By Mudassir Raja
One of the most distinguished features of Qatar is that it hosts a wide range of international communities. These expatriate communities naturally usher in their cultures and traditions to Doha.
Expatriates from different South Asian countries form some very large communities. They have long been carrying out different cultural and literary activities in Qatar as they cherish and practice their cultures.
The community of Urdu-speaking expatriates from India and Pakistan is one of the most vibrant set of people when it comes to organising literary and cultural activities in Qatar. They have a long history of hosting and organising such activities.
Mohammad Sulaiman Dehlvi is a name that has long been associated with different literary and educational activities related to the promotion of Urdu language in Qatar. Community recently spoke to Sulaiman about his life and Urdu language.
Now in his retirement days, the 77-year-old man of letters had a bachelor’s degree in political science. “I came to Doha in 1975 and started a private job. However, after a few months, I got a government job. I have three sons and my wife died in Qatar in 2012.”
Urdu is Sulaiman’s mother language as he hails from a traditional family living in old Delhi, India. “I had my first introduction with Urdu literature at my house from my mother. Though at college we had English as mode of education, a group of Urdu speaking boys used to gather at the cafeteria and we used to discuss Urdu literary trends of the times. I graduated in 1969 and that was a great time for Urdu literature both in India and Pakistan.
“Although I did not study Urdu literature, yet I used to take part in Urdu debates and essay writing competitions. I won first prize at many occasions.”
It was after Sulaiman moved to Doha that he started taking interest in literary and educational activities related to the promotion of Urdu language. “It was not until my late wife Hajra (better known as Bano Sulaiman) joined me in Doha in 1979. The first chance I had to be involved in Urdu-related activities was in 1980 when my wife joined Qatar Urdu Radio Service. Through her, I got the chance to meet prominent Urdu poets and writers. Many Doha-based Urdu poets used to visit our house also. My love for Urdu was reignited.
“It was in 1984/85 that my wife and I formed Indo-Qatar Urdu Markaz, an organisation that we used to further the Urdu cause. From this platform, we for the first time organised an international Urdu poetic symposium at Doha Sheraton in 1987. It was the first-ever Urdu mushaira organised in a five-star hotel in Doha. The Urdu lovers attended the symposium in large numbers.” Organising the poetic symposiums has not been the main contribution of Sulaiman towards Urdu. He was the first one to start Urdu debate competitions in Indian schools.
“I always believed that educational activities are more important than the literary activities to promote the language. In 1980s, there were only two Indian schools – MES Indian School and Ideal Indian School. We worked with the schools and started Urdu as a second language and incepted an Urdu debate competition between the schools. The debate became very popular among the students for the schools and we kept the competition going for about 24 years. Through these competitions, we introduced the history of Urdu and prominent literary figures of India to the students. Later in 2001, I took the debate competition to Delhi also.
“I also found a centre of Jamia Urdu Aligarh UP, also known as open university of Urdu, at Indian Ideal School. My wife and I taught Urdu at the centre. It was the second centre of the university outside India. The first one was in Mauritius. The centre remained functional for three years.”
Other than his literary and educational activities, Sulaiman has a huge volume of Urdu books. “I love reading. I enjoy pleasure reading. I love reading history and autobiographies. I have collected over 3,000 books at my house. Some of the books are very unique. I have donated all of my books to Qatar National Library.”
The Urdu lover is not pessimistic about the future of the language. “Future of the language is in the hands of the Urdu speakers. It is not a language of knowledge or livelihood. It is the duty of the native speakers to teach the language to their children. However, I am not hopeless. The numbers of Urdu speakers are growing and the diaspora has spread in all parts of the world.”
The long-time Doha resident, Sulaiman is thankful to the country to have received all sorts of opportunities here to promote Urdu. “I met a lot of wonderful people here. I got the chance to do constructive work. Qatar is like second home to me and to Urdu as well.”
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