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Beyond mast qalandar


MESSENGERS OF PEACE: Tufail Sanjrani and Sanam Marvi (far left) from Pakistan hope to bring 'Sindhi-ism' into the Indian mainstream

They come from the land of mystics - from the lower Indus valley region in Pakistan called Sindh that is famous for a great number of saints. After 1947, when the Sindhis were forced to flee to India, many were resigned to the fact that they might never see their beloved land again. As they put down new roots and tried to survive the upheavals of displacement they had little time to brood over what they had lost. "First and foremost, it was a matter of survival for them, " says Sindhu Mishra Bhagia, secretary of the five-year-old Sindhi Academy. "But then they realised that memories of their land, its heritage and culture were slowly getting blurred, and with time, even the association with their language, Sindhi, was being lost. " In a bid to bring the community closer to its roots, the Academy is organising its first festival to showcase Sindhi sufi music and poetry, the notes of which once reverberated in the rugged landscape of Mehran, the other name for Sindh.

It's an attempt to show that Sindhi sufi music is not just Damadam mast qalandar and Nangra nimani da jeeven, but also includes poetry going back to the 13th century, and the music of stalwarts such as Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai and Sachal Sai Sarmast whose poetry is as important to Sindh as Baba Bulle Shah is to Punjab, says Bhagia. Sufisim is basically a philosophy professed by the pirs (saints) of Sindh that encouraged individuals to believe in god as they would in a beloved. "You must relate to god as you would to your loved one and hence their poetry centres around the pangs of separation, the joys of meeting, " adds Bhagia who has been trying to bring the culture and language closer to the community by organising occasional classes and workshops where it is mandatory to speak in Sindhi.

Two Pakistani singers, Tufail Sanjrani and Sanam Marvi, will be part of the Sindhi Sufi Music Festival. The art, music and culture is quite popular in Pakistan, says Marvi. "But, unfortunately, not so in India, maybe because the migrant Sindhis are scattered all over the country and have no specific state to call their own. Maybe that's the reason why the younger generation is kind of estranged from their language and culture. "

Sanjrani too is coming here on a similar mission - to bring 'Sindhi-ism' into the mainstream. The 42-year-old singer, who comes from Shikarpur in Larkana district says, "Listen to the poetry of our Sufi saints and it'll touch your hearts. They all have a message - of peace and brotherhood - that'll see you through your whole life. " In fact, both reiterate that is it is the Sindhi language that can be instrumental in bringing the two nations together in these strifetorn times. Sanjrani who enjoys singing the folk genre of this form says, "When you sing in the language you are most comfortable in, like I am in Sindhi, you can be sure it'll touch your listeners' hearts. "

Sanjrani is looking forward to performing in India. "If they ask me to sing 1, 000 songs, I'll sing 1, 000 songs for them, " he says. "Sindhi sufi-folk music has that kind of reach. I'll see that happen with songs like Tan mein allah so mann mein allah (If you have to look for god, look inside your own self), among so many others. " He is talking about his favourite pir, Shah Abdul Latif Bitai, whose poetry is based on romantic folk tales of Sasui-Punhun, Noori-Jam Tamachi, Lilan-Chanesar, among others. "Through their tragic stories, he spoke about the pain of separation from the lord, " he says.

Marvi, who also comes from the interiors of Sindh, was noticed after her performances on Pakistan Coke Studio. Initiated into the genre from her childhood, she idolises Abida Parveen "who taught me to sing Sufi-kalaams (compositions )". Happy that sufi music has become so popular, she hopes that Sindhi music catches the attention of Bollywood too. "That will take the compositions of our great Sindhi saints to greater heights, " she says.

The Indo-Pak venture will also feature Indian singers Ghansham Vaswani, Kajal Chandiramani and Uma Lalla and a kathak performance by Namrata Pamnani. Alongside will be an exhibition showcasing outfits and objet d'art from Sindh. "Many Sindhis offered their old family heirlooms just so that people get a chance to see what our heritage was all about, " says Bhagia. "All other regions have theirs, but not this community that came as refugees leaving everything behind. Now that perception should change and I'm sure it'll help inculcate a sense of pride in them. "

The festival will be held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) on March 16 and 17

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