A flute maestro

December 17, 2017

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Ustad Hanif Khan
Ustad Hanif Khan

Ustad Hanif Khan, a seasoned musician, is trained in the disciplines of classical singing, tabla and flute, which he plays with a masterly command and stunningly rich expression.

A son of a schoolteacher in Makhanpura, Lahore, he was raised with strict discipline. He was intelligent as well as naughty and would usually spend time reading novels rather than focusing on studies.

“Poor school records disappointed my father. After high school, he sent me to work in the mechanical workshop he used to run at Dil Muhammad Road.

“I was passionate to learn music without any clue to find a teacher. One of the coworkers told me about an elderly man he would see playing beat with the steering wheel while driving daily to Harbanspura. I met the guy who turned out to be the famous music director, Mian Shehryar, who sent me to the Baithak (academy) of Ghulam Shabbir & Ghulam Jaffer.” Hanif lost the address and reached the house of a poet and dancer, Hazeen Saeed, who took him to Alexander Neelum, a sitar player, who was not less than an institution for him to learn the fundamentals. Neelum was a dedicated music teacher and considered one of the best of the musicians Hanif came across in his life. He taught Hanif vocals, tabla and flute.

“He was not very social. After a few years, he took me to Pervaiz Paras for further grooming. He believed that Paras Sahib could help me make progress in the field as he was attached with the All Pakistan Music Conference (APMC),” he recalls.

In 1996, Hanif got his first prize as flutist. He stayed on victory stands of the APMC in the years to follow, for his vocal and tabla performances. He was more focused on tabla but the first position for flute performance at APMC pushed him to focus on flute and it became a lifetime romance.

Hanif used to practice flute secretly as his father was a conservative religious person but one day his father found him playing the instrument in the workshop.

“Raged with anger to see all his workers as the audience of my performance, he asked me to choose between the mechanical work and flute. My choice was obvious and I was expelled from the workshop,” he recalls.

Hanif joined another workshop that led him to get the job of in-charge mechanical workshops at Sanjan Nagar Institute of Philosophy & Arts.

Raza Kazim, the in-charge of Sanjan Nagar, was establishing Musicology Department at the National College of Arts. He presented Ustad Hanif’s recordings to the internal jury, comprising students and teachers of Musicology Department. He was super excited for his first-ever recording but was also nervous for the presentation before the music professionals. He got an overwhelming response and he was transferred from mechanical workshop to the in-charge of recording studios at Sanjan Nagar.

“It was a dream job. I worked hard for long hours listening keenly and experimenting with the sound tracks in post-production editing which helped me a great deal to understand the intricacies of music.

“Working with Raza Kazim drastically refined my perception and understanding of music. He is a perfectionist, a music genius with very sharp sense of the Ras (emotional content), which is the soul of music.”

Teaching music at various institutions and doing public performances for almost two decades, Hanif Khan is known for his Ras (emotional and aesthetic content) and strong expression backed by masterly skills.

“In 2007, I decided to quit teaching job to focus on music. But the school principal changed the nature of my job to part-time and gave me grade 1 & 2 students. It was like finding the missing link of my life and reliving my childhood with a freedom. It has relaxed me and transformed my expression in music.”

Hanif is now grooming a number of students. He has been making flutes of his own for the last five years after he realised that the flutes made by others could not carry the wide range of his expression.

“After wasting almost a hundred pieces of bamboo, imported from Kabul and India, I succeeded in making a few perfect instruments in harmony with my pitch and frequency. During the process, I got an intense feeling of being unified with the flute,” he concludes.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2017