Fighting hate through music

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In its 14th year, Jahan-e-Khusrau spreads the message of love

Against the backdrop of the architectural marvel of Humayun’s Tomb permeated with lights, carefully kept diyas, minus any cacophony of advertisements and shutterbugs, the Sufiana kalam and dance performances, all defined the soulful experience called Jahan-e-Khusrau. The 14th edition of the three-day event celebrated the theme, Rivers of Love.

This World Sufi Music Festival created by the husband-wife team of Meera and Muzaffar Ali has its own story of how it maintains its high standards, so far unmatchable with parallel events of a similar kind. It entails the joy of creating, the pain of begging for funds.

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Shares Muzaffar Ali, the filmmaker-fashion designer-painter, “I have made a few films on Sufi and Islamic mysticism, namely Sama, Seena-b-Seena and Tajaali. The third one was on Iran’s Sufi mysticism. I was also making Zooni, my film on Kashmir’s first female poetess, but I couldn’t shoot it as fundamentalism was on the rise (the late 1990s). After I witnessed the hatred post-Babri Masjid demolition, I decided to spread love between communities. We did a 200-km walk singing songs of love — from Lucknow’s Waris Shah mazaar to a temple in Angloa (Gola Kokran Nath), which my ancestors had built. We felt that this practice of spreading communal harmony can be done via Sufi music. When I came to Delhi in 2000, Sheila Dikshit offered me a grant if I settle down in Delhi for my creative pursuits. ‘We will not interfere in your creative endeavours,’ she said. With this fund and from other resources, we started Jahan-e-Khusrau.”

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For the festival, Ali himself chooses kalams to be recited from his huge library, sits with musicians and gets the pieces ready. Notably, he believes in blending and it often creates differences with maestros. “They don’t want to go beyond a limit on what they have learned. Unko lagta hai is sey unka Nam kahrab ho jayega. But I am a faqir, I don’t dominate them. So we manage to bring the best of blends before the audience.”

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How does he design an event of this size?

“My team is headed by Meera. She now understands its dimensions and works accordingly. Each year is an uphill task starting with who will support and who will perform. What makes it easy is that it is the next step in a journey in the same direction. The difficult part is the shrinking support as it is not a commercial festival.” That makes generating funds the most difficult part. “I am very sensitive and can’t stretch my hand before anyone. However, for the cause of this Sufism, I have to. At times, I have to nearly beg,” he says. However, the governments have always helped, he says. “We have learned to work perfectly within their norms. They realise that Jahan-e-Khusrau is the best non-governmental way of cultural diplomacy possible between India and any other country.”

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From this year on, Ali is also instituting bi-annual crafts melas too. The first edition, The Experience of the Handmade, kicks off at Gwalpahari in Gurgaon on March 16-17.

Old voices, new voices

The strained relations between India and Pakistan meant the audiences missed its date with Abida Parveen. “Pakistan is getting increasingly out of bounds. Not having Abida Parveen is a big loss and challenge,” Muzaffar Ali says. However, with the emergence of new talent and their fire to reach out, he sees Sufiana gayaki coming of age. So, this time, performances by Javed Ali, Roohani sisters, Satinder Sartaj, Hans Raj Hans, and Shivani had the audience thrilled. Apart from Hazrat Ameer Khusrau’s new kalam, Ali sang his famous Sufi songs from Bollywood — Qun-Fay-Qun, Piya Haji Ali, Maula-Maula and Arziyaan, he quite making up for the loss one would feel in the absence of doyens on stage. Also, with his soulful voice, Sartaj from Punjab drew attention as he converted Ghalib’s couplets into qawwali, besides his rendition of Heer. Roohani sisters had people swaying to Damadum mast kalandar.

The article first appeared in The Tribune


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