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Border music

India and Pakistan may be separated by a border since 1947 but both nations still share a cultural heritage that goes back centuries and generations. While Pakistani ghazal singers have enjoyed a sizeable fan base in India not many are aware of classical musicians who continue to keep the khayal and dhrupad genres alive in Pakistan.


Students practice music at Lahore Chitrkar Academy

These musicians are the focus of Delhi-based researcher and documentary filmmaker Yousuf Saeed’s 2006 documentary Khayal Darpan (it translates to the mirror of imagination), which will be staged at NCPA later this week.

Hurdles and hurrahs
In 2005, 43-year-old Saeed went on a fellowship to the neighbouring country to research the music and poems of Amir Khusro. He got engrossed with discovering the fallout of Partition on classical music in Pakistan. Over five months, he spoke to musicians and scholars, attended performances and visited schools where classical music is taught to youngsters.

Saeed admits that the process of making the 100-minute documentary was a challenge. “Obtaining a visa was an issue; I had to wait six months for a study visa. Despite that, I had restricted access and could travel only to Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore.

But once I crossed the border, I was welcomed with open arms and people were very warm towards me,” he reminisces. During his shoot, Saeed realised that in Pakistan classical performances are restricted to urban areas and since several classical musicians migrated during Partition, only few were left behind. “It was difficult to find people who could speak on the topic. But on the plus side, the younger generation is doing a lot to pursue the classical tradition. They realise that it’s their heritage, and are helping create a revival of sorts,” he reassures us.

Sound check
Another element that emerged during the shoot was that Pakistani musicians were anxious about maintaining the authenticity of their sounds. “The ragas sung are the same on both sides of the border. But since they have been cut off from India for over six decades, they are anxious to maintain the originality of compositions in the absence of written material,”
he states.

Saeed observes that the musicians he met were also interested about Indian festivals: “They feel that India has better patrons of classical music and hope to perform here, some day. It’s heartwarming to hear them perform bhajans of Ram and Krishna. In fact, a unique blend of Hindustani classical music and Persian sounds have found a base in Pakistan,” informs Saeed, admitting that he has been heartened by the response to the documentary.

Break barriers
Saeed believes that Khayal Darpan has created a platform for debate on the issue — “Wherever it has been screened, people have said that it touched them and helped break stereotypes about Pakistan. People often have a one-sided view of the country but there is a cultural side that few are aware of.” Since he accumulated 35 hours of footage, Saeed hopes to create a sequel to the film, eventually; this time focusing on how Partition affected classical music in India.

Music Mirror
Khayal Darpan is being staged as part of the Music Mirror series launched in May 2010 by NCPA, which showcases the components involved in the making of music through documentary films. Dr Suvarnalata Rao, Head of programming — Indian music, NCPA, says, “Understanding sound isn’t easy, so this series is about helping people to understand the socio-cultural perspective behind various genres of music and offer a holistic experience. The documentary Khayal Darpan maps the journey of classical music in Pakistan and focuses on artists who despite certain setbacks, including the lack of teachers and political will, persist in their quest.” 

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