Tag Archives: Jameel Gulrays

The World Wide Web of Hindi 

Hindi is the common thread that connects, binds and gives a sense of belonging to storytellers who are using the different mediums to take the language to greater heights with their humble endeavours. Be it an award-winning French subtitler who is using his knowledge of Hindi and Urdu, and understanding of Indian culture to take Indian cinema to a larger market across the shores or an award-winning filmmaker who turned into an author while documenting the 2020 migrant crisis in the wake of countrywide pandemic-induced lockdown. On the other hand, a bilingual author turned filmmaker who is currently busy adapting his first novel for the big screen loves to transcreate stories in Hindi and English and simultaneously. A poet-journalist loves translating human emotions into verses and rues the neglect of the language over the years. A walking-talking library of Indian literature started a read-aloud storytelling project for the Millennials who prefer to read with their ears while a young literature buff is busy building a feature on his platform that will pay readers to read because “reading makes a person”.   

Shillpi a singh

On January 10, the first World Hindi Conference was held in 1975 in Nagpur, Maharashtra. In 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared this day World Hindi Day. Here’s what a few raconteurs in India and abroad had to say to celebrate the day. 

Subtitling King  | François-Xavier Durandy

French national and award-winning subtitler François-Xavier Durandy has been associated with many great films shown at major festivals in France. He is a trained translator who speaks English, Hindi, German and Urdu, besides his mother tongue French. Incredibly, most of the movies he has subtitled have gained recognition at international fora. The most recent being CNC Aide aux Cinémas du Monde grant for Girls Will be Girls produced by Richa Chadha and Ali Fazal’s banner Pushing Buttons Studios, and backed by Sanjay Gulati and Pooja Chauhan of Crawling Angel Films and Claire Chassagne of Paris-based Dolce Vita Films. 

Having spent considerable time in India, he has picked up the nuances of the language and its cultural cues. “It is indeed paramount to slip into the shoes of both storytellers and their different characters. In French, the word interprète has three distinct meanings: interpreter, of course, and spokesperson and performer. As translators, we have to interpret the meaning of a text to the best of our abilities, act as the author’s spokesperson in a different cultural context and embody the characters, become their voice and somehow perform their part in the target language,” says Durandy. 

Perfect command of the original language and a thorough knowledge of Indian culture comes in handy in his job as a subtitler. “My familiarity with Hindi and Indian culture does help me know the nuances and character dynamics of a script, even when it’s not in Hindi. I translated the script from English into French for Girls Will Be Girls for submission to the CNC Aide aux Cinémas du Monde grant. The whole script is in English, including the dialogue, at this stage. But when I was translating the lines of the characters, I was always thinking about what they would say in Hindi to see whether it would make a difference in my translation. A simple example is the second person pronoun. To choose between tu and vous in French, I would try to imagine what would be likelier between tum and aap,” he adds.

Subtitling is a major enabler per se, as it allows a film to find its audience beyond its linguistic boundaries. “All the more so with indie cinema, which is more content-driven. 

The audience may enjoy big-budget films without subtitles or poor subtitles because of their immense production value. But when it comes to smaller films, shot on location and with lesser visual impact, quality subtitling becomes a must,” he says, explaining how cinema in India’s so-called regional languages has travelled and been embraced by the rest of the country and world, thanks to subtitles. 

Film scripts that Durandy has translated for CNC were usually all-English because many writers have their dialogue translated into Hindi (or another regional language) later, with all pre-production work happening in English. “I worked recently for a debut filmmaker, and while the dialogue was in Hindi, the rest was in English, but you could tell that he would have been much more comfortable in his mother tongue. I felt that resorting to English was not allowing him to fully and eloquently express himself. People should always be free to write and talk in the language they’re the most comfortable with. That’s what we translators are here for!” 

Chronicling crisis | Vinod Kapri

In a televised address to the nation at 8 pm on March 24, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the entire country would be in ‘lockdown’ (from midnight of March 25) to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The sudden measure wreaked havoc on the lives and livelihoods of daily-wage migrant workers across the country and had far-reaching repercussions. Award-winning filmmaker and author Vinod Kapri, who had been actively engaged in COVID relief work in and around Delhi NCR during those days, was rattled at the misery unfolding before his eyes. One day, he knew that seven of them were planning to set off on bicycles to their hometowns, from Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh to Saharsa in Bihar. “My seven heroes – Sandeep, Mukesh, Ritesh, Aashish, Rambabu, Sonu and Krishna – had no employment, no food, and no place to call home after the sudden lockdown. Their seven-day-long journey speaks of their indomitable spirit. They defied all imaginable odds to cycle for 1232 km,” says Kapri, who accompanied them on this journey, shadowing them until they reached their hometown. The heartwrenching account of the construction labourers pedalling their way home was first released as a documentary early in 2021. It had two songs of despair – “Marenge To Wahin Jaakar” and “O Re Bidesiya” – penned by Gulzar and composed by Vishal Bharadwaj. 

One thing led to another. “I only wanted to document their journey, but there were many things that I couldn’t capture on camera but jotted in my diary. The book was never on my mind. But a close friend suggested that I put it down on paper because he felt that 1232 Km spotlighted the COVID-19-led migrant crisis in India. It found a home, and quite on its merit, be it the OTT platform or publishers because this extraordinary story really pulls on the heartstrings,” recounts Kapri. His debut book has been released in Hindi, English, and four other regional languages. The response to his documentary and books has been overwhelming. “It is a documentation of the plight of migrant workers. I want it to reach more and more people so that people know the nameless faces around us, who sweat it out day in and day out only to make our lives easier but bore the worst during the lockdown. The royalty of these books will go to these men because it is their book,” he emphasises.                  

Reading by the ears | Jameel Gulrays

It is quite commonplace for the Millennials to be quite well-versed with Franz Kafka, Khalil Gibran, Haruki Murakami, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and many other literary giants of their ilk from across the world. But seldom do they even care to flip through the enormous body of work of litterateurs from the Indian subcontinent. Mumbai-based septuagenarian former adman, Urdu connoisseur and avid storyteller Jameel Gulrays started a read-aloud storytelling project called Katha Kathan in 2015 to help the Millennials “read these literary gems through their ears.”  

“My storytelling project aims to explore the rich tapestry of literature in Hindi, Urdu, and other Indian languages to preserve, promote, and popularise them so that they aren’t lost into oblivion but live on for many generations. My band of storytellers at Katha Kathan are the backbone of this. Our zealous efforts are aimed at the larger cause of preserving the vast repertoire of Indian literature,” says Gulrays. 

After wowing the audience through live sessions held in Mumbai and many other cities during the pre-pandemic days, a successful run on his YouTube channel, and podcasts on Soundcloud, Team Katha Kathan forayed into the voice-based social network app Clubhouse in 2021. The literary evening enlivens the statement made by Premchand in his memorable short story, Eidgaah, “Club ghar mein jadoo hota hai” through weekly dramatised readings of classics. “We endeavour to reintroduce and rejuvenate languages and motivate the younger generations by narrating the literature and ensuring it reaches them through the medium (read social media platforms) they consume,” states Gulrays.  

The session sees the audience from India’s nook and corners and across the world tuning in every weekend to brush up on these classics. It is a mix of both literature lovers and newbies to the world of Urdu and Indian classics. It often has celebrities like Rekha Bharadwaj, Vishal Bharadwaj, Naseeruddin Shah, and many others joining in to be regaled by stories.  

Verse is good | Pratap Somvanshi

Journalist and poet Pratap Somvanshi made a failed literary debut when he was still in school. “I was in class 8 then and had written a short story. I sent a two, and a half-page story accompanied by a three-page covering letter addressed to the editor of Nandan. The story was rejected, but the thoughtful editor sent a heartwarming note,” reminisces Somvanshi. The rejection letter laid the foundation of his career path. He is the editorial head of a leading Hindi national paper and writes poetry. “It is ‘bhavanuvad’ – a translation of human emotions and relationships,” he adds. In 2016, his first anthology of poems – Itwar Chhota Pad Gaya – a culmination of his friends’ tireless efforts and wife’s insistence was published. “I love poetry and live it too. My poems and life are interdependent. They can’t exist in isolation,” he says. 

Commenting on the long-standing neglect of Hindi, he gives an overview of the publishing industry. According to him, today, it is like a business where the publishers look for saleability and numbers. It could also be a co-operative where the author pays to publish his book or is Atmanirbhar venture where the author opts for self-publishing option. “There were a few Hindi publishers till a few years ago, and they too had their priorities. Books in Hindi were never published to sell copies but to be stocked in libraries. There are 150 crore Hindi speakers worldwide, of which 100 crore can read and write Hindi. But when it comes to Hindi, only 1000 copies are published, be it novel, poetry or short stories.”

Somvanshi whose couplet – Ram tumhare yug ka Ravan accha tha – is the most forwarded message on social media platforms on Dussehra. “Social media has made crowd sharing of emotions so easy, and it bodes well for Hindi writers. People are discovering literary gems on social media, and then they go hunting for books by these poets, be it of Jaun Elia or Fahim Badayuni,” he states. A few poets find publishers on their merit – be it known face or saleability – but a lot depends on the readers. “They create the market and not the other way around,” he says.

Love of literature | Ankur Mishra

Ankur Mishra wears many hats and aplomb. He is the founder of Kavishala and Foreantech and the author of seven books, but he remains a literature buff in one’s heart of hearts. He started a website called Kavishala for poets to have an online mehfil of sorts. “Kavishala is a one-stop platform for literary minds. Ease of getting good and genuine content at one place. Kavishala has many verticals – Kavishala Talks and Kavishala Campus Ambassadors, and Kavishala Sootradhar, where one can access the works of eminent litterateurs of yore. We must make the younger generation aware of the treasure trove of Indian literature and languages,” says Mishra. 

Another interesting vertical on the platform, Kavishala Labs, helps readers access exciting articles about Indian literature and writers. “The Kavishala team works hard for these articles, and they come up with not known and lesser facts for an engaging read. Kavishala Sootradhar is a vertical where we have 6000+ poets and writers from Indian and world literature, and the content is free. We aim to be a virtual library for our readers in easy clicks. Kavishala has three million-plus monthly page views on this content only,” he adds.

80% plus writers and poets are from the Hindi language to date. “The number of readers in Sootradhar is encouraging. We’ve 13% plus page views from the USA and 10% plus from UAE, which means Hindi literature has a good reach in non-Hindi speaking countries. If we get help from investors, we can make it even bigger and better,” he says. On World Hindi Day, Kavishala is conducting Kavishala International Meetup, where the platform will bring together Hindi and Hindi literature lovers in one place. “The event will be virtual and private. Our target is to have at least 150-200 people from different countries,” he adds.

Another plan in the offing includes making Kavishala the word first kind of platform, which will give readers money for reading. “We attempt to make reading a habit. There are a handful few readers left among the younger generations. We want to pay them for reading in an attempt to revive that reading culture,” he emphasises. 

Vantage point is bilingualism | Pankaj Dubey

Filmmaker-author Pankaj Dubey has an uncanny knack for transcreation. With nine bestselling titles to his credit, five in English and the rest four transcreated in Hindi, almost simultaneously, Dubey is currently busy adapting his first novel What a Loser (English) and Loser Kahin Ka (Hindi) for the big screen. What sets him apart from others of his ilk is the two-language deal for all his books from the publishing house, Penguin Random House. “I owe it to my editor, late Renu Agal, who spotted it first and encouraged me to write in both. Being bilingual is a significant marker in South Asia. It helped me bag the nomination for a prestigious writer’s Residency in Seoul, South Korea, in 2016,” says Dubey, who was one amongst the three novelists from Asia to get this opportunity. “I am bilingual, so I write all my stories together in Hindi and English. I never try to translate. Since my first book, I’ve been selling quite well, and that’s been my purpose because if I’m not interested in being a much-loved author, I would rather write diaries and not get them published,” he says.

The spectacular success of his first novel made it a breeze for the rest. “I always had conviction in my story and my telling. I have been fortunate, but I know that many others don’t have it easy. But once you get a publisher, and if your book does well, the sky’s the limit,” adds Dubey, who pursued his filmmaking passion and his first film, Maratha Mandir Theatre, is streaming on Disney Hotstar+.  

He owes his success to his storytelling and adaptability, both of which are up to date. The books are popular among the Millennials because the characters speak the readers’ language. One problem with Hindi literature is that the growth of writers in Hindi literature has been slower than the growth of readers. Moreso, because the readers and their tastes have evolved over a while. 

Commenting on the challenges of contemporary Hindi writing, he says, “Most Hindi writers, if not all, are stuck to the language and vocabulary of the past, which makes it dull and uninteresting for the readers. The idea is to contemporise things and accepts the linguistic ingredients of the contemporary world and society. That helps a lot,” he adds. 

Dubey attributes the democratisation of the reading and writing process to the advent of social media. “It has given access to everyone to all kinds of literature at the click of a mouse. So it is very challenging for the writers if they don’t try it well. The attention span of the readers is decreasing every day. Social media has made it challenging for good writers. At the same time, it has opened new ways to promote your work. So you can spread awareness around your writing, and once your writing is light, it will fly on its own,” he states. 

The article was carried in The Free Press Journal on the eve of World Hindi Day on January 9, 2022.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/world-hindi-day-here-are-some-keepers-of-the-language-that-are-taking-it-to-the-greater-heights

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

shillpi a singh

LOVE IS STORY: Jameel Gulrays

The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories, said American writer Mary Catherine Bateson, and Mumbai-based septuagenarian adman Jameel Gulrays couldn’t agree more with her. After spending more than five decades in the advertising world, working on popular brands, and teaching the nuances of this profession as a faculty member at leading institutions, Gulrays turned a new leaf and dedicated himself to work on his passion project – Katha Kathan. It was kindled by his earnest desire to preserve Urdu, and other Indian languages, promote and popularise them so that these aren’t reduced to mere dialects but live on to tell tales and regale the younger generations. He, along with his band of storytellers, has been pursuing the idea zealously since then.   

Early years

He was born with a silver spoon to Abid Gulrays in Bombay (as Mumbai was known then) on November 5, 1949. His father was multitalented – satirist, poet, and columnist par excellence – who also wrote songs for Hindi films in the 40s and 50s. Reminiscing his lyricist father, he says, “Surajmukhi released in 1950 had two memorable songs – suniye huzoor husn ka charcha na kijiye and husn ka guroor hai ye buri baat hai. The latter sung by Lata Mangeshkar was a blazing hit.” His father has 20 songs and ghazals to his credit as a lyricist. 

(from left to right) Abid Gulrays with Durga Khote, Ayaz Peerbhoy, and O.N. Verma, while recording a radio programme “Sanforized Ke Mehmaan”. 

At one point time, Abid Sahab was also associated with the newspaper, Inquilab. His satirical poems titled Baatein were a popular feature of the newspaper. He wrote these poems daily under the pseudonym, Cigarette Baaz. He also wrote a column, Tazyane, and it was so popular among the readers that many of them bought the newspaper just to read his piece. He used the pseudonym Phool Phenk, which came from Gulraiz. He wrote many columns under different names. He moved on from Inqilab to edit Mosavvir following a tiff with the management at the newspaper. Babu Rao Patel owned the publication Mosavvir, a popular film magazine, and at one point in time, it was edited by none other than Saadat Hasan Manto.

A poster of film Surajmukhi.

“I still fondly remember what he told me in my growing-up years, though I lost him quite early on at eight, these lessons have become the guiding principles of my life. He used to tell me that ‘should anyone move one step towards you, you should take ten steps forward and meet him/ her. If someone takes one step away, you move 10 miles away’. He always urged me to do my job without expecting anything in return, as expectations always hurt. Another invaluable lesson was around money. It is inconsequential, so don’t give importance to it; it can’t buy happiness.”    

But destiny had other plans. Gulrays’ father was fond of horse racing, and in one such race, he lost his entire fortune. He couldn’t cope with the humungous loss, and unable to bear it, he passed away soon after. It was the beginning of a long period of misery for the family. They were forced to move out of their plush bungalow in Mahim and settle in the predominantly Muslim locality, Bhendi Bazaar. The little boy was just eight then. Due to financial constraints, he was enrolled in an Urdu medium school – Bandra Urdu High School (now Bandra Urdu High School & Junior College Of Science, Commerce and MCVC). “In hindsight, I think, it was all a part of God’s plan. I loved reading Urdu and Persian literature during my early years in school and college, and these stories stayed on with me forever. Perhaps, I was destined to take on the arduous job of saving the language and its literature one day,” he says, with a deep sense of satisfaction.  

The badge of his Bandra Urdu High School carried three words – Azm (determination), Koshish (efforts) and Imaandari (honesty) and these values have stood him in good stead all through. 

Ad-ding on to life 

The loss of the breadwinner took a toll on his mother. She couldn’t live for long in penury, fell ill, and eventually passed away. “Her death shattered me completely as she was my biggest pillar of strength,” he says with moist eyes. His voice chokes on the mere mention of his parents, both of whom he lost early on in life. 

Gulrays shared his mother’s photo on her birth anniversary on June 6. She passed away when he was 18.

He was eighteen and barely in the first year of college then, but he had to fend for himself and also look after his family that included two younger brothers. He desperately started looking for a job to make ends meet. Circumstances forced him to leave his place in Bhendi Bazaar and relocate to a far-off suburb Malvani. “The nearest station was Naigaon, and I had to walk for an hour to take a local train. It was an underdeveloped area then, and hardly any buses used to ply there. Come rain or hail, I had no choice but to keep marching on, both literally and metaphorically,” he says. 

Advertising legend Ayaz Peerbhoy, who was his father’s friend, came forward to help and hired him for his agency. The remuneration was meagre, but it was something he badly needed, and he gladly took up this offer. In those days, the advertising world was dominated by English-speaking people, and anyone who didn’t know the language had little or no chance of survival. His ability not to give up came in handy and has stood him in good stead throughout. He not only learned English but mastered it. Later in his life, he set up an advertising agency and had the top-notch brand as his clients, and gave some memorable advertising campaigns in his five-decade-long career.

A new chapter 

He is an avid reader, and loves to spend hours immersed in the world of words. The library at his house in Khar, Mumbai, has an enviable collection of Urdu literature. One day, while sitting in his room, immersed in one of Manto’s stories, it dawned upon him that after his demise, his treasure trove will be in a shambles. “A raddi wala (ragpicker) will come and collect these books and sell it to a kabadi wala (junk dealer), who will sell it to vendors. Manto will be served on a plate of bhelpuri, Chugtai will be wrapped in paan, and Krishan Chander will be wrapped on vada pavs,” he rued. The thought shook him no end, and he decided to tell those tales, some well-known, others not so known, and many of them unheard, unread, and unknown, for the benefit of the younger generation. His passion for preserving Urdu and other Indian languages and the earnest desire to promote and popularise them for the younger generation led him to pursue the idea zealously. 

His undying love for stories that gave birth to Katha Kathan, a virtual repository of gems from Indian languages, relayed through his online social media channels on YouTube and Soundcloud – and relived through his offline storytelling sessions, a regular feature before the lockdown.  

A virtual Baithak with Team Katha Kathan in progress.

To start with, he started recording masterpieces from Urdu literature and releasing them on his YouTube channel. “One day, people might not be able to read these tales as they would no longer know the script. If these pieces are recorded and preserved, they would still be able to listen to them, whenever and wherever, and this, in a way, will preserve the treasure trove of stories for posterity,” he recounts. Initially, Gulrays thought of focussing only on Urdu literature, but once he exchanged the idea with others, he realised that the fate of other Indian languages is no different, so he widened his scope and included other “gems” of Indian literature, and featured stories in vernacular languages too.

Katha Kathan was started in 2015, and to date, he has recorded more than two thousand stories for his online platforms. It is a passion project funded by his selfless desire, and in all these six years, he has made humungous investments in terms of his money, time and energy, without taking a penny from any outsider. The growth and reach of the Katha Kathan project are purely organic, be it the views or the subscribers. The numbers only show the depth of his involvement and the widespread reach of his movement to keep Urdu and other Indian languages alive.  

Praiseworthy efforts

His honest endeavours have been suitably rewarded, and the former adman is now known as a connoisseur of the Urdu language, and his quintessential storytelling has won him many ardent fans and followers, and they range from celebrities to ordinary people. His popularity cuts across geographical, social, and linguistic barriers. People across the globe closely follow his work. Renowned actor Naseeruddin Shah has joined hands with him and is a regular in all Katha Kathan events. It is their shared love for Urdu that has kindled their camaraderie and friendship.  

Jameel Gulrays and actor Naseeruddin Shah pose against the Wall of Fame featuring literary giants from Urdu and other Indian languages. “Our relationship is based on mutual respect for each other’s work,” he says.

Sharing an anecdote, he says, “It so happened that I was recording Ismat Apa’s stories and releasing them on my YouTube channel, one after the other. I noticed that someone called Naseeruddin Shah would invariably comment and praise my work on these uploads. At first, I thought this must be some imposter. Why would someone of Naseeruddin Shah’s stature stop by at my YouTube channel, appreciate my work and care to comment? I wondered.” After the fifth story, he received a message that he (Naseeruddin) is coming to Delhi and would like to meet Gulrays. The actor thought that Gulrays is Delhi-based. Gulrays informed him that he lives in Mumbai, and they met, discussed the stories; Shah staged those as “Aurat, Aurat, Aurat,” and it was well-received by the audience. The actor, in his magnanimity, mentioned Gulrays’ name and his contribution in every interview that he gave after his play’s astounding success. “I sometimes wonder how come a genuine soul like him still exists in this world. He never declined his invite to any Katha Kathan show,” he says. Today, the actor is relearning Urdu, and calls Gulrays whenever he comes across a difficult word or sentence. Their relationship is based on mutual respect for each other’s work. “I have also benefited immensely from this partnership, and Naseeruddin Shah has always obliged my request for the interviews. Karwan-e-Mohabbat, with which I am associated, has gained a lot from these interviews,” he says.

Minding the language

These days, filmmaker Vishal Bharadwaj and his singer wife Rekha Bharadwaj are taking lessons in Ghalib from the connoisseur of the Urdu language. “There are two interesting anecdotes about Ghalib. One is that “if it wasn’t for many of Ghalib’s “shrah” (explanation of Ghalib by many scholars), he would have been very easy to understand. And the second one is that Ghalib is perhaps the only poet in the world whose work, if you can’t decipher, gives you double the pleasure,” says Gulrays. He thinks that if one has to understand Ghalib, one has to view his poetry through the prism of mysticism. “Ghalib himself declares in one of his couplets that he would have been considered a “Sufi” if it wasn’t for his drinking habits. Jameel insists that any effort to understand Ghalib must be made in this direction if we truly want to decipher his work,” he adds. One of his explanations has impressed Gulzar so much that he has expressed his desire to meet him. 

Katha Kathan celebrates the works of Rabindranath Tagore, Premchand, Sahir Ludhianvi, Krishen Chander, Ismat Chugtai, and many others, but the celebrated and controversial writer Manto remains Gulrays’ all-time favorite. “Manto continues to be misunderstood despite finding new admirers decades after his death because most people haven’t really read his work in totality. They read six or eight of his stories and dub him an obscene or a dark writer. He is neither, and there is a lot of it that needs to be explored to understand Manto’s body of work better,” he adds.

Jameel Gulrays is not just an individual but an institution.

Taking a walk down the memory lane, he recounts how his childhood home – his lavish bungalow in Mahim – had a portion of it rented out to Shyam, a popular actor in those days, by his father to tide over the financial crunch. Shyam and Manto were best of friends, and Manto often dropped in to see Shyam. It seems like a connection established by the umbilical cord, and Gulrays holds the prolific writer in high regard. “Why Manto decided to migrate to Pakistan is a question still debated by many. He was miserable there, as some of his letters reveal. Perhaps, he took that decision because of an incident involving his friend Shyam. Riots had hit both sides of the border. Shyam had some relatives in Lahore, and he was anxious about their safety and wellbeing in such troubled times. One day, news came that one of them had been killed, and in an inebriated state, he told Manto that he could kill him one of these days. Regaining his sobriety, he apologised, but Manto was so shaken up that he decided to leave India. The interesting bit is Shyam went to see him off at the dock, where they drank together for the last time,” recounts Gulrays.

Lifelong mission

Now, in his twilight days, Gulrays could ill afford to bask in the glory days and live off comfortably. Not someone to sit on his laurels, he has been working for the Indian languages and literature because, as he says, “Languages are our homes, and we must protect them.” 

He rues how the millennials are losing touch with their mother tongue. “If they don’t prefer to communicate in their mother tongue, eventually they would lose touch and forget to read and write in that language. Once that happens, it would spell the death knell for these languages,” says Gulrays, explaining the real reason behind his passion project – the need to preserve these languages so that they don’t up remain a dialect for future generations.    

To listen to stories, follow Jameel Gulrays on YouTube and Soundcloud.

Gulrays is not just an individual but an institution. So many people claim to love Urdu, but there is no one like him. He remains one among the few sincere and selfless soldiers of the language who has been single-handedly working on this mission, regardless of the bouquet or brickbats that could come his way.

A Baithak of Katha Kathan is a must on the first Saturday of every month. During the pandemic, it has moved to a virtual platform. Earlier, it was held at his home, where stories flowed along with a generous helping of snacks and beverages. These days, he has started using Clubhouse to his advantage and hosts a dramatised storytelling session with Katha Kathan Team at 10.30 pm every Sunday. These virtual sessions see story lovers from across the world in attendance. 

Katha Kathan’s Jashn-e-Manto featuring actor Naseeruddin Shah.

Bushra Rahman, an eminent Urdu novelist across the border, once sent a message praising his style. Shah, when asked, ‘why we don’t a Zia Mohyeddin here?’ had once famously quipped, “You haven’t heard of Jameel Gulrays.” Shah’s statement sums up the sentiments of his ardent admirers, who come from across the world, belong to different age groups, and speak different languages. The common thread binding them all is their love for stories in Urdu and other Indian languages. And the tribe is growing every day. 

Team Katha Kathan with Jameel Gulrays.

A devoted Urdu lover, he has a team of young volunteers growing under his tutelage at Katha Kathan to keep the love for languages and stories alight. He quotes a couplet of Majrooh Sultanpuri in the parting, and that succinctly sums up his illustrious journey.  

“Maiñ akelā hī chalā thā jānib-e-manzil magar 
log saath aate ga.e aur kārvāñ bantā gayā.”

The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only.

victor hugo

2021: A year of Love, Labour and Loss

Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, sexual, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.

Shillpi a singh

LOVE IS BEAUTIFUL

Ultimately, it’s more useful to see love not as a feeling, but as an act.

Mark manson

It was World Health Day on April 7th, and quite ironically, it was the day when it dawned upon me that an accidental exposure a couple of days ago (because that’s the only time we had stepped out) had compromised the health of my family of four. All of us had started showing symptoms of COVID at a gap of a few days from each other. 

My school friend Aashish Juyal, whom I had known since I was a few months old threatened me that if I didn’t come to see him at Sohna for Easter brunch on the 4th, he wouldn’t talk to me ever. I went with my family. He was writhing in high fever, cough and complaining of body ache since April 5th. His wife got the mandatory tests done when he came home on the 9th, and it was a false negative. Astonishingly. The treating local physician dubbed it to be a case of viral fever. His family didn’t find anything amiss and rightly so because the doctor said so, hoping that it would subside and he would be fine soon. 

A day later, on 8th, I casually informed my writer-filmmaker friend Devashish Makhija (Dev) how the virus had got the better of me/us, and I was suspecting that we were on our way to be COVID positive. He asked me to wait for the tests, and then the results. On the other hand, my school friend Deepa was constantly praying for it not to be what it eventually turned out to be.  

I was wary of informing my sisters and my parents, but I did. In between, Aashish was rushed to a hospital on April 12th; he appeared normal, refused to lie down on the bed in the ambulance, or lie down on the stretcher and even laughed and talked on his way, his wife Divya informed me days later. He was admitted and taken to ICU immediately; his saturation was 31 at that point. He suffered a massive cardiac arrest, and within minutes, a warm, compassionate and beautiful soul had left us wailing and grieving for the rest of our lives. The news hit all of us like a boulder. We were aghast. The bereaved family is yet to come to terms with his untimely demise.  

On the same day, we travelled 25 km in high fever to get our RTPCR tests done; the results came two days later and confirmed our worst fears. The corresponding blood tests done on April 13th made it doubly sure that Coronavirus had invaded our bodies, and with every passing minute, the truant virus was getting bolder and our immune system weaker to stand up to it and fight that war.  

On my sister, Shruti’s insistence, three of us (kids aged 8, 6 and I) started the medication prescribed by the treating physician, but my husband Ajay chose to rely on paracetamol solely, much to my chagrin. He was running a high fever, cough and severe body ache. She was kind to send my brother-in-law Pushp with food, medicines, and coconut water to my place, and in the process, the poor boy got exposed to the virus and tested positive with his little daughter about a week later. By God’s grace, the infection could be managed with home isolation or else I would have been forever guilty.

Dev formed a WhatsApp War Room with other warriors – Anupama Bose, Chhitra Subramaniam, Monica Rajeha, Gillian Pinto, Niiya Kumar, Mayuri Joshi Dhavale, Taranjit Kaur – that worked like a safety net for my family and me. Day in and day out, these warrior members were busy getting food delivered, sending medicines, arranging for a doctor consultation, checking about hospital beds, and above all, assuring me that it is just a phase and it too shall pass. This lovely bunch made me believe that “sometimes miracles are just good people with kind hearts.” Their kindness stood me in good stead all through this crisis. Also, because I knew these people had my back.

Our saturation levels started dipping, and my younger brother Anshuman Sinha suggested that we get an oxygen concentrator at home. I told my father GP Sinha, who is based out of Dhanbad, and he used his vast reservoir of contacts to arrange an oxygen concentrator and have it delivered at home, past midnight on April 14th. Both my younger kid and Ajay needed oxygen support, but there was only one outlet, and both of them took turns, with Ajay sleeping with 5l/minute oxygen support that night. The morning was quite rushed, and I found that his SPO2 was around 92% while my daughter kept complaining that ‘air is not coming in through her nose’. So I let them use it alternatively with different oxygen masks. 

I was alarmed by these two developments and knew for sure that it is getting worse faster than I had expected. All that I had to do next was to keep help handy and immediately look for a hospital with an ICU facility and oxygen bed while thinking of the best and preparing for the worst. At the same time, I was petrified of hospitalisation. I told Dev that ‘if I go to the hospital, I won’t come back. He dismissed it all and texted, ‘of course, you will.’ His words were reassuring, but I still had my doubts like an eternal pessimist. 

The next day, I helplessly informed Dev about our deteriorating medical condition and also put out an SOS tweet at 1.42 pm on April 15th while fixing Ajay’s oxygen flow on the concentrator, and checking his saturation level stuck at 92 at 5l/min, as if calling out the Universe to unite its forces and come to my family’s rescue. I was scared to death. I didn’t know whom to call to seek four beds in a hospital and on an urgent basis.

As a non-celebrity with hardly 800 odd followers on the social media handle, I knew my tweet’s fate… it would slip into oblivion sooner than expected. Who cares for an indie writer’s SOS message? “Can anyone please help find oxygen beds in #Gurugram or #Delhi? My family of four is #COVID positive. Our spo2 is dropping off alarmingly.” I was fatigued with this minor exercise and mental marathon that followed, thinking about – what if no help came about? What would we do? How will we manage this COVID emergency? I put the phone aside and dozed off. I woke up to a flurry of WhatsApp messages from my friends. They had sent me screenshots of some of the responses that my tweet had elicited, especially of #IndianYouthCongress Chief, Srinivas BV. He had tweeted asking me to DM my details, and my friends who knew the urgency started calling me frantically to respond. I did so pronto with little hope. But what followed after this leaves me choked with emotions. 

Within seconds of dropping my number, the National Convenor of Indian Youth Congress (Social Media) and an active volunteer of #SOSIYC, Manu Jain, called. He asked me about my family’s saturation levels and told him that while my elder daughter and I were hovering at 93-94, my husband and younger one were 92 on intermittent oxygen support. He assured me of all possible help. He connected me to a doctor (Dr Komal Panchal from Satyawadi Raja Harish Chandra Hospital in Narela) for teleconsultation, who asked me to monitor our saturation levels and continue the medicine protocol. I requested Manu that I would prefer a government hospital. He said, ‘Don’t worry, we will do it. For now, follow the doctor’s advice.’ He called a few minutes later to inform me that he had arranged four hospital beds in a government hospital, and I could move there if there were the slightest indication that Ajay’s condition is deteriorating. The worst fears came true that night when his saturation dipped to 90 on oxygen support, and I knew home isolation wouldn’t work for him or my younger daughter anymore. His comorbidities added to my fears, and the following day, I called up Manu at 10 am to update him about the saturation status. Upon hearing Ajay’s numbers, he told me to rush immediately to the hospital and gave me the person’s coordinates (Vikas Panchal) at Satyawadi Raja Harish Chandra Hospital, Narela. The comforting bit was that the hospital was willing to accommodate all four of us. 

I informed my co-warriors in the WhatsApp group because they were looking for a bed for us all over NCR, scouring options at both private and government facilities on a war footing. Anupama Bose, or AB as I call her, was quick to send me an ambulance guy’s number that I called, booked, packed some clothes and at 1.30 pm on April 16th, started the arduous journey to recovery. 

We reached the hospital at 4 pm, and by then, Ajay’s SPO2 had dipped to 74. He was wheeled into ICU and while we to the third-floor general ward. My younger one needed oxygen support, and she was put on one immediately. 

Our go-to person Vikas and his wife Dr Komal, who was posted in the same hospital, were just a call away all through. So were Manu and Srinivas, constantly checking on us and taking our health updates with the treating doctor, especially for Ajay. 

The Warrior Squad formed by Dev became my secure space, and I don’t know how much and what all these beautiful souls did to make me stay put and fight it out with all my might, even as they battled with the agony of their near and dear ones becoming COVID positive and losing the battle. But they kept HOPE afloat for my family and me.  

On 20th, my sister Richa and brother-in-law Anudeep got six vials of Remdesivir for Ajay, and by paying an exorbitant sum of money. Ajay’s elder brother Rahul got the first two picked up from Faridabad and dropped at Vikas’ place, who came to the hospital and handed them to Ajay’s doctor. The first two doses were administered on the same day and rest over the next four days. The other four came on 22nd through Abdul, a driver who collected them from Rohini and came to Narela to give them. 

My father got to know about a homoeopathic medicine that was a lung booster. I contacted Deepa, whose husband Divesh (whom I fondly call a magician) got his bureaucratic colleagues in Delhi into action and within hours, I had the medicine with me. Papa scoured his phone book to get in touch with a driver whom he had met on his recent trips to Delhi to deliver some food and fruits for Ajay in the hospital. My second cousin Rachit sent home-cooked food, fruits and everything else that was needed for him. Papa’s doctor friends provided medical guidance and all of them were mighty impressed with the way doctors were going about his treatment. Anshul, my lawyer and brother from another mother, made ample arrangements by putting his clients on the job of sending snacks for my children and coconut water for Ajay in the hospital, and I can’t thank him enough for this.

His saturation dipped to 84 on 23rd and on full flow oxygen support, and I felt I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I met a doctor on the round, and he told me, ‘Ajay is very sick, and you need to look for a ventilator bed for him.’ I broke into a thousand pieces that moment. I called up Vikas and then Manu. Both of them reassured that Ajay has been showing signs of recovery and it could be a minor glitch that he will overcome soon. ‘Nothing to worry,’ they said almost in unison. I believed them and went about looking after my children and Ajay. Manu and Vikas were right.

The first bit of good news came on 25th when the doctors told me that my daughters are stable and good to go home in their best interests because they might catch another infection if they stay around any longer. My sister Shruti whose husband Pushp and four-year-old daughter were also COVID positive, pitched in to take them home in Sarita Vihar on 26th, and they were with her till May 10th. It was a great relief because now I had only one child to take care of, Ajay.   

I saw many deaths during my hospital stay, and they all bring an immense amount of pain even to date. I met Gaurav Maul, who was tending to his sick mother Radha, on the same floor. She was on BiPap, and her saturation was fluctuating. She needed intensive care, and despite our best efforts, we couldn’t get an ICU bed for her. She battled a lonely war against the virus in her hospital bed before breathing her last on the 28th. The helplessness still haunts me. The grief is so personal and yet so collective. 

On 29th, around midnight, there was another shocker. The doctor on night duty called me to discuss Ajay’s poor recovery because it was worrisome. He suggested that I take him out of the hospital and get his CT Scan done. It was a sleepless night. I dropped another SOS to my guardian angel, AB, to find a diagnostic centre around the hospital. She found one and booked an appointment past midnight. 

The following day, I signed a declaration form to take Ajay out of the hospital at my own risk. Once again, I dialled Vikas and Manu. Vikas told me that Ajay is recovering fine, and HRCT isn’t required. I requested Manu to help me get a small oxygen cylinder. He knew Ajay’s saturation was 92 then and was reassured that he would be fine without oxygen support for those half an hour while being away for the tests. It was a thriller drama as we left the hospital bed at 12.12 pm on 30th, rushed in my cousin brother’s private car to the nearest diagnostic centre, and came back at 12.53 pm. Ajay was huffing and puffing and his SPO2 without support at that moment when he reached his bed was 87. He was immediately put on full oxygen support, and slowly, he bounced back. 

LOVE IS BEAUTIFUL!

The reports were still worrisome, but the silver lining was his negative RAT and RTPCR tests that came the next day. We were relieved.  

Ajay was on full flow oxygen support during the first two weeks, intermittent after 15 days and then slowly no support after 17 days. He had his share of injections – antibiotics, anti-coagulant, and steroids – pumped into his veins that helped him get back on his feet. With its minimum resources, the hospital left no stone unturned to offer the best treatment to him, and that’s quite commendable.   

After three harrowing weeks of hospitalisation and near-death experience due to COVID, Ajay was discharged on May 5th, after 20 days. It will be a long road to recovery given the extent of damage to his lungs, but a significant part is hopefully behind.  

My sister Sonali, brother-in-law Rohit and niece Anushka in Mumbai were on their toes, praying and sending me her motivational videos so that I could hold on and not let it slip away. My friends Dev, AB, Chhitra, Taranjit, Mayank Aggarwal, Subha, Nidhi Jamwal, Eklavya Bhaiyya, Deepa, Divesh, Satish, Renu, Pallavi, Saroj, Anumeha, Manisha, Suman, Priyankita, Nikita, Fasiha, Saif, Jaspinder, Nishant, Abhishek, Jolly, Nidhi Sinha, Amitesh… and almost all of them from my family of friends from three schools that I attended, colleges I went to, places where I worked, became my sounding board as I could rant and crib and get back to caregiving business with more vigour. My foster family of Jameel Gulrays Sahab and his wife Rekha stood like a pillar during this crisis, and so did my friend Desiree’s father and mother, Khursheed and Pushpa Anwar, who are my foster parents. I had been a non-believer in healing, but Chhitra and Sonali made me see it in a new light. I was amazed how Manisha who is settled in Dubai had a strong intuition and kept texting and calling me when we tested positive; she didn’t buzz off till I told her that yes, we were positive. I think that is the friendship of three decades and its power that helped us heal. My brothers from North East – Jyoti, Ziaul and Arghadeep – texted and kept my spirits high all through. My octagenarian school teacher Mrs Vimla Kaul had immense faith that I will somehow sail through, and I am glad I did. My former bosses – P Mohanaiah Sir and S. Mani Kumar from NABARD – were worried from the day I informed them so they kept checking on me, and motivating me to keep my chin up. And on nights when I was anxious and stressed, I had two options to ease my mind… either call up Deepa and talk to her or go to YouTube and listen to my fav song – I’d Love You to Want Me by Lobo. These voices acted as a lullaby and soothed my frayed nerves.

My mother Shivam Sinha, who had immense faith in her Gods, and in the fact that her daughter is brave enough to defeat this invisible enemy and bring her family out of it, safe and sound, helped me sail through with her willpower once again. It was her faith that silently worked wonders. Papa did everything possible and built a support system around me so that I don’t feel alone in any way whatsoever. Unfortunately, my UK-based sister-in-law Poonam, who was another reservoir of hope for me during this crisis, lost her father-in-law to COVID in Kangra just a couple of days ago. Her husband (in London) and his younger brother (in Bhopal) couldn’t fly for his last rites, and that will perhaps haunt them forever. But that’s how this virus has crippled us. I made a few friends from those days in the hospital. And I hope to stay in touch as a reminder of the grim times that we overcame together.

We as a family are so profoundly touched and overwhelmed by the deluge of goodwill, messages, prayers of one and all. Upon returning home, I checked my Twitter DM, and there were messages from absolute strangers who wished us well and offered help. I don’t know what I have done to deserve this kind of love and support. My heart swells with gratitude at this outpouring. I was unable to reply to several messages or speak due to my tight caregiving schedule but my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who stood by us and prayed! It’s those prayers and wishes that gave us a new lease of life. And above all, I am deeply grateful to the do-gooder trio – Srinivas, Manu and Vikas – as I lovingly call them for all that they did to save a family from becoming a casualty figure in the second wave of COVID. 

And yes, Dev was right all through. I did come back home with my guttural laughter (because I laugh from the gut or so thinks my friend Manish Gaekwad). Exhausted, but still alive and kicking. However, I will never be able to speak to Aashish, never again, and that hurts. It will always do.

The Audio Medium

The article was published in all editions of The Free Press Journal on July 18, 2021.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/from-clubhouse-to-twitter-spaces-audio-platforms-are-offering-a-break-from-video-overdose-amid-the-pandemic

The keeper of languages

Jameel Gulrays, former adman and an avid literary enthusiast started a storytelling movement – Katha Kathan – with other like-minded storytellers to read aloud stories from Urdu and other Indian languages. These stories are released on his YouTube and podcast channels and also on Clubhouse. Together, these raconteurs hope to preserve these languages from becoming dialects and keep the storytelling tradition alive for the younger generations.

Abdullah Zakaria

Mumbai, June 20, 2021: The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories, said American writer Mary Catherine Bateson, and Mumbai-based septuagenarian adman Jameel Gulrays couldn’t agree more with her. After spending more than five decades in the advertising world, working on popular brands, and teaching the nuances of this profession as a faculty member at leading institutions, Gulrays turned a new leaf and dedicated himself to work on his passion project – Katha Kathan. It was kindled by his earnest desire to preserve Urdu, and other Indian languages, promote and popularise them so that these aren’t reduced to mere dialects but live on to tell tales and regale the younger generations. He, along with his band of storytellers, has been pursuing the idea zealously since then.   

Early years

He was born with a silver spoon to Abid Gulrays in Bombay (as Mumbai was known then) on November 5, 1949. His father was multitalented – satirist, poet, and columnist par excellence – who also wrote songs for Hindi films in the 40s and 50s. Reminiscing his lyricist father, he says, “Surajmukhi released in 1950 had two memorable songs – suniye huzoor husn ka charcha na kijiye and husn ka guroor hai ye buri baat hai. The latter sung by Lata Mangeshkar was a blazing hit.” His father has 20 songs and ghazals to his credit as a lyricist. 

(from left to right) Abid Gulrays with Durga Khote, Ayaz Peerbhoy, and O.N. Verma, while recording a radio programme “Sanforized Ke Mehmaan”. 

At one point time, Abid Sahab was also associated with the newspaper, Inquilab. His satirical poems titled Baatein were a popular feature of the newspaper. He wrote these poems daily under the pseudonym, Cigarette Baaz. He also wrote a column, Tazyane, and it was so popular among the readers that many of them bought the newspaper just to read his piece. He used the pseudonym Phool Phenk, which came from Gulraiz. He wrote many columns under different names. He moved on from Inqilab to edit Mosavvir following a tiff with the management at the newspaper. Babu Rao Patel owned the publication Mosavvir, a popular film magazine, and at one point in time, it was edited by none other than Saadat Hasan Manto.

A poster of film Surajmukhi.

“I still fondly remember what he told me in my growing-up years, though I lost him quite early on at eight, these lessons have become the guiding principles of my life. He used to tell me that ‘should anyone move one step towards you, you should take ten steps forward and meet him/ her. If someone takes one step away, you move 10 miles away’. He always urged me to do my job without expecting anything in return, as expectations always hurt. Another invaluable lesson was around money. It is inconsequential, so don’t give importance to it; it can’t buy happiness.”    

But destiny had other plans. Gulrays’ father was fond of horse racing, and in one such race, he lost his entire fortune. He couldn’t cope with the humungous loss, and unable to bear it, he passed away soon after. It was the beginning of a long period of misery for the family. They were forced to move out of their plush bungalow in Mahim and settle in the predominantly Muslim locality, Bhendi Bazaar. The little boy was just eight then. Due to financial constraints, he was enrolled in an Urdu medium school – Bandra Urdu High School (now Bandra Urdu High School & Junior College Of Science, Commerce and MCVC). “In hindsight, I think, it was all a part of God’s plan. I loved reading Urdu and Persian literature during my early years in school and college, and these stories stayed on with me forever. Perhaps, I was destined to take on the arduous job of saving the language and its literature one day,” he says, with a deep sense of satisfaction.  

The badge of his Bandra Urdu High School carried three words – Azm (determination), Koshish (efforts) and Imaandari (honesty) and these values have stood him in good stead all through. 

Ad-ding on to life 

The loss of the breadwinner took a toll on his mother. She couldn’t live for long in penury, fell ill, and eventually passed away. “Her death shattered me completely as she was my biggest pillar of strength,” he says with moist eyes. His voice chokes on the mere mention of his parents, both of whom he lost early on in life. 

Gulrays shared his mother’s photo on her birth anniversary on June 6. She passed away when he was 18.

He was eighteen and barely in the first year of college then, but he had to fend for himself and also look after his family that included two younger brothers. He desperately started looking for a job to make ends meet. Circumstances forced him to leave his place in Bhendi Bazaar and relocate to a far-off suburb Malvani. “The nearest station was Naigaon, and I had to walk for an hour to take a local train. It was an underdeveloped area then, and hardly any buses used to ply there. Come rain or hail, I had no choice but to keep marching on, both literally and metaphorically,” he says. 

Advertising legend Ayaz Peerbhoy, who was his father’s friend, came forward to help and hired him for his agency. The remuneration was meagre, but it was something he badly needed, and he gladly took up this offer. In those days, the advertising world was dominated by English-speaking people, and anyone who didn’t know the language had little or no chance of survival. His ability not to give up came in handy and has stood him in good stead throughout. He not only learned English but mastered it. Later in his life, he set up an advertising agency and had the top-notch brand as his clients, and gave some memorable advertising campaigns in his five-decade-long career.

A new chapter 

He is an avid reader, and loves to spend hours immersed in the world of words. The library at his house in Khar, Mumbai, has an enviable collection of Urdu literature. One day, while sitting in his room, immersed in one of Manto’s stories, it dawned upon him that after his demise, his treasure trove will be in a shambles. “A raddi wala (ragpicker) will come and collect these books and sell it to a kabadi wala (junk dealer), who will sell it to vendors. Manto will be served on a plate of bhelpuri, Chugtai will be wrapped in paan, and Krishan Chander will be wrapped on vada pavs,” he rued. The thought shook him no end, and he decided to tell those tales, some well-known, others not so known, and many of them unheard, unread, and unknown, for the benefit of the younger generation. His passion for preserving Urdu and other Indian languages and the earnest desire to promote and popularise them for the younger generation led him to pursue the idea zealously. 

His undying love for stories that gave birth to Katha Kathan, a virtual repository of gems from Indian languages, relayed through his online social media channels on YouTube and Soundcloud – and relived through his offline storytelling sessions, a regular feature before the lockdown.  

A virtual Baithak with Team Katha Kathan in progress.

To start with, he started recording masterpieces from Urdu literature and releasing them on his YouTube channel. “One day, people might not be able to read these tales as they would no longer know the script. If these pieces are recorded and preserved, they would still be able to listen to them, whenever and wherever, and this, in a way, will preserve the treasure trove of stories for posterity,” he recounts. Initially, Gulrays thought of focussing only on Urdu literature, but once he exchanged the idea with others, he realised that the fate of other Indian languages is no different, so he widened his scope and included other “gems” of Indian literature, and featured stories in vernacular languages too.

Katha Kathan was started in 2015, and to date, he has recorded more than two thousand stories for his online platforms. It is a passion project funded by his selfless desire, and in all these six years, he has made humungous investments in terms of his money, time and energy, without taking a penny from any outsider. The growth and reach of the Katha Kathan project are purely organic, be it the views or the subscribers. The numbers only show the depth of his involvement and the widespread reach of his movement to keep Urdu and other Indian languages alive.  

Praiseworthy efforts

His honest endeavours have been suitably rewarded, and the former adman is now known as a connoisseur of the Urdu language, and his quintessential storytelling has won him many ardent fans and followers, and they range from celebrities to ordinary people. His popularity cuts across geographical, social, and linguistic barriers. People across the globe closely follow his work. Renowned actor Naseeruddin Shah has joined hands with him and is a regular in all Katha Kathan events. It is their shared love for Urdu that has kindled their camaraderie and friendship.  

Jameel Gulrays and actor Naseeruddin Shah pose against the Wall of Fame featuring literary giants from Urdu and other Indian languages. “Our relationship is based on mutual respect for each other’s work,” he says.

Sharing an anecdote, he says, “It so happened that I was recording Ismat Apa’s stories and releasing them on my YouTube channel, one after the other. I noticed that someone called Naseeruddin Shah would invariably comment and praise my work on these uploads. At first, I thought this must be some imposter. Why would someone of Naseeruddin Shah’s stature stop by at my YouTube channel, appreciate my work and care to comment? I wondered.” After the fifth story, he received a message that he (Naseeruddin) is coming to Delhi and would like to meet Gulrays. The actor thought that Gulrays is Delhi-based. Gulrays informed him that he lives in Mumbai, and they met, discussed the stories; Shah staged those as “Aurat, Aurat, Aurat,” and it was well-received by the audience. The actor, in his magnanimity, mentioned Gulrays’ name and his contribution in every interview that he gave after his play’s astounding success. “I sometimes wonder how come a genuine soul like him still exists in this world. He never declined his invite to any Katha Kathan show,” he says. Today, the actor is relearning Urdu, and calls Gulrays whenever he comes across a difficult word or sentence. Their relationship is based on mutual respect for each other’s work. “I have also benefited immensely from this partnership, and Naseeruddin Shah has always obliged my request for the interviews. Karwan-e-Mohabbat, with which I am associated, has gained a lot from these interviews,” he says.

Minding the language

These days, filmmaker Vishal Bharadwaj and his singer wife Rekha Bharadwaj are taking lessons in Ghalib from the connoisseur of the Urdu language. “There are two interesting anecdotes about Ghalib. One is that “if it wasn’t for many of Ghalib’s “shrah” (explanation of Ghalib by many scholars), he would have been very easy to understand. And the second one is that Ghalib is perhaps the only poet in the world whose work, if you can’t decipher, gives you double the pleasure,” says Gulrays. He thinks that if one has to understand Ghalib, one has to view his poetry through the prism of mysticism. “Ghalib himself declares in one of his couplets that he would have been considered a “Sufi” if it wasn’t for his drinking habits. Jameel insists that an effort to understand Ghalib must be made in this direction if we truly want to decipher his work,” he adds. One of his explanations has impressed Gulzar so much that he has expressed his desire to meet him. 

Katha Kathan celebrates the works of Rabindranath Tagore, Premchand, Sahir Ludhianvi, Krishen Chander, Ismat Chugtai, and many others, but the celebrated and controversial writer Manto remains Gulrays’ all-time favorite. “Manto continues to be misunderstood despite finding new admirers decades after his death because most people haven’t really read his work in totality. They read six or eight of his stories and dub him an obscene or a dark writer. He is neither, and there is a lot of it that needs to be explored to understand Manto’s body of work better,” he adds.

Jameel Gulrays is not just an individual but an institution.

Taking a walk down the memory lane, he recounts how his childhood home – his lavish bungalow in Mahim – had a portion of it rented out to Shyam, a popular actor in those days, by his father to tide over the financial crunch. Shyam and Manto were best of friends, and Manto often dropped in to see Shyam. It seems like a connection established by the umbilical cord, and Gulrays holds the prolific writer in high regards. “Why Manto decided to migrate to Pakistan is a question still debated by many. He was miserable there, as some of his letters reveal. Perhaps, he took that decision because of an incident involving his friend Shyam. Riots had hit both sides of the border. Shyam had some relatives in Lahore, and he was anxious about their safety and wellbeing in such troubled times. One day, news came that one of them had been killed, and in an inebriated state, he told Manto that he could kill him one of these days. Regaining his sobriety, he apologised, but Manto was so shaken up that he decided to leave India. The interesting bit is Shyam went to see him off at the dock, where they drank together for the last time,” recounts Gulrays.

Lifelong mission

Now, in his twilight days, Gulrays could ill afford to bask in the glory days and live off comfortably. Not someone to sit on his laurels, he has been working for the Indian languages and literature because, as he says, “Languages are our homes, and we must protect them.” 

He rues how the millennials are losing touch with their mother tongue. “If they don’t prefer to communicate in their mother tongue, eventually they would lose touch and forget to read and write in that language. Once that happens, it would spell the death knell for these languages,” says Gulrays, explaining the real reason behind his passion project – the need to preserve these languages so that they don’t up remain a dialect for future generations.    

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxwkaqhlLvBs-5kgKQXNnOQ

To listen to stories, follow Jameel Gulrays on YouTube and Soundcloud.

Gulrays is not just an individual but an institution. So many people claim to love Urdu, but there is no one like him. He remains one among the few sincere and selfless soldiers of the language who has been single-handedly working on this mission, regardless of the bouquet or brickbats that could come his way.

A Baithak of Katha Kathan is a must on the first Saturday of every month. During the pandemic, it has moved to a virtual platform. Earlier, it was held at his home, where stories flowed along with a generous helping of snacks and beverages. These days, he has started using Clubhouse to his advantage and hosts a dramatised storytelling session with Katha Kathan Team at 10.30 pm every Sunday. These virtual sessions see story lovers from across the world in attendance. 

Katha Kathan’s Jashn-e-Manto featuring actor Naseeruddin Shah.

Bushra Rahman, an eminent Urdu novelist across the border, once sent a message praising his style. Shah, when asked, ‘why we don’t a Zia Mohyeddin here?’ had once famously quipped, “You haven’t heard of Jameel Gulrays.” Shah’s statement sums up the sentiments of his ardent admirers, who come from across the world, belong to different age groups, and speak different languages. The common thread binding them all is their love for stories in Urdu and other Indian languages. And the tribe is growing every day. 

Team Katha Kathan with Jameel Gulrays.

A devoted Urdu lover, he has a team of young volunteers growing under his tutelage at Katha Kathan to keep the love for languages and stories alight. He quotes a couplet of Majrooh Sultanpuri in the parting, and that succinctly sums up his illustrious journey.  

“Maiñ akelā hī chalā thā jānib-e-manzil magar 
log saath aate ga.e aur kārvāñ bantā gayā.”

Men, masculinity and their toxicity

https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/heres-how-to-tackle-toxic-masculinity

The article was published in The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, edition dated March 14, 2021.

For my love for all things handwritten!

The article appeared in The New Indian Express, edition dated February 14, 2021. https://www.newindianexpress.com/lifestyle/books/2021/feb/14/the-moving-finger-writessulekha-ink-and-itscollectors-edition-swadeshi-line-2262808.html

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

― Omar Khayyám