The last six decades have seen strange things happening to music in this country. First, there was a wealth of classical vocalists and instrumentalist who had migrated from India and settled in various cities of Punjab and Sindh. No Jaipur, Gowalior, Rampur or other princely states existed here that had pampered the great exponents and their forefathers, but at least here there was Radio Pakistan to take them under its wing.

The artists were promptly employed at various radio stations and, though inadequately paid and not much in demand, they enjoyed immense respect among the music fraternity. As one who had made Karachi his home, I vividly remember the farshi programmes held at the Karachi station of Radio Pakistan in the 1950s and early ’60s. And it was here that we had the good fortune of listening to the great Ustads — Ramzan Khan, Umrao Khan, Nizakat Ali, Salamat Ali, Amanat Ali, Fateh Ali, Manzoor Ali Khan, Ummeed Ali Khan, Roshan Ara Begum, and instrumentalists of the caliber of Bundu Khan, Habib Ali Khan, Zahoori Khan, Nathoo Khan, Hamid Husain Khan, Kabir Khan, Allah Ditta and others who performed here.

Even in the genre of ghazal and light classical, there was no dearth of accomplished voices: Mehdi Hasan, Farida Khanum and Iqbal Bano. In addition, there were singers of the Bengal school from former East Pakistan. If at all there was a golden period of music in this country, it was this.

The musical environment changed following the 1965 war with India. Next, the Bhutto era saw the neglect of classical music and the patronage of folk music. But it was not before 1977, the year when General Ziaul Haq descended on the scene that the real slide started. What to say of classical music, music as a whole became an unpalatable commodity not in sync with the state’s definition of faith. It might come as a surprise to readers but it’s a fact that majority of our great Ustads passed away during the 11-year rule of Gen Zia! Most of them died penniless and unsung. What is more tragic, they did not teach or encourage their offspring to make music their profession.

But music, like water, finds its own course. It flows serenely where the terrain is smooth and tranquil; where it passes through rocky and uneven terrain it becomes aggressive and noisy. In such an evolutionary process, priceless traditions and heritage are likely to be lost.

I was cynical when a few music clubs in a posh area of Karachi came into being. Having witnessed the hardships suffered by the great masters, and, now, after noticing the patronage accorded to lesser musical souls by well-to-do music lovers, I felt envious. We, the connoisseurs of yore, had only wah wah to offer to the maestros at private mehfils which, in any case, were not frequent.

Looking at today’s music scene, particularly in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, we find that even in the existing stressful and unsafe environment, there is no shortage of music lovers who are affluent enough to pay artists handsomely. These connoisseurs are not very choosy either and readily accept whatever is available and on offer. One must give the devil his due. Music clubs have catered well to the needs of lovers of at least film music and ghazal. In other words, they have helped in keeping ears tuned to the good old melodies. And melody — not harmony, mind you — is the essence of our music.

Mauseqaar event

Here, one would like to report on a recent programme organised by Mauseqaar, one of the active music clubs of Karachi formed in 2003 with the slogan: “Committed to Music” (other active clubs are Amateurs’ Melodies and Saz-o-Awaz). In their monthly baithak, Mauseqaar paid tribute to poet Ahmad Faraz (whose fifth death anniversary passed off quietly) and music director Ustad Buland Iqbal who died unsung in Karachi a few months ago.

After amateur singer Dr. Saira Khan, founder member of the club and Pervez Rahim had presented Faraz’s ghazals and Buland Iqbal’s compositions, professional artists Mohammad Husain and Ikram Mehdi took over and sang vintage Faraz: Shola sa jal bujha hoon, Ab ke hum bichhre to shayad kabhi khwabon mein milain and Ranjish hi sahi dil hi dukhanay ke liye aaj. These unforgettable numbers were composed by Mehdi Hasan, A. Hameed and Nisar Bazmi, respectively. Buland Iqbal’s well-known compositions, Duniya kisi ke pyar mein jannat se kum nahin and Ae abr-i-karam aaj itna baras were also presented.

Mohammad Husain was the harmonium accompanist of the late Mehdi Hasan for more than 40 years and sings the master’s ghazals with finesse. Ikram Mehdi, one of the prominent shagirds of Mehdi Hasan, is blessed with a voice exactly like his guru. Papers were also read by playwright Haseena Moin, Perveen Soomro and this writer, while Mr. Jhoomra, secretary of the club, read from the kalam of Ahmad Faraz. The programme was conducted by Sabooha Khan, present chairperson of the music club.

Conclusion

Pakistan shares its culture and heritage with India, and most of the music gharanas were founded by Muslim exponents during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Then why is it that we have meted out such step-motherly treatment to this art? Forget about government patronage (they have more interesting and lucrative things to patronise). Who or what is stopping the corporate sector? It is ironic that no university, except perhaps the Punjab University and the National College of Arts in Lahore can boast of a music faculty (I’m not aware if there are other educational institutions which teach classical music).

It’s time for the private sector to study the models in India, repudiate prejudice and support music education and training on the basis of merit. As for the private clubs, they should also think about training their members in the art of singing. I’m sure we can turn the tables this way.

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