POET and prose writer Insha Allah Khan Insha (1752-1817) was a genius: he knew Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Sanskrit, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Bengali and Marathi and wrote in five of these languages.

He had a knack for learning and mastering languages and knew some dialects of Urdu, too, for instance, Brij Bhasha, Khari Boli, Purbi, Marvari and a few more. He was one of the earliest poets who used English words in their Urdu poetry. Some of the examples showing earliest use of English words in Urdu — like powder, fire, coach, glass, court, paltan (platoon) — are found in Insha’s Urdu poetry.

His mastery over prosody was remarkable and he even concocted some new metres for composing Urdu poetry. Insha wrote with authority on rhetoric, exposition, grammar and other branches of knowledge relating to poetics and linguistic skills.

The work that amply shows Insha’s command over linguistic themes and grammatical issues is Darya-e-Latafat. It discusses Urdu grammar and true colours of Urdu language. Written in Persian, it is the first ever grammar of Urdu written by a native. Until then, grammars of Urdu language were written by Europeans in European languages, such as, Dutch, Latin and English. Later on, in 19th century, Urdu grammars were penned in French, German and Italian as well. In 20th century, some Russian scholar wrote grammar of Urdu, not to mention scores of Urdu grammars that began appearing in 19th century. But the earliest grammar of Urdu written in Urdu by a native is Qavaed-e-Sarf-o-Nahv-e-Zaban-e-Urdu. It was written by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in 1840.

Many followed suit; however, it was Insha, the first local, who led the way when he, in collaboration with Mirza Muhammad Hasan Qateel, penned Darya-e-Latafat in 1222 Hijri, or 1807/08 AD, albeit it could not see light of day until 33 years after Insha’s death. It was ultimately published from Murshidabad in 1850.

Initially, the Persian version of Darya-e-Latafat had about 475 pages and two sections. Each section is divided into several subsections. The first portion having about 300 pages was penned by Insha and the rest was by Qateel’s pen. Insha also wrote the epilogue.

The first portion analyses Urdu’s place of birth, its alphabet, its different accents, Urdu as spoken in Delhi and Urdu’s varieties that different social strata in Delhi used. Parlances used by Delhi’s Punjabis, Kashmiris, Syeds, Purbis and Delhi’s women come under discussion with interesting, sometimes even funny, examples copying the accents and usages, a proof of Insha’s keen observation and analytical acumen. It also discusses Urdu morphology and syntax. Urdu phonology is analysed in a peculiar way with reference to pronunciation of certain words by certain groups of people.

The golden rule that Insha derives from these discussions can guide scholars of Urdu even today. Firstly: when a word is borrowed from other languages by Urdu it becomes an Urdu word and hence must follow grammatical rules of Urdu. Any deviation from the original, whether Arabic, Persian, Turkish or any other source language for that matter, must be measured according to Urdu’s standards. If deviation is considered correct as per Urdu’s usage it must be accepted as correct and the original usage or pronunciation may be ignored. For determining the correctness of Urdu usage, says Insha, the point of reference is Urdu and not any other language.

Secondly, Urdu is an entirely independent language, adds Insha, and, therefore, insisting on using the phonology or grammar of source languages, such as Arabic or Persian, for Urdu words is unnatural because for commoners certain rules of Arabic phonology are hard to follow.

The second portion, written by Qateel, discusses logic, prosody and rhetoric. But when Moulvi Abdul Haq edited and published Persian version of Darya-e-Latafat from Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu (ATU) in 1916 (he got it printed from An-Nazir Press, Lucknow) the second portion was axed. Abdul Haq made some other changes too and deleted, for instance, some “indecent” examples.

Pandit Brij Mohan Dattatreya Kaifi (1866-1955) translated Darya-e-Latafat into Urdu and ATU published it in 1935 with an intro by Moulvi Abdul Haq. ATU Pakistan reprinted it from Karachi in 1988. But it was a facsimile of 1935 edition, typeset in naskh script. It is not easy to read and is rather a strain on the eye. Incidentally, in the same year ATU Hind had published a new edition with a fresh, nasta’leeq calligraphy. What ATU Pakistan should do now is to get Urdu translation of Darya-e-Latafat composed through computer software and publish a new edition with a new preface along with Abdul Haq’s intro.

As put by Moulvi Abdul Haq, Darya-e-Latafat is Insha’s most appreciable work and is a must for anyone who wants to study Urdu from research point of view or write a book on Urdu grammar or vocabulary.

drraufparekh@yahoo.com

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2023

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