Social Issues

Jashn-e-Rekhta: Celebrating a common heritage

Dhyeya IAS | IAS, PCS, UPSC, Best Institute for IAS, PCS Exam Preparation

After 1947, the number of those who could read Urdu steadily declined. However, people’s interest in the language and its literature, especially poetry, continued to grow. Many a Hindi publisher brought out collections of poetry of Mir, Ghalib, Dagh, Iqbal and a host of other Indian and as well as Pakistani poets. Fiction too was not neglected and writers such as Abdullah Hussain and Intizar Husain have a huge fan following among those who have read them in Devanagari script. To take this process further, Rekhta Foundation was established and its website offers Urdu literature in Roman as well as Devanagari scripts and also through the media of video records and e-books.

To popularise as well as celebrate the literary and cultural traditions of Urdu – also known as Rekhta – the Foundation has been organising a colourful festival that has been appropriately titled “Jashn-e-Rekhta”. This year, the fourth edition of the Jashn was held at New Delhi’s National Stadium. Two veteran artistes – eminent Hindustani classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj and outstanding Hindi film actor Waheeda Rehman graced the inauguration ceremony of the three-day event that began to unfold on the evening of December 8, 2017. Well-known Hindustani classical singer Ustad Rashid Khan regaled the Urdu enthusiasts with his recital.

In this age of celebrity-driven LitFests that often have very little Lit and too much Fest, Jashn-e-Rekha came as a breath of fresh air although its format seemed to be a little problematic.

Four sessions took place simultaneously and each one of them was worth attending. However, one could attend only one and was filled with a sense of loss. The second day began with four simultaneous sessions in which Madan Gopal Singh and his Chaar Yaar groups sang Sufiana kalam, Rahmat Yousufzai moderated a panel discussion on “Dakani Urdu: Forgotten Beauty of Urdu Poetry” with Aslam Mirza, Habeeb Nisar and Naseemuddin Farees as participants, Imtiaz Ali spoke on “Bhagwat Gita: Tasavvur Aur Haqeeqat” (Bhagwat Gita: Myth and Reality) while a large gathering listened to Urdu poetry at an open house mushaira.

Promoting composite culture

A welcome feature of this celebration was the overwhelming presence of the youth that was a confirmation that today’s young boys and girls are seriously interested in upholding and promoting the composite culture that has evolved over many centuries.

It was most heartening to see a fully packed hall where Prof. Gopichand Narang was making a scholarly exposition in conversation with Shafey Kidwai on how Indian mythology had been used in Urdu poetry while Hindi film celebrities like Nandita Das and Nawazuddin Siddiqui were at a parallel session telling an eager audience about their experience while making a film on the great Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto. There was thunderous applause when Nawazuddin Siddiqui said that he started speaking the truth as a result of getting into the character of Manto, and it got him embroiled in several controversies.

Similarly, at the same time when Ira Bhaskar was moderating a discussion on “Depiction of Urdu Culture in Muslim Social Films” with big stars such as Shabana Azmi, Muzaffar Ali and Waheda Rehman, well-known historian Harbans Mukhia was speaking on “Cultural and Literary Interaction in Medieval India” and it was difficult to find a vacant seat in the hall. The overwhelming presence of young boys and girls was a common feature in all the sessions, be it a mazahiya (humourous) mushaira or a serious panel discussion on modern Urdu ghazal wherein Shamsur Rahman Faruqi held forth on the way Hali did damage to the ghazal that was later rescued to some extent by poets like Hasrat Mohani and Shaad Azeemabadi. Faruqi’s scholarly exposition drew attention to the inadequacies in the poetry of poets like Faiz, Firaq, Majaz and others. Whether one agreed with him or not, it was a thought-provoking presentation.

Jashn-e-Rekhta was perhaps the only event of its kind that successfully combined a joyous celebration of the Urdu literature and culture with a serious reflection on, and thoughtful discussion of, its continuing legacy. The event had an atmosphere of a mela (fair) where one could buy choicest books, savour the taste of traditional cuisine of various kinds and generally roam around. It also offered live poetry recitation sessions, serious intellectual discussions and a panoramic view of a common literary heritage. One hopes that such endeavours will not only continue but also multiply so that other places than Delhi can also partake of this cultural treat.

While the use of technology is welcome, it does not seem fair to restrict the entry to those who register themselves on the Jashn’s website and get a confirmation message on their mobile phones or other gadgets via e-mail or SMS. Prasanna, a highly regarded theatre director who has been involved in the handloom and handicrafts movement in Karnataka, was very keen to attend the event on Sunday but had to drop the idea as he, a Marxist-turned-Gandhian, happened to be one of those who refused to possess a mobile phone. Perhaps, the organisers could think of a way to allow entry to such people too in future.