Songs of the Divided People

As one travels westwards in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, towards Pir Panjals from Jammu or towards Uri from Srinagar, the demography and geography alters. These regions are mountainous and are inhabited by Gujjars and Paharis who have a distinct language and culture. The Line of control that passes through these regions has divided the communities.

The famous Pakistani folk singer Reshma remarked in one of her concerts “Even if you don’t give us visa, our voices will reach you without one.” Voice from across the LoC have traveled over the decades via the medium of radio. The All India Radio station at Poonch is equally popular across the LoC. Places a little higher up in the mountains in Poonch receive as many as twelve Pakistani FM stations and only a couple of Indian FM stations.

The process of cultural exchange has been strengthened by opening of Uri Muzaffarad and Poonch – Rawalakote bus services. Artists now have the opportunity to travel across LoC.

Tariq and Musarrat form a popular singing duo. They are based in Srinagar. They travelled across the LoC and performed at Pathri in Leepa Valley. The venue of the performance is outdoors and looks like a Dhok, higher altitude grazing ground where the nomadic communities travel to during summer. The opening verse captures to some extent the state of diplomacy between two nations

Har Vaile Inkaar, Eh Gallan Changiyaan Te Nahi
Bachpan De Asi Yaar, Eh Gallan Changiyaan Te Nahi

Disagreements all the time, this isn’t right
Aren’t we friends since childhood? This isn’t right



The Poonch-Rawalakote bus service started in 2006. Noor Muhammad Noor expresses his desire to visit Rawalakote and meet relative and friends across the LoC. His poem is a song of celebration.


Noor Rab Ne Fazal Kamaiyo, Hun Milan Go Velo Aayo
Duan Paase Aayi Bahaar, Khushi Manaaun Go

By the grace of almighty, the time of meeting is here
On both sides spring has returned, I will celebrate.


When poet Rana Fazal traveled across the LoC and visited his village, Ayaz Ahmed Saif, a popular folk singer and a poet himself sang a few verses to welcome him. Ayaz’s evocative poetry and his rustic voice brings many to tears. The idea of wisaal, of being united and the fear of immediate departure mark the line between what’s celebrated and what’s inevitable.


Who’s the beautiful entering the courtyard,
Who’s comforting the aching heart.

Ailing for Pir Panjal, seeking his village
a resident of Ghund Parodi, who’s here to stay for a few days.

Who has borne the brunt of separation and pain of parting
listening to our pain, who’s here to tell his tale.

Seasons have exchanged colors, and doors of mercy have re-opened;
severed from its tree, the bird of hope is here to reacquaint.


Songs and poetry have served to keep the old connections intact. Names of places which otherwise would have been forgotten are part of collective memory and imagination. Galli Nurpur or Girjan Dhok gain mythical status for those who cannot visit them. The binaries of nationalistic identities which aren’t strong in these hinterlands are further challenged by songs and music.

Notes on Qawwali

(This post follows and borrows from Of The Envoy of The Forlorn )

Qawwali is like sailing. The qawwals create the sea and the waves & the winds in it. The listener floats on water, rocking with waves and travelling ahead with the winds.

But in the times of torrents, the old art is being lost. The torrents work great to evoke a sense of awe, but they would drown you as easily. And sometimes the boat would just sit, waiting for the wind, which may never come. All that listener could do then is to abandon the boat and wade across the rather narrow seas now-a-days.

Finding the right balance is the real art. The winds, the waves, the depths have to match. It is then that the qawwali transforms into an exploration. Visions of past, references that trigger memory form a part of the vast sky that the qawwal transforms with every verse. Girahs then serve as a dive into the ocean. You could lose yourself there and decide not to swim back. Or the small dives would make you realize the changing form of the clouds or the color of the sky that you failed to appreciate before. Takraars would push the boat gently towards the shore. They set the pace of the journey. But the shore too is travelling with you. The qawwal has the power to make it seem farther and distant.

The listener is not totally passive. The boat could be abandoned any moment and that is enough of a power. In the age of media players and online streams, the next track button is more than a luxury. But more importantly the listener has to be attuned to what is being painted. Understanding it all is a gift that few of us possess. But whatever bits and pieces resonate, show the path forward. Even the perception of the depth of this sea is based on listener’s ability. The qawwal paints but the listener can transform it with the viewing.

“Dil darya Samundrun Doonge, Kon Dillan Diyan Jaane” ~ Hazrat Sultan Bahoo

Even though the qawwali happens in the space which is outside of the listener, the sea painted is within the heart of listener. It is a gentle prodding of the heart which can set it off on a direction and journey of its own. It is here that the internal and the external unify and the result of this can be ecstatic for many. It is in this space that the qawwali starts being more than a mere performance, more than a collection of verses and voices and beats put together. It then is collaboration between the listener and the qawwals. This to me is the main difference between a khanqahi recital and a qawwali performance. The khanqah allows for mixing of the spaces.

Coming back to the seas, Rasheed Ahmed Faridi and party best had the ability to shrink time. It is hard to tell the passing of hours with the kind of atmosphere that they created. The most striking thing about their performance was that it was without any break. It flowed flawlessly. Even though they play with the pace of waves, direction of them, even rock the boat gently, but they don’t overdo it. It would never startle you to the point that you lose interest. This party best found the match of all the variables. But it isn’t a static match. The equilibrium moves with every bol, every taan. It is in the grasp, moving a little ahead, continuing with the journey.

I would end this post with two Qawwalis that evoke the darya in dil.

Bakhshi Salamat Qawwal

Sirf Qawwali


For a lifetime spent scavenging the corners of world wide web for qawwali ,there’s no better reward than a live performance. I do realize there are thousands of wandering souls which could kill if not die reading about the extravaganza.

Delhi is an amazing city, especially in spring. It is musically alive and breathes for couple of months. All you need to enjoy all that is free and awesome is a friend with right kind of connections, a friend who is equally enthusiastic if not more about music. Well, a friend indeed is a friend in need.

Yesterday was another fine Saturday morning in Delhi with clear skies, the perfect weather for an outdoor musical concert in evening. Jashn-e-Khusrau, the ten day long musical festival ended a week ago. Artists from across sub continent performed in events that were spread across venues. It was probably the largest classical music event with great performances by Ustad Naseer-ud-Din Saami, Ustad Shujat Khan, Ustad Shahid Pervez Khan, Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan and Tahira Sayeed.

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