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An evening with maestros

The Falaknuma Palace came alive with lines of poetry read by Javed Akhtar and musical notes by Louis Banks, Taufiq Qureshi, Rakesh Chaurasia and Sabir Khan. RADHIKA RAJAMANI reports on the event, `Maestros at the Palace'.<232>

UNDER THE open sky in the lawns, a gentle breeze blowing through the resplendently lit Falaknuma Palace with reverberations of poetry and music - this `royal' ambience provided the perfect setting for a reading of poems by none other than poet, script-writer, lyricist Javed Akhtar and an evening of music set ablaze by a quartet who performed in Hyderabad for the first time. Louis Banks, Taufiq Qureshi, Rakesh Chaurasia and Sabir Khan along with Javed Akhtar were the Maestros at the Palace - an event presented by 100 Pipers in association with Taj Krishna.

While liquor flowed freely accompanied by the hors d'oeuvres, the rustle of crepes and silks at the soiree and conversation streaming forth from people huddled in groups - the atmosphere of Falaknuma was enlivened. And when Javed Akhtar started his presentation it transported the audience to the `medieval' ages where such poetry sessions were the order of the day. Falaknuma came out of the pages of history to create another history. But there was a difference. The traditional sitting arrangement as in `mushairas' gave way to plastic chairs and of course modern sound equipment made its presence. Gone were the `literary' men and instead the cognoscenti took their place. And they had to wait quite some time standing on their toes to enter the `literary arena' as it was opened up late. The late start was nothing new considering the Hyderabadi penchant for delayed starts.

Once Javed Akhtar came on stage after an elaborate introduction by the compere, his first comment created a rapport with the audience. "This is flattering but frightening because it is usually bestowed posthumously," he said before stating "these are confused times. Prime Minister is writing poetry and poets are giving speeches," before quickly going on to his job. The next one-hour (almost) was one of good lines laced with intermittent humour (which certainly broke the monotony and endeared the audience to him). One certainly felt that a transparent screen would have been a suitable backdrop instead of the dark black one, which obstructed the grand total view of the palace.

As he started reading from his internationally-acclaimed Tarkash, there was pin-drop silence which was interrupted by wah wahs and claps. Nazm after nazm followed and when a plane flew overhead it invited Javed to say "Thank god we are not in Iraq". Chaste Urdu was interspersed with English lines. Mujhko yakin, Yeh khel kya hai (written recently), Do raha (dedicated to his daughter) Gehra sannata hai (fasad ke baad which also stimulated quite a few artists to translate it on to the canvas. Rina Singh, Parvez Ahmed, Shuchita Sharma and Dinesh Rai conveyed the trauma of emotions through mostly abstract works filled with colours) and more followed while the audience savoured every moment of it.

MESMERISING MUSIC: The quartet provided scintillating moments. — Photos: Mohd Yousuf

Javed Akhtar's voice besides the words, has a mesmeric quality and he used both to the hilt. He has travelled a long way since he first read poems many years ago with his father-in-law in this very city. "I started reading with shivering legs in Kaifi Saab's presence," said this seasoned writer, who has since then, surged ahead in the literary field. The tribute to his father-in-law Kaifi Azmi (whom he described as a great poet who practised what he preached) - Ajeeb aadmi tha who - written after his death was powerful and poignant and elicited a warm applause from the audience. He wound up his reading with his last nazm Waqt.

Javed Akhtar's fondness for the city was reflected in his statements on how beautiful the city looked on each visit. The only thing, which baffles he said was when people ask him "paani nahaye kya?" (laughs) to which he feels like replying doodo nahao.

A question answer session only exposed Javed saab's sharp wit. He certainly has a way with words. When a person asked him to complete the sentence Maine zindagi se seekha hai he replied "zindagi ek club hai where you get a membership at birth. So one should contribute before you cease to be a member," evoking loud claps. But one aspect he exhorted was poetry should not just entertain but also make people think.

The second half of the function after a short break was just music all the way. The quartet of Louis Banks on the keyboard, Taufiq Qureshi on the drums, Sabir Khan on the tabla and Rakesh Chaurasia on the flute provided some scintillating moments with their fusion of rhythms. The initial `sound hiccups' notwithstanding, they entertained for more than an hour sadly though to a depleted audience towards the end. The stage had the required paraphernalia - coloured lights and coloured smoke billowed onto it creating a magical effect.

After two `abstract' untitled compositions (where the ripples of sound, the chirping of birds, the melody of the flute and rhythms of the tabla and drums wafted through the air and made some close their eyes to enjoy) Taufiq gave a small demonstration of different sounds - like breath, rhythm, breaking a champagne bottle, the sound of the train and the arrival of people, horses and others on arrival at the palace on the drums reflected his dexterity (which is in his genes - he is the son of Ustad Alla Rakha and brother of Ustad Zakir Hussain). The rhythmic fusion had a good `dialogue' between the flute and percussion while the keyboard provided the background music.

The surprise package of the evening was Raza Ali Khan, grandson of the late Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan who provided the vocal element. Raza Ali rendered a shlok Mahadev... a composition of his late grandfather with verve. He sang at a high pitch though one thought that for fleeting seconds he lost control of the sruti at the higher pitches. While the rendition (which he dedicated to peace and harmony) was pure, the music was a confluence of various sounds. It seemed as if the background music took a backseat to the lyrical rendition. This was followed by Chashme purave uspe bhi jigar jalte hain (kakaroon sajni) before Raza Ali sang a ghazal of Javed Akhtar Dard ke phool bhi khilte hain, bikhar jaate hain... which was the musical translation - the finale. One walked out of the palace almost at midnight with the lines and notes echoing in the `starry' atmosphere.

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