Annual of Urdu Studies, v. 6, 1987 p. 116.


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Muzaffar Iqbal

URDU'S TACIT LOVER: A CONVERSATION WITH DONALD A BECKER

Languages have mysterious ways of attracting scholars and writers Borges maintained that it was Schopenhauer who enticed him to learn German Jean Antoine Galland the French Arabist and the first European translator of the Arabian Nights was captivated by Sheherzade s magic Louis Massignon discovered the beauty of Arabic because of a passionate love for AI-Hallaj Similarly Greek philosophy attracted Arab scholars Once lured into the labyrinth of curvaceous letters one discovers the hidden mystery in their apparent simplicity their deceiving nature the problems of expression and the immortal permutations of alphabets

For centuries human beings have tried to devise ways and means to transmit through language the inner truth of all things the Alpha and Omega of the Universe What must have been a magic in the beginning became rigid and structured language with the development of grammatical rules This however is not the only constraint The words you are reading have also gone through a me chanical process which is responsible for their shapes and color The printing press has been hailed as one of the most important inventions in human history so much so that now it is impossible to think of a world without the printed page

Printing technology is going through a revolution unparalleled in history Computers laser printers highly sophisticated means of reproduction and the like have enabled us to achieve what was only a dream for previous generations Whether this has made us more wise is of course debatable

The use of modern technology for the printing of Urdu language has been slow The curvaceous nasta'lfq script preferred over the more angular nasx for aesthetic reasons has been the major hurdle Printing in nasta'lfq requires calligraphy But in recent years the standards of Urdu calligraphy have declined In the absence of proper training centers and suitable patronage this ancient art is dying Low wages and long years of required apprenticeship discour age most aspiring calligraphers from continuing in the profession Also when a calligrapher is available the process is slow and painstaking Computer technology can change all this The first step toward this change is the development of a word processor which will allow the computer to generate Urdu text Professor Donald A

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