Sunday August 14, 2022

The missing parts of Pakistani success: Part - II

June 27, 2022

Barely six months after my marriage, economic needs forced me to seek greener pastures and I moved to Saudi Arabia. My eldest son, Hassan, travelled regularly to Pakistan till age 14, following which we decided it was time to put him through the paces of the best we could afford in terms of education now that I was doing well. As a result, he studied in the best possible school followed by a top-ranking university from where went on to become an industrial engineer and now works for a major league multinational as a consultant in Canada – a dream come true for him and us!

In the intervening years, from 2008 to 2014, Pakistan went through trying times, with terrorism taking hold. So going back home was no longer a priority. But in my mind and heart, I could not keep a distance. Which is why, in 2015, I decided to invest in Pakistan and acquired Lahore Qalandars, a cricket franchise, with the aim to contribute to a game our people love and cherish. To my surprise, Hassan showed no interest and did not even join us to cheer our team for the first three years (it didn’t help that we hit rock bottom every single time!). By now, I sensed he had an unflattering image of the country with an identity crisis – even though he backed Pakistan when we played India, with the crescent-and-star flag hanging out of his downtown Toronto apartment.

As his doubts brimmed, I decided to take him to a place in Lahore to show him a side of Pakistan I thought would make him rethink beyond the holiday jaunt. We went to see Arshad Mughal at his abode. Hassan was floored immediately and wondered where “this Pakistan” was on the world stage!

By any stretch of imagination, Mughal is an astonishing micro artist. If the Guinness Book wanted a walking advertisement, he could very well fit the bill. But ironically, Guinness – or people who could make a case for his superhuman feats – have stayed away from his door. Why that is so, is what makes this such a compelling case study.

Mughal, who mastered the art of creating barely noticeable work – because it’s so tiny and delicate that you need to calibrate your movements in a virtually airtight atmosphere to make it and a microscope to view it – is a man of many miniscule parts. Even after creating thousands of these pieces – some of which, he says, can be “hidden behind a strand of hair” – he found few takers to financially support him or even provide a platform from where he could have contributed to advancing the art. He once worked with the only gram of gold he had for over 20 years.

But at 75, with more than a half century of work behind him, all he has for his legacy are a collection at home besides appreciation letters and sundry newspaper clippings.

Contrast this with say, British sculptor Willard Wigan, MBE, whose microscopic art has taken him places – and that’s saying it lightly. Even though he may have outdone Mughal in tipping the scales of the possible, he certainly benefited from honing the trade, finding the most striking platforms before being hailed on the world stage, whether it was courtesy of the BBC, TED Conference, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien in the US celebrating his art or putting out his wares to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. In 2021, his net worth was estimated to be up to five million euros.

The story of music composer Master Ashiq Hussain of the Dama Dam Mast Qalandar and Dhamaal: Lal Meri Pat Rakhio Bhala Jhooley Laalen fame is heartrending. The dhamaal which is the most famous rendered in history was composed by Hussain in minutes at the bidding of eminent poet Saghar Siddiqui.

Hussain’s feats – Dama Dam Mast Qalandar was rendered by such towering figures as Noor Jehan, Nusrat Fateh Ali, Abida Parveen and Jagjit Singh, to name a few – have outlived him but the nonagenarian died a pauper near Lahore’s Bhatti Gate. During this time, his son who, too, was a talented keyboard player, had to sell pakoras at a roadside stall to make both ends meet. Later, his son died of heart failure, but a heartbroken Hussain refused to seek help from those “who do not care about artists”.

Ironically, many singers created versions of his signature tune, earning fame and fortune whilst Hussain lived in a slum without electricity and where food was scarce.

I would give Hassan and millions of youth like him a noteworthy recent example of Arooj Aftab, Pakistan’s first female Grammy winner, who made the cut in April this year. She landed the coveted trophy for a neo-Sufi version of Punjab-based poet Hafeez Hoshiyarpuri’s iconic ghazal Mohabbat karne wale kam na hon ge/ Teri mehfil mein lekin hum na hon ge.

Former US president Barack Obama, no less, picked Mohabbat – declared by Time and The New York Times as one of the best songs of 2021 – amongst his summer playlist favourites for 2021. This space is too scant to encapsulate the inspiring musical journey of the 37-year-old current New York resident born to Pakistani parents in Saudi Arabia, but moving to the US at 19 set her up for a rewarding career.

Arshad Mughal and Ashiq Hussain remain maestros of their art but if they were not constrained by bread-and-butter issues in the dark corners of their hearths, they could have had the world at their feet. On the other hand, a fully equipped Arooj and talented youth like her carve out their own paths to success. Ultimately, what these stories tell us is that in the absence of a breeding ground that germinates the seed and nourishes its growth, we will only have individual successes occasionally. What Pakistan needs today is an organized and sustained system that doesn’t leave it to chance.

To be continued

The writer is a petroleum engineer, businessman and philanthropist. He can be reached at: @fawadnaeemrana


    Sarafaroz commented 2 months ago

    This is heartbreaking, how we can serve the youth

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