Day 22

"Toay" (तोय) is the twenty-second alphabet. This is a letter with a dental T sound. Rather like "toy" except that the T is soft and the O in "oy" is more like the one in "go" than in "joy". 
Here is how it looks in its detached, initial, medial and final position: 

The word I've picked is one that we all love: "khat" ख़त which means letter, which is a beloved form of communication for me. 

And here is my attempt at writing the word "khat" which contains the harf "toay": 

The idea of letters is one that engages the sub-continental imagination in a big way. For a culture where the free mingling of the two sexes is even today not all that easy, letters form a wonderful, poetic, romantic connect between people. And who better to espouse their cause than the great Mirza Ghalib himself. 
Here's a selection of his sh'ers on the matter of letters. Apologies for those who do not understand Urdu, the cultural context of this poetry is so unique and layered, that it would be impossible to translate into any language on earth. 
Magar likhwaaye koii usko Khat to humse likhwaaye
huyi subah aur ghar se kaan par rakh kar qalam nikale
Gair phirta hai liye yuun tere Khat ko ki agar 
koii puchhe ki ye kya hai to chhupaaye na bane
Deke Khat munh dekhata hai naamabar
kuchh to paigham-e-zubaani aur hai
Ho liye kyo.n naamabar ke saath saath
ya Rab, apne Khat ko hum pahuunchayein kya
Qaasid ke aate aate Khat ik aur likh rahuun
main jaanata huun jo woh likhenge jawaab mein

Day 21

Today's harf is "Zu'aad''.  
Here's how the letter "zu'aad" is written by itself, and also in its initial, medial and final position: 

Here's my attempt at writing "zu'aad" and the word which begins with it. The word I've picked is much used and abused on the sub-continent: "zaruur". Its meaning ranges from "sure!" to "definitely" and is dropped as regularly colloquially as the definite article is dropped while speaking English (in India, at least!). 
"Zaruur" comparises of "zu'aad", "re", "vao" with a  "pesh" and a "re", written, you will remember, from right to left, as seen  at the bottom of my page. 

The lafz "zaruur" reminded me of a lovely Wajida Tabassum ghazal:
Kuchh na kuchh to zaruur hona hai
saamna aaj unse hona hai 

toDo phenko, rakkho, karo kuchh bhi
dil hamara hai, kya khilona hai

zindagi aur maut ka matlab
tumko pana hai tumko khona hai 

itna Darna bhi kya hai duniya se 
jo bhi hona hai woh to hona hai 

uTh ke mehfil se mat chale jana 
tumse raushan ye kona-kona hai. 

Here's Jagjit Singh rendeing it in his usual dulcet tones:

Day 20

Long time, no see, gentle reader. It is a sad time indeed when the preoccupations of the daily humdrum keep one away from one's true love. That's exactly what happened to me. And this is why I intend to repent by posting not one but two words from the harf of the day. 
The 20th alphabet is "Su'aad" or "So'aad", as some people prefer to pronounce it. (सो'आद)
Here is how it is written in its detached position, as also in the initial, medial and final positions; read, as always, from right to left. 

Here's my attempt to write two words which include the harf "Su'aad".

The first is "israar".(इसरार) It means ''urging", as in "to urge" (someone to do something).

The second word is a lovely one. It is "tasviir" (तस्वीर): which means picture, or image. It comprises of the letters "te", "su'aad", "vao", "chhoti ye" and "re"; written, of course, from right to left:  

This reminds me of a song my father is rather fond of "Tasviir banata hoon, tasviir nahin banati"

Day 19

The nineteenth harf, or alphabet, of the Urdu script is "Sheen" (pronounced the same as the "Sheen" in Charlie Sheen!).  This word is such a pretty one. It means "snow" in Kashmiri and of course, gleam, glint, or patina in English. Here's how it's written in its stand-alone, initial, medial and final position.  

The word I've picked for today, beginning with ''Sheen" is "shaad" which means "joy", or "happy". The couplet I am using to illustrate this word was composed by the late great Josh Malihabadi: 

Kuchh nahii.n is ke siwaa 'Josh' hariifo.n kaa kalaam
wasl ne shaad kiya hijr ne nashaad kiya

[hariifo.n=rivals; kalaam=words/conversation; wasl=union/meeting]
[shaad=happy; hijr=separation; nashaad=unhappy]

Day 18

Today, it's the turn of the 18th alphabet - "Seen". Urdu has two other alphabets for the "S" sound; namely, "Se" and "So'ad", but "Seen" is the one used most commonly. 
Here's how it's written in different positions in a word:- 

And here's how I wrote it, along with the word ("lafz") of the day "sabab" (pronounced the same as the English word "hubbub"). It means "reason" or "logic". 
I've also written below it the break-up of the three alphabets: Seen + Be + Be: 

I'm going to quote a sh'er (or couplet) penned by 'Ghalib':
Be_Khudii be_sabab nahii.n 'Ghalib'
kuchh to hai jis kii pardaadaarii hai 
[be_Khudii = rapture, be_sabab = without reason]
[pardaadaarii=to hide, esp. fault ] 

{This rapture is not entirely without reason 'Ghalib'
there is something that's being concealed (from me)}

Day 17

Today's harf is the last one from the "Re" family - "ZHay". This is one alphabet which isn't used much, as compared to "zay", or "zaal", or "zo'ad", or even "zo'ay". Besides, my vocabulary is, as yet, quite limited. So imagine my delight when I found a word that I'm personally fond of which begins with this poor letter. I felt as though dear old ZHay is a Cinderella - out of her rags and into a beautiful gown and golden slippers! The word I found was "ZHaala". It means "frost". 
(I find it interesting that the word "zala" in Marathi means "done"; in Slovene, it means "beautiful", and in Ethiopian, it means "congratulations".)

Here's how it's written. In the first image, I broke the word down into its component letters. 
That is to say: ZHay + Alif + Laam + Chhoti Hey. 
Or rather: Chhoti Hey + Laam + Alif + ZHay, because, you will remember, gentle reader that Urdu is written from right to left! 

And then, of course, the usual: the harf ZHay, followed by the lafz "ZHaala":

Enfin, to round off, a picture of ZHaala, or frost for the gentle reader. 

Day 16

I love 100 Paper Cuts. I check the blog regularly, and inspired by it, thought today's post should be dedicated to to its author. 
Today's harf is Ze, pronounced z-ay. ज़े (Sort of like hay, but with a 'Z'). This is what it looks like: 

And this is today's word: zard. (ज़र्द in Devnaagri). It means 'pale' or 'sallow'. 

The word reminds me of a sweet little poem by Fehmida Riyaz. Apologies in advance to those who do not follow Urdu, for it is tough to translate:

Yeh zard mausam ke khushk patte
hawaa jinhein le gayi uDaa kar
agar kabhi inko dekh paao
to soch lena 
ke in mein har barg ke namuu mein 
ziyaa.n gaya arq shaakh-e-gul ka
kabhi yeh sar_sabz kopalein the
kabhi yeh shaadaab bhi rahe hain
khule huye honTh ki tarah narm aur shagufta 
bahut dio.n tak
yeh sabz patte
hawaa ke relo.n mein bebasii se taDap chuke hain
magar ab yeh khushk ho rahe hain
agar kabhi is taraf se guzaro 
to dekh lena 
barahana shaakhein hawaa mein gaDii huyi hain
yeh ab tumhare liye nahin hain.

[barg = leaf 
namuu = growth 
ziyaa.n = lessening 
arq = sweat / essential juice 
barahana = naked
shaakh = branch]

Day 15

The next word in the ''Re'' group of letters is "De", or "Ade" - a bit like ''day'' but with a rolling sound. Here's how it is written, as also the word for today: ''aaDoo", which means "plum". 

Ahhhh, plum, that round, soft, sweet, smooth-skinned fruit with juicy flesh. High in carbohydrates, low in fat and low in calories, plums are an excellent source of vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium and fiber. They are free of sodium and cholesterol. Like all fruit plums contain a substantial amount of vitamin C. 

Day 14

"Re - a drop of golden sun", so went a line from a favourite childhood song "Do Re Mi". And that is how today's harf, Re, is pronuonced. Ray. Or रे in Devnaagri. This is the first word of the Re'' group (which will be featured for the next three days). I like it because it reminds me of an ice-hockey stick. Not that I've seen one... But.. I think this is what it looks like: 

And here's what the Urdu letter ''Re" looks like: 

Similar, aren't they? "Re" and an ice-hockey stick? 
The word for today is rawish (रविश), which means "behaviour" or attitude". As Ghalib says:
Tumhaarii tarz-o-ravish jante hai.n ham kyaa hai 
raqiib par hai agar lutf to sitam kyaa hai  
(I understand your attitude for what it really is
so what if you torture me by showing benevolence to my rival in love)

Day 13

Today's harf is one of my favourites - if one is allowed such a thing as a favourite alphabet, that is. The letter is zaal (ज़ाल in Hindi). The last alphabet of the daal (दाल) group of alphabets, the trick is to remember to distinguish words which begin with ''zaal'', with ''ze'', with ''zo'aad'' and with ''zo'ay''.
The peculiarity of the letters belonging to the ''daal'' group, i.e., daal, Daal and zaal do not change their shape, no matter which letter precedes or succeeds them. Let me warn you that this is an interesting rule of Urdu script which deserves several posts of its own: how letters change shapes.
Ah, zaal. Zaal gives me today's lafz (लफ्ज़/word): "zaat" or ज़ात. Pronounces z - ah - t with a sreally, really soft T. The word has myriad meanings ranging from "essence", to "nature", to "soul", to "property", "self", "substance'' and even "species".

I have picked a sh'er from a gazhal that's a particular favourite. It's been penned by Nida Fazli and goes:
Mere waaste tere naam par koii harf aaye, nahin nahin
mujhe khauf-e-duniyaa nahin magar mere ruu-ba-ruu teri zaat hai

(That your name should be sullied because of me - never
I do not fear the world, but your essence is present for me (at all times)).
The video below is a fine rendition of the Nida Fazli ghazal: "Tera hij mera nasiib hai / tera gham hi meri hayaat hai" by the late Kabban Mirza. Mirza, an announcer on All India Radio's Lucknow station, recorded only two numbers in his lifetime, both for the same film. His deep baritone would clearly not have lent itself to the usual lovey-dovey lyrics. But it rendered the pain and the desolation of Fazli's verse in a manner that defies description.

Day 12

Today's harf, or letter, is Daal (डाल). It is pronounced like ''daal'', but with a hard D. The word I have picked is ''dor" (डोर in Devnaagri), which can variously mean 'string' or 'rope'. 

The sh'er, or couplet, I have picked was written by Dr Rahi Masoom 'Raza', a multi-facted litterateur who wrote poetry, plays, cinema and TV scripts and dialogues. 
Raat ne aisaa pech lagaayaa, TuuTii haath se Dor ho
aa.Ngan vaale niim me.n jaakar aTakaa hogaa chaa.Nd

Day 11

Today's lafz (word) is "dayaar" (दयार). It means ''place'' or "region". It begins with the lafz ''daal": दाल, for those of you, gentle readers, who speak in Hindi and ''daal'' with a soft D, aah and an abbreviated "l". Kind of like in ''doll''.

Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last of the Mughal emperors. More a poet than a king, his rule was characterized by lots of unrest, the dominition of the British, and last but not the least, the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Although not an active participant, Bahadur shah nevertheless gave the Mutiny legitimacy by blessing it officially. For his pains, the British exiled him to Rangoon where he lived the last few years of his life yearning to return to his homeland. He died in Rangoon in 1862 and is buried there.
This couplet he wrote there gives voice to that wistful, longing thought - of seeing his homeland as his end neared.
Lagtaa nahi.n hai jii mera ujaDe dayaar mein
kis kii bani hai alam-e-naa-paayedaay mein
(My heart does not belong to this desolate region, 
but then who has ever had their way in this mortal world?)

Day 10

I decided to break the rut for today. So, althought the letter (the harf, you remember) is ''khe", I have picked a word which ends with the letter "khe" rather than one which begins with it. The word is "rukh", which variously means face, or visage, or direction.  

Two sh'ers or couplets to explain the difference.
First, the one where "rukh" means 'image' or 'visage', by the brilliant, the genius poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz:
diivaar-e-shab aur aqs-e-ruKh-e-yaar saamane
phir dil ke aa_iine se lahuu phuuTane lagaa

(As I face this blank wall of the night, with the image of one that I love
blood gushes forth from the mirror of the heart )

And the second, where "rukh" means 'direction' by the mystical, the quirky Nida Fazli:
Apni marzii se kahan apne safar ke hum hain
rukh hawaao.n ka jidhar ka udhar ke hum hain
(I do not continue on this journey on my own will
I am swayed to the direction by which the wind blows)

Day 9

Today's letter or harf is "he" (pronounced "hay"). The word I have picked for today is "hifaazat" which means "protection" or "to protect".

And here is today's sh'er or couplet:    
Fanoos banke jiski hifaazat hawaa kare
woh shamma kya bujhe jise raushan Khudaa kare

I really like that a rather dramatic rendition of Allama Iqbal's famous couplet by actor Danny Dengzongpa. Rather than make it a namby-pamby plea for divine intervention, Danny makes it sound like a battle cry, a mantra, almost a credo. Very poorly translated, it means that "when God himself lights up a flame, the wind  itself protects it (from blowing out)". This is a metaphor much beloved of many poets of this region: the human soul as a flickering lamp or flame, threatened by the winds of destiny, but protected by divinity. 

Day 8

Kya huaa gar mere yaaro.n kii zubaanein chup hai.n
mere shaahid mere yaaro.n ke siwaa aur bhi hai.n

This beautiful couplet was penned by a poet I encountered at age 14. This is, in my opinion, the best age to encounter a rebel poet, one who is a romantic. Romantic, not in the sense of being in love with someone, but as someone who made his emotions an authentic source of his poetic experience.
Sahir Ludhianvi. He targeted the sanctimonious, the smug and the self-serving. His songs poked fun at the self-righteous, the custodians of faith and culture. He riled against, poverty, injustice and wars. He also wrote absolutely sublime love poems.

Today’s harf is “che” (pronounced “ch-ay” with the “ch’’ as in chatter). The word “chup” means quiet. Sahir says he cares little that his friends are silent, for there are others who will bear witness for him.

Day 7

In 10th century Persia, a qasida was a panegyric written in praise of a ruling emperor. The opening couplets of a qasida, called the tashbeeb, were typically ran into a hundred monorhymes. The tashbeeb, apparently, is the precursor to the ghazal (pronounced gh-uzzle). The ghazal was (and still remains) primarily an expression of love towards a female lover, often unrequited. As the form evolved, it now also addresses issues of mysticism, spiritual yearning and political protest. 
The best thing about a ghazal are the sh'ers: the couplets which are practically independent poems in themselves. Their independence enables the poet to create shifts or jumps in the poetic narrative, even as the radeef - the metre - of the ghazal enables it to retain its poetic unity. 

Today's harf is jeem, pronounced as it is written. The word I have picked - judaa - is one much loved by Urdu poetry aficionados. Since unrequited love is a much-favoured theme, it naturally follows that judaa'ii or separation should lie at the heart of many a ghazal. "Judaa" means ''separated'', or "separated from" and is specifically used in the romantic sense in Urdu poetry. 

Today's she'r? By that poetic genius Qateel Shifai: 
Sadmaa to hai mujhe bhii ke tujhse judaa huu.N mai.n
lekin ye sochta huu.N ki ab tera kya huu.N mai.n

{This post is fondly dedicated to the mates of my mis-spent youth M.A.R. & M.A. H and to the memory of Suneil, he if the ghastly Urdu pronunciation. RIP, buddy.}

Day 6

I was listening to some ghazals rendered by the late great Habib Wali Mohammad the other day and stumbled across my word for today" saabit''. It means ''whole'', or ''intact'' or ''to prove''. The couplet placed below, part of an old classic penned by Moen Ahsan Jazbi, goes like this: 
"jab kashtii saabit-o-saalib thii, saahil kii tamanna kisko thii
ab aisii shikasta kashtii me.n saahil kii tamanna kaun kare"

A boat is used as a metaphor of life in this ghazal. The poet says, when my boat was intact, I did not care for safe harbours. So, today, now that my boat is broken and ready to sink, why should I care for safe harbour anyway?
K C Kanda, in his lovely 2001 book Masterpieces of Urdu Ghazal - From 17th to 20th Century defines a ghazal thus:- 
"A ghazal is a short poem rarely of more than a dozen couplets in the same metre. It opens with a rhyming couplet called matla. The rhyme of the opening couplet is repeated at the end of second line in each succeeding verse, so that the rhyming pattern may be represented as AA, BA, CA, DA, and so on. 
In addition to the restriction of rhyme, the ghazal also observes the convention of radif. Radif demands that a portion of the first line -- comprising not more than two or three words -- immediately preceding the rhyme-word at the end, should rhyme with its counterpart in the second line of the opening couplet, and afterwards alternately throughout the poem. 
The opening couplet of the ghazal is always a representative couplet: it sets the mood and tone of the poem and prepares us for its proper appreciation. The last couplet of the ghazal called makta often includes the pen-name of the poet, and is more personal than general in its tone and intent. Here the poet may express his own state of mind, or describe his religious faith, or pray for his beloved, or indulge in poetic self-praise. The different couplets of the ghazal are not bound by the unity and consistency of thought. Each couplet is a self-sufficient unit, detachable and quotable, generally containing the complete expression of an idea."

Enough verbosity.
Today's word "saabit'' comes from the alphabet or harf "Se" (pronounced ''say'') 

Day 5

On day 5, I'm postponing my declamation on the history of Urdu for another day. :)

Today's post has been inspired by Steve R Veilleux's tremendous blog on his 100-day challenge. Sabreen is another person whose remarkable work inspires me. Thank you, both, for giving me an extraordinary perspective of life. 

Our word for Day 5 is "tub" which comes from the letter "" (pronounced "tay" with a hard T).  See for yourself: 

Now who is going to be a nice person and tell me the word which stands for a picture which can represent a word? 

Day 4

This is Urdu's linguistic lineage: Indo-European -> Indo-Iranian -> Indo-Aryan. It has been, so to speak,  collecting influences on its journey from Europe to South Asia.  
The modern Urdu has taken over 900 years to develop. It is written from right to left just like Arabic and Persian and has 39 basic letters and 13 extra characters, all together 52 and most of these letters are from Arabic and a small quantity from Persian.

Today's letter or harf is "te" (pronounced "tay" with a soft T). The word I've picked is "takht" which means "throne". 

Today's couplet containing the word ''takht" has been borrowed from Sahir Ludhianvi, rebel poet, eternal romantic, failed lover, thwarted optimist.
Takht kya cheez hai aur laal-o-jawahar kya hai
ishq-waale to khudaaii bhi lutaa dete hain
(Those who love care little for God's universe,
what to speak of thrones or precious jewels).