Listening for hours to Radio Ceylon on wooden cased electron tube radio receivers is one of the richest memories of his childhood. A veteran radio broadcaster, music records collector and researcher Zahoor Ahmad was born to an agrarian family in Kot Radha Kishan after Partition. His passion for music at tender age was initially alarming for the parents, who wanted him to focus only on academic studies.
“My academic performance was good enough so they never disregarded my interest in music,” he recalls.
“Indian music was popular those days and radio was the only mean to listen to the thrilling tunes. I decided to have a collection of my own,” he added.
He got repaired an old gramophone available at home; someone gave him a couple of worn out records and it turned to be a lifelong story. He collected more than 7,000 records, including some very rare music tracks, in almost five decades.
“Playing music on demand was an essential part of marriage ceremonies in Punjab. I would go to DJ’s and ask them to sell their worn out records. These were my first collections during teen ages,” he reveals.
Moving to Lahore in 1971 was a watershed moment of his life.
“While studying here at Government Polytechnic College, Railway Road, I was a frequenter to hotels in Naulakha Bazaar, which are known for their music collections. There was a trend of playing music while guests were having tea or meals.
“Impressed by my knowledge and taste for music, the owner of Lyallpur Hotel introduced me to the serious music listeners and collectors of Lahore.
“The first person I met was Muhammad Rasheed, aka Manna Sariay Walla. I was amused to see an iron trader wearing lungi and slooka, and keenly listening to Lata Mangeshkar on gramophone all the time.
“His godown near Data Darbar was hub of Lahore’s music collectors where all of them used to meet in the evening.”
There he met Agha Afzal, a katib at Daily Musawat, Muhammad Ahmad Khan, employed at Civil Secretariat, Awais Khan from Oriental College, and Ibne Hassan, a leftist from Kasur. They used to discuss music and talk about their collections. It was quiet an inspiring group for a young collector like him.
“There was a sense of competition and jealousy among the group members. None of us was into popular music; we would collect selected works of their favourite music directors and everyone had a different collection of songs,” he recalls.
“The records were made only in India and to posses the rarely available music was tough. It was the pride of these crazy collectors. I remember Allah Dad Khan in Peshawar, was known for his huge collection of 10,000 gramophone records, including a few made up of leather.”
The invention of cassettes in the early eighties changed the culture of record collection.
“All these collectors were very possessive and music was limited to few people only. Seth Mushtaq Abdullah, one of the biggest collectors in Karachi, made United Recording Company and made all his collections public by converting them on cassettes. ln 1983, Zahoor Ahmad joined Radio Pakistan as producer and his first posting was in Rawalpindi.
“Due to my interest in music, I was assigned the music section and was lucky to work with master music directors including Tufail Farooqi, GA Chishti, Wazir Afzal and Asghar Ali Muhammad Hussain.
“I felt honoured to produce the music by legendry singers such as Mehdi Hassan, Nazakat Salamat Ali and Iqbal Bano,” he said.
His production, Yadoon Ke Jharookay, in which he played the rarely played music from radio archives and his personal collections got popular.
It was tough to cope with odd working hours at radio; therefore, he joined as a lecturer in 1988 to make a living and worked till retirement a few years back.
The first compilation of his writings about musicians and singers ‘Jehan-e-fun’ was published in 2005, followed by the second edition in 2014. His book ‘Jehan-e-Ahang’ narrating lives and works of music directors is in the final stages of publication.
Among his collections of light classical and filmi music, Talat Mehmood has been his all time favourite.
Zahoor laments that there is not a single archive of big treasure of Indian music.
Collectors were possessive and the records were rare, consequently a lot of music got wasted.
“I am still looking for 400 songs which are not available in the market or in any broadcasting house,” he says.
Collection is a never ending story as Zahoor is still searching for more music. He might have made a good financial career if he was not into collecting and romancing the music but it gave him an immense pleasure. “I remained composed and contented while going through tough phases of life as music gave me an overpowering energy to move on,” he concludes.
Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2018