Squadron Leader(Retd) Anil Sehgal, Indian Airforce

Squadron Leader(Retd) Anil Sehgal

Anil Sehgal(center) with poet laureate Ali Sardar Jafri and wife Seema

In August 2001, Sqn Ldr(Retd) Anil Sehgal became the first Indian writer from J&K to launch a book internationally. His book "Ali Sardar Jafri: The Youthful Boatman of Joy" was released amongst much fanfare at the Nehru Centre in London. The book espoused the poetry and personality of one of the tallest Urdu poets of the 20th century - Ali Sardar Jafri. The book also traced the history and importance of the progressive writers movement that shook the literary world in the late 1930's.

Sqn Ldr Anil had been invited to the book launch by Ilmi Majlis - a leading London based literary organisation. The Hindi version of the book is called "Ali Sardar Jafri: Shairi Aur Shakhsiyat". Chief guest at the ceremony was Sultana Jafri, wife of the late poet.

The book launch ceremony was followed by a live concert of Sardar Jafri's poetry "Sarhad" by Seema, herself a renowned ghazal exponent. "Sarhad" had been set to music by Sqn Ldr Anil and Seema, and made history when Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee presented the cassette to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif when he took the 'peace bus' to Lahore in February 1999.

Originally from J&K, but settled in Mumbai, the husband-wife duo of Sqn Ldr Anil and Seema Sehgal are a self-made success story. The Srinagar-born Seema is the only singer from Jammu and Kashmir who has built up a nation-wide reputation in the last 50 years. She rose to the top rungs as an artiste in AIR and Doordarshan over a period of two-and-a-half decades.

Today not only the media but even Ustaads from the music world sing her praise. Despite all the praise Seema remains unassuming. "I think of God and my mind moves into the music mode," she says. If Seema has an international fan club, she is a 'fan club' in herself of Sardar Jafri. "It is timeless poetry. In every word there is music," says Seema. "There is so much of philosophy in them."

"Your glorious voice has added lustre to my poetry," Jafri had once said to Seema. According to Jafri, poetry reveals its meaning and beauty only in one dimension, but its musical rendition discovers hidden dimensions too.

Sarhad begins with an evocative nazm titled "Kaun Dushman Hai"(Who's the enemy?).
"Ghulam tum bhi the kal tak, ghulam hum bhi the... Naha ke khoon mein aayee thi fasl-e-aazadi..."
The poem translated in full reads:

"You were slaves(of the British) till yesterday, so were we.
And then came the season of freedom bathed in showers of blood...
Between you and us rage rivers of fire
Tall frowning barriers of hate
With a mere glance, however, we can tear them down;
We can forget, forgive the cruel part;
And again embrace you, yes we can.
But first you will have to break your swords,
And cleanse these bloodied garments;
After that we shall become no more strangers.
You bring us flowers from the gardens of Lahore,
We bring you light from the dawns of Benares,
Freshness of the Himalayan breeze;
And thereafter we ask each other:
Who is the enemy?"

Following the Kargil conflict, the Sehgals launched a second album, "Kargil: Affairs of the Earth"(In Urdu, Kar means work, affairs; and gil means earth). Kargil calls on Pakistan to refrain from any more misadventures. "Relations or the lack of it between India and Pakistan essentially relate to land," says Anil, "whether in Kashmir or on the Line of Control."

"when Mumbaikars go to their native places, they say 'Mulk Ja Raha Hoon'. We have a greater attachment to our place of birth. My birthplace the state of Jammu and Kashmir is burning and the heat is being felt all over Hindustan. This is because of cross-border terrorism as well as hatred," said Sqn Ldr Anil. Referring to his days in the armed forces where he served as a fighter pilot, he said, "I was a part of the war machine but we were never taught hatred. This book is a voice of peace."

The Sehgals have been approached by a leading TV channel for the rights of their two albums - "Sarhad" and "Kargil". Beginning by reaching out to those across our western sarhad, they hope to foster understanding between people and countries through their work.

(Adapted from an article in "The Week" 17/10/1999)