Interview with Sanjiv Saraf — a crusader of Urdu in India
Sanjiv Saraf is a leading businessman of India. Originally from Rajasthan, he was born in Nagpur, Maharashtra in a business family. He went to The Scindia School, Gwalior and later on graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur in 1980. After doing his graduation, he joined the family business in Orissa and in 1984 ventured out to establish Polyplex Corporation that produces polyester films globally. Later, he also incubated businesses such as renewable hydro-electric energy and also Manupatra —India’s premier legal information provider.
When asked why a leading businessman of India whose mother tongue was not Urdu became interested in Urdu, he said he was very fond of Urdu since his childhood since he grew up with his father listening to ‘ghazals’ in the house but studies and business did not give him enough time to learn Urdu. But since business or hardcore industry work satisfies one’s creative energy only to a certain extent, he started getting driven towards Urdu literature and poetry and completely fell in love with the language.
Later when he firmly established his business and it started growing, he stepped back from business to focus on learning Urdu. In the process, he realised there wasn’t enough content or resources available on the Internet and what was available was incomplete, non-credible and mostly in Urdu script. He thought, there could be millions of people like him who love Urdu but perhaps do not have access to the content, and felt the need to preserve, archive and digitise Urdu.
In 2013, ‘Rekhta Foundation’ was set up with the objective of promoting and disseminating Urdu literature, especially Urdu Poetry to an audience beyond those conversant with the Urdu script.
Besides successfully holding Jashn-e-Rekhta 2015 and 2016, Rekhta Foundation keeps organising various events from time to time to showcase various forms of Urdu. They have organised Baitbaazi, Mushaira and recording of various young poets at studios. They have also organised a Mazahiya Mushaira at IIT Delhi fest, which received a great response from the audience.
Rajiv invites leading intellectuals from Pakistan to participate in Jashn-e-Rekhta which has become so popular that people eagerly await it. Saraf says: “I have already dedicated my life to Rekhta”.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
The News on Sunday (TNS): Do you think Jashn-e-Rekhta has been a successful venture?
Sanjiv Saraf (SS): The Jashn made its debut in 2015 to let the lovers of Urdu see and experience its creative richness in all forms. It was a small step then and I had never imagined that it would grow into what it has become today. Within a year’s time, the festival saw an uptick from 20,000 to a swelling 85,000 visitors and garnered an overwhelming response and appreciation with the support and participation of doyens of Urdu as well as people from film, music and TV fraternity from India and Pakistan, like Zia Mohyeddin, Gulzar, Gopi Chand Narang, Zehra Nigah, Javed Akhtar, Muzaffar Ali, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, Anwar Maqsood, Irfan Khan, amongst many others.
TNS: You have also started publishing books. Would you like to share some names? Also, what is the criterion of selecting works?
SS: We have published three books so far, two in Urdu and one in Hindi. The Urdu ones are Auraaq-e-Khizani by Ahmed Mushtaq and Aakhri Pahar ki Dastak by Shamim Hanfi; the Hindi one is Gazal Usne Chedhi edited by Farhat Ehsas which we recently released at Jashn-e-Rekhta 2016.
We have an in-house editorial board that selects the works and our research team aids them in that.
TNS: What are your future plans?
SS: I have already dedicated my life to Rekhta. Also, we have an equally dedicated team that is self-inspired and is working passionately towards taking Rekhta to greater heights. Moreover, various doyens of Urdu are extending their full support to us in our endeavour to give Urdu the attention and appreciation it deserves.
Spurred by the response and encouragement that Jashn-e-Rekhta received, we plan to organise different programmes of Urdu in other cities as well. We are also very close to launching an online Urdu learning course as well as through an app. We are also going to launch a world class Rekhta app for Urdu lovers to let them enjoy shayari on the go and ensure an enriching experience.
Read also: A benefactor named Sanjiv Saraf
TNS: How do you select participants from India and Pakistan?
SS: We select participants on the basis of the need and format of the event and its sessions. Their popularity is another factor that helps. Since Rekhta is world’s largest online repository of Urdu poetry, some of the biggest names from over the world especially India and Pakistan have associated with us and are continuing to do so.
TNS: How can this promote peace and harmony between India and Pakistan?
SS: Our website rekhta.org has the second largest viewership from Pakistan after India. The love for the language and its appreciation is what brings the lovers of Urdu together from both the countries. Not only eminent artists, poets and singers from Pakistan participate in Jashn-e-Rekhta, there are many visitors who travel to India just to witness and become a part of the Jashn.
We hope that mutual admiration of Urdu brings people of both countries more close to each other which will not just promote peace and harmony but also encourage more admiration and appreciation for Urdu from both sides. Poets are the ambassadors of love anyway and composite heritage brings people closer, paving way for peace and harmony.
TNS: It is very difficult to get visa of both countries. Don’t you think the visa regime should be liberalised so that more people could visit and attend Jashn-e-Rekhta?
SS: Both Jashn-e-Rekhta 2015 and 2016 witnessed great participation from Urdu literati in Pakistan. Moreover, we had visitors who came all the way from Pakistan to India just to witness the Jashn. As an organiser, we haven’t witnessed much of a hindrance in the due process and hope that the visa norms become much smoother and liberal in future too.
TNS: Have you been to Pakistan? How do look at the literary and business scene in Pakistan?
SS: Yes, I have visited Pakistan once and absolutely loved everything about it. I believe that Pakistan’s literary scene is flourishing greatly and the country hosts various festivals that get massive traction especially Karachi Literature Festival, Islamabad Literature Festival and the Lahore Literary Festival. The authors in Pakistan are producing extremely fine writing, especially fiction and poetry and we are seeing many bestsellers that are getting recognition in the international space. And I hope it will flourish more in future.
TNS: Have you ever thought of holding the same kind of Jashn in Pakistan?
SS: Our website www.rekhta.org garners the second largest viewership from Pakistan and post Jashn-e-Rekhta’s debut in 2015, we have been receiving many requests from people in Pakistan to organise similar events there. In fact, the Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India invited us to hold the Jashn in Pakistan too. We had never imagined that Jashn-e-Rekhta will receive so much love and admiration across the world. We will definitely deliberate into these requests but it is too early to confirm anything.
TNS: What is future of Urdu in India?
SS: Urdu language has a rich tradition, culture and values associated with it in India. As far as future of Urdu in India is concerned, the undivided India was the birthplace of Urdu, and there is no doubt that Urdu has a bright future in India.
Based on the demographics on our website, we find that over 70 percent of visitors are in ththe e age bracket of 18-35 and the number is simply growing. This combined with the profile, enthusiasm, the sheer number of attendees at Jashn-e-Rekhta was a sure sign of the interest that Urdu as a language and as a medium generates. In our perception, there is a resurgence of Urdu, especially among what is commonly known as non-Urdu wallahs.
TNS: Any favourite Urdu writer?
SS: Well, it has to be Ghalib. His poetry is just appropriate for any situation or for any expression. From early age till the present time, he has been my favourite. In fact, it is Ghalib who drove me towards poetry.
Zaman Khan is a senior journalist and human rights activist based in Lahore who has long been involved with Pakistan-India peace movement.