Events at The Second Floor
have featured many well-known and some not-so-well-known but exciting personalities. However, some very out-of-the-ordinary people drop in for coffee and conversation on non-event days, too. Ardeshir Cowasjee, Tina Sani, Asif Farrukhi, Attiya Dawood, Sheema Kermani, along with several popular young musicians, writers and artists are frequent visitors. Seated at other tables, the many students who gather here to prepare for their exams and take advantage of the air-conditioning and free wi-fi, get a surprise opportunity to interact more closely with such luminaries than they could at large gatherings.
Yesterday, however, was a really unforgettable treat for me when Asif Farrukhi turned up with Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi Sahab and Zehra (Nigah) Apa for an hour-long chat over coffee.
My association with the latter (Zehra Apa, not Coffee!) goes way back to my childhood when she was a teenager. This young girl had just exploded into the universe of Mushaeraas
, with her scintillating ghazals, coupled with a tarannüm
that became the talk of the town. "She has upset many poets who, at her age, used to get their ustaads
to write for them ... and especially those who still
do", said my father once, naming 2 poets as examples. But I shall disappoint you and refrain from such gossip ...
Zehra Apa has promised not one, but two
sessions at T2F ... so, if you have not yet subscribed to its mailing list, the time to do it
is now! The first - scheduled for the 18th of June - will focus upon her own works and life. For many it may well be the first experience to enjoy her delightful retelling of anecdotes. The second - at a date to be announced later, when she returns from her trip abroad - will have her reading and reciting her favourite pieces of Urdu prose and poetry, paying homage to works of others - including her contemporaries - something she does with a style all her own. Anyone who has heard her recite Faiz Sahab's Heart Attack on my Aaj Kay Naam CD-ROM, or her stunning unforgettable rendition of Nasir Kazmi's poignant '... kidhar say aaya kidhar gayaa voh', recited to a thoughtful sitar accompaniment by Ustad Kabir Khan - a far cry from the mauling of recitations by other similar efforts - will vouch for the fact that these examples remain unsurpassed.
Yesterday's hour was spent with Asif, Sabeen and I in guffaws as we heard stories about Saqi Farooqui, John Elia and others and enjoyed the barbed wit of arguably the greatest satirist Urdu prose has ever had. Here's a page
of timeless prose from Aabé Güm
describing Pakistan's politics. Penned years ago (and sent to me only last week by fellow sea-farer, ANL, from the UAE), this could well have been written today.
While discussing people who 'read' well, the conversation moved to examples of great readers (Gielgud, Guinness, Burton). When I pitched in with my criticism of someone who, generally a brilliant and respected performer, often imbues pieces with unnecessary drama, Yusufi sahab agreed and added: Achchha pa∂hnay kay liyay laazmi hae keh mazmoon iss tarah pa∂ha jaae jaesay müsalmaan Qurãn pa∂htay haeñ ... yaani baghaer samjhay! ("Good reading requires one to recite texts, like Muslims recite the Qurãn: Without understanding!").
Let me end by sharing one anecdote about John Elia that was new for the 3 of us in the 'audience' and embodied that
unique man completely (requiring no embellishment on the part of either Zehra Apa or Yusufi Sahab). Sorry about not translating the punch-line ... it just would not work in anything but Urdu:
At the airport, John sahab raised his little finger and excused himself, promising to return in 2 minutes. When he arrived, more than 15 minutes later, a worried friend asked him if all was well and what the cause of the delay was. "Bhai maeñ do minat mayñ aa jaata, laykin vahaañ Urdu Qadamchah daykha to ekhlaaqan küchh dayr aur baeth gayaa", replied the inimitable John.