Two Ends of the Appreciation Scale: Orchestra and Urdu Poetry

There can be no doubt that different mediums of art are appreciated in different mediums. While a book discussion would primarily involve sitting together to discuss the many strains and facets of the book, a reading between the lines against the life of the author, music is interpreted relatively divorced from the artist, and a stoic face at a concert would basically earn one strange looks.

I found two ends of the appreciation scale in two very different forms of art. It was in Vienna that I heard Vivaldi’s Four Seasons performed by the orchestra in a church. It is appropriate to be suited up, sit straight in a pin dropping silence and only turn around to talk to your partner once the performance is fully over.

It was pointed out to me to watch out for the silence that followed the end of every composition, the moment of silence that preceded the applause. “There is a moment between the ending of the composition and the applause of the audience when there is nothing, because the people listening to the orchestra are so scared to miss even a single note of the music that they are afraid they will clap too soon. Once the composition ends, they wait and make sure that it is truly over before beginning to clap.”

How different I found it from how Urdu poetry is organized to be enjoyed! Like classical music, Urdu poetry is a new art form for me, yet more relatable because it uses words, and uses them in a language so very close to my mothertongue.

In an ideal, classic mushaira, linen and mattresses might cover the floor with bolsters to rest your back, so one could spread out and let the words soak in. It is typical to have an elbow propped on the ground with your head against the palm of your hand, and watch while laying back.

The nature of the language and the poetry is such that is very easy to rhyme; the last word would be a conjugated verb which is bound to sound similar and rhyme. In so many cases, the last word would even be the same in the entire stanza, and so what matters is the richness of the vocabulary. The word selection for the poem must be so lush and appropriate that the beauty of the poetry lies in conveying a whole emotion through just that single word.

And so the case is such that in a typical four liner stanza, the poet is barely heard after finishing the third line because the audience is already able to guess the fourth line and will enthusiastically finish it for him or her. So prepared is the poet for the fourth line of his stanza to be drowned out by the audience’s noise that tradition asks the poet to always repeat the last two lines of a stanza before moving on to the next one, so that everyone may be sure of what he intended to say. And there is another difference of how Urdu poetry is appreciated so disparately from the orchestra (and even other forms of art): while in the orchestra it was waited till the end to applaud and pay respects, words and lines in Urdu poetry are appreciated at all possible opportunities. Every time the poet utters a word or a phrase that resonates, one has to immediately say, ‘waah waah’ or ‘kya baat hai’.

Each method is appropriate for its form: if a composition is interrupted to be appreciated in its midst, the note will most definitely be missed, and if a line in the poem is let go without being stopped and stressed on, it might never seep into your memory.

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