Prerna Gupta

“We cannot sit and enjoy and music in Mumbai while soldiers are being martyred in Kashmir. There has to be some sort of boycott,” said Aditya Thackeray, Sena chairperson and the son of party chief Uddhav Thackeray while protesting against Ghulam Ali’s performance in Mumbai. As a consequence Ghulam Ali’s performance had to be cancelled in Mumbai and Pune. This is not the first time Sena has oppose a performance by Pakistani singer, earlier they had also protested against Atif Aslam’s performance.

Such a bizzare move could perhaps even remotely make sense if Ghulam Ali would have been a representative of the Pakistan that Thackeray presumably wants to oppose. On the contrary, Ghulam Ali is from the section of Pakistan that Indians should wish thrives and expands within Pakistan as the Islamic fundamentalists within that country as well as militarists who thrive on anti-India rhetoric would not want such anything that is commonly popular across the boundary, more so any form of music and art. It is an irony that Shiv Sena is opposing exactly what the anti-India and orthodox elements within Pakistan would love to see vanishing.

Extremist groups like Taliban-e-Pakistan have been known for being opposed to music by calling it non-Islamic. On 17 May 2006, Pakistan’s national daily Dawn reported a pro-Taliban militant cleric announcing a ban on music and video shops in the Hamuzai area near Miramshah. On 30 June 2005, ten shops mostly selling movie and music tapes were damaged in a bomb explosion in Miramshah. When a coalition of six Islamist hard-liner parties won election in 2002, concerts and music in public buses were banned, and the government-run Nishtar Hall, built for concerts and other performances in Peshawar, were shut.

Both countries however have a shared rich tradition of music, with singers from India and Pakistan having ardent fans across the border. Ghulam Ali has performed in India on a number of occasions. He recently sang at Sankatmochan Temple in the PM’s constituency, Varanasi. When India was mourning the loss of it’s beloved ghazal singer Jagjit Singh in 2011, Ghulam Ali who had known Jagjit Singh since 1976 expressed his grief in an interview to NDTV by saying it’s a huge loss for Singh’s fans in Pakistan and all across the world.

And here is a video of Ghulam Ali singing with Anup Jalota in Chennai “Aao dono milkar sur bikhrayein, dono milkar prem badhayein.”

He belongs to the Patiala Gharana of Hindustani Classical Music which is known for its syncretic Hindu and Muslim tradition. The founders of Patiala Gharana Ustad Bade Fateh Ali Khan and Ustad Ali Baksh Khan received patronage from the Maharaja of Patiala.

With a few exceptions, religious identity has never been a concern for Hindustani musicians. South Asia has a rich tradition of music as a shared heritage. The Scindia kings of Gwalior were passionate patrons of Hindustani music and the Gwalior gharana consisting of Ustad Nathan Pir Bakhsh, Ustad Haddu Khan, Ustad Hassu Khan and Ustad Nathu Khan. Apart from being khayal singers, Haddu, Hassu and Nathu Khan learnt shlokas and arya abhangs of the Marathi poet Moropant from Vishnu Pandit and sang them with the king in the temple. The Dagar family, though Muslims are known for singing dhrupad compositions centered on Hindu themes and Motifs. Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan created several compositions invoking Shiva, and tabla maestro Ustad Amir Hussain Khan often played at the Ramkrishna Mission in Bombay on Kali puja.

The identities of Hindustani musicians have been determined by lineage of learning that is the guru shishya parampara of musical gharanas rather than lineage of birth. They have been protective about their gharanas and possessive about their bandishes,rather than distinguishing between disciples and artists on the basis of religion.

Amir Khusrau the renowned Sufi poet is known as the father of the modern Hndustani Classical tradition. He wrote poetry in Persian as well as in Hindvi. Hindvi is a combination of local Bhojpuri and Persian, which later evolved into Hindi and Urdu.
The secular ideals of Sufi poets and the syncretic spaces that Sufi dargahs provided for both Hindus and Muslims attract thousands of visitors even today. Amir Khusro’s contribution to the Hindi language and Hindi poetry is even acknowledged by the hindi critics of today. The language he used later developed into Hindustani which was a significant development in the history of Ghazal as well. Here is a video of Ghulam Ali singing Zehaal-e-Miskeen a poem written in a mix of Brij and Persian.

A few lines by Khusro would be apt to underline the secular ethos of the Hindustani classical music tradition:

“I am a pagan and a worshiper of love: the creed (of Muslims) I do not need;
Every vein of mine has become taunt like a wire,
the (Brahman’s) girdle I do not need…
…The people of the world say that Khusrau worships idols.
So he does, so he does; the people he does not need,
the world he does not need.” – Amir Khusrau

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