A requiem for peace 
Nonica Singh

Softness defines, nay epitomizes, her persona. And itís not just her melodious voice that is touched by a rare nazakat, even her andaz-e-bayan is marked by a style brimming with finesse singularly uncommon today. Seema Anil Sehgal, a Mumbai-based popular ghazal singer, who vowed listeners with her mellifluous presence in Salim Arifís play Lakeerein in Chandigarh recently, lives by and swears by the poetry of greats.

Seema Anil Sehgal
Seema Anil Sehgal

Not surprisingly, for every question her repartee comes in a couplet. Mir Taqi Mir, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mirza Ghalib `85 she needs little provocation or reason to hum the shayiri of great poets. Take Faiz`85. she remembers most of his poetry by heart. At a function in the US she even surprised Faizís daughter Moneeza Hashmi by singing some of his nazms that even the daughter hadnít heard before.

Poetry speaks to Seema of its own volition. Not for her the sharaab, shabab and kebab ki baatein her sensibilities respond only to the sublime and philosophical poetry that plumbs the depths of human hearts. And she isnít partial to Urdu poets. Dushyant, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Gulzar, Shiv Kumar Batalvi even Dogri poets, she has sung them all.

Free verse or poetry within prescribed metre`85. she believes all kinds of poetry can be composed and sung. Of course, blank verse presents a greater challenge for unlike a ghazal, where each couplet has an independent entity, in free verse all is connected and has to be musically woven as a whole. Back in time Jnanpith award winner Ali Sardar Jafri, who felt his poetry was only meant to be recited, was suitably impressed when she sang it. The poetry turned into Sarhad the very album that Atal Bihari Vajpayee then Prime Minister of India took with him as part of peace mission to Pakistan.

Gufatgu band na ho, baat se baat chale she, who is hailed as the "Peace singer of India", sincerely believes India Pakistan friendship is not a mirage but a possibility that can be realised. As she is all set to perform at Faiz Ghar in Pakistan she avers, "Literature can play a most important part in building bridges and mending hearts."

So dear is the concept of India Pakistan peace to her that she consented to sing for the play Lakeerein precisely because the theme of the play dwells on Indo-Pak ties. Though she has thoroughly enjoyed her stint in the play which has had over 33 shows, she is unlikely to make singing for plays a habit. Ditto for films. She may have sung for a couple of films like Pardesi Babu and Deepti Navalís directorial debut Do Paise Ki Dhoop Chaar Aane Ki Baarish but once again cinema is not her cup of tea.

Immersing herself deep in the multilayered metaphysical meanings of soulful poetry, bringing out its emotive content evocatively and soothingly is her forte. Music happened to her in early childhood. This singer from Jammu recalls singing her first bhajan at a temple at age seven. A poet father, training under vocalist Pandit Mani Prasad of Kirana gharana and later under the tutelage of Shanti Hiranand disciple of Begum Akhtar, firmed up both her voice and her inclination. Between Begum Akhtar and her, Seemaís fans may sense a parallel, but she has never aspired to ape the legendary singerís style. In fact, she has studiously avoided singing ghazals synonymous with the ghazal queen for "Who can match her?"

On the dwindling popularity of ghazals she says, "Singers had brought down the standards to the level of the lowest common denominator without realising there are no short cuts to success." Not that success, as the world understands it, matters to her. Winner of prestigious awards like Hakim Khan Sur Award for national integrity she who was felicitated at the prestigious Harvard University, Boston, USA, has never hankered after laurels or honours either.

She smiles, "We all choose our individual paths and I have decided to spread the fragrance of meaningful poetry." And the meaning of life she finds in the eternal couplet Jahaaín meiín ahl-e-eemaaín soorat-e-khursheed jeete haiín, Idhar doobe udhar nikle, udhar doobe idhar nikle"

Indeed, true people and genuine talent can never be kept down. Irrepressible and indefatigable, they come up even if all calculations are against them. Just as Seema, moving against the current of market forces, has found her niche as well as hordes of admiring listeners.