Recently, at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, there was a three-day extravaganza rejoicing in the “spirit and eloquence, the beauty and versatility of Urdu”. The festival celebrated everything Urdu – art, poetry, drama, music, cinema and literature.
The ancient name for Urdu is Rekhta (which means scattered and mixed). Most people who speak Hindi can understand Urdu, as it is based on Sanskrit, with Arabic and Persian cultural influences. Hindi is written in a different script, Devanagari, whereas Urdu is written (right to left) in Nasta’liq. It is a delightful language on the ear; some say that even if you are arguing with someone, it sounds like you are complimenting them. Of course, I couldn’t understand a word, but it sounded charming.
I was only able to attend on Saturday afternoon, so I picked a musical event called Hum Bulbulein Hain Iski: Songs of the Progressives starting at 3:30pm. That gave me plenty of time to have lunch at the Food Court and to meander around the other events in the gardens.
There was a wonderful variety of food available. Although I have enjoyed hot, fruity, spiced milk in the past, I decided it was too hot (29C) to drink it. I had a special pista kulfi ice-cream on a stick instead. The tandoori chicken looked tempting, especially as the birds are all free-range and much tastier than UK supermarket fare.
I was also interested in the breaded cutlets, the mutton mince, “blue biryani”, stuffed parathas and bhel puri.
But I chose to have brain cutlets (Parsi style). Goat brains, lightly chopped, spiced with chilli, coriander leaves, ginger, turmeric, peppercorns and garlic, made into patties, dipped in beaten egg, rolled in semolina flour, then fried in ghee until golden brown. Absolutely delicious.
Many of the trees had bells and packages hanging from their lower branches. I understand that people ask God for something, tie a gift onto a tree, and when their wish is granted, they take down the gift. There’s probably nothing perishable in the package. Hindus ring bells in temples to alert God to their presence, but almost all Urdu speakers are Muslim. Life is complicated in India, I get confused in my dotage.
I managed to get a good seat in the shade to listen to Danish Hussain, the Bollywood film star of Dhobi Ghat and, more recently, Alif, telling amusing stories on stage. The audience really appreciated it and even though I couldn’t understand it, his delivery, diction and timing were excellent. He had them eating out of his hand.
Vidya Shah is a famous singer, writer and social activist in the area of agricultural workers’ rights and making family planning more accessible. In my medical work I have come across two of the agencies with which she is associated, the “Naz Foundation” and “Breakthrough”. A trio of musicians (tabla, harmonium and sarod) accompanied her classical singing.
Afterwards, I felt a bit peckish, so I sneaked back to the food court for some dessert – my favourite Daulat-ki-Chaat, of course. But I should have known better. It is always best enjoyed in the cool of the morning, after the dew has settled on its surface, helping it to firm up. My serving was rather flabby.