Mid-month, I was most un-spiritually cross to have to miss the performances on the first evening of the first Udaipur World Music Festival put together for the Rajasthan government by Seher, Delhi-based impresarios.
Seher had given Delhi lyrical events for years like Bhakti Utsav and Guru Maanyo Granth and Ananya, the festival for group dances at the Purana Qila. Artistes with good local, regional and national reputations were invited, making Delhi the most happening place for a genuinely democratic experience of the stunning depth and range of our culture.
The beautiful parks and historical sites of the capital provided natural venues for these free concerts. Anyone could show up and sit down as if at a tirtha, on the banks of a holy river, to take in the pravah or flow of India’s multi-faith, multi-regional devotional music. It positively reinforced our cultural and national togetherness like no shouting and scolding ever did.
So it was with great expectations that I got to Udaipur for this international music festival that promised many wonderful experiences. Alas, I found myself out of the loop the first evening and had to miss the Portuguese fado by Carmina that I was very keen to hear, having previously heard and liked the genre at the Alfama in downtown Lisbon and at Coimbra, where the men sing it. But a little exploration brought cheer. Company was at hand nearby in the presence of singers Padmashri Aruna Sairam and Sonam Kalra and we spent the most marvellous evening together talking about the supreme artiste, God.
It was like being at satsang, said Arunaji afterwards. Not the kind where a babaji delivers a discourse and leads a few bhajans, I thought, though those could be interesting too, when of a good standard.
This ‘satsang’ was extraordinary with Arunaji, a Carnatic singer who not only sang abhang, the medieval Marathi compositions of socio-religious reformers, but also regularly sang with a French singer of Gregorian chants; and Sonam Kalra, a young Delhi Sikhni, who sang soul, gospel and Sufi music. They shared touching and uplifting spiritual experiences, which tuned me for the wonders of the next day. I heard Bhuvanesh Komkali sing Hindustani classical on Jag Mandir Island on Lake Pichola; and Hassan Tabar of Iran play the santoor with Ershad Teherani on the daf drum. I enjoyed a little pow-wow with the Iranians about Sabak-e-Hindi (Indian Persian) and the Mughal princess Zebunissa ‘Makhfi’ whose poems featured, they said, in Iranian textbooks.
On the banks of the Fateh Sagar Lake, I heard the strikingly beautiful Moroccan singer Oum who was wildly cheered by the Indians. The male musicians with her were French-Moroccan, Austrian, French and Sardinian. Please hear her sing and read about her on the internet for I cannot adequately describe what she represents as a Muslim woman, as an Arab-African and as a global artiste. She sang of ancestors, love, God and the sands of the desert. There are still many good people in the world and we should hang on to that thought through our troubles, was my grateful take-home from Udaipur.