Monday, March 15, 2010

Outsider, at home

The instructions on the board said:

Do not throw litter, use dustbin
Do not walk on grass, use cemented surface
Photography is allowed

Not an amusement park, or a museum or a botanical garden. This was at the Wagah border, instructions for everyone, including passengers on “foot” coming into or going out of India to Pakistan. Seems really innocuous after all the papers, permissions, waiting, angst and agony this kind of going across — as opposed to taking a flight or the bus — could really entail. On that I scored, given the general love that all kinds of people share for music and poetry in both countries. Really, culture needs to be taken more seriously, it cannot be just another Track on some Indo-Pak peace agenda.

Invited recently to perform by the Faiz Ghar as part of events for the launch of the centenary celebrations of the phenomenal poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, my trip to Lahore was a mix of exciting, pleasant, emotional and strange experiences. Faiz Ghar itself is an eclectic space set up in memory of Faiz to celebrate and express the culture of the country through dance, music, plastic arts, theatre and, of course, poetry.

Tracing the journey of music
My engagement with North Indian music genres generally has me interested in the travels of musicians at least in the last century and the transference of music across these countries. So this opportunity to perform in Lahore was indeed an honour I was happy to accept. Pakistan has also had a rich history of classical music and in fact it was in Lahore in the early 20 {+t} {+h} century that some of the best musicians of South Asia performed to very interested listeners. Partition, and with it the need to establish a separate identity, affected culture severely. So much so that it is said legendary Kirana exponent Roshanara Begum, who migrated to Pakistan, announced that she will give up her Riaz since it seemed like no one was interested in listening to her in the country and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan decided to return to India. Also, with Partition, several Gharanedaar Muslim musicians moved to India and so did their future Hindu and Sikh patrons. Except for Radio Pakistan, music was hardly ever heard. The setting up of the All Pakistan Music Conference (APMC) way back in 1959 came in response to this situation and made it possible for yearning audiences to listen to greats like Nazakat Ali Khan, Salamat Ali Khan, Amanat Ali Khan, Fateh Ali Khan and Barkat Ali Khan. These were some serious efforts to rejuvenate the seemingly lost but rich heritage of classical music in Pakistan. These concerts and seminars are held even now.

Full report here Hindu

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