There was a time when Urdu couplets written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz or Ghalib were read from books or heard at ‘mushairas’ (poetry recitations). But now a Delhi-based artist is giving a pop-culture twist to Urdu literature by taking it to t-shirts, coffee mugs and posters.
Meet Shiraz Husain, who is attempting to revive the Urdu language. When pages failed to get enough attention from readers, especially from the youth, Husain adopted the path of the visual arts to reach out to larger audiences.
“There are artists like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Manto, Amrita Pritam, Jaun Eliya, Parveen Shakir, Mukti Bodh who are less celebrated. My attempt is to draw much deserved attention towards Urdu and try to revive its fading glamour,” Husain told IANS.
The 30-year-old artist’s life shuffles between his day-time job at Jamia Milia Islamia where he is an assistant professor — of applied art, what else — and turns into an artist by night. All the illustrations available, be it on mug or t-shirt, are done by him.
He said, “I often see youngsters wearing t-shirts of Che Guevara or Bob Marley. I thought why not bring in Urdu poets and writers on tees and coffee mugs. These artists are never celebrated much; why not make them more popular?”
Husain has been selling his products through a community page on social media platform Facebook titled “Khwaab Tanha Collections”.
His project is not just about recollecting the quotes by poets and writers but he also adds illustrations to his work, giving people the face behind those lines.
“Many people don’t even know how poets like Majaz Lakhnawi and Ramadhir Singh ‘Dinkar’ look like. So my focus was not just on the lines of poetry, but I also want readers to know the artists by face,” he said.
Husain feels that the mushaira culture is now fading away and hard to find, and old languages are struggling to exist as readers are fast disappearing or are they often identified with a particular community.
“The depth of emotion and richness of Urdu literature is incomparable. Urdu is a language which can be enjoyed by all. I want to convey the beauty and the power that Urdu possesses and want people to start reading the works of these writers once again,” the artist said.
Though he was never inclined towards shayari during his youth, his upbringing nevertheless planted in him the seeds of love for poetry. He was brought up in an environment where reading Urdu and listening to ghazals was always encouraged.
“My father writes poetry, teaches Urdu at the Anglo-Arabic school and even writes for Urdu newspapers, while my sister is an avid listener of ghazals. I used to hear my parents praising Ghalib, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and others, started reading books by them at home out of curiosity, and eventually fell in love with their writing,” he said.
Husain also remembered how his school too shaped his interest in Urdu poetry.
“During my school days, teachers used to encourage us to play ‘antakshari’ not with Bollywood songs but with poetry. So, automatically, I ended up learning many couplets,” he further added.
The Jashn-e-Rekhta in 2015 turned into a good platform for him and gave his initiative much-deserved limelight. However, Husain said that popularity or success doesn’t bother him much; it’s appreciation of his efforts that makes him happy.
“A family member of Jaun Eliya once visited my place and praised my work; that brings happiness to me. That’s something I would call as my achievement, not financial profit,” he noted.
When asked about his plans for the future, Husain said that he is working to highlighting the works of regional writers as well.
“Apart from Rabindranath Tagore, I am working on Bengali poets Kazi Nazrul Islam, Michael Madhusudan Dutt and Malayalam writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer,” he said.