Erasing Borders – Evening of Ghazals with Radhika Chopra in New Jersey

Ghazal singer Radhika Chopra on stage at her performance in New Jersey recently. PHOTOS:Courtesy organizers

Living in New Jersey offers a few opportunities for the South Asian community to attend concerts and performances from artists traveling from India. I had a chance to attend one such performance last weekend – an evening of Ghazals by Radhika Chopra.

From left, Padma Shri recipient Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold, Dr. Sudha Parikh, Ghazal maestro Radhika Chopra, and Anoop Bhargava of Jhilmil.

Since I was not very familiar with her work, I was not prepared for the magical experience that awaited me at the Bergen County Marriot on May 19th. Listening to ghazals is an experience in itself. While works of artists like Begum Akhtar, Farida Khanum, Ghulam Ali, and Mehdi Hasan are available to us at our fingertips now, the most authentic ghazal experience is in a soiree or a mehfil with other aficionados.

Radhika Chopra with Khaja Khateeb of Mohibban-e-Urdu and Anoop Bhargava of Jhilmil

The audience enjoys the poetry as well as the musical delivery while engaging with the artist. That is the kind of experience that Jhilmil, Mohibban-E-Urdu of North America, and the Cultural Society of Bergen County brought to the audience of more than three hundred patrons at this event.

Anoop Bhargava – founder of Jhilmil; with Kulraj Anand at the Radhika Chopra Ghazal concert in NJ.

Radhika Chopra, a Delhi-based singer, is a musical virtuoso who is a skillful musician and extremely knowledgeable about Urdu poetry and the poets and singers. She guided the audience throughout the performance explaining the structure of the ghazal, and the meaning of Urdu words. She pointed to the raags the ghazals were based on and was expertly accompanied by Murad Ali Khan on the sarangi, Nafis Ahmed on the harmonium, and Bobby Jutley on the tabla.

Section of the audience at the Radhika Chopra ghazal concert in NJ.

Momin Khan Momin’s ghazal vo jo ham meñ tum meñ qarār thā has been immortalized by Begum Akhtar. Radhika Chopra made it her own with her sublime delivery, pausing to explain the emotions in the various sher and then singing it brilliantly. Ghazal is a conversation between the poet, the singer, and the audience. It is perhaps also a conversation that the listeners have with themselves, the evocative lyrics bringing memories of dear ones or past or present loves. From Mirza Ghalib’s Koi umeed bar nahin aati to Faiz’s Aapki yaad aati rahi, and then Noorjahan’s tu kaun si badli mein, the audience was left mesmerized.

I am aware of many of these ghazals having studied and listened to them ardently. It was therefore refreshing and informative for me to hear about the lesser-known artists that Radhika Chopra made it a point to highlight. She presented a ghazal, yun na reh rehkar hame tarasaiye, one of two ghazals sung by Master Madan, a 14-year-old singer who died young. She was raised in Jammu and spoke about raag pahadi which is associated with the mountains. After singing short verses from various Hindi cinema songs in that raag she performed Sahir Ludhianvi’s tum apna ranjh o gham in the same raag, sung originally by Jagjit Kaur. The evening resonated with other raags like Bageshree and musical forms like Dadra. The mood was lifted with Hamari attariya pe and a geet Kende re naina tere kaul that enthralled the Punjabis in the audience.

Hundreds of ghazal enthusiasts came to listen to Radhika Chopra performing in New Jersey.

The hall was flanked by pictures of famous ghazal singers from both sides of the Indian border and the audience reflected that mix in equal measures. Those who came there came for the love of Urdu poetry and to partake in the immersive experience of a ghazal performance. As Anoop Bhargava from Jhilmil said in his welcome address, we were there to celebrate the culture and the art form that crosses the boundaries of religion, nation, and language. Radhika Chopra moved the audience to tears and frequently made them laugh as well with her sense of humor. The evening seemed to end too soon even after more than two hours of performance. This was her first time performing in New Jersey and she promised to visit again. We hope she does because she left us wanting more.

As Ghalib wrote and Radhika Chopra sang:

hazāroñ ḳhvāhisheñ aisī ki har ḳhvāhish pe dam nikle

bahut nikle mire armān lekin phir bhī kam nikle



Priya N. Iyer

Priya N Iyer is a bilingual writer, poet, and a thespian. She lives in New Jersey and is a professor of economics at a state university.



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