The road to Sehwan Sharif

March 5, 2017

Ali Gul Pir, Ahsan Bari, Quaid Ahmed, Aziz Kazi and Gul Mohammad came to Sehwan Sharif with their instruments but left with a whole lot of love and acceptance

The road to Sehwan Sharif

After a deadly blast snatched over 80 innocent lives and frightened an already fearful world, it comes as a surprise that Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine in Sehwan Sharif did not see much physical destruction. The mazaar stands unfazed, as if it merely shrugged its shoulders at a passing storm that came and went. Despite the fact that the bomber detonated the bomb in the heart of the shrine, where Qalandar’s body rests, there has been no actual damage to the site. All you can see are some holes grazed in the tiled floor because of the pellets that escaped from the bomb and a few broken light bulbs near the ceiling.  The Sindhi kashi-tiles and the elaborate mirror-work remains intact. The essence of Qalandar, in this manner, has not been harmed.

The devotees of Qalandar, however, have paid a heavy penalty for their love of the world’s most famous Sufi mystic. Lives have been lost, families destroyed and childhoods have been snatched away. What’s worse is that the one place that never discriminated against its occupants is now subjected to heavy scrutiny. The Qalandaris are now being stopped, questioned, checked, and patted up and down at the gates of Qalandar by frustrated policemen who try to control the raging numbers of people trying to brave their way inside a mazaar that has now become ‘unsafe.’

It was through these heavily guarded gates that rapper/comedian Ali Gul Pir,  who I’m married to, hoped to make his way through, armed with a couple of instruments, likeminded musicians and the need to be there for his people. Pir is connected to the residents of Sehwan for two reasons. Firstly, his family originates from Dadu, Sehwan, and has lived there for generations. Secondly, Pir is a devoted Qalandari himself and aspires to spread peace and love much like Qalandar did. Therefore it was only natural that Pir wanted to make sure the show goes on and musicians of Pakistan made their contribution to the Sufi who has been every Pakistani singer’s inspiration.

That’s not really a sweeping statement because praising Qalandar is something nearly every other big musician has done. How many times have we heard ‘O Lal Meri Pat’ being sung at concerts? From world famous musical acts like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Perveen and Junoon to contemporary singers such as Komal Rizvi and Natasha Baig. What many people may not know, or may sometimes forget, is that the original poem was written by Amir Khusro, later modified by Baba Bulleh Shah, and was written in order to celebrate and honour Qalandar. Therefore, whether we like to criticize the people coming to Qalandar’s shrine for their unorthodox beliefs or not, the truth is that we have all been qalandaris at some point or the other. Sufism is heavily integrated in our musical culture and history.

This is why Ahsan Bari instantly agreed to perform at Sehwan.

"We said yes when Pir asked us to perform at his Peace Jam in Sehwan because this is the time to support these musicians," shared Bari, the force behind the musical orchestra Sounds of Kolachi. Not only Bari but other members of the band – Quaid Ahmed on vocals and Gul Mohammad on sarangi – also agreed to be a part of this experience. Aziz Kazi, famous for being the most ‘memed’ musician in Coke Studio this year for his decision to wear sunglasses during the entirety of the show, was convinced the minute he heard Pir’s proposition.

And thus began the five hour road trip that led them to Sehwan Sharif on a sunny day that became extremely chilly as the night approached. A bus filled with musicians, who took money out from their own pockets to pay for their trip to Sehwan, had absolutely no other personal gain from this experience. Their love for music was made clear when Quaid Ahmed revealed that he had attended Mehdi Hasan’s funeral as it was his lifelong dream to once meet the legend but he wasn’t able to. "I sang the naat alongside Amjad Sabri," revealed Quaid as to what can only be described as an experience of a lifetime. Quaid also attended the funeral of Junaid Jamshed, another musical legend.

Upon reaching Sehwan, the musicians had an hour to rest, have a late lunch and then head to the mazaar to start setting up. The plan was to reach there at 6.30 pm, so that they could attend the dhamaal that takes place every day at the shrine, and then have enough time to set up their instruments while the Qalandaris were still inside.

Things did not go according to plan because the big bellied and heavily mustached policemen did not allow the instruments inside for safety reasons. It had nothing to do with the fact that contemporary instruments would be played inside the mazaar for the very first time. After an hour-long delay, Pir eventually got permission from the police to pass the gates with his ten man entourage and their musical instruments.

Many musicians attended a dhamaal for the very first time in their life that day. Clearly, that on its own is overwhelming. To be precise, there is little visual difference between a dhamaal and a regular concert. What differs is the feeling one is engulfed in as they step inside the mazaar. There is a sense of spirituality, an energy that cannot be explained easily.

Once the dhamaal ended, Bari, Quaid, Mohammad and Kazi all chose a spot randomly and sat down with their guitars and darbukas. Quaid started to sing and he sang beautifully. His vocals are not easily heard in the SOK ensemble, as he is not the only singer. Therefore Quaid thunderously roared with purity as he sang some Sufi classics, such as ‘Dam a Dam Mast Qalandar.’ Qalandaris took no time in surrounding these musicians and immediately took out their cell phones to make videos of a phenomenon that is perhaps uncommon for them; a contemporary band had the honour of performing inside the mazaar for the very first time.

Eventually, musicians of the mazaar came running with their naqqaras and started beating the big drums, trying to match the beat being played by Kazi. Kazi later admitted that he was so surprised that the drum players were able to synchronize with him in a matter of seconds.

What eventually unfolded was a matter of true beauty. There were some people silently weeping inside the mazaar while a Shia procession was performing matam merely a few feet away. In the ground outside, a full-fledged dhamaal was taking place as the SOK musicians took charge and nobody came to fight with each other. Under one roof and between four walls, people of different faiths and beliefs were all seeking comfort from each other and were handsomely succeeding. Why can’t the world outside be this kind to one another?

"This is the most beautiful thing about Qalandar. There is no discrimination here. You will only find love in the hearts of these people. What we can learn from this experience is tolerance. As the world advances ahead, we have forgotten how to tolerate each other and our differences. Nobody from the matam came yelling at us to stop playing music while they were mourning," shared Pir.

Regardless of how unworldly this experience had been, as it lasted for a good hour, it came back to reality when every one took out their cell phones and demanded to take selfies with the mystery musicians who had just spent an hour trying to entertain them for free. Many people recognized Pir as the proverbial ‘Waderay Ka Beta’; clearly Internet has taken over their lives just as much as it has ours.

The entourage retired to their hotel for the night and found themselves unable to sleep till four in the morning because of what they had witnessed. They sat around in the garden, braving the chilly Sehwan breeze, and took out their instruments once again; every one took their turn at impressing the hotel guests with their musical prowess. Gul Mohammad serenaded everyone with his superior command over the sarangi while Quaid took us down a trip to memory lane with his rendition of ‘Aaj Jaanay Ki Zidd Na Karo’ by Farida Khanum. Where would all this music be without Bari expertly hitting the high notes while Kazi’s darbuka provided the best ambience to an unforgettable evening.

"We just don’t want this feeling to go away," said Kazi as he kept playing into the wee hours of the night. For a musician, there is no bigger honour or reward than the appreciation of his audience. But try as they might, Bari, Kazi, Mohammad, Quaid and Pir will not be able to witness such love, until they visit Sehwan Sharif again.

The road to Sehwan Sharif