Crossing borders with Seema Sehgal


Crossing borders with Seema Sehgal

By Rafay Mahmood
Published: November 23, 2011

Indian ghazal singer and composer Seema Sehgal’s compilation Sarhad was presented to the Pakistani government in 1999 as a national gift. In an attempt to promote cross-border collaborations, the Tehzeeb Foundation — a society for the advancement and promotion of music, literature and fine arts — invited Seema to perform at the ‘100 years of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’ celebrations held recently in Karachi.

The society has played a crucial role in preserving classical music and bringing performers from across the border to perform in Pakistan. Last year, the foundation brought the heart-warming Grammy award winner Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (who invented his own musical instrument called ‘Mohan Veena’) and this year we welcome Seema, a ghazal singer who sings for peace.

Music for peace and harmony
Hailing from Jammu Kashmir, the singer, who grew up in a hostile environment, has taken up the task of spreading peace through her music. However, she is not alone in the mission as her husband, Anil Sehgal, a former member of the Indian Air Force, shares the same dream of employing music with meaningful poetry to establish peace and communal harmony.

“Having been a part of the Indian Air Force, I know more than anyone else about the hatred that is enforced by the governments on both sides. But fortunately, people on both sides of the border want peace and that’s why we are here,” Anil tells The Express Tribune.

In 1999, when India and Pakistan’s already sour relationship took a turn for the worse following the nuclear tests a year earlier, the couple decided to work on a peace album, which later proved to be a souvenir of peace between the two countries. “Talking about Indo-Pak peace has become ‘fashionable’ these days,” adds Anil. “We, however, came up with the idea of compiling a peace album, Sarhad, when the two countries were at the brink of war.”

Sarhad consists of poems by well known Indian poet and film critic Ali Sardar Jafri. The poems are sung and composed by Seema herself. Jafri, a close friend of the late Faiz Ahmed Faiz, is known for masterpieces such as “Guftago Band Na Ho”.

However, at the time, the Sehgals had no idea that their musical effort for peace would actually become part of a greater peace process until Anil received a call from the Indian prime minister’s office. “One odd day, I got a call from the prime minister’s office and Atal Bihari Vajpayee told me that he loved Seema’s compilations of peace poems. He also said he would like to take them to Pakistan as a national gift. What else can one wish for,” says Anil excitedly.

Sarhad was presented to Nawaz Sharif, the then prime minister of Pakistan, during the historic Lahore summit in February 1999. Later, the prestigious Harvard University, US, also felicitated the poet, producer and singer-composer.

Bringing Iqbal to India
Seema also has to her credit some very interesting compositions of national poet Allama Iqbal. According to Anil, in 2003, Seema was the first to sing Iqbal live in India. “Misconceptions create pointless borders,” stresses Anil. “Pakistan made Iqbal their national poet and Iran also recognised him but we, Indians, were left without a legendary poet. Someone had to tell people that Iqbal is worth singing and celebrating even in India. After all, he is the genius behind ‘Saare Jahan Se Acha Hindustan Hamara’,” clarifies Anil. “Iqbal is melodious and great to sing,” says Seema regarding her experience of singing Iqbal.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2011.

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