Posts Tagged ‘ Rajasthan ’

Legendary Ghazal Singing Legend Mehdi Hassan Dies

As Reported by Maimoona Shoaib and Mohammad Ashraf for The Gulf News

He worked in a bicycle shop. He repaired cars. And when he would sing a ghazal, he would mesmerise a continent.

Pakistani ghazal legend Mehdi Hassan, who suffered from lung, chest and urinary tract ailments for ten years, died of breathing complications at a Karachi hospital on Wednesday at the age of 84.

His famous ghazals (ballads) include “Patta patta boota boota,” “Abke bicchde khwaabon mein mile”, “Zindagi mein sabhi pyar kiya kartein hain,” “Dekh tu dil ki jaan se uthta hai,” and “Ranjish hi Sahi”.

“My father’s funeral will take place Friday in Karachi,” son Arif Mehdi said, adding that the family was yet to finalise the burial location. “We have asked for the permission from the government to bury him at Quaid-e-Azam mazar [near the mausoleum of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan] in Karachi, but we are waiting for approval,” he said.

Born into a family of musicians in Loona village in undivided India (now in the Indian state of Rajasthan) in July 1927, Hassan had a modest beginning, mirroring the situation of the new country he migrated to at age 20 after the partition of India in 1947.

The family sank into penury after moving to Pakistan, and eking out a living was difficult. Young Hassan worked in a bicycle shop and later became a car mechanic, even as he was initiated into music by father Ustad Azeem Khan and uncle Ustad Esmail Khan, who were dhrupad (Indian classical) musicians.

In his book “Mehdi Hasan: The Man & his Music”, Pakistani author Asif Noorani writes that his humility during this phase stood tall against the fame and greatness he had achieved later.

“He had earned his living by repairing automobiles during his younger days. During his years of stardom, his harmonium broke and he started repairing it himself, wittingly replying to the people surrounding him that this was a piece of cake compared to the number of engines that he had repaired in the past,” Noorani writes.

Eventually, Hassan found his real vocation in the ghazal.

Mehdi is said to have given his first performance when he was eight, in sync with tradition where musicians started early and were paced through various levels of public performance before they graduated as accomplished vocalists.

The hardships of life notwithstanding, Hassan stuck to his music and continued with his rigorous practice, relying on the extreme discipline he lent to his style of constricted-throat singing as opposed to the full-throated version.

He was well into his twenties when he was first noticed as a singer of some merit. The break came when he was invited to sing for Radio Pakistan in Karachi in 1957 — first as a thumri singer and then as a ghazal exponent.

Hassan had to work harder than many of his younger colleagues but his innovative approach earned him fame.

Traditionally, ghazals were sung in a thumri-like manner. They were set to Indian classical ragas such as Khamaj, Piloo and Desh. The classical format stymied the scope of the compositions — preventing it from innovating. However, Hassan pioneered a ghazal “gayaki” (manner of singing) that played upon the mood of the music rather than on the classical nuances. A composer of rare brilliance, his style combined classical and Rajasthani folk music to create a new realm of ghazals whose magic spread beyond Pakistan to India and the rest of the world.

He was one of the first Pakistani ghazal singers who charmed Indian audiences and won impressive fan followings — former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee invited him for a private performance at his residence.

But many more years were to pass after 1957 for Hassan to get his opportunity to sing for films.

As Hassan arrived, the ghazal stage was dominated by greats as Khan Sahib Barkat Ali Khan, Mukhtar Begum and Begum Akhtar. Among Hassan’s contemporaries were Farida Khanum, Iqbal Bano and Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, with Gulam Ali and Jagjit Singh followed not too far behind.

According to an estimate by Arif, Hassan sang more than 20,000 songs and apart from Urdu, also sang in Bengali, Punjabi and Pashto.

It’s not uncommon for a singer whose career spanned over 50 years to churn up 20,000 songs. But given the quality and the unfailing discipline which were the hallmarks of Hassan’s songs, it will go down in the history of music as a gigantic superhuman effort. And the way Hassan sustained himself until health issues made it impossible for him to carry on, is a remarkable story that parallels the struggles of his homeland.

After shining on the musical firmament from the 1960s to 1980s, Hassan’s career started fading as frequent illnesses took their toll. The death of his first wife in 1998 followed by an attack of paralysis restricted Hassan to bed and he lost the power of speech. His health deteriorated further over the past 12 years.

His home country honoured Hassan with several awards and honours — from Tamgha-e-Imtiaz to Pride of Performance and Hilal-e-Imtiaz — while India honoured him with the Sehgal Award in 1979. The Nepal government too honoured him with the Gorkha Dakshina Bahu.

Hassan, who married twice, is survived by 14 children — nine sons and five daughters. His second wife also died before him.

His death brings the curtains down on a journey in music that lasted more than 50 years and crafted a new era of lyricism, melody and poetry in ghazals.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Pakistan has had a few stars that transform their industry across all borders. One of them was surely Mehdi Hassan, a supernova so bright that he was considered living legend for the last several decades. His passing has dimmed the night sky over Pakistan and indeed over the entire Indian subcontinent as many in the neighboring country are mourning his loss as of one of their own. RIP Hassan sahib, thank you for all your songs and ghazals, through which you will live on forver.

Advertisements

Seeking Solace in Sufism

By Renuka Deshpande for Daily News & Analysis

The city’s metamorphosis from a sleepy town to a metropolis has left most of us long for peace and contentment. This is why Punekars are taking to Sufism as a quest for harmony and the need to seek refuge in the promise of hope and love.

Sufism or Tasawwuf, the mystical arm of Islam, which is inwardly directed, deals with the soul’s relationship with god. It advocates oneness with god and urges that everything men do, be driven by one sole motivation — the love of god. The word Sufi means ‘clothed in wool’, reveals Dr Zubair Fattani in his article The Meaning of Tasawwuf, and is metaphoric of the inwardness of Islam wrapped in its exterior expressions.

Over the centuries, it has found expression in the ecstatic and reflective poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi, Baba Bulleh Shah, Hafiz, Rabia and Moinuddin Chisti and others, which is increasingly popular in the city.

Bookshelves laden with books on Sufism and its various expressions in poetry, music and dance are a common sight, as are the collections featuring Sufi music maestros like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, Kailash Kher and the Sabri brothers, among many illustrious others.

Jyoti Mate, a city Sufi music and dance therapist, uses this mystical dimension to heal all those who seek solace in it. The whirling dervishes, the most iconic symbol of Sufism, are the basic element of Sufi dance and represent the earth rotating around the sun, also symbolic of the universe.

“Sufi dance helps stir pent-up and suppressed emotions within oneself. The hands are outspread while whirling and the head is thrown off-centre. A lot is metaphorical in Sufism, dance being no exception. The raising of the right hand and facing it skyward indicates absorption of knowledge from the heavens and the left hand which is pointed downwards, palm-down, passes it on to others.The head thrown off-centre is an urge to be non-egocentric, so that the ego doesn’t grow further. The cap used by Sufis is made of camel hair and is of a specific height, again symbolising the curtailing of the ego,” she says.

Mate adds that response to her therapy sessions has steadily grown since she first started in June 2008 and people often break into tears after the session is over.

On the music front, there is Ruhaniyat, the all-India Sufi and mystic music festival presented by Banyan Tree, which has been coming to Pune for the past eight years. The seven-city festival brings with it Baul musicians from West Bengal, comprising Sufi Muslims and Vaishnav Hindus, the Manganiars from Rajasthan singing Sufi folk music from the state, qawwals like the Sabri brothers and Turkish Sufi musician Latif Bolat, among others. Nandini Mukesh, director of Banyan Tree, who also emcees Ruhaniyat, says that the festival has elicited phenomenal response in the city.

“Last year, our attendance read around 1,800 people. We found ourselves continually adding chairs,” she says adding that the audience in Pune is very evolved and sophisticated and comes with an understanding of the music played at the festival.

Speaking of the musical response she receives at Ruhaniyat, Nandini says, “Baul songs are incredibly symbolic and metaphorical and touch a chord within people. Qawwalis comprise incredibly powerful musical compositions and progressions, but the Hindi and Urdu lyrics are simple to understand. Beyond a point, however, words cease to matter and the musical experience turns mystical and takes precedence.”

The popularity of Sufi rock bands like Junoon from Pakistan, along with Coke Studio, has also led to the emergence of Sufi rock bands like Chakra in the city, which does a lot of covers of Pakistani Sufi music songs, along with some original compositions featuring dohas of Baba Bulleh Shah and Kabir.

The Osho Meditation Resort in Koregaon Park, has whirling meditation sessions every Wednesday. Ma Amrit Sadhana of the resort, says the eyes are kept open and unfocused while whirling, which forms the first stage of the meditation technique, the second being rest.

“The response to these sessions is great. Watching so many people be a part of the session, and the sight of them totally engrossed in whirling is beautiful,” she adds.

Sheetal Sanghvi of The Urban Ashram, which hosts many Sufi music and dance workshops, is bringing Sheikha Khadija to Pune in November for a whirling meditation workshop. Khadija is a Sheikha in the Mevlevi Order of America.

“Sufism promotes unity and love and the response to our Sufi workshops is really growing. This is because orthodox systems of religious beliefs sometimes don’t narrate to the soul as well as they should. Sufism, with its teachings, gives hope to people,” he adds.

Islamic scholar Anees Chishti, who isn’t a Sufi but has studied it, is skeptical of this current trend of what he feels is pop-Sufism.

“Sufism requires penance and meditation. Sufi rock and dances are nothing but a Western concept. They call the whirling movements dervishes, but the term, is durvesh, dur meaning pearl and vesh meaning hanging, in Persian. So the composite means ‘hanging like a pearl’. In Turkey, during the time of Rumi, the head of the khanqah or mystic hall, was a durvesh. When he played the daf and sang mystical poetry, people listening to him would go in a trance and start whirling. So ‘durvesh’ refers to a person and not a bodily movement. All this pageantry is a marketing tactic,” he says.

Opinions on the topic are many and varied, but most will agree that Sufism in its numerous interpretations in literature, music and dance does feel divine.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Amongst literally hundreds of favorite Rumi quotes, one of our top one sums up life very well when he said: “All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.”

On the ground: For border village, peace is a beautiful dream

By Taha Siddiqui for The Express Tribune

We left behind everything when we came to this side, but not for such living conditions. Some of our family that stayed behind in India now mock us about our migration,” says Haji Shahzad.

Shahzad, in his early 70s, is a resident of Bhanoo Chak, a village located on the Indo-Pak border.
“The border force here has made our lives miserable. We live not under the threat of India but this force. Day and night, we have to live by their rules,” Shahzad says.

Bhanoo Chak, a village occupied by Sikhs who fled at the time of partition, is an hour’s drive from central Lahore and is closest in distance to the border.

“We just want peace so that there is relaxation on the border and we can have normal lives again,” adds Shahzad.
Mostly farmers, these men are not allowed to roam around freely after 6pm and need to acquire no-objection certificates before constructing anything on their property.

Many of these villagers have families that were divided in the partition in 1947 and wish to go meet them.
“We have family in Rajasthan. They want to come visit us and we want to go and visit them too. But we have to go through bureaucratic hurdles that we have stopped making the effort,” says Shahzad.

Pakistan Rangers Colonel Osman Siddiqui, who is in charge of the Wagah Border area, says that without checks and balances, he cannot trust anyone in the area. “The border is a sensitive spot, and to stop smuggling and unwanted people from crossing over, we have devised a system where we allow men to roam in these areas only between 6am and 6pm,” he says.

When asked if he will ease the policy in case the Pakistan-India dialogue is successful, he replied that national policy and local policy are different subjects. “When a change happens in the national policy, we can see. But for now, the policy will stay the same since the force needs to be vigilant,” he said.

Many villagers believe that if Pakistani and Indian leaders sincerely wanted peace, an accord could be reached today. They also do not fear another war with India.

“In 1965, Indian forces destroyed our homes. There were planes overhead and even the Pakistan Army had little idea what was going on,” says Mohammad Tayyab, who was barely seven years old at the time. “But today, we cannot expect the same as we are now a nuclear state.”
Still, the villagers are always on their toes. “Every time Pakistan Army increases its presence on the border area, I fear I may have to leave home again,” says Tayyab, who moved his family out of the village during a standoff in 2002.

For some, however, peace is just a far-fetched but beautiful dream. “Peace is not possible, even though it will be good for both our countries. We will [finally] be living with no fear,” says Azeem impatiently, during a short break from a cricket match.

Aid Flooded Pak by Withdrawing Army

By Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar for The Times of India

Pakistan is suffering its greatest human tragedy since Partition. The floodwaters of the Indus are an incredible 20 miles wide, sweeping away entire towns, villages and farms. Over 20 million people have been displaced, far more than the nine million displaced by Partition in 1947. The immediate death count of 1,500 will soon increase hugely through disease and deprivation. Rehabilitation could cost $100 billion.

Some Indians might be perverse enough to rejoice that an enemy has been hit by a natural disaster — an act of God, as it were — and will be crippled economically for years. But most Indians will surely want to help their neighbours. In these traumatic times, we need to think of Pakistanis as humans in distress, not foes.

Even those who cannot think beyond realpolitik should see that the floods are potentially a strategic disaster for India too. Flood damage will create a fertile breeding ground for Islamist militancy. Islamist NGOs with links to terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are at the very forefront of flood relief efforts and hence are gaining popularity. Meanwhile, the civil administration is seen as corrupt and ineffective. President Asif Zardari has further ruined his low reputation by going on foreign junkets.

The Pakistani army has in the last year battled some, though by no means all, militant groups in Swat and FATA (federally administered tribal areas). But much of the infrastructure built to reach the remote tribal areas has been destroyed by the floods. Besides, the Pakistani army is redirecting its efforts in the region, from combating militants to combating flood damage. The militants are re-occupying the resultant political vacuum.

The ISI recently came out with a study suggesting that Islamist militants had become a greater threat to the country than India. Flood damage can only deepen that perception. True, the army wants to back the Afghan Taliban even while battling the Pakistani Taliban, and this results in muddled thinking and sabotage of peace initiatives. The resolution of these contradictions is not in sight.

One day, the Pakistani army and the ISI will have no choice but to confront the reality that Islamist militants are Frankensteins that threaten their own creator. The ISI’s assessment should bring that day somewhat closer.
In the light of both human and strategic considerations, how can India help Pakistan? Individual contributions from Indian citizens must be encouraged, and red tape thwarting contributions in cash and kind must be cut. But the Indian government should not offer more than a modest amount of food and financial aid. Pakistan requires billions of dollars for relief and rehabilitation, so anything India offers will be a drop in the ocean.

Besides, recipients are rarely grateful for alms: they resent being supplicants, and suspect the motives of the donors. The US saved India from mass starvation after the twin droughts of 1965 and 1966 by giving record food aid. But this won the US very few friends and stoked resentment from many who felt India’s independence was being compromised. The US will once again be the chief donor to Pakistan, but will gain virtually no popularity or gratitude.

If food and financial aid will not help much, how can India best help Pakistan? The best way will be for the Indian Army to unilaterally withdraw from the border in Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. This will pose no military risk whatsoever: flood-stricken Pakistan cannot possibly embark on military adventures against India. But the withdrawal of Indian troops will mean that the Pakistan army loses all excuses to avoid diverting manpower and financial resources from the border to flood relief and rehabilitation. This will cost India nothing, yet will release very large resources within Pakistan. Its impact on the Pakistani psyche will be significant. Even analysts who distrust Pakistan agree widely that India has no alternative to diplomatic engagement: cutting off ties will not win any minds and hearts there. Unilateral withdrawal will itself be a form of engagement, and will encourage other forms.

The wrong strategy will be to try to negotiate a mutual withdrawal of troops. Withdrawal must be unilateral and immediate. Defence hawks will express dismay that India is so soft on an enemy that encourages terrorism. But unilateral withdrawal will be a flood relief measure, not a military surrender. In the bargain, it will oblige Pakistan to withdraw its own troops and redeploy them for flood relief: its public opinion will be outraged otherwise.

Dr Manmohan Singh, you say we must be proactive in the peace process with Pakistan. The tragic floods there have given you an opportunity to be proactive in a way that will not come again. Go for it.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: