It was an unusual experience, in a good way.
The Pakistan Chowk Community Centre (PCCC) on Saturday evening organised a qawwali performance by Subhan Ahmed Nizami at the chowk. The raised space from where two roads fork out to hit Shahrah-i-Liaquat (formerly Frere Road) was well lit, with daris rolled out on the floor and a takht-like stage placed in front.
One doesn’t know whether the people who run shops around the chowk had any idea as to what was about to take place there. What one does know is that when the qawwali began, there were some boys, men and children who stood outside the performance area eagerly listening to Nizami and his team. Though they were requested to come in, some of them shied away, which is understandable.
Nonetheless, it was a heartening sight, and perhaps that was the organisers’ intent: to engage the public, the common man, in an artistic/spiritual activity that doesn’t happen very often. This is the kind of engagement that others who hold art-related events in the city in the name of public should emulate.
And yes, there was a K-Electric truck parked on the left side of the PCCC space and those who were in it seemed to enjoy the qawwali. A couple of bus drivers also found the light-and-sound affair interesting because of which they stopped their buses and peeked into the chowk.
Audience participation is key for such endeavours. Half an hour into the performance the small space got pretty crowded. It must have encouraged the qawwals no end.
Nizami started off with the naat 'Merey banay ki baat'. It was nicely presented. It was followed up with 'Mann kunto maula'. The lively beat of the composition had (some members of) the audience move to the sound of the tabla. Then came the manqabat 'Kirpa karo khwaja'.
After that Nizami performed a Punjabi kalaam 'Nagri wasay shala'. By this time the event had gathered great momentum. Those who were watching from the outside too had settled in (wherever they were standing, that is).
Another manqabat 'Tori surat ke bal haari nijaam' brought the mood back to the devotional domain, only to be heightened by the next and the famous 'Chhap tilak sub'. And how could 'Laal meri pat' be ignored? All in all, a very ‘engaging’ event in every sense of the word.
Originally published in Dawn, November 20th, 2017