Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Wine and song

There's much about the popular perception of ghazals that irritates me. To the outsider, it is all about Pankaj Udhas and Anup Jalota. The scene it calls up is peopled by men in ethnic kurtas, cardboard characterisations of les belles dames sans merci, bland, boring tunes, songs about the indolent life... drink, women and a sickly sentimental attitude to all things, primarily romantic love.

Yes, the ghazal by definition is about love and romance. Yes, there's a lot of drink involved but your real ghazal is a thing of beauty. Made up of terse two lined shers that seek to capture the very essence of things - many fail, but some succeed exceedingly well. The casual observer cannot know that if Ghalib writes pining songs of love, underneath the extravagant language is a strong vein of self-mockery, that when he talks of his 'sanam', he frequently means 'Khuda'.
The average ghazal singer is much to blame for this image. They created a niche and now are quite happy to stay there, making no further attempt to really interpret or translate the material they sing. Pmhmf.

Now on the grounds that an emphatic rant deserves to be contradicted, I'm going to go over to the other side and present just such a ghazal as reinforces that stereotype. I heard it this morning, not for the first time, but in fact for the first time. That happens all the time with shers - new ones are often found in tapes that have belonged to you for years.
The timing was right. I was (uncharacteristically, I hasten to add - after all, I have family reading this blog) wistfully contemplating some 'spirit'ual sustenance. I wondered what it was that was so attractive about a glass of wine or whiskey… what is does for me is it slows down life's scroll, forcing me to live in the moment I find myself in, without rushing headlong into the next, and the next. There is time then for details - the feeling that all you need is here, right here around you. The heady feeling that this minute here is more important than the one to come, that life is good. Not escape, but celebration. And this ghazal came along…

maan mausam ka kaha, chayi ghata, jaam utha
aag se aag bhuja, phool khila, jaam utha

ek pal bhi kabhi ho jaata hai sadiyon jaisa
der kya karna yahan, haath badha, jaam utha

pyar hi pyar hai, sab log barabar hai yahan
maikade mein koi chota na bada, jaam utha

-Bashir Badr

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