10 years of Rekhta : The Tribune India

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10 years of Rekhta

What began as a hobby project is the largest online repository of Urdu literature. And a new journey still begins every day. Rekhta dictionary is the largest tri-lingual dictionary in the world. Our next big thrust is audio-visual because people are moving away from the written word

10 years of Rekhta

Naseeruddin Shah (C) and Ratna Pathak Shah at the recent 'Jashn-e-Rekhta' with host Saif Mahmood.

Sanjiv Saraf

Ten years ago when we launched Rekhta (voice of Urdu poetry), it was because of my ishq for Urdu. It started as a sort of a hobby project and I could never envision that it would grow into something this big. But right from the start, the amount of popularity, readership and feedback that we got was really encouraging. There was only one person with me, Dharmendra Saha, when we began. Today, 200 persons are working full-time at Rekhta.

It has been an interesting and rewarding journey because this seed fructified into a tree right from the word ‘go’. We got instant gratification in the form of feedback and the love and joy that it spread.

Initially, we had thought of uploading the famous kalam/sher of only 50 prominent poets. Now there are over 5,000 poets on the website. I have lost count of how much content is there in terms of ghazals, sher, nazams, e-books, etc.

When we started, there was not much available online. Urdu is such a beautiful language and the poetry, specially, is so amazing. I felt it should reach everyone who enjoys good poetry. The initial idea was to provide a platform where reliable and complete content is accessible to people who can’t read Urdu.

One thing led to another. We soon realised that Urdu books are also gradually fading away. Nobody is publishing them. Whatever literature is available should be preserved. So we started a scanning project. We began with one machine. At present, we have 40 machines in 17 cities, scanning and uploading material. We have digitised over two lakh books so far. The content is accessible to everybody. It is being consumed not just by common people but academicians, scholars, professors, students and universities even in the US, such as Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley and Chicago, as well as in India and other countries are using the content as reference material.

We have moved on to other languages and other literature besides Urdu because I feel our experience at Rekhta should be leveraged across all our regional languages. We are now working on Hindi, Rajasthani and Sufi literature, though Urdu still remains the largest body of work.

The response to other languages is picking up. Every region will have its own interests but Urdu has a much larger geography — from Kashmir to Mysore, Maharashtra to Bihar. It is a transnational language as well. After India, Pakistan is our largest readership base, besides expats across the world as well as in Urdu-speaking countries.

Rekhta is quite popular among the youth, especially those in the age bracket of 18-30. Urdu is the language of love as well as sophistication. You can communicate difficult things also but in a soft and sweet manner. That’s what attracts the youth to start with. Sometimes, I feel Urdu is most appropriate for social media platforms, especially Twitter, because you can say the most profound things in just one sher. It is also easy to remember just two lines, unlike Hindi poems that are usually long. It is also provides a perfect medium for self-improvement and self-upgradation. When you use it socially or among friends, you feel more sophisticated, come across as more intelligent and witty. Whatever reason attracted you to Urdu, once you taste it, you are hooked.

I myself learnt it late in life at 52, but it wasn’t difficult. In three months, I was able to do basic reading, the rest is all practice. The advantage of learning Urdu is that you can discover content which is otherwise not published in Devanagari or Roman.

Ghalib remains my eternal favourite as it was love for his poetry that started this whole journey. However, over the years, I am still discovering a lot. An author I absolutely love is Pakistani satirist Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi. Faiz Ahmad Faiz is a poet you can read again and again. I like Ashraf Shad’s work and Ibne Safi’s detective novels are great fun to read.

I spent 35 years in business. Everything was transactional. It was all about fayda yaa nuksaan (profit or loss). In poetry, it’s everybody’s gain. A huge benefit of Rekhta is that you meet amazing people — writers, performers, poets, scholars… duniya alag hai yeh (It is a different world). I spend all my time in Rekhta offices now.

A new journey begins every day. Rekhta dictionary is the world’s largest tri-lingual (Urdu-Hindi-English) dictionary. Our next big thrust is audio-visual because the consumption is moving away from the written word. We are setting up another studio in Delhi to produce creative content rather than just copy-paste. This one will fully focus on content creation in different formats, including short films. We have just produced a 1.5-hour movie on a famous shayar. We have plans to produce full-length feature films, including biopics.

The response to Jashn-e-Rekhta, our flagship people event, has seen a massive response all over India. The first edition saw participation by a few thousands. The seventh edition last December had more than a lakh in attendance. It had people coming from, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bhopal, Lucknow, and other places where Urdu is spoken. There’s much demand from other cities for similar events. We have recently started a programme called College Connect under our Rekhta campus project. We are taking Urdu poetry and music to various colleges.

A thought that constantly arises in my mind is about continuing the legacy of Rekhta. I do not expect anybody else, at least within the family, to suddenly develop a love for Urdu and show the same commitment and passion.

I have the benefit of being an engineer, of having management experience in running large organisations, the resources and, above all, love for the language. I don’t think it will be a one-person job. It will have to be a few people working together to make things happen.

Rekhta has enriched my life immensely in so many ways. I have become a much calmer, peaceful, happier person than I was in my business life. I find it a much better phase than my earlier life as an industrialist. However, the business enabled me to start Rekhta.

I have also written and published four books. My last book ‘Love, Longing and Loss’ is a collection of couplets that I liked across the years. There’s a sher for every situation and mood of life and is celebrated in this book. It is an effort to bring Urdu poetry to youngsters and other people in a distilled manner. Two more are in the pipeline — filmi ghazals (‘Bahar-e-Nagma’) and 100 ghazals of Ghalib (‘Andaz-e-Bayan Aur’).

At Rekhta, we have always celebrated Urdu as a Hindustani language. Zubaan ka koi mazhab nahi hota. This common man’s language is purely Indian. It was born here, brought up here, groomed here and flourished here. Script is Farsi; but grammar, verb, syntax poora Hindustani hai; 70 per cent vocabulary is from India. It has words from Braj bhasha, khadi boli, aur bhi zubane shamil hai isme (it has words from other languages).

At Rekhta, we shun religion and politics and follow a non-controversial and non-divisive path. We celebrate Diwali as well as Eid through shayari. Hamara kaam hai adab aur mohabbat (Our work is literature and love). In Jigar Moradabadi’s words:

“Un kaa jo farz hai vo ahl-e-siyasat jaaney

Mera paigaam mohabbat hai jahaan tak pahunche.”

(Those who are politicians, they know their duties. My message is only of love — may it reach far and wide.)

— The writer is the founder of www.rekhta.org

(As told to Renu Sud Sinha)

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