Faraz Alee: Preserving Urdu Literature in All Its Glory
“I feel that literature and representation through literature is one of the best means of promoting your culture and country.”
Faraz Alee is on a mission to preserve and promote the Urdu language in its more classical form with the help of both contemporary performing arts and the works of literary maestros like Manto and Parveen Shakir. Faraz was born in Karachi but spent much of his early childhood and high school years in Dubai. Even though he did a bit of writing and performing at school it was when he came to BNU, Lahore to do his Bachelors in Visual Communication that his real training and journey into classical Urdu and performance arts began.
The classes that he was taking were opening his mind to experimentation and exploration and he was learning critical thinking skills that encouraged him to question everything and come up with his own perspective and set of ideas. At the same time Faraz continued to read classical Urdu literature, do theatre and take workshops under the tutelage of Salima Hashmi, BNU’s dean at the time. His training in design and his passion for language and art gave him a new sense of direction and confidence.
“A designer thinks backwards. If they know what the objective is and they have the elements, they rearrange those elements to achieve the desired results. So I wrote in a similar manner, what kind of festival it is, what the duration is, what are the popular themes, what other participants are working on, I can bring my work. I was writing like a designer. Objective driven writing. It worked for me.”
All this reading and studying Urdu helped him identify a lot of problems associated with the use of Urdu in the country or the lack of, in some cases. He “deeply felt the deterioration of language” where a lot of people didn’t want to work with Urdu and English, which seemed to be a measure of intelligence. According to Faraz, so many times, when we are using Urdu, especially in mainstream settings, we end up reinterpreting classical works in a dumbed down form for the masses, destroying its context without realizing what the impact of this is in the form of popular culture. As a performer and someone who himself creatively interprets classical works, he thinks it is the creative’s responsibility to adhere to literary standards, so that the language is preserved in not a misrepresented but authentic form.
“The problem isn’t creative interpretation, it’s how you do it. There is no filter for people who deliver these reinterpreted products.”
Faraz came back to Dubai and took up a job at Oxford Publishing but continued his study of Urdu and classical literature, also adding regional languages, such as, Punjabi, Balochi and Sindhi in the mix. He also realized the urgent need for classical works to be archived so that future generations knew where to go to discover their own language and its masterpieces. All this lead to his passion project called Project Adaab. Faraz says that “Project Adaab is a translation of 5 years of my research.” A collection of 15 poets spread across a span of 250 years, Project Adaab is definitely a culmination of all of Faraz’s talents as a designer, illustrator and performer. The project is available and free to view for everyone online. As part of the project he would perform at various places, testing out his material for Project Adaab and getting feedback. A place he’d regularly perform at was the Open Mic Events at T2F in Karachi, where he recalls several memorable readings, touching on subjects from politics to philosophy.
“When I started performing in intimate settings, I felt like I’m connecting with people directly and communicating the importance of language in a better way.”
Back in Dubai, Faraz met with a group of like-minded individuals who were enthusiastic about preserving South Asian languages through performing arts. They formed Qissa Go, a group of story tellers who put on theatrical plays and at the moment work with Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali and Hindi. According to Faraz “It’s like a family” where performances are curated primarily through collaboration and dialogue, and feedback as well as critique is consistently encouraged.
Last November, Qissa Go presented a showcase made up of eight short plays. Six of the eight were original pieces. Faraz directed the showcase along with Dhruti Shah, from Delhi who has 16-17 years of experience in Theatre. A lot of work went into “bringing about literary consistency in all the pieces.” The show case was very well received, with a lot of people in the audience appreciating and acknowledging how all the literary nuances and sensitivities were taken care of. The group is currently working on its next showcase, which will feature budding writers, directors, actors, and filmmakers collaborating, experimenting and producing another series of thought provoking short performances.
Faraz is also working on another passion project called Zer Zabar Pesh, that aims to provide a creative and academic balance to Urdu content out there. He’s divided it into three parts; exhibiting and celebrating best examples and best practices, collecting commentary and criticism that is relevant, and exploration and experimentation, which is mostly collaborations with other writers, performers and creatives. In between passion projects, theatre performances and dramatic readings, Faraz works full time for an architectural firm! In his own words, “Sahee ki blood and sweat, labor of love waali kahaan hai”. However, he speaks highly of his Non-south Asian colleagues who have not only shown interest and encouraged his work with the Urdu language, but also come to a few of his sessions to show their support. We hope Faraz can continue to bridge the gap between the academic nuances of the Urdu language and performing arts in the form of good quality, engaging and thought provoking creative productions and we wish him the best of luck!
“Eliminating the ills of your country might not be in your capacity. But celebrating the work of important people, people who have done a lot of hard work, and sharing their endeavors with the world you can build a counter narrative which is way stronger than what the media portrays.”
Interview & Written by Sameen Mohsin