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Actor Shabana Azmi says, “Culture cannot be kept under lock and key.” Best remembered for her performances in classics such as Ankur (1974) and Arth (1982), Azmi was in Delhi to speak at Jashn-e-Rekhta — the annual three-day festival celebrating Urdu’s cultural heritage and history. In a tête-à-tête with HT City, she waxes eloquent about her love for Urdu, recollects fond memories of her growing up in a culturally-rich atmosphere, and stresses on the importance of going back to one’s roots to be able to reach one’s full potential.

Azmi, who comes from a family of poets and artists, shares she feels blessed to have grown up in an atmosphere full of cultural influences. “In my growing years, it was almost by a process of osmosis, that I inherited a love for acting and theatre from my mother [Shaukat Kaifi] and father [Kaifi Azmi]. We were fortunate that we had literary giants Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Josh Malihabadi, and Begum Akhtar as house guests. I would be very fascinated when I saw these evenings from behind the curtains, the tinkling, and laughter. My father would always encourage me to come and sit with those people, but provided that this did not become an excuse for me to bunk school the next day. At that time, I couldn’t even understand the language, but it was like music filling my ears.”

About her role in attempts to revive the Urdu language, she says, “Urdu celebrates our Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (a cultural and linguistic phenomenon in North India, that celebrates cultural and linguistic syncretism between the Hindu and Muslim communities). Urdu is actually Hindustani with a couple of words that are different.