Couplets with a click

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Malini Nair

Zulf, rukhsar, chilman, bewafa, maikhana, shama, paimana… no Indian who has grown up and lived on a steady diet of Hindi film songs and Mehdi Hassan could possibly be unfamiliar with this list of love-lorn Urdu words. There will be few who wouldn’t recall a sher to express existential angst or poetize a broken heart with ‘Aur ab yeh alam hai…” from Kabhie Kabhie and trail off with a sigh.

The only thing that leaves legions of Urdu lovers in India gnashing their teeth in frustration is their unfamiliarity with the script. You could struggle through Ghalib Academy’s course, fight your way through the many les sons put out by Jamia Islamia or the National Council for Urdu Promotion, but it is a struggle that not many Urdu lovers have survived. And jaam and shaam are all very well and you gener ally got the drift of the couplet, but what could kuu-e-yaar possibly mean? Also, once you whet your appetite with Ghalib and Mir, where do you find lesser known delights, the bright poets of today?

These were the kind of roadblocks businessman Sanjiv Saraf ran into in his passionate pursuit of Urdu. So Saraf, a team of techies and Urdu scholars started work on rekhta.org, an umbrella web venture which lets people find the meaning of any Urdu word at the click of a button, find every known poet transliterated into Roman script as well as Devnagari, and hear their work being recited or sung. “The idea was to get Urdu out there in any script that helped people access the language. And it had to stand on the bedrock of technology , with a customized interface. Poetry is a live thing, it affects us all -all people needed was some help with script, meanings of words at a click and easy searchability,” says Sarar.

Four years later, Rekhta (the older name for Urdu) has turned into a digital hub for Urdu. Its website pulls in 18,000 visitors daily from over 160 countries people who could be simply reading up their favourite poets, finding new voices, or beefing up their Urdu vocabulary . You could run a search for thousands of suc cinct two-liners on dil by poets across 300 years -better still listen to Begum Akhtar sing some of them.On its Facebook and Twitter forums, there are animated discussions on who are the 50 best shairs or which are the 20 most quoted couplets. There is an app too for Windows and Android phones.

“Rekhta is this huge, magical place where Urdu is celebrated in all its glory. It is now a permanent win dow on my laptop, phone and tablet, connecting my thoughts to poetry. In the middle of a horrible traffic jam for instance, I can reflect on urban root lessness through the poetry of Ahmed Salman,” says Anand Pandey, senior vice-president of Future Brands. An ardent Urdu lover, he would be hamstrung by the non-availability of Devanagri versions of his favourite poets in the market.

Two weeks ago when Saraf hosted the first Jashn-e-Rekhta at Delhi’s India International Centre, he was hoping to make a small mark on the city’s cultural centre. Instead, 15,000 Urdu lovers landed up from the subcontinent, and jostled for space to hear mushairas, dastangoi, discussions and readings.

Remarkably enough, 60% of Rekhta’s followers are under the age of 35, and contrary to the fears of pundits, Urdu is nowhere near fading from the Indian public mindscape, even if it is battling for survival in schools, institutions and other conventional spaces. Rekhta’s own surveys have found that the big hub for Urdu has moved from UP towns to Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Hyderabad.

“We are witnessing a change in how the subcontinent and its diaspora are looking at Urdu. For two decades after Independence, it faced hostility in north India. But it found new followers elsewhere in India. Now, north India too is reclaiming its Urdu legacy.This new wave is being driven by the net,” says Rekhta’s chief editor, Farhat Ehsaas.

Aanchal S, who works with a publishing firm, and her young friends at Delhi Karavan, a tour group dedicated to the city’s heritage, belong to this new profile of Urdu lovers. “I am not just reading the classic poets but also the young ones on Rekhta,” she says. So is Chennai-based marketing profes sional and aspiring poet Mithilesh Baria who is also active on the twitter handle #shair. “If a thought has to be conveyed powerfully , there is no better way of doing it than through a sher,” he says.

Offline, Rekhta has been tapping into its young fanbase by hosting inter-college baitbaazi -the Urdu version of antakshari. The last event across Delhi colleges drew 800 participants in a five hour verse-fest.”Contrary to what most believe, it wasn’t a Muslims-only event. The love for Urdu cuts across political and social barriers,” says Saraf.

Rekhta’s biggest ongoing project is the digitization of Urdu books. It has put 10,000 e-books on its site and is continuing to scour the libraries and private collections for more.

Citation
Malini Nair, “Couplets with a click,” in Times of India, April 19, 2015. Accessed on April 19, 2015, at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-times/Couplets-with-a-click/articleshow/46974469.cms

Disclaimer
The item above written by Malini Nair and published in Times of India on April 19, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on April 19, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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