Ghazal Maestro returns to wow Sydney

By Lokesh Varma

As the Ghazal Maestro Pankaj Udhas walked into the Sydney Opera House, one could feel this was the start of something great. Not because of the hundreds of millions spent on perfecting the Opera House acoustics nor the thunderous applause from the discerning audience. Was it because the velvety voice and critically acclaimed Pankaj Udhas ji was back? Or was it because this was a milestone celebration superbly organised by Akash and Akshay Lodhia brothers of Sydney? A few in the audience had joined the major sponsor Commonwealth Bank for a special night with the Ghazal Maestro and his family so may have known this was indeed going to be great.

There was another element though. He had self-confessed in the interviews with The Indian Down Under  (TIDU) leading to this milestone concert that he shared a special bond with Sydney (Mumbai came a close second!). He had used the Opera House and the surrounds to shoot his super hit video Aur Ahista. And who could forget one of his many previous concerts – the Enmore theatre one, when the Maestro was carried out of the theatre on the shoulders of his Chahane walle.

As MC Kartik welcomed Pankaj ji onto the beautifully setup stage accompanied by his many musicians, the celebration of his 40 years in the music game commenced. A video re-introduced the Ghazal Maestro to Sydney siders and as he started singing in the boli of love, the sold-out Concert Hall started to listen and became mesmerised.

Akash Lodhia with Pankaj Udhas

Pankaj ji had reminisced in the intimate Press Conference a couple of days earlier, how he started singing. Going back to the 70s the radio was the only entertainment available and he spent hours listening to AIR and emulating the singing of his spiritual mentor Lata Mangeshkar. One thing or another over a decade of hard riyaz, a bit of luck and a bit of oomph worked and in 1980 his first album Aahat was released. As his repertoire grew he was invited to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in 1984, Madison Square Gardens, Carnegie Hall and many other milestones followed. It was no wonder then that Himat Lodhia started organising concerts for Pankaj ji in Fiji. Pankaj ji recalled his many trips and the comraderie he struck up with Himat ji. And then his children, Akash and Akshay now organised this stand-out event at the prestigious location.

And as the evening progressed, Pankaj ji turned the clock back with Chandi Jaisa Rang hai and Na kajre ki dhar. As these and many other nagme were belted out, the sold out audience clapped, swayed and moved. This adoration and love was no doubt the oxygen, which Pankaj ji said made him to keep performing.

He then joked about his prediction of Covid. This happened as he sung, “Niklo naa nenakab zamana kharab Ha, niklo naa benakab zamana kharab hai, Aur uspae yeh shabab kharab Hai” what this meant. Naqab being the pivotal word referring to masks.

And as he sang the soulful, “Jis raste se tu guzre woh phoolon se bhar jaye, Jis raste se tu guzre woh phoolon se bhar jaye, Tere pair ki komal aahat sote bhaag jagaye” the audience kept clapping, appreciating the soz and saaz of the nagma.

Pankaj ji also has a unique connection with the paimana (goblet), mai (sharab) and saqi (server) and during the second half these connections with his seven talented musicians were renewed. There was the keyboard, dholak, guitar, tabla, flute, violin and mandolin. As ‘Hui mahengi bahut sharab, sub thodi thodi piya karo!

The mood  set for Sharab-lovers in the audience as Pankaj quipped in many of his concerts people mistook the glass of water next to him that it actually had ‘vodka’ in it. Especially in the audience, Melburnians took the cue who came all the way to listen to his ‘sharab’ number, they rose from their seats to give ‘daad’ to ‘thodi thodi’, Pankaj shared many such anecdotes as he sang one ghazal to the next.

His best rendition of the evening though was this famous ghazal by Zafar Gorakhpuri, which as he sang everybody in the Concert Hall took a breath and held back their tears.

Aye Aane Wali Naslon
Aye Aane Wale Logon
Bhoga Hai Humne Jo Kuch
Woh Tum Kabhi Na Bhogo
Jo Dukh Tha Saath Apne
Tumse Kareeb Na Ho
Peeda Jo Humne Jheli
Tumko Naseeb Na Ho

As the house finally came down with the emotional soul-stirring Chitthi aayi hai, Watan se chitthi aayi hai, an all-time favourite, the audience were left with more than just memories from the evening.  Lodhia brothers had organised for the Maestro’s new album ‘Forever Ghalib’ to be released at the Sydney Opera House. With Pankaj ji’s unique voice and accompanied by his musicians, the album was gifted to each audience member by the Akash and Akshay Lodhia. Truly a lovely gesture to end the night.

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