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Keeping their dates for Urdu alive

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Keeping their dates for Urdu alive
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Numerous light bulbs illuminated the small 'mehfil' that gathered at Prithvi House opposite Prithvi theatre in Juhu, where 'Urduwallahs' hold their free for all meet on every second Tuesday of the month. Around 60 young and old people in the audience got a chance to hear personal experiences of Javed Siddiqui (films and theatre veteran) with Begum Akhtar, the legendary singer whose centenary is being celebrated all over the country.

"Urdu was our national language for more than 300 years and we still speak it. The language of films is Urdu even today. All the songs of the past 70 years are still alive in peoples' memories; so, it must mean something, no? It's not a language over which you play tug of war. It's to be enjoyed and cherished. It is surprising and encouraging to see so many youngsters in this mehfil, we are just here to fan the flames," said Siddiqui who added that the Hindi Prachar Sabha had to open Urdu classes because of the increasing demand from youngsters.

Arwa Mamaji and Priya Nijhara decided to create a blog to simplify Urdu for their generation through urduwallahs.wordpress.com and began having a gathering at Prithvi three years ago. "Both of us have a diploma in Urdu and created the blog to vent out our Urdu feelings. We are so anglicised in the way we have been brought up that we are losing touch with our roots and culture. We had the space to create something, so we decided to take some help and become mediators between the know-it-all and know nothing at all," said Arwa who is a documentary film-maker and studied in London before shifting base to Mumbai.

According to her, most of the crowd comes from a media background and that the audience differs according to the topic they cover. Urduwallahs sometimes picks generic topics like children's or women's literature or focuses on famous personalities. "We did one on Premchand and people asked us why him? No, one knows he used to write in Urdu and only began writing in Hindi to make it easy for the audience. Gulzar's real name is Sampuran Singh Kalra and he is a Punjabi, the same way we carry a lot of stereotypes for the language itself," said Arwa who believes that Indian emotions can only be justified by regional or national languages.

Priya comes from a Punjabi background where her grandparents wrote in Urdu and it was their everyday language. She is a marketing professional in a media company and took a diploma from the Anjuman Islam school in south Mumbai to understand the language better. "We think learning French and Spanish is cool and I am questioned when I say that I learned Urdu. After Independence, the language came to be associated with Pakistan or Muslims or as a language of poetry. I was curious about it and decided to pursue it and it has opened the world for me. I incorporate Urdu in my work too. We are trying to keep it alive in our generation," said Priya, who is also planning on creating videos, podcasts and translations of not so popular Urdu artists.

Earlier the blog had 100 people viewing the page, but now it has 2,500 viewing it everyday and it has reached South America, UK, Pakistan and Japan.

Tejasvi Khatri, 19, is studying mass media and was attending the mehfil for the second time. She has never learned or heard Urdu, but is interested in knowing more. "My father listens to a lot of Ghazals and I used to think it's a language for the elite. Anyone can access the internet today and get the meanings. The language connects me to a world I'm not familiar with and its exciting to trace the past. When we can learn German or French in schools, why not Urdu? It's such a beautiful language," he said.

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