai. Donoṁ kā adab hindū aur musalmān likhnevāloṁ kī kośiśoṁ se banā hai. . .Hindī zabān meṁ islāmī rīti-rivājoṁ, falsafe aur mazhab se sambandh rakhne vālī bahuterī kitābeṁ haiṁ, aur urdū meṁ isī tarah hinduoṁ ke darśan aur śāst, dharm, aur jñān, itihās aur kahāniyoṁ kā acchā bhaṇḍar hai.

(Hindi and Urdu are both languages of one country, India. Both were born in the same conditions, blossomed and grew. The literature of both is made from the efforts of Hindu and Muslim writers . . . There are excellent books concerning Islamic customs, philosophy and religion in the Hindi language; and in this same manner there is a treasure trove of Hindu philosophy and scripture, religion and science, history and stories in Urdu.) (Emphasis added)

24 These reports were to be completed and submitted to the executive within two months and both were subsequently published. Ali, Syed Zamin (ed.) Urdū zabān aur adab, Allahabad, Hindustani Academy, 1927Google Scholar (the above information is drawn from the introduction to this work), and Ram, Lala Sita (ed.) Hindī sarve kamītī kī ripart, Allahabad, Hindustani Academy, 1930Google Scholar. I have thus far been unable to trace a copy of the Hindi Committee's report, and so any discussion is regrettably lopsided. We can only wonder, at this stage, at the reasons for publishing the Hindi report three years after its Urdu counterpart.

25 Ali (ed.) Urdū zabān aur adab, p. 39.

26 Some studies stand as important exceptions to this general rule. Nirala's poetic diversity and experiments with Urdu are well known. As Hoynacki tells us, Nirala composed ghazals as well as bhajans and gīt, was comfortable with Urdu vocabulary, and used it extensively in some of his compositions. See George John Hoynacki, ‘Suryākant Tripātḥī ‘Nirālā’ and the Chāyāvād school of Indian literature (1920–1935): An investigation and analysis of Nirālā’s poetry and his impact upon literary movements in Indian literature’, PhD thesis, University of Minnesota, 1980, pp. 25–31. David Rubin also stresses his linguistic expansiveness: Rubin, D., ‘Nirala and the renaissance of Hindi poetry’, The Journal of Asian Studies 31, 1, November 1971, pp. 111–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Another particularly noteworthy example is Sagaree Sengupta's study of Bharatendu Harishchandra's Urdu verse, in which she demonstrates this Hindi advocate's ‘continued and profound involvement with the language [Urdu] at the creative level’: Sengupta, S., ‘Krishna the cruel beloved: Harischandra and Urdu’, Annual of Urdu Studies 9, 1994, pp. 82102, p. 87Google Scholar.

27 See Pritchett, Frances W. and Faruqi, Shamsur Rahman (eds and trs) Āb-e Ḥayāt: Shaping the canon of Urdu poetry, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2001Google Scholar; Orsini, Hindi public sphere.

28 Shyambihari, Ganeshbihari, and Sukhdeobihari Mishra, Hindī navaratn [A first ed. 1967 VS (1910–11 ad)]. While seven of the poets correspond (although the order is slightly difference), there are two parts to the Mishra collection (the Tripathi brothers and Kabir) that were replaced by Azamgarhi (with Bhushan and Mati Ram). The absence of Kabir is perhaps the most striking divergence, but one can only speculate on the reason behind this.

29 Manzur ul-Haq Azamgarhi, ‘Bhāśā aur uske nauratan: 2Sūrdās’, Zamāna 42, 2, February 1924, pp. 97–105, p. 105.

30 Azamgarhi, ‘Bhāśā aur uske nauratan: 4Keshavdās’, Zamāna 42, 5, May 1924, pp. 278–86.

31 Azamgarhi, ‘Bhāśā aur uske nauratan: 9Hariścandra’, Zamāna 49, 4, October 1927, pp. 169–78, p. 169.

32 Azamgarhi, ‘Bhāśā aur uske nauratan: 5Bihārīlāl’, Zamāna 43, 5, November 1924, pp. 209–18, p. 209.

33 See, for example, Munshi Harikishan, ‘Rahīm ke dohe’, pp. 24–7; Sayyid Maqbul Husain Ahmad Yuri, ‘Rahīm ke dohe’, pp. 28–36; Pandit Harve Narayan Pandey, ‘Surdās’, pp. 37–42; Mahatgami, Iqbal Varma Sahar, ‘Bharateṇḍu Hariścandra’, pp. 51–7, all in Dayā Narā’in Nigam ke risāla ‘Zamāna’ Kānpur (1903–1942) se intikhāb 21: Hindī adabiyat, Patna, Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, 1994Google Scholar.

34 The position of Braj in the early twentieth century is a complex one, as Valerie Ritter has shown in her study of Jagannath Das ‘Ratnakar’ and Ayodhyasingh Upadhyay ‘Hariaudh’. She suggests, convincingly, that ‘Braj Bhasha poetry came to inhabit a mixed oral and print culture with metamorphosing definitions of the literary public’, and that poets of Braj, particularly Hariaudh and Ratnakar, ‘considered it a unifying poetic mode across other inexorably widening divisions’. Hariaudh in particular used variously Sanskritized Hindi and a variety of courtly Braj and idiomatic registers in his compositions. Ritter, Valerie, ‘Networks, patrons, and genres for late Braj Bhasha poets: Ratnakar and Hariaudh’, in Orsini, Francesca (ed.) Before the divide: Hindi and Urdu literary culture, New Delhi, Orient Blackswan, 2010, pp. 249–76, pp. 251, 253Google Scholar.

35 For a selection of these articles, see Dayā Narā’in Nigam ke risāla. . .se Intikhāb 23: Adabiyāt-e Fārsī, Patna, Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, 1995.

36 For example, Babu Shyam Mohan Lal ‘Jigar’ Barelvi, ‘Kalām-e Mīr’, Zamāna 52, 6, June 1929, p. 1: ‘forming an opinion of them according to modern tastes is a fundamental mistake, because at that time Urdu poetry was establishing the preliminary way-houses on the road of progress’.

37 Qadir wrote the introduction to Iqbal's first collection of poetry, Bāng-e Darā, in which he explained his role not only in encouraging Iqbal to publish (Makhzan carried at least one of his poems every month from 1901 until his departure for England in 1905, and printed many more after his return), but also, along with Thomas Arnold, in discouraging Iqbal from abandoning poetry altogether. See Iqbal, Muhammad, Bāng-e Darā, Lucknow, Al-Nazir Book Agency, 1926Google Scholar. On the whole, Makhzan had relatively few Hindu contributors compared to Zamāna: the poet Hari Chand ‘Akhtar’ is a notable exception in this regard, though there were other Hindu poets and contributors involved.

38 See Qadir, ‘Introduction’, in Iqbal, Bāng-e Darā.

39 See, for example, Saiyid Ahmad Dahlavi, ‘Khwāja Ḥālī’ and ‘Nazar’, ‘Mars̤iya śams al-‘ulamā maulānā khwāja Alt̤āf Ḥusain ṣāḥab Ḥālī marhūm’, both in Makhzan (March 1915), pp. 13–29 and pp. 73–5 respectively.

40 See, for example, the multi-part series by ‘Azarda’ Sitapuri, ‘Ātiś-o Ghālib’, in Makhzan (April–June 1918), among many others.

41 Qadir's own writing exhibited this tendency: see, for example, Qadir, Abdul, ‘Jab Ātiś javāṅ thā’, in Salim, Ahmad (ed.) Intikhāb-e Makhzan, Lahore, Sang-e-Meel Publications, 2004, pp. 23–6Google Scholar.

42 Cāṁd also published an Urdu version. The genre of collected poetic couplets and short extracts represented by ‘Kesar’ deserves further exploration across journals, but certainly seems to represent an attempt to evoke the performative aspects of poetic recitation, as well as a demonstrable reluctance to abandon entirely the enjoyment of Urdu verse.

43 Patel, Geeta, Lyrical movements, historical hauntings: On gender, colonialism and desire in Miraji's Urdu poetry, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2001, p. 51Google Scholar.

44 Ashk, Upendranath, Urdū kāvya kī ek naī dhārā, Allahabad, Hindustani Academy, 1949 [1941]Google Scholar; Ashk, U., ‘Ādhunik urdū kavitā meṁ gīt’, Hindustānī (H) 8, 2, April 1938, pp. 133–57Google Scholar; 8, 3, July 1938, pp. 263–84.

45 See, for example, Ashk, Upendranath, Urdū kī behtarīn ghazaleṁ, Allahabad, Nilam Prakashan, 1962Google Scholar; Ashk, U., Urdū kī behtarīn nazameṁ, Allahabad, Nilam Prakashan, 1962Google Scholar.

46 Ashk, ‘Ādhunik’, p. 136.

47 Hafiz Jalandhari, in Ashk, Urdū Kāvya, pp. 30–1. Ashk introduces a few glosses: sadā as āvāz, and śay as vastu. ‘Bansrā’ in the first line is most likely a misprint.

48 Ashk, ‘Ādhunik’, p. 146.

49 See Rockwell, Daisy, Upendranath Ashk, New Delhi, Katha, 2004, pp. 105–14Google Scholar, for her own rehabilitation of the term in the context of discussing Ashk's own novels.

50 Ashk, Urdū Kāvya, p. 130.

51 Maulana Vaqar, ‘Jagat meṁ’, in Ashk, Urdū kāvya, pp. 36–7.

52Kahīṁ kahīṁ to aisī kavitāeṁ hone lagī haiṁ ki āp kah nahīṁ sakte ki yah urdū kī kavitā hai ki hindī kī. Hamārā yah kahnā nahīṁ ki bhāṣā ke lie bhāv kī hatyā kī jāy; par ham yah bhī nahīṁ cāhte ki kavitā kī chāyā meṁ śabdoṁ kā āḍambar racā jāy.’ (‘In some places a kind of poetry has begun that is impossible to say whether it is Urdu or Hindi. I am not saying that affect should be murdered for the sake of language; but I also don't want that the pretension of words should flourish under the cover of poetry.’) Krishnadevprasad Gaur, ‘Hindī kavitā kī bhāṣā’, Haṃs 6, 2, November 1935, pp. 66–8, p. 67.

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