A Japanese couple fell in love with Urdu, and the language bonded them together
Japanese calligrapher Yuko Takaji and her journalist husband Shoichiro Takaji were seen reciting her Urdu lessons at the recently held Jashn-e-Rekhta in the national capital. The event rekindled their love for Urdu, a language that sustained their friendship and tied them to marriage.
It is rare for Japanese to learn Urdu. Takaji was perhaps the only Japanese in the massive crowd at the Urdu festival. Still, they made the most of their presence by listening to qawwalis, enjoying Urdu couplets printed on rectangular boards at vantage points throughout the venue, and buying Urdu books.
It helped her reconnect with the beautiful language and made her believe that the festival promotes inter-faith unity.
The happy-go-lucky couple from Delhi learned Urdu at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies’ Urdu department more than two decades ago. However, they are still fascinated by the beautiful language. Both have an impressive Hindustani vocabulary, which is not surprising given the Japanese’s quest for perfection.
Yuko is from central Japan and has studied Urdu for five years. Her husband, in his 40s, was the senior of his batch at the Japanese government-run university. He studied Urdu for four years. Shoichiro is from western Japan. Both chose to learn Urdu around 2002 after completing high school.
Shoichiro says, “We have experienced many things – thanks to Urdu.” While Shoicro happily admits that he fell in love with Yoko in university, he agrees that Urdu created a family for them. While caressing her four-year-old son Hayato, she says, “I have also named him in Urdu.” Hayat means ‘life’ in Arabic.
Fate brought them together again in 2003 when they bumped into each other in Paharganj, Delhi.
His ability to speak and even write fluently in Urdu is impressive and reflects his earnestness to improve his understanding of the language. Not only does he confidently speak Hindustani, but his vocabulary is also rich. But like most modest Japanese, he says he can only speak Hindustani ‘a little’.
Three minutes into our English-language talk over cake and coffee in a south Delhi coffee cafe, Yuko delightfully shocks us by mentioning that she speaks Urdu. “I speak Urdu well.” I’ve been deeply in love with Urdu for the past twenty years. (I am fluent in Urdu. For twenty years, I have been in love with Urdu.)
Their son Hayato sat patiently during the hour-long conversation. The unique thing was that he used to be engrossed in reading his comic books.
Yuko looked happy braving the Delhi winters with a green shawl, which had a song by Iqbal Ashar. Impressed by the eternal charm of the Urdu language, the gifted lady recited the first two lines printed on her green shawl, “Urdu hai Meera Naam Main Khusro Ki Paheli.” I am the friend of ‘Mir,’ the friend of ‘Ghalib.’
Yuko said a famous calligrapher on a Japanese radio program inspired her to learn Urdu. “I heard that radio program by chance. I became very interested in Arabic characters and calligraphy. It is not at all like the Japanese character. I learned the Arabic language before starting university. The university is where I learned about the Arabic language.
Her phone screensaver has Arabic calligraphy; she learned calligraphy as a child.
Yuko, who worked part-time at NHK Urdu several years ago, recalls that her ‘Ustad’ gave her 80 percent marks in her first year at university. “The assay was straightforward.”
While taking an Urdu language course at a university in Japan, Yuko and her classmates were asked to write an essay. “We can choose one of two subjects—Hinduism or Pakistan.” Another option that our teacher offered was to make a video. I didn’t write the essay. Instead, I decided to make a 30-minute video on ‘Why the Beatles came to India.” I used the official video explaining why the Beatles came to India. I wrote the script.
Shoichiro, the bureau chief of the Japanese news agency Kyodo in India, also speaks Hindustani. “I studied Urdu for four years. The university offered Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu at the time, but I chose to learn Urdu. Yuko was a year my junior. When I first started, our class included 17 Japanese pupils. In class, we read articles from BBC Urdu.
Yuko’s batch of Urdu students had nearly the same strength.
Shoichiro studied Urdu for a variety of reasons. “I am fascinated by Indian culture. 9/11 (the terrorist attack on the twin buildings in the United States in 2001) occurred before I could be admitted to the university. I planned to join the Hindi department, but 9/11 changed my mind. Changed
I decided to learn Urdu because I knew the language would help me understand India, Pakistan, and terrorism. We can surely understand the culture and society by learning a language. As a journalist, I have found Urdu to be a handy tool for understanding issues and how people think, but unfortunately.
Because of this, I could not work as bureau chief in Islamabad. I have been to Pakistan twice, more than a decade ago.
Shoichiro has also downloaded the Duolingo app on his phone to learn Devanagari. Yuko uses it to learn English. Yuko still remembers the home page of the Urdu department, which had a ‘sher’ (couplet) on it that read, “Urdu hai jisme Naam, hum hi jaante hain daag, saare jahan mein The glory of our tongue.”
She says, “I was very excited to see this.”
His memories of Urdu-related activities during their university days are still fresh. “When I was a student, our Japanese ‘maestro,’ Yutaka Asada, led a group of all the students in our class to present an Urdu adaptation of a Japanese play on the story of Hiroshima. In the 90-minute extended play, I played a painter who survived the Hiroshima bombing with a hand injury.
The play was staged during our university festival in Tokyo in 2005 and was well received. Encouraged by the overwhelming response, the Japanese government facilitated the play’s staging in several cities in India and Pakistan.
From 2005 to 2007, the play, titled ‘The Story of Hiroshima,’ was staged at the university and in several cities in India, including Bhopal, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Delhi, Lucknow, Mohali, and Mumbai. The university partially paid for the trip, which was a great experience. In 2006, the play was staged in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi.
Yuko, who spends 12 hours a day over three days at Jashne-e-Rekhta, says she is determined to teach Urdu to her four-year-old son Hayato.
Yoko, Shoichiro, and Hayato would have preferred to participate in Qawwali and Sufi music if it were not for the vast crowd. Both have an ear for music and have enjoyed listening to the rich voice of the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
For the first time, the pair went to Jashn-e-Rekhta. Yuko claims that while not every visitor to Jashn-e-Rekhta understood Urdu, they all enjoyed reciting poetry and soul-stirring qawwalis. Attending was a pleasure. “I liked Jashn-e-Rekhta.”
Yuko attended the festival and purchased books by well-known lyricists and poets Gulzar and Javed Akhtar. He also posed with a cutout of Akhtar. “Gulzar is my favorite poet.” I had the chance to meet him in May 2007 when he came to our university for an international symposium on contemporary Indian literature.
The couple also enjoyed tandoor ki chai and Daulat ki chaat. However, what they liked the most was moonlet, a crumbly variation of a lentil pancake commonly made in some Indian households, widely known as ‘cheela.”
Expressing concern over the future of Urdu, Shoichiro says, ‘Today, Urdu is in a challenging situation.” Some universities offer courses in the Urdu language in Japan, but it is rare for Japanese to learn Urdu. There needs to be more knowledge about Urdu in Japanese society.
“We chose Agra for our honeymoon,” says one Japanese couple who has been in India for a year and a half. It’s why, ten years after our honeymoon, we chose to take my child to see the Taj Mahal. We had a great time in Hyderabad and planned to return three times around Christmas.
Ghalib’s Haveli in Delhi is also on his list of places to visit.
Source- Awaz the Voice