THE HINDU: CHENNAI

National

The poetry of Poets

Prachi Pinglay

A message of peace and harmony

Mumbai: It is difficult to estimate the effect of her singing when you meet Seema Anil Sehgal, ever so quiet. Hailing from Jammu and Kashmir, she has been singing the poetry of poets such as Kabir, Iqbal, Faraz and Nida Fazli to spread the message of peace.

On March 5, she will receive the Hakim Khan Sur Award from the Mewar Foundation instituted to honour an individual who has made a lasting contribution in the field of national integration, for the album ‘Sarhad’ dedicated to Indo-Pakistan amity. Released in 1998, it is the first ever on the poetry of Ali Sardar Jafri.

The award will be presented at a function at the City Palace, Udaipur. It will be followed by a concert by Ms. Sehgal. Lata Mangeshkar, Sunil Dutt, the Dalai Lama, Asghar Ali Engineer, Teesta Setalvad and Harivansh Rai Bachchan are some of the earlier awardees.

Ms. Sehgal’s peace efforts began when they were not yet acceptable. “When I first presented my concert a month before Godhra happened, people used to say, what is she doing? But when the riots happened, people realised the significance of the peace message,” Ms. Sehgal says.
Her husband Anil Sehgal adds: “In fact in 1998, to talk about Indo-Pakistan peace meant being labelled as anti-national or pro-Pakistani. At that time she took this message of peace from one place to another.”

Logical step

For Ms. Sehgal, it was only a logical step after getting degrees in music. “I belong to Jammu and Kashmir and I have seen people suffer. Music is my medium and I am trying to do whatever little I can do using my music. Some people say they do not read newspapers or watch television because it is all sad and depressing. On the contrary, I feel one must be aware of what is going on and do something to change the situation.”
Her husband adds: “For many years the Hindu- Muslim divide has surfaced in different ways. Be it Partition, be it riots… It is amazing how what a poet wrote a hundred years back still makes so much sense. It is very relevant today as well.”

A story

The Sehgals realise that building peace is not easy. Mr. Sehgal says: “We tell a story before the concert begins. Once there was a massive forest fire. When the whole jungle was burning, one sparrow took a long flight to a lake and got a drop of water and put it in the fire. She kept doing it till a lion asked her what was the point of putting a small drop of water. She replied, I know I cannot douse the fire by myself but if all the sparrows in the jungle put one drop each I am sure there will be some relief. Just like the sparrow, we are doing what we can. We know very well that we cannot change the world but we can do our bit.”

Peace concerts

Since January 2002, Ms. Sehgal has been singing her especially devised Peace Concerts, titled ‘Lahoo Ka Rang Ek Hai’ (the colour of blood is the same), in different parts of India to promote national integration by bringing different communities, especially Hindus and Muslims, closer together.
Across the country audiences respond to poems, which she carefully picks from a wide range of poets. The poetry could date back hundreds of years or could be as recent as the 21st century. “I study the poems very well. If I do not understand the meaning of the poems, then how will I convey it to the listeners?” she asks.

With her husband, son and daughter, Ms. Sehgal is planning to travel by road from Mumbai to Kashmir. En route they will hold concerts, talk to people and spread the message of peace and communal harmony.

© Copyright 2000 – 2006 The Hindu

Date:05/03/2006 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2006/03/05/stories/2006030502231800.htm

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