Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sufi ecstasy... and Kolkata musings

Ooooof! I have been MIA for far too long!! Sorry about that, guys. Kolkata was amusing, frustrating and exhilerating as only Kolkata can be - a once-great city, stuck in a tragic time warp. I love Kolkata with all my heart, but there are aspects of it that drive me insane. The people are wonderful.... and argumentative in the Amartya Sen mould. It's great to interact with as opinionated a bunch as the average Kolkatan. The famous 'addas' have not stopped, and Mamata's antics are avidly discussed over singhadas (samosas, to you and me), mishti and chai (round the clock!). The mighty Clubs of Kolkata continue to dominate social life, with their strange, antiquated club rules (So Brit. So dated). But life is lived most graciously, especially by old moneywallas, like the Sarkars. Lunch at their mansion was just wonderful - winter blooms in the well -tended garden, exquisitely served authentic Bong cuisine on the magnificent mahogany table ( prawn chops to die for, an apricot chutney dripping richness, a delicately flavoured fish pullao, an array of traditional desserts like a pistachio flavoured payesh). Rakhi Sarkar is a remarkably relaxed hostess, while husband Aveek provides the spiciest food for thought!
The debate on, "Is the media misleading the masses?" was a real phataka. I spoke for the proposition since I strongly believe the media is playing a dangerous game and manipulating public opinion, especially irresonsible tv channels that reinforce divisiveness in an already polarised society. Since I was the first speaker, that too on an all male panel (so , what else is new?), I felt slightly weighed down by the additional reponsiblity of opening up the debate on a provocative note. I think I did well (and I am no veteran debater), for the house carried the motion with a show of hands that made my team the winners by a generous margin. Moderated by the British High Commissioner, Simon Wilson, the stuffy old club came alive for an evening of high quality debating skills, thanks to terrific panellists who held their own brilliantly. Rajdeep Sardesai was so emotionally charged up, he almost broke into tears at one point. Too bad his team lost!!
This was my third exposure to the Sufi Music Festival (in its eighth year) at the Horniman Circle garden. It started off a little shakily, with a diffident singer from the Siddhi tribe in Saurashtra, followed by a Turkish performer, a loud and boisterous group from Punjab, an Egyptian group with a melancholic lead singer and ending with the Qawwals, the Ajmeri brothers . There were two crowd pleasers that night, Young Jassu from Rajasthan who plays the desi castanents (Kachra Singh was missing this year) with the Langas, and the troupe from Ajmer, with a flamboyantly dressed leader, who was clearly hoping to be spotted by a talent scout from Bollywood, and why not? Without government recognition or patronage, how does one keep these centuries old traditions alive? But the real treat was reserved for the next night with a mehfil at our friend Javed Gaya's wonderful home. The legendary Warsi Brothers from Hyderabad performed for a select audience of fifty music lovers - and what a performance it was!! My hair stands on end revisiting the evening when Amir Khushro's evocative couplets came alive and for four hours we were transported to a mystical world - another reality, far richer than the one we live. And I thought to myself : this was the Mumbai I grew up in - all-encompassing, generous, tolerant, culturally wealthy, open to influences from far and wide. The mehfil gave me hope. Our host Javed Gaya, is an elegant gourmet and much more. His table was groaning under velvety khichda, kababs, mirchi ka salan and much more (including the famous pineapple halwa). Watching Javed's many friends enjoying his hospitality I felt re- energised and renewed my dream about the old Mumbai - thank God it is not dead and buried yet. It exists . In shrinking pockets that continue to value such ideals in the face of daunting discouragement. Once again, I was back in a refined, rarefied, gracious environment, where a grande dame dressed in antique silk, wearing rare basra pearls,anointed me the ' Shama-e-mefil'. I shall always cherish the compliment!


Pritesh Patel said...

Just when i thought u hv been missing from ur blogspace for too long...
I was longing to read abt the Sufi music concer; glad that u felt transported to a mystical world, that's wat a good Sufi Mehfil should do to the audience.
I am so J reading abt the feast u enjoyed at ur frnd Javed's home.
Here's hopin u dnt go missin once again for too long.

haritha said...

a gr8 description..i njoyed evry line of it..

Balvinder Singh said...

Nice brief and brisk description of Kolkattans. I actually pity the people out here. They are caught in the cross fire of ideological warfare. Sometimes they have to oppose something just for the heck of it, regardless of the fact that they may feel otherwise. In the bargain the great city has stopped in its tracks where it was hundred years ago. The wake up calls from the likes of Buddha Dev have not been able to pull them out of the deep slumber that the kolkattans are enjoying. They will spend crores on Puja pandals but will be content to walk in the slushy baricaded broken pathways, hopping from one pandal to another. A mecca for refugees of all kinds, Kolkata has not let any other city come up in the state because it caters to the needs of all, right from a Bangladeshi footpath dweller to a crorepati marwari.

Anonymous said...

Was media leading the masses before ?

Vinay. said...

Hearty congrats for winning the debate.that makes me more happy than all your food items put together.I wish u speak less about food and more about others but that will be so unlike-De Right?
earlier it was said about Calcutta that what India thinks tomarrow,Cal thinks today. but now reverse appears to be true,thanks to the regressive politicians

:) said...

media leading masses. .. want to know your views on that.. Would want to read that .. if you could write something on that and share your view.

Another Kiran In NYC said...

I just recieved my monthly copy of the Smithsonian Magazine and the lead story was about Sufism and its political impact in Pakistan. It's byline is "can the joyous muslim movement counter the forces of radical extremism". An impressively scholarly and nuanced examination by a very talented feature writer. So many thoughts and so much I wanted to write about Sufism in context of the music you wrote about. The Sufi culture is a wonder and a paradox in every sense and one which speaks to me. So much to share with you and other readers of your blog.

These thoughts were churning through my own wordmill, all until a couple of hours ago, I recieved calls from panicked friends in Mumbai while gunbattles were raging around them. I forget the hopeful words I wanted to say. Right now my sadness is a physical chocking vice that clamps my heart, in the knowledge that my beloved Mumbai is burning. My Mumbai is being raped and plundered by people who do not understand the essense of its civility. I am sad. I can only say to my fellow Mumbaikars... Courage!

Another Kiran In NYC said...

Atleast this time, Mumbai do not turn over and let life go on as usual the very next day. Business as usual does NOT make a political statement. Make a stink about it. Make a HUGE stink about it nationally and internationally.

Learn lessons that were not imbibed in 93.

Anonymous said...

@ Another Kiran in NYC

You've echoed and underlined each and every thought of mine so eloquently. Especially when you say "Business as usual does Not make a political statement." SO TRUE. While 'our' Mumbai is still burning and being robbed of its pride and beauty, I do not want to see people getting back to work from tomorrow and showing off their resilience. I want to see people making a big noise about it this time and making it in front of those who matter!

Lets just hope that some lessons have been learnt post-1993 and for that matter, post-2006.

Cinematically Speaking.

Vinay. said...

we are aghast with the news of Bombay blasts.Hope and trust u r safe.we r with u.the act of terrorists is soooooo disguting.innocent lives have been lost.even if some terrorists are caught,our judiciary will take ages to convict them.

Another Kiran In NYC said...

It broke my heart to see old haunts destroyed and tainted with the violent acts of war. It hurts so badly when I see the exact places I spent my innocent childhood and misguided youth... rent asunder like this. Colaba Causeway, VT and Metro Area, Marine Drive, all sullied by the detritus of war!

This time, the violence fills me with emotions that are different from anything I have felt before. As much as I want to be all rational and grown up about it, I am filled with a rage and a desire for base animalistic revenge. But against whom? Who do we condemn and fight with as we demand our basic rights as citizens of a peaceful world? Should I fight the enemies, within or without or just my own complacency or the complacency of those who allow such things to happen? Whose fault is it? Is it even rational to place blame on any one doorstep? Will I be fighting a tangible enemy or will I just be shadow boxing with ideological abberations?

In a few hours, I am going to be at Thanksgiving dinner with all my inlaws. Today, I am supposed to be thankful for everything and pay tribute to all the opportunities and people in my life. The irony of it!

Can I really be sincere about it today, when I am filled with emotions of rage and sadness? Can I sit there, make small talk with family and friends and drink a toast to peace and happiness without the bitter bile of anguish tainting everything? Am I even supposed to?

Today I am going to have to reassure my American sister in law and teenage nieces that it is still okay to come to India with me next August.. that it will be peaceful and that India is really not always in the throes of violence. They loved thier previous trips to India and are always asking when they can come next. Will they still feel this way today? How much do I have to explain away?

I hope atleast this time, Mumbai will not go into "Business as usual" mode in a effort to show resilience. We have shown resilience so many times, I wonder if it is actually insensitivity now. Mumbai needs to make a HUGE STINK about it and continue to hammer the message home over and over in national and international arenas, until it gets the kind of noteriety and attention that a Madrid, or London or New York got. I realise that the vast numbers of poor people who depend on daily wages have to go on everyday despite the trouble. For them resilience is nessecary. However, I sincerely hope that big business and politicians show the will to highlight this despicable act for what it is. Mumbaikars need to show the world how badly terrorism hurts them for something to be done through political means.

Wake up Vilasrao and show the canny leadership we should expect of CM's of a premier state like Maharashtra. Go on, show the political will to help the city and free it from the clutches of ideological and physical violence. Can you? Or is a more OPENLY communal minded Raj Thackeray, the better alternative so that Mumbaikars can sleep with some reassurance that they will be not be murdered in thier sleep by terrorism.

Today, instead of only speaking of how thankful I am for my good fortunes as I eat a meal with my family, I will pay tribute to all Mumbaikars whose faith, will and lives have been destroyed by acts of willful and malicious violence.

MW said...


Thank you for the statement you made tonight on NDTV. You echoed what so many of us feel - enough is enough. We're sick of deadling with inept politicians who show up only after the damage is done. Mumbai's 'resilience' (for want of a better word) is nothing but a fierce sense of denial, our belief that surely, someday, things will get better.

They're not going to. Time we realised that and did something about it.

A concerned Mumbaiwallah

Anonymous said...

@ Another Kiran in NYC

Good to hear a voice of reason and again, I agree with almost everything you say here. It's interesting you mention about having to now convince your American sister-in-law and nieces to re-visit India. Something tells me that I am going to have a similar experience reassuring my British husband! Do I lie through my teeth and tell him that this massacre won't happen again and certainly not during our next trip in Feb'09? How do I guarantee him that it won't be him/us next time? Only questions, I am afraid. No answers unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

This previous post was by Cinematically Speaking by the way.

Ani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

great description of suify music and amir khusro mystisum

kudos to you

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