The second, sweet language

Oct 25, 2018, 08:37 IST | Snigdha Hasan

A group of Marathi theatre artistes from Pune turned their love for Urdu into a passion project. Tonight, they bring a bouquet of literary works and Sufi music to the city

The second, sweet language

It all started three years ago on October 13, the death anniversary of the great Pakistani vocalist, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Pune-based theatre artistes Nachiket Devasthali and Om Bhutkar had been engaging in a literary exchange of Urdu couplets and shayari for quite some time. And they felt the time was right to share their love for the language with more people. So, together with six fellow theatrewallahs who were as much in awe of the zabaan of nazms and shayari, they presented these and other facets of Urdu in an intimate mehfil at a friend's home.

The response they received egged them on to take their initiative to bigger venues. Since its inception, Sukhan (Urdu for speech, language, words, news) has travelled to Delhi, Mumbai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and will head to the US soon. But not before it makes a pit stop in Mumbai for an evening of Hindustani and Sufi music, dastangoi or storytelling, recitation of Urdu prose, and a musical presentation of ghazals, nazms and qawwalis.

"Years ago, I bought a book on Ghalib in Delhi, and that was the beginning of my association with Urdu on a consistent basis. There's still a long way to go, and we are all learners of the language," says Devasthali, referring to other members of the group including singers, musicians and storytellers.

Even as the group members constantly nurture their passion project, they continue to perform in Marathi productions. In fact, Devasthali was part of veteran theatre director Satish Alekar's revival of his iconic play Mahanirvan. How does working in two different languages feed into their artistic process? "The more languages you learn, the more aware you grow of your mother tongue. Reciting a poem or reading a passage every morning helps you with the intonation. And the difference is palpable," he admits.

Nachiket Devasthali and Om Bhutkar
Nachiket Devasthali and Om Bhutkar

Devasthali points out that while many are inclined towards Urdu, attending a mushaira may not be their first choice of engagement with the language, and it is this inhibition that Sukhan aims to eliminate through its varied presentation style. "Many of our audience members come back for our performances, which is why we try to keep our repertoire fairly dynamic so they can listen to something new every time," he says, while refraining from giving away the names of Urdu littérateurs whose works they will present tonight. However, the group often dips into the works of Mirza Ghalib, Sahir Ludhianvi, Abbas Tabish, Rajesh Reddy and Jaun Eliya for their presentations.

The dastangoi performance for the evening features a story called Deemakon ki mallika se ek mulaqat by Mujtaba Hussain. "It revolves around the plight of the Urdu language," Devasthali explains. But is the language under threat, given the many revival and familiarisation initiatives that have been conceptualised recently? "Javed Akhtar sahab once said that Urdu wahan shuru hoti hai jaha Hindi khatm hoti hai ..." says Devasthali, referring to the intermingling of the two languages and the way they are spoken in India. "The unfortunate part is that we see Urdu from the prism of religion. But language is above all this."

ON Tonight, 6.30 pm
AT Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point 
CALL 22824567
Entry Rs 250 onwards

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