In focus Gharelu mehfils, a most-sought after tradition of throwing open a house to musicians and music lovers, is dwindling into oblivion. Ranee Kumar

Y ou can sight ‘eid ka chand' at least annually but the ‘gharelu mehfil' (chamber concerts), which once adorned Hyderabad's cultural pockets like Barkas, King Koti and Basheerbagh among other places, have become a thing of the past.

A most-sought after tradition of throwing open a house to musicians and music lovers is now a lost treasure. An offshoot of the Durbari culture at the royal court of the Qutb Shahis of Golkonda, the mehfil drifted to the drawing rooms of the noblemen and affluent art lovers. The ‘Hisar' constructed for the musician sisters Taramati and Premavathi speaks volumes of the patronage extended to performing arts. It flourished through the 50s till the 90s in all its glory. With the advent of television and influence of the West, the ‘gharelu mehfil' gave way to stage performances for a fee.

“Surprisingly, the mehfils provided a platform for launching new talent. Art thrived here for art's sake; neither the artist nor the audience thought of financial implications. The artist looked towards showcasing his talent while connoisseurs came over to enjoy music. In the process music enthusiasts would go up to the artist to honour him with currency notes as a token of appreciation,” says Urdu poet Rauf Khair, lamenting the loss of such beautiful evenings.

“In Puranapul, there was an instance of two birds visiting the house of Dr. Satish's father during the mehfil with clock-like regularity. These birds would perch on the window sill of the mehfil hall and as the music commenced, they would hop their way to the stage, then to the harmonium and finally settle down at close quarters to the singer. This in a certain house became a routine every month,” reminiscences Syed Hussain, a helper in one of the royal families.

“In certain houses, there were two halls allotted to Hindustani and light music like ghazals, tumri, etc. The singer would walk across the room, render a long Hindustani piece with alaap and other embellishments, and move to the second hall to render ghazals,” says Vajpayee whose father was an avid music lover frequenting the ‘gharelu mehfils' in the Nizam's service.

Some of the famous ghazal singers were Bade and Chote Dawood Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali, Talat Aziz, Khan Akhtar, Ruknuddin, Khadri, Saber Habib, Khaleel Iqbal and Vittal Rao to name a few, not to talk of instrumentalists/percussionists like Harijeeth or Adil Hussain who would give solo performance or accompany the vocalist.

The announcement of a mehfil was done at another mehfil and by word of mouth. Says Vajpayee, “it would be like Shaniwar ke shaam, Vittal Rao ke naam.” For most part, artists themselves would host a mehfil with other artists. There were organisations like Tarannum and ‘Saaz aur awaaz' also holding mehfils at home .

“We would sing ghazals penned by famous Hyderbadi poets but were not averse to learning and appreciating Delhi shayars,” says ghazal veteran Vittal Rao.

The singers as well as the audience had their favourite poets' compositions like those of Mauzam Shaji or Ali Ahmed Jaleeli. Though not extinct, today the ‘gharelu mehfil' is no longer in the confines of a house. “We still hold such mehfils fortnightly in function halls. The mehfil begins after 8 p.m. and goes up to midnight. Snacks and dinner ( biryani with curd chutney) is served during the 15-minute interval,” says Ramavatar who hosted many such mehfils.

The pictures of a music-filled house teeming with enthusiastic audience that exchanged views with likeminded people are all a closed album of Hyderabadi tahzeeb now.

Art thrived here for art's sake; neither the artist nor the audience thought of financial implications.