Urdu and the young Hyderabadi

Daneesh Majid | Updated on November 08, 2019

Revival mode: An Anjuman gathering includes open-mic sessions where versifiers can recite or sing their work   -  ABUL FAIZ RIYAZUDDIN AHMED

A unique language platform is reintroducing young Hyderabadis to the etiquette, culture and poetry of their forefathers

Lovers of Urdu verse gather at poetry-reading sessions in many parts of the world on November 9 every year. It is a special day, for it marks the birth anniversary of the much-admired Urdu poet Allama Iqbal. But while the gatherings celebrate Urdu and its poetry, there is something missing there: And that is the presence of the young.

Two college students from Hyderabad saw the anomaly and decided they had to do something about it. Though fond of Urdu poetry themselves, they realised that the language was alien to young Hyderabadis. “I noticed a lack of space for young people to learn, compose and recite Urdu poetry,” says Riyaasat Ali Asraar, a student at the Muffakham Jah College of Engineering and Technology.

The idea took shape when he met the poet Zaki Haider, a student of Anwar-ul-Uloom College, at an open-mic session of Urdu poetry in early 2018. Soon, they had decided that they needed to set up a platform for the language. With many active volunteers and a talented pool of poets pitching in, this group — known as Anjuman-e-Fanaan (constellation of artistes) — was set up within a few months.

Unlike earlier generations, most young people do not read, write or understand Urdu. But, Haider points out, one does not have to be a prominent poet, an academic or a master calligrapher to start enjoying the language.

At Anjuman gatherings, the grammar of the language is highlighted by Asraar, who, as the grandson of the renowned Deccan poet Riyaasat Ali Taj, grew up imbibing the meters and rhyme schemes of Urdu poetry. He is also proficient in both the relatively simpler nasq variety of the Urdu script that resembles Arabic print and the ornate calligraphic nastaliq.

From mid-April last year, Anjuman began holding open-mics, where versifiers could recite or sing their works, and Asraar started giving participants simple lessons about the language. The initial workshop and open-mic sessions brought in other like-minded youngsters.

“The structures and nuances I learned from Anjuman have re-introduced me to the etiquette and culture of my forefathers,” says Abul Faiz Riyazuddin Ahmed, the great-grandson of Rafat Yar Jung Bahadur, a social reformer and subedar of Warangal district in present-day Telangana.

Ahmed has begun writing poetry now and has revived his legacy by using the pen name Faiz Jung, combining his first name with the title bestowed upon his forefather by the seventh Nizam.

The participants are an eclectic lot. Take Srujana Satyavada, whose mother tongue is Telugu but who writes in Hindustani. “I have never considered Urdu as a Muslim language,” says the analytics manager at ICICI Bank and a fan of the Pakistani poet Parveen Shakir.

The organisers seek to stress that Anjuman is not promoting an “Islamic” language but one with majestic lyrical techniques that cut across religions and languages. “If English poet Agha Shahid Ali wrote some of his verses as per the Urdu frameworks, why can’t we help others do the same in other languages?” Haider asks.

Other than the open-mics and workshops that help weave this poetic patchwork of ethnicities, the team has held commemorative events, called Yaad, for Urdu greats. Audiences are treated to panel discussions, recitations by Anjuman members, and sometimes robust qawaalis as well. Seasoned experts are bought in for the panels to help the uninitiated understand the nuances of the language and poetry.

The group now plans to create literary magazines to publish Urdu poetry and help members learn the nastaliq script. It is also looking at releasing a booklet titled An idiot’s guide to shayari.

The organisers manage to fund the sessions with their own resources or through sponsors, though they are also ticketed on occasions. The events are advertised mostly on social media.

“We use modern/millennial techniques as they are active on social media. We ensure that nothing looks boring. The open-mics and the workshops are all inventions of today’s generation. Apart from this, we ourselves don’t believe Urdu is an old language — it is as young as we are,” says Asraar.

Recently, the Delhi-based Rekhta, a cultural body, tied up with Anjuman-e-Fanaan to expand its presence down south. To encapsulate the journey of the fraternity, Asraar commenced the Shaam-e-Rekhta cultural event with these classic Iqbal lines:

Gaye din ke tanha tha main anjuman mein

Yahaan ab mere raazdaan aur bhi hai

(Gone are the days when I was alone in company

Many here are my confidants now)

Daneesh Majid is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad

Published on November 08, 2019

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