Jashn-e-Rekhta: Meet the man whose passion project is now a celebration of Urdu
The three-day festival, celebrating Urdu, is an important event in Delhi’s social calendar.art and culture Updated: Dec 09, 2017 15:07 IST
In recent times, Delhi has shown an appreciation of Urdu in various forms –by participating in mushairas, attending dastangoi sessions or listening to Sufi concerts. But the scale and ambition of the fourth edition of Jashn-e-Rekhta is something else. Here the timeless glory and spirit of Urdu will be celebrated through various performances – written, spoken, recited, sung, strummed, danced -- all designed to put you under the spell of the language. It is this enchantment of the language that compelled Sanjiv Saraf, 59, businessman and cultural entrepreneur, to launch the Rekhta.org website in January 2013. He then went on to build a huge archive, and launched the festival two years later in 2015.
Rekhta is one of the earlier names of Urdu. Literally, it stands for blending or amalgamation. Since Urdu came into being as a result of the blending of many languages such as Persian, Hindi, Turki, Braj, Gujri and Awadhi, it was called Rekhta, explains Saraf.
Saraf, who belongs to the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, was born in Nagpur. He studied in Gwalior and joined his family business in Orissa. He ascribes no mystery to his jump from being a successful businessman to a cultural entrepreneur. “Urdu is not my mother tongue nor were the places I grew up dominated by an Urdu culture. But my father was a keen follower of Urdu ghazals and shayri. Listening to Mehdi Hasan, Begum Akhtar, Iqbal Bano and Farida Khanum on the radio and on vinyl records were an important part of my growing-up years,” says Saraf.
Saraf’s immersion in his passion project of Urdu was, he says, a returning to his “first love.” For Rekhta, it was important for him that Urdu be seen as part of a subcontinental experience. The lovers of Manto will be in for a treat this year as actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui shares his experience of bringing to life on screen the subcontinent’s greatest Urdu fiction writer who made Pakistan his home after Partition. Actor-director Nandita Das and he will be sharing their love for Manto in the session ‘Manto ke Rubaru’.
In Rekhta’s first edition, Saraf had eminent ghazal artistes from Pakistan such as Ustad Hamid Ali Khan on stage. This year there will be none as the “environment is not conducive”, he says. “Urdu, however, has nothing to do with religion,” he adds. This is a language of the subcontinent and we have poets everywhere.” The Rekhta Foundation that is the backbone of the festival has, in fact, built an archive of 30,000 ghazals and 5,000 nazms. It has also put in place an inventory of the works of 3,000 poets.
“The festival will showcase the works of both the old and established poets and the new upcoming ones. Without the young joining it, no literary movement can go forward,” he says. So while there will be the highly acclaimed Shubha Mudgal re-visiting the revolutionary spirit of progressive poets by singing the poetry of protest, Tanya Wells, a singer born and raised in London, and famous for her renditions of Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s ghazals, will be Jashn-e-Rekhta’s special guest this year. Another new and unconventional element in the festival this year is Parvaaz, a contemporary music band from Bangalore that will merge Urdu poetry and rock music together in its performance. The best names among contemporary Urdu poets like Rahat Indori and Javed Akhtar, among others, will of course be participating in the Grand Mushaira.
Ghalib is, however, Saraf’s favourite poet. “For every situation or mood, you can quote Ghalib. He speaks for everybody,” says he. There is even a Ghalib verse for expressing Mir’s (Mir Taqi Mir was the leading Urdu poet of the 18th century and Ghalib’s senior) superiority over Ghalib, points out Saraf: “Rekhte ke tumhin ustad nahin ho Ghalib/kehte hain agle zamane men koi Mir bhi tha.”
The success of the festival, says Saraf, lies in the fact that Urdu as a language is a joy shared by many. “I’m just its slave. We began as a small site and had no idea it would grow so big. Sometimes I feel I’m riding a tiger and I can’t get off its back now.”
When: 8-10 December, 10 am-9pm
Where: Major Chand National Stadium, India Gate. Entry to the festival is free upon registration (5 pm onwards on December 8) at www.jashnerekhta.org
Nearest metro stations: Central Secretariat, Udyog Bhawan