Friday, May 05, 2006

Maestro Naushad Ali: Awaaz Dey KahaaN Hay

Awadh Dec 24, 1919—Mumbai May 05, 2006

The composer, who hailed from Lucknow, had cried when his film Baiju Bawra was premiered at Mumbai's Broadway theatre. When the late producer Vijay Bhat asked him why he was crying, Naushad told him he was sleeping on the footpath opposite the theatre when he had dreamt of seeing his music brought to life here. 'It took me 16 long years to cross that footpath,' he had said.



Early this morning temporal informed me that Naushad Ali had passed away and asked me to pen some thoughts on his life and music.

Naushad, as he was universally known, learned classical music from Ustad Ghurbat Ali, and Ustad Babban Saheb in Lucknow, before he ran away to Bombay in 1937 to make his name in the film industry.

He struggled in his early days and worked as a pianist in composer Mushtaq Hussain's orchestra till he got his big break with music director Khemchand Prakash as an assistant. His first independent film was Prem Nagar in 1940 but he got noticed in A.J.Kardar’s Sharda, which was released in 1942 and introduced Surayya to the film industry. (For trivia buffs: A.J.Kardar was the older brother of A.H. Kardar the first Pakistani Cricket Captain.) However, it was Rattan released in 1944 that brought overnight fame to Naushad Ali.

Naushad gave us some of the greatest hits of all times. Starting from Rattan in 1944 till Taj Mahal in 2006, he composed music in nearly seventy films.

He introduced Surayya, and gave breaks to Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi. They went on to become Bollywood legends. Nausahd was a colossus who ruled over the music industry from mid 40s to mid 60s, the golden era of Bollywood musicals.

After the unprecedented success of Rattan, Naushad Ali went on his purple patch of producing phenomenal music in Shah Jahan, Anmol GhaRi, Dard, Dillagi, Dulari, Andaz, Babul, Mela, URan Khatola and his magnum opus Baiju Bawra. The film that formally introduced Hindustani classical music to Indian film goers.

In Baiju Bawra he used famous maestroes Pandit D.V.Paloskar and Ustad Amir Khan in a Jugalbandi. Mohammad Rafi also sang his sublime bhajan Man taRpat hari darshan ko aaj in Raag Malkauns and O duniya ke rakhwale in Raag Darbari: perennial hits with the lovers of Indian cinema.

His other memorable films were Rattan, Mela, Deedar, Jadoo, Shabab, Mother India, Mughl-e-Azam, Ganga Jamuna, Mere Mahboob, Ram Aur Shyam, Pakeezah and Aadmi.

Naushad Ali succeeded to sign Ustad BaRe Ghulam Ali Khan to sing Shubh ghaRi aayo raaj dulara to perfection in Mughl-e-Azam.

Naushad gave Lata Mangeshkar her big break in Andaz in which she sang this beautiful ghazal:

Uthaaye ja un ke sitam aur jiye ja
yuN hi muskraay ja aanNsoo piye ja


Lata being a Maharashtrian, her Urdu diction and delivery was far from ideal for a perfectionist like him. He personally sat with her for hours and coached her till her diction, delivery and accent was perfect. Lata herself was a great student who went on to master the Urdu, Hindi and Avadhi diction and delivery to become at par in ghazal gayeki with Begum Akhtar and Avadhi/Poorbi gayeki with Girija Devi. Her perfect rendition of Dhoondho dhoondho re sajna more kaan ka bala in Ganga Jamuna and Mohe panghat pe Nand Lal cheR gayo re, both under Naushad Ali are a tribute to both Lata and Naushad, two of the most radiant stars of Hindi film music.

It is not generally known that Naushad was a fairly good poet himself. This gave him an added insight into the lyrics that he fused with his genius. His music highlights and enhances the beauty and sweetness of poetry and blends with the theme of the plot. Another name that enhanced Naushad’s magic was poet Shakeel Badayuni who penned hit lyrics for most of his films.

Even though Naushad had 26 silver jubilee, 9 golden jubilee and 3 platinum jubilee films to his credit, only Baiju Bawra netted him his only Film Fare award for Best Music Director.

However, Naushad’s greatest contribution to Indian film music is the introduction of Hindustani Classical music into the mainstream cinema music. Today, after sixty years, people of all ages and taste listen to Noor Jahan singing with pathos Awaaz de kahaN hai, duniya meri jawaN hai in PahaRi and marvel at the ethereal beauty of this song.

Naushad never left his Hidustani Parampara and used the ragas and folk in those memorable songs which bring a joie de vivre to the listeners. Here is an example of the beautiful use of the ragas in some film songs.

1. Jo maiN jaanti bisrat hai saiyyaN in Maand (Shabab.)
2. More sayyaNji utreNge paar ho in Pilu (Uran Khatola.)
3. Jaane waale se mulaaqaat na hone paayi in Yaman (Amar.)
4. Tere pyaar meiN dildaar in Bihaag (Mere Mahboob.)
5. Suhaani raat dhal chuki in PahaRi (Dulari.)
6. Meri kahani bhoolne walay tera jahaN aabad rahe in Tilang (Deedaar.)
7. O duniya ke Rakhwalay, sun dard bhare mere naalay in Darbari (Baiju Bawra.)


Despite his laid back demeanor and conservative background Naushad was an innovator, risk taker and a perfectionist. He was very selective and accepted limited number of films per year even when he was at his peak.

He introduced Qawwali and Bhajan into film music along with western orchestra, church and choir music.

He also pioneered the use of large orchestra for the first time in Mahboob Khan’s film Aan in 1952. He is also credited with introducing Ustad BaRe Ghlam Ali Khan in Mughl-e-Azam who sang Shubh din aayo raaj dulara and Prem jogan ke sundari with great aplomb. Pandit D.V.Paloskar and Ustad Amir Khan sang a jugalbandi in Baiju Bawra.

Naushad completed Pakeezah after Master Ghulam Mohammed's death and continued doing an occasional film right up to the 1990s but he was not the same Naushad of the golden era. (I have a confession to make. I have refrained from commenting on his last film the epic Taj Mahal because I have not heard its composition.)

Some of the many awards he received over his lifetime included Dadasaheb Phalke Award, Padma Bhushan and Sangeet Natya Academy Award. He passed away in Mumbai on May 5, 2006 due to old age. Inna lillah e wa inna ilaihe rajeoon.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Glory That Was Lucknow

Ye Lakhnau ki sar zamiN
Ye Lakhnau ki sar zamiN
Ye rang-o-roop ka chaman
Ye husn-o-ishq ka vatan
Yahi to vo muqaam hai
jahan avadh ki sham hai
shabab-o-shair ka ye ghar
ye ahl-e-ilm ka nagar
hai manziloN ki gode meiN
yahaan har aik rah guzar
ye shahar lalazaar hai
yahaan dilon meiN pyaar hai

excerpt from shakeel badayuni - chaudhwin ka chaand



The January wind blowing in from the north across Gomti was cold but not nippy. The morning sun was blocked by haze and fog and despite it being ten in the morning the landscape appeared shrouded in mystery and logic. A light jacket is sufficient to take care of the UP winter.

I took a cycle rickshaw to Chowk whose lanes and by-lanes were on my walking agenda for the day to rekindle my childhood memories of Lucknow. The ambiance, the sights and sounds, the smell, the stench of these lanes , the people and the shop keepers are a unique experience.

The Rickshaw puller was a middle aged thin man, wearing a woolen jersey, pajama and rubber slippers. He had a scarf tightly covering his head to ward off the cold wind. I felt guilty being pulled by another human being but the guilt and remorse would not have helped the unfortunate man who needed some one to use his services for a pittance to take care of his family.

I started small talk with the rickshaw puller. He came from a nearby mohalla and was a Shia Muslim. When he learned that I was a Pakistani visiting my family, he had lots of questions about Pakistan and the reasons for the Shia-Sunni killings and other unanswerable embarrassing queries. He had relations living in various cities of Pakistan who were in touch with him and his family.

It took us less than ten minutes to reach our destination. I offered him fifty rupees instead of the agreed ten rupees which he refused to accept with such grace that made me feel more insignificant.

The spectacular skyline of Chowk with it's domes and towers, broad roads and avenues, covered verandas supported by delicate arches with intricate lattice work, takes one to the bygone days of the Nawab of Avadh's period.

Chowk is the oldest area of Lucknow dating back to 16th century when Jaunpur instead of Lucknow was the capital of the Sharqi Rulers of Avadh. Jaunpur was the major political centre of the time rather than Faizabad or Lucknow which later on became the capital of the State of Avadh . Lucknow itself came into prominence with the appointment of Burhan-ul-Mulk as the Nawab of Avadh by the Mughal Emperor in 1722 and at it's peak was considered the most fashionable city in India during the 18 th and 19th century under the Nawabs.

Lucknow became the unrivalled leader of Indian fashion world, cuisine, music, dance and theatrical production. And it became the intellectual and cultural heir to the Mughals after the fall of Delhi to the East India Company in 1803 and remained the sole standard bearer of the great Muslim Dynasty in India till the end of the Nawabi Period with the exile of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in March 1856.

He was affectionately called as Jaan-e-Alam Akhtar Pia by his adoring subject. It was then Wajid Ali Shah wrote the immortal Thumri: Babul mora naihar chooto hi jaay , which has been beautifully rendered by the inimitable K.L.Saigal.

I started my journey into the lost splendour that was Lucknow from the Gol Darwaza Gate entrance into the innards of the fabled Chowk.

The Gol Darwaza Gate has a massive rounded arch supported by huge pillars of Doric design. The floor above comprises of covered shops and offices, while the ground floor has retail shops . On the right side of the Gol Darwaza Gate is Banwali Gali which has the famous Ram Asray Sweet shop established in 1805 and is still producing an amazing assortment of sweets. Close by is Raja's Thandai shop famous for it's Lassi and Thandai.

Across from the Thandai shop is Shukla Chaat House where you will find most of the younger Lucknavi kids from close by Lucknow Mahila Viddyalay and King George Medical College gorging on some of the best chaat you will ever taste.

Entering into the Gol Drawaza gate, you come across small cubicles and workshops with artisans of various age busy working under a master artisan creating handcrafted pieces of art, be it gold jewelry, ivory pieces, Chikan kaari, Zardozi, Kamdaani or silver work.

One keeps walking, ignoring the voices from inside the shops beseeching one to come inside and see the wondrous world . In the narrow lanes of its bazaars, you can buy ittars (pure oils extracted from fragrant flowers), saleem shahi shoes which trace their origins to the Moghul period, colourful jhaalar (tasselled borders for garments), fruits, sweets, antique furniture and furnishings, utensils, dress materials, electronic goods and even vegetables.

Bargaining is a highly evolved art form in Lucknow, and for the patient and calculating shopper there are innumerable opportunities for acquiring great bargains. A word of caution: the initiated and enlightened local shopper never confuses bargaining with haggling.

The exquisite delicacy of chikan embroidery work is breathtakingly lovely. Originally, It was executed on pure white fabric to create delicately textured surfaces on fine muslin.

Chikankari is reported to have been Queen Noor Jahan's gift to India which achieved it's perfection in Avadh under the Nawabi period of the 17th and 18th century. Alongside the Chikankari , Zardozi is another work of art made famous in Lucknow. Artisans use fine gold thread on silken fabrics to embroider shimmering works of art, on sarees and other apparel worn on festive occasions.

Many lanes open on both side of the main road without any sign or name and it's your choice to turn right or left and a surprise awaits you at every turn and corner. You may come across shops selling bangles or making kites or a small pharmacy selling only herbal medicines claiming a cure from cancer to carcinoma. The winding alleys and dark archways and passages lead to huge havelis of old merchants with large doors hiding a world of their own from the prying eyes of a wanderer.

The inner roads are uneven, potholed, narrow and dirty. One such by-lane brought me right in front of a small but elegant tomb which turned out to be the last resting place of the famous Urdu poet Meer Anees and the gali was aptly named Koocha-e-Meer Anees.

Another famous Urdu poet Meer Taqi Meer is buried under the Lucknow City Station. Back on the main street , and two hours later, I could hear the sound of quick and regular hammer blows, of something being beaten into shape and very fine dispersing clouds of aromatic blue smoke. Little workshops with two or three men in each pounding incessantly onto little pieces of silver into gossamer thin foil used for decorating paan, zarda, Murgh-e-Musallam or other sweets and desserts known as chandi qalia or simply called Warq.

There are many perfumery shops making Attar, Qiwam, Scented Tobacco, Surma and Missi. The most famous was Asghar Ali Mohammad Ali who established their shop in 1830. Sadly, they have shifted to Hazrat Gunj from the confines of Chowk . Abbasi and Sons are a fourth generation Perfumiers whose shop is located nearby where they have an amazing variety of Ittar extracted from various flowers, sold at very reasonable rates compared to the Shopping Malls where the same item is sold on premium.

The Chowk was also famous for it's Tawaifs or Dancing Girls during the Nawabi period One such name is Umrao Jaan Ada made famous by films made on her life both in India and Pakistan. It is another matter that it was simply a fiction created by Mirza Hadi Ruswa and this work is considered the first Urdu novel that was published in 1888.

The Kotha of the Dancing Girls became an important part of the society during the hedonistic Nawabi period . The Tawaif culture died a slow death after the Nawabi was abolished in 1856 but kept surviving on the Jagirdaars and Tallukadars who used to spend their evenings in these Kothas with their favourite singer or dancer and many a Nawab lost his entire property to the beautiful singers and dancers who were a replica of the Geisha of the Shogunate. They slowly died a natural death after the end of Nawabs, Zamindars and Taluqdars. However, the Zamindari Act of 1948 brought to an end the nightly revelry of the Chowk Tawaif and Lucknavi Tamashbeens.

Nearing the end of Chowk towards the Akbari Gate, the aroma of Avadhi cuisine attacks the senses from all sides and one ends up near the famous Eating Houses of Chowk including Tunde ke Kabab. Tunda is reputed to have mastered the marination of kababs and his Galawat ke Kabab are famous all over India. You are served Nihari, Kulche, Sheermal, Warqi Parathay, Mutanjan, Murgh-e-Musallam and many more dishes cooked in typically Avadhi style known as Dum Pukht.

The origins of
Dum-pukht
style of cuisine date back to 1784 when Nawab Asaf-ud-daula started the construction of the BaRa Imam bara . The Nawab decreed that the builders should have access to food day and night. Cooks filled giant pots with rice, vegetables, lentils, meat and spices and cooked it continuously on gentle fire, while the lids were sealed with dough and red hot coal placed on top to enable the ingredients cook slowly in the ensuing steam and keep the food warm constantly.

Dum Pukht in Persian means, ' to breath' and 'to cook'. When the Nawab tasted the food during an inspection, he was impressed with the food thus produced and ordered his chefs to refine the cooking technique in the royal kitchens. The royal chefs improved the style by adding saffron, mace, rosewater, cardamom, cloves and other delicate Indian spices.

Departing the aromatic kabab houses through Akbari Gate, one is officially out of Chowk area and into the oldest section of Lucknow known as Nadan Mahal .Further southward lies Wazir Ganj, Aminabad, Chaar Bagh and Alambagh. Names that roll by on tongues leaving bitter-sweet taste of memories. It was at this moment the spell was broken when the auto-rikshaw driver shouted at me in punjabi, "babu ji kithe jaana hai" (sir! where do you wish to go.)

That jolted me back from Nawab Wajid Ali Shah and Umrao Jaan Ada's Lucknow to the burgeoning, over crowded, dusty, city that could stand in for any comparable city in India.

Zwingli’s Zurich

After spending the better part of the day meeting old friends in Bahnhofstrasse and Paradeplatz, I was heading towards Central Tram Station to catch a tram to Ibma Tingen, a suburban village, north of Zurich, where I was staying with a friend. Looking eastward between the cobbled lanes across the Limmat river up into the mountains, I found my self gazing at a pair of minaret like towers that looked incongruous in the heart of Christian Europe which went un-noticed in my previous visits to Zurich.

For a moment I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me but the immediate environs confirmed my presence in Zurich with the Lake Zurich on right, Central ahead on my left with a multitude of entertainers, musicians doing an impromptu jam sessions on the wide foot path leading along the lake. People were walking briskly with a purpose while some were strolling , watching the show put on by the buskers and street musicians, while others were sitting on the benches watching the general ebb and flow of humanity passing through, in a myriad of colour and movement. Clanking trams, arriving, departing or waiting at the Central station added to the quaint charm of a small sun-filled mediaeval town in the spring bloom.

Zurich is synonymous with banks and bullion. Most great Swiss Banks are located in the Bahnhofstrasse and Paradeplatz streets, within walking distance of each other and the vaults underneath these two streets hold enough gold bullion to pave the streets of the town with solid gold. Tourists walking by on these streets are unaware of the huge treasures lying buried under these streets in impregnable vaults belonging to various banks.

Bahnhofstrasse starts from the southern point of the Great Train Station and goes north for less than two kilometers till you reach Lake Zurich . It is one of the most prestigious shopping streets in Europe, an enduring symbol of Zurich’s wealth making a fascinating counter point to the quaint alleys of Niederhorf area close by, full of clubs and dance halls, pimps and prostitutes, cheap hotels and youth hostels generally catering to the young travelers touring Europe on a shoe-string budget.

Half way through Bahnhofstrasse , Paradeplatz Street cuts through on its east-west axis through a quaint little plaza with people busy shopping or browsing the boutique shops, filled with famous brand names, selling Fashion accessories, Clothes, Shoes , Watches and Jewellery. While all around, normal hustle bustle of a dynamic town is tangible in the purposeful strides of a group of middle aged men in gray suites entering or leaving the main office of UBS , young chic females in Armani, Oscar de la Renta , Givenchy or Versace are found sipping delicately at a Latte in the corner kiosk owned and managed by a young Tamil couple.

This entire Plaza is considered the best place for people watching and to be seen in Zurich . It is here that Zurich’s serious money begins. Streets off Paradeplatz are home to more Banks, Insurance Companies and top-name designer outlets than anywhere else concentrated in so small an area. Continuing on Bahnhofstrasse for less than a kilometer the street ends at Burkiplatz plaza, which is the starting point for ferries and boats from the Zurich Lake. Zurich Lake gives one a feeling of well being and provides calming effect to the tired professionals at the end of a nerve racking day spent wheeling and dealing in the Dealing Rooms of various banks or the stressful job of handling highly strung rich clients adroitly and professionally with a smile.

On the shores are benches one can sit, relax and admire the snow capped alps in the background or watch the powerful yachts gliding slowly to points beyond, with rich and famous at the helm, jauntily clad in the minimal style with a captain’s cap worn at a rakish angle. On the right is the area known as “Golden Sands” with imposing mansions in Classical, Baroque and Romanesque styles. The night life in Zurich is varied, rich and has every thing for every taste. There are concert halls, dance halls, opera, theatre and clubs of every design, shape and taste. Whether your taste is classic, jazz, funk, blues, it’s all there along with the ubiquitous disco and dance bars.

I decided to find out more about these Minaret-like structures and found out the next day that they were the spires of the famous Cathedral Grossmunster. The focal point of Protestant renaissance in Switzerland. It is here that H. Zwingli, a contemporary of Martin Luther, headed the church for 12 years and is partly responsible for the conversion of the Catholic Swiss into Protestants. Zwingli was considered one of the great leaders of the Reformation who urged priests to take wives and was himself a married man. He attacked the worship of images and the Roman sacrament of mass. He was killed in 1531 and his body was burnt, an inscription on the site of his execution reads: “They may kill the body but not the soul.”

This Cathedral was built between 1100 to 1230 AD in the Neo-classical Romanesque Style. The Towers were added in 1400’s which were damaged in a fire in the 1700’s and were redesigned in a Baroque Style with a small cupola on top, thereby resembling a Minaret. Unfortunately, the revival of Protestantism led to the removal of entire decorative arts inside as well as the outside of the Church. Few Frescoes that are left were painted much later and do not factually represent the opulent art work, that was removed by the Protestant zealots. Legend has it that this church was founded by Emperor Charlemagne at the spot where his horse refused to move further and the spot was later found to be the remains of the graves of three Christian martyrs.

The Cathedral is approached through Plaza Zwengli , up a broad staircase leading to the main gate of the massive Cathedral guarded by the impressive three storey Spires visible from all of Zurich . While I was huffing and puffing on the winding stairs , I heard an old and faintly remembered tune floating down the Cathedral, it was the famous waltz by Johann Strauss. Someone was playing “Blue Danube” on a violin with gay abandon, the strokes being bold, powerful and almost arrogant in the execution of the beautiful composition.

On reaching the top, the two spires standing tall and erect guard-like over the huge Cathedral were imposing in their size and physical proportions and there, on the left of the main gate under a huge tree was this young girl standing at the edge of a promontory overlooking the beautifully delicate Fraumunster Cathedral across the river and making magic with her violin , completely unaware of her surroundings. I noticed the hat on the ground with some coins. She was a Romany gypsy who played the Blue Danube with the passion of a free spirit , symptomatic of a gypsy without worldly possessions, associations or worries , free as a lark, unrestricted and unconcerned with boundaries and borders. I felt a twinge of jealousy at her freedom, and the haughty demeanor of a noble spirit , dropped a few coins in the hat and went to visit the Cathedral with a tune on my lips. Suddenly the world had become more meaningful and a lot prettier.

The Main gate opened into a foyer that led to a massive octagonal Hall, with the choir at the head decorated with stained glass windows, soaring high, a large statue of Jesus Christ on a Cross, and other Christian adornments with lighted lamps and candles lit by visitors and worshippers. The hall contained rows of benches on either side. Frescoes on the walls were painted in the 18th and 19th Century, whereas, the stained glass windows in the choir were completed in in 1932 by Augusto Giacometti, nephew of Alberto Giacometti the famous Swiss painter.

There is a statue of Charlmagne completed in the 15th century lying in the crypt. There is a fees of SFR 2.00 to ascend the spires which is worth the scene from the top and one can see the entire city of Zurich lying at one’s feet including the two other famous cathedrals Fraumunster and St. Peterskiche, within a stones throw across the river Limmat. All these old churches and buildings are located in the Old Town known as Altstadt, which offers walking tours through the maze of cobbled stone lanes and is well worth a walk for the first time visitor.

The next Cathedral on my list was the dainty Fraumunster Cathedral about two hundred yards across the river from Grossmunster. Following the same stairs down, across the river through one of the many bridges we were in front of the main gate of this smallish church which was undergoing repairs and maintenance with scaffolding all along its outer walls. This church has a slender blue spire and is designed in a more orthodox manner. It is small in size but is richly ornamented and adorned with paintings, frescoes and stained glass windows, some of those have been executed by Marc Chagall .

The site of the Cathedral was originally a Benedictine abbey established in 853 AD which was later converted into a Royal Cathedral in the 14th century.The chief attraction of this church are five stained glass windows, each with it’s own thematic colour scheme, designed by Chagall in 1970. They are best viewed in the morning when the sun light pierces these windows, producing a brilliant spectacle. These glass windows are adorned with Chagall’s famous trade mark ‘doves” reflected in each of the windows designed by him. This church was built for the private use of the Royalty and the Nobility, whereas the larger Grossmunster was for the general public. Close by is the old St. Peter’s Church built in the 15th century. It boasts of the largest clock face in Europe. The diameter of the clock is 28 sq.ft while the minute hand is 12 feet long.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Dancing Dervishes

Rumi, Turkey and Dervishes


Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi founded the Sufi order in the 13th century which practiced tolerance, forgiveness and enlightenment. Seven hundred years later the practice continues in Turkey. The largest of the Whirling Dervishes are located in Konya, but smaller numbers are found in other cities including Istanbul. The sacred ritual of Dancing Dervishes is not a theatrical spectacle but a religious act performed to obtain spiritual bliss and nearness with the Creator. This act is known as “sama” which is a Persian word meaning ‘to hear’. The sect believes that during the performance of the sama, the soul is released from earthly ties and soars to unite with Allah.

With these basic information passed on to our group of eight people, it was emphasized to dress properly, scarves, trousers or skirts for females and shirts and trousers for males. We were to maintain a respectable silence during the performance, as would be expected in any place of worship. We were taken in a mini-bus to an old mosque Dargah Nurettin located in the Fatih district. Our guide Hikmat Naccim was in his early thirties, who spoke fluent English, German and Italian in addition to Turkish .We were seated at the edge of the hall with the locals, while the female tourists were sent back in a balcony reserved for ladies through which they could observe the entire performance while remaining in purdah.

Suddenly in the backdrop of pipe music, drums and cymbals walked in the leading dervish, dressed in an all enveloping black cloak with soft leather shoes .They came with slow measured steps, arms across their chests, heads bowed, and stopped at their marked spots. When the circle was completed, the last dancer entered and stood in the center at a marked place facing towards Mecca, he was the Shaikh who would guide the dervishes towards their union with God. The orchestra was the last to enter and took its place at the head. It was composed of viola, violin, reed pipes, ney, lute, flute, drums, cymbals and many other indigenous instruments.

The spiritual journey begins by seeking the eternal truth with devotion, dedication and love, transforming self into being one with the Creator. The ritual is restricted to four sessions of ten minutes duration, which starts with slow drum beats accompanied by the wailing ney, each dancer throws away his black cloak exposing his loose white tunic, flared skirt-like dress and a conical hat on his head. The throwing away of the black cloak signifies discarding worldly possessions in return for the spiritual gain. On an unseen signal they lift their hands, right palm facing heavenwards and the left palm towards the ground, head tilted towards the left palm, right open palm asking for Allah’s beneficence and mercy and the left palm passing on the beneficence and mercy to the mankind on earth.

Slowly in anti clock-wise movement they start whirling and moving towards the Shaikh, standing in the center, and pass by him, bowing their heads in obeisance and continue onwards. The tempo of the music gains momentum without any perceptible difference and the white skirts of the dervishes start billowing with the faster whirling keeping pace with the music. At this stage a group of dervishes sitting in front start in chorus the “Zikr” which is the chant of “Allah Hoo” to the beat of the music, the chanting also includes the ninety nine names of Allah in between the Hoo.

The rising tempo of music, becoming increasingly overpowering seems to be getting into the whole being of the visitors, creating a trance-like state of ecstasy. The swooshing sound of billowing skirts, the piercing sound of “ney”, the constant movement at breakneck speed feels like an assault of senses by wave after wave of sight, sound and smell. The seemingly endless rotations of the dancers reach an astonishing rate of thirty times or mare per minute – and after sometime their movements seem to melt into one another and the dervishes become a moving blob of white in their quest for the eternal truth, their dancing becomes a prayer and most of us present there became a part of it.

With this part of the ceremony over, the dancing dervishes sit down on the floor, in a circle putting on their cloaks, signifying return to the material world, the Shaikh knelt in the center of the circle of dervishes and they joined in unison the “zikr” once again with the other group which had been kneeling and singing in chorus Allah Hoo….the fusion of the voices and the ambience raised goose bumps. The ceremony ended with a prayer for the peace of the souls of all prophets and believers. The dervishes silently go to their rooms for meditation leaving the visitors with an unforgettable experience of love and devotion for the Creator of the universe

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Turkish Delight

Flight EK 219 banked steeply on its final approach to Ata Turk International Airport with a jerk , caused by its descent into an air pocket, waking most of the passengers with a start in the early hours of a warm summer day. The PA system came to life with the announcement that the plane was landing in Istanbul shortly and the passengers were reminded to fasten seat belts and remain seated on their seats till the plane came to a stop.

This announcement, all over the world, ironically seems to change the normally sober and staid passengers into demons and I was not disappointed here as well. While no smoking and fasten seatbelt signs are still on, they acquire a new personality , aggression writ large on their faces, they get up to retrieve their luggage from the overhead compartment without any consideration to their fellow passengers. Having retrieved their luggage, they stand and block the aisle waiting for the plane to stop and the gates to open.

In a short while the gates were opened and the passengers started moving out slowly. The chief purser of the Emirates, a stunning red-head from Canada, looking pretty but incongruous in a Jilabiya bade farewell to each alighting passenger with a refrain to see them again on board Emirates flight and thanking them profusely.

The concourse was overcrowded but the immigration staff worked efficiently and the rush was disposed off quickly. I was out of the immigration in 20 minutes , walked to the luggage carousel and picked my suitcase . The taxis were lined outside the hall and I hired one to take me to Hotel Hippodrome in the Sultanahmet area, which is the center of the old city. Within an hour, I was inside my room, on the top floor of the small boutique hotel which had a great view of the Golden Horn in the distance, The Haga Sophia Cathedral and the Blue Mosque, right in front of the hotel. The location could not be better and the room was clean and comfortable.

Istanbul is an old city covering an area of 7500 square kilometers and a population estimated between 12-15 million people. It is the only city in the world which is straddled on two continents. It has been the capital of the Byzantian ,Roman, Christian and Ottoman Empires in its colourful past. All these cultures have left an indelible mark on the city and its history.

It is full of Forts, Palaces, Bridges and Mosques. The19th century saw a construction boom in western style of architecture reflected in the Palaces and Villas constructed along the Bosphorus during the reign of Sultan Abdel Mejid and saw the emergence of Art Nouveau under the Balyan family of architects, one of whom was the chief architect of the Dolombahce Palace built in 1864. Today, Istanbul along with Vienna, Barcelona and Brussels is considered the Art Nouveau capital of the world.

The area I was staying is called Sultanahmet and contains the famed Blue Mosque whose official name is Sultanahmet Mosque, The Cathedral of Haga Sophia, The Hippodrome, The Aquaduct and The Topkapi Palace. The Grand Bazaar is a ten minute’s walk and I could visit on foot, all the above places within a day. Having showered and eaten, I was out in the square which led me to The Hippodrome , built by Roman Emperor Septimus Severus .It measured 480 metres by 117 meteres and could contain 100,000 people.

The walls of the arena were adorned with sculptures. Chariot races were held here for the entertainment of the populace. Emperor Theodosius erected an Egyptian Obelisk in 390 AD and placed it in the center of The Hippodrome in an ornate square pedestal. The pedestal is engraved with scenes of chariot races with the figure of Emperor Thodosius displayed prominently.


I walked along with the crowd towards the magnificent Sultanahmet mosque, commonly known as the Blue Mosque because of liberal use of blue and white Iznik tiles inside the main hall which are set ablaze when the sunlight filters through the 260 stained glass windows. This creates a surrealistic but spiritual atmosphere for the visitor. The dome soars to a height of 43metres which is embellished with Quranic inscription in the nastaleeq style of calligraphy in predominantly blue and gold letters. It is the only mosque in the world with six minarets.


The mosque is situated in a huge courtyard which has five gates leading into an inner courtyard. The inner courtyard is surrounded by covered porticos consisting of 26 columns and 30 domes.

There are three entrances to the main building of the mosque which measures 51.65 metres wide and 53.40 metres long. The main dome sits on four massive pillars which are 5 metres in diameter and are called Elephant Legs. The stained glass windows with their dominant blue colour complement the 21,000 blue Iznik tiles with floral motifs, covering the walls of the Prayer Hall.

This mosque was started in 1609 and completed in 1616 under the Master Architect Mehmet Aga, a student of Master Sinan,the greatest architect of the Ottoman empire, whose magnificent 16th century mosque Sulemaniye had set the highest standards for mosque architecture in the entire Muslim world. Sultan Ahmet ordered his architect Mehmet Aga to built a mosque that should surpass in architectural beauty and splendour the great Sulemaniye and the great Cathedral Haga Sophia.There is a huge garden laid out between the mosque and The Cathedral. The garden holds a light and sound show every evening with the backdrop of the Blue Mosque which is an extremely beautiful experience.

The garden was full of tourists, locals, children, vendors who were busy selling, playing, walking, gawking, eating , relaxing and enjoying life. The muezzin was calling the faithful for the noon prayer and the hum of the voices suddenly stopped in deference to the plaintive cry of the muezzin.A young couple sitting on a bench, holding hands was looking into each other’s eyes ,oblivious of the world.

I joined the throng of the people moving towards the Cathedral.It was built by Emperor Theosodius in the 4th century AD, it burned down in 532 AD and was rebuilt in 537AD by Emperor Justinian.
It has a magnificent dome of massive proportions measuring over 30 metres in diameter and 55 metres in height. There are four minarets on all the corners which were built by Sultan Mehmet in 1453, when he captured Istanbul from the crusaders and converted it into a mosque. Sultan Mehmet ordered his imperial architect Master Sinan to change the Cathedral into a mosque. Sinan designed and erected four slender minarets on all sides and strengthened the outer walls with sloping buttresses. These changes succeeded in hiding its Byzantian character, and from the outside it looks like a mosque but inside its real character is immediately visible.

One sees a classic ground plan of a huge Basilica measuring 75 metre by 70 metres . The central dome with a height of 55 metres creates a massive hall supported by 107 Doric columns of gigantic size. The amazingly simple plan creates space and serenity. The mosaics, most of which were destroyed in the 8th century AD on the orders of Emperor
Leo III during the Iconoclastic Period, were restored by order of Empress Theodora in 843 AD, an event which is celebrated till now by the Orthodox Church. Some mosaics from 10th century are found on the upper floor and the main apse of the cathedral .When the Cathedral was converted into a mosque, the faces on the mosaic were covered, which have since been restored to their original glory.


A broad flight of stairs leads to the upper floor which has a running gallery looking down into the main hall. The only Muslim symbol inside the Cathedral is the carved Mehrab from the front wall and the names of Allah, Mohammed, the four Caliphs, Hassan, Hussain and Fatima engraved above the Mehrab.The mosaic on the apse depicts Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus Christ. She is sitting on a bench with her feet resting on a stool and the infant Jesus has his right arm raised in blessing.

Another mosaic of brilliant colour pertains to the 10th century on the main entrance which shows Jesus seated on a jeweled throne, with his right hand raised in benediction and the left hand holding the book of Gospel. He is flanked on his right side by Emperor Constantine ix, offering a money bag and on the left side Empress Zoe, holding a scroll in both hands .

The quality of the mosaics and the brilliance of the colours after a thousand years is remarkable. Haga Sophia, once the largest building in the world, is the fourth largest cathedral in the world after St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, St. Peter’s Basillica, Rome and The Duomo in Milan. It is also included in the Unesco list of World Heritage.

The space limitation restricts me from describing the grandeur and beauty of The Sulemaniye and the Eyup Sultan mosques, the architectural wealth and affluence of the Dolambahce and Topkapi Seray Palaces. Nor can I take you on a tour of the winding streets leading into the Grand Bazaar or the Rumeli Hissari Fort which has seen some of the fiercest battles for the conquest of this most desirable city in the world - Istanbul.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Peshawar Rhapsody


Pushpapura to Peshawar


The city of Peshawar is about 2000 years old and is one of the oldest cities in the world. The Kushan Kings moved their winter capital from Pushkalavati to the present site in the 2nd century AD and named it Pushpapura. It is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning City of Flowers. Peshawar’s flowers are also mentioned in Babur’s memoirs Tuzk-e-Babri. Invading Aryans, Greeks, Mongols, Turks, and Mughals have attacked it one after another to pass through it towards the distant lands of India. It was a fortified town with raised walls and sixteen gates. None of the gates survive.

Parts of the original wall are visible in some places of the old city specially the outer wall of the Lady Reading Hospital is actually part of the old wall. It was the main city enroute to India and its fabled riches. Peshawar lost its glory with the demise of the Kushan dynasty in the 6th century AD and remained a forgotten town for a thousand years till the Mughals discovered its strategic value, when Babur built a fort there in 1530.

Today, Peshawar is the capital of NWFP and is the most exciting city of Pakistan for its ancient ambience and romantic history of the proud pathan tribesmen who repulsed all attackers with their brave spirit, noble courage and undeniable faith. We were a bunch of old school friends who happened to visit Peshawar one summer in the not too distant past and were bewitched by this city and its wonderful people and decided to share our adventures with the readers.

The places to visit are: Qila Bala Hissar, Masjid Mahabat Khan, Peshawar Museum, Qissa Khwani Bazar, Chowk Yadgaar, The Cantonment, Darra Adam Khel and the famous Landi Kotal.

Qila Bala Hissar was built by Hari Singh Nalva in 1834 on the existing but smaller fort built by Babar.It is situated on a man- made hillock and contains the offices of the Frontier Constabulary. Its ramparts, crenellated stone walls, watch towers at each corner pierced with gun embrasures are very impressive.

The Mahabat Khan Mosque is in the old city and was built in 1670 in the Mughal style. It has a large open courtyard and a prayer hall with five arches, three fluted domes and two minarets. During the Sikh rule, the minarets were also used as a substitute for gallows for many years. Next to this mosque is the Lady Reading Hospital.

Coming out of the mosque, the road leads to the Qissa Khwani Bazar which looks quite ordinary at first sight and then your senses are hit by the noise, the colour, the cacophony the throng of people. The fruit vendors and the ice-cream and kulfi walla on the footpath shouting their wares, forcing the people to walk on the road amidst the on going traffic consisting of trucks, buses, cars, scooters, cycles, tongas, laden donkeys and people…lots of them. The smell of kababs wafting out of the “ hotels” and other food items is a pure culinary delight.

There are shops of all shapes and sizes, selling a variety of items from textiles to pottery, kababs to birds to garam masala. The sight, sound and smell of Qissa Khwani Bazar transport you to a different world where every thing seems to be in fast forward which is hard to describe.

At the edge of Qissa Khwani Bazar is located Salateen Hotel, which serves the best chicken/mutton karhai in the world. Most of the tall narrow buildings in the Bazar have delicately carved wooden balconies and windows. Nearby are the Coppersmith’s Bazar, Grain Bazar, Woolen Bazar, Bird Bazar at the end of which is an open square known as Chowk Yadgaar and is used for political rallies and meetings. Having visited the old town, we walked west to the Cantonment area and the first major building on this route was the museum alongside the railway line.

Peshawar Museum was built in 1905 as Victoria Memorial Hall in the classic Victorian style. This used to be the centerpiece of the Raj where the Official functions and the Grand Balls were held. It now displays the most priceless collection of Gandhara Art.

The museum is situated in the Cantonment area built by the British and is akin to all the Cantonments in India and Pakistan with its tree lined broad avenues, bungalows with neat white fences, large lawns and imposing gates.

In the same area is the famous Dean’s Hotel on Shahrah-e-Pahlavi,which was one of the earliest properties of Mr. Mohan Oberoi. St.John’s Church is the oldest church in NWFP. It was built in 1851 and is still in use. It is about one kilometer north of the Dean’s Hotel. On the Mall, which is the main road of the cantonment, is an old park which was known as Company Bagh but has since been islamicised. The muslim name is Khalid bin Walid Park. It would have been appropriate to name it after the great poet-warrior Khushal Khan Khattak.

Next morning we made an early start to Darra Adam Khel which is about forty kilometers south of Peshawar. Darra Adam Khel or Darra is the toughest town in the world, where gun law rules. Five thousand craftsmen have established the biggest private arms industry in Pakistan turning out thousands of replica Kalashnikovs, Webbly Scotts, sten guns, rocket launchers, recoilless rifles, pistols, machine guns, Uzzis and even howitzers, mortars and anti aircraft guns.

We left Peshawar around 9.00 am after a hearty breakfast of Nihari and fresh naans, in a jeep driven by Abdul Majeed, who was introduced to us by Tariq. Abdul Majeed was a hindko speaking Peshawari of great humour and gentle nature. He was going to be our guide, friend and driver during our stay in NWFP.

Within ten minutes we were out of the Cantonment Area and on the Kohat Road leading to Darra.Majeed started his commentary as soon as we crossed the railway bridge and entered into Dabgari area. We drove south and soon passed Bhana Mari,Small Industries Estate on the right and a little later Bada Ber on the left side.

This is the place where the US Air force base was located in the fifties from where Gary Powers flew the U-2 and was shot down over Russian air space. The base is now under PAF.

We were passing through small villages of mud huts on either side of the road, small fields of vegetables and wheat. The land was flat and in the distant south one could make out shadowy shape of the Kurram range. The journey to Darra was uneventful, the smooth drive and the heavy breakfast made us sleepy. Suddenly we heard the sounds of machine gun firing in the distance followed by lighter arms.

The buying process of any arm in Darra involves pre-purchase testing of the gun by firing live ammunition to your heart’s content to verify the quality of the product, because once a gun is purchased it can not be returned: hence, the constant firing of all caliber of guns during the business hours.

We were in Darra in a few minutes which consisted of mud walled shops on both side of the main street and all of them were selling toys of death. The guns were replica of famous brand names of the free world as well as the communist block and each gun was lovingly copied from the original, down to the manufacturer’s name and the serial number.

We stopped in front of one of the shops and went in following Majeed. The owner was an old venerable Pathan with white flowing beard wearing a silver gray turban who greeted us and Majeed introduced us to the old man and the purpose of our visit. We were offered the extra sweet tea prepared in milk. The tea-pots were full of cracks, which were stapled together by metallic pins. This we were told was the fashion and these tea-pots were called “chainak”. Once the tea was finished we were asked to choose our guns and test fire them in the air.

Next on our itinerary was a visit to the famous Khyber Pass, Jamrud, Landi Kotal and Torkham. Tariq and Tanwir wanted to drive up to Torkham, have lunch at Landi Kotal and return by the evening. Johnny and myself are steam engine train buffs and having come this far, we could not miss the chance of traveling on the Peshawar-Landi Kotal route which is considered one of the most desired trips by the train lovers. The problem was that the train ran once a week on fridays only and the next day was a thursday.

It was finally decided that we would leave for Torkham next day and stay overnight at the Pakistan Tourism Department’s Motel and send the jeep back to Peshawar. Next day we would travel to Landi Kotal by bus/taxi and board the train on its return journey to Peshawar

Torkham is 55 kilometers from Peshawar and it is served by a metalled road, however, a trip to Torkham takes nearly three hours due to hair-pin bends and steep gradients on the route. We started in the morning and having crossed the Cantonment got on to G.T. Road. We passed along the sprawling Islamia College with its red brick structure composed of arches and domes built in the typical Raj style. Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum Khan also known as Sir Syed of the NWFP was the spirit behind the creation of this college at the turn of the 20th century.

The topography of the area was changing slowly from the flat plains of Peshawar valley to rugged hills on either side of the road. After about ten kilometers we entered the Khyber Pass after a series of hairpin bends. The road snakes up a range of vertical, craggy and dramatic mountains and there are viewpoints for admiring the scene and taking photographs of the vista below.

The Shagai Fort came suddenly into view on the left hand side after we had crossed a particularly twisted stretch of road, and the effect was dramatic to say the least. Shagai Fort was built in 1920 by the British and is now garrisoned by the Khyber Rifles.The road snakes downward for the next three kilometers till it reaches the Ali Masjid Fort. There is a cemetery in the fort wherein lie buried the British soldiers killed in the Afghan Wars.

We also observed along the road from Shagai Fort till Ali Masjid Fort, various British regimental crests decorated on the rock face commemorating the many skirmishes between the two warring factions. We stopped at the fort and went to the cemetery to read the tombstones of the young soldiers who laid down their lives for the Queen and country and took some photographs. These were literally kids, barely out of their teens and they were lying in this distant and hostile land far far away from their loved ones.

Some of the names on the tombstones spoke of their own story. Gunner Timothy Coonan of the Royal Horse Artillery, killed in action at Ali Masjid. Private John Nelson of 51st Foot (King’s Own Light Infantry) killed on 21st November 1878 at Ali Masjid. Sepoy Malay Khan of 6th Bengal Native Infantry. Naik Charat Sing of 14th Bengal Native Infantry, killed on 22nd November 1878, Ali Masjid.

However, the two most heroic bodies killed at Ali Masjid on 21st November 1878 are not buried here but in Peshawar. They were the Commanding Officer Major.Henry Holwell Birch of the 27th (Punjab) Bengal Native Infantry and his second-in-Command, Lieutant. Thomas Otho Fitzgerald. Maj.Henry Birch was killed in action at Ali Musjid on the 21st Nov. 1878 while trying to retrieve a wounded Officer of the 14th Sikhs and was shot through the heart. His body was taken to Peshawar for burial. Lieutenant Thomas Fitzgerald was born in Glin Castle, County Limerick on 23rd February 1849 and died on 21st November 1878 at Ali Masjid while trying to recover the dead body of his Commanding Officer Maj. Birch. He was also buried at Peshawar next to his Commanding Officer. It was such bravery and loyalty that compelled Rudyard Kipling to pen his immortal The Young Soldier

If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white,
Remember it's ruin to run from a fight:
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
And wait for supports like a soldier.
Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier of the Queen!

From Ali Masjid Fort we drove on to Landi Kotal which reminded us of a frontier town of the old west in the late nineteenth century. Pathans, mostly of the Afridi Tribe, selling electronic items, textiles, luxury goods, jewellery, cigarettes, cosmetics and many more items, all smuggled in from Afghanistan. The buyers were from Punjab and even from Karachi and Sind. We roamed around the bazaar and bought a few items as gifts for our dear ones, had our lunch and departed for Torkham, the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

We got into PTDC (Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation) Motel and found we were the only guests apart from a German couple. The rooms were clean but the rates were pretty stiff for such a simple fare.

Next morning, we left for Landi Kotal in a 1956 Chevrolet Impala taxi with at least 15 other passengers who were put into the trunk, on the roof and inside the car. The suffocating closeness of unwashed bodies in the dry heat of the mountains and the unmistakable odour of ‘naswaar’ and the regulation spitting and the smelly sweat on the armpits mixed with bad oral hygiene was an experience none of us has forgotten.

We reached Landi Kotal, and caught the returning train to Peshawar. The train had three bogeys powered by vintage 1920’s British built SG 060 oil fired engines, one at the front and the other at the back, alternately pulled and pushed by these beautiful machines. The line cuts through rocky grandeur of the Pass winding between gorges and climbs above 1000 meters on snaking hairpin bends looping in a series of tunnels. There are 34 tunnels and 92 bridges and culverts on the fifty kilometers of rail line. The story of this journey may be told some other time. We finally reached Peshawar in about three hours and that was the end of our romantic escapade.