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Cars line the road leading to Niraja Giri’s house. The ghazal singer is hosting Shaam-e-Ghazal. The setting recalls a time when mehfils in people’s homes were a common occurrence in the city, and “culture" readily available within the four walls of your home in the form of qawwalis, mushaira’s, ghazal evenings and discussions.

Inside, the first guests have arrived. Members can predict with certainty that it will be Air Chief Marshal (retired) Idris Hasan Latif and wife Bilkis Latif. The couple is always the first to arrive, and they’ve been doing so for a while, having been a part of Shaam-e-Ghazal in Delhi. Shaam-e-Ghazal, an organization of ghazal aficionados, has almost 50 members.

Photo Bharath Sai/Mint

Aadaabs are exchanged, and printed sheets of the evening’s ghazals distributed. It is one member’s job to sift through a poet’s work—because even the best have written both the banal and the sublime—and pick eight. He’s called the akhale-kul, the brain bank or mastermind, and the task has fallen to Prof. Yousuf Zayi. This time, the selection happened a little late and there has been no time to transliterate and print the ghazals in English. But for the most part it is not required—this is an audience that understands every nuance of the ghazal.

Photo: Courtesy

Almost on the dot at 7.30pm, conversations die down and the evening begins with a quick introduction of the singer and musicians, followed by a short biography of the poet, Firaq Gorakhpuri. Then it’s over to Khan, who will sing four ghazals before a tea break, and four ghazals after. The evening will wrap up by 10pm at the latest.

Shaam-e-Ghazal has been held six times a year for the past 15 years in Hyderabad. It began in 1996 when Hyderabadi Koakab Durry, who had started the institution in Delhi in the late 1960s, retired and returned to his hometown. Though he could find no patronage, it didn’t stop the organization from taking off. “We told him not to worry about the money, but just start it off," says Dilnaz Baig, secretary and founder-member of Shaam-e-Ghazal in Hyderabad. Their solution lay in memberships and a number of “old Hyderabadis"; many whose families had lived in the city for a few generations, quickly signed up. It seemed natural that the Urdu ghazal find respect in the region of its birth-the Deccan.

In Hyderabad, it has attracted performances by the brothers Ahmed Hussain and Mohammed Hussain, considered by many to be India’s finest ghazal singers. Rita Ganguly has sung too, as have a number of Hyderabadis: Vittal Rao, Giri, Jasbeer Kaur, Sabir Habib and Adnan Saalim. Few expect payment, considering it a privilege to perform for this audience.

Giri, a member of Shaam-e-Ghazal and a singer herself, was also one of the first people to sign up for Maulana Azad National Urdu University’s ghazal appreciation class, Tahseen-e-Ghazal, the brainchild of Prof. Khalid Saeed, when it launched last year. “I’m a ghazal singer and I wanted to know what I was singing," she says, “so it would lend more feelings and involvement in my singing."

Cultural ambassador: Dilnaz Baig, founder-member and secretary of Shaam-e-Ghazal in Hyderabad. Photo Nishat Fatima

The man who designed the course, Prof. Saeed, says the idea was born when Ashok Chauhan, the chairman of non-governmental organization (NGO) Pratham, asked him whether he knew of any classes where he could learn how to appreciate ghazals without having to read Urdu. “There is a system to the ghazal," Prof. Saeed says. “You have to become familiar with it to enjoy its literal and metaphorical meaning."

The six-month course has been created especially for the enthusiast. It’s completely at the spoken level—even the exams. Classes are held once a week on Sundays, timed conveniently between 11am-2pm for the overwhelmingly adult, working audience (the current group includes a designer, a geneticist, a nephrologist, a couple of more doctors, two journalists, a poet and an independent researcher) and take place in the heart of the city, as opposed to the university campus 20km away. “When we began the course last year, 10 signed up and about four-five attended," says Prof. Saeed. “This year, 22 have signed up and almost 15-16 are regular."

He’s hopeful that the numbers will swell further with the next batch, especially as the university will soon also be meeting the demand for a course that teaches Urdu so they can enjoy the ghazal in every sense.

Early in March, the students hosted an evening to commemorate the birth centenary of poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, an event attended by about a hundred people. They presented his life and work, discussed his verses, and Giri sang a few. It was attended by many members of the Shaam-e-Ghazal, so it seems inevitable that a number of students are also attending the event at Giri’s house—a meeting of Tahseen-e-Ghazal and Shaam-e-Ghazal that helps provide the fullest appreciation of the ghazal.

The masters

Dakhini poets of Urdu ghazals

Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah (1580-1611):This sultan of Golconda was the first Urdu poet to put together a ‘diwan’ or collection of his work. His work was greatly influenced by the festivals, culture and people of the Deccan.

Wali Mohammed Wali (1667-1707):Famous as Wali Deccani, this Aurangabad-born poet’s work is one of the first instances of Urdu poetry in the north.

Siraj Aurangabadi (1715-63):One of Deccan’s most famous poets, but not much is known about the life of this mystic poet. He wrote in what is called Fasih Urdu (pure Urdu).

Mah Laqa Bai Chanda (1796-1824):The world’s first female poet to have a ‘diwan’ of her work, she was also a singer and dancer. Considered a courtesan, she was learned and powerful, and lived through the courts of two nizams, the second and third. She wrote in Dakhini.

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