NEW DELHI ~ With Vice President Hamid Ansari probably busy in the race for the Rashtrapati Bhavan, it seems that the civic authorities in New Delhi have relieved him of one worry for the time being— incorrect spellings in Urdu on road signboards leading to his house.
Last month, a visiting Kashmiri journalist pointed out that ‘Azad’ (meaning ‘free’ in Urdu) on Maulana Azad Road near the Vice President’s House actually read as ‘Azarud’ ( which means ‘being sad’ in Urdu). Following that complaint, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), which manages about 174 roads in the New Delhi area, has embarked on a survey to identify errors on all road signs and correct them with the help of experts from its Urdu Department.
The NDMC has repeatedly been at the receiving end of scholars for distorted signs. Even the Vice President once shot off an angry letter, calling the officials responsible a bunch of ‘nausikhiyas’, which translates to ‘novices’, though Ansari meant ‘incompetent’. Consider what happened a few years ago: an Urdu journalist working with German Radio was shocked to discover that the Urdu sign for Max Müller Road read as ‘Sex Müller’ Road.
While the NDMC admits its blunders and concedes not knowing the language well enough, officials who carried out the survey claim that most of these ‘mistakes’ are acts of vandalism. “People rub [diacritical] dots away in Urdu [words] and change matras in Hindi [words] to give signs a new meaning. Not many of us know Urdu, so it escapes our attention and then we get angry calls,” says TR Meena, the NDMC’s engineer-in-charge of road maintenance.
Meena has had particular trouble with signs ‘Purana Quila’ and ‘Lal Quila’, where ‘Quila’ was morphed to ‘Kela’ by removing the crucial dots in the script.
While most mistakes have been corrected for the time being, officials are on a constant vigil with photocopies of road lists with correct spellings in Urdu, so much the better to avoid any further embarrassment.▪