A grand mela of dance, music, literature, and culture - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

A grand mela of dance, music, literature, and culture

ByChintan Girish Modi
Mar 30, 2023 04:09 PM IST

The Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival 2023 stood out for its inclusivity and its inspired programming

Lucknow, for me, was a city solely of chaat and chikankari embroidery until I went for the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival. The MSLF, which hosted a mela of dance, music, food, literature, crafts, films and theatre from February 3-7 opened my eyes to all the fine riches of the capital of Uttar Pradesh.

The Azad, Virasat and Lakshmi bands performed at Safed Baradari during the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival 2023. (Courtesy Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival)
The Azad, Virasat and Lakshmi bands performed at Safed Baradari during the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival 2023. (Courtesy Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival)

Most of the events were held at the historically significant Safed Baradari and Salempur House, which are part of the Qaiserbagh palace complex built by Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of Awadh, whose flamboyance and pathos was brilliantly captured by Satyajit Ray in Shatranj Ke Khilari. Lebua Saraca Estate, Ahmad Manzil, Bhatkhande Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya and Khajurgaon Palace were the other festival venues.

Unlock exclusive access to the story of India's general elections, only on the HT App. Download Now!

An exhibition at the festival (Courtesy the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival)
An exhibition at the festival (Courtesy the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival)

What stayed with me was the effort that had gone into making the event inclusive. There was space for bangle sellers and nankhatai vendors alongside people selling kurtas and tote bags. While some were decked in all their finery, others were dressed in simple attire. The fact that a single-day pass cost only 40 and a five-day pass cost 150 made it possible for people from various socioeconomic backgrounds to participate. Madhavi Kuckreja, who founded MSLF 14 years ago, said, “There are very few spaces left where all communities can gather and celebrate. We think of diversity not only in terms of Hindus and Muslims but also the Parsi, Christian, Kashmiri Pandit, Sikh, working class and LGBTQ people in Lucknow.”

Without displaying rainbow flags or shouting from the rooftops about allyship, MSLF was able to create a safe space for LGBTQ people to join in large numbers. Much of the credit for this goes to historian, translator and gay rights activist Saleem Kidwai, who was a mentor to MSLF. Kidwai died in 2021 but his presence could be felt in the festival’s curation and programming especially because of the focus on his beloved Begum Akhtar aka Akhtari Bai Faizabadi.

Films about the life of the queen of ghazals, who sang the poems of Mirza Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir, Shakeel Badayuni and Jigar Moradabadi, among others – were screened. These included Nirmal Chander’s Zikr Us Parvarish Ka and S Kalidas’s Hai Akhtari. Singer Sangita Nerurkar presented a musical tribute called Naghmat-e-Akhtari to honour the performer who was also skilled in musical forms like the thumri, chaiti, kajri, dadra, hori and baramasa.

Saba Dewan, author of Tawaifnama, a book on the role of tawaifs (courtesans) in the sociocultural life of northern India, gave a talk in memory of Kidwai and his writings on Begum Akhtar and other women singers. “At a young age, Saleem became a part of Begum Akhtar’s inner circle, and he had a clear idea of the contradictions that made her the person she was,” she said. Dewan’s documentary on tawaifs, The Other Song, was also screened at the festival.

Carnatic recital by TM Krishna at Kala Mandapam, Qaisarbagh, Lucknow. (Courtesy the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival)
Carnatic recital by TM Krishna at Kala Mandapam, Qaisarbagh, Lucknow. (Courtesy the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival)

In his talk titled The Profound and the Profane, singer-activist TM Krishna highlighted the hypocrisy in Carnatic as well as Hindustani classical music traditions that have tried to elevate themselves by sanitizing their violent histories and erasing the numerous contributions made by devadasis and tawaifs.

MSLF also offered ticketed heritage walks and car tours to help participants learn about different aspects of Lucknow’s history and Awadhi culture.

Saman Habib led the Feminists of Awadh car tour that covered places associated with doctor Rasheed Jahan, authors Qurratulain Hyder and Ismat Chughtai, revolutionary Durgavati Devi, educationists Pratibha Nagar and Jairani Devi, and singer Begum Akhtar, among other women pioneers. Noor Khan and Roli Misra led the Husn e Karigari e Awadh walk, which introduced participants to the artisans and crafts persons who live and work in the city’s older neighbourhoods. Sameer Kher led the War Chronicles walk at the Residency, a tourist landmark maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India as the ruins here tell the story of the Siege of Lucknow during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.

Askari Naqvi, co-curator of MSLF said, “While our emphasis is on local and regional cultures, we also want people from Lucknow to be exposed to what is happening outside. There should be space for different kinds of voices to be heard.” In keeping with this, musicians and dancers from outside Lucknow were also invited to perform.

The Kathak Ki Katha performance at Safed Baradari, Qaisarbagh (Courtesy the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival)
The Kathak Ki Katha performance at Safed Baradari, Qaisarbagh (Courtesy the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival)

Carnatic classical music by TM Krishna, qawwali by Haider Buksh Warsi and Arshad Hussain Chishti, and a concert by The Aahvaan Project were all part of the mix. Shinjini Kulkarni presented an early morning lecture demonstration called Kathak Ki Katha with dance and storytelling while Arshiya Sethi, Shama Bhate and Shilpa Bhide teamed up for Naman – a homage to Lucknow’s legendary Kathak guru Pandit Mohanrao Kallianpurkar.

Some of the other highlights at MSLF were Yousuf Saeed’s film Khayal Darpan, which examines the development of classical music in Pakistan, and his other film Dastarkhwan-e-Rampur that throws light on the culinary traditions of UP’s Rampur town. Purva Naresh’s play Bandish was applauded for its tactful exploration of the tensions between art, commerce and politics at a time when people are required to prove their patriotism.

Shinjini Kulkarni performing at Safed Baradari, Qaisarbagh. (Courtesy the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival)
Shinjini Kulkarni performing at Safed Baradari, Qaisarbagh. (Courtesy the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival)

The festival also incorporated visual arts through Monis Khan’s photographs featuring the brass bands of Lucknow, and Ayan Bose’s photographs documenting Awadh’s qawwali traditions. The Raqs-o-Mausiqi exhibition in the tehkhana (basement) of Safed Baradari was a deeply researched and thoughtfully designed experiential space that gave attendees an opportunity to learn about the histories of dance and music in Awadh woven around key individuals and institutions. Apart from photographs, text and musical instruments, it had sound installations and live performances.

I came back from Lucknow feeling energized and inspired, with the subtle taste of shakarkand ki kheer on my lips and the serenity of Begum Akhtar’s mazaar in my heart, along with a prayer for Dinesh Prasad Mishra, who passed away while playing the pakhawaj at the festival. His sudden demise plunged the organizers into grief and they consoled each other with the thought that few people get to leave this world doing what they love most.

Chintan Girish Modi is a freelance writer, journalist and book reviewer.

Unlock a world of Benefits with HT! From insightful newsletters to real-time news alerts and a personalized news feed – it's all here, just a click away! -Login Now!
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On