A musicologist discovers four ‘songbirds’

Published April 14, 2024
(FROM left) Jessica, Somil, Kirpa Dhanja, Eden Samuel sing with S.M. Shahid.
— Photo by the writer
(FROM left) Jessica, Somil, Kirpa Dhanja, Eden Samuel sing with S.M. Shahid. — Photo by the writer

KARACHI: Every Saturday and Sunday, all the sweet chirping of birds in S.M. Shahid’s house doesn’t just have the trees in his lawn as its source. It is more than chirping actually. It is a choir, complete with a beat, rhythm and chorus which also adds an atmosphere of joy to the morning air. The cat licking its fat tummy as it leaned its back against a wall in the side alley of the house yawns as it lazily glances upwards to the first floor windows before going back to its dry-cleaning regimen.

From the kitchen downstairs, there is a refreshing fragrant aroma of brewing tea to wake up the other senses besides the ears which are at work already. You follow the sound of music to find yourself face to face with the musicologist, writer and advertising mogul, his harmonium, bookshelves and at least four children, one of whom is happily perched on his lap. They are all singing. It is a sight to behold.

Looking up, S.M. Shahid smiles and stops playing the harmonium. He introduces the children. They are three siblings, seven-year-old Kirpa Dhanja, six-year-old Somil Dhanja and three-year-old Jessica Dhanja and seven-year-old Eden Samuel. While introducing the kids, he turns to the siblings’ father Jatinder Dhanja, who is also there, to inform him that he better change his little boy’s name. “Rename him Marcos. I can never remember his name,” he says.

And why ‘Marcos’, one may ask. “It’s the name of a raga,” S.M. Shahid explains, as the children giggle. The children’s fathers laugh, too. They were the actual students.

S.M. Shahid believes childhood is the right age to learn music

“In my capacity as an adviser at the National Academy of Performing Arts [NAPA], teaching music was not really part of my job description. Still, it is something which gives me satisfaction. I have written many books on music and art but that this is practical teaching,” says S.M. Shahid. “So besides my other work, I also decided to offer music classes at home for anyone at Napa who might be interested. Then one of my students, Jatinder, who was studying at Napa and coming here for extra classes with me, informed me that when he practiced at home his children Kirpa and Somil, joined him. He said they had a good ear and were very interested in music. I asked to meet them, which resulted in my taking them on as students also. Then after some four months of teaching them, I got to know, from their father again, that when the three of them practiced their singing at home, the youngest in the family, the toddler Jessica, would also join them. That brought her to my class also. And it turns out that she is the most talented in the lot. She is only three and has received only three months of training but you should hear her sing.”

“Will you sing, Jessica? Come show us what you can do,” he asks the little girl. Her father lifts her off from the teacher’s lap and has her seated comfortably on a chair facing him. We are all set. S.M. Shahid starts playing a tune on his harmonium. Yousuf Bashir on the table also joins in before the toddler breaks into song. She sings Fayaz Hashmi’s ghazal ‘Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo’, sung originally by Farida Khanum. It is amazing to watch how the child takes care to sing each and every note with perfection. For a second, if you close your eyes to enjoy the music and take in the song, you can forget who is doing the singing ... until you open your eyes again to find the little girl there.

After that initial very pleasant surprise, you find yourself a little more ready to listen Jessica’s older sister, seven-year-old Kirpa, who sang Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘Dekho Ji Mera Jiya Churaye Liye Jaaye’. Then it was seven-year-old Eden Samuel’s turn to sing another golden oldie from the 1940s ‘Unka Ishara Jaan Se Pyara’ sung originally by Naseem Akhtar and later re-sung by many notable singers including Nayyar Noor.

Later, all the children and S.M. Shahid presented in the chorus ‘Binti Karo Haare Jaoon Sajan’, which also sounded really ancient.

“I have taught many bandish or compositions to these children. In a way, considering their ages, I’m teaching them backwards,” says S.M. Shahid. “To understand the ragas they still need time and practice and more lessons. So I start with light songs to then get to dissecting the songs to get into their basics,” he explains.

“Childhood is the right age to learn music. In next door India, all the big singers were trained at a very young age. Music requires much practice and dedication, there is a need to continue practicing for a while until you can reach somewhere,” the teacher points out.

“I’m not charging any of these children or their fathers anything for these music classes. I want to have a junior school for such kids at Napa. Their number is gradually growing through word of mouth. They come here on Saturdays and Sundays but now I’m thinking of breaking these classes into smaller groups in order to give the children individual attention,” he says.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2024

Opinion

Budgeting without people

Budgeting without people

Even though the economy is a critical issue, discussions about it involve a select few who are not really interested in communicating with the people.

Editorial

Iranian tragedy
Updated 21 May, 2024

Iranian tragedy

Due to Iran’s regional and geopolitical influence, the world will be watching the power transition carefully.
Circular debt woes
21 May, 2024

Circular debt woes

THE alleged corruption and ineptitude of the country’s power bureaucracy is proving very costly. New official data...
Reproductive health
21 May, 2024

Reproductive health

IT is naïve to imagine that reproductive healthcare counts in Pakistan, where women from low-income groups and ...
Wheat price crash
Updated 20 May, 2024

Wheat price crash

What the government has done to Punjab’s smallholder wheat growers by staying out of the market amid crashing prices is deplorable.
Afghan corruption
20 May, 2024

Afghan corruption

AMONGST the reasons that the Afghan Taliban marched into Kabul in August 2021 without any resistance to speak of ...
Volleyball triumph
20 May, 2024

Volleyball triumph

IN the last week, while Pakistan’s cricket team savoured a come-from-behind T20 series victory against Ireland,...