‘Jashn-e-Rekhta’, the annual festival of Urdu organised by the Rekhta Foundation, was at the centre of a conversation after it sent out some posters of its annual celebration of Urdu, “Jashn-e-Rekhta: Celebrating Urdu” without mentioning the word Urdu. The three-day festival, which is set to hold its sixth edition at Dhyan Chand National stadium in Delhi on December 13, sent out some posters to its speakers, with the title, “Jashn-e-Rekhta: The Biggest Celebration of Hindustani Language & Culture”. The foundation, however, did not make any official statement on the change, which triggered a debate among the admirers of Urdu on Monday. “It seems Jashn-e-Rekhta has surrendered to the powers that be,” says author and journalist Ziya Us Salam, adding that the name change has come about right after the Delhi High Court asked the police to cut down on “difficult” words in Urdu. A spokesperson from Rekhta said that their core has been and will remain Urdu.
Author and historian Rana Safvi, who has been running a campaign to document India’s syncretic culture, says, “I have no idea why the change this year. Hindustani is the spoken language — a mix of Urdu and Hindi, along with local dialects. It is colloquial. The literary language of prose and poetry is Urdu, written in Perso-Arabic script.” The admirers of Urdu say that it’s an attempt to take away Urdu’s due credit from the festival which has established itself in the name of the language. “Rekhta seems to be ditching Urdu,” says Nasheet Shadani, founder of Ishq Urdu, the popular social media initiative to contemporarise the language. “Why call it Hindustani? Why must Urdu, an officially registered language, be known by another name? They don’t call English by 55 names,” Shadani says.
Urdu poets and writers echo the sentiment that the decision must be due to “pressure”. Poet Gauhar Raza says that it is problematic if you can’t hold a festival in the name of Urdu. “It is unfortunate,” he says, adding that the earth seems to be suddenly “shrinking” for Urdu. Shadani says that Rekhta is doing what Bollywood did with Urdu: it began with Urdu, changed to Hindustani and now it’s known as Hindi cinema or music. Raza says that organisers of several mushairas in Delhi and other cities have complained to him about having been asked by public representatives not to hold them. “Grants given to some organisations for Urdu-related events have been cut down,” he says, adding that Urdu is a language that originated in India, and, contrary to what many claim, didn’t come from “outside”. He says, “We gave Urdu to Pakistanis on a platter. Urdu was nurtured in this country, in Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.” No other country, he adds, has abandoned its own language as India seems to be doing with Urdu.
Poet Wasim Barelvi, who will be participating this year, however, argues that it’s a useless debate on language. “Urdu language is Hindustani only. It emerged out of a need. One should focus on the great work that Rekhta has done to promote Urdu by creating a huge archive of literature at one place,” he says.
Jashn-e-Rekhta has a distinct Urdu flavour and brings together admirers of the language from the spectrum of academia as well as popular culture. Some of its annual fixtures have included conversations with distinguished Urdu scholars and writers like Shamsur Rahman Faruqi and Shamim Hanfi, and poets and lyricists Javed Akhtar and Gulzar. This year’s edition will see the presence of several figures from the culture and entertainment sectors, including ghazal singer Radhika Chopra, actor Raza Murad, filmmaker Anubhav Sinha, actor Divya Dutta and sitar maestro Shujaat Khan. Faruqi says that Hindustani was used for Urdu by the British briefly in the 1850s. “I don’t approve of this change. Urdu was never Hindustani,” he says.
Later in the evening, Rekhta sent out fresh posters that read, ‘A Festival of Urdu Celebrating Hindustani Culture’ triggering celebration among those who wanted ‘Urdu’ back.