Saturday, March 2, 2013

The World Sufi Music Festival In Delhi

Yesterday, I attended the first day of the much publicized 11th World Sufi Music Festival in Delhi.  This is an annual event, held in a few cities, organized by Muzaffar Ali (who I learnt later, is a famous film director and fashion designer).  This festival, called 'Jahan-e-Khusrau' (The World of Khusrau) attempts to cut across boundaries and bring together sufi artists from different parts of the world.

The newspapers said that complimentary invites could be collected from certain shops and certainly, when I enquired, complimentary invites were available.  But one could only get them if one bought a cd  that was a part of the invite, which was not exactly cheap.  I ignored the warning bells and mildly told the shop people that I didn't mind paying for tickets but I disliked being compelled to buy multiple copies of a cd that I had no use for.  Anyway, I decided I may as well try and attend one day of the festival as some well known musicians were performing and because the venue was Humayun's tomb, a particularly beautiful location.

We reached a little early, which was just as well as there were no signs indicating the way to the concert (Humayun's tomb covers a large area and there are multiple gates and entrances).  We stood and waited (along with several others) for almost an hour while the organizers arrived and the security agency nailed together plywood board cubicles for searches etc.  The invitation card had said that we could not carry anything to eat or drink and in fact, not even carry any bags (which everyone ignored - this is apparently something that is printed on all passes and means nothing).  I assumed there would be some arrangement for water or tea but there was nothing in sight.  I managed without too much trouble, but there were a lot of elderly people for whom it must not have been easy.

Finally the gates opened after 6.15 p.m. (by which time, the card said, we were all supposed to be seated).  While frisking us, the security people were simultaneously searching all over the place for other things.  It turned out that they were looking for their metal detectors, which had been misplaced!  The announcements (a prelude to the programme) finally began at 7 p.m. with no trace of apology by the compere, instead offering eulogies to the Ministry of Culture, the Delhi Chief Minister, the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and sundry promoters.

The performances were pleasant.  The evening began with Malini Awasthi, a singer of folk and light classical songs that were coordinated with kathak performances by Astha Dixit and her dance group.  I was happy just to sit amongst the old stone ruins (the venue was actually not Humayun's tomb but a smaller monument on the side), watching the darkening sky and the swaying eucalyptus trees in the background.  It was a windy evening that began to turn cold once the sun had set.

The second part of the programme featured the Warsi brothers, a group from Hyderabad who I particularly like to hear.  They sing qawwalis derived from old sufi songs, mixed with some newer (easier to understand) verse.  I find the old compositions (especially of the sufi poet Khusrau) the most appealing and powerful.  The Warsi brothers have a distinctive and compelling sound that adds much to the verses.

That evening, they began, as always, with a soulful qawwali, but it was evident that the senior singer (the elder of the brothers) had some throat trouble.  The cold night air did not help.  He did recover somewhat after periodic sips of water but the strain showed throughout.

As I sat listening and trying to keep warm, I felt that sitting under the night sky, watching the trees and feeling the wind on my face, was happiness enough.  In comparison with all this, the words and music, though enjoyable, seemed inadequate. There are times of tranquility and contentment which come uninduced, of their own accord, and this was one such occasion.

As it was already quite late, we left before the programme finished .  Trying to find our way back was difficult - despite all the government endorsement, the path was uneven and unlit and there were no signs to show us the way back.  If people are planning to attend the next two days of this festival, I suggest they make sure they are well clad and carry a small torch and a disposable water bottle.

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