Google’s doodle of the musical giant reminded many of a birthday that deserved to be commemorated at national level
“Mere baad kisko satao ge/Mujhe kis tarah se mitao ge/Kahan ja ke teer chalao ge” — a stanza from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s famous qawwali Halka Halka Suroor haunts his fans till today. Penned by Muhammad Iqbal Naqibi, it questions the beloved about who he’ll bother and how he’ll erase memories once the lover is no more.
Khan may not be with us but they say our dead are not dead until they are forgotten. And the irony of events has been such that although Google Inc had his birthday marked on its calendar, there were a few in his home country who really cared.
It would not be entirely wrong to say that it was Google’s doodle of the musical giant along with his qawwal group that reminded many of a birthday that deserved to be commemorated at the national level. The city of Lahore, where Nusrat produced most of his magical tunes, did not reciprocate his love for the city on the day he would have turned 67 had he not succumbed to a cardiac arrest nearly 18 years ago.
Read: Google honours Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on 67th birth anniversary
Government-fed bastions of cultural activity in the city, the Lahore Arts Council (LAS) and the Punjab Arts Council (PAC), also validated the notion that priorities change with time. “I completely agree that he should have been honoured, keeping his seminal contribution in mind. We pay tribute to our artists all the time. It is a shame that we ignored him,” said PAC deputy director Sofia Baydar.
LAS public relations officer Subha Sadiq shared similar sentiments. “It is not that we have not honoured Khan in the past. This time around, we were hosting an international conference on environmental issues, so we could not put together an event for the great qawwal.”
Although it would be unfair to single out a few, it is a collective failure that it took only 18 years for us to forget someone due to whom people the world over recognised Pakistan. Singer Humaira Arshad feels the onus of arranging an event for the late legend was on his family. “If they choose to ignore him, why blame others?” She added that although there is no justification for overlooking Khan, the film and music fraternities are going through turbulent times.
Read: ‘We are way ahead of Bollywood when it comes to vocal texture’
Folk singer Shaukat Ali Khan stated that with Khan’s death ended a chapter in the history of Pakistan’s entertainment industry that cannot be revived. “He was such a towering personality, not just in our part of the world but also for mankind in its entirety. Our heads hang in shame today. We couldn’t cut a single cake, let alone say a prayer for someone who devoted his life to music.”
Lahore’s Sargam Studio was Khan’s retreat of choice. He would hide behind its walls with his instruments and emerge every now and then with a tune that would go on to conquer world music. Sargam Studio was to Khan’s fans what Finca Vigía is to Ernest Hemingway’s followers, but then it all changed. Studio owner Raza Shah has a slightly different story to tell about Khan’s family. “We have been running this studio for the love of Khan. We still have his instruments with us. This, his family does not like. There was a time when visitors from all over the world would come here to see how Khan’s creative process took shape.”
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And it wasn’t just Lahore that was guilty of the crime. No major event was conducted across any of the country’s urban centres. The Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi, was itself in a jumble on Tuesday, thanks to a play that is being staged at the venue. Similarly, the Pakistan National Council of the Arts in Islamabad did not witness any activity marking the legend’s birth anniversary.
Khan was a man whose life cannot be encapsulated in a few lines or through an event. But if nothing more, an annual celebration is in order to remind us of his several contributions, among which his popularisation and merging of local art forms with global music still reverberates across the world.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 15th, 2015.
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