Having grown up in Hyderabad, Syed Mukkaram Niyaz grew up reading comic books in English, Hindi and Urdu. “We read comic in Khilauna and Noor. DC (Detective Comics) had just launched here and they published Superman, Batman, Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby and many more. ,” he says. “Besides, there were Indian cartoonists like Shakeel Anwaar Siddiqui who created our very own super hero Shuja’at,” he adds.
He speaks of a foregone era. Try finding an Urdu magazine for children today and you will be left rummaging through old bookshops for copies of the once popular magazines. Khilauna, which published Richie Richand Archie in Urdu, went out of print in the Eighties and others published from undivided Punjab and India have also vanished. Moreover, Urdu newspapers based in Hyderabad, Delhi and Lucknow no longer carry comic strips.
It was while discussing the futility of this search to friends that the idea to create a website for Urdu comics struck Syed. Experience taught him that comics are a great way to initiate a child into the habit of reading and seeing that Urdu needed a boost he and his team, which consisted of his family and a cousin, Syed Nouman, a specialist in business marketing, put their heads together and createdwww.urdukidzcartoon.com – the first of its kind.
Although the idea came out of a casual conversation , a lot of thought went into the site’s structure and content.
Presently, many Urdu websites from India are purely image-based, making it impossible to search for specific things in the uploaded content. This one, on the other hand, has used Urdu unicode fonts so as to enable searches for and within the site. Although comics are image based with the text being a part of that image, the text-transcript is provided along with the image to allow searches, making the site easily accessible. Syed’s venture Taemeer Web Development specialises in the creation of Urdu unicode-based websites.
While the use of Urdu unicode fonts is in Pakistan, the concept is new in India “The Urdu community of India is far behind,” complains Syed. “They are still unaware about two unicode-based fonts – Alvi Nastaleeq and Jameel Noori Nastaleeq, which can be used in any Windows-based editing software such as Microsoft Word.”
Time and tahzeeb
When asked what guides him in choice of stories, Syed quotes Carol L. Tilley, a professor of library and information science at Illinois, as saying, “If reading is to lead to any meaningful knowledge or comprehension, readers must approach a text with an understanding of the relevant social, linguistic and cultural conventions.”
“This is what we apply to the site! We aim to make it a platform for the linguistic culture of Urdu or Urdu tahzeeb,” he says. “While translating Hindi comic strips like Suppandi or Ramu & Shamu, I have to change a lot according to Urdu tahzeeb.”
The website takes already published comics and uses photo editing software to add the Urdu script – a tiresome task but one that has to be done. The material continues to be protected by the original copyright.
While his comic-reading days are behind him, the 43-year-old father of five, looks to his children to help choose material for the site. His wife, a teacher, also chips in. The most read comics on the site are those of Chacha Chaudhry, Nasruddin Hodja, and Richie Rich. The other characters that are featured are Phantom, Mandrake, Tom & Jerry, Donald Duck, Dennis the Menace and Little Lotta. There are plans to include Superman, Flash Gordon, Fauladi Singh, Detective Moochwala and others.
The response to the website, however, is below expectations. Launched in February, it gets only 5000 visitors monthly, out of which most are from Pakistan. India, on the other hand, attracts fewer visitors than the US, UK and the Gulf countries.
“I want to increase the traffic to at least 5000 visitors per day,” says a hopeful Syed.