Monday, February 13, 2012

The heritage buildings and its unplastering sheen

You know you have boarded a flight to Bombay or Mumbai when its favourite junk food Dabeli and two samosas cost Rs 100.
The financial capital of the country or the city of dreams, the mesmerising sea or the twinkling sky, the windy breeze or people sweating on the streets, there is indeed a different smell to this city.
But there is one thing that remains unchanged, the grandeur of old heritage buildings in the city. From the Gateway of India to the skyline of Cuff Parade, the Nariman Point or the far flung Mumbai University campus. The effrontery of Victorian eclectism and Gothic architecture swarms across the city and one can't help but wonder and gasp at the fact that these structures won’t be built again.
I live in a 156 year old heritage building in the heart of the city, and I travel to Nariman Point for work every day, in those 30 minutes, I come across at least twenty old buildings which are now safe guarded with green cloth as if a beautiful woman is heralded in an abaya, with an albatross hung around its neck which says,'Under Reconstruction'...the charming balconies and the beautifully carved buildings facing the breezing sea and part of the world's most elite skyline is waiting for its turn to metamorphose into a mammoth of swanky steel and glass.

The live example is the Napean Sea Road stretch, the home of the effervescent and the crème de la crème of Mumbai, yet a sight at any of these homes looks more like an antithesis of its glorious past...
One doesn’t even need to look farther, as Nariman Point, once the business centre of the city and the address to be, has lost its sheen to its peers in the suburban districts. With various Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) laws, some of these buildings which are in dire need of rehabilitation will fall prey to some wealthy developers. And some of these contractors are more than eager to convert them into international standard buildings, which effectively means- glasses imported from China and of course India is over producing steel these days.

Off late, the city has become a replica of what Dubai was two years back, plethora of still cranes holding up in the sky awaiting its turn to churn more homes to add to the concrete jungle and a series of boards stamped on its face saying, ‘’To Let’”. Yet in all these madness a heritage walk down the street on a lazy sunday is always refreshing and rejuvenating, as its opens our eye to what there was and what there will be. In all this hullabaloo of recreation and stepping into new frontiers of building designing, iIt’s not just the building, it’s the heritage which will bid adieu someday, and once again some sixty years down the lane, this steel and glass shall be history.....

Songs of the Mystic

Music echoes across Mohar Kunj as Babu Fakir and his team play the ektara, khamak, dhol and duggi, and sing in trance. Babu is a Baul from Gorbhanga, a village 250 km from Kolkata, and this is Sufi Sutra, the second edition of an international Sufi festival in the city that ends on Saturday. The backdrop of the festival is the Victoria Memorial.

The Bauls are wandering minstrels of a syncretic sect and musical tradition which shares much with Sufism. Some of their songs have been passed on for generations. Babu Fakir’s group of 10 has both qawwals and Bauls.

Musicians from Azerbaijan, Denmark, Egypt, Morocco and Hungary perform alongside their peers from Delhi, Kashmir and West Bengal. Sufi Sutra is organised by, an organisation that works with Bengali artisans to help them earn a living through traditional art forms. The festival is supported by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Unesco, the state tourism department and corporates.

The Azerbaijan State Ensemble of Ancient Musical Instruments, the Orient West Choir from Denmark, Egypt’s Elkawmeya Folkloric Music Troupe, Morocco’s Marouane Hajji et L’Ensemble Akhwane, and Sondorgo from Hungary present folk and religious music.

The Indian groups include the Nizami Khusro Bandhu from Delhi, qawwals who specialise in the poetry of Sultan Quli Qutub Shah and Roshanara Begum, daughter of Shahjahan.

The Kashmir Music Society will perform Rouf, Sufiyana and folk. The festival concludes with the Bauls and fakirs from Nadia and Murshidabad districts.

Amitava Bhattacharya, director of Banglanatak, says, “Sufi music is all about love and brotherhood. It is prevalent in West Asian and Persian countries but this year we are bringing in variations with groups from Denmark and Hungary, as their songs are not restricted to Islam.”

Samrita Dutta, a 12-year-old from London here on holiday, has come with her grandparents. Her grandfather whispers explanations in his granddaughter’s ears. “She hardly understands Bengali but is clapping her hands to the rhythm,” says Samrita's grandmother. Samrita says she likes the songs, they sound nice to her ears.

The European music magazine Songlines has partnered with Banglanatak; its editor Simon Broughton will write about Sufi Sutra and has put up an exhibition to showcase his documentary, Sufi Soul: The Mystic Music of Islam.

Directed by Broughton and narrated by popular historian William Dalrymple, the film is about Sufism in Syria, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey and its role in spirituality, culture and worship. It also documents performances by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen and Youssou D’Nour, among others.

Golam Fakir of Gorbhanga says of his fellow Bauls, "Our village is very poor. We all used to work as labourers in the fields. Sometimes we didn't have money to eat, but this music is our companion. We used to earn Rs 100-500 in a month by singing Baul songs, but now we earn Rs 4,000-5,000. Some singers earn Rs 10,000-30,000 a month."

The organisers say Sufi Sutra is appreciated by the government of Bihar, which wants to give folk musicians a platform for their talent and the chance to earn a better livelihood. A particular focus is on the Nirguns, who sing Bhojpuri songs written by Kabir and woven around the theme of the soul meeting with a formless God.

With inputs from Debaleena Sengupta