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Line to line: Decoding a masterpiece

Updated Jul 03, 2013 11:25am

enter image description hereTaher Shah has become an internet phenomenon. The once completely unknown singer who released a song and video ‘Eye to Eye’ two months ago, recently found himself becoming an overnight sensation.

A number of theories have been doing the rounds about Shah’s sudden fame. But it is the lyrics of his soft, romantic ditty that have been (and still are) the central focus of curiosity among millions of listeners and viewers who continue to watch the video and listen to the song over and over again.

Taher remains to be a mystery. He’s in his late 40s and by the looks of it seems to be an accomplished singer and songwriter. But the question is where Shah was when Pakistan’s pop music scene was booming in the 1990s?

Dawn.com reporters covering the Shah phenomenon suggest that Shah is a trained composer, songwriter and vocalist who somehow missed the boom that Pakistan’s pop scene witnessed in the 1990s when Shah was in his 20s.

When, after a long wait, our reporters did manage to get through to Shah (on the phone), Shah claimed: ‘Now’s the times of love ripe patience beholds precious time.’

As is apparent, his response is as enigmatic as the much debated lyrics of his mega hit song, ‘Eye to Eye.’

But first, let’s again see the video and listen to the song …

Video:

Though Shah continues to withhold the details of his background and life from the press, saying ‘it’s a private part of my life,’ our reporters finally managed to get two of his close associates to reveal a few but vital aspects of Shah’s personality and life.

But they insisted that their names should not be published because Shah would then definitely fire them from his entourage of musicians, photographers, video cameramen and wardrobe designers.

‘He is a very private man,’ one of the two assistants that we talked to told us. ‘Even his closest friends rarely see him. He spends most of his time in his sprawling study doing research on love, spirituality and the human anatomy. Then he plays the saxophone deep into the night.’

According to his assistants, Shah was born in Mirpurkhas in the Sindh province of Pakistan sometime in the early 1960s. He comes from a family that struggled to make ends meet.

The assistants weren’t sure what kind of a childhood Shah had but added that he had to wait tables at roadside restaurants in Mirpurkhas to supplement his studies at school and college.

‘He would work at these restaurants from morning till afternoon, attend evening school and then college where he studied biology,’ one of the assistants informed us. ‘He would then read books on agriculture and botany at home and play the tuba deep into the night.’

There are also rumours about Shah being arrested in July 1977 when military General, Ziaul Haq, toppled Z A. Bhutto’s government.

A rare photo of Taher Shah in late 1970s.
A rare photo of Taher Shah in late 1970s.
‘We have heard that as well,’ the assistant said. ‘But Shah doesn’t talk much about that episode. He says at the time of Bhutto’s Saheb’s fall, he (Shah) was busy playing the flute deep into the night.’

‘It’s a very touchy subject for him’, the other assistant added.

Another rumour doing the rounds is that Shah played the saxophone on some songs recorded by Pakistan’s seminal pop vocalist Alamgir in the early 1980s.

‘All we know is that he moved to Karachi in the 1980s,’ said one of the assistants. ‘He used to wait tables at a restaurant in the Tariq Road area of the city to supplement his studies at the Karachi University where he had enrolled as a student of alternative psychology.’

The assistants, however, confirmed, that Shah did play the saxophone as a sessions musician on some songs recorded by famous Pakistani pop singer of the 1980s, Tehseen Javed.

‘Javed looked a lot like Alamgir,’ said one of the assistants. ‘Maybe that’s why some people think Shah Jee played with Alamgir. But it was on a few songs recorded by Javed that Shah Jee played the saxophone. He wanted to quit waiting tables and supplement his studies and research as a session musician.’

Another rare photo of Shah, most probably taken in the mid-1980s.
Another rare photo of Shah, most probably taken in the mid-1980s.

But we come back to the same question: ‘Where was Shah when bands like Vital Signs, Junoon and The Strings were kick-starting a major pop wave in Pakistan from the late 1980s and across the 1990s?

When our reporter asked Shah this, he explained: ‘I always been very studious man. When mouses play, cat delay …’

One of his assistants claimed that Shah almost quit music in the late 1980s: ‘It was a very stressful period in his life. Even though he was doing well at the university as a student, he wasn’t getting any gigs as a singer.”

According to the assistant Shah’s big break came in 1988 when famous Qawali group, the Sabri Brothers, asked him to join them for a tour of Dubai. He went to audition for them with his saxophone, but they told him that the dynamics of Qawali music had no room for a saxophone.

‘They just wanted him to sit there with the other qawals, clap his hands and go aaaaah, ahhhh … He later found out that the brothers had just wanted a man with long, curly hair.’

Then the assistant added something very intriguing: ‘You know about the words ‘aaaahh, ahhhhh, ahhh, hmmm, hmmmm, hmmmm’ that Shah Jee sings on Eye to Eye? Well, that’s him alluding to that traumatic episode.’

Immediately, one of our reporters got in contact with Shah and asked about this revelation. He cracked a slight, polite laugh and said: ‘It for peoples and fan mails to understanding deeply meaning is that I ahhh, ahhh and hmm, hmm … All I know about Sabri Bhai Jans is Sabri Nihari on Burns Road Karachi-London-Paris …’

According to the few close friends and associates that Shah has, he lived a life of a recluse between 1991 and 2012, doing research on love, astronomy and palmistry. It is also said that he was in continuous contact (via email) with famous Indian-American spiritualist and New Age guru, Deepak Chopra.

Our reporter asked Shah about this and he replied: ‘Deepak Kambata Sahib very kind, soft-like, fairy man. He has vast knowledge of planets and galaxies in souls of humankinds and I once play saxophone on email to him and he very touched and said buttercups coming out of mouth of saxophone …’

One of the assistants told us that he has been with Shah for over 20 years and still finds him to be a very mysterious and enigmatic person: ‘Please do not publish my name, but now that you people have got me talking and Shah Jee has become such a hit, I think his listeners have a right to know at least something about the man.’

We asked him to tell us whatever he knows, and this is what he said: ‘You know, there is a feeling in his band and among roadies and assistants like me that Shah Jee transforms into becoming something else at night.’

Something else?

‘Yes, he changes shape,’ He said. ‘Some say he becomes a butterfly, some say he becomes a bat and there are those who believe that he becomes a saxophone that plays deep into the night. I know this may be sounding silly, but I know for a fact that Shah Jee practices alchemy and it is through years and years of practicing alchemy that he came up with this beauty of a song (Eye to Eye).’

We asked the assistant about the meaning of the lyrics in the song and whether they really were that layered and special for thousands of people out there to debate?

‘Indeed, they are’ he said.

What he said next made us jump up in surprise: ‘First, Eye to Eye is about ISI.’

ISI, the Pakistan intelligence agency?

‘Yes,’ said the assistant, and began softly humming the song: ‘Eye to eye, ISI … get it?’ He smiled wide.

He continued: ‘Recall the opening verses of the song: EYE TO EYE, EYE TO EYE, EYE TO EYE. ESSENTIAL, SENSATIONAL EYES, MY EYES AND YOUR EYES, COLORFUL EYES, OUR EYES, FABULOUS, EXCITING EYES …’

The other assistant added: ‘These lines are an homage to our proud spy agency, ISI. So Eye to Eye sounds like ISI and is also a symbolic metaphor for spies – our spies and their spies and the spying eyes of Shah Jee who puts his eyes on fabulous and exciting spies like James Bond, Jason Bourne and Shuja Pasha. Shah Jee is a great fan of spy movies and novels.’

We asked the assistants what else the song was speaking about.

‘Well, the ISI homage and theme continues across the song,’ one of them explained. ‘I have already explained what the ‘hmmm, hmmm, aahhh, aahhh’ is alluding to. But let’s move on to the next set of verses: KEEP YOUR LOVE IN THE SOUL, MAKE LOVE WITH EYE TO EYE, YOUR FACE AND GLORIOUS EYES, I CAN SEE WITH MY SPECTRUM EYES …’

According to the assistant, the first two lines Shah wrote after watching an old photograph of former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant: ‘It’s about tight jeans,’ he said.

The 1970s Robert Plant pic that inspired Shah to write, ‘Keep your love in the soul …’
The 1970s Robert Plant pic that inspired Shah to write, ‘Keep your love in the soul …’

The assistant went on: ‘Keep your love in the soul, make love with eye to eye …’ In these words Shah Jee is suggesting that one should avoid wearing tight jeans; one should exercise abstinence and celibacy and instead use his energies by joining the ISI.’

He added: ‘The words ‘your face and glorious eyes, I can see with my spectrum eyes ...’, came after years of practice and research gave Shah Jee the ability to see through the glorious but dangerous eye of the Illuminati on Dollar bills.’

The ‘spectrum eye?’
The ‘spectrum eye?’

Our reporter asked Shah about the illuminati theory in these lyrics. He responded by smiling: ‘I decent man, so not use bad words like the ullu ki pathi … but lyric is deep sea like so anyones can fish meaning …dolphin, shark, whale, pomfret, crab, polar bear, panda, whatever … but I use spectrum eye that I got after staring at wall for 24 hours until they turn blue from Charlie Brown …’

We turned towards the assistants to take us through the rest of the lyrics.

‘Well …’ said one of them, let’s now move to the next two lines: IT'S A GENUINE CLASSIC LOVE, SERIOUS FEELINGS ROMANTIC LOVE, MY PRIDE, EYE TO EYE, GLOWING WITH YOUR SPARKLING EYES …’

‘Here Shah Jee is talking about Pakola’s original, classic Ice Cream Soda and how serious a concern it was for him when Pakola changed the formula and the design of the bottle. He was heartbroken when he saw Pakola Ice Cream Soda’s new plastic bottles. It was like someone had turned his romantic memories of childhood into plastic moments. In the lyrics, he insists that Pakola Ice Cream Soda is our nation’s pride and has more sparkle than 7Up.’

Pakola Ice Cream Soda: ‘It’s a genuine, classic love … glowing with your sparkling eyes’.
Pakola Ice Cream Soda: ‘It’s a genuine, classic love … glowing with your sparkling eyes’.

This might very well be true because one of our reporters told us that when he met Shah he was sipping from a Pakola can and said: ‘This not same thing tin …’

The next line: ‘OUR ELEGANT SPECIAL LOVE SINCERE PROMISE BLESSFUL LOVE …’ is believed to be Shah’s continuing tribute to the Pakola and how he will keep enjoying Pakola even if he developed diabetes.

‘It’s a sincere promise that he once made to a Pakola bottle in his childhood,’ said an assistant. ‘He told the bottle that he will keep having Pakola forever and ever.’

Shah too agrees: ‘Yes, I still talks to that old bottle.’

The song continues: ‘SIMPLE, CHARMING EYES, MY EYES AND YOUR EYES, DREAMING FAIRY’S EYES, OUR EYES, STYLISH EXCELLENT HUMAN'S EYES … HMMM, HMMM, HMMM, AAHHH, AAHHH, AAHHH … ’

According to his close associates, here Shah is talking about his favorite pet poodle, Fairy, who is always dreaming of food. In the lyrics Shah suggests that Fairy sees the world with human eyes and that whenever she sees him coming towards her with her lunch, she goes, ‘hmmmm, hmmmm, aahhhh, aahhh …’

Fairy.
Fairy.

The next set of lyrics is: ‘EYE TO EYE MAKES EPIC ERA LOVE LIFE TIME ONCE IN A LIFE. SUBSTANTIAL LOVE IS HEAVEN FOR PRECISE EYES. SPECTACULAR EYES, OUR EYES, MY EYES AND YOUR EYES, EYE TO EYE, EYE TO EYE …’

These are spoken by Shah instead of being sung. This time we implored Shah to explain them himself. After much hesitation he agreed: ‘I talks here about 24/7 hours non-stopping pleasure gained from one eyes ball to other eyes ball when two eyes of same person meet people think he cock-eyed but he just enjoying act of eye to eye lovemaking eye ball of left eye bouncing with eye ball of right eye on and on defining epic era of epileptic love … very simple, really, hehe.’

One of the two assistants that we had been (secretly) talking to then took us through the rest of the lyrics: ‘After the talking bit, Shah Jee goes on to sing: ‘… BEAUTIFUL EYES HAS ENDLESS LOVE, YOUR EYES ARE LIKE A SUN SHINE, YOUR PRECIOUS HEART BELONGS TO ME BECAUSE I LOVE YOU, TRUE LOVE ALWAYS SMILE, YOU ARE MINE, ALWAYS MINE ...’ Very few know that in these lyrics, Shah Jee is actually trying to define the physics behind black holes and how even the light of the sun cannot escape the gravity found in these theoretical holes in the space.’

He adds: ‘It’s about the endlessness of space. A daunting thought but the one he finds beautiful. As an astronomy enthusiast he is always trying to peek into the heart of wormholes and black holes with his telescopic eye …’

Then we come to what many of Shah’s fans consider to be perhaps the most beautiful and ingenious lyrics of the song: ‘YOUR LOVE IS FAITHFUL FOREVER AND EVER WITHOUT YOU I AM LIKE A BUTTERFLY … WITHOUT FLOWER …’

The assistant says these lyrics are about his favorite white suit and how once when he forgot to put a flower in the suit’s front pocket, he felt like a butterfly without a flower. It was a very stressful episode and he wept for 24/7 hours.

‘I’m like a butterfly …’
‘I’m like a butterfly …’

With the last set of lyrics Shah exits by giving rousing climatic touches to all the themes that he explores in the wonderful, intriguing song:

‘BEAUTIFUL EYES HAS ENDLESS LOVE, EYE TO EYE, EYE TO EYE, EYE TO EYE, WONDERFUL, GORGEOUS EYES …’

Here he begins to pay tribute to ISI again and offers his endless services to this wonderful, gorgeous agency.

‘MY EYES AND YOUR EYES. EMOTIONAL AND HAPPY EYES, ALL LOVELY EYES FULL OF LIFE, EYE TO EYE, EYE TO EYE, EYE TO EYE …

Here Shah gets emotional because he’s about to finish writing the song but then gets happy when one of his assistants gets him his lunch. And this is what inspires him to write the song’s last verse:

‘HMMM, HMMM, HMMM …. AAHHHAAHA, AAHHHAAHA, AAHHHAAHA …’