24 May 2024 08:03 PM



Festival Feast Explodes ‘Urdu Is For Muslims’ Myth

Padhte raheinge galiyon mein inn rekhton ko log
Muddat raheingee yaad ye baatien hamariyaan

These lines by Meer Taqi Meer seemed to have been written for the three day Jashne Rekhta which was held a month ago in mid March, the best season of Delhi.

The festival was a feast for Urdu lovers, those who enjoy the language in all its forms- poetry, prose and the many ways in which it is rendered. It proved an antidote to the motivated myth that Urdu is the language of Muslims. It was a veritable treat for people of all religions. Also all ages, classes and tastes. People from all over Delhi thronged to India International Centre to listen to the sound of the spoken, recited and sung words. Such crowds had never been seen before in the rarified atmosphere of IIC conference halls and its cascading gardens. The common bond between Pakistanis and Indians of loving Urdu, drew the best writers, poets, artists, and musicians from both sides of the border. Several of them crossed Wagah on foot from Lahore, arrived in Attari and flew to Delhi from Amritsar. They arrived on a Friday evening after work and left early on Monday morning. The weekend was, for one and all, a visual and aural feast. Delhi was cool- teasing its visitors every now and then with sprays of rain.

Rekhta is another name for Urdu. It principally developed in North India during the time of Mughal empire. Persian was then the court language, which naturally exerted strong influence on the commonly spoken Hindavi in Central India. It was a process, which finally led to creation of Rekhta or 'mixed speech' and later branched into Hindi and Urdu.

What Jashn-e-Rekhta brought to the people of the city was creation of the genius of a young man Sanjiv Saraf who fell in love with Urdu, thanks to his father, somewhere during his growing years. He carried this love even while studying for his MBA. And finally he took the ultimate leap of giving up a promising career to pursue his passion. He did what Ghalib described:

Be Khatar kood pada aatish e namrood mein Ishq
Aql tthi mehv e tamasha e sar e baam abhi

Fearless, Ishq jumped into the fire of Nimrod
While Reason stood at the brink... watching

I loved those two days because of my lifelong involvement with Urdu.

My love affair must have begun when I spoke my very first word. My childhood was Urdu imbued. Our family conversations were sprinkled with literature and poetry, I secretly read romantic Urdu novels from my mother's collection, which was always kept locked in a glass paned cupboard. I was required to practice calligraphy on multani mitti slate with a sharpened quill and homemade ink. My mother made sure I could read and write Urdu before I was sent to school. It turned out that I never studied Urdu as a school subject. But my English and Urdu were on par. Thanks to my parents.

When I returned to India after many years of wandering the globe, I saw the beginning of the slow demise of my beloved mother tongue. I saw it becoming a niche item. I saw its survival largely due to the reach and grasp of Bombay films. The script was dead, nobody was bothered to learn it. Quietly people began to write Urdu in Roman; some who are called 'Urdu writers' could barely read or write the text. The text itself was considered esoteric, and identified with Muslims. Urdu became symbolic of quaintness. In our mall culture and bespoke shopping, where was room for Urdu? Bollywood screenplays became sold to street one-liners exemplified by films like Fukrey and Finding Fanny. As my understanding of Ghalib, Iqbal, Meer Taqi Meer, Hali deepened and I was ready to share it with my readers, there were fewer and fewer takers.

That one weekend during ides of March, changed all that.

Sitting in the packed amphitheater I heard the words of welcome from the wonderful compere. Clear and beautiful articulation of Urdu set the tone.

While the best of Urdu scholars spoke about Urdu as the language of human bonding, of the changing contours of Mushaira, Ghazal through time, Urdu in translation; the performing artists recited, sang, and narrated daastaans. The best of poets from both sides of the line lifted the Mushaira to new heights. There were poets like Mohammad Alvi, Farhat Ehsas, Wasim Barelvi, Amjad Aslam and 'Jadoo' the unique Javed Akhtar. But it was the other spoken word, the prose that blew the crowd. The one and only Zia Mohiuddin created magic with his presentation of Urdu verse and prose which had the unusual title, Padhant. Most unforgettable was when he read the epistle, 'Meri pyari Beti Hima' the forgotten Art of letter writing by the litterateur, Chaudhry Mohammad Ali Radaulvi.

Dastangoi had its fan club which thronged the venue, spilling to a veranda where a closed circuit TV was projecting magic of the spoken word. I had read that it was 1857 when the last Dastango Mir Baqar Ali hung up his angarkha and dopalli topi never to recite Daastaan again. The reformists had ordered that the corpse of Dastaan be buried so deep that it never again rears its mischievous head. Mahmood Qureshi and Danish Husain had turned that diktat on its head.

There was the famed Hamid Ali Khan from Karachi singing for the first time in Delhi. And our own splendid artists Rekha Bhardwaj, Vidya Shah and Radhika Chopra transported sensibilities to another sphere. Another window was opened when Asif Farrukhi interviewed Intezar Husain, both geniuses defying time. My cup brimmed at the mehfil e sama which was the concluding event of the Jashn. People were tightly packed sitting standing... chairs, floors stairs, every inch was taken. I had known the Qawwal Bilal Chishti ever since he was a small boy. He has grown to be among the best qawwals of South Asia. He began slow. Then the tempo soared and reached a crescendo with his expression of devotion to the great Khalifa Ali. Many eyes were damp... and they were not only eyes of Muslim listeners.

Urdu removes barriers, brings people on common ground... people want to reach out Urdu shows the way. This was truly a Jashn-e-Rekhta in the best sense of the word. One man's genius recognized the power of this language and he gave it his all. He just kicked away the gauntlet thrown by negativists. He used technology in the most innovative way and showed Urdu as this century's most nimble language. No matter how hard its detractors tried to shroud it, it continues to live, exhale and enthral. All Urdu mastanas of India and Pakistan left saying that for one weekend Delhi became the global epicenter.

It was no child's play but it happened.

Dagh Dehalvi warned that about the difficulty of learning Urdu when he said:

Nahin khel hai Dagh yaaron se keh do
Ke aati hai Urdu zuban aate aaate

But Jashn-e-Rekhta has shown the way out.