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Looney
24th August 2009, 19:54
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He would easily pass for a Pakistani or an Arab. That was why I ignored him when I first spotted him at Karachi airport while looking for an Italian gentleman. I was a bit late and feared he might have left the airport after not finding me there. Worried, I reached into my pocket for the cellphone and hastily called Prof Massimo Bon.

Someone with discernable cheer in his tone replied in chaste Urdu: ‘I have recognised you.’ And forward came the same Pakistani-looking man. Shaking my hand with a grin, he said he was Salahuddin. ‘Salahuddin who? Oh! You mean Professor Bon? How do you do, sir?’

Born in 1977 in Taranto, a port city in southern Italy, Prof Bon teaches Urdu language and literature at the Universita Degli Studi Di Napoli L’Orientale, or the oriental university of Naples. He also teaches a course on Hindi language and translation at the University of Macerata.

But for the dual job he has to rise at five in the morning to reach Macerata and again at three the next morning for the return journey to Naples. In addition to Urdu and Hindi, he knows Sanskrit, Persian, English, Latin and, of course, his native Italian. To add to my surprise, he blushingly says ‘and a little bit of Arabic, too.’

How did you come to Urdu?

‘It’s a long story. When I was at college, one of my classmates showed interest in Islam. I tried to convince him that it was not sensible to study Islam as it was not so good a religion. Upon his argument, I challenged him that with my research I would make him change his notions.’

‘When I began studying Islam, I realised it was a wonderful thing to be a Muslim. And, at the age of 17 I converted. I asked my Algerian Muslim friend what he would like to name his son if he had one. He said ‘Salahuddin’ as he was inspired by the great Muslim warrior Salahuddin Ayubi, or ‘Ameen,’ a title of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), which means someone who could be trusted with one’s valuables. So I took both of them as my Muslim name and I became Salahuddin Ameen.’

‘What about your friend you were trying to convince?’ I interrupted him. ‘He did not embrace Islam.’

What interested you most about Islam?

‘It was somehow natural to me, especially monotheism. I felt the concept of only one God was quite logical. Anyway, it was compulsory to study two languages at college. I had opted for Arabic as a major and was thinking about another language as a subsidiary when a tableeghi party from Pakistan came to our mosque and left behind a copy of the Qur’an with an Urdu translation. One of my Muslim friends picked it up and asked why I didn’t take up Urdu as it had almost the same alphabet. So Urdu became the subsidiary.’

‘I liked the script very much. I would feel sorry when the writing assignment ended and would start writing all over again. Then I was hooked to Urdu. I felt it was so beautiful a language that I wanted to study it more. In fact I fell in love with Urdu.’

So Urdu became my major and I entered the oriental university of Naples for my master’s degree in Urdu language and literature. It included studying Persian literature of the subcontinent, a course designed by the great Italian scholar Prof Alessandro Bausani.’

He also paid tribute to Prof Raza Rahim from whom he said he learnt the Urdu language. He was all smiles as he spoke.

What made you feel Urdu was a beautiful language?

‘Phonetically it feels so pleasing to listen to Urdu. I’m not degrading any other language, but Urdu sounds like music to my ears. When I studied such maestros as Ghalib, I was thrilled. Urdu poetry enchanted me. Meeraji haunts me. When I translated some of Meeraji’s poems into Italian, one of my close friends remarked that it seemed I myself had composed it.

Meeraji’s poem Muhabbat, or love, is an all-time favourite of mine.’ Prof Bon had a strange look in his eyes when he said that.

‘Translation is a tough row to hoe, but translating Meeraji is really hard, you really have to strive to find what he really wants to say,’ he said.

The prose writers that he relished to read were Pitras Bukhari, Intizar Hussain, Krishan Chandr, Manto, Ahmed Ali and Prem Chand.

‘And when Urdu comes, can its sister — Hindi — be far behind?’ He continued, ‘So I began studying Hindi. Then came their mother: Sanskrit. I had a chance to study at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and I opted for Hindi, Arabic and Persian, but for certain reasons had to leave Arabic halfway but did complete my Persian and Hindi courses.’

He said it was his third visit to Pakistan. First he came to the country to do an advanced diploma course in Urdu from the National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad. Then he came to Pakistan before going to perform Umra. This time round it was on an invitation from Islamabad’s International Islamic University. He delivered two lectures there, one on Iqbal and the other on Urdu in Italy.

What perturbs him about Urdu?

That it is not given the status it deserves. Not only around the world, but even in its home, Pakistan, Urdu is ignored. ‘It really saddens me to note that a beautiful language spoken by a very large number of people in India and Pakistan is not taken seriously, though it is one of the major languages of the world. And, I am sorry to say, in India it is being meted out treatment that is not befitting. Urdu’s script is being relegated in India. I am not against Hindi. I feel some Hindi words are so beautiful, so lively and moving, but ignoring Urdu and its script is simply not acceptable.’

Prof Bon has translated many works from Urdu into Italian, but is a bit reluctant to get them published. Especially translating poetry is not everybody’s cup of tea.

‘First I would get published some prose, for example, Imtiaz Ali Taj’s play Anarkali and Prof Ahmed Ali’s short story Hamari Gali.

I delivered Lectura Dantis, or Dante Lecture, and my topic was Aziz Ahmed’s Tarbiya-i-Khudavandi, the Urdu translation of Divine Comedy. There are some other works, too, that I will get published first. And Ghalib? Well, maybe when I get old and erudite enough to carry out the job.’

Your reflections on the Pakistani society?

‘Well, I see a lot of similarities between Italian and Pakistani societies. We have a lot of oriental traits in our culture. But I regret that the ties between t he two countries are not as good as I wish they should be. Maybe, I will be able to do something about it.’

Source: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/entertainment/14-an-italian-in-love-with-urdu-zj-04


I read this article on Dawn and felt that i had to share it here. I can relate to this article in so many ways because what he is saying about Urdu is so true. There is just something about Urdu that makes it so beautiful. I wish Pakistani people can also learn a thing or two from this article and not be ashamed of speaking Urdu or whatever language they speak as their mother tongue.