Growing up in a multi-cultural family in Hyderabad, actor Diya Mirza internalised tehzeeb not just as a respect and love for literature in its various forms but as a way of life. “That’s what made me who I am and helped me express myself across various media,” says the actor, who began composing poems at an early age. Her muse came from Rabindrasangeet, ghazals and iconic film songs that her parents listened to, all of them traversing the entire arc of human emotion through a simple interplay of words. “My stepfather used to recite Urdu poetry all the time. Even though I was a child of the 80s, I used to listen to the music from the 40s, 50s and 60s and many of them were written by prolific greats like Kaifi Azmi, Sahir Ludhiyanvi, Shakeel Badayuni, Shailendra, Rajinder Krishan and poets who were equally well-versed in Hindi and Urdu. And though I do not write poetry anymore, I would not want the generation after me to grow up in a world where poetry, lyricism and refinement are relics of the past,” she tells us.
That’s why she has chosen to conduct a session on poetry and its impact on her life and craft at Jashn-e-Rekhta, the three-day festival of Urdu language and Hindustani culture that begins Friday and continues till Sunday at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, New Delhi. She will be focussing on the innate syncretism of Indic traditions and how words reiterate universal truths through time. “The session will be about my relationship with poetry, particularly Rabindra Sangeet. Intrinsically I relate to Tagore’s poems. There were other poets too and every time I got a new character to play, I have always referenced it against a familiar work of theirs,” she says. Mirza is part of “Celebrity Conversations”, one among a host of new features that the Rekhta Foundation is bringing back after the lull of the COVID years. Master classes with poets on ghazal writing, appreciation workshops, a books bazaar and a food festival have also been added to the bouquet of ghazals, sufi music, qawwali, dastaangoi, panel discussions, mushaira and poetry recitations.
Says Sanjiv Saraf, founder, Rekhta Foundation, who has been operating the world’s largest website and resource for Urdu poetry and literature, “The idea is to get language lovers from all over to celebrate Hindustani languages, its rich history and culture.” As a result of this initiative over the last seven years, he says, “There has been a rising interest in Urdu poetry among the youth. As a result, we have about 20-25 reasonably high-grade poets across India. Keeping in mind that most of our readers cannot read Urdu script, we have incorporated Roman and Devanagari versions of the content available on the Rekhta website. With this, it is heartening to see people across age groups engaging like never before with Urdu shayari and fiction.”
Explaining how Urdu can be an inter-generational language, Saraf says, “It acts as a catalyst to bring two generations closer as it connects the old with the new. The Roman-Devanagari composition of content has bridged that gap further. Some very rare books and readings are available now to our young aficionados, which was until recently lost. In fact, thanks to digital access, the earliest shayars like Meer and Sauda are now idolised by our young readers. And if you thought that ghazals have been lost in the noise, the response to our workshops shows that ghazals have stood the test of time. It is the language of pure emotion and strikes a chord with both the old and new.”
Saraf believes that Urdu is “a language of synthesis as it has emerged from Sufism, where the creator and the creation are one and is, therefore, imbued with humanism. It has emerged from life as we have lived in the sub-continent to create a blended culture and communicate in a manner that we all understand. I can think of no better language which explains human love with such delicacy, from youth to old age, or articulates its ardour, frenzy, passion, longing, desire, submission, reconciliation and parting, as movingly as Urdu. Mainstream Hindi films have always relied on Urdu in their dialogue, script and song lyrics.”
The festival’s inaugural on December 2 will host Javed Akhtar followed by a ghazal concert by Hariharan, and will conclude on December 4 with a Sufi music performance by Richa Sharma. The lineup also includes Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah, Shabana Azmi, Hariharan, Muzaffar Ali, Kumar Vishwas, Shailesh Lodha, Sheykhar Ravjiani, Shilpa Rao, Pratibha Singh Baghel and Rahgir. Among distinguished authors, poets, artists and literary scholars, and acclaimed personalities like Fahmi Badayuni, Sheen Kaaf Nizam, Shakeel Azmi, Udayan Vajpayee and Farhat Ehsas.
Entry is free via registration at https://jashnerekhta.org/