Jan Fest is a music festival organised by the Indian Music Group, set up by two students of St Xavier's College with active help from Ustad Alla Rakha and his son Ustad Zakir Hussain. Since 1974, Jan Fest has seen some of the leading Hindustani classical stalwarts perform inside the heritage precincts of the college. The festival had a unique format earlier. The three-festival would be organised on Jan 23, 24, and Jan 25 each year. On Jan 25, the concert would start around 9 pm, and would go on all night and end at daybreak with the Republic Day national anthem.
The tradition continued till a few years ago. It stopped after the courts set a night deadline for all public programmes to end while hearing a petition on noise pollution. The court ruling impacted two music festivals - Jan Fest and Independence Rock Festival at next door Rang Bhavan. The rock festival closed down and tried to shift to another venue, but Jan Fest restricted its timings to 10.30 pm.
Because Alla Rakha and Zakir were involved with the festival, a number of top classical musicians would come and perform at the festival. In fact Taufiq Qureshi told me that the festival was initially dedicated to Alla Rakha's guru and Punjab gharana stalwart Ustad Kader Baksh.
The all-night mehfil also made the festival special. I remember listening to pandit Jasraj singing for two memorable hours, and Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma for three and half till the morning came up. The stillness of the night, the winter chill and an enthusiastic audience brought the best out of the musicians. After the all-night mehfil was stopped, the festival was clearly not the same.
The festival, enthusiastically organised entirely by Xaverites, had a good line-up this year. Taufiq Qureshi and Yogesh Shamsi, often called Ustad All Rakha's other prodigy apart from Zakir and sons, opened the festival. Ustad Vilayat Khan's son Ustad Shujaat Khan on sitar, and Benaras gharana khyal exponents Rajan and Sajan Mishra followed. On the second day, Rahul Sharma on santoor and vocalist Ustad Rashid Khan performed. I got the third day performers, Patiala gharana ghazal queen Begum Parveen Sultana, and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia on the flute. I had never heard Sultana before, and she was simply awesome. I have heard Panditji several times, but he seemed much mellowed. He played softly, but was as melodious as ever. He played Raga Jaijaiwanti, and Raga Kirwani.
Mesmerising Begum Sultana, who insisted that she needs to see her audience before she can sing, in her various moods!