The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust was created 20 years ago, the result of a spontaneous coming together of artists, writers, journalists and many others to protest the ghastly murder of activist Safdar Hashmi by political goons. On Saturday, to commemorate two decades of its existence, Sahmat is organizing a concert by one of its oldest allies, Shubha Mudgal, in Delhi.
Mudgal was first invited to sing for Sahmat at the “Artists Against Communalism” concert in 1991 and has been collaborating with them ever since. “When I reached the venue (in 1991), I was struck by the creatively charged atmosphere and stood among the crowds watching some of India’s best-known painters, theatre personalities, musicians and dancers contributing to the cause. It isn’t every day that they come together to make a collective statement,” she says.
Though Mudgal’s first recital for Sahmat was a khayal in raga Vrindavani Sarang, over the years she has often moved away from the pure classical idiom while performing for Sahmat. She has, of course (sometimes controversially), explored other forms in her larger performing career as well. But it is perhaps her keen interest in what she’s singing, in terms of content, that has made her alliance with Sahmat truly enduring. This is in complete harmony with Sahmat’s own philosophy. “We present a wide range of music, both classical and contemporary; in fact, that is one of our main objectives to present a variety of performance traditions from the same platform. But whatever the form, the music is always content-driven,” says photographer Ram Rahman, a member of Sahmat.
Mudgal only composes around verses that appeal to her. She makes it quite clear that she has never been commissioned by Sahmat (or by anybody, for that matter) to write verses, though members of the organization, such as Sohail Hashmi and Gauhar Raza, have often sourced poetry for her that she has then set to music. “I felt the need to present a repertoire that had specific relevance to issues (that Sahmat stands for),” she says. “Therefore, I started working on compositions that later became part of a fairly large repertoire of protest poetry: Sufi-Bhakti verses, ghazals, nazm etc.”
So what does she really look for in a verse when she decides to perform it at a Sahmat event? “I guess the only common theme would be that these verses express protest or resistance through the arts.” Often, these verses—like a large body of banned poetry written during the Rising against the British in 1857—do not find a natural fit within a purely classical format. “The verses are varied and not all of them lend themselves to a strictly classical idiom. So I cannot say that I will present a khayal or a thumri or a dadra, but I do use my training in Hindustani classical music to compose and render these pieces,” Mudgal said. Her willingness and ability to adapt is something the members of Sahmat admire. “Shubha is an artist who thinks,” says Rahman.
At the Sahmat concert, Mudgal will also be singing compositions by her husband, Aneesh Pradhan.