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A Fading Dialect Gets a New Form, All Thanks to This Student’s Unique Project

Purvi Agarwal is a student of contemporary art at Srishti Institute of Art, Design & Technology in Bengaluru, whose fascination with Dakhini Urdu led to the project.

Spoken across the southern regions of India since several centuries, Dakhini Urdu is as intrinsic to the very fabric of the Deccan, the way Urdu is to the northern parts of the country.

Seemingly alike yet not quite like Urdu, Dakhini Urdu or simply Dakkhani continues to be the prevalent spoken language among Muslim communities across the states of Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Like its northern compatriot, the formative influences of Dakhini Urdu too arise from Arabic and Persian with a Prakrit base and it has a rich and extensive literary heritage. However, stronger influences of regional languages like Marathi, Telugu, and Kannada is what makes Dakhini Urdu discernibly distinct from Urdu.

In North Karnataka, the town of Gulbarga is home to multiple ethnicities, which in turn has paved the way for Dakhini Urdu in the region to emerge as a unique amalgamation of numerous languages.

Source: Wikimedia.

It was this linguistic blend in a language that had fascinated Purvi Agarwal, a student of contemporary art at Srishti Institute of Art, Design & Technology in Bengaluru when she participated in a residency project named ‘Culture of Resilience’ in Gulbarga.

Somewhere along the line, the intrigue made way for further exploration, and Purvi began to venture towards the literary side of Dakhini Urdu. This is when she came across Sulaiman Khateeb, a Gulbarga native who wrote ‘shayari’ in the dialect. Interestingly, the poet’s work speaks about the everydayness of an ordinary man and also addresses issues of women while giving them a voice through his written words.

Imagine someone from a community known for its strong patriarchal proclivity, talking about the misery faced by women, almost half a century ago.

Poet Sulaiman Khateeb. Courtesy: Purvi Agarwal.

“I started to listen to his work and I instantly connected with it. The tone of the poetry was satirical and grabbed the instant attention of the people. He used the concept of ‘bittersweet’ in the poetry. I was inspired by all these qualities and his ideas towards the society,” says Purvi to The Better India.

After interacting with Khateeb’s daughter Shameem Surriya, who helped her understand the language better and gave her a lot of insights about the poet and his works, Purvi zeroed down on ‘Chora Chori,’ one of Khateeb’s poems, for her thesis project.

“The whole idea of the project was to highlight the beauty of this poet, who points out minute details about women and the kind of stereotypes and hypocrisy they go through. A male poet being so sensitive towards the women and expressing their misery and voicing their opinion interested me and found it relatable. This was a beautiful and unusual combination, and more importantly, his works shed light over the kind of ideologies that Khateeb had expressed and set an example for the people around him between 1950-70,” Purvi adds.

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While the man had quite a substantial work centred on women, Chora Chori singlehandedly addressed the trials and tribulations that women have been facing since time immemorial and continue to face on a daily basis, which formed the basis of Purvi’s project.

Courtesy: Purvi Agarwal.
Courtesy: Purvi Agarwal.
Courtesy: Purvi Agarwal.
Courtesy: Purvi Agarwal.

Thus began a journey where the young woman began to visually document the same concepts that Khateeb had dealt with, while staying true to the satirical tone incorporated by the poet. Besides interacting with women ranging from different age groups for a better understanding of the subject, Purvi also studied a lot of media and movies, which highlighted fields like marriage and dowry.

Finally, the project evolved as a monologue, which consisted of the past and present, and Purvi located herself in the project as an independent urban woman of the 21st century, whose musings finds a place next to Khateeb’s poetry as a conversation with the poet over the present-day scenario.


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“With time we have evolved, but certain set rules for women haven’t changed. These conversations are a reality check on our society over how little it has evolved in our modern times. Hypocrisy still exists and is portrayed through different means, which I try to bring out through my conversations with him,” Purvi says.

As the topic had many layers with each having a depth of its own, Purvi shaped her work in the form of collages, as the visual format gave her the opportunity to juxtapose all the elements well within a single frame instead of building a narrative.

What makes this exploration of a language by an art student extraordinary is the scope that she found in a very conflicted arena of interests.

The artist herself.

“One can say the existence of things like gender inequality and insensitivity is very subjective, especially when it comes to marriage. In the metropolitan cities, it exists subtly, but gender-based stigmas are still very prominent in the rural areas. What kind of modernity are we heading towards and are we really headed towards modernity? Our society is full of hypocrisy and how it surrounds us in our daily lives,” she concludes.

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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Written by Lekshmi Priya S

Shuttling between existentialist views and Grey's Anatomy, Lekshmi has an insanely disturbing habit of binge reading. An ardent lover of animals and plants, she also specializes in cracking terribly sad jokes.