Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rahat ki Raat

Miracles happen, even today. A few of the miracle-men are still around us. Just when you lament the absence of the past in the present, the miracle man carries its legacy and runs past you. Into the future. He is sent to help time keep its promise to the future. He is sent to ensure that the past, through the ages, remains glorious. I know of one - his faculties are unassuming yet legendary; his persona transparent yet unsolved. His trivialities are enigmatic, his lucidity inexplicable.

When he sings, you cannot but believe that it's humanly impossible to sing like that. And if you happen to see him right afterwards, you find him impossibly human. I was fortunate enough to have this second perspective of Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan this weekend.

Having already performed in two sold-out concerts in the area at the beginning of his US-Canada tour, the organizers had to fit in another one on the eve of his departure to appease the unrelenting callers requesting for another show in New York. This was a sold out event as well, and had many repeat attendees. As he always does, the Ustad thrilled with his electrifying singing of traditional and popular fare. Starting with two magical kalaam of Hazrat Amir Khusroo - Mann Kunto Maula and Chhap Tilak Sab Chhini - he re-iterated the spirit of borderless spirituality sometime later when he said he feels happy whenever there is an Indo-Pak collaboration. 'This is how we should live, as brothers,' he said and waited for the audience to stop cheering before he could start on with his next song.

"Harmonium aur mera voice mein thoda aur volume dijiye," he said once. I had a feeling it was going to be Aaj Din Chadheya and indeed it was. If one didn't hear him sing that song the way he did that night, one would never get an idea as to what it really was. When he said, 'Jeeti rahe Sultanat teri, jeeti rahe aashiqui meri,' there was no doubt as to what love he was talking about. You could feel the same when he started off with O Re Piya. The context in the film, the words, the message - all of these get blurred when he sings live. You just realize the trance creep into you and feel thankful of the experience. He was unbelievably outstanding in Halka Halka Suroor, Chhap Tilak and Aankhiyan Udeek Diya - among the traditional songs.

I managed to somehow go backstage during the interval, about two hours into the show. He was talking to a friend and smiled and nodded towards me before I could say anything. It is eerie, as to how almost all his songs have at least a couple of lines in them that I identify with my own feelings and thoughts. It is uncanny how I feel he sings my mind at those places but in front of him, I could barely tell him a fraction of all I wanted to say. A few incoherent sentences later, I asked him if he could sign his photo for me and I didn't mean to disturb him. 'Haq hai aap ka,' he said, before noting that the photo was from 1998. He smiled when I told him he had performed with Eddie Vedder in the same year. I also told him I love going back to the video where he privately sings Gham Hai Ya Khushi Hai Tu - in 1994. He put an arm on my shoulder and said, 'Bahot shukriya aap ka, aap itna pyaar se sunte ho.' And this is how the conversation went for the next ten minutes, and then I got my coveted photo with him.

"It's that you for real in Facebook", I asked. "No," he said. I said I felt as much, because there was no updates or any replies to my messages. "Is he doing anything bogus,' he asked back. I said no. It was time to resume the show and I requested him to sing Mann Bawra Tujhe Dhoondta. 'Bahot achha gaana hai, zaroor sunayenge,' he smiled at me, and added - 'Aap thoda stage ke saamne aa jaana main bhool gaya to.'

I must confess here that, after the intermission I could not listen to him as attentively as I do. I was still trying to believe I really met him and talked to him. His genuine humility made it feel all the more serene, and I could not keep my mind off those ten minutes with him. I forgot to draw his attention and he forgot to sing my song. And when I met him again after the concert, he saw me and came rushing towards me. 'I am very sorry', he said, and kept repeating it. I told him I considered myself fortunate to have talked to him in person and hear him sing in front of me, but he said it one more time before getting into the car. It was great to see him talk contently to the organizers about the success of last 30 days, and laughing and joking with his childhood friend who he was meeting after 10 years.

I have to talk separately about the rendition of Ye Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai that night. He surpassed himself in those thirty minutes of passionate singing, which was even more incredible because he had very little vocal support in his group. He just took the fabulous qawwali to an even higher plane. The intensity of the song was such that I thought, this is in no way Halka. The intoxication was undiluted and took you high instantaneously. Four days later, still feeling dazed and feeling blessed, I realize he was talking about this lasting, mild intoxication that's sure to last a lifetime.

Here's wishing the best of everything to the undoubted best of our times.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


One by one along the descent of time
A past undone, for a present sublime
A trust won, then the evident crime -
The pain and then, to the next refuge.

They all speak the same words sweet
You get weak and the words repeat
Twist and tweak, inch towards deceit -
The pain and then, to the next refuge.

The best of races, the spotless breed
The sacred places of a useless need
Fake embraces and the endless greed -
The pain and then, to the next refuge.

Smiling coexistence of an assorted mix
The fabled tolerance, flouted ethics
Practiced pretense, and inherited tricks -
The pain and then, to the next refuge.

Inseparable ties that bind the unknown
Truth in lies, you find, you're shown
Suppressed sighs - the grind, all alone
The pain and then, to the next refuge.

Now I'm blind in your charm unseen
In you confined, on your arm, I'd lean
You're kind, I know, no harm you mean
But please don't be my next refuge.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Days of Dreams

A horizon where it's ever-sunset
I love the hues of crimson-spill
Sprinkled stars, I'd not forget
Around the moon, atop the hill
Drawing us in silver clouds, I
Bring them close, and up we rise
No one stops, or asks me why
When I dream, with open eyes.

A field spread out, like your arms
A breeze, of your breath, is made
The cloudy eyes, all their charms -
In the sleepy cool of a maple-shade
A cradling branch, a redbird sings
It chirps for you, never again flies
I just see these same, few things
When I dream, with open eyes.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hoga Masiha Saamne Tere

"Every time I am about to sing, I feel these words are meant for me," he said. And the aalap that followed gave the song, and hence the words, away. You know he is just being modest - as true artists be. For, anyone with a working ear would have never agreed. Not when the words are 'Sur na saje, kya gaoon main?' And never when he is Manna De.

The singing icon was in Hyderabad this weekend as a part of the week-long celebration of Bimal Roy's cinema on the occasion of his centenary. Manna Da - a prominent voice in his films - was being felicitated on this occasion. "I'm not far behind, I am ninety," he said, looking dapper in a crisp suit and the trademark cap. The fortunate audience clapped. "I think I will sing in my own centenary as well." The audience roared this time, and the claps refused to stop. Meanwhile, he was still in that first song from Basant Bahar - at 'Sangeet mann ko pankh lagaye'. My mind was indeed flying, high on the wings of this unexpected encounter. I still could not believe I was standing in front of him as he walked out of the elevator - just a few minutes back. Not sure if I'd get another chance, I asked for an autograph. He looked at the sketch on the paper (the same one as above) and smiled. "Later", he said, and shook my hand. My evening was made - I have lived to shake hands with Manna De.

He sang 14 songs at a stretch - something I have not seen anyone else doing. They were -

Sur Na Saje from Basant Bahaar
Madhushala (it was great to hear him mention Jaidev as 'a genius')
Dharti Kahe Pukar Ke from Do Bigha Zameen
Zindagi, Kaisi Hai Paheli from Anand
Jhanak Jhanak Tori Baaje Paayalia from Mere Huzoor
Ay Meri Zohra-jabeen from Waqt
Ye Raat Bheegi Bheegi from Chori Chori
Sochke Ye Gagan Jhoome from Jyoti
Dil Ki Girah Khol Do from Raat Aur Din
Aaja Sanam from Chori Chori
Coffee House Er Sei Adda Ta (to placate the crowd that kept shouting 'Bangla, Bangla')
Laga Chunari Mein Daag from Dil Hi To Hai
Kasme Vaade Pyaar Wafaa from Upkaar
Ay Mere Pyaare Watan from Kabuliwala

"He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in the year…" the announcement paused and the announcer flipped through her script. "Does it matter?" came from the awardee, in that one second. "Aap log Madhushala sunna chahenge?" a few minutes later it was the time to test the audience. "Are you playing that dholak? I cannot hear it," the musicians were also kept on a tight leash. Throughout the evening, he came across more as the living patriarch of film music than another 90-year old man from the glory days. He did not, however, tell anything to his co-singer when she started her part in Ye Raat Bheegi Bheegi probably a full octave lower than the original song. It was as if he had Usha Uthup, instead of Lata Mangeshkar, for company. A few in the audience groaned - Manna Da just looked at her askance. And when the lady did the same in that magical aalap in Dil ki girah khol do, he did it himself for the remainder of the song. No nonagenarian, not even Manna De, can replicate Laga Chunri Mein Daag. But the grand old man gave it a try and tested his breath. He did not give up until he was satisfied - and the audience nodded in disbelief. I was waiting for the first Antara when he started Ay Mere Pyaare Watan. And when he sang that Aaye in Tere Daaman Se Jo Aaye Unn Hawaaon Ko Salaam, it had that same silken effect as the original.

"Are you really ninety?" I asked him after he signed on the portrait I had printed out. "How is it possible to sing like that?" He smiled.

I could not take a chance- and went up to him on the stage even while the vote of thanks was on. I am glad I did, for, I had a precious 5-minute conversation with the legend. "Keep this garland if you want to," he said, and I just managed to say thanks. From not knowing about the concert to kneeling by his side on the stage and getting his blessings in a few hours, I was indeed a bit too overwhelmed for a proper and more polite exchange of words. Whoever named him Manna was surely a clairvoyant punster - and I was over the moon to have my share of the blessing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Duo, in Disguise

OP Nayyar's music came stamped with his own, distinct class - the freshest brew of melody and rhythm, and probably the most innovative choice and use of instruments. Though the superficial listener might just associate him to the hoof-beats, the more ardent listener would smile contently whenever those Sarangi, Santoor, Sitar or even the Harmonium would cast a spell in those magical pre-ludes/interludes. And, discounting his occasional use of the other singers, there is no doubt about his choice of THE male voice for his songs. I guess Rafi Sahab not only sounded the freshest when singing for OPN, but also elicited an unmatched painful-romanticism (I do not know how else to describe the feeling in Aanchal mein sajaa lena kaliyan, Deewana Hua Baadal or Hai Duniya Usiki). In fact, one can go, and has gone, no ends to talk about these songs.

For this post, however, let us take one of those songs which do not carry that stamp. A song that - if you did not have prior knowledge of its details - would never make you think that Rafi Sahab is with OPN in the recording room. The duo in disguise, so to say.

Here goes this stunning disguised composition from the Balraj Sahni-Nutan starrer Sone Ki Chidiya.

Maut kabhi bhi mil sakti hai
Lekin jeevan kal na milega
Marnewale soch samajh le
Phir tujhko ye pal na milega

Raat bhar ka hai mehmaan andhera
Kiske roke ruka hai savera

Raat jitni hi sangiin hogi
Subah utni hi rangiin hogi
Gham na kar gar hai baadal ghanera
Kiske roke ruka hai savera

Lab pe shikwa na laa ashq pii le
Jis tarhe bhi ho kuchh der jee le
Ab ukhadne ko hai gham ka dera

Aa koi milke tadbeer soche
Sukh ke sapnon ki taabir soche
Jo tera hai wohi gham hai mera
Kiske roke ruka hai savera

The video of this song is available here, and it gets more pertinent if we have a look at the situation in the film.

A song of such profundity, had to be created and sung adequately as well. The moment Rafi Sahab's voice rings in the opening lines, the song attains a level that tells us that it can only become more thought-provoking from there. In the film, there is a duet version of this song with Asha Ji and a part of that song is added towards the end of this video.

It is worthwhile to notice the striking difference in Rafi Sahab's singing in the two versions, even if it is the same song. The duet version is sung during times of hope, while this solo version is at a time of abject despair. Even though it is the same philosophy, the duet version professes it while this version brings it to practice. This subtle difference is understood and executed (yes, one more time) by Rafi Sahab in his own inimitable way. The texture of the voice changes as the hope gets trapped in the quagmire of pathos. The prophecy, however, remains unchanged. For, giving up is - somehow - never an option. Words cannot completely express what the voice does. Hear it yourself, listen to the same line sung at 1:07 minutes and then again at 4:53 minutes. I call him the Sublime Sorcerer for countless tricks like this that only he could unleash, with that innocent smile undiminished.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Here is a list of seven quick things I wish I could change, in me -
  • Strike up a good conversation with someone I just met. (Also, spare the ones close to me of my incessant rants.)

  • Go to bed at an earthly hour - for the rest of my life.

  • Don't exactly wish to wake up early in the morning - alarms are there just for stopping. (Those who are learning, still snooze them.) At the minimum, I wish I could feel the need to answer the phone when the boss is on the line. (As an aside, the most authentic excuses come to mind in those few seconds of seeing the call, contemplation and silencing the call.)

  • Pre-determine the last spoon, and stick to the decision, when I am sitting with my ice cream tub.

  • Feel the need to put some people in their respective places, what if just mildly.

  • Complete the construction of that half-built bridge connecting my wishes and action. (Reminds me of what I said once - "If wishes were horses, mine would be the biggest stable in this world.") This is a lot to ask for, given the circumstances. At least, I wish I don't set off in those treks anymore :D

  • Spare some thoughts for things certified 'important' - for they are useful, no doubt.

Now that I have this list in writing, and have gone through it once as well, I do not think these are impossible to achieve. Nothing - they say - is impossible. I'm a seasoned planner and I have estimated that these seven things will definitely work out, maybe, in the seven forthcoming births.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Unsolved Mysteries

The mind of the poet is a minefield - of the creative kind. There are wannabe poets who want to write (if you browse through the archives of this blog, you would surely know one :D). And then, there are poets who came down straight from the endlessness of the sky, wrapped in gloss and tied with a red ribbon. I do not want to name any of them - the list will be unending even with my limited exposure. Each time I discover a new one in that class, I just feel too much contented and happy. For the fact that such people exist, whose minds sparkle with thoughts off the beaten track. We can never get into what goes on inside, but are still fortunate to marvel at what approximates on paper. You know such a person through simple lines put in such a way that eludes all sort of commonplace connections - for a poem is not just rhyming lines. Just imagining myself trying to write something depicting a similar emotion; and all I am left with is an amazement that has no answer, as to what can make a mind think like that.

A rambling post after a long hiatus - but I just had to write this short note after I heard Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing:

Teri ummeed tera intezar jab se hai
Na shab ko din se shikayat, na din ko shab se hai