Are the subtle nuances of the ghazals being lost on the new generation of Hyderabad’s listeners?

Like many Hyderabadis Asshar Farhan had the pleasure of growing up in a household where the first tunes he heard over the tape recorder were ghazals. “We would go for Mushaira’s that went on for hours, and when the time comes for the best performance, which was usually saved for the end of the night, the audience would be on a high merely from listening to the music,” he says. However, his enthusiasm wanes when he speaks about the patronage that ghazals receive in the city today.

While it may be an exaggeration to say that the culture of listening to ghazals may have died down completely, its popularity as a performance art has certainly reduced and it is hard to say whether this is the result of the lessening number of performances or the absence of a strong fan-base.

Listening to a ghazal is more than just sitting through a concert. Ghazals being a mixture of literature and music, one needs to appreciate the poetic intricacies as well. For this reason, as Farhan points out, one needs to be initiated into the culture of listening to them. However, the era where musical tastes were passed down generations in families is long gone. The lack of this initiation, coupled with paucity of time may be a reason for the dwindling audience numbers and the fewer people taking it up professionally.

This is not to say that the city does not have any ghazals performances. Dilnaz Baig, one of the founders of the Hyderabad chapter of Shaam-E-Ghazals – a ghazal revival initiative started by her maternal uncle Kokab Durri in Delhi – says that old Hyderabadi families still host ghazal nights. “We make sure we invite an artiste for any little family celebration,”bismillah she says.

This view is echoed by Mohammed Ali Baig of the Qadir Ali Baig foundation, who says that the Old City is still witness to many performances, albeit on a small scale. “Sadly, these shows go unnoticed giving the impression that the art form is dying,” he points out.

Like any other Indian art form, ghazals too suffer from crass commercialisation. Artistes are faced with the conflict between commercial success through improvisation, as achieved by those like Pankaj Udhas, and the purity of the form itself. Very few artistes in the city, like Pundit Vitthal Rao, sing in the old style. Tickets to grand performances are often very highly priced and the practise of giving away VIP passes to corporate sponsors usually results in the artiste singing to an empty front row while true ghazals lovers take the back seats.

Adnan Salem is one of the few singers who continue to sing his original compositions – a rarity at a time when most singers stick to popular covers by Mehdi Hassan and Jagjit Singh in order to engage the audience. According to him, the number of ghazals lovers have come down as the percentage of original Hyderabadis in the city itself has dropped. He says, “The new generation has little patience and they want to hear something fast and move on; barely remembering what they heard a day later.”

To old-timers, the answer to reviving the tradition lies in encouraging their children and grandchildren to listen to the songs they love. To this end, both the Urdu University and La Makaan are conducting ghazal appreciation courses for non-Urdu speakers. For those who would like to lose yourselves in the words of Ghalib rendered in the form of a beautifully composed ghazal, this may be the place to begin.