The beauty of lamentations

Soz Khwani is an age-old tradition, and for decades Askari Naqvi’s family has been a part of it. He says the beauty of Soz Khwani goes beyond religion and faith

In-between a question, he suddenly starts reciting 'Hussain Jab Ke Chale'. A few seconds into it, the haunting is overpowering. There is possession and then sudden vacation. An enigmatic emptiness lingers on. Some passersby had stopped. They now retreat, but with quieter footsteps into an evening carrying the prophecy of Delhi winters.

He says the beauty of Soz Khwani goes beyond religion and faith, and the reason it cuts right through the soul is the fact that it acknowledges the loneliness, alienation, loss and our own personal mourning.

"Karbala is a continuous battle, the consistent clash between good and evil. How can one not be moved by it? And of course, ideologically, it has become even more relevant today. Hussain may be the central figure in the story, but when you hear it, you are thinking about your own life, of those around you and the ones asserting presence in their absence," says Lucknow-based Askari Naqvi.

Recited during Muharram, Soz Khwani is an age-old tradition, and for decades Naqvi's family has been a part of it, including his father and uncles. A trained lawyer, who has reconceptualised it in a one-hour solo performance and recited it across the world including venues in Germany and France, lending it a more artistic dimension, also thanks to his classical musical training, Naqvi adds, "It all started four years back when our family presented 'Expressions of Muharram' in Delhi. The audience's response towards my Soz Khwani recital precipitated me to let musicality and an artistic framework seep in. Precisely why you will notice 'raags' like Des, Pilu, Yaman and Bhairavi marking their presence. Of course, I must assert that it (musicality) is never allowed to overpower the narration. Not to mention, no instruments are used."

Naqvi, the atheist may insist that "religion has no truth in the contemporary world", but this does not stop him from acknowledging the immense contribution of different faiths to rich cultural and artistic traditions. "Of course, everything around would have such a flat emotional landscape without religious symbols, traditions and rituals. I always say that you may call Krishna's Raas Leela anti-feminist, but do you have a language to counter it, seeped in the same beautiful aesthetic?"

Insisting that in contemporary times, it makes much sense for people across faiths to be introduced to each other's emotions through artistic metaphors, Naqvi is glad that not just intellectuals, but even youngsters are showing interest in his work.

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