By Owen Jollie (CLS Urdu 2014)
Sometime in January last year, I was called to the podium of an American India Foundation (AIF) event to recite, impromptu, a few couplets of Urdu poetry. Not only the entire board of the foundation, but also the United States Ambassador to India, Mr. Richard Verma, was present. Needless to say, I was excited for the opportunity. I shared with the audience a sher (couplet) from Mir Taqi Mir, in which he compares the tenderness of his lover’s lips with a rose petal, and I concluded with Khwaja Mir Dard’s famous parting words:
Dosto! Dekha tamasha yan ka sub / Tum raho khush, hum to apne ghar chale.
Friends! Look at all this commotion / you stay and enjoy, I’m going home.
It was one of my fond memories from my time as an AIF Clinton Fellow, and it was one that was made possible in large part due to my participation in the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program in Lucknow, India, where I studied Urdu during the summer of 2014.
These two experiences, both CLS, a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, and the AIF Clinton Fellowship, have built upon each other and prepared me to pursue a degree in Modern History at Jawaharlal Nehru University. If there is one common thread throughout my work in India, it is the integral nature of my language study. My study of Hindi and Urdu both fuels and supports my interest and work here in India and has become an invaluable aspect of my day-to-day life.
Thinking back to the experience I had in Lucknow, what I value most are the relationships I formed with instructors at the institute and the confidence instilled by the CLS Program’s language policy. As an AIF Clinton Fellow, I relied heavily upon my confidence speaking Urdu or Hindi to get around Delhi and to make connections with my mainly Hindi-speaking colleagues at my placement. The thing about language learning is that anyone with high aspirations has to sustain engagement with the target language over many years. CLS gave me the boost to feel confident in my skills and AIF gave me a platform to use and continue building those skills into the future.