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Bazm Honors Ghalib in the San Francisco Bay Area
Ras H. Siddiqui San Francisco

July 2003 -  On the face of it, the name of this group may be complicated. Bazm in its short form is much easier to write then the full “Bazm-e-Arbab-e-Sukhan” (plus the additional “of the San Francisco Bay Area”), but a visit with one of the keepers of the candlelight of Urdu in California presents little difficulty and can actually be quite a pleasing experience. From the English reporting point of view, this may sound strange, but this reporter goes to Bazm’s gatherings to be culturally enriched.

  To those of us who still retain the ability to “feel in Urdu” while writing exclusively in English, a Bazm gathering sometimes becomes a “must try to attend” part of our social calendar, especially when they honor (in this case) the most significant name ever to be associated with the language, that of Mirza Ghalib.

  On Friday, July 11, 2003 Bazm held its “Yaad-e-Ghalib” evening at the Mehran Restaurant in Newark, California where Urdu lovers from all over this region filled up this venue. Pakistanis and Indians, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs amongst them and of various sub-ethnicities, all had dinner, sat together and enjoyed reminiscing on the works of Ghalib, in a way celebrating an entire culture which is associated with this wonderful language.

   Annie Akhter, one of the driving forces behind Bazm welcomed everyone and commented on how Ghalib was still alive and well in our hearts and minds after

200 years. She said that the Mughal Empire had left behind three great gifts. 1) The Urdu Language. 2) The Taj Mahal and 3) Mirza Ghalib.

  Ali Hasan Cemendtaur a powerful writer and a fast emerging talent from the San Francisco Bay Area next presented a beautifully narrated Urdu viewpoint on how Ghalib would address his nephew if he were alive today. Needless to say Ali Hasan had the audience rolling in laughter because his sense of “Mazaaq” (Humor) on the “impurities” that Urdu has been acquiring recently would certainly have Ghalib rolling over in his grave.

   Bay Area resident, Peace activist and Urdu/Punjabi Poet Farooq Taraz next presented a Nazm (Poem) in honor of the Great Master. In his poetic tribute Farooq equated the after effects of reading Ghalib’s writings to a form of spiritual awakening. 

   Faisal Azeem of  Avtar Magazine next presented his very moving verses after reminding everyone of the difficulty in deciphering some of Ghalib’s poetry.

He said that Ghalib was a “Modern” poet even 200 years ago.

   Annie Akhter next introduced the very formidable Urdu Poetess that now resides in this area Noshi Jilani and Tabla Master Ustad Tari Khan from amongst the audience. A strong “welcome back” is in order for Noshi who has been out of the area for what seems like too long time.

   Professor Syed Jahangir Hamdani was introduced next. Hamdani Sahib is an authority on languages in our community and our resident expert on Urdu and Ghalib. As a linguist, he has read Ghalib’s Persian and Urdu works and found both of them superb (while almost giving an edge to the former). Hamdani Sahib went into the life of this greatest of Urdu writers and said that any true craftsman of literature or art in general holds a unique position from which he or she observes life and human suffering. He called this uniqueness a gift from God. He said that Mirza Ghalib, who was born in Agra and died in Delhi was truly so gifted, because without any coaching he was a truly exceptional communicator via his poetry writing. He said that Ghalib’s writing were now a beautiful legacy for all to learn from and appreciate irrespective of their religious leanings. Ghalib belonged to all of humanity. Hamdani Sahib also gave a talk on a slide show presentation  put together on computer by Zamir Khan depicting several paintings and segments of Ghalib’s poetry.

  Urdu Poet Jazib Qureshi next spoke for a few moments and thanked Annie and Bazm for the holding of such gatherings. He said that Pakistan certainly needed such an initiative too as people needed to go back to appreciating literature via books and poetry and not dwell exclusively on the easy path of the visual media.

  A short skit of sorts was presented with the help of Ashish Joshi (who played Ghalib) and Tina Mann who did a great job in Mughal era attire while gesturing to Ghalib’s poetry in song. And the first segment closed with warm happy birthday wishes to Nagesh Avadhany, another pillar of the Bazm Group.

  The second part of the evening’s activities arrived from Agra, India via the superb singing of Ghalib’s works by Ghazal Singer Sudhir Narain, accompanied on Tabla by Pradip Narain. And what a wonderful voice it was that he brought to us! After listening to Jagjeet Singh sing Ghalib’s work it is wonderful to report that “Sudhir aur Un mai sirf

Unees Bees Ka Farq hai” (they are very close). The audience was indeed moved and I’m glad that I acquired his CD’s. The drive home was made much more pleasurable due

to them. Yeh na Thi Hamari Kismat was the first song sung, but “Mein Unhay Chairoon aur woh kuch na Kahain” was my favorite along with “Ibne Maryam”. 

  In conclusion it would be difficult to list all of the people to thank for this journey of learning and a window into the life and work of the greatest writer Urdu has ever produced. Thanks are in order to all that worked so hard and the wonderful audience who listened so patiently. But let me leave here with a special mention of a Sikh gentleman in attendance at this gathering by the name of Surdhol Kwatra. Mr. Kwatra, a retired music director once had the privilege of playing music with the late great Master Ghulam Haidar. And for those who may not know, the late Master discovered for us at least one of the finest voices ever to sing in South Asia. Her name was Noor Jehan.    

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