January 12, 2014

Tributes to a Revolutionary Dreamer

Amol Saghar

ON a crisp sunny day as the world ushered in the first day of 2014, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) organised a day long festival to remember the 25 years of Safdar Hashmi’s martyrdom. The Constitution Club Annexe was the venue of this memorable and important political and social event. The extravaganza like shows had artists from varied walks of life coming together on a common platform to remember an exceptional person whose life was cruelly cut short by those who were not comfortable with Safdar’s outspoken, non-conformist and radical methods. The day saw a series of heart touching and spell-bounding performances that left all those present in complete awe. The programme was kicked off with a street theatre performance by Bigul. Showcasing the issue of bonded labour, the performers put forward a very poignant and thought provoking act. This act was followed by yet another street theatre performance by a group from Haryana, Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti. The group performed on one of the poems of Muktibodh. The two performances were followed by some exceptional singing by renowned guitarist Deepak Castelino. Castelino chose to sing ‘Imagine’— a song famously penned by John Lennon in the days after he left the Beatles. The song selection was no surprise as it symbolised aptly what SAHMAT has stood for — which is fighting against communal hatred and protecting freedom of speech and expression. Castelino also sang a foot-tapping number whose words of which talked about every nook and corner of the country beginning from extreme north to the extreme south and similarly from the western most corner to the eastern most corner belonged to everyone. The song had people joining in. Though the song centred on India, it made everyone realise that every corner of a country belonged equally to its citizens and that it is futile to fight on the issue of which piece of land belonged to whom and which did not. In the course of his performance, Castelino was joined by Madangopal Singh — an exceptionally brilliant singer of Sufi poetry. The two performers together took the event to another level altogether. Madangopal Singh’s musical rendition of some Sufi songs was, to say the least, heart warming. The performance by Deepak Castelino and Madangopal Singh was followed by a performance by contemporary choreographer Astad Deboo. Deboo, in his performance titled ‘Every Fragment of Dust is Awakened,’ left everyone speechless with his flawless act in which he twirled like dervish merging together fine handwork with some equally soothing Kathak whirls. The master also performed another equally mesmerising act titled ‘Surrender.’ This act was inspired by the words of a poem, and performed to an enchanting dhrupad composition by Italian vocalist Amelia Cuni. Deboo showed the magic of body and fine balance, and it seemed as if he were dancing with the wind. This enthralling performance was followed by another equally enjoyable act of Dadi Pudumjee. Dadi Pudumjee who is internationally recognised and much acclaimed puppeteer chose to narrate the popular folktale of Heer Ranjha. The name of the performance was Heer ke Waris. With the help of almost life size puppets Pudumjee narrated the eternal love story of the Heer and Ranjha who, as is well known, yearned for each other and brooded in the absence of each other. The eternal story of love and sacrifice shows how human feelings like love are not bounded by any boundaries of caste, religion or creed. Pudumjee was able to bring forth all the complexities that one reads about in the story of Heer and Ranjha. This performance which definitely was one of the highlights of the day brought tears in one’s eyes. The nazms of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Nazeer Akbarabadi were sung beautifully by Nagin Tanvir (daughter of renowned theatre personality Habib Tanvir). The performance received much appreciation and also made everyone realise that the road to a new world. Sohail Hashmi, in his turn, chose to read out some nazms of the revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz which were sung by Shefali Frost who accompanied Hashmi. Vidya Shah, who judicially selected her reportoire, rendered the poetry of Mir, Ibn-e-Insha, Sardar Jaffri, Majaz and Faiz in her enchanting voice. The compositions of renowned Drupad singers Umakant Gundecha and Ramakant Gundecha, known more famously as the Gundecha Bandhu, and sitar maestro Shujaat Hussain Khan that followed one another were flawless and brilliant. The mesmerising musical notes and the accompanying singing left everyone in a state of trance. Shujaat Husian and Gundecha Bandhu prefaced their performances with a statement expressing solidarity with SAHMAT and underlining their commitment to safeguarding the composite culture. These compositions were followed by other enjoyable and enchanting performances including that of Shabnam Virmani, Parvaty Baul and Madangopal Singh and Maya Rao. While, Shabnam Virmani, known for her renditions of Kabir, sang some select pieces of the iconic Bhakti poet, Parvaty Baul, on the other hand, gave a stupendous performance. Parvathy Baul, known throughout the country as well as outside as one of the most outstanding baul singers, performed on some pieces from this great singing tradition. Maya Rao enthralled the packed hall with her satirical and penetrating comments on the current political situation and different political personalities. Towards the end Harpreet, the young singer who has been performing for SAHMAT for the last few years, gave a rousing performance. As it was, getting late and getting colder, the organisers were hesitant to continue but the audience would have none of it, they said they have been waiting to listen to Madangopal Singh. Then Madangopal Singh took the stage and got Shabnam Virmani and Parvathy Baul to join him in a memorable performance. On this occasion a book on Balraj Sahni, edited by Rajendra Sharma, was released by poet Ashok Vajpaei. Vajpaie exhorted the audience not only to enjoy the performances but also to firmly commit themselves to the cause of secularism. The popular poster ‘Kitabein’, a poem by Safdar Hashmi illustrated by Micky Patel, was released in Urdu for the first time, along with a Safdar Hashmi poster in Urdu and Hindi with a poem by Punjabi poet ‘Pash.’ Safdar Hashmi’s writings for children, titled Duniya Sabki, were also published in Urdu for the first time. There were others books and posters that were put on display-cum-sale on the occasion. People thronged to these stalls and a large number of works on diverse issues and subjects were bought by several of those present. Apart from the books and posters, exquisitely made souvenirs including mugs which had a beautiful impression of the great leader Nelson Mandela and T-shirts which had the impressions of Comrades Che Guevera and Safdar Hashmi were also much in demand and people were seen admiring and also buying them. Badges with Safdar Hashmi’s images were also on sale on this occasion. This year a special project, Awaaz Do!, was conceived to return to the spirit of activism heralded by the very first exhibition in 1989: ‘Artists Alert.’ Artists, writers, cartoonists, designers and photographers made works against communal and identity politics, which were assembled and displayed. Photographer Ram Rahman curated the show. The programme was held in a specially designed enclosure. This was designed by Kanishka Prasad with Pragya and Aarushi to recall the spirit of the ‘Anhad Garje’ tent around a tree The day was not meant just for performances but it was also an occasion of people from all walks of life coming together, socialising and thereby making a political statement of a kind which was that no matter what the political and social conditions in the country the right to enjoy one’s freedom of expression and speech are integral to human survival and that this cannot be taken away under any condition. The coming together of such a vast and diverse section of the society for a common cause also showed that the martyrdom of Safdar Hashmi is never to be forgotten and that the ideals for which he stood and for which SAHMAT has worked for untiringly for decades has not been futile and that there are people who are willing to carry forward these ideals to a fruitful conclusion. The SAHMAT has planned, among others, the following Programmes for the 25th anniversary of Safdar’s martyrdom: (1) A Concert by Shubha Mudgal on January 19, and (2) a book and poster exhibition from January 24 onward.