Friday, October 12, 2007

They do show up, you know

A few weeks ago, Jamia had organised an Indo-Pak mushaira.

Since I was heading towards Jamia in any case - to visit Qurratulain Hyder's grave - I decided to attend. The main draw, for me, was Nida Fazli being one of the featured poets but there was the undeniable anticipation of watching a real, live, mushaira - my first such experience - with famous contemporary poets from both sides of the border. As it turned out, many other people had been just as eagerly anticipating the event.

I knew it would be a packed audience because, despite begging and pleading with the media relations office, there were no more 'passes' to be had. The gentleman who picked up the phone very politely, very insistently let me know that the organisers were already nervous; they might have distributed more cards than there were seats. However, what I walked into that evening was too much like a poetry mob for my comfort. There was a crowd of about 300 students gathered outside the Ansari auditorium although I had arrived half an hour early. The watchmen stood in a cluster to one side, allowing you in only if you waved your invite.

I stood in queue, listening to several elderly ladies arguing about how they had definitely got an invite, they just couldn't find it at the moment, while the crowds swelled and roared to be allowed in.

Once I was seated inside, the roar filtered in every few minutes. Cries of murdabad. Cries of angry, impatient, excited youth. Frightening cries. From behind the empty stage's curtains, a firm, polite voice repeatedly requested the waiting students to go around to the back, where the open-air auditorium was and where a large screen had been set up for those who did not have an invite. I wish I could communicate here, right now, the sweetness of that firm request. How, in Urdu, you can say, "Auditorium mein gunjaish kum hai... Hum jaante hain ke aap kitne mushtaq hain, kitne betaab hain", sounding deeply civil and how you cannot match that to its translation. "There's no space here" is just not the same thing, is it?

The announcement must have been repeated at least a dozen times before some of the mushtaq-betaab crowd budged. Once a few had budged, some more budged. Eventually, enough of them budged to dispel the organisers' fears and the program could begin. Some of the promised poets did not attend (Javed Akhtar was missing, for instance). Nida Fazli was, well, Nida Fazli. His poetry was lovely in its simple themes and he was as direct and clear-throated as his verse. I'd read some of his longer poems, but this time he concentrated on 'dohas', which were a revelation. (Today, incidentally, is his birthday.)

Asgar Nadeem, a visiting Pakistani poet, presented a new one about sixty-year old travelers. Or possibly, travelers who had been on the road for sixty years and cannot find their way home.

"Musafir saath barso.n ke abhi tak ghar nahin pahunche...
kahin par raaste ki ghaans mein.... taarikh ki jadein khojte hain....
musafir saath barson ke bade pareshaan hain..."

(Travelers of sixty years have not reached home yet...
Somewhere along the way, they stop to look in the grass
for the roots of history...
these travelers of sixty years are very troubled....)

Popular Meeruthi warmed up the evening considerably with easy, jocular shers like "Raaz ab samjha jhuki nazro.n ka, jisko sharmili samjha, vo bhai.ngi nikli". The students were delighted. I was not, especially after he took pointless potshots at Mallika Sherawat's clothes. However, I do love funny poetry, and one of my favourites is Popular's take on a famous Zafar sher.

"mahabuub vaadaa kar ke bhii aayaa na dosto
kyaa kyaa kiyaa na ham ne yahaa.N us ke pyaar me.n
murGe churaa ke laaye the jo chaar "Popular"
"do aarazuu me.n kaT gaye, do intazaar me.n"

[Zafar's original was: "umr-e-daraaz maang ker laye the chaar din
do arzoo main kat gaye, do intezar main"]

The highlight of the evening, for me, was the oldest poet (Gulzar Dehlavi? I failed to catch his name when it was announced) who had turned up in a white sherwani, his skinny legs looking even skinnier and more bowed in a white churidaar, a red rose in his button-hole, a scurrying walk, a cap tilted on his bald head, and a flamboyance that quite made up for the lack of brilliant poetry (none that he chose to read at any rate).

He joked about how he's been instructed to read poetry but not something as old as himself. He read second-rate romantic shers, then paused to look at the audience and state: "Saste sher zyaada chalte hain" (the cheaper verses are more popular), before going on read some more! He scampered. He lolled against the gao-takia. He almost rolled over backwards at one point. He spoke loudly, interrupted when he chose, and gallantly insisted that the women poets also come up on stage to sit 'humare pehlu mein' (which is not the same as merely sitting next to somebody, is it?) "Meherbaani kar ke zahmat farmayein", he said and spoke of how he had not seen the white-haired Zahra since the 50s, and how very beautiful she was. Zahra, despite the coaxing, did not come to come up to sit in his pehlu, but the much younger Kishwar, did.

I hadn't read much of Kishwar Naheed and the little I found on the net might be early work that does her little justice. Hers seems to be strong, feminine voice that knows the art of gentle combat.

Half-way into the evening, I decided to leave the auditorium to sit at the back, with others who did not have passes. There awaited the real surprise of the evening. There must have been at least two thousand people watching and listening, almost all young men, almost all students of Jamia. So this had been the roar that was demanding to be let in, to hear the poets live, instead of watching them on a screen.

And of course, they made crude comments, especially when the women poets stood up to read. And of course, they were snide about the more serious shers. And of course, they treated romance with as much disdain as they could summon but reveled in it nonetheless.

My only reaction was a befuddled 'wow!'. The very idea was overwhelming. Two thousand and more! At a poetry event!


Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for this wonderful report on the mushaira!

Nida Fazli remains a rather underestimated poet in my view. His experiments with the doha form since the early nineties marks in some ways a return to the "little tradition" in Urdu poetry- the poetry of Mir and (the Pakistani poet) Ibne- Insha. I wish he had written more lyrics for films, which still remains the most popular medium for Urdu poetry.

And yes, condolences for Popularji's four murges :-)

Anand said...

oh, you got to hear fazli live. that is wonderful. javed akhtar is really not a loss. and i wonder what amit dahiya badshah will make of two thousand people at a poetry event (not organized by him!)... ah, i wish i was in delhi. i did get to hear some ribald jokes about firaq gorakhpuri and harivansh rai bachcan from an esteemed professro from delhi on sunday, and i guess that will have to do for now, till i return.... wonderful post. thank you.

Anand said...

and yes, i am still giiggling over popular's 4 murgas.

parvez said...

Loved your take on the 'white sherwani'. says much more than it seems. :) Parvez

Anonymous said...

yes yes correct ill keep you update on this blog, for my new article, just wait for a day


Tweets by @anniezaidi