Two literary giants of India. One from the east, the other from the west. One wrote in Bangla, the other in Urdu.
While both presented the realities of everyday life, their styles couldn’t have been further apart. There is one detail that binds Rabindranath Tagore with Saadat Hasan Manto — both were born in May.
Advertising veteran Jameel Gulrays has used this seemingly unimportant detail as an excuse to present select works of the masters to the people in Mumbai. Through his initiative Katha Kathan, Gulrays and his team will present dramatised readings of Tagore’s Kabuliwala and Manto’s Taraqqi Pasand. “The idea isn’t to showcase their literary might but to acquaint the audience with the works in their original form and as translations,” says Gulrays. “Tagore & Manto in a Medley of Languages” will be held on May 13 at YB Chavan Auditorium, Nariman Point, Mumbai. Kabuliwala will be read out in Bengali and Hindustani while Taraqqi Pasand’s Urdu original will be followed by a Marathi version.
The dramatised readings will be rendered by a number of artistes — while Madhubanti Mitra, Sumanto Bhattacharya and Rajesh Jha will perform Kabuliwala in Bangla, the Hindustani translation will be showcased
by Jha, Madhavi Ganphule, Priyanka Sharma and Gulrays. Taraqqi Pasand’s Urdu original will be read out by Jha, Gulrays and Ganphule while the Marathi performance will have Ganphule with Vinay Rajwade and Atul Aglawe.
Katha Kathan, which was launched in February this year, has so far hosted four shows, titled “The Other Side of Manto” to showcase four less-known works by the writer. “Manto is mostly remembered for his stark and dark writings on Bombay and Partition. But he wrote across genres. In order to present this, we had dramatised readings of his four short stories in the humour genre,” says Gulrays.
“We call all Indian languages ‘vernacular’, which upsets me. The word comes from the Latin term vernaculus, which means ‘slave’ or ‘low-bred’. It was okay for the Britishers to call our languages that but we have followed suit,” he adds. The need to protect regional languages made him start a YouTube channel by his name a few years ago to upload dramatised readings of Urdu stories. There are close to 800 videos available.
To expand this initiative, Gulrays started to rent performance spaces in the city last year and where he would be the solo performer conducting readings. Earlier this year, he decided that dramatised readings with other artistes will increase the appeal of the shows and help expand the number of languages in the performance. Gulrays hopes that people with knowledge of languages such as Sindhi, Tamil, Malayalam and Assamese will be drawn in, as well.
The Katha Kathan team has close to 12 artistes, from various fields and age groups. Jha is a professional voice-over artiste who can read and write in close to 10 Indian languages. Bhattacharya is a media professional while Sharma is a marketing professional. The team is driven by a passion for literature, and comes together every evening, after day jobs, to rehearse.