There are several things that led two non-Urdu speaking women to start a group called Urduwallahs: a Jagjit Singh ghazal, an old VHS tape of Pakistani show Dhoop Kinare and translated letters of Mirza Ghalib, to name a few.
Seduced by the curves of the lettering, intoxicated by the poetry of its sound, filmmaker Arwa Mamaji and media professional Priya Nijhara decided to explore Urdu further. They started by taking a year-long oral and written tutorial that Arwa says initially felt like an art class. From there, they graduated to reading couplets, then The Inquilab daily newspaper, and can today read Urdu short tales cover to cover. True story.
The Young and the Restless
Arwa and Priya have now started a company called Urduwallahs that aims at making the language and its literature accessible to young people in a contemporary setting. Their first endeavor is a monthly mehfil at Prithvi Theatre (Juhu), which starts not coincidentally, on Valentine’s Day. Yes, he lafz you. Here, “interactions, not stuffy discussions” will range from Gulzar’s poetry and theatre performances to war camps and bazaars that gave birth to the language. Experts like visiting poets, lyricists and professors will frequently be roped in; say hello to playwright/screen writer Javed Siddiqui at the first free session.
Since Arwa and Priya are still “novices” as far as Urdu is concerned, they stress that the Urduwallahs group is not for scholars. “We imagine it will grow into a cluster of people who are curious about the language, know a little bit, but want to learn more about the culture that it spawned,” says Arwa. In between these monthly events, you can check out their blog (http://urduwallahs.wordpress.com), which is updated with any Urdu-relevant events in the city (plays, poetry readings, music shows), provides book recommendations and has a fun Lafz (words) section where elegant words like khalish, purkaif and tehreer are picked like jewels out of bright couplets, and are explained and translated.
Once the group is more established and its working founders find more time, they hope to take interested fellow-Urduwallahs beyond the textbook. “Maybe do a cultural trip to Lucknow where Umrao Jaan filmmaker Muzaffar Ali has opened up his haveli to visitors, giving them a taste of the Urdu culture. Now that would be a cool trip for the Urduwallahs,” she says.
Khuda hafiz and good luck!
Arwa’s Quick Urdu Kit
Learn: You can take weekend classes at Anjuman-i-Islam College at Grant Road. Pass the one year course and you will receive an Urdu diploma from Delhi University. See more course details here.
Watch: DVDs of the old television series Mirza Ghalib starring Naseerudin Shah and directed by Gulzar. Available at Rhythm House, Kala Ghoda.
Read: Ammi by Saeed Mirza. Available on Flipkart.com.
Gawk/Wear: Pretty and insanely expensive olive green kurta with Urdu lettering at Sabyasachi by Sabyasachi, 3rd floor, above Kitsch, Kala Ghoda.
Getting there: Visit http://urduwallahs.wordpress.com, first mehfil on Tuesday February 14 at 7.30 pm at Prithvi Theatre, Janki Kutir, Juhu, free.
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