Chances are that even if you don’t know much about the great Urdu poet Meer Taqi Meer, you’ve borrowed his words to express yourself at some point in your life. ‘Ibtidaa-e-ishq hai rotaa hai kyaa, aage aage dekhiye hotaa hai kyaa’. That’s Meer. And that famous Mehndi Hassan ghazal: ‘Patta patta, boota boota, haal hamaaraa jaane hai/jaane na jaane gul hi na jaane, baagh to saaraa jaane hai.’ Meer, again.
The 18th century Mughal-era poet and his beloved city are the muses of a new cultural festival in the capital, which debuted on Friday.
Organised by the Sanatan Sangeet Sanskriti in collaboration with the India International Centre (IIC), the two-day festival, Words in the Garden: A celebration of literature, arts and ideas, has been conceptualised by Hindi poet and cultural critic, Ashok Vajpeyi, filmmaker Muzaffar Ali, and architect Vikram Lall.
“It is distinct from other festivals because of its thematic structure,” says Lall. “We have a quartet of themes: the first being Meer’s Delhi, the second nature in Delhi, third love and the fourth loneliness. All our sessions are centered around these topics,” he explains.
Sessions on a wide variety of subjects — from the city’s environment, heritage, architecture and social structures to the loneliness and love that have inspired Delhi’s visual arts, music and literature — will be held simultaneously across three venues at the IIC. The festival will conclude with a performance by classical vocalist Kalapini Komkali of select compositions of her late father and Hindustani classical singer Pt. Kumar Gandharva on the seasons of Varsha, Hemant and Vasant.
The event kicked off with compositions of Adarang and Sadarang, exponents of the Khayal genre and musicians in the court of 18th century Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah Rangila. “Sadarang is the Shakespeare of music compositions,” says Lall. “The session also looked at what made him such an important figure in Khayal music. Today our understanding of art is more like consumption of a product. The intellectual foundation of arts in India are getting lost. I want to bring out the nuances and subtleties of these very refined art forms,” he says.
Delhi has such a rich history of philosophy, arts, music and dance, Ashok Vajpeyi says, that “people drawn from all these creative and reflective disciplines will be speaking and performing at the festival.”
Each session takes its title from the poetry of Meer. In the morning session, Kaun Jaye Meer, Urdu novelist and scholar Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (who received the Saraswati Samman for his four-volume study of Meer) and journalist Saeed Naqvi will discuss the poet and his city. Four contemporary poets — Mangalesh Dabral (Hindi), Kusum Ansal (English/Hindi), Surjit Patar (Punjabi) and Gauhar Raza (Urdu) — will read out their nature poetry in the session ‘Kehte Hain Bagh Baharan Hain’. Writer Allan Sealy, poet-critic K Satchidanandan, political psychologist Ashis Nandy, writer-critic Rakhshanda Jalil, journalist-writer Mrinal Pande, activist Harsh Mander, and painter Manu Parekh are among the other participants.
Before scorching summer arrives to force us all into air-conditioned indoors, ‘Meer Ki Delhi’, as the festival is called, is a befitting goodbye to winter. Enjoy the beauty of spring in the IIC gardens as you mull over the many facets of ‘dilli jo ek shahar tha, aalam-e-intekhaab mein’ (choicest in the world, Delhi the city).
“Our focus this year is on Meer,” says Vajpeyi. “Maybe next year it would be Ghalib, and so on.”
What: Words in the garden: A celebration of literature, arts and ideas
Where: India International Centre, 40, Max Mueller Marg
When: February 25, until 7.30 pm
Nearest metro station: Khan Market