Ali Sethi’s star seems to be rising these past couple of years. The Lahore-New York-based artist has been releasing music videos of his songs quite regularly and they have been received very well. In his latest offering he’s put to music one of Siraj Aurangabadi’s best known ghazals, Khabr-i-Tahayyur-e-Ishq.

The poetry is achingly beautiful. The opening stanza sets the tone of the song:

Khabr-i-tahayyur-e-ishq sun, na junoon raha, na pari rahi
Na tau tu raha, na tau main raha, jo rahi so be-khabari rahi
[Listen to this confounding story of love, neither obsession, nor beauty remained
Neither thee, nor I remained, all that remained was a state of oblivion]

Khabr-i-Tahayyur-e-Ishq has been composed and performed earlier by various artists, including as a qawwali. There are versions available online but perhaps one popular one is a rendition by one of Pakistan’s best known qawwal troupes, Farid Ayaz and Abu Mohammad.

Ali Sethi’s latest collaboration with Los Angeles-based producer Noah Georgeson is on Siraj Aurangabadi’s most well known ghazal, Khabr-i-Tahayyur-i-Ishq Sun

Sethi’s version has been produced by the Los Angeles-based producer Noah Georgeson, who also plays the acoustic guitars on the track. There’s the acoustic guitar, the harp, the violin and you can’t see or hear any percussive instruments. The music is soft and stays in the background but it is omnipresent, giving the impression of flowing water, letting the focus remain on the lyrical content and on Sethi’s vocals.

The song is available for listening and viewing on YouTube. The video is simple and performance-based, in sepia tone and appears to have been filmed in Georgeson’s Los Angeles studio. Like the music, the video too flows rather softly and keeps the focus on the lyrical content.

Sethi sings only sings three couplets from the whole ghazal, which actually has seven couplets.

Chali samt-i-ghaib se ik hava, ke chaman zahoor ka jal gaya
Magar aik shaakh-i-nihaal-i-gham, jissey dil kahein so hari rahi
[A wind blew from the invisible world and scorched the garden of appearances
But on the branch of grief’s tree, one bud, let’s call it the heart, remained green]

And then:

Woh ajab gharri thi main jis gharri liya dars nushkha-i-ishq ka
Ke kitab aql ki taaq par, juun dhari thi tuun hi dhari rahi
[It was a wonderous moment when, I learned a lesson from love’s treatise
The book of reason that was lying on a shelf, remained there unopened]

Ali Sethi set the tune to his version of Siraj Aurangabadi’s ghazal. The video was filmed by Sarah Samko, Luis Ferra and Imran Lee. It has been directed and edited by Imran Babur. Sethi’s Khabr-i-Tahayyur-i-Ishq is a stripped-down version of Aurangabadi’s original ghazal but one produced for these modern times.

Published in Dawn, ICON, February 23rd, 2020