A TRIBUTE TO SHAH HUSSAIN
Inspired by the kafis (poems) of the 16th century Punjabi Sufi poet Shah Hussain, vocalist Radhika Sood Nayak and dastango Ankit Chadha began collaborating on a musical storytelling piece in 2017. They hoped to premiere it at the Kabir Festival in Mumbai and someday even take it to Mela Chiraghan, an annual celebration honouring the poet at his shrine in Pakistan—where he lies next to his upper-caste Hindu lover, Madholal. However, Ankit, one of the bright stars of the storytelling tradition, died in a drowning accident in May 2018.
Nayak ensured that the project lived on. Her efforts paid off and Faqeer Nimaana, dedicated to Ankit, was performed at the Kabir Festival in January. To make it happen, Nayak turned to Kathak dancer Sanjukta Wagh, also an awardwinning theatre actress, who went on to compose the melody for some of Hussain’s poems. Faqeer Nimaana is Nayak’s first live collaboration with a dancer. “Hussain’s poems radically break across concepts of nation, gender, caste and class hierarchies, and need to be celebrated,” says Wagh. “Poets like him have the ability to lead us to a space which is spiritually connected and individually empowering.”
The two roped in guitarist Hitesh Dhutia and tabla player Vinayak Netke. Sociologist Gita Chadha came on board to strengthen the script written by Nayak and Wagh, and Faqeer Nimaana, meaning the egoless seeker, as audiences will see it now, was born.
Wagh did not want to include unnecessary ornamentation in the choreography. “We just worked on the musical and sonic space that each kafi creates before I began to inhabit them in my body.” The team’s approach to each of the seven poems is varied. In some, like in Jeti Jeti Dunian Ram Ji, Wagh and Nayak simply sit on stage and sing together. In others, Wagh demonstrates her Kathak skills and her versatility as she shifts effortlessly from classical to a more contemporary dance style and even does baithak abhinaya. In Faqeer Nimaana, the four artists showcase a fluid amalgam of poetry, music and dance. However, the biggest accomplishment of the show is Hussain’s message of unity—the need of the hour.
Poetic license Hitesh Dhutia and Vinayak Netke (top) and Sanjukta Wagh in Faqeer Nimaana ‘FAQEER In NIMAANA’, four artists come together to celebrate the Sufi works of Punjabi poet Shah Hussain