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Updated: February 26, 2010 16:51 IST

Simply Sufi

Shailaja Tripathi
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Muzaffar Ali at his Kotwara studio in Delhi with the picture of his father in the background. Photo: V. V. Krishnan
The Hindu Muzaffar Ali at his Kotwara studio in Delhi with the picture of his father in the background. Photo: V. V. Krishnan

Be it films, music festival, clothes or paintings, Muzaffar Ali is celebrating Sufism all the way

Frenetic activity possesses Kotwara Studio. Staffers scurry in and out with tension writ large on their faces. The tickets of the participating artistes, costumes, paperwork…the issues at hand are many and time is a paucity. The pressure is palpable but unable to affect Muzaffar Ali. Jahan-e-Khusrau — Sufi music festival held against the breathtaking backdrop of Arab Ki Sarai, Humayun's Tomb complex is just two days away when we meet Ali, the man credited with this invaluable addition to the Capital's cultural calendar.

The source of peace and content that envelops Ali even amidst this chaos is clearly the belief in Sufi philosophy Ali's life revolves around. “Sufis are the best people. They make bridges connecting people with each other. Those are not done physically but in a more subtle way through the mind and the soul. Just yesterday I was thinking, who is a Sufi amongst the people I know. And the architect Joseph Stein's name came up in my mind. He was an architect who designed India International Centre. Anybody who is passionate about people, nature and beauty is a Sufi,” ruminates Ali.

And Jahan-e-Khusrau is the platform through which their voices travel and come back to him. “It is the unveiling of certain mysteries which are embodied in the writings of the mystics. I am experiencing this through a communication process. The Sufi poets are being given a voice and I come to realise them,” adds the versatile Ali.

Early lessons in humanism

If Sufism is about humanism, then he says he learnt the first lessons long time ago from his father S. Sajid Husain, who belonged to the erstwhile royal family of Kotwara, a tiny village 160 kms from Lucknow. “He was passionate about people. After completing his masters from Edinburgh University, he returned to India and in 1937 fought elections as an independent against the Congress and the Muslim League and won. At that time, he was talking about casteism, communalism, hydel power, family planning. His last words to me were ‘nobody should ever starve in Kotwara'.”

Dwar Pe Rozi (DPR) — a charitable organisation was not only set up as a means to fulfil his father's last wish but also stemmed out of his deeply-felt humanistic concerns. “I personally feel people shouldn't be displaced. It's the biggest crime against humanity. It was with this conviction that I made Gaman (His first film featuring Farooque Sheikh and Smita Patil). It had a two-pronged approach of assessing the impact of migration on the migrants and secondly on the people and city where they are migrating to,” says Ali. The film fetched him the Filmfare award for best director.

The development of the indigenous art and craft techniques of the region and making it a viable economic activity is how Ali together with his architect wife Meera has been paving the path of its growth. The duo runs a school, a craft centre and a studio there. Their couture label ‘Kotwara' stands as an ambassador of Kotwara's weaving traditions like chikan, dhurie and zardozi. The proceeds from the sale of tickets of the festival too are used for the aid of the village.

Discovering Sufism

“Actually, I am a humanist more than an artist, fashion designer, filmmaker or a festival organiser. I am always trying to find ways of connecting people. Everything I do has to echo my commitment to human concerns. First, layer of purpose has to be there and if that is wrong then everything else falls apart and that's why Umrao Jaan (starring Rekha) worked. But I am also like a wind. Whenever I feel tied down to things be it a job or a marriage (first marriage to Subhashini Ali), I just scoot from there. That's why I was not having the festival for two years, having to push too much,” he says.

Having Shahryar and Asghar Wajahat Husain — who later became a famous poet and dramatist — for friends in Aligarh Muslim University where he was studying Science, ensured he was initiated into poetry early on but the brush with Sufi poetry happened in the snow covered valley of Kashmir where he was filming Zooni starring Dimple Kapadia. “I discovered Hazrat Amir Khusrau there. His poetry had a lot of experimentation, synthesis and the ‘masti' like nobody else. Khusrau has written so much about the plight of women. He was attracted towards the weaker sections of the society. Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai has written about every possible love story. Sufis are very smart. They find everything they need to. Nobody has written about Krishna his raas and rang the way they have written,” says Ali.

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