Culture Comes alive at Pakistan Embassy
By C. Naseer Ahmad


(Above): A section of the audience at the Pakistan Embassy during Munni Begum’s performance.
(Below): Munni Begum sings a ghazal in her inimitable style


The beautiful hall in the Pakistan Embassy became lit with a rare shining star of Pakistani music. Born in Bengal and migrating to Pakistan in 1972 and given the name “Nadira,”. she is unique and none other than Munni Begum to her fans.

With ghazals, poems and some pop hits, it was not just culture but the Saturday night of June 12, 2010 that came alive at the Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC. The night did not want to end and the mostly Washington area Pakistani fans wished it so.

As noted in Wikipedia, “The ghazal spread into South Asia in the 12th century under the influence of the new Islamic Sultanate courts and Sufi mystics”. However, one need not be connected to the web; the apparent encyclopedia about this subject, Ambassador Husain Haqqani, was himself in the room explaining to guests mostly Americans of Pakistani origin. In a few words, he traveled many distances from Tashkent to Isfahan, Shiraz and centuries in between.

It did not matter whether one knew Urdu or not. What mattered more was that one was alive, appreciative of ghazals, music and the right to live.

It was the night that saw the performer, still not past her peak, respond to each request from the audience with poise and patience. The crowd swayed with each beat of the tabla and the rhyming couplets of the twenty-three songs. But who was counting?

For a nation accustomed to sad news like the smoke billowing out of a house on fire, the first ghazal was about “lazzat-e-gham”. And, from the 12th ghazal “la pila dey saqia”, those who knew Urdu, could wish their sorrows away for a while. But, they remained in the grip of this beautiful performer. Applauds of traditional “wah” “wah” could be heard far away when Sahir Ludhianvi’s and Mustafa Zaidis’ poetry echoed from Munni Begum’s strong vocal chords. Even the great singer Habib Wali Muhammad’s hits became just as sweet when delivered by Munni Begum. As translations were whispered into the ears of the “English-speaking only” members of the audience got into the groove. With the beat of “damm-a-damm-mast-qalandar”, the young ones and the young at heart jumped to their feet.

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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