Shekhar Phatak and I went to school together for three years in the grades 9th, 10th and 11th. The school was Chimanlal Nagindas High School in Ahmedabad, which in those days and probably still is, the best all-round school in the city. Even my presence there could not lower its reputation.
My memory of Shekhar is that of a gentle, even thoughtful, classmate whom I was just about acquainted with. All my classmates were, at best, acquaintances because somehow I was always an outsider to all core groups. It was only over four decades or so later that I got reintroduced to some of them during a reunion of sorts in Chicago area a couple of years ago.
I am yet to meet Shekhar because he lives in Houston,Texas, although we have communicated by phone and email. More importantly, I now know Shekhar through what seems like his primary passion—singing and composing ghazals. He has recently released an album titled ‘Ghalib Unraveled’ which is available on Amazon. This is an excellent album produced by someone who loves what he does. It contains eight ghazals by Ghalib. My favorite is the one here ‘Naqsh Fariyadi Hai’. Shekhar and I propose to produce a video for this one. We have not quite gotten around to doing it but in the mean time I have cut this very rough concept teaser. Shekhar has been generous enough to let me put it up on YouTube. The video contains visuals shot using my webcam as well as my mobile phone.
Please disregard the fact that it features me. I want to assure you it is not an exercise in narcissism because I would be the first one to acknowledge if it was one. It is just some guy offering free modeling service to capture some of the mood of Ghalib’s profound poetry. Shekhar has done a superb job in composing this one. Although like all great poetry this one has terrific cadence built into its words, it is not an easy one to compose. That’s where Shekhar’s obvious talent shows up. The test of any compelling composition is that you feel that the words could not have sounded any better in another composition. I strongly recommend that people buy this album.
Speaking of Ghalib’s profound poetry, while one has a broad sense of what he is saying in this particular one, it is always wise not to second-guess any poet and certainly not the ultimate one as Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan (his real name). Ghalib, incidentally, means superior. So the poet made sure you knew what you were getting into while reading him.
In this particular poem Ghalib is talking about how any existence comes with its own inherent problems. At some level the poet speaks of a picture or a drawing on a piece of paper (Naqsh) complaining (Fariyadi) against why it was created. It alludes to a practice in Iran in olden times when plaintiffs in a court wore robes made of paper while pleading for justice.As I said I understand the broad contours of what he is getting at but I would stay away from claiming to know the gist of it.
Shekhar has a background in physics and geology and that has equipped him to understand the more fundamental realities of our existence. It is no wonder then that he is drawn towards Ghalib.
What is gratifying is that there are so many of us who have passions outside of our humdrum existence. And what greater passion than setting Ghalib’s words to compelling compositions like this one by Shekhar!