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Performing for peace

Eminent ghazal singer and AIR artiste, Seema Anil Sehgal will perform at a peace concert organised by the Pakistan India Peace Forum, this evening at Ravindra Bharati.

PIPES OF PEACE: Seema Anil Sehgal

WHEN ONE hears the doyen of Urdu poetry, Ali Sardar Jafri's Isi sarhad pe kal dooba tha suraj, ho ke do tukde, set to music and sung by Seema Anil Sehgal, one is reminded of the strong emotions, Partition evokes.

Perhaps it was this quality in her rendition that prompted our Prime Minister, Vajpayee, to present the cassette Sarhad: Poems of Love and Peace (penned by Ali Sardar Jafri and sung by Seema) to his erstwhile counterpart during his last visit in 1999.

Hailing from Jammu and Kashmir, a Dogri by birth, and a strong advocate for peace and friendship between India and Pakistan, ghazal singer Seema Anil Sehgal, an A-grade artist of the All India Radio, will perform at a concert dedicated to peace this evening at Ravindra Bharati.The programme is being organised under the auspices of the Pakistan India Peace Forum (PIPF).

Singing from the age of eight, Seema cut her first gramophone disc at the age of 17. Her solo concerts have been dedicated mainly to Urdu poets like Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir, Faiz, Allama Iqbal, Ali Sardar Jafri, Bashir Badr and Nida Fasli, among others. She started with performances in AIR Jammu, and was featured in many programmes in the Doordarshan. Seema has also sung in her mother tongue, Dogri.

She has extensively toured the country and abroad with her concerts for peace. Sarhad was the first cassette based on Ali Sardar Jafri's poetry, which brought Seema critical acclaim. In fact, it was this cassette that got her in contact with the PIPF.

"Music and poetry can act as a bridge between people," she says. Responding to the recent controversy about Pakistani artistes performing in India, Seema says, "We must not give in to narrow and intolerant attitudes. Dialogue must never stop."

Seema has even been invited to perform at Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, in June. And this invitation came about after Seema had given one of her peace concerts at Singapore, organised by the Pakistani people settled there.

IN CONCERT: Seema has extensively toured the country and abroad.

"It is a people-to-people thing; we are not politicians," she says casually even as her supportive husband Squadron Leader, Anil chips in, "Interactions are very important these days, particularly when barriers are falling down. There is a universal need for peace."

The American Consulate invited Seema to sing on the anniversary of 9/11 last year at Mumbai. During the concert, among the other poems (mostly in Urdu), Seema sang a Hindi poem by Harivansh Rai Bachchan Nirman, phir, phir, penned many years ago, conveying the anguish of destruction, and hope in rebuilding.

The talented singer has been performing since the last two years in concerts based on poetry for peace and communal harmony. She has in her repertoire works of Kabir, Nanak, Bullesha as well as modern poets. And she owes the genesis of the concept to her husband.

"It is amazing that over so many centuries all these great people have been talking about the same idea of love and peace!" concurs Anil. The couple feels that today, more than ever, it is time to give a sustained call for harmony.

Seema gave a concert for peace in Ahmedabad post riots, last year. In early May this year, she sang the poems of Allama Iqbal - for the first time after 55 years, in a public concert. She says the concert got a "tremendous response."

Anil and Seema together do the research and documenting of poems in Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi, and select the poems that Seema composes music for. "Sometimes after midnight, when there is peace and quiet, I decide what raga would suit the piece, and where to lay stress and so on," she says. Sometimes, poets themselves send their compositions to Seema. She agrees with Anil when he says, "We need artistes with social obligation. You can convey the most profound message in the least number of words through music and art. Society grants them privilege, love and respect; the artistes must return to society what they can. Common people vibe well with poetry of substance, and we must make efforts to clean the environment of all this hatred."

Joining Seema in the concert will be her two children - 18 year-old Kartikeya and 13-year old Parvati. She has selected poetry in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi for the concert and looks forward to her dialogue with Hyderabadi audiences.


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