Sunday, April 19, 2020

Q is for Qawwali #AtoZChallenge

Photo clicked in Munnar, Kerala. March 2020

The soundscape of my early years was filled with music, but not the kind that comes out of a  stereo or a record player. We didn't own a gramophone, either. 

Prayers called artis and hymns called bhajans; temple bells; songs sung at wedding celebrations including the ubiquitous 'baari bansi khatan kia si'  which must be sung and danced to if a Punjabi wedding is to be deemed legal: Gurbani and shabad kirtan; Meera's poetry and Kabir ke dohe (couplets); azaan (call to prayer) from the mosque near my maternal garndparents' house; birdsong of bulbuls, crows and koels; rustling leaves; taps filling buckets; clothes being beaten by dhumdi (wooden bat to beat the dirt out); whistles of pressure cookers; calls of vendors who came to the gully to sell fruit, vegetables and ice cream; the kabadi waala (recycling man on his cycle)--all of these meshed together seamlessly to provide the soundtrack of my childhood.

Seema and I accompanied Beji and Papaji to the Krishna temple near our house. Anyone willing and eager to sing could join in with the kirtan and we would lambaste our lungs at full volume whenever we got a chance. Papaji would play the cymbals and nod his head to the rhythm of the bhajan.

As we grew older, Indian films started influencing our musical tastes. The two of us would copy styles and sing. In fact, later on, as teenagers we would copy scenes and dance sequences too. Once, inspired by an old English film, we tried to wear our short hair above our ears to look like Jane Eyre (I think) and waltzed down the room--dipping in courtesy to each other at the appropriate time.

But long before Jane Eyre, we discovered that both of us loved to sing and perform Qawwalis. The beat and rhythm of this style is easy to emulate and the distinct hand clapping that accompanies the lyrics suited our energetic performance style.

We were often asked by our mother to sing songs or recite poems in front of our guests and visitors. I was always too eager--as I've mentioned in a previous post: I was an enthusiastic cutlet of the highest order. Yes, the kind who don't know when to stop. 

Once, I was stopped mid-performance by an elderly guest and Mummy was given an earful about our sanskaar (values). 

It went something like this: I was, at age four or five, sitting on the floor posing as Laila and pleading the elderly guest who sat on the sofa opposite me to spare my lover--Koi pathar se naa maare mere diwaane ko...(please don't pelt my lover with stones). In fact, I was about to get up and walk across to the aforementioned member of my audience and really stress on the plight of my broken heart with some hand gestures when I was asked to stop mid-movement.

Please note that I had watched Laila Majnu, the movie, on the big screen with my parents and every scene and every tear and every sigh of the two lovers was imprinted on my dancing cells. The bhaav (emotions) were bursting forth unabashedly.

"Puttar, achche gharan di kuddiyan is tarah de gaande nai gaandiya. Ainnu chupp karaao." (Child, girls of decent homes don't sing such songs. Ask her to stop.) Said the elderly gentleman to my mother.

I stopped.

I stopped dancing.

I stopped dancing in front of the elderly guest, looked at Mummy and left the room.

Mummy must've been embarrassed. But she didn't show it. Her advice to us was to be sensitive to our elders. 

"They don't understand beta for their time was different." she explained our guest's behaviour to us.

I think that is why I never felt rebuked or upset when I was stopped. 

There were many more fish in the sea. There were enough uncles and aunties and older cousins who were happy to watch us sing and dance.

In fact, Seema and I were the chief entertainers at our much older cousin, Harish Veerji's wedding. The two of us, six and five, danced on a stage at his wedding reception and were heartily applauded by our family. We didn't need much encouragement but we were given it anyway--in spades and praise.

Back to the word of the day: Qawwali

Wikipedia explains its etymology and history: Qaul (Arabic: قَوْل) is an "utterance (of the prophet)", Qawwāl is someone who often repeats (sings) a Qaul, Qawwāli is what a Qawwāl sings. Delhi's Sufi saint Amir Khusrow of the Chisti order of Sufis is credited with fusing the PersianArabicTurkish, and Indian musical traditions in the late 13th century in India to create Qawwali as we know it today.

The first Qawwali clip below is from an old Indian film. It gives you a glimpse (jhalak) of the type of clothing worn by Papaji and his generation-- salwaar, kameez and the proud puggdi (turban).

For women, covering ones head with dupatta was considered tameezdari (proper etiquette) in Punjabi homes when I was little.

Also, please spot the chammach (steel spoon) beating the dholok (drum) mentioned in my post on 'H' day. The qawwali starts at 1:18. 
In the sixties and the seventies, the Indian film version of  Qawwali looked more like romantic repartee, rather than Sufi poetry. That said, the films helped in bringing the art form into homes and hearts of people all over the subcontinent.

But great Ustaads like Pakistan's Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan re-introduced Sufi Qawwali to the masses in the eighties and made it famous all over the world.

I'll leave you with this famous quote by the great man who's voice was described by Jeff Buckley as 'velvet fire--simply incomparable.'

"To be a qawwal is more than being a performer, more than being an artist. One must be willing to release one's mind and soul from one's body to achieve ecstasy through music. Qawwali is enlightenment itself." 
~ Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
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Were you fond of performing in front of family when you were little? Or were you shy?
Did you pretend to be a famous singer/dancer when you were four or five?
If you'd like to share, I'd love to hear about it.

34 comments:

  1. Hari OM
    OOoh - you got me with NFAK - fabulous stuff! I adore these sounds and when you spoke of the morning prayer cacophany, I was immediately homesick for India!!! YAM xx

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  2. Haha. The enthusiastic cutlet could be me if not you. I was always a performer. Thankfully because my mother herself was a classical dancer, our extended families were used to stage performances. My mom's side, popularly called Sharmas, to this day are the aan and shaan of the stage in weddings. We have a popular family quote...Sharma khaandaan hai bhai, naach gaana kaise na ho!

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    1. Love your family's quote Sonia. Which classical dance did your mother practise?

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  3. I was such a quiet shy girl, but somewhere along the way I discovered I loved to dance. I dance more now than when I was a kid. I tell my parents I should have been a Punjabi or any North Indian who have dance in their weddings because it will give me an opportunity to dance.

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    1. I'll adopt you Namratha as my muh-boli dance buddy. Here's a little Punjabi wedding dance party for you: https://artismoments.blogspot.com/search?q=nagin+dance
      Enjoy.

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  4. How cute. And now, every 4-5 year old attends dance classes and most of the times refuses to perform in front of anyone!! We are lucky to have grown up in simpler times.

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    1. We were born performers Nisha--or as adults would say--nautanki:)

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  5. Aww!! How cute is that!!
    I was the opposite. I didn't and still don't speak when we have guests. It's good that we don't have many. I was born as a true blue introvert. :D

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    1. So that's where you get your beautiful poetry from Srivalli...Aha! your silences reveal gems the rest of us can relish.

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  6. I think the first time I heard about quawwali over here was a video parody where two girls sang about the creepy guys trying to date them. :D

    The Multicolored Diary

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    1. Glad to know you've heard of this form Zalka.

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  7. Loved this glimpse into moments from your childhood. I'm glad that you got a fair share of appreciation. I used to belong to the shy category - the one who denies vehemently when asked to perform for guests. :D

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    1. I'm not much different now either Shweta and cause truck loads of embarrassment to my children.

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  8. All your childhood sound tracks are very familiar with mine :). I don’t remember performing when I was young but definitely our kids did the same with other guests 😀. The famous qawwali of movie ‘waqt’ is my husband’s all time favourite and he, without fail, performs with me in front of guests pretending like we are famous singers ;). Loved the Q....can’t wait to roll over R.

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    1. You have to post a video of your next performance Pinkz. I'd love to see it.
      I guess, the lyrics appeal to us as we approach that age. No?

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  9. Kya Baat Hain! kya chunke gaana gaaya tha, I must say! Q for Qawwali turned to Q se Qayamat! What stood out is the way your mom handled the situation sensitively. To you, the guests & elders. Sanskarams!! (thats how we Tamilians will say it)
    I was and still am the best Bathroom singer in town.Can't sing to save my life! So clearly singing was not my cup of tea, but I didn't know this then. Like Laila Majnu was for you, it was Amar Akbar & Anthony for me.(watched it 50 times atleast & can do another 50times too) Either the Actors or the silly masala filmy script but some wonderful performances swept me off my feet! There are more than 2 Qawwalis in the movie and each one had a different flavour to it. One of them was (a magical moment in the film)'Shirdiwale Sai Baba'- this stuck with me.
    My sister was sent for carnatic classes and was well versed with the right devotional songs with right surs & taal when asked to sing in front of our relatives.
    Not sure if you have experienced the Mumbai local train ever. Till date there are kids/men/women singing songs & collecting money. This song used to top their lists those days. I had to match up to my sister & so i picked devotional song that i knew, 'Shirdiwale Saibaba'.I sang in the sameway (like the local train singers)holding a shapeless aluminium vessel & a pebble to give music the in between music, walking lengths & breadth of the room. Poor Mohammad Rafi saab would be turning in his grave to see some these versions ( including mine)
    ROFL ( Rolling on the floor laughing) that would be the condition of our guests who would later console my slightly embarrassed parents atleast she is singing this and not "Taiyyab Ali Pyaar ka Dushman Hai Hai!"( again another one from the same movie)
    No points for guessing why I wasn't sent for any music lessons or dance as a kid,however i danced throughout my childhood famously infact still do. :-)

    PS: Without demeaning anyone or any song. Each to his own. In the trains,there used to be some of them who truly sang as good as M.Rafi too. Somehow we tend to remember the funny ones, hence the mention here only to highlight the humor quotient.

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    1. Love you Vidya for bringing so much laughter and joy into my days.

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  10. I so love these peeks into your childhood and a culture so different than mine. I can't help but laugh at your antics and pure exuberance - what a delight you must have been. No wonder your performances were encouraged and applauded, elderly gentleman guest excepted.

    I enjoyed this introduction to Qawwali and am fascinated by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's performance.


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    1. Thank you Deborah.
      Like all things Sufi, Qawwali too is soulful. I wish I could find a clip with subtitles but NFAK's voice is magical enough to give you a flavour.

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  11. Hahahaha I remember this song was such a rage when we were growing up..I never did perform as a kid but I love to sing now..One of my fav Quawalli is Bhar de jholi meri ya muhammad..

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    1. Mine too---Love it and a few others sung by NFAK.
      What is it that you enjoy singing the most?

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  12. My sister and our 2 maternal cousins often put on plays that my older cousin wrote for us. This would be on Saturdays when we went to visit with our mothers. The audience was always our mothers, our grandparents and our great aunt Abbie.

    Finding Eliza

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    1. Your comment reminded me of 'Little Women' Kristin. That must've been special.

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  13. Oh how much I used to love performing as a kid... It started with rhymes... Then skits... Then dances... And then narrating stories written by me!! But yes with time all this stopped... As I kept getting advices that girls don't do this... Girls don't do that... Ache ghar ke bache wala advice! And someday down the line I became shy and an introvert that I am today...now if you ask me to perform I would just vanish into thin air than doing so... :)

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    1. Oh! Ira, I'm so sorry your performing spirit was dimmed by those silly remarks. Luckily, my mother and Papaji, Beji didn't mind--and on the contrary, they felt really proud of us when we took the stage.

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  14. I really like how they play and sing in the 2nd video.

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  15. I don't remember doing a lot of performing for family when I was younger but my girls and their cousins use to write elaborate plays and then perform them for us. That was always a lot of fun. Weekends In Maine

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    1. Lovely to have children who like to perform --it's free entertainment for the whole family:)

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  16. You paint such vivid pictures through your words Arti ! I wish I had your kind of childhood ! Mine was a mish-mash since my dad was in the Diplomatic Services and we travelled - however the Punjabi influence in our lives was a constant factor since the Embassy always comprised of them .
    As for me,I remain an introvert to this day - so no naach and no gaana- unless singing in the school and college choir can be counted 😀
    And I certainly cannot ignore your mention of Qawwalis and the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Saab . I absolutely love Urdu and what qawwalis bring to our lives , mashallah !

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    1. Thank you Sharmila.
      So you live up to your name:) Sharmaaana tumharee fitrat hai.
      NFAK sahb's Afreen almost became Arshia's name!

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  17. I can somewhat relate to you Arti in my childhood days. I was the youngest one, so much talkative I was at that age that one of my uncle gave me the name All India Radio, as the moment some guests are at home, I would tell each little news going in our neighborhood. This name, though embarrassed me briefly but still didn't deter me from talking. Also, with my elder sister, I had got training into singing, not professional singing, but yes bathroom singing, antakshari singing...
    Loved both the video clips, all time favorites. And love reading each piece of your writing. Nisha

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    1. Dear Ms. All India Radio, Aapse mil kar bahut khushi hui. I'm sorry, I couldn't resist;)
      Thank you for sharing your sweet memories with me Nisha.
      Love it. xx

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