It is not often that I rest the chin in my palm, close my eyes and suddenly the world becomes redundant. Obsolete. Nothing matters. Everything inessential. Except the words of Saadat Hassan Manto, the fearless storyteller who could cut through the cadaver of social ills, inhaled the miasma and then told the world about it ruthlessly. The bespectacled writer who claimed he is not the one removing the clothes of a society, the society is naked. The writer who chronicled the pain of partition, was pilloried for obscenity and admitted that “I am not a pornographer, I am a story teller”. I have read Manto. A million times. That moment, it was for Manto that I had thrown the world away.
In the crowd that had gathered for the 4th edition of the annual Jashn-e-Rekhta at New Delhi’s Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, I was looking for Manto. One of the best short story tellers that the alphabet has ever seen. He was not there. He has been dead for 62 years. Had he lived he would have been 105 today. At the Urdu festival’s Manto ke Rubaru session with Nandita Das and Nawazuddin Siddiqui who are working on an eponymous biopic, Manto’s scathing portrayal of the society’s ills were being discussed. The audience stood rapt. Not too far away, at Bazm-e-Khayal, Aslam Mirza, Habeeb Nisar, Naseemuddin Farees were elaborating the forgotten beauty of Urdu poetry while the Bangalore-based band Parvaaz was ready to strum the perfect riff for Urdu meets Alt Rock jam. That is what Jashn-e-Rekhta is about. A celebration of Urdu. At the Jashn, the biggest names in Urdu literature gather to discuss, ideate the nuances of the language; they bring alive the past, meld it with the present in the hope of stringing a more lyrical tomorrow, through mushaira, qawaali, ghazal, dastangoi, plays, film screenings discussion combined with authentic Mughal, Awadhi, Kashmiri, Deccan food, sessions in calligraphy and a Rekhta Bazaar. This celebration of Urdu started when Sanjiv Saraf, an industrialist, returned to a childhood memory — his ancestral home that thrummed with music of Begum Akhtar and Farida Khannum, of his Chemistry teacher at Scindia School in Gwalior reciting Urdu couplets. That love for Urdu was stifled in the rigmarole of everyday existence, of joining the family business, setting up new factories across the world… Saraf still found time to read Ghalib, his favourite, but not enough was available in Devnagari or Roman script and for Saraf the Persian script was like Egyptian hieroglyph. One day, Urdu tugged at his heart. That fortuitous day, Saraf hired an Ustaad and started learning the Persian alphabet - alef, be, pe, le… He was 53, then. That was six years ago. Saraf, as if, abandoned the mundane for the poetic. He mooted the idea of Rekhta Foundation to collate everything about Urdu literature. That one love to led to the beginning of rekhta.org website and Jashn-e-Rekhta.
Spread over three days, divided into four sessions simultaneously (Mehfil-Khana, Bazm-e-Khayal, Dayaar-e-Izhaar, Kunj-e-Shukun) and free to public, Jashn-e-Rekhta brings Urdu out of the academia and lays it on a platter for Everyman who loves the language and smiths it. Khuli Nishist is an open house for poetry recitation and Bazm-e-Naubahar a mushaira for young poets and one specially for women. Radhika Chopra sang Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Pavan K Verma discussed Mirza Ghalib and Amish Tripathi talked of his connection with Urdu. Manto had once said: “…and it is also possible, that Saadat Hasan dies, but Manto remains alive.” He was alive at Jashne-Rekhta. His words live in my heart. Eternally.