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Lighting the lamp within

ANJANA RAJAN

The celebrated Sufi singer from Pakistan, Abida Parveen talks about the "radiation" called Sufi music in the light of the recent Jahan-e-Khusrau festival in New Delhi.



IN THE REALMS OF HAPPINESS Abida Parveen gives a peek in to her mind. Photo: V.V. Krishnan

Traffic jams are nothing new in New Delhi. Honking cars, smoke in the air, and irate pedestrians. This jam was different though. People did not seem to be losing their temper as much. It seemed okay to wait a while. A surprised resident of the Humayun's Tomb area asked a policeman about the untimely rush that was not allowing him to park his car in front of his own house at 11.30 p.m. The rush, as also the magic, was all thanks to Abida Parveen. Her appearances at Jahan-e-Khusrau, the annual festival organised by Delhi Tourism along with the Rumi Foundation, are a regular feature in the Capital now, but that does not dim the anticipation. And the Sufi singer from Pakistan, beloved of Indians, never disappoints.

"I enjoyed singing before the Delhi crowd," she smiles. It is a smile full of spontaneous joy. Whereas often her half-closed eyes, the down-turned face, the strands of hair that fall unbidden and unnoticed across it, give the impression of someone completely lost in the realms of thought, she is simultaneously aware of the world around her.

As usual the festival offered a platform to a spectrum of performers. If there was the Rumi group from Turkey, the list also included pop king Daler Mehndi, whose name came as a surprise to some. "It is the right of every artiste to study the kalam bequeathed to us by the veterans of the faith (buzurgaan-e-din). And an artiste should not be known by just one kalam, nor just one type of music. Daler Mehndi presented some very good verses."

Abida's name is inextricable from the Jahan-e-Khusrau festival. "It is a place one always learns something new. And whenever I come, I attempt to present something new and different."

This time one of her most popular presentations was the verse "Jin nayanan mein nayan". It came to her in an unexpected way. "You don't watch television?" She seems surprised. "Surely you must watch `Antakshari'! Once when I was watching `Antakshari', the host - he sings very well - sang this sher. I found it so beautiful, I called him up from Islamabad. I told him, `Aap ne to quayamat dhaadi!' He gave me the complete verse."

`A radiation'

Once a kalam takes hold of you, says the singer, whose throat often catches with emotion as she speaks of the subject that has enveloped her being, it does not take leave of you. The sufi kalam is "a visual in itself," she explains.

People take from it what is appropriate for them. "Sufi music includes classical music as well as dohas and such. We take the doha, find its essence and set it to music. It is not the work of a day. I am immersed in it always."

She may see her art as a form of devotion, but audiences are of all types. "Apne aap mein alau jalana padta hai. (The flame must burn within the heart.) Only He can make it happen. We try to reach His doorstep. And consider the audience as the manifestation of Khuda."

Everyone however may not have such unsullied faith. "Even if one or two understand, it is okay. When I perform in Western countries, they hear and they cry. They are not Indians and Pakistanis to understand the words. Sufi music, sufi kalam, makes itself understood by the heart. It is a radiation."

Set to go on a tour of Europe this June, the veteran has just released Ruh-e-Ali, her latest album of Sufi compositions by Muzaffar Ali. The musical approach is different from other albums so far.

"The verses of the veterans of the faith have their own inexplicable attraction. They are present when you sing them. The whole point is to lessen sorrow in the world."

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