On April 13th 2020, the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) released their statement warning “Indian singers and musicians against collaborating with their Pakistani counterparts” which if they did, would end up having to face “strict action”. The warning came after the FWICE was informed about a deal between Indian artists and Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. The letter also added that “One should also realise that while the entire world is fighting against the coronavirus, Pakistan is still busy killing our soldiers on the borders”.
I listen to Amir Khusrau’s verses of ‘Aadam’, as I write this. Khusrau writes:
“Aan Roz Ke Rooh-e Aadam, Aamad Bah Badan,
Guftand Dar Tan Dar Aa, Niyaamad Dar Tan,
Khooban-e Qudsiyaan, Bah Lahn-e Daood,
Guftand Dar Tan Dar Aa, Dar Aamad Dar Tan”.
Roughly translated to—
“On the day of the covenant, when Adam’s soul entered his earthly body, it was [first] ordered, ‘Enter the body’, but Adam’s soul refused to enter the body. Beautiful celestial beings, in the divine melody of David, [then] sang “Enter the body”, and moved by the celestial song, Adam’s soul entered his body”.
After reading these verses, there is actually no need of me or my words to explain what music is or what music does, if only anybody else could have put it as well as Khusrau did. Yet, I will, as a being confined to an earthly life, searching for music in every nook and corner, in every wrinkle and teardrop, living in a world filled with nation-states, governments, armies and flags, try put it my way.
Post-Partition India breathes only because Pakistan shares a border with her. It is what the Indian State lives on and will certainly (if there is ever such a day) die of. The jingoism the State injects into a human mind through Cricket, Bollywood and the corporate-owned media is of an insane level. Such is the injection that it quietly even makes its way into the folklore told by Indian mothers to their children. ‘Hush, go to sleep or I’ll call the army from Pakistan over to our house’. While the imaginary nation-state attempts to create a fellow-feeling among its citizens (who will, in the future, probably never see each other or hear about each other), there will always a remain a socially and culturally oppressed people within its imagined frame-work. When the Muslim state of Pakistan became India’s arch rival, the Muslim population in India became the convenient scapegoat on which the State, until today, fuels up their anti-Muslim sentiment.
As a result, Indian Muslims end up trying to prove their “Indian-ness” in whatever they do and wherever they go. They are expected to cheer louder for the Indian cricket team, they are expected to “take sides” with India over the Kashmir conflict, to mourn over every dead soldier of the Indian Army, they are expected to stand straighter for the national anthem, all for a non-existent, lifeless nation which goes by the name “India”, which in the end only tells them to ‘Go to Pakistan’. The benchmark to be reached to pass off as Indian stoops higher every passing day. From the consumption of beef to the wearing of hijab and skull caps, to the chanting of La Ilaaha Ilallah, will all get you jailed, or killed in a milli-second. Indian Muslims walk on that thin thread which, if stepped on carelessly, will push them into the abyss where there are only nation-less identities.
And what about Pakistan? Their much-celebrated TV program ‘Coke Studio’ holds the tagline ‘The Sound of The Nation’ (only after the Pakistani band ‘Strings’ took over as producer replacing founder and producer Rohail Hyatt though). While they experiment with verses written by Amir Khusrau (born and lived in Delhi), who used to also write verses for his beloved, the Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (born in Delhi), whose shrine is located in the city of Delhi, and have the verses sung by qawwals Ustad Fareed Ayaz and Ustad Abu Muhammed (born Delhi); Coke Studio Pakistan carries the tagline ‘The Sound of The Nation’. The comments section on their YouTube page gets filled with various peace-makers from both countries that go, ‘Love from Pakistan, love from India’ and more notes on how “politicians brewed hatred while the people are lovable”.
Since the listeners found themselves loving the music, they couldn’t help but love those who evidently created it. It comes off as a profound revelation to some that people in either of these nations can even be “loved”, or even talked to. Yet, they love them only as Pakistani artists. They carry their peaceful flags and shower gratitude to the music of Coke Studio for “uniting” the rival nations and for waking them up from their nation bound hatred, yet remaining within their nation bound consciousness. Perhaps Ernest Gellner, the philosopher and social anthropologist puts it together perfectly, “Nationalism is not the awakening of the nations to self-consciousness, it invents nations where they do not exist”. Thus, the people of both countries run around in this imaginary circle (or whatever the shape is of the particular nation), believing in their nationality as strongly as they believe in their gender and then, view everything— literature, cinema, music and the other arts from this vantage point.
Music, and the culture from which the music comes from, travels as freely as light does. While the FWICE releases warnings against Pakistani and Indian artists collaborating with each other for music, Ali Sethi, quarantined in his home in Lahore, goes live with Shilpa Rao on social media to sing Paar Chanaa De and Umraan Langiyaan for their audience. So when the conditioned ignorance flows through the veins of the people who “turned on each other as though they’d never known each other, never been to each other’s weddings, never sung each other’s songs”, Music spreads from the southern tip of Kerala, as far as the west of Afghanistan, and even farther, to millions of hearts that secure a corner to welcome it.
Music remains hanging in the air, unseen, from the Dargahs of Delhi to ones in Lahore, not knowing how to acknowledge hatred, for it is only created from the divine, something that comes straight from the heart and goes to the heart, the melody of Love, waking the ones who have been in a deep slumber, whose dreams don’t go beyond a life within borders, imaginary lines and national flags. Music only knows how to present itself, and has no time for statements and bans. The borders we have now will take up all kinds of shapes, it might grow stronger, or weaker, or the wall might come crashing down, but Music only caresses the people on either side of it with its loving hands, holding them when it hurts and celebrating with them when it doesn’t,
As an old Sindhi poem of Sheikh Ayaz goes:
“Ṭiṛi pawanda ṭaareeyen jaḍahen ġaaṛha gulla, alo myaan,
taḍahen milandaaseen, Ho taḍahen milandaaseen”.
Roughtly translated to,
“When the crimson flowers will blossom on tree branches,
that is when we’ll meet, that is when we’ll meet”.