Yesterday I completed the second volume of Barker’s A Course in Spoken Urdu. It occurred at 11:35 in the morning, March 4. Why such a big deal? I began volume one in 1975. For years I read through the first volume and then got into the second one. Somewhere in the first volume, I was introduced to the writing system of Urdu, one based on the Arabic alphabet, and ran into a roadblock. But I kept on until I ran into Chapters 21-25 where the dialogs written in Latin letters gave way to longish essays written entirely in nastaliq, the form of Arabic script used in the book. That was a few years ago and I struggled through, reading a few lines at a time with long spells when I did nothing at all with the language.
At my local library, I used a few words on the Hindi-speaking staff (Hindi and Urdu are the same language at the colloquial level) and one day they were gathered around a man and talking to him. As I walked past, I said something clever in Urdu but they vigorously beckoned me over and introduced to Mr. Tiku, a retired newspaper man from India. It turned out he spoke and read Urdu as well as Hindi, English, a couple of other subcontinent languages and was a very engaging person. He spent every day in the library and was pleased to sit with me once a week to go over my Urdu and encourage me.
As a result of this encounter, I pushed on a just a few weeks ago found myself reading at a reasonable clip, about a page every half hour. Thus I completed the last essay and am now able to continue on to Barker’s Urdu Newspaper Reader because it is based on a good knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary of those first two volumes. As I “speed” through Newspaper Reader I will gain reading speed and the vocabulary is much more sparse than in the introductory volumes. I have some good material to read in Urdu, some of it annotated for English speakers and I have the first Harry Potter story plus all the incredible books on Urdu poetry that Barker has made part of his effort in this field.
Sadly, Barker died a few years ago. He was an American from the Northwest who was first a major gamer, like the Dungeons and Dragons game, and a forerunner of today’s computer gamers. He converted to Islam and went on to become a professor of Urdu studies. I am grateful for his work and offer him my thanks posthumously.
BTW, I have no earthly reason to learn Urdu. It is an avocation of joy, as are all my language studies and they are now allowing me to read literature and poetry in the original languages.