Here, fall in love with Urdu

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Here, fall in love with Urdu

Moti ho ki sheesha jam ki door
Jo toot gaya so toot gaya
Kab askon se jud sakta hai
Jo toot gaya so choot gaya

Tum nahak tukde chun chun kar
Daman mein chupaye baithe ho
Sheeshon ka maseeha koi nahin
Kya aas lagaye baithe ho...

There he was, in a dark room. Reciting his poem with a quiver and a drawl. He, in a grey suit, his hair pulled back, his forehead gleaming, his eyes laden with magical intensity. In the dark room, his voice reverberated; he paused for a comma, he halted as if allowing even the walls to soak the mastery of his words.

I sat not too far from the man I have loved so long that I have forgotten the first missed heartbeat. In the office of Rekhta Foundation in Noida (Uttar Pradesh), I was watching a video of the one I love. Of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, one of the greatest Urdu poets, streaming on a white wall from, the world’s largest resource of Urdu literature.

So colossal is the Rekhta literary collection that on a mere click of a button I could access 1,731 shayar (poets), 17,651 ghazals, 3,590, 11,897 sher, 4,334 audios, 4,127 videos and 15,482 e-books. An Urdu compendium that within three years of its inception has viewers in 200 countries and 20,000 newsletter subscribers across the world. Here, one hears Begum Akhtar sing or Shamsur Rahman Farooqi recite Ghalib; listens to stories in dastangoi, an old tradition of storytelling; relives old grainy kavi sammelans in which the stalwarts participated; and reads out-of-print books which have been sourced and digitised sedulously. Like Jahan Numa, first printed in 1857. Or, the 355 e-books on Ghalib. On the website, no one has to ever struggle with the word meaning, each and every word is explained. Click the word and you’ll know ‘mukaddam’ is ‘above all’, ‘taufiq’ is ‘god’s grace’ and ‘fasaana’ is ‘tale’.

Musical magic

I take the elevator to meet the man behind Rekhta. By the door is a marble Ganesha, flames flickering by his side; in the garden, green chairs and yellow dahlias bathed in the orange of the winter sun.

“Poetry is not in my bloodline,” says Sanjiv Saraf, sitting cross-legged on a blue sofa. “I am bad with interviews.” he adds. Saraf should have been talking polyethylene films because his company is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of thin PET film. Sure, Saraf knows all about pet resin, but that winter morning, he was talking about Mirza Ghalib, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Mir, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi. “Poetry is not in my bloodline, but it is a childhood memory.”

Saraf’s father loved Urdu poetry and their ancestral home thrummed with the music of Begum Akhtar and Farida Khanum. As a child, Saraf often laid the vinyl records on the player. And, at Scindia School in Gwalior, his literature teachers instilled a love for all things lyrical — “Even my Chemistry teacher recited Urdu couplets.”

For Saraf, the love for Urdu was stifled in the rigmarole of everyday existence — of joining the family business, setting up new factories across the world, and moving cities. He’d still found time to read Ghalib, his favourite, but not enough to soothe the soul. Very little of Urdu literature was available in Devnagari or Roman script and for Saraf the Persian script was like the Egyptian hieroglyph. Unfathomable. Esoteric. Abstruse.

Course of the calling

One day, Urdu tugged at his heart incessantly, as if the language beseeched the man to rescue it from fading into oblivion. That fortuitous day, Saraf hired an ustaad and started learning the Persian alphabet — alef, be, pe, le... He was 53 then. That was four years ago. Saraf abandoned the mundane for the poetic. He mooted the idea of Rekhta Foundation to collate everything about Urdu literature with the objective of preserving it.

Bringing Rekhta as the platform for all Urdu lovers was not as easy as the thought. He had to find credible sources, diligent coworkers (Rekhta now has 54 members), rare books, forgotten videos and scattered audios. He wanted to begin small — 50 poets. Today, there are 1,731 poets featured on it. The site is user-friendly, and the information is arranged tidily in three languages — Urdu, Hindi and English. Such is the credibility of Rekhta that its content is now used as reference points for scholars and researchers around the world. Saraf is now working on adding Urdu curriculum of various universities online.

Jashn-e-Rekhta, an annual Urdu festival (to be held in New Delhi from Feb 12-14), is a continuum of Saraf’s love for the language. At Jashn, the biggest names in Urdu literature gather to discuss the nuances of the language; they bring alive the past, meld it with the present in the hope of stringing a more lyrical tomorrow through mushaira, qawwali, ghazal, dastangoi, plays   discussion, combined with authentic Mughal, Awadhi, Kashmiri and Deccan food.

I step out of the Rekhta Foundation office with Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s voice still running in my veins. I return home, take my shoes off, lean on a red cushion, click on and listen to Noor Jehan sing Faiz’s Mujshe pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang. In my eyes, I can feel the burden of a large teardrop. Not of sadness. Instead, a beatific song of salvation. I owe that to Rekhta.

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