Jaws drop and a collective gasp rises in the morning air as Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, musical genius and qawwal from Pakistan, walks in, wearing low hipster jeans. It was not what the audience at the Indian Women's Press Corps (IWPC) had quite expected.
Could this be the nephew and heir of the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the man who galvanised the idea of Sufi music worldwide? Nusrat died, aged 44, a few years ago, and Rahat, his anointed successor, travelled across the globe with him for the last 12 years of his life, imbibing and taking forward the legacy of the devotional qawwali.
Weeks ago, when the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan met in Delhi, the air was tense and bitter, following the Mumbai blasts. Earlier this week, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri flew in on a private-official visit to attend the wedding Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar's daughter.
And now, here's Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, melting the ice, and song by song, dhadak by dhadak, helping dissolve the bitterness between India and Pakistan. He is in Delhi, helping promote people-to-people harmony courtesy the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), for his first ever performance in India, since relations between India and Pakistan deteriorated post- Mumbai bomb blasts.
"It's enough for me to have Rahat sitting next to me and saying he receives more love and izzat from Indians than he does back home," said Pavan Verma, Director General of ICCR. "My reason for bringing him is more than served."
Verma, who laments the lack of a cultural centre in neighbouring states, said, "Our policy towards neighbours is not one of reciprocity, bring one send one. But this 'soft culture' and harmony does create a certain ambience that enables serious political decisions to get taken," Verma said.
"Music is above politics, it joins the hearts and minds, whatever the state of relations between our countries," said a very politically correct Rahat. "Sufi music carries a message of peace and love. "No one understands the sufi tradition and qawwali as well as they do in India," Rahat said.
Asked for an 'honest' answer on how long he does riyaaz everyday, the 30-year-old replies with a laugh, "These days because I am travelling, I hardly manage to put in only a few hours every day!"
Despite that, as External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee took time off from a handful of Cabinet meetings to come to the IWPC-ICCR concert on Thursday, Rahat enthralled an audience bursting at the seams at the Siri Fort auditorium, leaving many clamouring for more.
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