By SHRI RAM SHAW
New Delhi : “Music is a precious gift from nature and it is the only catharsis of humans ever and nowadays in clinical psychology music has become credible psychotherapy. Music is the language of the universe and it is the only thing, which can never be eliminated from any aspect of life,” said Shiv Kumar, popularly known as Shivkumar Bilagrami in the literary world, who originally creates poetry in songs and Ghazal genres.
The renowned Ghazal writer likes to offer his audiences a mix of genres and music styles to reflect what the Indian classical music and Ghazal is about – a multitude of perspectives. He is a lyricist and shayar of modern era whose compositions have been rendered by many famous singers from Bollywood and abroad too.
When this journalist (Shri Ram Shaw) called him up for an interview, an amazing baritone wafted through the phone to enter my consciousness. I’ve heard many colloquial and musical voices in my life and have been smitten by the tonal quality of those otherworldly voices. But this was a different voice which reminded me of a line – ‘‘Meri aawaaz ka teer, jaayega dil ko bhi cheer’’ – from Mohammad Rafi’s song ‘‘Sun le tu dil ki sada’’ from film ‘Tere Ghar Ke Saamne’ (1963). It’s indeed a divinely resonant voice. Extremely articulate and succinct, ‘‘Kabhi jab gaaon jata hoon, toh bachpan dhoondhta hoon main’’ famed Shivkumar Bilagrami regaled me with innumerable anecdotes and experiences.
Que: First of all, I’d rather request you to enlighten us about the perception of music.
Shivkumar Bilagrami: The greatest Muslim mystic, Jalal Uddin Rumi said, “There are many ways to the divine, but I have chosen the ways of song, dance and laughter.” On the contrary, the greatest exponent of atheism and intellectualism, a radical German philosopher and composer, Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.”
Music has the same value and importance in all cultures across the globe and no civilisation has ever existed without the colour of music. Music is a divine sound and is directly related to our metaphysical core. The music of subcontinent is technically called “Shastriya Sangeet” or Hindustani classical music. It is the first and very ancient music in the world. The music of subcontinent dates back to more than 1500 BCE and it is first time written as literature in Hindu religious scripture “Samaveda.”
Que: Please tell us something about yourself.
Bilagrami: I hail from Bilagram (Hardoi) town in Uttar Pradesh. I completed my masters in English Literature from Lucknow University. So far my two Ghazal albums – “Nai Kahakshaan” and “Woh Do Pal” have already been launched. I was awarded “Adam Gondavi” Samman by Uttar Pradesh Hindi Sansthan in the year 2018 for my album “Woh Do Pal”. I started my career as a journalist / columnist. I recited poems and Ghazal in several literary conferences, seminars, mushairahs organized by the Hindi and Urdu Academy, Delhi. There have been musical presentations of my poems and Ghazals at Akashwani and Doordarshan. At present I am the editor of the Lok Sabha Secretariat.
Que: India is truly blessed to have Ghazal maestros like Jagjit Singh (now no more), Pankaj Udhas, Talat Aziz and many more. Do you feel that Ghazal has lost popularity now? Ghazals have taken a backseat?
Bilagrami: I would say that Ghazals are still popular and people still love this form of music. But now, it is known fact that music has changed a lot not only in India but worldwide. I personally feel that Ghazals have been around for nearly 400 years and listeners have always patronized Ghazal singing. I can say it with a lot of confidence, even today when a music lover gets tired of listening to Bollywood music, which has been the most dominant music in our country for a long time, the first thing one looks for is a Ghazal CD and he would say that okay, I would put in the CD, dim the lights and just get into the zone where it is relaxing and peaceful. So Ghazals will never go away, they may have taken a backseat in comparison to Bollywood, but I would say that Ghazal still remains a very popular genre worldwide.
Que: Don’t you think that Ghazal has lost its place in Indian Cinema?
Bilagrami: Cinema has taken complete turnaround. A contemporary flavor has taken over. We have the mix of so called college flicks with an obvious mix of Hindi, English and Urdu. There is no definite flavor. The entire landscape of the music industry has changed. The more loud it is, the more popular. Yes, Ghazal has lost its place in cinema. As much as Hindustani music blended with International labels, the Ghazal genre somewhat has lost out. We need solid film makers who are focused more on substance and meaning to bring Ghazal back to its form.
Que: What’s your take on modern day music?
Bilagrami: Music has always been a combination of good poetry, good melody and wonderful singing. I think all three are the soul of a good song. Unfortunately, what has happened is that music across the world has changed directions and lacks good poetry and melody. I personally feel that we are going through a phase, not only in India but all over the world, where music has become youth-oriented. What we are listening today, be it in Bollywood or anywhere, there is neither melody nor poetry. I think sooner or later, the golden era of good music will make a comeback.
Que: Can music and arts bring India and Pakistan together?
Bilagrami: See, Pankaj Udhas has never been to Pakistan or Afghanistan, but he has admirers in both these countries. Similarly, Ghazal maestros Mehdi Hasan and Ghulam Ali (of Pakistan) have a huge following in India. Music is above politics, beyond boundaries. I don’t say that boundaries between countries should be removed, but let there be exchange of music and arts. I will say that I embrace a process of learning and transforming throughout life, trying to deepen my understanding of the world and my place in it and develop a sense of meaning to life. Meaning may come by way strengthening relations with family and friends, becoming part of a nourishing community, learning, excelling at skills (like music for instance) that can bring joy or and positivity to others. In short, my life’s philosophy is about growth and nourishing oneself and others.
Que: Can you please name the noted singers who have lent their velvet voices to your great compositions?
Bilagrami: Apart from Bollywood’s famous singers like Kailash Kher, Shaan, Abhijeet, Suresh Wadekar, Anuradha Paudwal, Sadhna Sargam, KS Chitra, Jaspinder Narula, Hema Sardesai and Mahalaxmi Iyer, several noted Ghazal and Bhajan singers like Shad Ghulam Ali (Pakistan), Pandit Ajay Jha (USA) and Rajesh Singh, Ustad Riaz Khan (Mumbai), Krishna Kumar Nayak, Om Prakash Shrivastava, Satish Mishra, Nishant Akshar, Sarita, Rajesh Kumar Singh, Amrish Dhawan, Kalu Singh ‘Kamal’ and Aakhya Singh have sung the compositions penned by me.
Que: Through this platform, what is your message for Ghazal enthusiasts?
Bilagrami: To all the enthusiasts and students, there is talent all around. Today, there are lots of great opportunities. Singers go on YouTube and Facebook and instantly, good talent goes viral. Only one request for all of you interested in music and in Ghazals, “be your original self”. Let your poetry be genuine, real and straight from your heart. Nowadays, we lack innocence in our work. If you are a true and real artist, do not sing any cover versions. If you want to establish yourself as a Ghazal singer, do something of your own. There is nothing wrong to be inspired but don’t imitate your inspiration.