Explaining the poetry in ghazals and the need to preserve Hyderabad's heritage, Dilnaz Baig goes down memory lane

After a series of short turns in the muddled lanes of Banjara Hills, is a white stately house peeping out of green foliage. It is the family house of former first class cricketer Murtuza Ali Baig and his wife Dilnaz Baig. Draped in an elegant black and white Bengal cotton sari and a bunch of bangles jangling on her right hand, she stands on the porch of her house with a welcoming smile. A small but beautiful garden circles her house, which she passionately tends to. Settling in her favourite patio chair, Dilnaz Baig is ready to talk about the Hyderabad chapter of Shaam-e-Ghazal formed by a group of ghazal lovers which organises ghazal mehfils and holds discussions and her association with the NGO Apna Watan. In her clipped English, she begins to describe her fondness for Urdu ghazals when her cell phone rings. As she answers the phone, she effortless switches into perfect Hyderabadi Hindi with the quintessential twang with all traces of English gone.

“It is not just refinement of poetry but ghazals are also the tehzeeb and tameez and learning Urdu especially when we see that the language is slowly dying,” explains Dilnaz one of the founding members of Shaam-e-Ghazal, Hyderabad chapter. The organisation which first began in New Delhi, started in the city in 1995. The Shaam-e-Ghazal nights are usually held at the India International Centre in the Capital city where the stalwarts of ghazal perform. “I pestered my husband and with Vittal Rao who is the jaan-e-ghazal we started our Shaam-e-Ghazal chapter here,” she says. The 40 odd members invite local ghazal and qawwali singers as well from across the country to perform within the comforts of any group member's home.

The group gathers around six times in a year for mehfils and mushairas. In fact, they will be hosting another ghazal night at the Paigah Plaza soon. Growing up in an atmosphere where poetry, music and literature were appreciated, she says, “When we were growing up, women did not have many outlets. The youngsters used to organise these musical nights where artistes like Vittal Rao used to perform for a meagre Rs 50. Sometimes, the performances used to go on for the entire night. The girls used to take care of the snacks so as a process we used to get trained in the art of entertaining guests.”

Expressing a strong disdain against the places which hosts ghazal nights in accompaniment with alcohol, she says, “It is not just appreciation of the gayaki but also a learning process. We want the right kind of people and youngsters to be involved to carry forward the traditions.” While singers like Nirja Giri, Rekha Surya, Seema Sehgal are associated with the group, Dilnaz is unhappy with the local singing standards. She feels that the young singers need to improve their Urdu diction before a performance. She feels that people need to move beyond requesting songs of Jagjit Singh and Mehdi Hassan and try to understand the art form. “Ustad Aslam Khan who has performed all over the world had mentioned that nowhere he has seen people listening with such adab than here in Hyderabad,” she says. With more members and better funds, she is optimistic that they will be able to expand Shaam-e-Ghazal.

Knowledge of Urdu becomes imperative when understanding the lyrical poetry of ghazals and in her determination to master the language, Dilnaz has started learning Urdu at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University. “I could read and write Urdu but was missing out the finer nuances of the language. You cannot walk around with a dictionary in your hand, so I decided to learn the language even though it's a bit late in life,” she says with her infectious enthusiasm. Having spent the first 35 years of her life in the city, she is immensely passionate about Dakhini Urdu. “The mithaas that is present in the language cannot be found anywhere. I am very proud to speak the language. The language has more character and depth,” says the quintessential Hyderabadi.

She agrees that from once being a national language, Urdu has become synonymous with the Muslims. She says the beauty and poetry of the language should not be restricted to any particular community and according to her, the best way to learn Urdu is by listening to old Hindi film songs. “The lyrics penned by Naushad, Kaifi Azmi are so beautiful and old songs have so many emotions in it. You don't seem to remember the songs that are composed today. In fact, I am going to teach Kaifi Azmi's poem Aurat to my little granddaughter,” she says.

During her stay in Mumbai, she was also associated with Mahila Dakshata Samiti and has extensively worked for the cause of underprivileged women and has strong opinion about women's rights. She is also associated with the NGO Apna Watan in an effort to promote communal harmony. “We formed the organisation after the 2002 Gujarat riots to promote communal harmony. It is disturbing to see communities so polarized especially when children are indoctrinated into religious ideology,” She explains that apart from explaining communal harmony among children, the group organises lecturers at different localities and colonies. “We have made Muslim women participate in Hindu weddings and being a part of the singing and mehendi functions to break barriers,” she says.

“During my growing up days, Hyderabad was a closed society. Women have so many choices now. We were quite cloistered and our every move was monitored. It was surprising how they could not monitor our dreams,” says Dilnaz Baig who has dedicated much of her time to promote education among girls especially through supporting the students of Safdaria Girls High School at Humayan Nagar. “There are two girls coming from very impoverished backgrounds from this school who have scored 96 percent in their board exams and one wants to become a doctor. We want to ensure that they don't drop out but continue with their education,” she says as she encourages girl students to study and become financially independent.

Full of stories from her younger days, one gets a glimpse of the old Hyderabad and her unmistakable sense of humour. While regaling with her stories she briefly enquires with her husband Murtuza Ali Baig about a senior citizen plan at the bank and he replies with a twinkle in his eye, “You are not a senior citizen yet.” The couple exudes a feeling of great comfort and friendship. Balancing a delectable plate of home-made sweets, she says, “accha toh apan kya baat kar rahe the,” and continues to narrate her many interesting memories.

Preserving history

“While attending a speech by Nani Palkhiwala (jurist and economist) at Mumbai, I had asked a question. After a speech a Parsi lady had come up to me and asked me whether I was from Mehboobia Girls High School and when I asked how did she figure that out she said ‘my dear the Mehboobia girls speaks in a manner which is easily recognisable,” narrates Dilnaz as she fondly recalls her school days. Saddened by the present condition of the school, she feels that government and local bodies should pay attention to preserve heritage buildings in Hyderabad which are under a state of neglect. “These historical buildings represent Hyderabad's rich cultural past and they need to be restored to preserve the heritage,” she says.