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Food and song, cup and couplet


NOT FOR him the joys of being drenched in the first shower of spring. Never mind if his "Chale Aao Baarisho Ka Mausam Hai" has forced many to park their cars by the wayside on a highway to stand, stare and soak in the joys of baarish, barsaat, boondein. When he had a chance, he had to rush into a cab to avoid getting wet and the often unpleasant consequences thereof. Many thousand miles away in New York, one evening no longer young, Pankaj Udhas was in a market with his brothers, Nirmal and Manhar. It started pouring. The first thing the king of romantic ghazals did was to catch a cab, cover himself to avoid getting wet!

Next thing he knew was that the driver had decided to stop the car a few kilometres later and asked him to step out. Perplexed, he stepped down. The driver took him to his seat, his dashboard, his stereo. Guess, what did he find there? Rows and rows of Pankaj Udhas cassettes! The man, born in Lahore, was a die-hard fan and had recognised the singer from his rear-view mirror! He played "Chale Aao Baarishon... " and drove on. Life has its compensations.

They might come your way on a rain-drenched evening in New York or fall gently down, back home in India, in the form of "a small house in Khandala" when the monsoon leaves everything fresh, frothy and green. "I love to get wet in the rain there with my children. It is also the season when creativity is at its peak. I do my best work in monsoon," says the man, who has to wait for almost a year, and an opportune moment to get his moment under the rain. But then life only delays the joys, doesn't deny them, as we discover during our chat with Pankaj Udhas at New Delhi's DV8 restaurant-cum-bar in Connaught Place.

Pankaj Udhas effortlessly finds his way to the seat at the bar that changes colours with the mood. One is immediately reminded of "Ek Taraf Uska Ghar, Ek Taraf Maikada... Aye Gham-e-Dil Kucch To De Mushvara".

"When I go to Khandala I do nothing. I just look at the rain, I love the feel of gentle rain. It gets all creative juices flowing," says Pankaj Udhas, politely keeping aside the menu card offered by the DV8 staff. "I am a small eater. I will begin with Diet Coke without ice."

Soon Thai starters follow. He does not mind fish and finds the "ambience interesting".

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do. That's my principle when it comes to food. I take all kinds of food. If the place has something special to offer I try it out. I have tried Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian, Afghan, Iranian and Spanish cuisine. I try everything except the organs. At home, I like to get into the kitchen. I cook myself. I am fond of biryani."

A staff member offers him Chicken Tikka and vegetarian Kababs. The mood grips the maestro. "After singing film songs and other albums I wanted to do something different. So I sang Mir Taqi Mir's kalam last year. It is doing wonderfully well. It was a challenging venture because in the current state of music, the space for serious music is shrinking. And Mir was an 18th Century poet. I had to keep in mind that people in the 21st Century should be able to understand him, because now the focus has shifted from poetry to tapori language. Fortunately, they identified with him, but actually the venture was like going against the tide. As they say in Urdu, `hawa mein chiragh leke nikalna'. However, it is wrong to assume that the real audience for quality music is in Delhi or Mumbai. It lies in smaller towns. There the people understand the nuances. Even for Mir, I got very good response from Lucknow, Bhopal, parts of Punjab. In these places different genres of music are pursued all the time."

Well, if you thought that he is modest with modesty, he soon has a revelation. "We got lucky too. For eight months or so after my album was released there were hardly any original albums. Since it was the first complete dedication to Mir, it got a good response."

As he sips his mocktail so helpfully put on the table by a waiter, Pankaj Udhas pitches in for Jagjit Singh and Abhijeet who have sought a ban on Pakistan artistes performing in India until Pakistan allows Indian artistes to perform there, since, "Curbing the freedom of artistes is a crime," he says, adding, "I am an artiste first. I have come across many languages. Gujrati is my mother tongue. But as a language Urdu is by far the best language. I used to sing songs in college until I was initiated into Urdu poetry by Moulvi Syed Mirza. I would love to sing Iqbal someday, though my album on Dagh Dehlavi will be released shortly."

We wait for that day even as Pankaj Udhas finishes his mocktail and tikkas. Before leaving he reminds us that there are enemies of humanity on both sides of the border. Quoting Nida Fazli he says, "Insaan Mein Haiwan Yahan Bhi Hai, Wahan Bhi, Allah Nigehban Yahan Bhi Hai, Wahan Bhi."

ZIYA US SALAM

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