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A powerful line of thought

By June 14, 2019No Comments

Source : The Hindu – FRIDAY REVIEW



‘Naghma O Sher’ explores the life and works of legendary poet-activists


‘Zara si aahat hoti hai toh dil sochata hai, kahin yeh woh toh nahin,’ sings Smita Rao Bellur, bringing out the beauty of Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics in her melody-soaked voice.

The song from the Hindi film Haqeeqat is part of a YouTube series ‘Naghma O Sher’ curated by Suhail Akhtar that focuses on the life and verses of legendary poets. In the past three months, besides Kaifi Azmi, Jan Nisar Akhtar and Sahir Ludhianvi have been featured.

“Suhail bhai, an ardent lover of poetry and a close associate of Kaifi sahab and his family, has reopened a treasure. Myself and the other singers, who are part of this series, are blessed to render these songs that are known for their lyrical charm and depth of expression and emotion,” says Smita.

The works of these legendary poets reflect their exceptional imagination and thought process. “They were not just poet-lyricists, they were revolutionaries, who through the power of the word critiqued and questioned social norms,” points out Suhail.

“I don’t think they wrote because they wanted to impress lovers of literature. Of course, the initial impulse was the love for language and writing. Many of them were part of the Progressive Writers’ Movement and spoke of human suffering and inqlaab (independence). They tried to awaken people’s consciousness through their poetry. Their romantic verses were not mere description of a woman’s physical beauty; they spoke of empowering her through love and equality, for instance Kaifi sahab’s popular poem ‘Aurat’,” adds Suhail, who developed a personal connect with these poets and their works by organising mehfils and readings.

Drawn to sufi

A trained Hindustani musician, Smita chose to pursue sufi music taken in by its transcendental quality and has the rare honour of being accepted in the lineage of traditional qawwals. She also sings ghazal, khayal, thumri, nirguni sangeet and performs collaborative concerts at popular festivals such as the Jodhour RIFF.

“My deep engagement with sufi happened after I heard a sufiana qawwali by my dada guru Ustad Aziz Ahmed Khan. It inspired me to read the works of different mystic poets and sing them too. Sufi fits itself wonderfully into cross-genre musical settings. I love its comforting and healing effect, particularly relevant in today’s strife-torn world,” she says.

The idea for the series came up in the wake of Kaifi Azmi’s birth centenary this year.

“While organising different events to celebrate the occasion, I thought of some way to draw the attention of today’s generation to his poetry, that throbs with life decades after they were penned. And in the digital age, there cannot be a better medium than the YouTube,” says Suhail, who was with Kaifi sahab during his last days.

“I used to read out a lot to him and he would share with me anecdotes about his days of struggle. He would say, ‘I was born in an enslaved India, I grew old in a free India, and I shall die in a socialist India’. Socialist India may have remained a dream for him, but he was not someone to give up hope. A fearless writer, he knew a poem cannot transform all of society but can help people gain an insight.”

Naghma O Sher, according to Suhail, is a tribute to an era and a generation of poets, who believed that art is a tool for social change.

The YouTube series will focus on the depth of emotion in the works of these 

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