For young Kamna Prasad, mushairas (poetic symposiums) were a part and parcel of her life back in Jagdishpur, her native village in Bihar.
Away from telephone rings or television rants in those days, she remembers the whole community as a big mehfil (gathering of courtly entertainment of poetry) with everybody talking in rhymes as a part of their daily conversation.
From a little girl at ten who picked up her first poetry book on Ghalib, Kamna has grown to become the woman behind Jashn-e-Bahar, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the cause of promoting Urdu and its literature which has been holding international mushiaras for past 18 years now.
“I grew up in a culture of adab and adaab. Urdu has not only influenced the ways of our being. It is what you wear and what you eat. And then, it ceases to be just a language but becomes a culture. I wonder if Mir or Ghalib were alive today, what they would have thought of their language,” said Kamna Prasad.
Although for her mushairas are an ode to the classical yet contemporary nature of this beautiful language, it also sees it as a connection between a creative writer and the masses.
“They comprise a unique tradition in which poets recite face-to-face with the audience,” she says as she goes on to quote famous Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir – Sheir mere hain go khwaas pasand, par mujhe guftgu awaam se hai (though the gentry likes my poetry, but I talk to the common man).
The 5000-years-old language exists in her course of conversations as ash’aars (couplets) that she keeps on quoting from time to time. Perceiving Urdu as a legacy of the composite culture of Hindustan, Kamna never believed that the language is in a state of extinction.
“Like any other living languages, Urdu is evolving with the times. It’s overwhelming to see so many people from all walks of life come and listen to Urdu poetry and sit through the entire evening at the Mushaira Jashn-e-bahar. It’s a language sans frontiers and has even crossed the bounds of its script,” said Kamna.
The international mushaira that celebrated the global spread of the beautiful language was recently concluded in DPS, Mathura Road and saw Urdu poets from countries like China, Japan and the US and many more where Urdu is not the mother tongue.
Underscoring it as a mission for spreading amity and friendship, the event was attended by more than 3000 Urdu lovers.
“Today, when the entire world and especially the subcontinent, are impacted by divisive forces and intolerance, an open-mind anchored in spirituality and literature is the only solution to intolerance in a conflict-riddled world. Each time we sit down to finalize the poets’ list for Jashn-e-Bahar, we discover new areas where people are learning, speaking and writing in Urdu,” said the Urdu activist and founder of Jashn-e-Bahar Trust.
Kamna feels that both because of the diaspora as well as due to the kashish (attraction) of the language, it is doing so well globally and is among the top 20 spoken languages.
It all started in 1990’s for her as she realised that the language is in crucible and produced a show on Doordarshan – Kahkashan, a television series about six great masters of modern Urdu and Islamic poetry -- Hasrat Mohani,Jigar Moradabadi, Josh Malihabadi, Majaz Lucknawi, Firaq Gorakhpuri, and Makhdoom Mohiuddin.
A few years later, she established Jashn-e-bahar to revive the essence of the language.
“Urdu has passed the test of times. It gave us slogans like Jai Hind and Inquilab Zindabad and today it is not our national language because of just one vote. Today we don’t cry that nobody speaks Shakespearian English then why should it bother us that no one speaks the Urdu of Ghalib,” said the Urdu activist.
Calling languages always in crucible, Kamna claims that Urdu being the language of love will stay till the time love exists.
“Jab tak duniya mein ishq hai, tab tak Urdu bhi kaayam hai. It’s the language of love,” she says as she compares the language to chirping of birds for people who do not understand it.
“When one goes to a garden, they don’t really understand the chirping of birds but they find it amusing. Urdu works in the same way for younger generation who learn it as they learn to fall in love. How can the language cease to be? Ishq toh isi mein hoga (love will happen in this language),” she says.