Urdu back in bastion

He spent his formative years in Bhendi Bazaar, the same locality where controversial writer Saadat Hasan Manto lived for some years. Zubair Azmi, 45, says reading Manto, Ismat Chugtai and Faiz Ahmed Faiz was considered a taboo by his working class Muslim family members.

"My parents would chide me for taking interest in the writings of those who encourage 'free sex' and were 'anti- marriage'. Their politics was considered 'anti-national' by most of us. For me, even as a staunch Islam follower, it was just the love for art. I learnt to look beyond their politics," Azmi says. His maternal uncle's interest in cinema and poems inspired him to dabble in art and literature.

Azmi, a lawyer, worked as a legal adviser in a bank for a few years. However, his love for Urdu poems made him look for an alternative. As he pursued his literary interest, he went on to start Urdu Markaz in 1995 an organisation that working towards reviving the language and its culture. After working for nearly two decades with Urdu and other regional writers, Azmi is set to host the first Urdu festival in Bhendi Bazaar, which was home to connoisseurs of Urdu poetry and literature, such as Kaifi Azmi, Kamal Arohi, Janisar Khan, Sahir Ludhianvi and Majrooh Sultanpuri, among others.

"As a child, I had heard Kaifi sahab speak. Music director Salil Chaudhary would conduct music classes for students at Avami Adara, a library and hall of the Communist party, which also was a commune of the progressive writers. But with time, both the language and the culture faded," Azmi recalls.

To revive people's interest in Urdu, Azmi is organising a three- day annual Urdu festival from January 10 to 12.

On the last Saturday of every month, Urdu and other regional artists of the organisation meet. "They come together for reading out their poems. We organise mushairas, where we discuss and critically analyse poems,"Azmi said.

He added that Urdu Markaz, also has an equal space created for women writers from the community. "It was unimaginable that women could participate in such mushairas. But today, many come here to discuss feminist writings," Azmis states proudly.

However, Azmi is apprehensive that with the redevelopment of the area, the old charm will be buried.

"The balance is lost. Slowly this area will be concretised more and more.... the old charm will die," says Azmi. He is pursuing PhD in Sufism. Azmi's organisation has also approached schools in Mumbai to convince them to teach Urdu. "It is only through schools that Urdu can be made accessible to more people. We have contacted the Archbishop of Mumbai. Talks on introducing Urdu as an optional subject are in the final stage," he says.

sukanya.shetty@expressindia.com

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