Business Standard

Rekhta Foundation, British Council foster cross-cultural poetry parallels

Event celebrates similarities between English and Urdu poetry


Photo Credit: Aman Sahu

Aman Sahu New Delhi

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The striking similarities between English poetry, which thrived in Britain, and Urdu poetry, a language born and nurtured in the Indian Subcontinent, was the subject of celebration at an event in New Delhi recently.

Organised by the Rekhta Foundation in partnership with the British Council, 'Poetic Parallels: A Comparative Discussion on Urdu and English Poetry' unfolded on a Saturday evening at the British Council Library with the rain-washed city providing an ideal setting for it.

While highlighting the institute's efforts to connect people through culture, British Council India's Deputy Director Michael Houlgate said he, too, had been a student of Urdu for the last five years. Pallav Mishra, poet and editor at the Rekhta Foundation, said the session was not a comparative exercise but rather an appreciation of the poetry of two languages.

"This event is an endeavour to unite people's hearts. We witnessed how the ideas and thoughts of poets in both languages resonate with one another,” he told Business Standard. “Those who resist the convergence of cultures are missing out on something significant. Rising above the past is crucial for our liberation."

Later in the session, he pointed out that poetry alleviates loneliness as individuals often discover couplets that mirror their life situations.

Jayant Pratap, a psychology student who was there to research a connection between poetry and human psychology, said "the ability to read and understand poetry cultivates sensitivity in humans," which, in turn, can be applied in psychotherapy.

Aqib Sabir, a scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia university and co-speaker at the session, emphasised the existence of similar ideas and thoughts in English couplets and Urdu sher.

Speaking with Business Standard, Sabir noted, "While it's natural to take pride in our own culture, it's equally important to explore other cultures and the complexities of the world to avoid becoming rigid in our thinking."

He also addressed the issue of linguistic chauvinism, stating, "It remains a challenge, and poetry should strive to address this issue."

During the Q&A session, an audience member raised a question about the underrepresentation of women writers, even in more liberal Western societies. Sabir responded, "It's because men have snatched the means from women to become writers or express themselves. The liberal West we see today is the result of struggles similar to those our society is currently experiencing."

Rekhta in London

Rekhta Foundation has organised the Urdu literary festival, Jashn-e-Rekhta, in London as well as part of its attempt to take the festival to different countries. 

“The UK event is an attempt to share this literature [Rekhta’s] with the world, transcending borders,” Mishra said. “It also serves the vast Indian diaspora in other countries, providing them with the means to connect with their culture."

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First Published: Sep 27 2023 | 3:59 PM IST

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