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The word is out in Bhendi Bazaar

The second edition of the Bhendi Bazaar Urdu Festival will bring back memories of mushairas held here, while celebrating the works of long-forgotten writers and poets

The Bhendi Bazaar Urdu Festival is back with its second edition, after 2014. The three-day festival, which will be inaugurated by Mumbai mayor Snehal Ambekar will present an interesting Mushaira (poetry symposiums) of non-Urdu and non-Muslim poets and a discussion that will see non-Urdu litterateurs, academicians and intellectuals share their thoughts on Urdu, since the organisers believe that Urdu doesn't belong to a particular community.

Cine legend Dilip Kumar (right) and director Ramanand Sagar (centre) with Urdu writer Krishan Chander at the latter's house in Santacruz where Chander hosted many eminent Urdu writers who travelled to Mumbai
Cine legend Dilip Kumar (right) and director Ramanand Sagar (centre) with Urdu writer Krishan Chander at the latter's house in Santacruz where Chander hosted many eminent Urdu writers who travelled to Mumbai

A photo dating back 25 years shows scholar-poet Shamim Tariq (standing) at a mushaira on Byculla's Saboo Siddik grounds
A photo dating back 25 years shows scholar-poet Shamim Tariq (standing) at a mushaira on Byculla's Saboo Siddik grounds

The guide picks the events to watch out for:
> Singer Pooja Gaitonde will perform Bollywood songs inspired by letters exchanged between Jan Nisar Akhtar and Safia Akhtar.
> Qawwali by Mujtaba Nazan
> Radhika Nayak Sood from the Kabir Festival will sing the Kalam of Bule Shah.
> Smita Belhur will sing Amir Khusro's Kalams.
> An exhibition of rare photographs of Urdu Bollywood writers will be displayed.
> An exhibition depicting Mumbai's Urdu culture will feature old photographs of poets, mushairas, seminars and 'adabi' gatherings.
> Noted calligraphist Prakash Patre will display his creative genius in poster design.

Zubair Azmi, Director, Urdu Markaz. Pics/Shadab Khan
Zubair Azmi, Director, Urdu Markaz. Pics/Shadab Khan

Time 5 pm to 10 pm
From January 8 to 10
At Imambada Urdu Municipal School, opposite Saboo Sidik Hospital, Bhendi Bazaar.

Hub of Urdu literature
Located opposite the Minara Masjid on Mohammed Ali Road, Taj Office is the largest Urdu book depot in the city. It is open all week, between 12 noon to 7.30 pm. There is also Maktaba Jamia on Sandhurst Road. However, if you have a book in mind and wish to get it ordered, you can try the Kitab Khana in Fort.

Call 23424806 (Taj Office)
Call 61702276 (Kitabkhana), Time 10.30 am to 7.30 pm, daily

The dying art of tughra
Situated in one of the lanes of Nagpada, a neighbouring area of Bhendi Baazar, 64-year-old Aslam Kiratpuri runs the city's only tughra studio. Tughra is a calligraphic monogram that first appeared in the early days of the Ottoman Empire as the seal or signature of the sultan.

In the modern form, Tughras are used to write verses of Quran in an artistic form. Sadly, it's a dying art in Mumbai with Kiratpuri claiming to be the city's lone tughra expert. His works will be on display at the ongoing festival and he may include a demonstrate his art at the event.

Musical lineage
The Bhendi Bazaar Gharana, a vocal gharana of Indian classical music originated in Bhendi Bazaar area of Mumbai in 1890. "The special thing about the Bhindi Bazaar Gharana is the gayaki (singing), where one note flows into the other smoothly. An exponent of the gharana, Suhasini Koratkar has worked extensively to promote it. Even Lata Mangeshkar has trained under Aman Ali Khan of this gharana," informs musicologist Dr Shailesh Shrivastava.

Where poets were born

Local talents like Abdul Ahad Saaz, Irtiza Nishat, Inayat Akhtar, and Manzoor Ahmed honed their skills in the heart of Bhendi Bazaar

Sixty-five-year-old Abdul Ahad Saaz is one of the many popular Urdu poets to have emerged from the bylanes of Bhendi Bazaar. He has published two books — Khamoshi Bol Uthi Hai (1990) and Sargoshiyan Zamanon Ki (2003) — while several of his works are part of the Maharashtra State Board syllabus.

Saaz began writing poetry as a 14-year-old at school. Back then, Bhendi Bazaar and nearby areas would host Urdu mushairas all year, and peaked between October and March.

Saaz informs us that he would spend hours at these sessions, while soaking in Urdu verse by some of India's most prolific poets in Urdu mushairas. Kaifi Azmi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Sahir Ludhianvi, Sardar Jafri would all be here with their fresh kalams (poems). "Bhendi Bazaar was the epicentre of Urdu poetry," he says.

Mushairas were a huge platform, not only for local poets, but those across India and Pakistan, who would come down to share their works.

"From the internationally acclaimed Faiz Ahmed Faiz to Ahmed Qasmi and Qateel Shifai, we have seen some of the most popular names perform here," he adds.

A photograph from the 1970s features Urdu writer Krishan Chander receiving a special honour from then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Such rare frames will be on display at a photo exhibition at the fest
A photograph from the 1970s features Urdu writer Krishan Chander receiving a special honour from then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Such rare frames will be on display at a photo exhibition at the fest

Kaisar Bagh in Dongri, Rang Bhavan in Dhobi Talao and Saboo Siddik ground in Nagpada were the main venues where mushairas were hosted by organisations like Sur Singar Sansad, Sabr-had (from UP) and Maharashtra College (Bellassis Road, Mumbai) would take place.

Scholar, poet and critic Shamim Tariq, who has supported the Bhendi Bazaar Urdu festival in a big way, believes that the mushaira culture is fading, and losing its identity because of commercialisation and politicising of these events.

Poet Abdul Ahad Saaz at Imambada  Municipal School
Poet Abdul Ahad Saaz at Imambada Municipal School

"Poets should be selected on the basis of talent, their contribution to Urdu literature and the message that they give out to the masses, especially promoting egalitarian feelings and harmony.

When poets want to entertain or promote their political agendas, is when the quality deteriorates," he reveals. After spending over 40 years writing poetry, Tariq, a resident of Byculla, has been part of many eminent mushairas in the city including Majrooh Sultanpuri's last held 13 years ago at the Saboo Siddik grounds.

"Only the Nehru Center mushaira has managed to maintain its standard over the years. The quality of audience also needs to be maintained," he adds.

Unfortunately, in the last decade, several of these poets have moved to the suburbs. "Bhendi Bazaar has become more congested, noisy and polluted. Some have also moved because the area is undergoing re-development, and there are better amenities in the suburbs," informs Saaz, who was tempted too, but he resisted, till a month ago when old age and tall stairs forced the poet to relocate to Jogeshwari.

Several poets continue to host closed group mushairas in suburbs like Mira Road, Mumbra, Bandra, and Andheri. "Naturally, the moving out of poets from the area has affected Urdu poetry in Bhendi Bazaar.

But we, at Urdu Markaz (an offShoot of NGO's which work in co ordination with other educational activists and Governmental guidelines to restore Urdu in school), hope to bring it back with the festival," shares Saaz.

He rues that the quality of mushairas in Mumbai has fallen. "Now, mushairas have become a form of entertainment, and no longer a literary pursuit. That's sad for Urdu poetry".

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