DUBAI: Set to vow the crowds by early next year, India’s most-celebrated Urdu festival, Jashn-e-Rekhta, will make its international debut with the UAE chosen as its first stop.
“Dubai provides an excellent platform for the lovers of Urdu who cannot make it to Delhi — which is the home ground of the festival. We believe that [the event] is not only [for] expatriates in the UAE looking to participate in the festival but also for people from across the world,” Sanjiv Saraf, the founder of the group, said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.
Saraf said that it’s too early to announce the dates as his team is laying the groundwork to finalize the logistics and the venue. On last count, Rekhta organized four such festivals, with the fifth being held in Delhi, in December, this year.
“Jashn-e-Rekhta is organized by the Rekhta Foundation in India, which also runs Rekhta.org with the objective of disseminating Urdu literature, especially Urdu poetry,” Saraf, an engineer by profession but also a successful businessman and philanthropist, said.
It all began with an idea to promote Urdu which Saraf says stemmed from his love for the language – something which he inherited from his father.
“Hence, at the age of 55, I started learning, reading and writing Urdu. I realized that there are lots of people who want to learn Urdu but there are few opportunities in India. This eventually led to the formation of Rekhta.org,” he said.
The website is now the largest online repository of Urdu poetry in the world, with a collection of more than 30,000 poems written by 2,500 Urdu poets from the past three centuries. The content is available in Devanagari, Roman and Urdu scripts.
With one language dying every 14 days — according to data published by the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — Saraf said there is no cause for concern for Urdu or its shelf life.
“It is a misconception. Our festival attracts 80 percent of youngsters from the age group of 18-35. It’s just that in India, the kind of interest and affection people show toward the language and its literature, is amazing. No matter whatever we say, the fact is our Hindi film industry uses more words from Urdu. At least in India, as compared to other regional languages, Urdu is progressing and very popular among the masses,” he said.
With certain groups and elements pushing for Hindi to be made the national language of the country, Saraf said it is unfortunate that some people relate speaking Urdu to nationalism – something which he traces back to history.
“The British Empire divided the language into Hindi and Urdu, which eventually classified Hindi as a language for Hindus and Urdu for Muslims. Then the partition happened and Urdu became the national language of Pakistan. These historical factors have influenced a few mindsets,” he said.
However, he also believes that the number of people who see Urdu through a nationalistic lens is declining by the day. “Such fringe elements will always remain, but it won’t discourage us. We are serving the language and will continue to do so,” he said, adding that “Rekhta has nothing to do with religion and politics”.
According to official statistics, 100,000 people visit the website every day. “Around 60 percent traffic is from India and 25 percent from Pakistan and elsewhere,” Saraf said.
So can the language help turn the page on relations between India and Pakistan?
“Why not? Urdu is the strongest connection between both the countries. Millions of people across the border speak the same language and love its literature so much so that Rekhta is a very popular website in Pakistan. We got the second largest traffic on the website from Pakistan,” he said.