Special Reports

3-day Rekhta fete showcases Urdu’s grace

Firoz Bakht Ahmed

Celebrating the grace of Urdu, its composite culture, inclusive ethos, creative richness and linguistic grandeur, was the three-day Urdu mela (fair) at the Jashn-e-Rekhta in Delhi recently from February 12 to 14. The Sabri Brothers , who are famous for their qawwali, set the ball rolling with a stupendous performance.

Delhi, once an Urdu hub, as during the Mughal era, has regained its lost pristine glory with umpteen Urdu activities like  mehfils (congregations) of mushairas(Urdu poetry settings) dastangoi (story-telling), staging plays (based on a Krishna Chander story), readings from Urdu classics, critical appreciation, qawwali ((a genre of vocal, instrumental music)), ghazal sarai(recitation of Urdu ghazal with panache), baitbaazi (verse competition) baithak (coming together for discourse) and nashist (literally, sittings, discussions) besides other language attractions in Urdu.

Litterateurs, artistes and lovers of Urdu like Javed Akhtar, Mahesh Bhatt, Shabana Azmi, Gulzar, Anwar Masood (known for his light-hearted poetry, from Islamabad) Gopi Chand Narang, Zia Mohyeddin (theatre actor form London) Wasim Barelvi, Asif Farrukhi (writer from Lahore), Tabish Abbas, Farhat Ehsas, Shahid Rassam (artist from Karachi), Hameed Shahid, Ziya-Us-Salam (features editor, The Hindu) Shakeel Adil Zada (Karachi-based writer), Hameed Shahid (Lahore-based Urdu critic) Shamim Hanafi, Rajesh Reddy, Mohammed Alvi, Khushbir Singh Shad, Ashok Vajpeyi, Kumar Vishwas, Rana Safvi, CM Naim (US-based reputed professor of English and South Asian Studies, editor of Annual of Urdu Studies), Saeed Alam and many more adorned the celebrations for three days. Almost 30 Pakistani authors came this time.

The population of the carnival was evident from the houseful at all the different venues on all three days. The non-stop flow of an estimated 100,000 visitors a day on all three days showed that Urdu was healthy and kicking in India, belying doom sayers. Urdu still has the potential to connect India and Pakistan in a meaningful way.

“No other language can match the sweetness and glory of Urdu that I consider to be the language of love, romance, sophistication and culture. Let me concede that Delhi’stehzeeb (culture) is Urdu tehzeeb,” says Sanjiv Saraf, an IIT Kharagpur alumnus and the founder of Rekhta.

For the rejuvenation of Urdu, Rekhta Foundation employs a team of around 50 people, including IT professionals, composers, translators and social media experts at its Noida office. Saraf doesn’t buy the story that Urdu is dying.
One reason for Urdu’s growing popularity among the youth is its easy availability online in Devanagri and Roman script, according to Bandeep Singh, photo editor, Fortune India.

 According to Rhea Suri, who relished Urdu love poetry Valentine’s Day, “Umpteen college-goers are showing liking for Urdu as they feel it is the best language to express matters of heart in the poetry of someone like Ghalib or Sahir Ludhyanavi.” Urdu seems to be on the threshold of regaining its waning lustre and the wait or its full recovery may not be too long.

That Urdu, blamed by some small-headed people as the language responsible for Partition in 1947is on a fast track of becoming the lingua franca for the subcontinent was clear at the three-day Jashn-e-Rekhta celebrations in Delhi’s Indira Gandhi National Art Centre.

The composite heritage of Urdu in different forms was evident in each nook and cranny of the gala. Journalist-turned academic Farhat Ehsas describes Jashn-e-Rekhta as a festival to celebrate the quintessential spirit of Urdu, its inclusive ethos and creative character. He was happy to declare that  Rekhta had become the biggest Urdu networking hub.

When asked as to what was there for Saraf, the chairman of Polyplex Limited, dealing in polyethylene terephthalate films, in this language of mere sher-o-shairi, he asserted, “Urdu and Ghalib are in my heart and I had desired to serve the language since my youth. However, Urdu is not merely sher-o-shairi, ghazal, qawwali, masnawi, marsiah (different genres of Urdu poetry). It’s the epitome of our Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (India’s composite culture). Urdu is a language born out of our syncretism accruing from the commonality of cultures.”

Saraf added that Jashn-e-Rekhta was a platform to showcase the world of Urdu. The aim was to reach out to both the Urdu-speaking and non-Urdu speaking audience. It’s a language that has the unique quality of going beyond all borders and boundaries.

Rekhta, a website of collections of canonical and modern representative poetry, is an online treasure trove of Urdu available in Roman, Devnagri and Urdu scripts with correct and authentic text. On this unique website one can listen to the poetry and find the meaning of difficult words, too.

 Sukrita Paul Kumar, a lover of Urdu and a major presence in English literary criticism, believes that the world is progressing and no language can establish a strong connection with its readers without the help of modern technology. That’s why Rekhta, aided by technology, is touching new heights today. A plethora of Urdu websites is a testimony to  its continuing popularity of the language.

 In Rekhta’s e-book section, a huge collection of rare books, manuscripts, and other literary material and publications reciting their poetry have been preserved on audio and video, at mushairas and in studies. Till now 40,000 ghazals and nazms, thousands of poets and more than three thousand e-books have been included in Rekhta. Its watchword is quality.

Saraf has often desired to collect all of Ghalib’s 1,100 Urdu and 6,700 Persian couplets to be saved in Devnagri or Roman script to make Ghalib’s work accessible to a larger group of persons from diverse langaue tradition. In his career as a busy business excutive he has always made time for service of Urdu.

 Farhat Ehsas, who is also associated with Rekhta says the project is aimed at attracting big educational and literary institutions of India, Pakistan and the world, hoping to facilitate research scholars of Urdu in their pursuit. Students and academics can access of this treasure right from their homes through the Internet.

 Speaking on the appeal of Urdu, Dr Ather Farouqui opined, “Urdu Chairs have been set in Cambridge and Oxford in the UK, and also in universities in Germany, China, Egypt, Jordan and Malaysia. Urdu is a language plain and simple and easily comprehensible, whose future is bright. Urdu is the second language, read and understood most in India, third in the US and fourth in Britain.”

Saraf has a suggestion, “I feel if industrialists like us can just take care of this language, Urdu can soon recover its lost sheen. It also reminds us of the Shankar-Shad Indo-Pak Mushaira conducted by the Shriram Industries and Jashn-e-Bahar by socialite Kamna Prasad.”

Urdu has bloomed and thrived owing to the support from these rich benefactors.

 Jashne Rekhta was also heaven for gourmands with a food court with authentic Sindhi, Kashmiri, Deccani, Pakistani, Hyderabadi, Lucknawi and Purani Dilli cuisines. It was the most sought after lunchtime destination.

A Children’s corner was set up for storybooks, paintings and calligraphy.

A unique attraction was the Urdu Bazaar, a marked locality in the fair showcasing brass artifacts from Delhi Mughal Art and Chinar-e-Kashmir besides a variety of attars (ottors) from Al-Aqsa Perfumers. Sketches and photographs of eminent poets like Ghalib, Momin, Zauq, Mir, Firaq, Faiz etc were also on sale.

This year more than a hundred poets, litterateurs, journalists, critics, actors, artistes, novelists, and lyricists adorned the unique Urdu celebration.

The author is an educator and commentator on social issues.
He may be contacted at firozbakhtahmed08@gmail.com

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 March 2016 on page no. 13

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