Sanjiv Saraf: The man who gave Urdu the kiss of life

Staying in touch with Urdu

That Urdu, often considered the language responsible for partition in 1947, would turn into the lingua franca for thousands of its connoisseurs (the ones not familiar with it) at the three-day Jashn-e-Rekhta celebrations in Delhi’s India International Center, was a dream come true for its creator, Sanjiv Saraf as well as for the ones whose mother tongue it is. He is of the view that Urdu is resurgent these days and certainly at its pinnacle. He doesn’t buy the story that Urdu is dying.

Urdu was all over in the festival celebrating the composite heritage of the language in all forms including dastangoi (story-telling), play (based on a Krishna Chander story), critical appreciation, mushaira (poetic gathering), qawwali (musical saga), ghazal sarai (recitation of Urdu poetry), baitbaazi and nashist (discussions). Eminent litterateurs and lovers of Urdu like Intezar Hussain, Javed Akhtar, Gopi Chand Narang, Zia Mohyeddin, Wasim Barelvi, Nida Fazli, Asif Farrukhi (writer from Lahore), Ajmal Kamal, Ziya-Us-Salam, Shamim Hanafi, Ashok Vajpeyi, Rana Safvi, CM Naim, Saeed Alam and many more adorned Urdu celebrations.

Kedarnath Singh, a lover of Urdu, believes that the world is progressing and in this situation no language can establish a strong connection with its readers without the help of modern technology and that’s what led to Rekhta. Aided by technology, it’s touching new heights today

Shafey Kidwai describes Jashn-e-Rekhta as a festival to celebrate the quintessential spirit of Urdu, its inclusive ethos and creative character. He’s proud to declare that today, Rekhta has become the biggest Urdu networking hub. When asked as to what is there for Saraf, the chairman of India’s big corporate Polyplex Limited (Noida) dealing in polyethylene terephthalate films, to eke out of this language of merely sher-o-shairi, he quipped, “Urdu and Ghalib are at my heart and I had desired to serve the language since my days of youth. However, Urdu is not merely sher-o-shairi, ghazal, qawwali, masnawi and marsiah. It’s the epitome of our Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb (composite culture). Urdu is a language born out of our syncretism accruing out of the commonality of cultures.”

Saraf also added that Jashn-e-Rekhta is a platform to showcase the world of Urdu through the eyes and experience of its masters. The aim is to reach out to both the Urdu speaking and the non-Urdu speaking audience. True, evolving, adapting and enduring — has been the story of Urdu in modern times. It’s a language that has the unique distinction of going beyond its script, beyond all boundaries.

Sanjiv Saraf

Rekhta, a website of collections of old and modern representative poetry, is an online treasure of Urdu available in Roman, Devnagri and Urdu scripts with correct and authentic text. On this unique website one can listen to the poetry and find the meaning of difficult words too.

Kedar Nath Singh, a lover of Urdu, believes that the world is progressing and in this situation no language can establish a strong connection with its readers without the help of modern technology and that’s what led to Rekhta. Aided by technology, it’s touching new heights today. The plethora of Urdu websites is testimony to its continuing popularity.

Urdu Bazaar's Kutubkhana Anjuman Tarqqqui

On its e-book section, a huge collection of rare books, manuscripts, and other literary materials and publications are being gathered at Rekhta. This website includes one more specialty; the poets are recorded in audio and video forms in studios and the poetry meets and mushairas are organised here too.

Till now 15,000 ghazals and nazms (light poetry) around 12000 poets and more than three thousand e-books have been included in Rekhta. Watchword is quality. What is true is that even today after fidgeting with umpteen vicissitudes, Urdu has neither been on oxygen or dying as claimed by many. Rather, it’s thriving. Saraf, often desired to collect all of Ghalib’s 1100 Urdu couplets and 6700 Persian couplets to be saved in Devnagri or transcribed in Roman such that even those could have access to the glory of the language that had not learnt it. In fact the uplift of Urdu was always at the back of his mind as a surrogate career. It has almost become one as at his Noida office, he has a huge staff for Urdu.

Urdu Khilona-most popular kids' magazine, stopped

Farhat Ahsas, a poet associated with Rekhta tells the project is aimed at attracting the big educational and literary institutes of India, Pakistan and the world so that after their inclusion the research scholars of Urdu, will be able to complete their research works and students can get benefit of this treasure right from their homes through the website.

Speaking on the appeal of Urdu, Sukrita Paul Kumar stated, “Urdu Chairs have been set in the universities of Cambridge and Oxford in the UK and also in the universities in Germany, China, Egypt, Jordan and Malaysia. Urdu is the language plain and simple and easily comprehensible whose future is bright. Urdu is the second language read and understood most in India, third in the USA while fourth in Britain.”

Urdu Bazaar books

Points out Ravish Kumar, an Urdu buff, “There is a large population of non-Urdu speaking poetry enthusiasts who want to access Urdu poetry. While there are hundreds of websites on the subject, they are not accessible in Hindi and English. This seething gap has been filled by Sanjiv Saraf.”

In fact, Saraf has a suggestion, “I feel if industrialists like us can just take care of this language, Urdu can soon recover its lost sheen. It also reminds us of the Shankar-Shad Mushaira conducted by the Shriram Industries and Jashn-e-Bahar by eminent socialite, Kamna Prasad. Urdu has bloomed and enriched owing to the support from these rich benefactors.

One thing that Rekhta has overlooked, ignored or may be not yet been serious about, is the inclusion of children’s literature. It’s unfortunate that the elders of the language seem to acquire cold feet regarding this extremely important literary genre

One thing that Rekhta has overlooked, ignored or may be not yet been serious about, is the inclusion of children’s literature. It’s unfortunate that the elders of the language seem to acquire cold feet regarding this extremely important literary genre. In fact legendary children’s magazines of yore like Khilauna, Payam-e-Taleem, Toffee, Chandanagri, Shareer, Ghuncha, Jasnnat ka Phool, Gul Bootey, Bachchon ka Sathi, etc, seem to have been obliterated as most of these except a couple, have stopped.

Khilauna Urdu monthly, a treasure trove of Urdu culture and heritage for children, had carved its niche in the hearts of both elders as well as kids with umpteen extremely readable stories, poems, cartoons and cartoon strips, comics like Suraj ka Bahadur Beta Shamsi, Hamarey Naam (readers’ letters), Batao to Bhala (riddles), Muskurahatein (jokes), Tumhara Khat Mila (readers’ queries slot), Nanhi Munni Kahaniyan (a column for young writers), Hamara Akhbar (newspaper clippings) and lot more. Ilyas Dehlvi, the editor, titled the editorial page as Apni Batein. May be it has not been pointed to Saraf as there’s no reason why he shouldn’t do it.

Firoz Bakht Ahmed

The author is an educator and commentator on social issues and grand-nephew of Maulana Azad. He can be contacted at: [email protected]



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