SOME books have a strange destiny. They are fun to read but hard to find, just like some people who are a great company, but we do not even know if they exist. Some books by Makhmoor Akberabadi met the same fate: they proffer some interesting aspects of the Urdu language and its exuberant vocabulary but are little-known.

These books are: Urdu Zaban Aur Asaaleeb (The Urdu language and Styles) (1961) and a two-volume Qamoosul Fasahat (Dictionary of Perspicuity), (1973, 1986). The first one describes different styles, registers and words that Urdu has taken from other languages and explains them with examples from everyday life along with some interesting word histories. The dictionary in two volumes discusses accents, correct usage, nuances and how words change in introductory chapters.

Some of the interesting words and their usage taken from these works are: aandhi ke aam mangoes blown down from a tree by gales, windfall, unexpected gain without much labour.

agya baitaal: Flames seen in the forest and considered ghosts or apparitions, willow-o-the-wisp.

arat: (a term used in singing and dancing) to explain meanings or emotions through voice and tone variation, gesticulation, as opposed to ‘nirat’, which means to convey meaning or emotion in dancing and singing through bodily movements.

bagla bhagat: a cunning person posing as innocent and harmless.

bhanej: son-in-law of ‘bahn’ or sister; mostly used in Bihar and Eastern UP, in other parts of UP ‘bhaanj damaad’ is preferred.

chaar harf: (literally) four letters; an allusion to Arabic word ‘la’nat’, which has four letters, curse, imprecation, reproach.

haazraat: the practice of calling spirits of the dead, necromancy.

jojra: A pot with a hairline crack; (metaphorically) an old person who is apparently fit but unable to do any work.

kachcha saath: an allusion to little children or other family members who cannot look after themselves or earn a livelihood.

kafir kurti: (now rarely used) a gown or shirt worn by westerners, western outfit (shows contempt).

kala chor: Anybody, somebody no matter how bad, I don’t care who that is.

katkoot: (from Arabic) a young bird, fledgling, nestling.

kukaltaash/khwaja taash: koka or kukal, a Turkish word, means foster brother, son of a wet nurse. In Persian, ‘taash’ means partner or companion. So the two boys nursed by the same woman, as mother or wet nurse, are kukaltaash. ‘Khwaja taash’ means a fellow servant, the servants of the same employer. In Urdu, khwaja taash means companions, class fellows or like-minded persons.

mosambee: this citrus fruit, also known as sweet lemon and called ‘leemu shirin’ in Persian, is named after Mozambique, the country where it originated.

muchalka: This word is often used in news these days as some politicians are being released from prison on ‘muchalka’. Used in Urdu, it is originally a Turkish word and it means a guarantee, a bond, or agreement.

qaachaaqi: Someone who takes goods across the border illegally, smuggler.

qulfi: The actual word was ‘qufli’, from ‘qufl’ and ‘qufl’ means lock, since it was a locked mould used to make quflis, or frozen milky desserts on a stick. But the word was changed to ‘qulfi’ and is now considered the standard form. According to Platts, ‘qufliyan’ were two saucer-shaped earthen vessels tied or locked together and were filled with ‘kheer’. Later on, ice cream replaced kheer and a stick was added. saatha paatha: a sixty-year-old healthy man, sturdy old man.

shakarpura: a kind of sweet samosa filled with sugar and minced almonds. And ‘pura’ is augmentative word of ‘puri, a thin, fried little bread made of flour.

tarra: Someone who replies immediately and harshly showing no respect, insolent, rude.

tees mar khan: Someone who brags that he is very brave but is in fact not, someone with a show-offish display of bravado.

tripolia: In Urdu, it literally means a building with three gates, since ‘tri’ or ‘tiri’ means three in Sanskrit. But about a century ago it meant ‘a covered market’ and ‘polia’ is in fact a corruption of the English word tarpaulin, as in those days such bazaars or buildings were covered with tarpaulin.

ungina: (literally) uncounted; no more in use but in past superstitious women used it to refer to the eighth month of pregnancy since the eighth month was considered inauspicious.

yaar log: non-serious or irresponsible people, carefree persons (often used sarcastically).

zaat-i-shareef: (sarcastically) wicked person posing as virtuous, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Makhmoor Akberabadi’s real name was Syed Muhammad Mahmood. A poet, critic, researcher, philologist and translator, he was born in Agra on Feb 4, 1894 and served Radio Pakistan, Dhaka, the then East Pakistan, for quite long. The second volume of his Qamoosul Fasahat was published posthumously. His works on Nazeer Akberabadi, Rooh-i-Nazeer and Nazeer Nama, are well-known. His other works include Mashriq-i-Taban and Aalaam-i-Hayaat.

Makhmoor Akberabdi died in Khairpur, Sindh, on April 16, 1976.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2024



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