The qawwali too must go on
By Vijaya Pushkarna
The late Bharat Ratna M S Subalakshmi became the first Indian to sing before the delegates at the United Nations General Assembly on UN Day in 1966.
The demure lady was a picture of her usual self in New York. With her trademark sparkling diamond nakshtra ear rings, the 8-stoned “besari” flashing on her nose, deep hued Kanjeevaram silk saree with a contrasting border modestly draped around her shoulders, big vermillion bindi on her forehead, jasmine braid around the bun her hair was styled into , humility on her face and divinity in her voice, she began her concert with a Sanskrit prayer, that the Shankaracharya at Kancheepuram had called an “anthem of universal friendship”.
Among the songs she sang there was an English hymn composed by C Rajagopalachari. Handel Manuel, was producer of Western Music at the All India Radio in Madras. The idea had come from Gen K M Cariappa.
M S also sang a ghazal she had learnt from Begum Akhtar. Written by Mirza Ghalib, “Ishrat-e-qatra hai dariya mein fana ho jaana, Dard ka had se guzarna hai dawa ho jana” describes a droplet’s ecstasy as it is consumed by the oceans, and the turning of pain into remedy when it becomes unbearable.
Cut to now.The pain forced on performers threatens to eat into the vitals of India’s composite culture. Kathak exponent Manjari Chaturvedi was performing at a dinner hosted by the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Speaker for a conference of Commonwealth Parliament Association on Thursday, when the music suddenly stopped. She thought it was a technical glitch, but was informed that they could not permit a qawwali . Though the government has maintained that they were aware her programme was a qawwali as the title was “Rung-e-Ishq”, but they were running late and the programme had to be concluded before the arrival of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.There were organizational compulsions, and it had nothing to do with religion or language, the state government has maintained.The state government has also told the dancer that she will perform later in the month.
The assault on cultural performances with political motives does not begin with Manjari’s experience. In November 2018, a concert by Magsaysay awardee T M Krishna, under the aegis of the Airports Authority of India and the SPIC-MACAY, was cancelled at the eleventh hour. Because, the right wing people trolled him saying he was singing “Christian songs”, and so he was anti-national, urban Naxal etc. It is no secret that Krishna has spoken out loudly against narrow communal interests and makes no bones about dissenting on policy issues –be it the implementation of swacha Bharat or other development efforts that are dislodging communities.
In the course of a recent podcast, noted classical and contemporary dancer and choreographer Anita Rathnam points out that when she was growing up there were lots of non-Hindus who learned the Bharatanatyam because they were in love with it. “And they did not get the kind of flak that young non-Hindus are getting today for doing it,” said Rathnam, adding that she knew certain Muslim practitioners of Bharatanatyam who have had to leave their families that have “sort of disowned them”, and gone to their gurus for refuge,siply because they loved the dance form. “I did not hear such things when I was growing up” remarked the 65-year old.
A show like Manjari’s must go on. Sufi songs and ghazals , the Kathak and the Qawwali, from the same stage as Carnatic and Hindustani classical songs, Bharatanatyam and Odissi dance is the composite Indian cultural. The protests across the country, to defend the Constitution, becomes the more important to defend such a cultural bouquet.