Momin, Through Begum Akhtar & Ghulam Ali

By Ankush Arora

It was a long walk on a hot, languorous Delhi evening. A colony of bats swooped down on the joggers’ park, usually the site of sloth and endless social banter. And just as the daylight was dimming, my longtime companion – the music playlist of my smartphone, in other words – cued a 19th century Urdu classic.

“Wo jo hum mein tum mein qarar tha
tumhein yaad ho ke na yaad ho

wo hi yani wada nibah ka
tumhein yaad ho ke na yaad ho”

This ghazal is arguably poet Momin Khan’s most popular composition, singularly immortalized by Begum Akhtar. (A note on Momin – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Momin_Khan_Momin)

Indian filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, known for his out-of-the-box cinema, revived this ghazal in one of the final sequences of his latest film, Dedh Ishqiya (2014): in the middle of ensuing violence, Akhtar’s voice tumbles out like a forgotten shard of memory and the background score appears anything but out of place, even though unexpected.

The camera cuts to the leading pair – played by Madhuri Dixit and Naseeruddin Shah – who are apparently in love with each other.

If you’re a ghazal lover, you can’t be not moved by Akhtar’s overpowering, head-on notes.

Like many Urdu couplets, this ghazal is also about love; and the poet ponders over a bygone relationship.

Akhtar’s rendition is compact, unlike Ghulam Ali’s: he begins the ghazal with an age-old thumri – “ka karoon sajni aaye na baalam” – as if to set the tone for a mehfil.

Ali enriches his elaborate singing with an exhaustive range of classical notes. The impact of the performance is heightened as the audience regularly joins in with applaud.

And on that evening, Ali’s voice found its way to my restless ears. The ghazal will never be the same again.

“wo naye gile wo shikayatein
wo maze maze ki hikaayetin…”

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Ankush Arora

Delhi boy; dreamer, nature lover, photographer. Development communications professional. Ex-Reuters, NDTV. This is a personal blog.

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