Sanjiv Saraf, Huma Khalil on preserving, promoting Urdu language and culture

Described by its patrons as the sweetest language, Urdu is loved for its elegance, formality and flow, and Jashn-e-Rekhta is a celebration of its natural beauty

By Manju Ramanan

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Published: Sun 14 Jan 2024, 5:39 PM

The world’s largest Urdu language literary festival, Jashn-e-Rekhta (celebration of the Rekhta, a mixed dialect of Hindustani and Urdu) is coming to Dubai on January 27 and 28 to regale lovers of Urdu poetry, art and music with a two-day extravaganza of talk shows, concerts, storytelling and poetry recitals. Ahead of the only festival in the world dedicated to the language, City Times spoke to the founder of the Rekhta Foundation Sanjiv Saraf, and his wife Huma Khalil, creative director of the Foundation to know more about the much acclaimed platform that aims to preserve and promote Urdu language and culture.

A festival and a movement dedicated to a language - is Jashn-e-Rekhta one of its kind in the whole world?

Sanjiv Saraf: Yes. Its mission is to make Urdu accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or linguistic abilities. Through Rekhta.org and Jashn-e-Rekhta, we aim to create a space where Urdu thrives; where its poetry resonates in the hearts of millions; and where its cultural significance is celebrated with utmost reverence.

How did the Dubai edition come about?

Huma Khalil: Dubai has a large presence of South-East Asians. While Hindi/ Sindhi/ Punjabi speaking people can fully appreciate the finesse of Urdu, they can also enjoy its varied literary forms that have come from global and mainly English narrative techniques. The first edition of Jashn-e Rekhta, Dubai 2024 aims at ‘Preserving the Essence of Urdu’

How do you include various dialects of Urdu under an umbrella? How do you celebrate the inflections, the regional flavours and diversities?

Sanjiv Saraf: Urdu is an extremely tensile and humble language. Be it adopting regional languages or taking inspiration from global literature, Urdu has always been very generous. It never ceases to expand its horizons and has constantly kept innovating itself.

Are you expanding the Urdu formula to other languages?

Huma Khalil: The foundation believes in democratising access to the vast treasure of Hindi as well as the literature of other Indian languages. Through websites like Hindwi.org and Sufinama.org, it showcases the vibrant realms of Hindi literature and the Sufi bhakti tradition. Anjas.org presents the first-ever digital repository of Rajasthani literature. Additionally, Rekhta Urdu Dictionary and Hindi Dictionary serve as trilingual resources for language enthusiasts.

We live in a world of words. How can we influence positive change and progressive thought through words?

Sanjiv Saraf: Any art form can only be popularised through an acceptable medium which people can understand and relate to.. The popularity of ghazals, poetry, mushaira, Urdu dramas, (the storytelling tradition of) Daastangoi clearly shows the relatability. Hence the influence of Urdu on one and all.

There is a general snobbery attached with speaking the right English. Is it so in Urdu too?

Huma Khalil: Just as a poet's pen knows no creed, the luminaries who have embraced Urdu's tender embrace have transcended the barriers of faith. Their words, like ethereal brushstrokes on the canvas of literature, have painted stories of love, longing, and the human experience.

Tell us about Rekhta.org, your website?

Sanjiv Saraf: Our website Rekhta.org is the most important aspect of our foundation as we believe that the written word transcends time, preserving the voices of generations past and offering wisdom to guide us through the present.

How do you plan to attract the youth to this festival?

Huma Khalil: In the new age, a language must adapt to survive. While Western languages dominated the internet with their vast information, literature, dictionaries, tutorials, typing tools, and AI-based software, Urdu and other Indian languages lagged far behind. The idea is to give them a taste of this elixir each day, every day in the script they can read through the website Rekhta.org, with the technology and internet they are familiar with.

What is the agenda of the Dubai chapter?

Huma Khalil: We are honouring Urdu contributors, especially the unsung heroes of Urdu, individuals who have dedicated their lives to the language's enrichment. Our selection is based on honouring those who have actively worked towards the betterment of Urdu literature and language, through music, audio visual media, written content etc.

We aim to promote Urdu beyond glamour. While film celebrities contribute significantly to the entertainment industry and attract large audiences, we wanted to move beyond the glamour associated with them. We want to emphasise the depth and richness of Urdu beyond the entertainment industry, focusing on those who have actively worked towards its promotion in diverse ways and are not merely there for frivolous reasons. People from the film industry such as Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, Mahira Khan, Sameena Peerzada, Osman Peerzada, Abida Parveen, Bee Gul and several others, have been invited to participate because they have contributed towards Urdu through their films, lyrics, music and direction.

We address education by featuring individuals who have played pivotal roles in the educational domain of Urdu. Our goal is to inspire and engage our audience with the intellectual and educational side of the language along with its entertainment aspect. Everyone would like to take something from the festival after spending precious hours and we want to ensure they have enriched their beings by being a part of the festival.


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