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Music, dance and the twentieth wife

January 08, 2016

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KARACHI: Lovers of music and dance were thoroughly entertained by the popular classical dancer Farah Yasmeen Shaikh and a set of exceedingly talented musicians as they performed their heart out in the Kathak workshop finale act at T2F on Thursday evening.

Ms Shaikh was initially accompanied on stage by tabla player Yousuf Kerai, vocalist and harmonium player Ustad Mahmood Ali Khan and the talented young sitar nawaz Shehroz Hussain. As the ustad began to sing the bandish ‘Dekho kaisa kaisa naach’ she entered the stage and immediately attracted the audience’s attention with her elegant moves. The piece was not a lengthy one, therefore as the artists took a breather, Ms Shaikh first told the attendees about the three-day workshop with a fine group of participants. She also said her performance at T2F on Thursday would largely be improvised, because such an effort primarily required the “joy and trust” of the performers.

After that the second piece of the evening was introduced. Ms Shaikh said it was in teen taal (16-beat cycle). The audience, which comprised the young and the not-so-young alike, liked her dance and appreciated her with a warm round of applause. When the routine finished, she lauded Yousuf Kerai for “absorbing” the composition of her guru. Mr Kerai reciprocated the feeling by saying that he learned a lot from her.

Ms Shaikh also gave information on her career. She said she was born and raised in California (hence has an unmissable American accent) and started taking an interest in dance when she was five years old. Initially, she was taken in by western forms. When she was 18, she reached college in San Francisco where she thought she was at the “right place at the right time”. There she met her guru who was originally from Kolkata. She spoke about her guru with reverence and respect and touched upon his many contributions to the art form, including that of kathak yoga, which she demonstrated a bit as well by playing the harmonium.

The renowned tabla player Ustad Khursheed Hussain’s entry into the scheme of things added another dimension to the event. The ustad played a relatively difficult 14-beat pattern to which Ms Shaikh danced with a great deal of aplomb. The audience particularly enjoyed the number.

Then Ms Shaikh’s focus shifted to the art of storytelling. She said the base of the word kathak was katha, meaning a story. She said she would now perform a piece inspired by Indu Sundaresan’s novel The Twentieth Wife, a historical fiction. The book tells the tale of Empress Nur Jehan (Mehrunnisa) who as an eight-year-old girl falls in love with Emperor Jehangir and entertains the idea of one day becoming his wife. As she grows up, she does become his twentieth wife. Ms Shaikh’s excerpted interpretation of the tale was received well.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2016