Singing soulful ghazals to a gunner


ghazals-singingAll three shared loves of the subcontinent–Ghazals, Urdu and cricket—stand defeated. All we exchange these days are belligerent backpackers, dreaded demarches, and heated TV debates with gregarious Generals

By Shivani Mohan

I grew up in a household with a constant background score of ghazals in place. My mom, an exceptional singer had a Masters degree in Hindustani Classical music that she had eschewed to look after home and hearth.

Those were times very different from circa 2013 when women can aspire for anything and reach for the stars. The golden gospel truth of those times was that even though girls grappled with goody, goody subjects for graduation, they eventually learnt how to cook gourmet meals and without as much as a growl, gave the career graph a gouge for a lifetime of making ‘gobhi aloo’ and ‘gajjar ka halwa.’

But as they say you can take the seashell out of the sea but not the sea out of the seashell. Mom hung on to ghazals in a big way. So as we grazed our elbows, and as she ran after us with pieces of gauze, ghazals rendered by gazillion maestros such as Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Begum Akhtar played on in the background. In this love of ghazals, our household knew no boundaries.

Along with Jagjit Singh and Talat Aziz, ghazal singers with grace and gravitas from across the border such as Mehdi Hassan, Noor Jehan and Ghulam Ali passed the grail, too. Their gossamer yarns of love and longing provided a gumdrop like comfort after grueling days of geometry and geography. The good-natured grumbling of their lyrics ‘en-ghazalfed’ my life and sensibilities inadvertently.

They were the ‘All India Radio Ki Urdu Service’ times when more than half of the requests for Hindi movie songs came from across the border. They loved our Lata and Mohammed Rafi. We loved their Farida Khanums and Naheed Akhtars. People from both sides bound by common bonds of language, music and culture.

When Mughals had come and set base in India centuries ago, the amalgamation of their culture with the natives brought about the synthesis of the language Urdu, a hybrid of Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Hindi; Hindustani style of music that combined Carnatic and Persian traditions. Later cricket became another wonder-glue between the two countries. But all these three bastions of the subcontinent’s shared loves–Ghazals, Urdu and cricket—sadly stand defeated today. All we send across the border these days are belligerent backpackers, dreaded demarches, and heated TV debates with gregarious Generals.

In my teens I feigned a passable knowledge of English music—pop and rock in order to pass muster with the happening crowd at college. But it was still ghazals that gave me my groove and came closest to my musical g-spot.

Of course, as a gawky eighteen year old I couldn’t be seen dead with an ‘ Everlasting collection of the best of Mehdi Hassan.’ But scratch the surface of the rock chick chutzpah and the façade of my music shelf, and hidden gems from these maestros compiled by HMV would come tumbling out. When Farida Khanum rendered ‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo’ it sounded closer home than ‘Everytime you go away, you take a piece of me with you.’ Malika Pukhraj had declared ‘Abhi To Main Jawan hun’ much before Bryan Adams belted out ‘Eighteen till I die.’ Mehdi Hassan’s gravelly ‘Shola tha, Jal bujha hun’ sounded much more intense than a guttural Springsteen going ‘Ooooh! I am on Fire.

’Boys of my generation were too busy aping everything American to savor the nuances of ghazals. Not for them the prospect of gazing desolately at the gossamer-like dupatta of an unrequited love!

“What? Do you think I’ll listen to ghazals and grovel for love that has already hit its Gaza? No way, when I can grabble with my gizmos and gape at pictures of Giselle Bundschen. Now that’s my kind of ‘Giselle’ if ever there was one!” To say the least, the communication was garbled from there on.

When I met the love of my life, I presumed that love should mean sharing interests and passions. So even though we gelled on most things such as gourmet food and grocery picks, ghazals didn’t quite go past my husband’s gullet. A few months into our marriage, when I threw the ghazal gauntlet at him, he, an armyman remained cool as a gazpacho guzzling down a tall glass of beer and said, “Ghazals? You are actually suggesting ghazals to a gunner? I’d rather sit in a gazebo and gaze into your gorgeous eyes.”

“That’s not the point. I mean we must listen to the same kind of music.”

“But aren’t ghazals supposed to be for those forlorn losers who have called it quits on love, life and practically most other things? We are together and happy. Then why ghazals?”

“No, ghazals celebrate all the myriad aspects of love. There are happy ghazals. Haven’t you heard ‘Bahut pehle se un kadmon ki aahat jaan lete hain, tujhe ai zindagi hum dur se pehchan lete hain…”

“Jeez! That’s eerie,” he gulped. And then he tried to gazump me with, “Let me tell you about my kind of music. Have you heard the songs of Grease I and Grease II?”

For many years I tried imbibing his taste, cooking his favorite gobhi gorgonzola au gratin and slyly putting on a ghazal on the side. But I realized soon that he simply gobbled while I Ghalib-ed.

I do not know when can I sit with a glass of Grand Marnier in interesting company and savor a soulful ghazal. Sadly the only men in India today who may appreciate or listen to ghazals are either geriatrics with one leg in the grave or the garrulous types who declare boisterously, through paan-stained teeth, “Myself, Gajanand from Gorakhpur. I love gajals. You know I have so many gajal collections that…..”

“Well, never mind,” I say and walk off.

Clarion India - News, Views and Insights about Indian Muslims, Dalits, Minorities, Women and Other Marginalised and Dispossessed Communities.


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