City Culture - Rekhta, Urdu Poetry

City Culture – Rekhta, Urdu Poetry


Click on Ghalib.

[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]

With the launch of Rekhta, the most comprehensive website on Urdu poetry, the 800-year-old tradition finds itself dragged screaming and kicking into the 21st century. Unveiled in January 2013 at a ceremony in India Habitat Centre, the site offers everything from ghazals and couplets to audio clips and poets’ biographies, all available at a few clicks of a mouse. The word ‘rekhta’ meaning “scattered, mixed, the old name of Urdu poety.”

At the moment of writing this piece, contains 2,700 ghazals and 2,000 couplets from 230 poets – everyone from Ghalib and Gorakhpuri to their contemporary counterparts in Lucknow and Lahore. The site has an online dictionary, spanning to over 35,000 words, and 11 e-books with hyper-linked indexes.

“More poets, more ghazals, more dictionary meanings and more e-books are being added to Rekhta day by day,” says Sanjiv Saraf, the website’s promoter, whose US-based daughter designed the maroon-colored site. The Delhi Walla met him at his workplace in Noida.

The 54-year-old Mr Saraf does not fit the stereotype of an Urdu poetry connoisseur. He is neither Muslim, nor does he live in Purani Dehli. An IIT alumnus, he is the founder and chairman of Polyplex Corporation, a Rs 2,500 crore multinational and one of the world’s largest producers of polyster film. “My father was fond of ghazals and I grew up listening to Begum Akhtar, Ghluam Ali and Farida Khannum,” he says, adding, “about two years ago, I stepped back from the business to focus on my passion, ghazals. However, I was quickly disillusioned with what was on the net — no credible sources, incomplete verses, often only in Urdu script with unreadable fonts. A vast treasure of poems, I feared, would be lost if it was not properly digitized, archived and preserved.”

In mid-2011 Mr Saraf set up a team of 15 archivists to produce a website on everything related to Urdu poetry. A 10-member panel comprising university professors, poets and research scholars was formed to check for authenticity of the published material and to advise on the most representative selection of the work for each poet. (Ahmad Mahfouz, professor at Jamia Millia Islamia University and leading expert on Mir, was contacted to shortlist the poet’s repertoire of more than 2,000 ghazals.) Books for cross-reference were sourced from Maktaba Jamia bookstore in Old Delhi’s Urdu Bazaar and the Sunday book market in Daryaganj.

To assist non-Urdu speakers in the appreciation of the poems’ true talafuzz (enunciation) and leheza (accent), each ghazal was recorded (against a background of sitar chords) by professionals, more used to training FM channel RJs in Urdu pronunciation. Some poets such as Allahabad’s Abdul Hamid and Hyderabad’s Rauf Khair were called in to recite their own poetry and some such as Delhi’s Fasih Akmal, known for his melancholy-tinged baritone voice, recorded his own ghazals as well as of others

Transcribed in Urdu, Devnagri and Roman scripts, the poems can be mailed, printed or even shared on Facebook.

One of the most interesting features of the website is its search engine customized to ignore errors of mixed or incorrect spellings, inevitable when Hindi or Urdu lexis is transliterated. What is more, in the same vein as a smart phone app, users can access the full text of a half-forgotten ghazal simply by inputting the few words on the tip of their tongue.

“Rekhta will remain ad free,” says Mr Saraf. “It is not just for those who have a curiosity for Urdu, but also for those whose hearts are touched by poetry.”

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