Seventy-one-year-old Muhammad Ikram allures passersby at the New Anarkali Chowk with a collection of flutes which he has made. He’s been in the business for the last forty years
He has been there for quite some time now. Many people might have noticed him standing in a corner amidst the din of Babar Market’s choked traffic in Anarkali. As rickshaws, cars and bikes try to make their way through the chaotic rush, once in a while a different sound attempts to make its presence felt. However, this sweet lilting sound gets submerged in the horrendous horns blaring all around.
Seventy-one-year-old Muhammad Ikram allures passersby with a collection of flutes, which he has been selling for the past forty years. His fingers dance on the flute like an adept player, and at times, people stop and marvel at his talent. He doesn’t own a shop and is seen standing alongside a wooden stand decked with flutes on sale.
Ikram’s forefathers came from Delhi and settled in Karachi. During the late 1970s, he shifted to Lahore after his marriage. In Karachi, he had worked as a labourer to make a living as he lacked any other skill. The move to Lahore proved to be beneficial for him as it was here that he met his benefactor, “Shamim sahib,” who was also his neighbour in Wacchowali area in Rang Mahal. “I used to watch Shamim sahib make flutes out of reeds like bamboo. He would make flutes and I would sell these around areas near the City Railway Station and Anarkali Bazaar,” he tells TNS.
And that was how he decided to learn the delicate art of making flutes. It took him two years to polish his skills. Once he had mastered the art, he started selling his own product in Anarkali Bazaar. He would stand at different locations outside shoe shops near the Bible Society Office. In all those years, the one thing that remained unchanged was his presence in Anarkali Bazaar — he is part and parcel of the area.
He would stand at different locations outside shoe shops near the Bible Society Office. In all those years, the one thing that remained unchanged was his presence in Anarkali Bazaar.
After learning to make flutes, he had a strong desire to be able to play it — and play it well. This wasn’t possible without the guidance of a guru. Soon he found one for himself. “I learnt [playing] flute from Ustad Khadim Hussain Hydari, who was associated with Radio Pakistan, Lahore,” Ikram reveals. “I would go to his residence in Ichhra to take lessons. Sadly, I couldn’t devote much time [to it], but I did manage to learn to play it.”
Over the years, Ikram has passed on the expertise to enthusiasts who would come to him to learn to play the flute. He would charge Rs1200 per month, and also conduct two sessions per week. People from various walks of life learnt from him in Anarkali Bazaar. Not any longer. The reason, perhaps, is that now he comes in for just a few hours, having grown weak with advancing age.
These days, he arrives at his spot at around three in the afternoon, and sells flutes till 10 in the night.
Ikram bemoans the dwindling customers for his flutes, but he is determined to carry on with the business. He uses bamboo to make flutes but now inflation has hit the trade badly. Bamboo logs are imported from Bangladesh. He purchases these from a wholesaler; a bale of bamboo costs nearly Rs60,000 these days. “If the logs are of good quality I manage to produce around 300 flutes. Sometimes, I end up with a smaller number [of flutes] if the quality of bamboos is not good.”
His flutes sell at prices starting from Rs200 and going up to Rs500, even Rs800 depending upon the quality.
An expatriate Pakistani came to him a few years ago and ordered a special flute. “I made a special flute for him and charged him Rs28,000,” he says. “He was so happy with the quality of the flute that he paid me an extra five thousand [rupees].”
Although he gets very few customers these days, he comes to the spot with amazing regularity. Tariq Farani, in-charge of the Music Society at the Government College University (GCU), religiously refers music buffs to him. Ikram doesn’t mind braving the tough economic conditions as long as he gets to make flutes and sell them. The only thing that worries him is the fact that none of his sons have shown interest in the art of making flutes. “They didn’t find it worthy of making it their livelihood,” he adds.