“One of the qualities of great art,” began Professor Bilal Tanweer, Co-Director of the Gurmani Center, “is that we go to it not just for information, but to be transformed.” And what a transformation this evening has been. On October 4, 2018, the largest auditorium in LUMS was brimming with students, teachers, staff, and every other individual that felt a yearning for great art. Everyone either sat or stood, waiting anxiously for the stars of the evening, Madam Farida Khanum and Ali Sethi—the former being the guest of honor and the latter the host.
Bilal Tanweer’s address was followed by a screening of a black and white video of Khanum’s, a video taken from 1974, showcasing a TV program hosted by Zia Mohyeddin. He ushers in his guest, a young girl clad in a sari, with immaculate hair and makeup. She is timid and not too confident, and laughs at all of the host’s jokes. They have a conversation about the ghazal as an art form and how it has been depreciating 9 in quality, and this is followed by, of course, a performance by Khanum. She begins to sing in the video and her voice took the audience like a storm and the screens were lifted up. On stage, Farida Khanum, in a wheelchair and a flower in her hair, was brought to stage as the audience stood and applauded. She was brought by a few members of her family as well as her former student, Ali Sethi.
Once on stage, she immediately took the mike and began talking about music and her passion and how music trends have changed. “Ab aisa mahaul hi nahi raha. Paihle hamen khushi hoti thi, log waqt nikal ke shauk se ghazal sunne atay the, hamen she‘r-osha‘iri ki qadr thi.” She explained how she began with raag Darbari because she already knew it, and that the sur of ghazal were soft, that they were easy to remember by heart. Sethi added that much of his learning has been from Khanum herself. “A listener said this to me once, that when Farida Ji sings, it’s about time and space, they become blurred, it’s the closest you come to a spiritual experience,” says Sethi. Farida Ji was then asked to sing a few words. On stage were also present Ustad Habib ur Rehman Sahib on harmonium along with Khan Sahib on tabla.
Both guests spoke about Faiz, and the ways in which these ghazals have not only moved many, but also at times provided a peek into history. The audience had the honor of experiencing live her famous hits, ‘Uzr ane men bhi, aur bulate bhi nahin, as well as the legendary Mahabbat karne wale. A few words of this song were also performed by Sethi, leaving the audience awestruck. The evening concluded with questions and comments by members of the audience and a few closing remarks by Bilal Tanweer. The audience sang, swayed, listened, and learnt.