Amid the urban din, a musical sanctuary

Published March 8, 2015
Kamran Gill, 31, repairs a harmonium at his shop, “Some of my family members sing, others play instruments. I am more comfortable repairing instruments at my workshop.”
Kamran Gill, 31, repairs a harmonium at his shop, “Some of my family members sing, others play instruments. I am more comfortable repairing instruments at my workshop.”

The Shah Allah Ditta Road in Rawalpindi is undisputedly the best place in the garrison city to buy a musical instrument, but you wouldn’t know it even if you drove past. The road that links Chungi No 4 with Jamia Masjid Road is chock full of traffic most of the day and these musical instruments shops go unnoticed by most commuters lost in their day-to-day routine .

Mujahid Hassan ‘Labba’, 42, sits at his shop along with his son Hamza, 13, and pupil Jahan, 39. “I am proud that my father Tufail Hussain taught me this skill and now I am passing on this skill to the next generation.”
Mujahid Hassan ‘Labba’, 42, sits at his shop along with his son Hamza, 13, and pupil Jahan, 39. “I am proud that my father Tufail Hussain taught me this skill and now I am passing on this skill to the next generation.”

For Mushtaq Lahoria, this is bread-and-butter. “It’s our family business and I have been doing this since I was a child,” the ustad says as he tunes a brand new tabla at his shop. “I’m originally from Gujranwala, but we set up shop here in 2001 and now with my son, the seventh generation of my family has gotten into the art of tabla-making,” he says proudly.

Some music shops also offer singing and instrument classes. Young men practice their singing and tabla-playing skills in one portion of a shop.
Some music shops also offer singing and instrument classes. Young men practice their singing and tabla-playing skills in one portion of a shop.

Another tabla-maker, Muhajid Hussain ‘Labba’, is the son of a renowned tabla-maker, the late great Tufail Hussain Tufail. From his perch at his shop, he tells us, “My son Hamza Mujahid is 13 years old now and already has five years of experience under his belt,” he says, never once taking his hands or eyes off the instrument he is working on.

“This art is not admired or encouraged enough in Pakistan. I sit here at this shop; many people don’t know who my father was and how valuable this art is,” Labba says, expressing a bitter disappointment with the music industry in Pakistan.

MUSICAL instruments such as tablas, tambourines and dholkis are arranged on shelves at shops on Shah Allah Ditta Road, Rawalpindi. — Photos by the writer
MUSICAL instruments such as tablas, tambourines and dholkis are arranged on shelves at shops on Shah Allah Ditta Road, Rawalpindi. — Photos by the writer

“I have made tablas for Indian artists and they have praised them,” he says as he explains the process of making a tabla. It takes about three to four days to craft a fine set of tablas. A set ranges from Rs1,000 to Rs8,000, depending on the quality.

There are around six to eight musical instruments shops in the neighbourhood, making it look like a mini-music market.

Apart from tablas, several other musical instruments hang from shop fronts, including harmoniums, acoustic guitars, dholaks and tambourines.

MUSICAL instruments such as tablas, tambourines and dholkis are arranged on shelves at shops on Shah Allah Ditta Road, Rawalpindi. — Photos by the writer
MUSICAL instruments such as tablas, tambourines and dholkis are arranged on shelves at shops on Shah Allah Ditta Road, Rawalpindi. — Photos by the writer

Kamran Gill, a harmonium-maker, told Dawn, “all kinds of musical instruments are repaired and sold here.” Despite being passionate about his art, Gill confessed that he had his fears. “It is not safe being in the music business these days,” he confided.

Published in Dawn March 8th , 2015

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