This personal blog post is dedicated to an inspiring couple in Mumbai and to the editor who introduced us: May our tribe increase.
I met Seema Sehgal in Karachi, in December 2003 at the 6th Joint Convention of the Pakistan India Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD). Ved Bhasin, the respected Editor of The Kashmir Times, Jammu, introduced us. “Seema,” he said, “is known as the Bulbul-e-Kashmir (Nightingale of Kashmir).”
The petite and unassuming Mumbai-based ghazal singer from Jammu has none of the airs one might expect from a performer of her calibre. She is not only an amazing artist, but she also has a deep and abiding interest in Urdu poetry and in Indo-Pak peace. When relations plummeted between the two countries following the nuclear tests of May 1998, Seema dedicated her new album ‘Sarhad’ to peace between the India and Pakistan. Indian Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee presented the album, a compilation of Seema Sehgal’s rendering of the poetry of Ali Sardar Jafri, as a national gift to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the historic Lahore summit of Feb 1999.
Seema Sehgal is the only singer in India – or Pakistan for that matter – to have composed and sung an entire concert on the poetry of Allama Iqbal, ‘Sitaron se aage jahan aur bhi hain’ (2003), produced as the first solo album based on Iqbal’s poetry. She has also composed and sung concerts of renowned Urdu poets Mir Taqi Mir (1986) and Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1988).
Through email, I became acquainted with her husband Sqn Ldr Anil Sehgal. My initial wariness at communicating with a former Indian air force pilot quickly dissipated. Anil is as passionate about music and about peace with Pakistan as his wife.
Over the years, I’ve helped them connect with friends in Pakistan for various cross-border projects. When I was looking for music for ‘Milne Do’, my documentary film on Kashmir, I saw Anil on chat and asked him to send me something of Seema’s Within seconds, I had the audio of Seema’s rendition of Ali Sardar Jafri’s marvelous ‘Guftugu Bund Na ho’. That I used for the soundtrack and it adds tremendously to the film.
Seema and Anil were recently in Pakistan for a Faiz Centenary event organised by the Progressive Writers Association, where by all accounts Seema blew everyone away with her heartfelt renditions of Faiz Sahib’s poetry. I was sorry to have missed their visit to my hometown but happy they were able to connect and spend some time with my mother Zakia Sarwar, also a poetry and Faiz lover, who commented, “She was clearly in her element and so touched by the ovation that she got, and to be able to perform at Faiz Sahib’s centenary celebrations in Pakistan.”
Soon after returning to Mumbai, Seema and Anil headed to Allahabad (where my father is from) to participate in PIPFP’s 8th Joint Convention. The opening day “was a very subcontinental Baraat reception,” says Danish Husain (@danhusain) of Dastangoi. “Late train, delays, ecstatic reception, dhol, dance, and hugs!”
He wasn’t able to stay beyond the opening night, so I don’t yet have an update on Seema’s performance, one of the several cultural items at the three-day long event.
A couple of months ago, Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s younger daughter Moneeza Hashmi emailed Seema and Anil explaining that an event scheduled for December that she had invited them to had to be postponed due to financial constraints.
“We understand,” responded Anil. “But we wish you to understand that we have great respect for poetry of Faiz sahib, and for you and Salima Aapa (Faiz’s older daughter).
“Seema sings poetry of substance and does not sing for money. Money is just incidental, and so are the comforts it brings… We shall love to participate in any event that you plan with his (Faiz) poetry. If you are short of resources, we shall come through Wagah and will even travel on our own from Mumbai to Amritsar & back.”
Long live the spirit of the Bulbul-e-Kashmir and her retired Indian Air Force officer. Shukriya, Ved Bhasin sahib, for the introduction.