"Let me sing," went his enjoin. And that will nearly be the epithet of this
Marriage receptions and funeral attendances are perhaps the only places they've
still kept away from. Practically every other large gathering of individuals
has advertisers making their presence felt with gusto. And we've learnt to live
with it, too, dutifully buying the argument that they subsidize the costs of
the production for us viewers and help promote sport and culture. But when the
performer himself has to plead that he be allowed to perform smoothly, then
you know that it's getting over the fence.
The photographers distracted, the troupe was smothered with shawls (in this
sweltering heat), and bouquets were exchanged between him and the sponsors (now
why that, pray?). And after a perfunctory welcome conveniently worded "he doesn't
need an introduction", the lass compering proceeded dutifully to read out all
the sponsors' names and their ad slogans.
Thus began the concert of the legendary Shahenshah-e-Ghazal, Ghulam Ali, at
Hyderabad, a place he reveres because of the connection it has with his Gurus,
Ustads Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Barkat Ali Khan. He arrived on the dot of 8pm
with a smile on his face, but things took their own sweet time, and finally
the show began 45 minutes late with a classical ghazal sung in the classical
Patiala Gharana. The mention of his Guru's name lit up Ghulam Ali's face and
made him take the delay with the casual comment "I am never late for a concert,
nor have I ever cancelled one", which explained the discipline one went through
under such great tutelage.
The much-loved voice was applauded at every taan and sargam - the ticket-buying
crowd sighed with pleasure as every note and lyric penetrated their hungry ears.
In the musical interludes of the orchestra, the sarangi stood out - one could
not imagine that a sorrowful instrument like that could produce such a strumming
As the ghazal singing continued, the voice slowly showed signs of strain, much
to the chagrin of the fans - at almost every high note a squeak could be heard
and the fans were worried. But as the favourites - like Chupke Chupke, Hungama
Hai and Dil Me Ek Lahar Si (Ragini Pahadi) - and a lilting Punjabi (his mother
tongue) tune were sung, the cosmopolitan crowd of the twin cities cheered on.
And the appreciation was mutual: "Thankfully, here I don't have to interpret
every lyric. Sometimes people say of my concerts, aadha gaate hain, aadha
tarjuma karte hain." The crowd loved him for that.
In the second half of the concert requests started to pour in, but he declined,
begging lack of time and a busy schedule to keep up to the next day. Much of
the singing time had gone in the interruptions of promotional activities. The
redeeming factor was the great quality of the ustad's voice, which made us all
linger on even while the drizzle that started in his last number Aaye Na Baalam
threatened to become a downpour. Who cared? We were already drenched in great