Hyderabad’s dying art scene

A poet sells his verses to big names, a musici­an sells ice cream to make ends meet.

Salman Siddiqui October 02, 2010

HYDERABAD: If there's one tale from Hyderabad which truly describes the overall state of affairs of the cultural and intellectual scene of the city then it is that of the 76-year-old Urdu poet, Khalish Muzaffar, who today sells his verses to make a living.

Apnay shahkar ko nahi rakhtay apni ijaad baichdaytay hein

Muflisi jab shaddeed hoti hay tou aulaad baech daytay hein

(I don't keep my masterpiece I sell my invention,

When one is extremely helpless then one sells his own children)

"The fear that someday I may be forced to compromise on the future of my children keeps me awake all night," says Muzaffar, who is the father of three sons and a daughter.

The severely asthmatic poet lives in a structure as weak as his health that ironically is located in Pakka Qila (literally strong fort), which is one of the few historical sites in Hyderabad that were encroached on after Partition by migrating families. It is also an area dominated mostly by Urdu-speaking families.

Muzaffar began writing poetry after Partition and shared many horrific stories about rioting during those days. "But I don't think Partition was the reason why I started writing poetry. From all I can remember, one day verses just started flowing out of me and till today I keep on writing day and night," he says.

Making a living from poetry is a curse, he says. But there are many proud moments. People all over the city know and respect you. But it's a hard struggle to get your work published. "My first and only book was published in 2007, when an admirer took it upon himself to spread my verses to the masses. Around 1,000 copies were sold and I got Rs15,000 for it," he said, adding that the money lasted for only a month.

Muzaffar tutors young aspiring Urdu verse writers. "In my opinion, the new generation is extremely talented. But there's no one around to nurture and praise their talent," he laments.

Locals say Muzaffar sells his verses to such young writers and even to "big names" in the Urdu poetry world.

But Khalish neither confirms or denies this and instead replies with a question of his own that when one is a poor writer in a country where the arts are not promoted, what else could one do?

Not too far away from where Muzaffar lives, Abid Hussain, a trained Sitar player makes a living by selling ice cream on a pushcart in front of a Jamaat Khana in Saddar. Instead of sounding classical notes on his instrument, he was found screaming the words "Ice cream, mazaydaar (delicious), Ice cream" on the streets of Hyderabad. He refused to be interviewed and only said, "Brother, let me pass my last few days in peace".

Ustad Shafi Warsi teaches classical music to students near Aziz Art Centre and is quite popular in the city. "Apart from Ramazan, I manage to get quite a few private functions and earn up to Rs30,000 per month," he said, adding that he was looking forward to the approaching wedding season as well.

Warsi, who is also the president of the music society in Hyderabad, said that overall the arts, especially the music circle is on the decline. "There used to be many talented Sarangi and tabla players here at one time, but today there's hardly a single player left," he said.

Shamsher Haideri, who was once the head of the literary board in Hyderabad, blamed the state for a lack of patronage. "The truth is there is no literary scene in Hyderabad now. Many writers and poets have now shifted to Karachi where they too are struggling to survive," he said.

"There was a time when Radio Pakistan would patronize musicians and the Arts Council would support writers. But now there's nothing of that sort. All we are left with are just some useless seminars and one-time functions that serve the purpose of promoting certain city officials, while the community of artists in Hyderabad continues to languish."

Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2010.


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