Nayyara Noor tugged at the heartstrings like no other singer will

We have to keep her alive in other ways beyond the analog world we belong to. The new children deserve her.
Published August 22, 2022

Nayyara Noor was asked on a PTV show why she disappeared and then came back to do a show or two and she replied, “ghar … bachey”. Now she has disappeared, not to return. This is no chore or duty she will come back from.

The one thing strangest about death is how it always shocks.

More certain than the rising sun, yet, when it shows up, it is like lava on our tongue. We are charred and speechless.

People like Nayyara, whose sweet melodies have serenaded our ears like an anthem of becoming, of sweet nostalgia, are an avalanche. They take us with them.

I had the duty, bestowed upon me by my father — perhaps her biggest fan — to turn the cassette to the other side of the cassette player, which was silver and larger than life. A monstrosity sitting on a table of its own. This 80s boombox would be our most worthy collection piece in the expat life. One day — perhaps due to overuse — the magnetic tape, at first lost its magic, then itself. Snap.

Nayyara Noor didn’t sing in our house — another hiatus — until someone had taped it back together. Back then, we didn’t do away with broken things. We returned them with repair into our lives.

I remember, I was very harsh about the other Pakistani ghazals cassette 1-10 I had to endure that were not Nayyara’s. I don’t like them, I implored. I will not change the cassette, I protested.

I wanted the sweet voice back. I was voting with my ears.

What she sang, she said in the same PTV interview with Arshad Mehmood, was a responsibility she didn’t take lightly because the one who delivers the poetry has the onus to have it loved. Nayyara and Arshad were always making melody on the music notes that go snap our heart strings and let loose the blood bath — melancholic but not at all dramatic. Aye Jazba-e-dil gar mai chahoon was one of those creative collaborations that happen so rarely, but with such magnificent results.

I loved what she sang. Kabhi hum khoobsorat thay — simple enough to rattle my toddler life into realising that some things are prettier than others. The song had butterflies in it. It demanded a kiss on the forehead, for being innocent still. Even as a kid, I knew the age I was in was special, because the song informed me — I need to be loved because I am still in awe of the mundane.

It’s 2022. It’s the era of Twitch Streams, a takeover of the Internet by cat videos, and news competing for the nastiest enemy. In Islamabad, my beloved city where I am almost old, some young woman wore a white almost flammable dress one would see in a bad Bollywood movie set the Margalla forest on fire so she could have a cool TikTok background. I hiked onto the Margallas, collecting burned pinecones and listening to Nayyara still. This time her song, Aye ishq huey barbad na kar.

No one will believe me when I say the most prestigious position to date I have held is to keep playing Nayyara Noor’s cassette tapes.

I was enamoured by the woman who presented to me honey-like door-opening songs, well before I knew the language and before I thought I could claim the language.

When she sang Faiz’s Hum kay thehray ajnabi, it made perfect sense that this was a tectonic shift of a loss.

When I came of age, those strange years when you are betrayed by your body and find a very soft heart inside of your belly, Nayyara was there to offer the soundtrack to Haseena Moin’s drama series, Dhoop Kinaray. That collaboration and that underrated song, Hansi khanakti hui needs no drugs for the high. It lingers.

That was a general characteristic of Nayyara fans — the songs stayed longer than the obsolete things. You can bin the cassettes, and YouTube is so done with Noor, but if you’re into the cult classic, you’re in. Deservedly.

The only Pakistani milli nagma that didn’t need to fortify itself with religion and remain plural at heart was Nayyara’s Watan ki mitti. That arguably is the best Pakistani milli nagma ever sung.

Smelled dry earth after rain? That’s her.

We have to go find her and keep her alive in other ways beyond the analog world we belong to. The new children deserve her.