People's Democracy

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


No. 03

January 15, 2012



Naam Faqir Tinan Ko Kahiye


Madan Gopal Singh


NAAM Faqir Tinan Ko Kahiye (Address Them with the Honorific of Faqir) was how the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) had titled its 23rd day-long cultural offering to mark the martydom of Comrade Safdar Hashmi. It has always been a day of remembrance, resolve and celebration and this year was no different. But what a difference it made to a myriad of listeners who begin this day on a sombre but resolute note each year. This has especially been a year of Faiz, Nagarjun, Kedarnath Agarwal, Shamsher and, of course, Tagore. To the list was added Ustad Daman who wrote like a genuine brick-layer of a proletariat with the fearless verve of one who sees, suffers, sings and resists through the words he writes and sings. His poetry was sung by Madan Gopal Singh with a very incisive prefacing.

The first of January turned out to be an extrordinary gathering of people not only from across India but from outside India as well. There were three new entrant-performers this year. The band Just Folk Kit from Mumbai sang Baba Nagarjun’s revolutionary poetry – including his scathing spoof on the Statue of Liberty – in Maithili. There was the young and impassioned Harjeet from Kurukshetra with the bigness of a heart which is simultaneously alive to the joys of day-to-day lived and the challenges of the larger kind that require uncompromising patience and understanding. He sang his own poetry as well as that of Baba Bulle Shah to mark the continuity that imforms the spirit of the creative being that questions, interevenes and renews the bonds of a resonant and radical solidarity. The third first time performer this year was Shabnam Virmani from Bengaluru who has earned worldwide respect for her involvement with the poetry of Kabir and the various poetic substreams that have taken off from the cultural imaginary of the people’s Kabir. She sang with the joy of an enchanted listener as she went along simply translating the people’s poetic texts into simple English and Hindi. She had the audience in raptures and the audience included the likes of Mira Nair, Mehmood Mamdani, Martha Nusbaum, Aqeel Bilgrami and a host of other luminaries known for their radical intellectual interventions.

The crowd was rivetted and the Faqirs’ tent remained packed to capacity till the very end. There were, expectedly, the ‘insider’ participants as well. Rabbi, the iconic singer, came with his family to participate and sang his heart out in a short but very moving presentation. The reigning deity of the purposeful cont
emporary popular and classical music, Shubha Mudgal made a highly charged presentation with especially the poetry of Majaz. Astad Deboo, as is his wont, created the trance-like performance which everyone wished went on a lot longer than it did. In his presentation “Interpreting Tagore,” Astad Deboo involved a number of street children.

There were two theatre groups –
Haryana Gyan Vigyan Samiti (HGVS) and Bigul. While the HGVA presented a satire written by Manmohan on the current political situation, Bigul weaved the poetry of three progressive poets --- Shamsher, Kedarnath Agarwal and Nagarjun along with Majaz, into a very lively democratic performance. It is amazing how these groups work with such diligence and with such commitment. It is equally heartwarming to note how these young artist-performer-cultural activists have over the years grown in terms of their skills and understanding.

SAHMAT also paid tribute to veteran actress Zohra Sehgal who is going to complete 100 years soon. M K Raina and Anant Raina conducted a lengthy interview with the actress a few weeks ago and excerpts from this lively interview were screened during the day-long programme.

The very imaginatively designed tent was decorated with banners containing a selection of poetry from Faiz, Majaz, Kedarnath Agarwal, Shamsher and Nagarjun. Most of these were written in pleasant and eye-catching handwriting of Madan Gopal Singh and Asad Zaidi. The same poetry was also being presented on a screen on one side of the stage, as a constant reminder to the audience that they were there to celebrate these poets and their radical poetry.

As is customary by now, SAHMAT brought out a number of publications to mark the occasion. A book titled Husain Hamara Hai, edited by Rajendra Sharma, was released by Mira Nair and
Mehmood Mamdani by presenting a copy to the well-known painter Shamshad, who is indivisibly associated with SAHMAT. The other book, Rashtriya Andolan: Vichardhara aur Itihas, was released by two eminent Marxist thinkers, Prabhat Patnaik and Aijaz Ahmed. The book, in Hindi, is a compilation of five essays on the national movement by Professor Irfan Habib who is also the chairman of SAHMAT.   

Finally, a few things will need to be mentioned with a sense of gratitude. Since the inception of S
AHMAT, a range of artists have voluntarily performed on our platform and performed gratis. Most of these performances have been exceptional by any normative or ideological measures. This year, the participation of the Gundecha brothers was especially noteworthy not only in terms of the reflective warmth with which they wove their presentation but also in terms of the sense of pride with which they identified with the platform. Likewise, the last minute arrival of the popular singer Jasbir Jassi, despite high fever, to express his solidarity was, for us, equally moving.   

To underline the commitment of the day, the first big banner at the venue boldly declared: “In Defence of Our Secular Tradition.”