Nazar e Aatish

These days, I am trying to teach myself Urdu by listening to the BBC’s Urdu news bulletin every night. (For German, I’m listening to DW’s slowly spoken news bulletin.) Since I’ve only been doing this for about a week, it’s too early to tell how well this works as a method of learning. But it has had two immediate payoffs.

Firstly, I get to listen to Urdu being spoken in a (Pakistani) Punjabi accent, which is one of the great joys of life, more so when I am in Kanchipuram and can take all the Pnjaabi ksents I can get.

Secondly, it’s hugely refreshing to get proper international news after years of following only Indian newspapers and TV channels. On DW and BBC Urdu, the situation in the Crimea has been either the top or the second story every day. I don’t think Indian news channels are even bothered, and Indian newspapers probably devote an article a day to it, buried somewhere in the inside.

Moving on to the specifics, last night’s Urdu bulletin was probably the first where a particular new piece of vocabulary actually stuck in my head after the bulletin: nazar e aatish.

From the context of the bulletin, I gathered that nazar e aatish meant “destroyed” or “demolished” or “burnt down”. A subsequent Google search revealed that buses can be nazar e aatish too, which probably rules out demolished. “Burnt down” or more generally “destroyed”, then. And since I knew that “aatish” means fireworks, “burnt down” is the best bet. Stretching my limited Urdu as far as it can go, I think nazar-e-aatish literally means “looks like a firework”.

In both the BBC’s news bulletin and the headline of that YouTube video, “nazar e aatish” was used in the passive voice. The BBC claimed that during Army action in Balochistan, “imarat nazar e aatish ho gayi” while the YouTube video skips verbs entirely and just says “Bus nazar-e-aatish”. Cutely implying that things just sort of spontaneously combusted while the army happened to be hanging around.

I don’t know if “nazar e aatish” is always used in the passive voice, or if you can have a “Hukumat ne imaarat ko nazar-e-aatish kar diya” sort of sentence also. No doubt Urdu superstars like Sabbah can clarify. But I must say, even with this weaselly passive voice use, nazar-e-aatish is such an astoundingly awesome phrase for something as mundane as “burnt down”. If it does indeed mean what I think it means, it alone justifies my project of learning Urdu. It also makes me very angry at eight years of Hindi schoolteachers who forced us not to use Urdu words in our writing, and in the process, cut us off from what looks like a beautifully intricate and fun language.