3.103 Urdu scribes (49)
Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@VM.EPAS.UTORONTO.CA)
Tue, 6 Jun 89 21:18:21 EDT
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 103. Tuesday, 6 Jun 1989.
Date: Mon, 5 Jun 89 09:08:00 EDT
Subject: Urdu Scribes Strike...
*Urdu Scribes Strike at India Newspapers*
(By Barbara Crossette, NY Times, Sunday, June 4, 1989)
NEW DELHI, June 3 -- Several dozen calligraphers went on strike last
week along India's newspaper row, reminding the Asian publishing world
that there is still one language that has eluded the typesetter: Urdu.
Although experimental computer typesetting is being studied here and
in Pakistan, where Urdu is the national language, newspapers in both
countries still rely on accomplished scribes called katibs to handwrite
the news with artists' pens.
Urdu, similar to spoken Hindi but written in an Arabic-based Persian
script, is considered the literary language of the continent's Muslims,
many of whom migrated from India to Pakistan at the partition of British
India in 1947. Urdu remains a minority language in both countries, how-
ever, passionately defended by poets and storytellers.
Newspapers, magazines and books in Urdu, an Indo-Aryan tongue that did
not take on distinct written form until as late as the 17th century, are
read from back to front and right to left, unlike the Sanskrit-based
languages of the region, which also belong to a larger Indo-European
In Delhi, no more than a handful of Urdu newspapers survive. The katibs
at the Daily Pratap could count only eight today. Many of the capital's
Muslims are concentrated in the old city nearby, a Mogul town before the
Perched on wooden platforms in dingy back rooms, the katibs -- some of
them trained in the purest Urdu in schools named for the traditional in-
tellectual centers of Lahore or Lucknow -- turn out their handwritten news
columns at the rate of about 10 inches an hour. The "type" then goes
straight to photocomposition.
Mohammed Ikram, a 51-year-old katib at the Daily Pratap, said the
calligraphers earn only $30 to $50 a month for long days in uncomfortable
surroundings. He is among those who took part in a protest march on May
26 to demand a journalist's basic wage of $35 to $70.
"Since 1968, when the court classified us as journalists, we have been
cheated by the proprietors," Mr. Ikram said.