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Radhika Chopra Enlightens Modern Audiences with the Etiquette’s ‘Adab’ of Ghazal & Urdu Poetry

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Radhika Chopra is the torchbearer of the traditional Ghazal repertoire and eloquent Urdu poetry, through her heart touching presentations of Ghazals, Nazms, and Qaseedas of the legendary Urdu Ustad Shayar’s (poets) like Mirza Ghalib, Ibrahim Zouq, Meer Taqi Meer,which she not only renders but also tries to make it simpler to understand for her modern audiences.

Chopra in her initiative to popularise Ghazal as a genre has taken a lot of effort to showcase the intricacies of the genre for her audiences while she brings you key excerpts from an elaborate masterclass held at the India Music Summit 2019 where she demonstrated the norms and etiquettes i.e  ‘Adab’ of Urdu Shayari and intricacies of the Ghazal repertoire.

Radhika Chopra has been blessed to be the disciple of Smt. Shanti Hiranand who was one of the ace disciples of the Ghazal Queen Begum Akhtar Sahiba, known for her eloquent Ghazal renditions in Lucknow, who later became famous the world over. Before beginning her talk on Ghazal she said, “I feel that if you talk about Ghazal in the English language you somewhat lose it’s sheen, luster and charm, so I would try to talk more in Urdu and Hindi.”

Elaborating on the origin of Ghazal Radhikaji says, “Ghazal is the most popular form of Urdu poetry which has originated from the word ‘Ghazaal’ meaning a dove’s eye as per its literary meaning. Chopra recites a verse  which defines the very characteristics of a Ghazal masterpiece,

“Fikr Momin ki zabaan Daagh ki Ghalib ka bayaan,

Meer ka range sukhan ho to Ghazal hoti hai,

Sirf alfaz hi mane nahi paida karte,

Jazbaye khidmate fan ho to Ghazal hoti hai.”

The couplet explains the qualities of a ghazal which defines the characteristics of the master poets of Ghazals which says, “A ghazal  is what must have the agony (Fikr) which Momin Khan Momin brought to it, while the language (Zubaan) which Daagh Dehelvi used, Description (Bayaan) of the kind Mirza Ghalib did, while oratory( Range Sukhan) of Meer Taqi Meer, then it becomes a poetic masterpiece, which is not only expressed through words to bring out its meaning, but its the emotion with which a poet nurtures and serves the art of poetry.”

Radhikaji adds, “A Ghazal has a set pattern which the aspiring poets of today need to keep in mind while they attempt to write a Ghazal because it’ s written in a very articulated way. The first Sher (couplet) of a Ghazal is called ‘Matla’ while the last Sher is called ‘Makhta’ which has the name of the Shayar (poet) or the pen name. Usually, a Ghazal has 5-12 couplets (Shers). A Ghazal has a fixed pattern in which Rhym is maintained at the end of each Sher with two important elements called ‘Kafiya’ and ‘Radeef’. Stating an example of how the couplets are rhymed Chopra recites a beautiful sher by the Badshah of Urdu and Persian poetry the legendary Poet Mirza Ghalib,”

 Dil-e-nadan tujhe hua kya hai

Akhir is dard ki dawa kya hai

Looking at the sher she explained, the word ‘Hua’ and ‘Dawa’ in the middle of the sentences are in rhyme and are called ‘Kafiya’ while the last few phrases ‘Kya hai’ which makes the rhyme at the end of both the lines makes the ‘Radeef’.

Giving the historical background of the form ‘Ghazal’ Radhikaji said, “It is a very old musical form which dates back to the 7th -8th century, which originated from Arabic poetry and was written in Persian. It came to Hindustan from Iran via Deccan around the 16th century in the time of Kuli Kutub Shah and Wali Dakkani, as we do find the poetry of that era which is in ‘Dakkani’ language of Deccan and not in Urdu and that’s how Ghazal began in Hindustan. After this in 17-18th century was the golden era of Urdu poetry as was the era of Mirza Ghalib, Meer Taqi Meer, Momin Khan Momin, Ibrahim Zaoq and the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar himself who was an accomplished Urdu poet himself. Chopra recites a Sher of the legendary poet Wali Dakkhani saying,

“Kiya mujh ishq ne zalim kuun ahista ahista

Kiya atish gul kuun karti hai gulab ahista ahista”

The Sher means that my love (Ishq) has even transformed my tormentor (zalim) i.e my hard-hearted lover cooling him down like water (aab), as now he pays attention to me. It’s the same as in sunlight (aatish) a rosebud (gul) blossoms into a beautiful rose (gulab).

Referring to the meters in which ghazal is composed she puts light saying, “Ghazal follows a meter known as ‘Beher’ wherein some ghazals are long in meter and are known as the ‘Lambi Beher ki Ghazal’ while the ones which are composed in shorter meters are called ‘Choti Beher ki Ghazal’.

She further emphasizes that while writing a ghazal it depends on the mood of the Shayar(poet) how one writes it, like the poet  Nasir Kazmi is known for his Choti Beher ki Ghazals while the emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was known for his Lambi Behar ki ghazals’ while she illustrated an example of Choti Beher ki ghazal by the poet Mohsin Ali Naqvi

“Kitni muddat baad mile ho

Kin sochon main gum rahete ho”

Meaning: It’s been so long you met me, in which thoughts have you been engrossed!

While illustrating an example of a Lambi Beher ki ghazal she recites a sher by the legendary poet Momin Khan Momin

“Vo jo ham meñ tum meñ qarār thā tumheñ yaad ho ki na yaad ho

vahī yaanī vaada nibāh kā tumheñ yaad ho ki na yaad ho

Meaning: The love you and I shared once… and that promise we made of togetherness, you may or may not remember…

Talking about how to set a rhythm for the ghazal of different meters while composing, Radhikaji says, “People who know the genre are adept in setting and singing ghazals according to its meter and for which knowledge of classical music is very essential.”

Stressing on the importance to have a knowledge of classical music especially for ghazal singers she further added, “For all the aspiring Ghazal singers I would like to tell that to sing a Ghazal you must learn classical music because without it a Ghazal is incomplete as the traditional Ghazal rendition or as we call it the ‘Riwayati Andaaz’ is largely classically based. Also, Although today Ghazal is sung with the accompaniment of a guitar, but the traditional Ghazal tunes known as the ‘Taraz’ were based on classical ragas and were sung with the accompaniment of a Sarangi.”

Enlightening her audiences with the Norms and Etiquettes known as ‘Adab’ of a Ghazal Concert, referring to the traditional sitting style of concerts known as the ‘Baithak’, she said, “It is important for the listeners of Ghazal to know these etiquettes while attending a Baithak. I feel today’s audience need to be a little more attentive and sensitive towards an artist while listening to a Ghazal performance as they should not walk away in the middle of a Ghazal, as it’s hardly 4-5 minutes in duration, they should also maintain  silence during a performance and not talk on the phone or to someone. Moreover drinking alcohol is strictly prohibited while the performance is on. While sitting in a Baithak format the listeners should never face their feet towards the artist, as all this comes to be regarded as disrespectful referred to as ‘be-adbi’ in Urdu.”

Further drawing light on the etiquette of presenting, listening and appreciating ghazal she added, “  Traditional Ghazal repertoire included a close-set up a sitting arrangement called ‘Baithak’ where there used to be an interaction between the singer and the listeners, that goes even today. The listers appreciate a ghazal rendition as referred to as  ‘daad dena’ in Urdu. A Ghazal performer always asks permission ‘Ijazat’ and to which the audience says ‘Irshaad’ as they give permission to begin. When the audience likes a couplet a ‘Sher’ they say ‘Wah’ and ‘Mukarar’ if they want to listen to a Sher again.”

Elaborating on the other forms of Urdu poetry Radhikaji referred to the Qaseeda and Nazms saying, “Before the Ghazal came into being another form called ‘Qaseeda’ was very prevalent, which used to have 100 and more ‘Shers’ which were written in the praise of the reigning Badshah(king) or in the praise Allah(God). While another form which is heard often in the Ghazal programs is a ‘Nazm’ which has a very minute difference from the ghazal. A Nazm is based throughout on one single topic from the beginning to end, wherein the canvas of thought needs to be the same on which it’s painted and does not necessarily need to be rhyming in every couplet. While a Ghazal can have the same topic or multiple topics in each of the couplets but needs to be rhyming maintaining the Radeef’ and ‘Kafiya’ as it’s important elements. She further demonstrated reciting an excerpt from the famous Nazm as sung by  Ghazal King Jagjit Singhji,

 “Baat niklegi to door talak jayegi

Log bebasi ka sabab poochenge…

Ye bhi poochenge ke tum pareshan kyun ho…”

Bringing back the audience from her spellbound recitation she emphasized the grammatical aspects of ghazal saying,  “Another important element of Ghazal is Punctuation. Most of the time both the singers and the listeners don’t know where to use the comma or a pause while a wrong usage changes the entire meaning of the Sher as we see in this famous Ghazal of the Ustad Shayar Mirza Ghalib;

 Nukhtachin hai, gham-e-dil usko sunaye na bane

Kya bane baat jahan baat banaye na bane…

The sher talks of someone who’s so critical and insensitive about every issue (Nukta), so one can’t talk to him about the pangs of the heart since it’s all in vain to make him understand. So the comma needs to be put after Nukhtachin Hai, to define him as critical, but usually, people use the comma after Gham-e-dil, which changes the meaning of the sher.

Chopra highlighting on the reasons why Ghazal is losing it’s  traditional style of rendition saying, “The original style i.e the ‘Riwayati Andaaz’ of ghazal has lost with time which is very sad and it happened because of two major reasons one –that ‘Urdu’ language is unfortunately associated with a religion, but I feel ‘Urdu Hindustan ki Zaban hai’.The second reason is that people are scared of the language as they find it very tough to understand it in today’s times.”

‘Urdu ehle zaban nahin hai meri’ i.e “Urdu is not my mother tongue. I was born in Jammu where Dongri language is spoken, but with my dedication, I mastered the language. My attempt is to connect my audience with the language and so I translate every difficult word so that they can equally enjoy every Sher in the Ghazal which I am performing. I want to urge the listeners to try and understand the language, and if you find difficult words, you can find on the internet which is just a click away….’Ye sirf ek khwahish ki baat, hai ek jazbe ki baat hai,” she added.

Radhikaji concluded by saying “Urdu is the only language which talks of ‘Ishq’ or ‘Mohabbat’ which are expressions for love (both worldly and spiritual) and chuckles saying, wo kisi ne kaha hai na ki…

“Agar Aap Ishq karna chahte hai to Urdu seekh lijiye,

Aur Urdu seekhna chahte hain to Ishq kar lijiye.”

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