Sunday, March 20, 2011

Favorite Musical Masterpieces: #1 - Abdul Karim Khan ("Piya Bin NaahiN Aavat Chain")

I heard music in my house for as long as I can remember. There was my father's record collection and his spools of taped recordings from which he would sometimes play his favorite pieces for us (K.L Saigal, Mehdi Hassan, Begum Akhtar). There too was my mother's ubiquitous transistor radio, with a brown leather covering, on which over the years I listened to untold hours of music broadcasts from Radio Pakistan Lahore and All India Radio's (AIR) Urdu service. There was the twice weekly doses of 'Chitrahaar" on Doordarshan. My love of old film songs owes much to AIR's program "Aawaz de kahaN hai".
This may just be a personal peculiarity but I have always felt an urge to share with others whatever music, art and literature moves me. More often than not it has been my wife on the firing line but many others have received my enthusiastic "gifts". I now intend to use this 'safe' space to introduce some of the pieces that have deeply moved me over the years. (No chance here of holding people forcibly hostage). I have listened to many of these recordings dozens of times and the few people who periodically hit this page may chance upon something that they otherwise may not have experienced.

My first selection is Ustad Abdul Karim Khan's famous 1925/26 thumri "Piya bin naahiN aavat chain" in Raga Jhinjhoti. Abdul Karim Khan was the doyen of the Kirana Gharana and fittingly its is his bust that sits in the main entrance of the All India Radio headquarters. This thumri is revered by many fans of Hindustani semi-classical music. This is marvellously effortless singing and Abdul Karim Khan's mastery of 'sur' is breathtaking. Virtually all Kirana musicians (including Malika-e-Mauseeqi Roshan Ara Begum) at one time or the other have performed this thumri but Abdul Karim Khan's original recording remains in a league of its own.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

My Pakistan Photo Journal (Part 2) - The Walled City

February 15th - Inside the Walled City, Lahore:

Went with a friend on a walking tour inside the walled city ('androon shehr'). We entered via Masti Gate from the Minar-e-Pakistan / Badami Bagh side of Circular road and eventually exited from Delhi Gate after going through numerous alleyways and bazaars of the inner city. We stopped along the way to see some mosques and historic buildings and enjoyed a Kulcha/Chhole lunch at the stepped entrance of Sonehri Masjid.

The front courtyard and facade of Begum Shahi Mosque
Entering Masti Gate our first stop was the oldest extant Mughal mosque in Lahore, the Maryam Zamani or Begum Shahi Mosque (above) built in 1614. This beautiful mosque close to the Akbari Gateway entrance of the Lahore Fort was built by Emperor Jahangir's mother who was known as Maryam-uz-zamani (Mary of her age). This wife of Emperor Akbar and mother of Jahangir was a Rajput princess, the daughter of Raja Bihari Mal of Amber (now Jaipur). She was born Rajkumari Hira Kunwari.

In her Lahore Travel Guide, Yasmeen Lari writes: "Comparatively small in size, its present exterior hardly provides the foretaste of the wealth of decoration in the prayer hall. ---The central dome rises above the remaining domes and is carried on a drum; while those on the flanking bays are rather flat hemispherical cupolas. The treatment of the enormous dome itself is remarkable in its muqarnas (stalactite squinches) and elegantly painted fresco network."

The beautiful interior of the dome of Begum Shahi Mosque with its painted frescoes
From the Begum Shahi mosque we stepped into the Masti Gate bazaar and walked south past the dense rows of shops toward Moti bazaar. Many of the bazaars inside the walled city tend to specialize in specific product categories interspersed with food shops. For example, Masti Gate and Moti Bazaar have dozens of footwear shops. Arriving at Chowk Surjan Singh from Moti bazaar we took a left turn onto Hatta bazaar. Continuing on Hatta bazaar we arrived at the junction of Shahalmi bazaar heading south and Dabbi bazaar heading east. At this junction slightly south east is the Kasaira (utensils) bazaar and hidden amongst shops full of shiny pots, pans and pressure cookers is a very narrow entrance to a hidden historic garden called Baoli Ranjit Singh Bagh. This now dilapidated garden once had a stepped well (baoli) where people bathed in the summer months. The baoli marked the residence of Sikhism's fifth guru, Guru Arjun Dev (1563 - 1606). Yasmeen Lari informs us that "later, the well was filled with the debris of Guru Arjun's demolished house and lay uncared for many years. It was restored when an ailing Maharaja Ranjit Singh dreamt that he would recover only after he had taken a bath in the waters of the baoli." The abandoned bagh today with a few young kids playing cricket awaits a modern savior.

Baoli Ranjit Singh Bagh near the junction of Shahalmi and Dabbi Bazaars
There are homes and buildings that surround the Baoli Ranjit Singh Bagh. Standing inside the garden I saw the fascinating facade of the building below ("Gobind Ram Kahan Chand, Estd. 1805, Hindustan Commercial Bank Ltd."). It was puzzling to me how this facade has survived in its current condition because it looks freshly restored. (A bit of Googling revealed that Gobind Ram Kahan Chand was the founder of a company in Lahore in 1805 focused on spreading Ayurveda and its benefits. The company moved to Delhi after partition and is still in business today as GK Herbals.)

Facade of an old building visible from Baoli Ranjit SIngh Bagh
Exiting the bagh we continued our walk east into Dabbi bazaar which is a shopping area popular with women of the walled city with its shops full of crockery, kitchenware and sewing and knitting supplies. It is from Dabbi bazaar near the Kashmiri bazaar chowk that one enters the famous, elevated Sonehri Masjid with its golden domes. This mid-18th century mosque was built by Nawab Bhikari Khan, Governor of Lahore during the time that Mir Mannu was the Mughal ruler of Punjab. Mir Mannu had defeated Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1748 in a battle in Sirhind and remained the Governor of Punjab until his death in 1753.

A view of Sonehri Masjid from the front entrance
Sonehri Masjid was elevated above the shops in Dabbi bazaar with the intention that the rent from the shops below the mosque would provide a steady source of revenue for the mosque's maintenance. For a short while during the reign of Ranjit Singh, the mosque was shut down due to the complaints about disturbance caused by the azan by local Sikhs who had placed the Garanth Sahib in the adjacent baoli mentioned above. The intervention by the Fakir family of Bhati Gate, who had good relations with Ranjit Singh, resulted in the Sikh ruler reversing his decision.

The streets of the walled city were decorated extensively for Eid Milad-un-Nabi (Prophet's birth anniversary)
After enjoying an impromptu lunch from the street vendor at the entrance of Sonehri masjid we continued east through Kashmiri bazaar shops past Chowk Kotwali to the grand Masjid Wazir Khan. Perhaps the finest inner city mosque, Masjid Wazir Khan built in 1634 is an architectural and cultural treasure. It has been extensively photographed and is an oasis of calm in the midst of the bustling walled city. Flocks of pigeons perched on the domes and minarets of the mosque frequently fly over the courtyard from one side of the mosque to the other creating a surreally beautiful environment with the sound of their fluttering wings. Most of the surrounding buildings looking onto the mosque courtyard are residential and fit in seamlessly with the mosque's architecture unlike some other parts of the walled city where ugly new developments sometimes sit in jarring conflict next to sublime monuments.

Entrance gateway and minarets of Wazir Khan mosque as viewed from outside the prayer area entrance
Hakim Aliuddin, the trusted aide of Emperor Shahjahan was granted the title of Wazir Khan in 1620. He became the governor of Punjab in 1632 and left a legacy of numerous monuments, the most famous of which is the Wazir Khan mosque. He also established the town of Wazirabad located 100 km north of Lahore in Gujranwala district. 

Single aisle prayer chamber of Masjid Wazir Khan
After spending some time in the peaceful Wazir Khan mosque we walked south east past the Delhi gate bazaar exiting the walled city via Delhi gate where our car was waiting to transport us back home to a more spacious, amenity-filled but less enchanting Lahore.

To Follow:
Part 3 - Shahdara Monuments
Part 4 - A Visit to Multan
Part 5 - Snapshots of Personal History

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Trip to Pakistan - A Photo Journal with Random Musings (Part 1)

February 12th & 13th - Alhamra Arts Council, Lahore:

The renowned Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz was born on February 13th, 1911 and his birth centenary is being celebrated this year both in Pakistan as well as in many other cities all over the world. Faiz's family spearheaded the efforts to organize numerous events in Lahore to mark the occasion. This included an exhibition of photographs at Faiz Ghar in Model Town, release of some new books on Faiz, a colloquium on his life and work at LUMS, a session of readings and reminiscences by some of Faiz's friends and family and an evening of music with Tina Sani singing Faiz.

No photography was allowed at the performance events but I sneaked in a badly lit, badly taken photo just for the record.

On February 12th, I attended the session of readings and recollections at the Alhamra Arts Council.  The primary attraction for many attendees was the Indian contingent led by Shabana Azmi and her poet husband Javed Akhtar. (Shabana Azmi's father, the progressive poet Kaifi Azmi, was a close friend of Faiz and she had known "Faiz chacha" since she was a young girl). The Rajasthani singer Ila Arun also accompanied the celebrated filmi pair. The evening was a bit of a hodge podge. There were some sublime moments like Ila Arun's highly unusual and powerful rendition of Faiz's poem "Africa Come Back" with its haunting refrain of "Aa jao Afreeka". Also, the novelist Ali Sethi, whose vocals have been a big hit for a couple of years at the Jaipur Literature Festival, did a nice job singing Noor Jehan's famous "Mujh se pehli si mohabbat" and Farida Khanum's lesser known gem "Sab qatl ho kay teray muqabil say aaye haiN". Javed Akhtar is a natural storyteller and his narration of interactions with Faiz during the poet's visits to India had the crowd in stitches. Shabana Azmi was quite overshadowed by her husband's deft public performance. The rest of the evening was mostly a miss with Arshad Mehmood's pathetic introduction of Indian visitor and Faiz family friend Shama Zaidi ranking as the low point.

The musical evening with Tina Sani on February 13th was more uniformly enjoyable. The playlist had a good mix of the well-known ("Bahar aayee") and the new ("Kuch pehlay inn aankhoN aagay", "Woh butoN nay daalay heiN waswase") with the traditional finale "Hum dekheiN gay". Tina Sani also sang the beautiful number from the Shabana Azmi / Muzaffar Ali film "Anjuman" written by Faiz and composed by Khaiyyam ("Kab yaad meiN tera saath nahiN") and courageously dedicated a verse in that ghazal to Salmaan Taseer.

Jis dhaj say koyee maqtal meiN gaya woh shaan salamat rehti hai
Yeh jaan to aani jaani hai, iss jaaN ki to koyee baat nahiN

February 14th - Garden Town, Lahore:

Visited the Chughtai Museum. Abdul Rahman Chughtai (1899-1975) was the famous national artist known for his large watercolors as well as a distinctive style influenced by Islamic calligraphy and miniature painting. The museum has been established in the residence where the artist died and is owned and run by Abdul Rahman Chughtai's son, Arif Chughtai. Interestingly, Abdul Rahman Chughtai is buried on the property alongside his brother.

February 15th - Allama Iqbal Road, Garhi Shahu, Lahore:

Visited the Allama Iqbal Museum in the morning. This museum was established in 1977 in the house where the philosopher poet spent the last three years of his life and died in 1938. The government bought the property from Iqbal's son Justice Javed Iqbal. Iqbal himself named the house "Javed Manzil" and had bequeathed this property to Javed Iqbal in his own life even though his son was only a six year old boy. This was Iqbal's fourth house in Lahore. (His first house was inside Bhati Gate before he went to Europe for his education, second was in Anarkali and the third was on McLeod Road). This land and house cost him a princely sum of 42,000 rupees in 1935.

The museum houses many of his personal effects such as suits, shoes, bow ties, watch etc. It also has photographs, letters written by him to his family and contemporaries and his various books and educational degrees. There is also the room in which he received guests with its original furniture in place including the bed on which he breathed his last.