London Diary: A flavour of Urdu in London

Organisers promise ‘an immersive experience into the composite culture from which Urdu originated’. It will offer an eclectic fare comprising music, dance, dastangoi, mushaira, and qawwali

A Jashn-e-Rekhta event poster (Photo courtesy:
A Jashn-e-Rekhta event poster (Photo courtesy:

Hasan Suroor

Jashn-e-Rekhta, the popular festival of Urdu literature, is to make its London debut next month following in the footsteps of the Jaipur Literature Festival and the Khushwant Singh Literary Festival.

Billed as a ‘wide canvas of poetry, satire and cultural heritage’ (Urdu hai jiska naam: Adab se tanz o mizah tak) it has already generated much hype in London’s modest but knowledgeable circle of Urdu lovers.

Tickets have gone on sale, and, it seems, the demand has already exceeded expectations.

Organisers promise ‘an immersive experience into the composite culture from which Urdu originated’. Adjectives are flying around to describe the fare being offered. “A captivating tapestry, interweaving the exquisite threads of Urdu’s cultural opulence,” is how an official spokesman described the upcoming event.

Modelled on the same free-wheeling and informal format that has made it such a hit with Delhiwallahs, it will offer an eclectic fare comprising music, dance, dastangoi (storytelling), conversations, mushaira, and qawwali.

One official described the first edition as an “appetizer”. “This first edition of Jashn-e-Rekhta London, seeks to foster the desire of all to delve deeper into the uplifting philosophy that this zubaan-e-ishq (language of love) offers,” he said. The date to remember is 28 October, and the venue is Westminster Chapel, if you happen to be in London.

It’s Rishi Sunak’s English, again

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s English continues to be a subject of amusement after he made another gaffe within days of being mocked for mixing his metaphors while praising England women footballers as reported in these columns.

This time, he faced ridicule for using a colloquial term to describe how he sat in Margaret Thatcher’s old car. Instead of the standard usage, ‘I sat on her old car’, he tweeted: ‘I was sat’ on Maggie’s car. Really, Prime Minister? ‘We were stood, you were standing, he was sat, they were seated—is it all over for the standard English past tenses?’ asked The Times after readers pointed out that it was considered ‘ungrammatical’ in standard English.

Rishi Sunak (Photo: DW)
Rishi Sunak (Photo: DW)

The Times own stylebook prohibits this usage. Critics wondered if Sunak normally wrote and spoke like this, or was he consciously ‘stooping down’ to the language of social media? Some accused him of ‘abusing’ the English language.

To be fair to Sunak, while the usage is ungrammatical in formal English, it remains standard in regional dialects. It figures in the British National Corpus, a collection of 100 million samples of late 20th century British English, which has 3,000 examples from dialects of northern and southwest England.

But prime ministers, especially those educated at posh schools and universities, are expected to stick to standard English.

Why Britons disliked Mohamed al-Fayed

Long before Russian tycoons invaded Britain and launched the ‘big grab’ of British real estate and business, there was Mohamed al-Fayed, a self-made Egyptian businessman, virtually unknown here.

He arrived in London in the 1970s with the dream of making it big. And boy! did he do just that, ending up buying the famous Harrods store, the jewel in the crown of the British business establishment; gobbling up prime properties all over the UK; and rubbing shoulders with the royal family. Yet when he died recently (30 August) aged 94, few tears were shed for him.

Shed tears? On the contrary, the media coverage has been rudely negative. He died a broken man with his biggest wish—securing British citizenship—remaining unfulfilled. Ironically, his most cherished moment—the acquistion of Harrods—also proved to be his undoing because of the underhand means he used to acquire it.

It became a big political scandal as a government investigation found that he had been dishonest about his wealth to secure the takeover. It resulted in his application for British citizenship being rejected. His reputation never really recovered.

He further alienated the establishment with his unsubstantiated allegation that the car crash which killed princess Diana and his son, Dodi al-Fayed, was plotted by British intelligence and the royal family.

After that he was cast out from the circles he had spent a lifetime cultivating. In 2010, Fayed sold Harrods to the investment arm of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund for a reported £1.5 billion. Many believe that he was a victim of Britain’s class system which never accepted him because of his origins.

Mohamed al-Fayed, former Harrod's owner and father of Dodi al-Fayed (Photo: Getty Images)
Mohamed al-Fayed, former Harrod's owner and father of Dodi al-Fayed (Photo: Getty Images)
Getty Images

‘Dunnit’ for Instagram

Once upon a time, going down on your knees to ask someone to marry you was considered a private moment and had a surprise element: it could be turned down. But in the age of Instagram and Tik- Tok, it is increasingly becoming a public event with young Brits paying ‘proposal planners’ thousands of pounds to shoot their declarations ready to go on social media.

Proposal planning has become big business with prospective partners spending an average of £2,500 to make their betrothal memorable. Critics say that involving a third party in a private affair is bad manners, likely to embarrass the other side. So, what next? Divorcing live on Instagram?

And, finally, a new word to describe the trend where the quality of consumer products is downgraded while the price remains unchanged: ‘skimpflation’. The most frequently cited examples include toilet paper, low-end cosmetics, crisps, sweets, chocolate and cakes.

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