By Shrinkhla Sahai
In the 1990s, Sarajevo was a city under siege. Bombs, guns, mortar shells and constant fear had become part of the daily lives of the war-weary citizens. In better days, Vedran Smajlović had played as a musician with the Sarajevo Opera and the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra. While he lost his livelihood, he remained a musician during the war. Renowned now as the ‘cellist of Sarajevo’, Smajlović played his cello among the ruins and rubbles, at funerals, on the streets and other dangerous war zone sites in those critical times. Amid crisis, threats, death and despair, his performances expressed the pain that words dare not articulate; musical notes heralded a vision of peace and hope which could not be articulated through any other medium.
It is the same passion for their art, friendship as artists and commitment to imagine a better world that brought Indian and French artists together to pay tribute to the victims of the recent Paris terror attacks. The audience reciprocated with immense warmth and braved the freezing Delhi winterto assemble in large numbers at the open-air theatre at India Habitat Centre.
Titi Robin (buzuq), Murad Ali Khan (sarangi), Mahua Shankar (Kathak), Mithilesh Kumar Jha (tabla), Vinay Mishra (Harmonium), Ashwani Shankar and Sanjeev Shankar (Shehnai), Suheb Hasan (vocal), Aalok Shrivastav (poetry) and Dino Banjara (percussion)enthralled the audience with their seamless jugalbandis and collaborative pieces. Adhering to their traditional forms and frameworks, they created a conversation between different instruments, interspersed with poignant poetry, precise vocalism and rhythmically intricate dance pieces.
The power of music heals, strengthens, unites. It also carries within it the universal language of love: ‘Mohabbat’. Mohabbat, in Hindi as in Urdu, is a word for love. It is derived from the Arabic for ‘affection’. In Turkey, the gatherings of the Alevi communities are known as mohabbat, which means ‘love’ in a mystical sense as well as to meet and talk together. According to the artists, “For us, the title we have chosen for the show- Mohabbat, combines all those different meanings and cultures. In this tribute to the victims of the Paris attacks, we wish to express the ties of kinship, which through our language as musicians (singing, dancing, music, poetry and rhythm), lies at the source of the artistic gesture, bringing hearts closer together.”
In his recent book, Terror and Performance, Rustom Bharucha makes an incisive argument for disentangling ‘terror’ from ‘terrorism’. The arts can play a major role in dislocating the deeply settled ‘terror’ that pervades our lives today. Arts are important elements of cultural diplomacy, politics and protest. When Smajlović was questioned by a reporter about playing music during the war years, he replied “You ask me am I crazy for playing the cello, why do you not ask if they are not crazy for shelling Sarajevo?” Time may have flown by, yet chords and questions struck in another time and age echo through the corridors of history even today as we grapple in a world under the siege of terror.