Thinking ghazals in Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village

On weekends and in my blogs, I often return to Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village. It’s one of those party jaunts you’d go to get drunk, show yourself off, maybe get hooked up, dance till you drop and blow your money over food that is simply below average.

I do neither of the above, I’d like to believe. At 28, I prefer having home-cooked food with friends and then head out for some drinks, followed by a long walk before you call it a night and before you admire some fine bodies, with disproportionately lighter brains.

One Friday night, we went to The Project in Hauz Khas Village. It’s an al fresco pub right across the parking area and at entrance of a park. A dimly lit passage takes you to a seating area surrounded by trees. I ordered a virgin mojito, which was nice. So were the guests around, who thankfully kept their conversations to themselves for a change.

After paying three hundred rupees for a glass of some mint leaves, crushed ice and soda water, we walked back to the main lane. I could see Delhi’s pot-bellied party poopers standing outside bars and cafes in their khakhis. It was time to shut shop, the cops thundered.

Soon, I bumped into a friend. After making some polite conversation, he invited me to a karaoke that sounded exceptionally discordant to me. The singers were howling into the microphone, it seemed to me, while trying to outdo the heavy music. A group of boys and girls happily contorted their faces as one of them took a groupie. And then it was time to smash each other’s face with chocolate truffle cake.

As the village began emptying itself of people, I found myself stuck in a phenomenal traffic jam that stretched until the main road.

My karaoke friend, mostly used to performing at bars, broke into a Mehdi Hassan ghazal. He had training in Hindustani classical for many years, he told me. He began –

baat karni mujhe mushkil kabhi aisi to na thi
jaisi ab hai teri mehfil kabhi aisi to na thi

le gaya chhiin ke kaun aaj teraa sabr-o-qaraar
beqaraari tujhe ai dil kabhi aisii to na thi

chashm-e-qaatil meri dushman thi hamesha lekin
jaise ab ho ga_ii qaatil kabhii aisii to na thii

un kii aa.Nkho.n ne Khudaa jaane kiyaa kyaa jaaduu
ke tabiiyat merii maa_il kabhii aisii to na thii

kyaa sabab tuu jo bigadtaa hai “Zafar” se har baar
Khu teri huur-e-shamaa_il kabhi aisi to na thi

[Translation here]

He sang of passion, of love and separation and those emotional twangs Urdu poetry is famous for. He sang as he navigated through a maze of honking cars full of drunk people, not allowing himself to be distracted. It was a moving and sincere attempt at singing a classic. I still have the notes ringing in my ear – “le gaya chhiin ke kaun aaj teraa sabr-o-qaraar
beqaraari tujhe ai dil kabhi aisii to na thi”.

The ghazal was written by India’s last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, who was more interested in poetry, dance and music than running the affairs of Hindustan. No wonder India fell into the hands of the British. He’s regarded as one of the most popular poets in Urdu literature. His grave is in what was then called Rangoon, present day Myanmar.

It was past one o’ clock. Mother called to check my arrival time. I said I’ll be home in an hour. But it didn’t matter as I found myself lost in the ghazal, even though it didn’t even remotely come close to Mehdi Hassan’s style, who made it one of his signature compositions. It didn’t have to. The words and the sincerity of my friend were enough.

The ghazal, an Arabic word which means talking to women, has its origins in the 10th century Persia, now called Iran. It came to India from the 12th century onwards as the Mughals brought their Iranian cultural influence, writes K C Kanda in “Masterpieces of Urdu Ghazal – from 17th century to 20th century.” [You can read an excerpt here]

So being an audience to a ghazal, even though impromptu, is not just a celebration but also an expression of mourning a sensuous art of singing that is now defunct.

Zafar, who witnessed the loss of his own life and with it that of the Mughal empire, wrote about the same theme in these lines:

Lagtaa nahin hai dil meraa ujday dayaar mein
kis ki bani hai aalam-e-naa_paayedaar mein

kah do in hasraton se kahin aur jaa basein
itani jagah kahaan hai dil-e-daagdaar mein

umr-e-daraaz maang kar laaye they chaar din
do arzoo mein kaT gaye do intezaar mein

kitnaa hai bad_naseeb “Zafar” dafn key liye
do gaz zamin bhi na mili kuu-e-yaar mein

[Translation here]

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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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