Book Review by Dr. Syed Mohammad Anwer
Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan
Reviewed by Sajeda Zaidi

Language is not only a medium of communication but also reflects the culture, tradition, history, social norms and even emotions of the people who speak it. Even though different countries have their own national or official language, yet spoken language crosses all political boundaries. It breaks through artificial barriers of geography, race and religion.  So is the case of Urdu /Hindi which is the common language, spoken in vast areas of the Sub-Continent. Its geopolitical divide does not come in the way of its lingua franca, in this case, Urdu /Hindi, which is affectionately called ‘Apni Boli’ or Our Own Language by Dr Syed Mohammad Anwar in his book of unique Calligraphy - Samrup Rachna sub titled ‘Apni Boli’. His work is unique because his calligraphy is in two scripts - a feat which has not been tried by any known artist before him.

It is because of this common medium of expression or ‘Apni Boli’, spoken so merrily and fluently throughout Pakistan and India that movies, television programmes, mushairas, social events, and people to people contacts are enjoyed and celebrated equally by individuals on both sides of the border. The cementing factor of this camaraderie is the communication of the people in the same language, that is Urdu /Hindi. ‘Apni Boli’, or Our Own Language is perhaps the only language that is written in two different scripts - Urdu in Nastaliq and Hindi in Devanagri . This means each side loses access to half of the literary treasures of the other side.

In his book, Dr Anwar has tried to bridge this divide by skillfully blending the two scripts to form the same words.  Not only that, but the word intertwines to bring its picture to the fore. Urdu and Hindi scripts are artfully fused in such a fashion that they form an image of the word they symbolize.  For instance ‘surahi’ is written so as to form an ewer (surahi), the word ‘joota’ is written in the two scripts to look like a shoe. Same is the treatment of the words chhatri (umbrella), orhdna, (dupatta),  murti (statue) and many others. It is an interesting journey going through the book and the word pictures it forms.

Since the social and cultural fabric of a society also includes its religious norms as well, it is only expected that Samrup Rachna has religious connotations too. There are calligraphic expressions of Allah, Rehman, Buddha, Devi, Holi and quite a few others

By profession Dr Anwar is a Corporate Lawyer based in Islamabad. He speaks many international languages including Japanese, and Turkish. He is also a collector of coins and historic documents. He says art is his hobby but his work displays the promise and the skill of a true artist. There is cadence and rhythm in his work. His strokes are bold and assertive, his colours rich and vibrant and his imagery taken from the very soil he wishes to integrate.

The title of the book is borrowed from Sanskrit. The word ‘Samrup’ means similar and ‘Rachna’ means design or creation so the title indicates a merger of design of the same words in different scripts. With his ingenious designs he creates a new form of art and merges two different scripts into one single entity. It is his calligraphic expression of the language spoken so widely across the sub-continental. Anwar says that ‘Apni Boli’ is the only language that is written in two different scripts. 

This book is as much a book of art and artistic ingenuity, as it is a mirror of the rich culture, traditions and social practices of the sub-continent. Anwar’s calligraphy shows with remarkable skill and sensitivity the impressions of a shared history and background and a whole spectrum of life as lived by the sons and daughters of the soil.

It is a beautifully produced coffee table book which has pictures of 66 of Anwar’s original paintings.  These are all framed and the size of each one is given at the bottom of the page. An exhibition of these paintings has already been held in Islamabad and Lahore.  Anwar is now planning to have one in Karachi as well. His only concern is which ones to select since displaying all of them will take up too much space.