Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bahaar Aaee

On the day the Christians of Badami Bagh were brutally punished by their Lahori neighbors for yet another cooked-up blasphemy, a gloomy Sabahat Zakariya went to hear Tahira Syed sing Faiz's poems at the Alhamra Arts Center. She was pleasantly surprised 

I was under the impression that Lahoris don't appreciate serious music, that's why I've always performed in Karachi, but this audience has really surprised me."

The 500-strong crowd at the Alhamra Arts Center could have taken offense at this declaration of Tahira Syed's. Or they could have accepted the backhanded compliment for what it was. They chose the latter, bursting into self-congratulatory applause at their role in this timely revision of the songbird's take on their city.

It was a day when outside endorsement of Lahore's benign spirit was bound to be lapped up hungrily. Just a few hours before the concert, a poisonous mix of self-righteousness and discontent had unleashed itself on a hapless Christian neighborhood of Lahore, leaving in its wake more than a hundred burnt houses and hundreds more permanently charred lives. Under those circumstances, Adeel Hashmi's delicate interweaving of Faiz's letters and poetry with Asad Anees's grand piano made the Alhamra hall seem worlds removed from the pyromania of Badaami Bagh. This being a Faiz event, there was every reason to suppose that troubles other than love would be brought up, and so they were by Adeel Hashmi, who began the show with a moving speech addressing the pall that had descended on the city since morning. Sitting in the audience and looking around, I couldn't escape the depressing feeling that much like English-language writing in Pakistan, liberal rhetoric at a ticketed cultural event is permanently stuck in a vicious cycle of preaching to the converted. Several couples -presumably parents of the Lahore Grammar School students who had presented the opening act of the night - got up and left even before Hashmi had time to finish his speech and launch into his recitation. I couldn't decide if it was their apathy that defined my city's spirit or the enthusiasm of the four hundred-odd people who enjoyed a Saturday night of music until the end.

Like English-language writing in Pakistan, liberal rhetoric at a ticketed cultural event is stuck in a vicious cycle

Adeel Hashmi, with his ability to smoothly transition between comedy and serious matter, and then to combine the two where necessary, is a valuable Faiz Ghar asset, reminiscent of his uncle Shoaib Hashmi in this as well as matters of stage presence and crowd handling. Both are fortunate in having evaded the comic actor's affliction of not being taken seriously once they make the switch, what with Faiz's grandson handling his poetry with an earnestness that adds merit to what might seem a nepotistic selection. The only thing that jars at the now frequent Faiz Ghar events is their insistence on promoting Faiz and Faiz alone. His legacy as a poet is now extremely well-established. Surely Faiz Ghar can afford to branch out into the exploration of other members of Urdu's beleaguered creative fraternity in ways as attractive as the marketing of Faiz, an endeavour that would also be very much in line with the giving spirit of Faiz the man, one who openly ranked Hafeez Jalandhari among the greatest poets of his time, despite the latter's varied and vicious personal attacks on Faiz's character. The recently held Daastaan-Goi, Shyam Benegal Festival and Motley Theatre events suggest that Faiz Ghar will branch out into supporting the creative arts in general and not just stick with Faiz alone, which is a heartening development. This new direction, however, was not visible at this particular concert, which seemed to have straitjacketed Tahira Syed into singing Faiz and Malika Pukhraj alone, marring the spontaneous flow of an otherwise excellent evening. Why it needed to drag in Alys Faiz as an alibi for the concert never became clear to me, especially considering that a tribute to Alys Faiz had been performed a couple of weeks before on the same stage and Faiz's birthday had also been celebrated a week before with the traditional Tina Sani evening. The inclusion of Malika Pukhraj seemed suspiciously like a condition of Tahira Syed's for appearing on the Faiz Ghar platform, and the addition of Alys Faiz an attempt at offsetting the focus on Syed and Pukhraj.

Not only does Tahira Syed look as fresh as ever, her voice is just as perky as it was many years ago

I was expecting to enjoy the Malika Pukhraj section, since so many of her songs are part of the collective consciousness of Pakistan's PTV generations. And I was not disappointed. Not only does Tahira Syed look as fresh as ever, her voice is just as perky and strong as it was many years ago. Lo Phir Basant Aaee proved an excellent choice for the first song, evoking both the joy of spring on a balmy March evening and the pang of Lahore's severance from its centuries-old past with the banning of the Basant Festival. Syed also peppered her chatter between songs with some well-placed humour. moving into Riaz Khairabaadai's ghazal Hum bhee piyayn tumhayn bhee pilaaeeN tamaam raat with this quip: 'Of course, prohibition mayN tau yeh mumkin naheeN hae. Magar yeh pehlay ki gaaee huee hae', shifting immediately afterwards into the pahaari folk tune Allah Bailuva Ho, leaving me marveling at this seamless celebration of God and booze in our poetic traditions.

The Faiz section, which I was a bit apprehensive about, having never heard Tahira Syed sing him before, turned out to be quite a joy, especially since it contained three "new" compositions by Arshad Mehmood who was also in attendance. Go sab ko baham saaghar-o-baada tau naheen tha, yeh shehr udaas itna zyaada tau naheen tha, a ghazal I am familiar with through a home recording of Arshad Mehmood singing it himself was my only disappointment. Mehmood's own voice is much more suited to the tune as well as the pathos of the poetry, so I couldn't stop comparing it unfavourably to the original version. Add to that Syed constantly pronouncing 'zyaada' as 'zaada', and it made for something like a low point in the evening.

At the very end, one audience request which was neither from the Pukhraj nor the Faiz canons was accommodated after special permission was granted by Muneeza Hashmi upon Tahira Syed's coaxing. A rousing 'Jhaanjhar Phabdi Na' ended an overall fantastic evening that I couldn't yet again help but feel grateful to the Faiz Foundation Trust for.

Published in The Friday Times of March 15-21, 2013

1 comment:

  1. Arshad say behtar iss ghazal ko koee gaa naheeƱ sakta …