Friday, March 22, 2013

White-tailed Lapwing: the migrant of Sultanpur

 I have so far written about Red-wattled and Yellow wattled Lapwing –Vanellus plovers, both are quite common though found in different terrain one preferring water bodies while the other dry shrubby. White-tailed Lapwing (Vanellus leucurus) is a migrant that breeds in Baluchistan to further north into Russia. This bird winters in the vicinities of water bodies in North West part of India. This one was spotted in Sultanpur Bird sanctuary in Haryana. Get down at FICCI Chowk Metro station, proceed to bus adda and catch a bus/shared auto towards Farruqnagar, it’s on the way. During winter it’s teeming with migrants, and is a great place to spend the day. So here I was, on a sunny crispy morning, there is a prime spot that not many are aware. As you enter take the right turn, though it’s against the sun so may not be good for photographing. Walk further and the terrain turns bleak, shrubby, walk still and cut into left, a narrow path through acacias and you have a marvelous view of the lake, what’s more a lone tree provides a vantage cover. After few hours of training my binoculars, trying to identify and locate (omg where is the elusive Baikal teal…hard luck boy!!), few hours and I was flipping through a book of poetry I was carrying. It’s about that time that this dainty little bird landed few meters from me. Within moments it was searching for grub in all likely and unlikely places, turning mud, scrutinizing the fallen leaves and so on. What a fragile looking busy bird. Surreptitiously, I took out my camera (very appropriately placed for 70-300mm lens) and was busy clicking. Just about that time a solid ant found it an opportune time to give me a solid bite!! So here I was feverously defending my butt, startling the bird and alerting all the birds in the region, one more click and the bird was gone, a wave of birds flew away from me, ending my brief rendezvous with White-tailed Lapwing.

The enchanting world of Qawwali

The first reference of Qawwali to me was school day festivals in north India where Qawwali was obligatory presence, later I saw these in popular Hindi movies. Though last few days I realize that many popular references may have trivialized Qawwali (Hindi movie Director Vishal Bhardwaj owes an apology to Qawwal community. He should be ashamed of himself) and worst may have ghettoized it in popular imagination of people. Nevertheless it does have exhilarating presence in our culture.      

 Qawwali epitomizes what is described as milijuli tehzeeb or sanskriti –an expression of syncretic culture, as a means which brought people together irrespective of religion or traditions or even class. It is a unique musical fusion and over the period blended into local styles. Qawwali is so energetic that it is molten force in motion. It is as if the poem has leaped out into another poem another space. Qawwali in its egalitarian self is aligning powerful with powerless. In its spiritual self it places love above god, it’s all pervading. It is said that one who dies during a qawwali his soul has travelled to other places, leaving the shell of his body behind.

Qawwali as a form of music has its roots in Arab and predates Islam but in its present form is very much Indian subcontinent in its origin. Qawwali has references in style of singing of Qawwals, Qaul (Arabic) is an "utterance (of the prophet)" and Qawwal is someone who often repeats/sings a Qaul. The Qawwal or traditional performer sang Sufi music in shrines and took devotees into trance only through their voice. The accompaniment is always bare minimum, a quintessential harmonium and clapping of hand, then ofcourse tabla. It slowly builds up to trance inducing heights offering unique spiritual experience, the ideal goal being that of mixing as one with the divine.  One essential aspect of Qawwali which differentiates it from any other form of music is that the singer is aware of the audience and therefore constantly gauges and responds, he will repeat, innovate, stress on those part that seems to evoke intense response.  It is the strand that builds the electrifying energy, a live wire to and fro that is unique with amazing space for originality.  The crests and troughs of energy flowing in a language that is simple and easy to associate, in a setting approachable, among the crowd, makes Qawwali a very compelling social and intensely personal experience.   
I came across these lines from one of the websites “The qawwal often dwell on one phrase or sentence, indicating both the obvious and hidden content by emphasizing and repeating various words and syllables, taking the audience into the discovery of hitherto not obvious meanings. A spinning wheel thus changes from a household instrument into the wheel of life or the wheel of hope depending on the shift of emphasis in one sentence. Repeating a sentence until all meaning is exhausted and it becomes meaningless. Through this technique, semantic reality is negated and a purity of form is created. It is often this element that transcends linguistic barriers”.

Qawwali is part of Sufi mysticism and is believed that Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) brought innovation in its form and content, very much influenced by Persian ritual sama –mystical musical gathering. The word Sama is still used in Central Asia and Turkey to refer to forms very close to Qawwali, and in Indian subcontinent the formal name used for a session of Qawwali is Mehfil-e-Sama. The great Amir Khusrau was instrumental in popularizing, improvising and bringing uniqueness into Qawwali.  It was on account of this contribution that Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya gave him the title of Mufta ul Sama. There is evidence that qawwali predates Amir Khusrau, the great Sufi Masters of the Chishtiya and Suhrawardia Orders were admirers of the qawwali and the Saint Hazrat Outubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki is said to have died in 1236 while in a musical trance induced by a Qawwali. Nevertheless it cannot be denied that Khusrau’s contribution was nothing short of seminal, indeed he used local language sometime even seamlessly combining different languages like for instance this one I came across: Zihal miskeen makun taghaful, Duraye naina banaye batiyan where each couplet has the first misra in Persian and the second in Brij Basha which so effortlessly flow into each other. Prolific Khusrau composed many such verses in both Persian and the local dialect of Brij Bhasha. By doing so, he laid the nucleus of Urdu poetry. One can say Amir Khusrau was the founder of Urdu language. In her book “The Book of Nizamuddin Auliya”, author Mehru Jaffer writes: “… Khusrau published his first volume of poems before he turned twenty. He wrote panegyrics on seven successive kings of Delhi, introducing a new genre in poetry, that of the historical epic. Khusrau also introduced a novel strain into the existing Persian tradition of poetic forms of the masnavi by recounting certain events of his own time in long poems. His style of lyrical poetry and ghazals contains many elements that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were to become characteristic of the Indian style...” Khusrau’s contribution to cultural framework of northern part of Indian subcontinent was quite significant, indeed in many ways it’s foundational.  The more you know more amazing it gets, I am shocked that he only has a passing reference in school syllabus!

Qawwali had a mesmeric pull over the masses, in the bhakti tradition of 11th century that was prevalent in north India it was easily accepted. Qawwali is ecstatic in nature, it is spiritual as well earthy therefore enjoyable. It is exotic yet relatable and inclusive. Sufi music lends itself not only to a religious interpretation but it is a cultural interpretation as well. In many sense Qawwali follows a tradition of Takhrar loosely argumentation (“it is the opening of an argument. This is not just the opening of an argument in surrender but through surrender there is a re-discovery of the self. So there is a re-positioning of the self as well which is happening. You lose the self at one level and at another level you recover a different self altogether” Madan Gopal Singh).

This brief write-up on Qawwali will not be complete without mention of great Nusrat Fateh Ali khan, the legendary Pakistani Qawwali singer who brought fame and notice to Qawwali as an art form.  There are many unsung heroes too who carry the legacy and tradition of Qawwali, trying their best to preserve and conserve this increasingly neglected art. 
(The picture herein was taken at Understanding Qawwali, a one day symposium. The Qawwals are nephews of Nusrat Fateh Ali. The other picture is of weekly Qawwali at the Dargah of Sufi saint Hazrat Nizammuddin Auliya’s that is performed every Thursday, quite appropriately between the tomb of Auliya and Khusrau. The painting of Auliya and Khusrau was taken from Jashne-e-Khusrau exhibition at National Archives). 

From my scribble pad

A horse is a wonderful animal
It tips and tops on its toes   
One step here, one step there
A graceful bow and still for applause
All in all a dancer in repose
A singer in silence