Urdu Academy of North America Organizes Literary Evening
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Speakers at the Literary Evening organized by the Urdu Academy of North America
After an absence of more than five years because of my departure from the Bay Area, I had the opportunity to attend the literary evening of the Urdu Academy of North America on February 15, 2009. The literary evening is now a regular monthly feature of the Urdu Academy under the title of mehfil e sher o sukhan, i.e. a gathering of poets and poetry lovers. But I believe it is more than that, though the Urdu Academy website or Facebook did not say anything about its broader objectives other than that of promoting Urdu literature.
The literary evenings of the Urdu Academy are now playing a much broader role. I will focus on the Academy’s role in promoting friendship and peace in South Asia a little later; first let us recount the proceedings of the literary evening that began as usual at around 3 pm and continued till 6.30 pm at the Pakistani American Culture Center (PACC) in San Jose. Surprisingly, despite a long weekend and not so friendly weather with heavy rain, lovers of Urdu turned up in a substantial number. The organizers, led by the Academy President Tashie Zaheer, were not expecting such a large crowd.
The usual format of mehfil e sher o sukhan is a talk about one of the classical poets and one of the modern day poets. Maqalat are presented highlighting their works and contributions to Urdu language and literature. Their poetry is also recited by the participants.
This month’s chosen poets were Shaikh Imam Bakhsh Nasikh (1772-1837) and Akhtar Ansari Dehlvi (1909-1970s). Dr. Tahir Mahmood and Arshad Rasheed presented absorbing maqalat on the life and work of Nasikh while Tashie Zaheer and Wiqar Ahmad Khan presented maqalat on the life and work of Akhtar Dehlvi.
Imam Nasikh is the founder of a new trend in the Urdu poetry of his time in Lukhnow where Urdu has been the lingua franca for centuries. The Urdu poetry of his time had deteriorated because of extreme sexism and hollow compositions. Nasikh gave a new trend to poetry which conveys a positive message. He also formulated rules for Urdu poetry composition.
Dr. Ghazala Ansari, Hamida Bano Chopra, Javed Omrani and Ken Sherfey presented the poetry of Nasikh who is the creator of the immortal verse:
Zindagi Zinda Dili Ka Naam Hay
Murda Dil Kiya Khaak Jia Karte Hain
The second chosen poet of the literary evening was Akhtar Ansari Dehlvi. Born in Badanyun but got education and worked as English teacher in Delhi. Tashie Zaheer, Meraj Sultana, Dr. Tahir Mahmood and Abdul Razzak Adenwala presented the poetry of Akhtar Dehlvi who is the creator of the well-known verse:
Yaad e Maazi Azaab Hai Yaarab
Chheen le Mujhse Hafza Mera
The first session of the program ended with an emotional Punjabi poem by the Literary Evening Chairperson, Rubina Nasir, which she had written on the passing away of her 20-year-old son. The poem brought tears in Rubina’s eyes and made the audience somber.
Rubina is from Faisalabad and visiting her son here. Her first collection of poetry was published in April 2007 under the title Mere Khu’ab (My Dreams):
Ranj Jitna Bhee Karein Un Ka Zamane Wale
Jane Wale To Nahein Loat Ke Ane Wale
After the tea-break the program began with the recitation of a poem, “A complaint of the Muslims from America,” by Dr. Karim M. Hussain. The Complaint is a parody of Allama Iqbal’s popular poem “Shikwa.” The poem, written at the departure of Bush in January, drew wide applause from the audience.
Continuing the light mood of the audience, Abdus Sattar Ghazali, presented a poem titled ‘Treatment with food.’ The poem was written some 50 years back by an Indian hakeem who happened to be a poet. The art of this poem is that each verse contains full prescription of a disease.
The recitation of the two light poems was followed by bait bazi which is a very rich poetic tradition popular among poetry enthusiasts.
Another salient feature of the literary evening was a poem by 88-year-old Professor Gurbakhsh Sachdev. He was a student of the legendary Pakistani poet, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, who was at one time teaching at the MAO College Amritsar. The title of Prof. Sachdev’s poem was “Sanjhe” that carried the message of peace and harmony between India and Pakistan. He said that the sub-continent has been divided and we do not want to demolish the wall of partition but still we can become friends and good neighbors. Despite his very old age, Prof. Sachdev’s memory is fresh about his teacher Faiz. In his poem, he also recalled the names of his childhood Muslim friends.
A section of the audience at the Urdu Academy of North America function
Prof. Sachdev’s poem was a reflection of Urdu Academy’s greater role in promoting friendship, harmony and peace between India and Pakistan. SF Bay Area with substantial population of Indians and Pakistanis is the most suitable place to launch people-to-people contact for peace in South Asia.
Like music, art, culture and language have no boundaries. Urdu is playing a very positive role in bringing together people from the turmoil-ridden South Asia. There are a number of groups which are dedicated to this cause but perhaps the Urdu Academy has joined these efforts by default.
According to the Urdu Academy President, Tashie Zaheer, the Urdu language is a common bond among the people of South Asia . “ Urdu along with Hindi is the fourth largest language of the world after Chinese, English and Spanish, according to George Weber’s article Top Languages: The World’s 10 Most Influential Languages in Language Today.”
Tashie believes that besides the love for Urdu, many of his literary evening patrons and supporters are attracted because of this common bond.
Not surprisingly, Urdu enthusiasts, Retired Brigadier Dr. Mathur (an eye surgeon) and another retired Brigadier Shiv Mehdi Ratta, are regular guests of the literary sessions. Other Indian well wishers of the Urdu Academy include Prof. Sujata Chohan of DeVry University, Engineer Sunjay Sethi, Engineer Nagesh Abadhani, Realtor Tara Saagar and Hameeda Bano Chopra who has dedicated her life to teaching Urdu.
Tashie Zaheer is happy that the Urdu Academy through its literary evenings is not only helping in preserving the rich cultural heritage of South Asia but also promoting the cause of peace and harmony in that part of the world.