Hybridity ain’t just postmodern: Amir Khusro’s Rekhta and Hinglish

The word Rekhta, meaning mixed, was used to refer to various types of poetry over the course of a thousand or so years that Persian mixed with various Indic tongues in India. In the age of the Delhi Sultans (before the Mughal Period) in the 12th-14th Centuries Persian came into its own in India to the extent that the very first tazkirah (loosely speaking anthology) of Persian poetry was published in India and included several hundred Indian poets (I have this from Muzaffar Alam’s excellent book “The Languages of Political Islam”). North India seemed to be firmly in the ambit of Farsiworld which included modern day Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Tajikstan (where the Indian Persian poet of the 16th Century, Abdul Qadir “Bedil” is still very popular today, far more popular than in his homeland India).

In any event, I digress. The point was Rekhta and in particular the type of Rekhta practised by Amir Khusro. As I said at the beginning the meanings of Rekhta changed over several hundred years. In the 19th Century, it is often used to mean poetry written in the language we would today call “Urdu”. The reason why Urdu came to be called Urdu is itself a fascinating story of colonial blunder, a story of the type that abound in India. The word “Urdu” in Persian simply means “camp”.John Gilchrist the Indologist and Lexicographer, I think it was, who was studying this language that had taken shape around the Mughal capital of Delhi (I am ignoring the role of Deccan antecedents here). This language (which later erroneously came to be identified as having originated purely in the military encampments) was referred to sometimes as “zabaan-e-urdu-e-mualla-e-shahjahanbad”, which translates as “the language of the Royal Camp of Delhi” (Delhi was resettled by Shahjahan who called his new city Shahjahanabad). Gilchrist for reasons I have yet to discover (but like to think had something to do with Imperial stupidity and arrogance) took only the word “Urdu” out of that phrase and the name stuck.

So Rekhta, in Ghalib’s days referred to Urdu, as evidenced in his verse:
Rekhte ke ek tum hi ustad nahin ho Ghalib
Kehte hain agle zamaane mein koi Mir bhi tha

You alone are not the master of Rekhta Ghalib
They say that there was once someone called Mir

As also the verse I quoted at the end of my previous post.

Before Rekhta or mixed speech began to refer to the mixed language that is Urdu, it referred to a truly fascinating type of mixed poetry. This was half-Persian, half-Hindvi poetry. Amir Khusro experimented with this as did many others. And it is the beauty of that poetry that has inspired this ramble.
In some kinds of Rekhta part of one line of a sher would be in Persian and the other part in Hindvi, as for e.g. the famous Ghazal which opens:

Zehal-e miskin makun taghaful, duraye naina banaye batiyan;
ki taab-e hijran nadaram ay jaan, na leho kaahe lagaye chhatiyan.

It is breathtaking how Khusro combines two incredibly sweet tongues into something that is even greater than the sum of its parts.

Another famous example illustrates another type of rekhta, where Persian and Hindvi verses alternate:

Har qaum raast raahay, deen-e wa qibla gaahay,
Mun qibla raast kardam, bar samt kajkulaahay.
Sansaar har ko poojay, kul ko jagat sarahay,
Makkay mein koyi dhoondhay, Kaashi ko koi jaaye,
Guyyian main apnay pi kay payyan padun na kaahay.
Har qaum raast raahay, deen-e wa qibla gaahay…..

At times Khurso even combined the two languages into one phrase such that the verb and subject is Hindvi and the object Persian, as in:
Yaar nahin dekhta su-e-man… meaning My friend does not look at me anymore…

With multiculturalism being the postmodern buzzword today we find new forms of hybrid language such as Spanglish and Hinglish. Once more the purists are appalled (actually I don’t know that they are appalled, but it seems safe to assume that they would be!) and the postmoderns are delighted at yet more evidence of their pet theme, hybridity. What could be a better example of hybridity can Khurso’s poetry quoted above! Its not just Dosa in Denmark or Bi-bim-bop in Manhattan, not just Indian men sporting Ricky Martin t-shirts and watching appallingly bad American TV. Hybridity can be sublime. Granted, not all uses of Hinglish (Hindi + English, e.g. Come yaar, lets go, or Stop bakwaas maroing) are as beautiful as Khusro’s Rekhta. But perhaps that is only a matter of time and chance.

Then again, I am not so sanguine about hybridity under the aegis if Global Capitalism. It might be another animal all together! Seeking the lowest common denominator of cultures rather than their sublimity.


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