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Fading voices in Pakistan: An Indian tribute to the majestic Amjad Sabri

Updated June 28, 2016


Amjad Sabri during a performance in 2015. —AFP photo
Amjad Sabri during a performance in 2015. —AFP photo

The eldest two of my four ‘tayajis’ (father’s brothers) were born in what is now Pakistan, and were brought over to India by their parents during the migration along with their four siblings — one of whom was my father.

Growing up, we would often hear stories of this ‘distant’ land. One of the stories, which often surprises me beyond belief, involved my paternal grandfather’s generation dropping their last name to ‘exchange’ it with their Muslim neighbours’ family as a ‘partition gift’, but more importantly, to mortalise their brotherhood.

From my father’s generation henceforth the Bhola family were now to be known as the Malik family.

This to me, now as a second generation Malik, was the most endearing gesture of community spirit, love and respect that existed between these the families at the time.

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But why did they leave then? It seems my grandmother was witness to the merciless religion-triggered killings of her entire family right before her eyes. Now this may seem confusing because I just mentioned that my last name was adopted by a Muslim family?

However, to me, it appeared less surprising as I read Manto’s ‘Bitter Fruit’, a compilation of pre-partition stories that give a first-hand account of life just before the Partition. Stories that explore the underlying dark demons of the people of that time, not by choice but just by the nature of the unfortunate events unfolding around them.

My resolve to visit Pakistan — apart from her being the land of my ancestors — only becomes stronger. I have never wanted to visit a country more than this land of love, poetry and culture. Although I have never set foot, I can almost feel the nostalgia envelope me whenever I think about visiting the country.

What will Pakistan offer to me, I often wonder. What will the country symbolise for me?

These questions especially came to mind when I learned of Amjad Sabri's ‘targeted killing’.

Why would anyone want to single out an individual, a performer, a giver, whose sole purpose was to maintain a family legacy?

A legacy of spreading the message of Sufism, of Islam, of peace via renditions of great poets and well-respected Sufi maestros.

I remember many a Delhi evening spent in the quintessential Sabri brothers' trance. Always an uplifting appearance that left every one of us in the room undoubtedly charmed.

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I truly believe that when we curb music, arts or for that matter any medium of expression, we chip away a little at our culture, and no wonder then that Sabri was Pakistan's most deserving cultural ambassador.

After all, Sufi traditions were carried along in hearts, regardless of the ‘separation’. These are still the lands where great poets and scholars of the likes of Amir Khusro lived and thrived centuries ago.

Karachi: a home for music

Sabri was pushed to his last in Karachi, his present home. Karachi — ironically the city with the once majestic and extravagant Hotel Metropole as its cultural hub — where musicians from the world over, of the likes of Alco Alex and Quincy Jones, gathered in the late 50s to the 70s to appreciate the common language they spoke: music.

The common bond that once brought them together — a medium far beyond themselves — now lies in tatters but not without the remnants of the vibrant city that was once Karachi.

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Whether it was the language, culture or respect that kept the Bholas and Maliks forever entwined in brotherhood, or if it was the soul-stirring renditions of the Sabris that symbolised the common theme of Sikhism, Hinduism and Islam, all I know is that at no cost should an organisation with no grounds of existence be allowed to disrupt the very essence of an entire nation.

It seems Sabri was looked upon as a ‘soft target with a potential for widespread impact upon his dismissal’.

I think the intention to some extent has been realised, only that it has driven me to pen my thoughts from across the border and made my resolve to stand by what the great Sabri achieved, even deeper.