William-Vidya narrative of Mughal fall finds debut stage in south India Literature-music jugalbandi marks start of Krishnakriti 2016 festival


Hyderabad, Jan 8: The city of nizams and nawabs was all ears for a refreshing narrative of the petering phase of the once-powerful Mughal era, as author William Dalrymple and musician Vidya Shah performed together a unique literature-music duet for the first time in peninsular India.
 
The hour-long jugalbandi on Thursday evening marked the start of a four-day art and culture festival being organised here by Krishnakriti Foundation, which brought to Hyderabad the famed ‘Enter The Last Mughal’ show in another instance of serving the state capital with novel aesthetic experiences.
 
“This is a strange fusion,” said Dalrymple, before opening the programme where he read out excerpts from his celebrated book ‘The Last Mughal’ which profiles the 1857 fall of the dynasty in Delhi, 33 decades after Central Asia-born conqueror Babur laid its foundation along his eastward advancement. “For the last four years, Vidya and I have been trying to explore how to unveil the history in an unconventional way.”
Added singer Shah who is also a social activist and writer: “Our presentation has largely found audiences abroad. It’s a great feeling to debut it in the south of the country.”
 
The point reinforces his organisation’s motto of introducing art buffs to a wide range of human endeavours, said Prshant Lahoti, the founder trustee of Krishnakriti Foundation. “Our aim is to enrich people with three abiding refinements of life: art culture and education,” he told the gathering at the inauguration of Krishnakriti2016 in Centre for Cultural Resources and Training, Madhapur.
 
The January 7-10 festival was formally opened with the lighting of lamps by trustees of the 2002-incepted Foundation and Prshant’s family members led by his mother Nirmala Lahoti, who is wife of (late) Krishnachandra B Lahoti in whose memory the annual event is conducted annually.
Dalrymple and Shah, at the opening session of the fete this year, blended a range of arts ranging from story-telling, poetry and music and percussion with focus on the degeneration of the Mughal dynasty dating back to the second quarter of the 16th century and peaking in glory during Shah Jahan’s 30-year rule (from 1628) when the empire extended up to almost the whole of present-day India besides Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and a sliver of Iran.
 
Recalling those days, Dalrymple initiated the stage-show by saying that a view from Lahore Gate in Delhi then would give one a glimpse of the world’s largest and richest empire of its time. Simultaneously, for long, there was an extraordinary surge in the field of arts, with even the milkman on the street reciting a line or two from high-brow poetry, added the 50-year-old Scottish author who is also a TV presenter.
At this, Shah, who used to deliver Carnatic concerts before branching out Hindustani, sang a Dadra—a light-classical idiom of north Indian music. Kaise jaadu daala, to the accompaniment of the sarangi (Ghulam Ali) and the tabla (Shantibhushan Jha), regaled the audience with her powerful voice and shruti-aligned rendition.
 
Sliding on the 1840s, Dalrymple noted that the madrasas functioned as great schools of knowledge. Added to this was the popularity of Mirza Ghalib (1797-1867) whose Urdu poems became a hit even while the letters he wrote threw light on his creative genius. Complementing, Shah came up with a ghazal, transporting the gathering to the beauty of lending intimate musical touch to rhyming couplets sharing the same meter.
Dalrymple then turned the chapter on to the “proto-nationalist approach” by revolutionary litterateur Azim-ullah Khan, with Shah crooning his work Hum hein iske malik and noting that the lines later inspired Muhammed Iqbal to write the patriotic poem Sare jahan se achha in 1931 against the British occupation of India. 

Soon, by the second half of the 19th century, rot had set in the cultural field as well as the administrative power of the dynasty. In 1857, when the sepoys engineered a mutiny against the Raj, last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar was a frail octogenarian soon to be put on trial by the imperialist power.
Dalrymple read out from his 2006 book a passage that epitomised the gone valour of the king—and an epoch. For the audience, the poignancy was accentuated through a Shivaranjini-raag song about Zafar’s haplessness.
“The show has been evolving since we debuted it,” said Shah. “It is an ongoing process of distillation.”

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