Bazaars of Yore

The first ever Bhendi Bazar Festival will bring alive the nostalgia-laden culture of the south-Mumbai neighbourhood

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: December 5, 2013 5:23 am

A year-and-a-half ago,Zubair Azmi had dialled Lata Mangeshkar’s number half expecting the indifference that fans are normally treated to when assistants of stars receive their calls. Luckily for Azmi,it was Mangeshkar,who answered the call. And the two ended up talking for nearly 45 minutes. All it took was the mention of a certain Bhendi Bazar gharana,a near-forgotten school of Hindustani classical music that emerged out of the Chakla area of this south Mumbai neighbourhood. A bigger surprise for Azmi came when Mangeshkar — a disciple of one of its greatest practitioners Ustad Aman Ali Khan — promised to attend the Bhendi Bazar Festival in January. The iconic singer’s presence is expected to add star power to a talk and performance on the gharana,which are some of the main attractions at the festival that celebrates the rich cultural legacy of this south Mumbai neighbourhood.

“We want to bring alive various cultural aspects of the area that have been forgotten over the years. The festival is an attempt to make the new generation,who are educated but culturally not well-informed,and the non-Urdu speaking people,who want to know more about the culture,familiar with its heritage,” says Azmi,director of Urdu Markaz,a centre working for the promotion and preservation of Urdu language.

His office — nestled in a room of a local Urdu school ever since it started in 2007 — looks like a cross between a political party’s office and a college cultural common room. Posters on the walls tell of the organisation’s recent activities,such as the birth centenary celebrations of noted Marathi poet VV Shirwadkar by its Marathi-Urdu sub-literary forum that embraces the shared legacy of the two languages.

“Narayan Surve,the Dalit Marathi poet,would always talk about the naan-sandwiches he used to have during his literary hang-outs with Kaifi Azmi in this area,” says Azmi while talking about the secular,symbiotic co-existence of different cultures in this Muslim-majority neighbourhood.

The flavour of Urdu that flowed through the neighbourhood’s veins nurtured writers and artistes during the 30s and the 40s. Most of them went on to acquire legendary status. From Munshi Premchand to Habib Tanvir and Saadat Hasan Manto to Sahir Ludhianvi,some of India’s great minds made this area a culture hub. Azmi has sourced rare,old photographs of these artistes and writers,which will be showcased during the festival. A substantial part of the event is dedicated to literature,including a play on Ludhianvi,an all-women mushaira and a session of reading old Urdu letters among others.

Azmi,who calls himself a “student of nostalgia”,often visits the Hamamghar,located opposite his office. The 200-year-old place,fashioned around the ancient Persian bath-house,is one of the few operational ones in the country. It has been extensively photographed to be showcased in an exhibition of ancient structures in and around the area,such as the great gallows of British-era and the Mughal Masjid.

As Bhendi Bazar readies for its multi-crore redevelopment project,Azmi sounds concerned about the great antiquities of the area and its culture. “If these things are not documented now,they will be lost forever,” says the 45-year-old,who is also a lawyer and a part-time lecturer in Sufism.

This area once nurtured the creative souls of artistes in the Hindi film industry. Apart from an exhibition of rare photographs of film personalities,the programme titled ‘100 Years of Urdu Cinema’ will host talks by Gulzar,Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi among others while panel discussions will feature Waheeda Rehman and Nimmy.

sankhayan.ghosh@expressindia.com

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