Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mirza Ghalib - A Musical Feast

Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (b.1797 - d.1869) was one of Urdu's greatest poets. No other poet (with the possible exception of Faiz in the 20th century) has seeped into the popular imagination of the Urdu-knowing sub-continent quite like Ghalib. His cultural influence in the world of Urdu is almost Shakesperean. Ghalib's ghazal poetry and prose (in the form of his letters to friends) have left a lasting imprint on the language itself. What is remarkable is that this towering reputation is built on a slim volume. "Deevan-e-Ghalib" is less than 200 pages of Urdu poetry.

Featured extensively in art, film and theater, it is music where his poetry has found a permament home for well over a hundred years. It is a rare popular or semi-classical vocalist of the sub-continent who hasn't sung Ghalib's ghazals. This post will celebrate the wonderfully varied presentations of Ghalib's poetry in music. So much of Ghalib's poetry is familiar to audiences that I have chosen a different ghazal for each of my favorite pieces highlighted here. Every one of these ghazals has been sung by different performers in multiple compositions.

Let's kick this off with a couple of cuts from film music:

Bharat Bhushan played Mirza Ghalib in the 1954 Indian film of that name and the lovely Suraiyya played the courtesan ChaudhviN. Here is Suraiyya singing "Aah ko chaahiye ik umr asr hone tak". The composition is by Ghulam Mohammad (whose music for the film "Pakeezah" years later immortalized him).

Gham-e-hasti ka Asad kis se ho juz marg ilaaj
Shama har rang meiN jalti hai sehr hone tak

In the 1961 Pakistani film "Mirza Ghalib", Noor Jehan played the ChaudhviN character and her rendering of "Muddat hui hai yaar ko mehmaN kiye huue" is justly famous. The composer is Tassaduq Hussain.

Jee dhoondta hai phir wohi fursat, keh raat din
Baithe raheN tasawwur-e-jaanaN kiye huue

Gulzar's TV serial Mirza Ghalib on Doordarshan in the late 80's must be credited with introducing Ghalib to a whole new generation of Urdu lovers. Naseeruddin Shah's sublime portrayal of Ghalib was the highlight of that production and ghazal singer Jagjit Singh sang the ghazals in his beautiful, deep voice. Jagjit Singh who passed away last year helped keep ghazal singing alive in India where the new generation seems ever more removed from the old composite culture of the Urdu/Hindi-speaking belt. Jagjit and Chitra Singh's contribution to Indian ghazal singing is undeniable but even though they sang some great compositions their virtuosity falls short of both the masters of the light genre like Lata and Noor Jehan and the semi-classical greats like Mehdi Hassan and Farida Khanum.

Here's a nice version of "Unke dekhe se jo aa jati hai munh par raunaq" by Jagjit from the TV serial.

Hum ko ma'loom hai jannat ki haqeeqat lekin
Dil ke khush rakhne ko Ghalib yeh khayal achha hai

Before moving on to the semi-classical parade of immortal melodies lets listen to a singer who was his own genre. There has been no other Kundan Lal Saigal; the voice, the mastery, the soul-stirring performances! The music of K.L. Saigal is a human treasure. Saigal singing "Phir mujhe deeda-e-tar yaad aaya".

Dum liya tha na qayamat ne hunooz
Phir tera waqt-e-safar yaad aaya

Begum Akhtar sang countless Ghalib ghazals in her inimitable style. Here she is singing "Nukta cheeN hai, gham-e-dil uss ko sunaye na bane":

Ishq par zor nahiN hai yeh woh aatish Ghalib
Keh lagaye na lage aur bujhaye na bane

Ustad Amanat Ali Khan (the scion of the Patiala gharana) was a classical singer but with few patrons of classical music in Pakistan he started singing ghazals in a light style and gained a tremendous following. He died almost 40 years ago but his ghazals remain highly popular. "Yeh na thee hamari qismat keh visaal-e-yaar hota":

KahooN kis se meiN keh kya hai shab-e-gham buri bala hai
Mujhe kya bura tha marna agar aik baar hota

Anyone who has ever visited this page knows of my reverence for Mehdi Hassan. I remain in awe of the great man's musical genius. Here's a little gem of a performance of a Ghalib ghazal by the emperor of ghazal singing: "Arz-e-niaz-e-ishq ke qaabil nahiN raha".

Bedaad-e-ishq se nahiN darta, magar Asad
Jis dil pe naaz tha mujhe, woh dil nahiN raha

Malika Pukhraj at her best in this melodious rendering of "TaskeeN ko hum na royeN jo zauq-e-nazar mile":

Saaqi gari kee sharm karo aaj, warna hum
Har shab piya hee karte heiN mae, jis qadar milay

The stentorian voice of Farida Khanum (disciple of another Patiala vocalist Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan) singing "Zikr uss parivash ka aur phir bayaaN apna":

Hum kahaaN ke da'na thhe, kis hunar meiN yakta thhe
Be-sabab hua Ghalib dushman aasmaN apna

Iqbal Bano (disciple of Ustad Chand Khan of Delhi) sings "Dayam para hua teray dar par nahiN hooN meiN" on PTV's program 'Nikhar' in 1974. The mehfil is at the house of the writer Ashfaq Ahmed and you can see several prominent writers and poets (Ahmed Faraz, Ehsaan Daanish etc.) in this video.

Yaa rab zamana mujh ko mitata hai kis liye
Lauh-e-JahaaN pe harf-e-mukarrar nahiN hooN meiN

Abida Parveen, the queen of Sufi music brings her uniquely spiritual style to Ghalib in this wonderful performance of "Ibn-e-Maryam hua kare koyee".

Jab Tawaqqo hee uth gayee Ghalib
KyuN kisi ka gila kare koyee

I will end with a reading by Zia Mohyeddin of his own essay "Ghalib aur MeiN". Zia Mohyeddin's literary readings are performance art themselves and he has done a great service in introducing younger audiences to the pleasures of Urdu literature. His multi-CD readings of Ghalib's letters ("Ghalib ke khatoot") are a masterpiece. Here's a little flavor of Zia Mohyeddin reading Ghalib's letter to Mirza Alauddin Ahmed. They introduce the listener to the cadences of the cultured, informal language of Ghalib's era. This was path-breaking writing at the time as epistolary prose in general tended to be ornate, formal and emotionally stunted.


John said...

This is really worth reading, it has too much details in it and yet it is so simple to understand

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Hassan Ayub said...

This is really a nice for readers.
Also see a collection of poetry.

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