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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tumhari Sonam


 Qawwali is of the dhoom dhadaka variant in the pantheon of Indian music. Qawwalis are loud, to the point of being deafening, boisterous, to the point of being raucous but, it has to be granted, once the live qawwalis get going, they can lift you into the stratosphere. The asli mazaa in a mehfil-e-qawwali, is to let yourself go and participate uninhibitedly with the flow.

I, being of an unadventurous nature, therefore, do not fancy qawwalis too much. Hence, I was slightly reluctant to go to this programme of qawwali organized by our club recently. However, at the persuasion of my wife and friends, I agreed to give them the pleasure of my company.

My mind went back to the first qawalli programme I attended as a gangly fifteen year old in the company of a shaukeen uncle. My mother, after strictly warning my uncle to take good care of me, also decided that I should wear my new churidar along with the embroidered silk kurta to the function. After donning it, I preened myself in front of the mirror and, in a moment of fantasy, thought that I had a faint resemblance to Dev Anand of that time. Uncle and nephew started for the venue but not before receiving a few more last minute instructions from my mother.

The event was being held in a school hall and it was fairly packed, with an all male crowd, by the time we reached there. Everyone was sitting cross-legged on the mattresses placed on the floor and the last row had come almost close to the entrance but my uncle was determined to sit right up in the front row. So, we started navigating towards the front row by parting people who had arrived much before us and then stepping across the breach. When we were half-way in our mission, the lady qawwal started singing,

“Koi Rangeela, sapano main aake,
                                 Ek Nazar ka khel rachake,
Pyar ka jaadu hum pe chala ke…
                                 Yalla yalla dil legaya”

to the great delight of the listeners. I suppose on seeing me, she went on to improvise by crooning, 

                      “Koi rangeela,
                       Reshmi kurta, choost pajama pehney,
                       Pyar ka jaadu hum pe chala ke...
                       Yalla yalla dil legaya”

followed by an uproar from the audience. As I was wearing the attire she was referring to, I looked up and the lady qawwal did an aadab to me to another huge appreciation from the audience. I did not know what had hit me but I just stood transfixed. Luckily, my uncle patted me on the shoulder and I sat down with my eyes bonded to the floor.

The lady qawwal had struck a gold mine to work the crowd at my expense. She sang many stanzas from the song but the punch lines would always be: 

“Koi rangeela, reshmi kurta, choost pajama pehney,
Pyar ka jaadu hum pe chala ke (gesticulating that a dagger had pierced her heart)...
Yalla yalla dil legaya.”

I started enjoying the masti too but could not hold eye contact with her for long because she would keep on embarrassing me, either with a flying kiss or a coy, but sensuous, gesture of pulling down the diaphanous duppatta to cover her face. All the same, it was incredible how the audience would cheer her every time for this play-acting. It has to be admitted that this interactive atmosphere added to the pleasure of the programme. So, it was not surprising that at the interval, a lot of people came up to me and, in good humour, said, “Kya jadoo chalaee aapne Zeenat Bano pey.”    

Decades have passed since that experience and I did not believe that, wittingly or unwittingly, I could become a centre of attraction at the qawwali programme we were going to at the club. But fate had a surprise for me.

When our group reached the hall, it was nearly full. For a change, it was a mixed gender crowd comprising mostly of Gujaratis and Marwaris. The seating arrangement in the hall was of chairs, perhaps, in deference to the graying tribe of the members of the club, including me.

The programme began to the cacophony of an orchestra that could have awakened a comatose person. Thereafter, the first half was dedicated more to devotional songs and slow film numbers and as a fellow member pithily said, “Mehfil mein rang nahi aa raha hai.” Thus, at the intermission, almost two-thirds of the crowd melted away. However, the ones that remained were obviously hard-core lovers of qawwalli.

The second half started with a bang with the popular qawwalli number of Mughal-e-Azam, “Teri mehfil mein kismet azmakar hum bhi dekhenge” and the ladies in the audience spontaneously joined the chorus of the stylized rhythmic hand-clapping along with the swaying from side to side – qawwalli style. This was the trigger needed to charge the spectators.

We were sitting in a row where the aisle chair was occupied by a quiet young man and I was sitting next to him followed by my wife. As the music started for the next number, the listeners could identify that it was the evergreen super fast-paced, “Dama Dum, Mast Qalandar,” first popularized by Runa Laila, and when the lead qawwal opened with “Oh ho, oh ho ho” the crowd started singing along with him. The mood was almost delirious as the qawwali proceeded and when he recited the punch lines “Dama dam mast kalandar, ali da pehla number,” the audience went into a frenzy except that my young neighbour shouted ‘Ouch.’

It so happened that his wife, who was sitting behind him, was apparently drumming with her fingers on his back and when the qawwal sang the line “Dama dam mast kalandar, ali da pehla number,” with full josh, she thumped his back with equal vigour.    

I turned around to have a look at this percussionist and found her to be an extremely good looking woman and the flush of embarrassment on her face made her look even more attractive. She gave me a shy but broad smile and I could not refrain myself from complimenting her beauty and said with a smile, “Young lady, has anyone told you before that you very much resemble Sonam Kapoor.”

She was taken by surprise but as the impact of the comment hit her, she put her head down and started laughing softly and then slowly raised her head and tried to suppress her laugh by covering her mouth with one hand. Still laughing, she leaned towards me and said, “I wish I could say, with a straight face, that you look like Shahid Kapur” and burst into another round of laughter.

I conceded and said, “Shahid Kapur toh raha dar kinare, these days people think I look more like Anna Hazare.” Once again she thought it was a funny remark and laughed a little more loudly and that attracted the attention of the qawwal too. Looking at the age difference between the young lady and me, he started singing with great fervour,

“Khuda sawal karega agar qayamat mein,
To hum bhi kah denge hum lut gaye sharafat mein,
Hamen to loot liya mil ke husn walon ne,
Kaale kaale balon ne gore gore gaalon ne.”

The import of the song made me straighten back to my original position in a hurry. But the lines evoked great boisterousness – clapping, foot-tapping and pumping the air - in the crowd that could have matched any in a rock concert.

After a few minutes, the young man next to me got up to leave and I thought, with some sadness, that this was, perhaps, the last of Sonam that I would be seeing. Just then, I heard a soft conspiratorial whisper from the back saying, “Anna ji, could I get you and your wife some coffee.”

I smiled at her and, with the practice of some many years, said in a flirting tone, “Sonam ji if you insist, how can I say no to you?”

She gave a light pat on my shoulder and said, “Anna ji, you are incorrigible.” 

The only person not enjoying this was my wife. She hissed, “It doesn’t suit your age to say such dialogues to a young girl.”

But I was on a high and dismissed her concern with a flippant, “Ah ha, what you should actually admire is that even at this age, I can charm young ladies especially if they happen to be slim and trim.”

Coffee arrived and the young lady sat next to me in the chair vacated by her husband. She said, “Anna ji, we must keep in touch.”

“Sure. I always like to be in touch with good looking ladies. Closer the better.”

Again, the remark caught her off-guard and this time she had to put both her hands to her mouth to silence her laugh. We exchanged telephone numbers but with the condition that she would make the first call and not me.

The story would have normally ended here if there had been no follow-up.

But after a week, Sonam called me on my landline. Chirpily her opening lines were, “May I speak to Anna Hazare ji?” 

In a playful but serious tone I replied, “Aap kaun bhenji bol rahi ho?”

And she laughingly said, “Tumhari Sonam”

Seizing the opportunity, I broke into a song,

“Aaajaa Sonam  …. madhur chandni mein,
Agar Hum Tum mile to wirane mein bhi aa jayegi bahaar.”

And the “virane mein bhi aa jayegi bahar,” set her off again.

After ten minutes of such nok jhok, we disconnected.

Ab dekhein agay agay hota hai kya. But for the present, wife has gone on a crash diet. 


Karthik Kulkarni said...

Very nicely written . You are anna hazare as you are removing the corruption of hatred by spreading your love thru writing .

Hanif Murad said...

@ karthik,

Thanks for your generous appreciation.