Abu Dhabi-based Syed Sarosh Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Amid the global upheaval and distress caused by the coronavirus pandemic, an Indian banker in Abu Dhabi has come up with a heart-warming social media initiative that seeks to lift sagging spirits through the medium of Urdu poetry.

In less than a fortnight of its launch, the expat’s Facebook Live Ghazal Challenge has spread to more than 10 countries.

Every few minutes, top Hindi and Urdu poets take up the gauntlet on Facebook and recite their poems before an online audience.

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The response to the challenge has been very encouraging Image Credit: Supplied

“What began as a small community project to engage and entertain people stuck in homes has transformed into a movement that knows no boundaries,” said Syed Sarosh, the brainchild of the #fbliveghazal challenge.

Overwhelming response

“Nearly 1,200 people from as far as South Africa, USA and Canada have taken part in the challenge so far, besides many from India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Nepal and the UAE. These include storytellers and eminent poets like Abbas Tabish, Ayesha Ayub, Shariq Kaifi, Azhar Inayati and Himanshu Bajpai to name a few,” said Sarosh, originally from Rampur, a city in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

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Several storytellers and eminent poets have taken part in challenge so far

Participants are expected to avoid discourses on religion or politics. Each person who takes part in the challenge is encouraged to nominate five others.

Sarosh said nominees don’t necessarily have to recite poems. “They can share tips on how to stay positive during the coronavirus crisis, talk about their well-being or just narrate stories. For instance, the other day we had Delhi-based historian Rana Safvi regale children with her wonderful collection of folk tales. The kids relished them,” he said.

Imad-ul Malik, Farhan Wasti, Tarannum Ahmed and radio jockeys Gagan Mudgal and Fahad Hussain are among several UAE-based Urdu poetry lovers who have participated in the challenge.

Social distancing message

“I used poet Waseem Barelvi’s famous couplet “Woh mere ghar nahin aata, Mein uske ghar nahin jaata. Magar in ehtiyato se t’alluq mar nahin jaata” (He doesn’t come to my place. I don’t go to his place. But precautions don’t end relations) to convey the message of social distancing,” said Malik who heads a financial institution in Dubai. “Given the current scenario I also expressed my thoughts on how corporate houses could tide over the crisis without making job cuts,” he added.

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A poetry challenge participant Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah resident Tarannum Ahmed captivated listeners with her father Anwar Tabah’s poem ‘Mazdoor aur Aadmi’. “It was written many years ago but it perfectly depicts the plight of migrant workers in India who have been badly hit by the lockdown in the country,” she said.

Aside from spreading cheer and bonhomie, the challenge has also helped tackle online rumours and fake news about coronavirus.

“Recently a bogus news was circulated claiming that lockdown violators in Bhopal, India, will be shot dead. That day poetess Dr Nusrat Mehndi from the same city did a Facebook live during which she dispelled the rumour,,” recalled Sarosh.

Next to take the challenge is septuagenarian theatre personality Ashok Lal whose great grandfather Munshi Hargopal Tafta was a beloved disciple of legendary 19th century Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib. Sarosh said he’s overwhelmed by the response. “I never thought this home-grown initiative would spread so far so quickly,” he said.