Delhiites thronged the festival on all three days to own their linguistic legacy of Urdu
It was a weekend of celebrating Urdu literature and language at the Jashn-e-Rekhta in Delhi, February 17 to 19, 2017. The spring air, mouth-watering traditional food, soulful music, ghazals, qawwalis, mushaira and opportunity to hear some of the best poets, writers, critics, film personalities around the premise of Urdu language and literature. Really, one could not have asked for a better date in this month of love.
Urdu – the language and then literature — evolved in Delhi at the times of Amir Khusro and was further enriched by numerous historical thinkers like Ghalib, Mir, Zauq and others. Gradually, it spread across northern India including what is now Pakistan. Given how language has been bifurcated since Independence, it was a very pleasant surprise to see so many people proudly rejoicing in this heritage and legacy of Delhi.
The privately organised Urdu festival now in its third year drew a crowd of over 10,000 visitors at any given time at the venue, the centrally located Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts or IGNCA at Janpath. The four parallel sessions being conducted daily were all house-full, even over-crowded. People stood at every inch and corner of the viewer’s space, and perched on aisles after the chairs were full.
Delhiites thronged the festival on all three days to own their linguistic legacy of Urdu. Many observed that Urdu or Hindi do not belong to any religion or sect but are languages of India. All languages of this land need to be equally nurtured and celebrated.
Visitors from all parts of India and world have always come to Delhi and enriched the culture with their language and traditions. But Urdu has not come from anywhere else. It was invented here, in this land.
The main auditorium, aptly named Diwan-e-Aam (Commoners’ Hall), with a seating capacity of about 5,000 people, was full house at almost all sessions. Here too, many had to remain standing. The organisers had bestowed equally lyrical Urdu names stemming from the times of the Mughals on the other three halls – Diwan-e-Khaas (Elite Hall), Bazm-Ravaan (Assembly of Streams) and Kunj-e-Sukhan (Arbour of Words).
The entire event was a breath of fresh air and a silver lining amidst the brewing hatred and violence we have witnessed in Delhi in the last few months.
The festival started with the legendary poet Gulzar reading some of his finest verses, setting a most appropriate tone for the upcoming celebration of Urdu literature. Big names like veteran Bollywood Sharmila Tagore, the bad man of Hindi cinema Prem Chopra, and script writer Javed Siddiqi deliberated on Bollywood’s love affair with Urdu, the language used most often in what is called Hindi cinema.
It was great to see students from prominent universities participating in a lively Baitbaazi, an Antakshari style of debate using Urdu poetry, on stage. Jawaharlal Nehru University grabbed the first prize, with Jamia Milia Islamia in the second spot.
The session on ‘Urdu ka Adalati Lehja’ (Urdu in the Courts) conducted by the lawyer-poet Saif Mehmood deserves special mention. For the first time, a panel featuring former Chief Justice of India T. S. Thakur, former Justice of Supreme Court of India Aftab Alam, senior counsel Salman Khursheed and poet Tahir Mehmood, sat together to discuss how the judiciary has used Urdu poetry. It was a most insightful and rare moment for the general public to gain a peek into the artistic side of senior judges, and how they use Urdu poetry as a tool to break the monotony of judicial practices.
Stalls of books on Urdu literature and artefacts lined the courtyard. Youngsters kept photographs at the selfie spots in front of banners boldly proclaiming: ‘I Love Urdu’. The mouth-watering dishes at the food court were a great attraction for large crowds strolling around to taste the delicacies.
Many speakers talked about the works of contemporary Pakistani poets and deliberated on the advent of Urdu literature after independence. However, it was disappointing that no scholar or poet from Pakistan were invited to speak or present their work, although we heard that nine Pakistani artistes and dignitaries were invited to attend the festival as guests. The prominent Pakistani poet, Kishwar Naheed was seen arguing with the organisers because her name was not mentioned as a speaker on any panel. She left the festival in protest.
Overall, given the prevailing atmosphere of violence, distrust and jingoism in current times, it was a pleasent delight to see people from all walks of life, especially youngsters, for once coming together to celebrate their art and linguistic heritage, which is a silver lining in foresight for the peaceful coexistence. Really, ‘Aman ki Asha’ (Hope for Peace) is the thought of the season.
The writer is a filmmaker based in Delhi who attended all three days of Jashn-e-Rekhta. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Facebook.com/harsh.filmmaker. Twitter: @harshnarayan.