The journey of music

October 31, 2021

The theological status of music only came under serious scrutiny after Muslims lost political power

The journey of music

Khurshid Anwar was reported to be in the process of writing a book on music but was unable not to complete it. One wonders what happened to the manuscript, whether it has survived or was discarded. It can only be considered a loss because he was in an ideal position to write on music. He was highly educated in the formal sense and musically initiated through the ustad-shagird nexus being a disciple of Ustad Tawakkul Khan, one of the most finicky of the practitioners at that time.

In the new state of Pakistan, the need to write a book about music must have been recognised because the discourse on music had not been carried forward in any meaningful manner by the ideologues of the new state. One is forced to speak of ideologues because the new country demanded a totally new narrative about its justification, existence or coming into existence. It appears in retrospect that the need or the urgency of it was felt more acutely in the years after its creation than while it was being created. It can be argued that the process should have been more important in the formation rather than a retrospective effort to reconstruct the cultural past.

Perhaps the divide or the contours of the divide had not taken a definitive shape during the Muslim rule especially over the northern part of the sub-continent because many of the amalgamations were taken for granted. However, the moment this rule ended with the arrival of the Europeans, the narrative about the land, its people, history, culture and civilisation necessitated a more pointed approach. It was there that the narrower construction of the past came into operation. Perhaps it unwittingly came into existence due to the insecurity of being a minority.

Poor music did not figure anywhere except in the grey area of its legitimacy or lack of it. It was not seen as a significant area to be considered a vital component of the cultural makeup of the society in this region. Other cultural aspects were considered or given some weight, like poetry and fiction, but music was left unattended as something that was not to be touched even with a pair of tongs.

Music, or the practice of it, was an activity that went on unthinkingly. So, during the 500-year-rule of the Muslims, it was not pointed out as being different but only as part of the daily existence. However, with the loss of political power and the onset of colonial rule, the lines were more drastically drawn. The ancient credentials of the civilisation were seen to be the real basis for its justification to exist as an independent political entity. The musical past, too, was reconstructed, keeping this point foremost. However, the people who did not trace the same culture back to its ancient roots were kept standing by the lamppost. For them, music was a side activity, at best entrainment that needed no further thought.

Other cultural aspects were considered or given some weight, like poetry and fiction, but music was left unattended as something that was not to be touched even with a pair of tongs.

It was much later, in the last decade of the colonial rule, that the people here started valuing the land that they were living on and started to talk of a country here instead of migrating or recreating the past as rulers. When the nationalist discourse was accepted by the 1930 the events had mostly overtaken the theorising and a race among the political entities was on.

In the reconstruction of the past, many puritan approaches were adopted. These amounted to recasting the entire evolution of the previous centuries on the basis of exclusion than inclusion. Then, in an effort to bend over backwards in the reconstruction of the musical past; the influence of the present and the impact of European musical system and its prevalence became a victim of oversight or was ignored. It can be said with sincerity that Bhathkhade always advocated an objective study of murawija mausiqi rather than a reconstruction of a lifeless and imagined past on the basis of theorising under different compulsions.

A product of the traditional pedagogical system in music, Khurshid Anwar was also aware of the changing society, the aesthetic patterns and the system of patronage. Realising the changes that had taken place and the need for engaging the common listener to music, Khurshid Anwar tried first to join radio and then films. He was aware of the ustad-shagird transmission of musical knowledge, a very traditional manner of education in music involving personalised transfer of knowledge. When he was asked by Faiz Ahmed Faiz as an advisor to the first Peoples Party government to do something for music in the 1970s, he chalked out a proposal for the education of music on similar lines. He opted for the personalised transfer of musical knowledge rather than the impersonal method that had been adopted by the institutions that were formed during the colonial period patterned on the model of colleges and universities.

For the Pakistan National Council of the Arts, he completed an invaluable project called Ahang-i-Khusravi. It had two parts: one called Gharanoan Ki Gaiki where the famous ustads of the various gharanas in Pakistan like Agra, Delhi, Gwalior, Kirana, Qawwal Bhachas, Sham Chaurasi and Patiala recorded pieces in vilampat lai in designated ragas and the other called Raagmala where various bandishes in the 10 thaats were recorded by the same ustads. These were preceded by a brief introduction of the thaat and the raga being sung with its musical characteristics by Khurshid Anwar himself.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore

The journey of music