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S. Amjad Hussain

Our Music Heritage

Recently I had a heated discussion with three of my Pakistani friends. It was a familiar topic because we had been down that road before.

It was their contention that Pakistan's sorry state of affairs is due to Indian conspiracy and the conspiracy of Pakistan's other enemies. Since I believe in taking the blame for one's own failings and I told them so, my friends were not amused. When one of them declared that he does not support anything Indian, be it music, movies or books, I was struck by the absurdity of the argument. As we were passionately discussing the issue, there was a cassette of old Indian songs playing in the background.

I enjoy music. Some friends would characterize me a music fanatic or a music lover. Both appellations are correct and underscore my passion for music that I do not deny. My tastes however are rather limited to semi classical Indian music and to a lesser degree devotional music that includes qawwalis and bhajans. I have been trying to feel guilty about this non-Muslim, non-Pakistani pastime of mine but old habits are hard to die. I have decided that I will continue to enjoy this kind of music even though my patriotism might be suspect and my ultimate salvation might be in peril.

In my childhood, in the early forties, Sehgal, Jagmohan, Noor Jahan, Surayya, Pankhaj Mallick, Kamla Jharia and Kallan Khan Qawwal reigned the air waves. On any afternoon one could sit on the terrace of our home in the walled city of Peshawar and hear the melodies waft over the neighborhood from a distant radio. Or one could walk in the bazaar and hear the music from radio sets that were so much part of the bazaar scene in those days.

A litmus test to differentiate between the Muslim and the non-Muslim music had not been discovered yet. There was no distinction between Pakistani or Indian music. Hindus sang Muslim devotional songs and Muslims sang Bhajans. I can still remember the melodious voice of Kamla Jharia echoing from the past singing her popular naat: Tumre diya ki hei aas Muhammad, Paapi hun, kuch nahi paas Muhammad.

The intense feeling of devotion expressed in the verse and Kamla Jharia's un-characteristically intense and emotional delivery makes this a classic for all times to come.

Or take the well-known Mira bhajan, Gonghat Ka Pat Khol Sakhee, Tujhe Pia Milange sung by Juthika Roy. The sublime beauty of that bhajan transcends all cultural and religious barriers. All one has to do is to look at the meaning behind the words as one would in Amir Khusro's famous ghazal Namee Daanam Che Manzil Bood Shab Jai Ke Mun Boodum.

Unfortunately not many people, preoccupied with xenophobic nationalistic fervor and misplaced religious zeal, care to know the history of music in the subcontinent. They consider pre-1947 era in the same vein as they consider world history in pre-Islamic terms: a vestige of jahalia- the age of ignorance.

Few years after independence I saw a bizarre spectacle that still haunts me. I saw a huge pile of music records being smashed to pieces in the parking area of Radio Pakistan, Peshawar. Some hare-brained official had ordered the destruction of the fabulous collection of music record because that music now did not fit in the new order. Sehgal, Jagmohan, K.C. Day, Talat and Rafi and their likes were banished for ever from Radio Pakistan.

Being from Peshawar I know that my city has played a significant part in the development and evolution of Indian music. Amir Bai Karnatki had her roots in Charsadda, the lotus city of Kanishka, barely 18 miles from Peshawar. She was the one who sang the immortal song Ghari Ghari Panghat Pay Aana in the movie Ratan. Then there was the legendary GM Durrani who sang the classic Neend Hamari, Khab Tumhare in Nai Kahani in 1945.

The list of singers who were either born in Peshawar or took their start from there is long and fascinating; Rafiq Ghaznavi, Eedan Bai, Shamshad Begum and Miss Dulari, to name a few. Zohra Bai Ambale Wali who sang that all time beautiful song Akhian Mila ke, Jia garma Ke, Chale Nahin Jaana was also from our area. Many readers will also remember Sitara Kanpuri who sang Pardesi Kyun Yaad Aata Hai. But they may not know that she also paid her musical tribute to the father of our nation that became a riot during the turbulent forties: Allah Allah Hosla Hai Quaid-e-Azam Tera. And then there was Gohar Jan, the Pukhtun lady from Peshawar who lived in Calcutta and cut her first record in 1905. She sang in Urdu and Pushtu with equal facility.

While this brutal onslaught on our musical heritage was being waged by the new custodians of arts, a little man from Peshawar City was trying to preserve what he could and what he has preserved boggles the mind. His name is Allah Dad Khan.

He lives in a non-descript house off the road that leads from Yakka Toot Gate to the outskirts of the city. To step into his hujra is to step back in history. His hujra could easily be called the Indo-Pakistan Music Hall of Fame.

Allah Dad, a wiry man with graying hair and a thin mustache, is an unlikely person to have collected such a wide array of Indian and Pakistani music. A retired civil servant, he came to the music scene by way of the movies. As a young lad he would see every movie that came to Peshawar and then try to obtain 78 rpm records of the movie songs. He also started adding movie song books and later movie videos to his collection. His youthful pastime matured with age and in the span of 55 years he has collected more than 14000 records. And what a marvelous collection it is.

Music has no geographic boundaries. It transcends all barriers- cultural, religious and ethnic- and depending on the taste, affects the very inner core of our souls. My friend who refuses to listen to Indian music and Allah Dad Khan, the collector and preserver of such music, are on the opposite ends of an interesting paradox. What the likes of my friend rejects, Allah Dad preserves.

In the end a heritage is preserved not by the politically correct nationalist or emotionally charged religious zealots but by the eccentric visionaries who are able to transcend racial, political and religious barriers to achieve something that others are incapable or unwilling to achieve. Sahir Ludhianvi said this rather eloquently:

Ley dey ke apne paas faqat ik nazar to hai
Kyun dekhen zindagi ko kissi ki nazar se hum


S. Amjad Hussain is a columnist on the op-ed pages of the daily Toledo Blade and a professor of surgery at the Medical College of Ohio. His fourth book 'Aalam Mein Intikhab-Peshawar' on the history and cultural legacy of Peshawar was published recently. His e-mail:

The writer is a clinical professor of surgery at the Medical College of Ohio and an op-ed page columnist for the daily Toledo Blade. He is also the president of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo. He can be reached via e-mail:

Amjad Hussain Honored with Pride of Performance Award

LOS ANGELES: Pakistan Link's columnist, renowned writer, activist, expeditioner, and a skilled surgeon, Dr. Amjad Hussain has been awarded the government of Pakistan's Pride of Performance Award for his services in the field of medicine, preservation of the culture of Peshawar, and his expeditions in the river Indus. His name was announced in a list issued on the occasion of 14th of August, the Independence Day of Pakistan. The investiture of the award will be on March 23, 1999, in Islamabad.

Dr. Hussain is also a columnist in the Daily Toledo Blade, Ohio. The 61-year-old physician was born in Peshawar, and has worked tirelessly to preserve the heritage and culture of the city. He has written several books . He is also a founding member of the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America (APPNA) and has served the association as president in 1982. He is also a board member of PAK PAC. The long and very impressive resume of Dr. Hussain lists his activities at the Islamic Center of Toledo of which he is the president. The sides of his multifaceted personality include a leader, a research scholar, a prolific writer, a columnist, an editor, a prize-winning photographer, an explorer, a calligrapher, a published cartographer, and a drama and radio artist.

He graduated from Khyber Medical College in 1962 and later settled in Toledo, Ohio. He has published a total of 56 original articles. He has donated to many charitable organizations and universities to establish chairs on Islam. He is a great lover of the Urdu language, and has done an extensive study of the literature. Dr. Hussain is down to earth community member, who wins many heart with his soft speech and a great smile.