Note: This is Part 1 of a long and personal posting so it may not interest many of you. But I am doing it as a form of catharsis.
The excitement had started building up much earlier. Shubha and Aneesh were, at last, going to be in Pakistan. Their musical talents and my fan-ship for their group (which includes Sudhir and Murad) aside, my greater thrill was that we'd be able to spend time together, relaxing, chatting, laughing, behaving insanely, and indulging unashamedly in gheebat (nothing beats this for fun, na?)...
The wonderful foursome arrived on the 22nd and headed off to a Press Conference. Those who know how these work are excused for having ignored the reports in the papers the next day because they are almost always inaccurate. Spellings are ignored, names mauled, quotations made up, and facts distorted. But enough people did get to know that she was performing at a fund-raiser for Mobile Hospitals so badly needed in our country, especially during the post-quake period. Enough, at least, to have the telephones ring frequently to ask for free passes. That night I met Sudhir and Murad for the first time and was overjoyed at their warmth.
The evening of the 23rd was really memorable: I had invited Zehra [Nigah] Apa to my house, especially at Shubha's request. Her poetry, in content and style, is unmatched. Whether she recites her powerful, brief nazms taht-ul-lafz or her classic ghazals in tarannum, her work grips the audience. Almost everyone was close to tears at the poems relating to Rape, Dacoity, Sectarian Murders, and Karo-Kari. One among the handful present said to me that, had she read just one more poem that evening, he would have started weeping loudly. The evening ended with a short, informal, impromptu performance, for Zehra Apa, by the group which spoke of this being the best evening they had spent in Pakistan. How I missed Ragni!
I mustn't forget that, earlier in the evening, Arshad Mahmud had dropped in to meet Shubha. Both he and Zehra Apa had, only that morning, been awarded the Presidential Pride of Performance Awards — as had our favourite qavvaals, Fareed Ayaz and Party. I pestered Arshad, as usual, to sing a bit - something he does far less often than he should - and he affectionately agreed, reciting a few couplets from Faiz Sahab, Suroor Bhai, and Parveen Shakir. Some day I hope to have him agree to do a whole CD-full.
The concert on the 24th went more than well, in so far as the performance was concerned. Kudos to Sadia Khan for just the right lighting and to Faiza Kassim for the best sound arrangement we have heard in recent classical concerts. (APMC, please take note, since Sound is the weakest link in your wonderful chain.) The audience had many stars from all walks of life, among them Zia Mohyeddin, Arshad Mahmud, Ustad Imdad Husain, Nayyara Noor, Fareed Ayaz and Abu Mohammad, Naseeruddin Saami, Salima Hashmi to name just a few that I spotted bestowing daad galore.
Just before the show someone complained (I don't know why to me, since I am not a part of the Accident & Emergency Foundation which organized the show ... maybe my friendship with Dr Ghazala Aziz who made the event possible made me 'guilty by association' in his eyes) that the absence of a compere, of the stature of Anwar Maqsood or Shoaib Hashmi was 'criminal'. Given what transpired, one can admit that while the knowledge of these two in the field of music was missing, the compere for the evening certainly left them far behind in terms of humour. Sadly, it was inadvertent. She made simple names like Pandit Ram Ashreya Jha (Shubha's guru), despite pre-announcement tutoring by Sudhir, sound like Danny Kaye's memorable tongue-twisters.
The 25th evening was spent at the French Beach, with Fareed Ayaz and party performing exclusively for the visitors and a few friends. During the performance I decided to call up Ragni, who is studying in Cuba this semester, to let her have a few words with Shubha. It was then that the evening took a different turn for Nuzhat and myself, and a few close friends. Ragni, in a voice that seemed weaker than usual, and almost unrecognizable - a fact that, in the beginning I attributed to a bad connection since communication links with Cuba are tricky, at best - informed me that she had fallen and hurt her spine and had, temporarily experienced a loss of limb movement and was still numb in places, while undergoing great pain in the neck region. This scared the hell out of us, as it would any parent. And Cuba was so far away. No embassy here, no direct flights ... and knowing no one there. It's impossible to pen what we went through.
Rushing home, we phoned her again, and had Dr Hasan Aziz talk to her, too. We learnt that, while her movement was back (I sent off a silent 'Prayer' and a 'Thank You', in the general upward direction, addressing it 'To Whom It May Concern'), there was a chance that two of her vertebra may have been fractured. Still very frightening. An MRI Scan was scheduled for the next day and reports were due in two more days. We did not share this with too many people since answering calls and repeating the story would have been more strenuous.
The next morning we received a note from one of her Professors, Jackie Hayden, who very kindly kept us updated over the next few days. Apart from her health issue, of prime concern at that time, it also stated that Ragni was doing well in her academic work. To prevent her from stressing out over the inevitable loss of classes, regardless of whether the damage was severe or slight, her professors did something that I believe is uniquely human and warm: They decided to visit her at her house daily and deliver her classes to her individually!!! Given my own memories of Cuba, among my 25 years of seafaring around the world, I can imagine no other place where this would have happened. It's an amazing place with amazing people.
While we, in Pakistan, thank them for the nearly 2500 doctors they sent us to deal with our earthquake patients - a staggering number for a small country to send out - how many have stopped to think that, had the situation been in reverse, Cuba would not even have been on the radar for many Pakistanis to have considered such large-scale voluntary help (one which would also have been strongly discouraged by our current allies, anyway), despite our warm and caring culture. Thanks and Bravo, Cuba!!!
The 26th was a small informal get-together at Ghazala's and we went there only because we would have fretted away at home. In any case, contacting Ragni was only possible via a cellphone ... booking calls to Cuba rarely materialized, for some reason. And, until the MRI results came, we would only have spoken to Ragni for the sake of love and bonding but been none the wiser. We were thrilled to hear her sound better and slightly cheerful, possibly with the lessening of the pain. That night we came home to a surprise: She had been extremely considerate and, despite her condition, stopped by at a cyber café on the way back from her scan, to write to us (which put us tremendously at ease) and even included a digital picture of her in her neck-brace. Seeing her smile in this condition raised our hearts and hopes. Thanks, Ragni. Hugs and kisses!!!
On the 27th I travelled with Shubha to Lahore, with Nuzhat joining the next day. We were going for a Beaconhouse-Apple meeting and the timing was just right!!! I was also going to make a presentation of the CD-ROM on Faiz Ahmad Faiz I had authored years ago and had developed - with a dedicated team and a great deal of encouragement and support from friends - when I owned and ran ET. Since then, Sabeen (who programmed and designed most of the stuff) and I are running b.i.t.s.
; Nuzhat (who did the bulk of its research) is running Solutions Unlimited; and Jehan Ara - who was key in securing the contract with the now-defunct Singapore-based Publishers - now owns and is running ET and
places! [BTW, I am now working towards a new and expanded version of the Faiz project. So if anyone has ideas or stuff to contribute, do email me.]
At the airport, Shubha was accosted by a "businessman from Lahore"... That's all he said; did not bother to give his name. But here's the scene: The man sweeps past us, does a double-take, and comes back to Shubha. The conversation as I best recall: "Are you Indian?" "Yes!" "Where have I seen you?" "Maybe on Indian TV..." "Are you singer?" "Yes" "Why are you here?' "For a concert!" "You will sing in L'hore also?" "No. There's no program there." " Well, next time come there, instead. We are very more cultured. Karachi is OK, but we have more of edge." ... with this he left ... Shubha sat down. Within minutes he was back with a friend armed with a mobile phone-camera, sat down next to her, leaned much closer than would be considered reasonable, had the friend take a picture - requesting permission, of course, not being part of his culture - and then handed Shubha a pen and asked her to autograph the shirt he was wearing, which Shubha declined, preferring to sign on a piece of paper despite his insistence.
Before we took off, Ghazala and I bumped into Unaizah, a wonderful kid we both first got to know via Qavvaalis and, later, I met (and became very fond of) through Insiya and her parents who have family ties with Una. She and her young hubby were travelling together. For them, the flight would soon take on a whole different meaning.
[Part 2 coming very soon!]
Labels: Events, Music, Pakistan, People, Personal