It happened years ago, but it’s hard to forget. Munzir Naqvi’s Hindi teacher at school upbraided him for saying “mushkil” instead of “kathin” and “insaan” instead of “manushya”. The use of synonyms for difficulty and human, respectively, might have made the vocabulary expansive, but were criticised by the teacher for being part of a “Pakistani language”.
The engineered demonisation of Urdu is the theme of Naqvi’s debut feature. Sehar follows the travails of Mahendra Nath Kaul, an Urdu professor at a college in Lucknow. Kaul grapples with problems within and outside the classroom. Faced with diminishing enrolment, poor funding, and a general belief that a degree in Urdu isn’t suited for the workplace, Kaul struggles to save his course from closure.
Beyond the college walls, deep-rooted prejudice against Urdu and rising Islamophobia ensures that Urdu is seen as the language of “Muslims and Pakistanis”. The Nastaliq script in which Urdu is written, which resembles Arabic, leads to a nasty incident between one of Kaul’s supporters and a mob. Kaul’s advocacy of Urdu as the language of poetry and literature, high-mindedness and love, increasingly fall on deaf ears, and he is accused of being a “Pakistan lover”.
Apart from the incident from his childhood, Naqvi drew on other memories and…