The second edition of an Urdu festival in Delhi ended with a bang that I thought would make me sick with a prolonged migraine. Thankfully nothing happened to me. And yet, this morning I woke up with a bad hangover of a musical evening gone terribly out of tune.
A disclaimer at the outset: I’m obsessed about music, particularly from Hindustani classical vocalists, apart from ghazals, and qawallis on some good days too. Although I am an illiterate in the grammar of music, I strongly follow my instincts about what I like and hate. In other words, very very touchy.
So last evening was the grand finale of Jashn-e-Rekhta, a three-day festival that has earned the reputation of being one of the few engaging platforms for Urdu lovers. Pakistani artist Rafaqat Ali was the lead singer at the concert. A few hundred listeners waited for him to start the show in a makeshift tent that looked straight out of the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Ali began with a couplet from “Ranjishi si sahi”, a love-torn Ahmed Faraz poem famously sung by Mehdi Hassan. And it appeared to me that gradually he had come under the spell of something indescribable as he tampered with the beautiful tenor of a ghazal. So much so that his performance looked just a tad better than a karaoke, supplemented by laugh-out-loud histrionics.
My outrage knew no bounds as he sang ghazal after ghazal in the same style that he said befits a 2016-era and also because Delhi has a metro (whatever that means!). Since his website describes him as a pop, classical and folk singer, I wonder, in hindsight, if he had mixed up genres? And he topped it with those rapid notes that you hear at the end of khayal compositions, and which he compared with the notes of a violin. I thought he took it too far, way too far.
But people enjoyed the show, giving him a standing ovation later, even though I saw few leaving during the performance.
Although I didn’t mind Ali’s mild jokes about some sentiments in India against Pakistani artists performing here, I thought it was a tawdry end to a new and promising addition to the city’s cultural scene.