Raag Shayari: Bringing alive Kaifi and Tagore

If COVID-19 has raised concerns about the future, there have been moments through the lockdown when we have rejoiced travelling back in time. The National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) has been streaming recordings of choicest performances from its archives, giving us an opportunity to experience a slice of our art heritage. Besides regular concerts, there have been some differently curated events such as Raag Shayari, a musical tribute to Kaifi Azmi and Gulzar’s recitation of Urdu/Hindustani translations of Rabindranth Tagore’s poems.

Through their impeccable narrations in English and Urdu, Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar, who conceived and presented Raag Shayari in January 2019, brought alive the milieu of the time when Kaifi Azmi penned his nazms.

Raag Shayari: Bringing alive Kaifi and Tagore

Shankar Mahadevan’s emotional rendering unravelled the many layers in Kaifi’s poetic expression. The formidable musical team led by Ustad Zakir Hussain on the tabla, Purbayan Chatterjee on the sitar and Dilshad Khan on the sarangi not just lent musical support, they created an atmosphere that suited perfectly the mood of the lyric.

Kaifi’s oeuvre was diverse and vast — from romance to revolution. As part of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, he never minced words to express his frustration and anger over politics and social anomalies. He spoke about women empowerment almost 75 years ago in his work, ‘Aurat’. He wrote (always with his favourite Mont Blanc pen) ‘Uth meri jaan mere saath hi chalna hai tujhe’ (rise my love you have to walk along with me). Inqlaab inspired him to write his popular nazm, ‘Utho dekho woh aandhi aa rahi hai’ (see the storm is coming). It was recited during Prabhat Pheri (morning stroll) by volunteers of the freedom movement to wake up people to the idea of self rule. Though he spent his life dreaming of a Socialist India, the feelings of love and longing too found a place in Kaifi’s poetry (‘Zara si aahat hoti hai toh dil sochta hai kahin ye woh toh nahin’).

It was fascinating to understand one poet through another in Gulzar’s session on Rabindranath Tagore. “He was my first guru. My bonding with other Bengalis happened later (he married Rakhee and was closely associated with R.D. Burman),” said Gulzar, who as a young boy chanced upon the Urdu translation of the poet laureate’s The Gardener.



Reading it proved to be the turning point of his life. When Gulzar came to Delhi after Partition, he used to get books from a refugee librarian from Pakistan for 25 paise a week.

“I was so fascinated by The Gardener that I decided not to return it,” laughed Gulzar, reciting the beautifully translated verses in his inimitable style.

NCPA’s online schedule:

Today, 6 p.m.: Ajoy Chakrabarty — Presenting songs of Rabindranath Tagore

May 30, 6 p.m.: Symphony Orchestra of India, to be conducted by Martyn Brabbins

May 31, 6 p.m.: Sankalan — Odissi choreographies by Madhavi Mudgal

Watch them on www.youtube.com/TheNCPAMumbai1