Image by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič



A video recording of the session and the PPT used therein are available on request. Please write to us at for the same.


In the second session of the Beyond the Textbook series, Medhavi Gandhi brings us avenues to encourage students to reflect on the practices, languages and creative legacies of the Indian subcontinent through analysis of a selection of objects from the Partition Museum in Amritsar. This segment hopes to help students draw cross-cultural connections, recognize the important ways in which our pasts have contributed to a rich diversity and to bring in the question of Identity and how it can be impacted by experiences of migration, whether our own or our preceding generations'.

Along with the recording, here, we share a few ideas on classroom activities based on sections of her talk. However, for an in-depth understanding we recommend watching the video recordings of her sessions before implementing any of these in the classroom.


Is Language Secular?

Celebrated on both sides of the border, Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, also known by the pen names Ghalib and Asad, is a cultural icon who lived much before the Partition happened. Yet, his poetry remains as relevant today as it was when he wrote it.

Ghalib started writing poetry at the age of 11. Urdu was his primary language, but Persian and Turkish were also spoken at home. His education was in Persian and Arabic. At the time Hindi and Urdu were synonyms, unlike today. Ghalib wrote in Perso-Arabic script which is used to write modern Urdu, but often called his language ‘Hindi’.

Reading Ghalib’s poetry you realise that language has no religion and that understanding Urdu does not necessarily need you to be a Muslim. His was a language of Delhi.

Portrait of Ghalib, artist unknown. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

[In Delhi] Urdu really developed as a result of Persian, Turkish, Dari and Pashto interacting with other local dialects like Braj, Mewati, Haryanvi, Punjabi, Rohelkhandi, Bundelkhandi, Malwi and other indigenous languages that gave way to a certain kind of Urdu. The Urdu in Lahore—a lot of authors who have studied Partition have also shared that Urdu in Lahore today is much more heavier than it was in Delhi at that point in time. It was much more refined. Some words for example have got completely lost.

The idea that we come to is that with the Partition, the culture of Delhi starts to get overshadowed with the newer sensibilities that are coming in. And this is the tricky part. How do we recognise those? How do we recognise the change that comes in slowly, whether it was in food, the dressing or language? Slowly, our culture starts to change and we come to the big question—how does modernity accept tradition. How is society shaping with the new beliefs, the new shifts, and what factors influence identities in this changing scenario?

-Medhavi Gandhi

His works help us explore the link between language and identity.


I. What do you know of the poet Ghalib?

Divide the class in groups and assign each group one of the following categories to research:

  • Ghalib’s ancestry

  • Important milestones in his life

  • Most well-known writings

  • Political and religious beliefs

  • His contemporaries

  • Legacy on both sides of the border [how is he remembered in India and Pakistan: commemorations/monuments/publications etc.]

II. What do you understand from ‘Hindi’ and ‘Urdu’? Are these languages unchanged from what they were 150 years ago? Find out.

III. Share the following list of words with your students and ask them to identify which language/s they belong to:

Click here to download the table in Word format.

IV. Identify Urdu words from contemporary Bollywood songs and make a list. Attempt to use this list of Urdu words in a conversation.

V. Ask students to read the following poems by Ghalib, both in Urdu [Roman Script] and in English translation. Is there a difference in their listening experience?

Hazaaron khwaahishein aisi ki har khwaahish pe dum nikle,

bohot nikle mere armaan, lekin phirbhi kam nikle.

‘I have a thousand desires, all desires worth dying for, though many of my desires were fulfilled, majority remain unfulfilled.’

Dil-e-Naddan tujhe hua kyahai? Aakhir is dard ki dawa kya hai?

‘Oh naive heart, what has happened to you? What is

the cure for this pain, after all?’

Allah Allah Dilli Na Rahi, Chavni Hai, Na qila, nashaher,

na bazar, na nahar; Qissa mukhtasar – shahar Sahra ho gaya...

‘Oh Lord! Delhi turns into a cantonment, devoid of

cities, markets, rivers and forts.’

matā-e-lauh-o-qalamchhin-gai to kyāghamhai

kekhun-e-dil men dubo-li hainungliyān main-ne

zabānpemuhrlagihai to kyā, kerakh-di hai

harekhalqa-e-zanjir men zubān main-ne

‘Why bother that the tablet and the pen are seized?

I have dipped the fingers in my heart’s blood.

Why bother that the tongue has been silenced?

I have placed my tongue in each of the fetters’ rings.’


The Muraqqa-i-Chughtai is part of the collection of the Partition Museum. Published in 1927, Muraqqa-i-Chughtai is an album of paintings that visualise Ghalib’s poetry.