People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 02

January 10, 2010




 Madan Gopal Singh

FIRST January is the day of remembrance. On this day we remember our friends who fearlessly charted the path of cultural diversity and actively espoused the plural and celebrative ethos of life.  Their unconventional spirit was not only endearing, it also deeply impacted forms of contemporary cultural practice. Safdar, in whose memory SAHMAT was set up, was one such iconic activist.

Amongst the cultural luminaries who led us in the past two decades were towering figures like Bhisham Sahni and Habib Tanvir whose creative interventions inspired us through dark times. This year, we dedicated our 1st January programme at the Constitution Club, where friends and well-wishers gather each year in a show of solidarity, to the memory of Habib Sa’ab who left us in 2009 remaining intellectually vibrant till the very last.

This was also the day when we remembered the revolutionary poets such as Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Kaifi Azmi and Avtar Singh Paash in addition to invoking our Sufi-Bhakti heritage from where our secular ethos draw their primary sustenance.

The day-long programme began with theatre presentation of two poems --- Keshav Anuragi by Manglesh Dabral and America Prem by Vishnu Nagar, by the Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti. Though the presentation of poems in this form is a difficult task, HGVS won a huge applause. 

The day’s proceedings opened with the contemporary modern dancer and choreographer, Astad Deboo, presenting three short but eloquent pieces dedicated to the memory of the late Romana Hussain, Manjit Bawa and Habib Tanvir who always comprised the formidable vanguard of SAHMAT. Playing with the matric props on stage, Astad executed choreographic movements with unbelievable lightness of being. The graceful economy with which his body moved invoking a sense of a richly lived and creative time had the audience mesmerised.

The impact of Astad’s performance is always so strong that it is not easy for the artist immediately after him to command undivided attention of the audience. It is, therefore, to Rekha Raj’s great credit that she was able to not only do that but further extend the resonant core of things past. With her powerful voice harbouring a vintage grain, Rekha Raj was able to bring memories of the late Iqbal Bano alive with her impassioned renderings of some of the thumris and nazms for which the late maestress is so dearly remembered and missed . 

Coming after Rekha Raj was the eminent Punjabi poet, Amarjit Chandan who recited three short poems from his forthcoming anthology which has been introduced to the English speaking world by the legendary cultural critic, John Berger. This was also in a manner of speaking a tribute to the late Avtar Singh Pash who would have been 60 if he had not fallen to the bullets of the fundamentalists in 1988 – coincidentally the same year that Safdar was fatally attacked. MK Raina, who worked closely with Chandan, Amitoj and Sumit Singh in the 70s, poignantly recalled the years of his association with these creatively charged young poets and cultural activists when he worked on the path breaking Punjabi adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle during the infamous Emergency. Madan Gopal Singh read out the poems in English translations.

The recitation was followed by a vigorous and energetic performance by the group Act One under the inspired guidance of NK Sharma who enjoys the status of a radical faqir and a reluctant father figure amongst many a theatre activist across India. In an unusual move, his group deviated from their conventional performative mode and chose instead to sing their newly created musical compositions in which they celebrated the radical spirit of Kabir and Faiz.

Vidya Shah - the singer, scholar, activist and a fellow traveler - designed her performance as a tribute to both Iqbal Bano and Faiz. She opened with Dasht-e-tanhai, Nasib Azmaane Ke Din, Dhaka se Vaapsi, Kab Tab Dil Ki Khair, Dua and followed it up with many of his other poems. Her evocative voice created a veil of warmth and assurance around the listeners on an otherwise a very cold day in New Delhi.

The musical part of the day was brought to a close by Madan Gopal Singh who sang his new composition reviving a tradition of secular, syncretic ‘bujharataan’ or poetic puzzles to be creatively solved by children who get to learn of their past and present through a participative role playing. This was followed by a ‘takrar’ from Baba Bulle Shah and a Simon Garfunkel canticle in Punjabi.

Those who arrived unfortunately a little late to the venue and could not perform included Rabbi Shegill and Jasbir Jassi.

Two books on this occasion were released. The book Habib Tanvir: Reminiscences and Reflections has been edited by Neeraj Malik and Javed Malik and was presented by the editors to Nagin Tanvir before the commencement of the play. Another book in Hindi D D Kosambi (1907-1966) edited by Rajender Sharma was also released. The birth centenary of D D Kosambi, pre eminent Marxist historian was observed last year. Earlier on December 6, 2009 a calendar for 2010 fore grounding the anti communal posters of SAHMAT was released.

The tour-de-force of the evening was a theatric performance of  Habib Tanvir’s – the doyen of Indian theatre - Charandas Chor put together by his prodigiously talented daughter Nagin Tanvir. Charandas Chor is considered along with another of Habib Sa’ab’s production, Agra Bazaar, as a decisive moment in the history of the contemporary Indian theatre. It was, therefore, a fitting tribute to the memory of the perhaps the grandest maestros of theatre we have known in the 20th century and whom we have had the privilege of knowing and learning from at SAHMAT as the chairperson of our Trust. We salute his ever inspiring memory!