KARACHI: It took half a century to put together, but finally, the Urdu Dictionary Board has unveiled its 22-volume Urdu Lughat that contains the meaning of every single word in the language. It has 220,000 words printed on 20,000 pages and work started on it in 1958.
On Saturday, an ‘academic parliament’ of academics, literary figures and students gave a standing ovation to all those experts who had contributed to the effort over the last 52 years. The ceremony was held at the University of Karachi and was attended by the who’s who of the literati. The idea was to offset a similar standing ovation given by the British parliament on the completion of a 12-volume all-inclusive Oxford English Dictionary in 1928. The ceremony, organised by the Unikarians (Karachi University Old Students Association), was not marked by felicitations from government officials such as the prime minister or the education minister, unlike a statement made by the then British prime minister Stanley Baldwin who called the Oxford dictionary “the greatest enterprise of its kind in history”.
But people arrived from all over Pakistan to celebrate the success. Among those present were Dr Farman Fatehpuri, Haziq-ul Khairi, Iftikhar Arif, Fehmida Riaz, Syed Safwanullah, Prof Dr Shahana Urooj Kazimi, Prof Dr Abdush Saeed Nomani, Mirza Naseem Baig, Prof Sahar Ansari, Dr Unus Hasny, Dr Rauf Parekh, Farhat Fatima Rizvi and Professor Malahat Kaleem Shirwani.
“We should not fear for the future of Urdu,” said Dr Iftikhar Arif. “It has the potential to survive and it is being used in every part of the world. We should focus on promoting it rather than ‘implementing’ it.”
Talking to The Express Tribune, Prof Dr Rauf Parekh said the dictionary and it contains words, idioms and other derivatives and has been prepared on historical principles, which means that the historical perspective has been factored in. The dictionary has meanings and usage by authors and poets for which the board maintains a library of all important Urdu books and many rare handwritten manuscripts.
But the board has come a long way, as Fehmida Riaz pointed out. According to her, on the third day of her appointment as the head of the board, when the teams were still busy working on the last volume of the dictionary, she was informed by the authorities in Islamabad that they were being wound up. She said she had to fight on many fronts to keep the board working.
In fact, the bureaucracy had decided in 1987 to wrap up the project. The lexicographers and other staff working at the board have not even been given any promotion for the last 20 years and the office did not even have a photocopy machine.
The Urdu Dictionary Board has started revising and preparing a concise Urdu Dictionary along with bibliographic references.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2010.