Home Art/Culture Through Bhendi Bazar Urdu Festival, an attempt to recreate the magic of...

Through Bhendi Bazar Urdu Festival, an attempt to recreate the magic of the past

By MahtabNama for Twocircles.net

Come Friday, a unique educational and literary festival will be held in Mumbai’s Bhendi Bazar. First held in 2014, it is primarily an Urdu language cultural and literary festival and is likely to attract large numbers of people from at least three sections of the society—students, members of the neighboring community and Urdu-loving people from different parts of the city.


The three-day festival (8-10 January) will feature different genres of Urdu literature such as Ghazals, Naat-Khwani, Qawwali and Drama, apart from workshops specially designed for students and budding writers on poetry, script writing, drama and discussions on some contemporary issues such as Indian economy, along with calligraphy, painting and photo exhibitions.

“Bhendi Bazar used to be the centre of all cultural activities in Mumbai at one point of time and through this festival, we are trying to revive it,” says Advocate Zubair Azmi, Director of the Urdu Markaz, an NGO working since 1995 for the promotion of Urdu language. The festival is being organised by the (Urdu) Markaz. At one point of time, Bhendi Bazar was home to the then budding and struggling writers such as Kaifi Azmi and Jan Nisar Akthar who, it is said, had spent their initial years in this area.


It was not only Urdu but Marathi writers as well who used to gather here to discuss and debate on arts and literature over several cups of tea at Jamia Maktaba and the now closed Wazir Hotel. On Sunday evening, when this writer visited the office of Urdu Markaz situated at the ground floor of an Urdu-medium School opposite the iconic Imambara in Bhendi Bazar, Adv. Azmi and his colleagues were busy with preparations for the festival.

Rare pictures of more than two dozen Urdu writers have been collated for display while beautifully painted boards with pictures of well-known Urdu writers, novelists, poets and lyricists, such as Sadat Hassan Manto, Qurratulain Hyder, Asrarul Haq Majaz, Ismat Chugtai and Sahir Ludhianvi have been put up at different places within the compound of the Markaz. These boards will be exhibited at the festival, I was told.

It is worth noting here that unlike most of the institutions associated with Urdu, it defies the stereotypes of ‘Urdu wallahs’: old bearded men still living in nostalgia and far removed from technology. The organisers here include many youth and woman and at least a few of them of them were present and working in the office on the late Sunday evening. Within 10 minutes of providing my contact details to the organisers, I received a mail with the programme schedule and other details.

Unlike most of other literary fests in India, it isn’t a day-long affair and only starts in the evening and goes on until 10 in the night. Organisers say that this ensures participation of both the ‘Aaam’ and the ‘Khwas’: the general public as well as the elite. “We are working with a three-dimensional approach, a) reaching out to new talent, students and youth, b) engaging with people living in the neighbourhood and c) building a bridge between the local communities here and non-Urdu speaking but Urdu-loving people in different parts of the city,” says Farid Ahmed, Programme Committee Chairperson of the Festival and General Secretary of Urdu Markaz. “It had been a huge success last time and apart from the established and known writers in Urdu literary circles, we had been able to reach out and attract new talent,” he adds.

Basharat Peer_Bhendi Bazar

According to journalist and writer Basharat Peer, who attended the Fest last time (10-12 January ‘14), this was “the coolest lit fest in a long time” that he had attended. Sharing pictures of the fest on his Facebook profile on 13 January 2014, he wrote: “I went to interview someone in Bhendi Bazar, Mumbai and ended up being on a panel at the Bhendi Bazar Urdu Festival. The coolest lit fest in a long time”. Luckily, this year as well, the festival has managed to create a buzz in both the Urdu as well as English media. On Sunday, two leading dailies The Times of India and Daily DNA carried substantive reports on the preparation and the schedule of the festival.

The main attractions this year are a play titled, “Wazir Hotel”, a letter reading session, “Zer-e-Lab” and the “Kabir Festival”. While the Saeed Hameed written and Mujeeb Khan directed play will demonstrate the lost and the forgotten but thriving culture of Bhendi Bazar, TV actress Neha Sharad will read letters of Safia Akhtar (mother of lyricist Javed Akhtar), written to her husband Jan Nisar Akhtar. The session titled “Kabir Festival” will be presented by famed Kabir bhajan singer Radhika Nayak Sood. In the discussion on “Celebrating Urdu”, controversial yet interesting writers such the Marathi writer and Jnanpith Awadee Bhalchandra Vanaji Nemade and journalist-writer Sudheendra Kulkarni are enlisted to participate.

If you are in Mumbai and interested in literature and cultural activities, this fest should be on your ‘must attend; list for this weekend.