The aspect of time is a remarkable feature of the Subcontinent’s classical music. For almost every Raag, a certain time period of the day is fixed when it should be sung in order to get the maximum feel and aesthetic content out of it.
With almost all the programmes of classical music being held in the evening or night hours, the Raags of the morning time often do not get to the stage as maestros are reluctant to perform a Raag out of its time.
Due to this, the ‘Mehfil-e-Sahar’ (a morning gathering) organised by the All Pakistan Music Conference (APMC) at the Lyceum on Sunday morning was a treat for classical music lovers as they got the chance to hear some Raags that they often do not hear live these days.
Classical vocalist Ustad Badaruzzaman was especially invited to Karachi by the APMC to sing morning Raags. Rather than performing one or two Raags in long-duration Khayal, he chose to render Bandishes (lyrics set to the tune of a Raag) in several Raags in around 10 to 15 minutes.
Though this did hinder the full exploration of the Raags that were sung, it exposed the audience to a variety of moods evoked by the morning Raags. Even for those who have limited understanding of the Raag, like this scribe, it does not take much time to develop the ability to appreciate the temporal aspect of our classical music. The Sur (notes) of Marwa perfectly embody the pathos of the sunset, which is the prescribed time for that Raag. Aiman, a night Raag, reflects rest and peace that one requires at night after a busy day. The Sur of Patdeep, an afternoon Raag, evoke the feeling of walking under the sun, while the sound of Deskaar, a morning melody, reminds one of birds chirping when the sun has just begun to rise.
The Mehfil started with two Bandishes in Bhairov, a Raag that evokes feelings of devotion, with the lyrics of its Bandishes often praising the Deity. The first Bandish that the Ustad sang was set in the Vilambit (slow) tempo in Jhaptaal (rhythmic cycle of 10 beats). It had devotional lyrics starting with “Tu Ab Yaad Karle Bande Khuda Ko”. It was followed by a Bandish in a faster tempo.
The maestro informed the audience that he had recently been hospitalised and his throat was not in the perfect shape. It was noticeable in the beginning, but as the event continued, he began singing effortlessly.
In his talk between the intervals, the vocalist informed the audience that he was not born in a musical family, and that in his childhood he decided to be trained in classical music. He said that although he had also learnt from the Delhi Gharana’s Ustad Iftikhar Ahmad, he considered himself to be a representative of the Kasur Gharana as he was a pupil of Ustad Chhote Ghulam Ali Khan, who treated him like his son.
He explained that one of the hallmarks of the Kasur Gharana was its Bandishes in the Punjabi language — a rare thing. After rendering Bhairov, he mostly sang those Punjabi Bandishes. In a wise move, before singing them he would clearly state the lyrics in Punjabi, and explain their meaning and how they reflected the culture of Punjab.
He lamented that people learnt songs that had 10 to 15 lines but never tried to memorise poetry written for classical music that was often written in four to six lines. After Bhairov, the Ustad sang a Punjabi Bandish in Raag Jaunpuri. Then came a short rendition in Raag Bibhas, a melody of five notes.
When he sang a Punjabi Bandish in Raag Miyan Ki Tori, the audience was enthralled. The unique interplay of Komal Rikhab (flat second note) and Komal Gandhar (flat third note), which is the defining feature of all Raags in the Tori family, was clearly audible. The lyrics reflected the complex state of mind of a woman when her lover has come to meet her after a prolonged period. She is happy and angry at the same time — happy because the lover has finally arrived, and angry because of the delay in his arrival. Miyan Ki Tori was followed by two Bandishes in Shudh Bilawal and one in Alhaiya Bilawal. As the mode of Bilawal corresponds to the major scale in the Western system, even those who did not have much understanding of classical music enjoyed them as the melody did not sound alien.
The event ended with a Bandish in Bairagi, a Raag of five notes that often evokes the feelings of despair and solitude. However, the Ustad did not sing it to display such emotions, probably because the lyrics were in devotion to Nizamuddin Aulia. He also objected to the nomenclature Bairagi Bhairov, stating that Bairagi had no flavour of Bhairov. He said the Raag resembled Raag Jogia in the lower notes of the octave and Raag Madhmaad Sarang in the upper notes.
Meanwhile, the Taanpura was played by a machine, and the Ustad was accompanied by Irfan Haider on the tabla, Ghulam Abbas on the harmonium and, of course, Gul Muhammad — the only Sarangi accompanist in Karachi — on his instrument.