Shor barpa hai khana-e-dil mein; Koi deewar si giri hai abhi
Dil mein ik leher si uthi hai abhi, Koi tazaa hawa chali hai abhi
(I hear a tumultuous roar in my heart; As if some wall has fallen just now
There’s a ripple in my heart, a fresh breeze is blowing just now)
At the 93rd edition of the Sankat Mochan Hanuman festival in Varanasi, this Nasir Kazmi ghazal resonated on the banks of the river Assi on Tuesday evening. Located inside the Banaras Hindu University campus, the famous Hanuman temple courtyard facing the sanctum, one that rings with the evening Ganga aarti and chants from the Hanuman Chalisa every day, heard this lilting melody soar on the first day of the festival as Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali sang it amid tight security for thousands of music lovers and worshippers.
In the run up to his concert and while he sang, Shiv Sena volunteers protested with slogans such as “Ghulam Ali, waapis jao” and “Ghulam Ali, murdabaad”.
Ghulam Ali could have avoided this concert just as he did the one in Delhi after Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal invited him post the Sena’s cancellations of the singer’s Mumbai and Pune concerts last year. But he did not. The singer sang at the Sankat Mochan mandir despite Sena protests. “I come here, because I can’t find a reason not to. An artiste is an artiste, not a political pawn,” he’d said in a recent interview to this newspaper.
Ali’s concert in Varanasi despite Sena threats is soft power’s latest attempt at keeping things real. Defying the Sena to perform makes Ali’s message of “art is over and above politics” loud and clear. It’s even somewhat brave. One of his close associates had once mentioned that the singer faces much flak back home for constantly coming and performing in India, depite people in India not wanting him.
“Our fight is with Pakistan, we do not have any enmity with Ghulam Ali. This is a patriotic sentiment,” Sena leader Sanjay Raut had said at the time of the cancellation of the Mumbai concert.
Ghulam Ali did not refuse an invitation to Sankat Mochan Mandir not only because he reveres Ustad Bismillah Khan, notes from whose shehnai used to open the festival until his death in 2001 or only because his guru Ut Bade Ghulam Ali Khan spent years in its narrow bylanes, but also because the idea of ghazal in a Hanuman mandir is unheard off. The merger allows for a situation where “religion doesn’t matter, genres don’t matter”. “Ye allah ka karam hai, ki Hanuman Mandir mein ghazal ko pyaar se suna gaya,” he’d said last year after his first performance at the temple.