Danish Punjabi Sufi Singer & Music Therapist Pervaiz Akhtar in Town – March 9

Singer, Composer, Music Therapist Pervaiz Akhtar sings Punjabi Sufi poetry and Urdu Ghazals. He has issued five albums featuring poetry of Khwaja Ghulam Farid, Madhulal Husain and Bulleh Shah, among others; and, his repertoire as a composer includes works of Rumi, Hafiz, Saadi and Amir Khusrow in Farsi. His Jazz fusion concerts have been held in Pakistan, Europe and the USA. For more information:

Visit Pervaiz’s blog
Contact Pervaiz

Pervaiz is visiting from Copenhagen and he will stay in Vancouver till the middle of March. This presents us with a rare opportunity to listen to him in a public event. Details are below.

‘Kahe Fakeer’ by Pervaiz Akhtar
7pm, Friday, March 9, 2018
Punjab Banquet Hall
8166 128 St #215, Surrey
(604) 598-7611

$30 per person (dinner included), $50 for two.
To book your ticket, call: 604-780-0164


Jatinder Mauhar’s ‘Qissa Panjab’ – a film about youth

‘Qissa Panjab’ by Jatinder Mauhar is a pleasant departure from typical ‘commercial’ or ‘formula’ Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu films being produced in India and Pakistan.

Dheeraj Kumar and Kul Sidhu

First of all, the two women protagonists do not, at any point in the whole hour-and-a-half long film, appear to be ‘heroines’, ‘actresses’, ‘fashion models’ or ‘prostitutes’- instead they always appear to be who they are supposed to be: two young women from lower middle class making their way through poverty, crime and misogyny in today’s urban and rural Punjab.

Second, the music thing. Yes, there are songs and dances, but each are made to occur ‘naturally’, so to speak. For example, most songs and dances were performed on stage by characters who are singers and dancers; and, there’s a nice recurring theme song by Gurdass Mann.

Jagjeet Sandhu

This same ‘common sense realism’ sets off and permeates the plot, characters and scenes of ‘Qissa Panjab’- and its done very well where there isn’t a dull moment in the film.

Director Jatinder Mauhar

The director has achieved an important milestone in creating a real-to-life film for the box office. The film has no pretensions of being an ‘art’ movie made for foreign film festivals and academic institutions, and it does not covet to become a box office hit by employing the usual ‘selling’ tactics of sexualizing women, over-dramatizing or providing solutions palpable to exploitative societal structures.

This is Jatinder Mauhar’s third full-length feature film as a director, earlier he had made ‘Mitti’ (2010) and ‘Sikander’ (2013) where he was also the screenwriter. Jatinder’s short films include ‘No exit’ (2005) and ‘Reth (The Sand)’. He has worked as researcher for the documentary ‘India’s Frontier Railways’ in 2014 for BBC London. He is a regular columnist with over 82 articles published about films, film literacy and current issues for the USA based newspaper Punjab Times, and for other publications in India and abroad.

Jatinder is now working on his fourth film titled ‘Saade Aale’.

‘Qissa Panjab’ was presented in Surrey on December 20th by Sukhwant Hundal and Sadhu Binning for ‘Watan’ where Jatinder Mauhar was in attendance.

View its trailer:

Contact Jatinder Mauhar

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Goodbye Sabri


Written by Randeep Singh

I was not a fan of Amjad Sabri. I don’t know any of his tunes. Why am I mourning his passing?

Sabri was one of the leading singers of qawalli in the subcontinent. As part of the Sabri brothers, he performed in dargahs, concert halls and stadiums around the world.

He was shot dead today in Karachi. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility. In the past ten years, Pakistan’s Sufi Islamic culture has been bombed, murdered and assailed. Shrines are attacked, worshippers are killed and festivals are fired on.

No one is pure in the Land of Pure. Not Sabri, a devotee of Allah and His Prophet. Not Farid or Data Ganj, Sufi poets and cultural icons of Pakistan. Only the new guardians of Islam show the straight path. They are the masters of the day of judgement …

Goodbye Sabri. May your voice lift the spirits of those you left behind. May Pakistan preserve your legacy and the spirit of its culture.

The Sufi Legacy in South Asia


Written by Randeep Singh

On September 13, 2014, the Hari Sharma Foundation in association with a number of arts and cultural groups, presented the conference, “Spirituality, Humanity and the Marginalized: The Sufi Legacy in South Asia” and a musical concert “Songs of Waris Shah, Bulleh Shah, Kabir, Lalon Fakir and Rabindranath Tagore.”

One of the musical highlights was the husband-wife team from Bangladesh, Farida Parveen (on voice and harmonium) and Ghazi Abdul Hakim (on flute). Ghazi on the bamboo flute turned music into poetry, filling the concert hall with the colour of Bengal, taking us beyond the streams and paddy fields.

Farida Parveen sang the songs of Lalon Fakir with a gusto and a tenderness in her earthy tones. The concert also featured Enakshi Chatterjee from Calcutta who opened with songs of Tagore and Madan Gopal Singh from Delhi who sang songs of Sultan Bahu and Bulleh Shah and others.

The highlight of the conference was Dr. Nile Green (UCLA) and the ensuing discussion. Green’s presentation, “Mazaars for the Marginalized” underlined the pluralistic, cosmopolitan dimensions of Sufism, of its journey across trade routes by caravans from Khurasan eastwards to Turkey and southwards through the Khyber Pass into Hindustan.

That plural and cosmopolitan spirit, Green spoke, is heard in the tradition of Sufi poetry and music which filtered into India from Khurason. It is in words like “Auliya” (Arabic), “Pir” (Persian) and “Baba”(Turkish), epiphets for Sufi masters and in the shajars (genealogical trees) of Sufis tracing their ancestry to Samarkand or the Hejaz. Sufi shrines included Greek Christians in Turkey as they did Hindus in India.

The appeal of Sufism to the marginalized according to Green was in its creation of a space where social power was redistributed more evenly. Sufis also acted as important intermediaries between the ruler and the common man in economic, political and legal matters and Sufi institutions provided food and medical care to the poor.

The piety and inclusiveness of the Sufi was questioned during the discussion period. Sunera Thobani mentioned how the Sufi pirs themselves had vast estates and wealth, whereas Habiba Zaman pointed out how Sufi spaces often clearly excluded women. Green himself pointed out today how Sufis became kings of Libya upon that country’s independence or how those of Sufi lineage sit in parliament in Pakistan. Green also reminded us of the hierarchy within Sufi orders, no where more uncompromising than in the relationship between the murshid and the pir.

One member of the audience asked whether Sufism or “Islam-lite” was a way of making Islam more acceptable and congenial to a post-911 West. Whether it is remains a topic for further discussion. But what Green reminded us is that Sufism has always had an appeal beyond just Muslims and the shariat and the importance of its role in shaping culture, Islamic or otherwise.

An Evening with Saeen Zahoor


Written by Randeep Singh

On May 31, 2014, Pakistani Sufi singer Saeen Zahoor performed at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre, sending the audience into trance, dance and inspiring reverence throughout.

The evening brought together local Indian and Pakistani performers, organizers and audience members. Indo-Pakistani band Naqsh IPB opened the evening with their blend of modern Sufi, rock, classical and filmi musical stylings. Through clashing drums, pulsating guitar riffs and the soaring vocals of Daksh Kubba, Naqsh warmed up the crowd for Saeen.

He entered in his long black kurta embroidered in yellow, ghungroo bells jingling around his ankles, carrying his colourfully decorated ektaara (one-string instrument). “I am not an artist,” he began, “I am a dervish who recites the name of His Master.”

Saeen didn’t just sing: he performed in every sense of the word. The spirit of Bulleh Shah poured through Saeen, his songs, his dance, his story-telling. His two hours on the stage was a musical theatre on the life and poetry of Bulleh Shah.

After declaring his devotion to Bulleh Shah in “Ni Mai Kamli Haan” (‘Crazy I Am!’), Saeen sang “Aukhen Painde Lambiyaan Raavan” (‘Hard and Long are the Paths’), of how Bulleh Shah journeyed for miles in search of his teacher. On meeting his teacher, Shah Inayat, Bulleh Shah asks: “how does one find God.” Shah Inayat, planting spring onions, replies: “what do you want to find God for? Just uproot this from here and plant it there.”

Saeen then broke out ecstatically into “Nachna Painda Ae” (‘Dance One Must’) swirling on the stage in his ghunghroo bells just as Bulleh Shah had once for Shah Inayat.

Saeen also sang on Bulleh Shah’s rebukes to legalistic Muslim clerics in “Bas Kare O Yaara Ilm” (‘Enough of Learning, My Friend’). Saeen tells us, Bulleh Shah gave up the shariah for the way of Love just as Heer refused to marry another man according to the shariah because she had been wedded spiritually to her Beloved. On love’s path, Saeen sings “let’s go Bulleh to that place where everyone is blind” in “Chal Bulleha Uthe Chale.”

From his stepping onto the stage, the audience became disciples of Saeen. He sang with abandon, he whirled with frenzy and he ended the night to the boom of the dhol drum bringing the audience to its feet. The air was filled with passion, energy and devotion. People went up to the stage and paid their respects by touching their heads to the stage or folding their hands in reverence: the theatre became a Sufi shrine, a dargah.

Above all, Saeen ensured Bulleh Shah will live on as a shared heritage. His spirit and art were the spirit of love and unity. Says Saeen: “humanity is to love one another.”

What Makes a Song So Catchy?


A melody that’s simple, familiar and repeated over and over can make a song catchy. What makes a song catchy though raises more questions than we have the answers to, for now.

My friend’s son who is pursuing his bachelors’ degree in music points out that a (catchy) pop song moves easily from one chord to the next and then back to the “root” chord. The notes in the melody fall closely to one another on the musical scale.

A study at the University of London suggests that a chorus which combines a hook over three different pitches was found to be catchy.  Just listening to the chorus of some of the catchy songs I grew up with – Madonna’s “Into the Groove,” Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven on Earth” – suggests it’s one of the things that makes a song so catchy.

Read more: http://www.zmescience.com/research/studies/what-makes-a-song-catchy-science-explains/

The Art of Madonna (Part III)

The “American Life” video was born against the backdrop of the American invasion of Iraq. The video was already causing controversy before the invasion of March 20, 2003. Premiering on American television on March 25, 2003, it was pulled by Madonna on April 1, 2003 who did not want to “risk offending anyone who might misinterpret the meaning of this video.”

American Life 2

Click here to watch video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weCQ6ahu92g

“American Life” is not a song about war but a song where Madonna questions the American Dream. The video uses the metaphor of war as the outgrowth of greed and ego which the dream has become. Madonna appears as a military commander and a guerilla with a girl squad. A fashion show forms the centrepiece of the video featuring models wearing bullet belts, gas masks, grenade necklaces and other “war-fashion” paraphernalia while the deadened upper crust of American society observe from the audience.

Madonna and her girl squad gatecrash the runway and spray the fashion paparazzi with a water cannon. Images flash on an overhead jumbo-monitor revealing the horror and destruction of war. Madonna drives off the catwalk to a laughing audience and, in an alternative ending to the video, tosses a ticking grenade onto the runway. The original ending shows a George Bush lookalike catching the grenade and lighting a cigar with it.

The video highlights how the violence of war has become embedded in a decadent American society and culture. “No matter how many distractions we put up for ourselves, whether it’s a fashion show or a reality TV show or a hot contest,” explained Madonna “what’s happening in the world is still going on.” The video is “a statement about our obsession with the world of illusion.” American society becomes a fashion show with gawking spectators, insulated from the world and desensitized to its realities.

In one scene, two Muslim girls in hijab take the runway and are scared off by two army models to the amusement of the audience. The girls, with their serene, peaceful, sad faces, challenge the idea that there is a “barbarian” other. The water cannon and the grenade are symbols of protest rendered futile in a time of post 9-11 censorship. The grenade tossed at the end of the edited version of the video beckons: what will it take for America to snap out of its stupour?

The “American Life” video was not seen again until it was appeared online in 2005. The irony of the video as a protest is not lost since it was Madonna herself who withdrew it from the air. Yet, in hindsight, “American Life” has proved one of Madonna’s most prescient statements in representing “[her] feelings about our culture and values, and the illusions of what many people believe is the American Dream – the perfect life.” The America of the past ten years – the continued War in Iraq and Afghanistan, the growth of “pop idol” and reality culture, the World Financial Crisis, the loss of homes across America and the bailout of banks – show just how illusory that dream has become, making “American Life” all the more relevant.

Written by Randeep Singh

Further Reading:  “From Blatant to Latent Protest (And Back Again): On the Politics of Theatrical Spectacle in Madonna’s ‘American Life.’ Martin Scherzinger and Stephen Smith, Popular Music, Vol. 26, No. 2 (May 2007), p. 211-229.

The Art of Madonna (Part II)

Justify My Love (1990)

The black-and-white European-art style “Justify My Love” video was shot in Paris by director Jean-Baptise Mondino. The video begins with a worn-out Madonna being approached by a stranger in a hotel hallway. While they kiss and prepare to make love, Mondino teases out a series of sexual images, including bisexuality, androgony, cross-dressing, voyeurism and sadomasochism. Madonna leaves the stranger behind and runs down the hallway, laughing. The video ends with the words “poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another.”

justify 2

Click here to watch video: http://vimeo.com/59487452

The video is deliberately surreal, blurring the line between reality and fantasy. The furor over the video was all too real. MTV banned the video for its sexual content. Madonna responded by releasing a video-single of the song, which became the best-selling video-single of all time. It was named the “Best Video of the Year” by the critics of Rolling Stone magazine and as one of “Best 100 Videos” of all time by that magazine.

“Justify” asks what constitutes acceptable sexual behaviour in (American) society. For Madonna, sexual behaviour with a woman as its subject was always going to be socially problematic. “I was not objectified,” she explained to Bob Guccione Jr., “and that is unacceptable.” The “Justify” video shows Madonna granting permission to her lover to enter her room, taking control of her fantasy, creating one erotic scene after the next and leaving the man after she’s done with him. While a public backlash was brewing against her for going too far, Camille Paglia defended Madonna for exposing the puritanism and hypocrisy of America.

The video also appealed to sexual sensibilities other than standard male heterosexuality. In presenting, homosexual behaviour, cross-dressing and gender-bending, “Justify” challenged the idea of a  heteronormative America. As Madonna explained, “sex is the metaphor that I use, but for me it’s about love…tolerance, acceptance and saying, ‘Look everybody has different needs and wants and preferences and desire and fantasies.’”

Madonna was not the first mainstream artist to showcase voyeurism, androgony or even bisexuality, but she was the first to present that content as natural outside of the conventions of heterosexual male desire. As J.D. Considine points out, music videos like George Michael’s “Freedom 90” featured lesbianism but as a spectator sport for straight men. “Justify”  on the other hand implied that both bisexual and homosexual desires were acceptable subjects for fantasy.  “These feelings exist” said Madonna in her interview on Nightline defending “Justify,” and “I’m just dealing with that truth here in my video.”

Further Reading:

Camille Paglia, “Madonna – Finally, a real feminist,” The New York Times, December 4, 1990

J.D. Considine, “How to justify Madonna’s new video?” The Baltimore Sun, December 9, 1990.

The Art of Madonna (Part I)

Madonna has always been a visual performance-artist rather than a classic singer songwriter in the way of Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde.  While her songs and albums have enjoyed commercial and critical success, it is arguably in her visual medium, and her music videos in particular, where her artistic statements on sexuality, race and gender politics find their most potent and provocative expression.

Like a Prayer

Click here to play video: http://vimeo.com/44003277

 Like a Prayer (1989)

When Madonna originally envisioned the video for “Like a Prayer,” she wanted to tell the story of an interracial love affair in the South between a black boy and a white girl who run away together and then are shot by the Ku Klux Klan. Mary Lambert, the video’s director, felt instead that the song was about sexual and religious ecstasy. Madonna visualized this ecstasy as  making love on an altar, an image which finds its way into the video’s climax.

The video begins with Madonna fleeing the scene of a young woman’s murder. She enters a church and sees the statue of a black saint which appears to be weeping. She reclines on a pew, falls into a dream, and through a series of flashbacks, recounts herself witnessing a white woman being murdered by white men for which an innocent black man (who resembles the saint in the church) is arrested. In the video, Madonna kisses the feet of the black saint, experiences stigmata, dances before burning crosses and makes love with the black man/saint on the altar.

From the beginning of her career, Madonna had provoked controversy by toying with religious iconography and sexuality. The “Like a Prayer” video added race to create an unholy trinity. Religious groups across America decried the video as blasphemous. The Pope banned Madonna from appearing in Italy and urged a national boycott of Pepsi which had featured Madonna and the song in a new commercial. Religious and family groups in America urged similar boycotts. Pepsi quickly pulled the commercial from TV airwaves. The video nevertheless topped critics list, winning recognition from Rolling Stone and Billboard as one of the top videos of the 1980’s and of all time, and winning MTV’s 1989’s “Viewer Choice” Award.

The “Like a Prayer” video presents a number of themes for analysis. Although the black saint in the video may be a replica of Martin de Porres (the patron saint of interracial harmony), the narrative of the video – where a black man tries to save a white woman and takes the fall for the men that murdered her – implies that this saint may be in fact be a (black) Jesus, something likely given the resemblance between the black man and the statue in the church, both played by Leon Robinson.

The love-making on the altar can also be interpreted symbolically. On the one hand, the image – along with the scenes of the burning crosses, the bleeding eye of the statue – can be seen tragically as the martyrdom of black men by White America for kissing, gazing or even wanting white women. On the other hand, Grant interprets the love-making as the most poignant scene of the video, driving home the message of racial equality.

Why the video provoked such a religious outcry is also a question. Robinson describes the video as “great for anyone religious – it shows Madonna witnessing an attack and then going to a church for guidance” – in this case, to confront the police as an eye witness to the crime the black man was wrongly accused of and have him set free. The Black Jesus alone was perhaps going too far from some. In this sense, Madonna’s dancing in front of the burning crosses not only symbolizes racial hatred in America and how it is institutionalized through iconography, but how it can be smashed as well.

Further Reading:

Santiago Fouz-Hernandez and Freya Jarman-Ivans. Madonna’s Drowned Worlds.

Destination South Asia

Here’s a taste of some of the talks at Destination South Asia which took place at the University of British Columbia on March 23, 2013.

“Why is Poverty Declining so slowly in India,” Dr. Ashok Kotwal

  1. India continues to be so poor because most of its population continues to be employed in agriculture which pays so little if anything.
  2. Indians need to shift into non-farm jobs, like manufacturing but India does not have enough skilled labour partly because.
  3. Indians are so poorly educated or not educated at all

Some other points from Dr. Kotwal’s paper on the subject (http://www.ideasforindia.in/Article.aspx?article_id=110 )

  1. Most Indians (93%) have no job security nor access to credit, infrastructure or skills training as they work under the table (the ‘informal sector’), and;
  2. Unskilled and poor workers have benefited little from the “high growth” because they lack the skills to take part in such skill-intensive sectors as business services (which employ only a small part of the labour force anyway).

How will India reap its “demographic dividend” when its people are unskilled, undereducated, malnourished… ?


“Beyond Political Frames: Literary Voices on Partition,” Nabila Pirani

Short-stories on Partition are written by writers alive at the time of the event, offering the benefit of immediacy to the reader, but can bring out the human and social aspects of Partition more effectively than purely historical or political narratives.

Summarizing the stories “Siqqa Badal Gaya,” “Lajwanti” and “Khol Do” by Krishna Sobti, Rajinder Singh Bedi and Saadat Hassan Manto respectively, Pirani, and the following discussion, revealed the many textures and tones of the Partition era.

In “Siqqa,” Pirani underlines how for many Punjabis, the violence of partition was mostly in the background and how the experience of partition changes through the perspective of a woman writer and protagonist. In “Khol Do,” Manto upsets the apple cart by suggesting that men from a particular community may have raped their own women. Lastly, in “Lajwanti,” Pirani looked at the invisible walls that develop between a husband and a wife who had recently been returned to her husband after being classed as “missing.”

“Pakistan’s Fading Cultural Heritage,” Umair Jaffar

Pakistani singer

The Institute for Preservation of Art and Culture (IPAC) is a Pakistani non-profit organization which seeks to support struggling artists and ustads and to preserve and propagate the classical and folk musical and artistic heritages of Pakistan.

The soul of Pakistan can be heard in the ballads of Marwari women in the Southern Punjab anticipating the return of their husbands from war as it is in the Nur Sur tradition of Baluchistan, a folk story-telling tradition stretching back to the Greek period. There are the instruments, like the Sindhi “borindo,” have been found in excavations in the Indus Valley from over 4000 years ago. And, we see how ancient instruments like the Baluchistani “banjo” can produce the sounds of the modern electric guitar.

Jaffar points out that public media presentations of folk and classical music performances were banned during Zia’s time resulting in a growing number of Pakistani youth over the years who have become disconnected from those traditions. At the same time, some traditions have also enjoyed an upsurge, such as in Baluchistan where folk music traditions have revived as part of a general cultural revival in recent years. I argued that folk and classical music traditions are bound to decline in a country where the languages held in greatest esteem (Arabic, English and Urdu) are not connected to nor supportive of its folk traditions. On the other hand, the traditions of poetry and music connected to the mother tongue helped produce the likes of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.


“History of Intercultural Dialogue and Engagement in Vancouver,” Naveen Girn


Girn’s presentation including rare photographs, news excerpts and audio clips and now part of the public archive, serves as a reminder of the history of South Asians in Vancouver.

The story of South Asians in Vancouver can be said to begin with the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. To attend the Jubillee in London, England, the army regiments of the subcontinent had to first pass through Vancouver. By 1907, a sizeable number of South Asians had settled in the city and that year saw the opening of the 2nd Avenue Gurdwara in Kitsilano, the first gurdwara in North America.

More than a sacred space, the gurdwara was a meeting ground for Indians of different communities, including socialists, revolutionaries and members of the Ghadr party. The early community lived through the 1907 race riots in Vancouver and the Komagata Maru, published their own news magazine (associated with the Ghadr movement), forged associations with members of Anglo-Canadian and Chinese-Canadian communities and sent delegates to Ottawa to petition the government to grant South Asians the right to vote. The gurdwara also hosted Rabindranath Tagore, who Girn points out slept in the basement there after being turned away from the Hotel Vancouver and Nehru, who visited in 1949.

Remembering a legend – A tribute to Mehdi Hassan‏

A voice that ruled the hearts of South Asians for nearly half a century; a voice in which Lata Mangeshkar said she had found Bhagwan, continues on but the singer is no more with us.

The Shanshah-e-Ghazal Mehdi Hassan (1927-2012) passed away June 13 at 84.

To pay tribute to this great legend, the Committee of Progressive Pakistani Canadians (CPPC) and Naad Foundation are hosting an event. Program details are as under:

When: Sunday 17th June at 2:00 pm
Where: Naad Center for performing and visual arts
Unit No: 109, 12414- 82 Ave, Surrey BC.

Rest in Peace Mehdi Hassan Khan Sahab – you’re no longer with us but we will always remember you!

Amarjeet Singh 778-883-2627
Shahzad Nazir Khan 604-613-0735

Photo from Mirza Ghalib group on Facebook.

‘Chasing Fireflies’ by Avtar Singh

Pervaiz Elahi, Chief Minister of Pakistani Punjab, gave Capt. Amarinder Singh, his sarhad-paar counterpart, a horse. The good Captain reciprocated a few months later with a tractor. In the interim, a World Punjabi Conference was held, East and West Punjab games announced and a general atmosphere of cordiality and bonhomie prevailed. A reporter asked the Pakistani CM whether he felt he’d been one-upped by the Indian; if the eighty horses the tractor packed under its hood in effect trumped Pakistan’s solitary ghodi. Elahi laughed it off and said, ‘Muqabala mohabbat ka hai’, that the competition was one of love. The audience roared, the cameras clicked, the premises were awash in esprit de Kaur.

This happened almost a decade ago, in the mid-2000s. A scant few years previously, the Punjab countryside had been on the verge of being mobilised, with farmers hiding their vehicles for fear that the army, then moving en masse to the border, would commandeer them. A war had just been averted, neighbours with a history of bellicosity eyeing each other with disfavour across a mined and wired border. A sardar with deep roots in undivided Punjab had nominally taken charge in Delhi, but in Islamabad lurked a Mohajir general with no reason to love either Punjab or its products. So what, with respect, were these two chief ministers playing at?

A friend of mine, whose political acuity is aided by his interest in history, laughed at my question. The knickerwalas will never see an Akhand Bharat, he told me. But Punjab? That’s a different story.

The Pakistani Punjabis don’t care about the rest of their country. Neither, he pointed out, do you lot on this side. You feel besieged by no-hopers and laggards, just as your cousins across the border do. You share a language, cultural markers, even dream of the same things for your children. Cars, education, jobs abroad. You like sports and music and tikkas of all descriptions and you party like it’s still 1999.

Akhand Bharat? Never. But a united Punjab? Without testy Balochs and testing Biharis? Why not?

So it was a throwaway comment and events since haven’t panned out the way Messrs Singh and Elahi planned. The horse died, the games languished and the Punjabi conferences are now held in Canada, where the stated aim is to reflect on Unesco’s dire prediction that Punjabi as a language will die in this century. No, I haven’t seen the report. But I know that Punjabi literature is under threat on this side and I’ve seen the problems Punjabis across the border are facing from the onslaught of Urdu instruction. Gurmukhi and its Pakistani equivalent, Shahmukhi – apparently a Punjabi edition of the Nastaliq script more commonly available across the rest of the northern subcontinent – are at the mercy of texts that use the delivery systems of Devanagari, English and what have you and possibly you’ll see Punjabi degrade from a bhasha to a boli in our own lifetimes. It’s a sobering prospect.

But go to that other forum where the young Punjus conference. Youtube is its name. A new video, a new dance edit, a new take on ‘Jugni’: audit the responses among the comments underneath. Within the excoriations – ‘go back to Pindi, you f***in’ pendu’ – and the encomiums – ‘badasssss song, mate’ – lurks a pattern. A clear divide, to begin with, between nation. Then the creeping notion, first and foremost among the diasporic respondents, of a perceived commonality that transcends said nations. Then an impassioned plea from a resident Punjabi, writing in her mother tongue, albeit in a Romanized fashion, to rise above this petty state-ism and to recognise what binds ‘us all’ together. To enjoy the music, to listen to the words. In effect, to dig beneath the beats and the mastering and the bling. To remember.

What is a memory if not a dream?

What is a dream if not a template for the future?

Perhaps I’m reading too much into the drunk vapourings of foreigners homesick for a place they’ve never known.

But youtube pulls me back, again and again. I like the various ‘Jugnis’ I see there. A firefly’s fitful, brilliant incandescence is a wonderful thing. To catch one in a jar on a summer night is to see light and dark in the blink of an eye. Epic poetry, a sufi tradition, a bhakti saint and his descendants: an attachment to the land, a Sikh kingdom, a syncretism that may or may not have ever existed; harmony and cataclysm, rivers and deserts, Ghazis and Akalis, peace and war.

A civilization without a deciphered script that is still being excavated. Alexander defeated by the marshlands and the many rivers he had to cross, a world-conqueror stopped in his tracks. A proto-university in Taxila. Gandharas and Hunas, Buddhists and fire-worshippers, soma in pancha-nada.

Faridkot on this side and Ganj-e-Shakar across.

Pakistan? India?

Fireflies in a jar. The blink of an eye.

My father was born across the border in Lahore. He and his brothers went to school there. His mother studied there, who along with her sisters was among the first women in the community to attend Kinnaird College. Naturally, she went there wearing a veil.

His Lahore is one I’m familiar with from other people’s memories. Fruit cream in canteens, horse-carriages in the old city and cars in the new one. Well-dressed men in suits in the colleges, new restaurants being planned and along the margins, as a young boy will remember it, a town in the grip of some intellectual ferment. In the distance is a world war, accounts of which are to be woken up to and tabulated and closer to home is a pressing demand for independence but in the interim there are cricket teams to be tried out for. He has close friends from distant places who bring their own servants to the dormitories and the stories they tell him of their faraway homes match those of his own grandparents for their foreignness from the urban milieu he knows. Tellingly, his clearest memory of a visit to his paternal grandmother in her village home is being up on the roof and hearing a man softly singing Heer. If he’s on the roof, then it’s the summer holidays.

There must have been fireflies.

The tumult to come would disrupt his lifestyle to the extent that he had to shift schools and form new friendships. His maternal grandfather, on the other hand: he didn’t want to leave Lahore. His lands were on that side and so were his friends and what difference did a new dispensation make anyway to a man born under a foreign flag?

His son-in-law, my grandfather, had to physically remove him. Like many other men of his generation, perhaps he never really recovered.

Decades later, as my father’s generation started to marry their own children off, I began to meet the friends from that faraway school they’d never lost touch with. They would come with their own children to the weddings on this side and my elder cousins would go to their celebrations and they’d return with tales of monstrous feudalism that would make my father and his brothers chuckle. But no matter how differently we’d turned out, individually and collectively as Indians and Pakistanis, there was much to connect us. From the music at our weddings to the arcs our education had followed, both here and abroad: it would seem fated that we would remain friends.

I’ll grant you that this is the commonality of elites the world over. Clearly there are other narratives. A writer friend from Pakistan who is also a landlord described to me in great detail how the peasantry in his part of southern Punjab has now been radicalised by outsiders. From Pathans unable to protect their Sikh neighbours in the NWFP, for the first time in living memory, to bombs in Sufi shrines in the Punjabi heartlands; there is a pattern there as well and better minds than I will use it to rebut the theorists of commonality above all.

But. Even as the invitations of the last few decades have degraded to warnings of strife at home and hints that perhaps this wedding or that jubilee might be worth avoiding; even as the Old Boys on this side have progressed into their twilight decades and the points of connection now seem fewer and fewer; there is still something there. A look in my father’s eye as he describes Lahore, an uncle’s tale of a dancer’s beauty at a mujra, the sheen of the menus another uncle had had printed for a restaurant that never saw the light of Independent day.

Memories. Templates. Dreams.

My maternal great-grandfather’s unwillingness to leave the new state of Pakistan wasn’t an aberration. A friend of mine once told me the story of his own grandfather, who was so loath to leave his land in the new state, he was quite happy to consider conversion and circumcision and a new name. Men of their generation had known the hukumat of the British. What difference who ran the sarkar, what price the sound of the prayer or the script it’s printed in, when all that matters, the land itself, is still yours?

That old man was dragged kicking and screaming from his home and deposited in a new one across an arbitrary border. There were others who stayed and they are now part of the soil of Pakistan. Partition had greater victims, of course. The suffering of women left without choice in a landscape of cruelty that was at once methodical and insane is only starting to be documented. But it is instructive to remember that even men with ostensible options chose in a way that seems completely counter-intuitive to us, now, saddled as we are with the baggage of history. Nationalism, whatever you may think of it, is a powerful lens. It refracts what is there, whether we like it or not. India and Pakistan just are, complete with their founding myths. End of story.

Except it isn’t.

Imagine that firefly from my father’s childhood, listening to a peasant sing from Heer. Now she’s in a garden in Central Delhi, where Arif Lohar and friends are referencing her in a production from Pakistan’s popular Coke Studio. Arif Lohar’s father, Alam, was of course a legendary folk singer himself, who along with Asa Singh Mastana and Surinder Kaur first brought ‘Jugni’ to the attention of the record-buying public. That firefly is in a well-dressed whirl, as togged-out Dilliwalis who’ve never known a day’s worth of hard labour on anyone’s land swing and sway to a rhythm that speaks, it seems, to something deep within. These words, these references, the insistent beat: like a reflection, a refraction, a missive from the past.

Do you think this firefly wastes any time thinking over the criticisms of people who ‘know’, who claim that it is naive to believe that ‘Jugni’ is just a firefly? Does she spare a thought for the peasants over whose worlds she’s flown; does she giggle at the suggestion that those ‘simple’ peasants don’t know a narrative device when it’s sung to them by the dhadhis they’ve grown up with, that metaphors are foreign countries to those fools from the Punjab plains? Does she remember Bulleh Shah entreating his lover to come out from behind a veil and Nanak likening creation to an aarti? Or does she just listen and glow, glow as one does when all was darkness and suddenly everything is lucid and clear? Even if it is only for that moment, that evening, the length of that song.

Fireflies don’t live very long. Certainly not in Central Delhi. But a digital recording is apparently forever.

I started writing this thinking I’d come up with a single alternative, if you will, to the current diorama. Imagine if the schism had never happened, I was instructed. Ignore Amrita Pritam calling Waris Shah out of his grave, ignore Ahmed Faraz’s query to the celebrants, asking them which dismembered state’s founding they were jumping up and down about. I’m a Punjabi Sikh. The way ahead was clear.

But it’s not.

The schism just is.

So what?

Punjab’s always been riven. By invasion, by geology. Between brothers, even. Even when land wasn’t so damned expensive.

Perhaps we don’t know how to get along. And all we have to look forward to is the occasional kindness of a taxi driver in a foreign city who recognises a word, an accent, a name, and comps you the fare because the village his senile grandfather cries about at night is the one you still call home.

Or perhaps you could, like I did, chase fireflies on youtube. From Mika’s thin tone to the full-throated hoarseness of a dhadhi from Patiala in Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, there’s more than enough to keep you occupied. Peel back the layers and find Latif Mohammed’s versions. Yes, Kuldeep Manak. Jasbir Jassi and Madan Gopal Singh reference him in their very modern take. Gurdas Maan, Rabbi Shergill, Mukhtar Sahota: the list goes on. And the debate rages on below the videos themselves. There’s a lover for every hater.

Kind of like Punjab. And the only binary that’s new is the simple one of the computer code itself, that enables people from everywhere and nowhere, India and Pakistan, you and me, to imagine the world afresh with the tools we’ve always had.

I’d like to think that one day I’ll be able to get that firefly to sit down and have a drink with me. Well, four or five. She’s Punjabi too. And I’d like to think I know what she’d say, when she judged the moment right to unship the wisdom of her wandering about to me.

‘F*** India. F*** Pakistan. Punjab te Punjab hai.’

Presented in April 2012 at
a symposium on re-imagining South Asia


Pointed to by Amarjit Chandan

A Song to Die For – Iranian Rapper Shahin Najafi: Solidarity May 26/12

‘Shahin Najafi was sentenced to death by two high level clergymen in Iran assignning one hundred thousands dollor price on his head. The Iranian Rapper sang a song in which he made fun of a religious figure. In solidarity with him, a facebook page is created and on Saturday May 26th, people around the world will come into street to protest Shahin’s death sentence and defend freedom of expression…’

Here’s the song in English


Naqi! for sake of your sense of humor
For sake of this deportee man out of ring
For sake of the threatening life’s big penis sitting back to us
Naqi! For sake of the width and lengths of sanction and uprising dollar and the sense of humiliation
Naqi! For sake of paper made Imam
For sake of Ya Ali saying infant trapping in the womb
For sake of jurisprudence lesoon in the nose operation’s room
For sake of Agha* [the leader] and prayer bead and rug made in china
Naqi!for sake of Sheith Rezaeie’s* thumb [an Iranian football player who fingered his playmate in live broadcasting match]
For sake of the missed out religion and the religious football

Hey Naqi, hey Naqi, hey Naqi!

Hey Naqi! Now that Mahdi has slept, we are calling you:hey naqi!
We are ready wearing our shrouds, hey naqi! Rise up! (2)
Naqi! For sake of love and Viagra
For sake of legs up in the air and chakra
For sake of bread, chicken, meat and fish
And Silicon breast and striped virginity
Naqi! For sake of Golshifte’s* tits [an Iranian actress who pose nude for Cezar film prize trailer]
For sake of our lost prestige which was taken
Naqi! For sake of Aryan’s race
And the plaques overhang the neck
Naqi! Please for sake of Farnood’s* dick [an Iranian child who goofed in a live TV show]
And three thousand billion* under the sapphire sky [the amount of government embezzlement from Iran’s Saderat Bank]
Persian Gulf and Uromieh Lake were fictional
By the way! What was the Green Movement leader’s name?!

Chorus (2)
Hey Naqi, hey Naqi, hey Naqi!

For sake of fart-rending* demise of nation’s Imam [it points to a goof from an Iranian TV’s host, who used fart-rending instead of the word “Heart-rending”]
For sake of fossilized political commentators far from homeland
For sake of high class widows roaming in discos
For intellectual discussions in chartrooms
For sake of notorious men’s order
For sake of female men rights’ supporters
For sake of colored revolution on TV
For sake of 3 percent book readers of people
For sake of fake & hollow poets
For sake of this fickle crowd
Who say “viva” in the morning & “down with” in the evening
For sake of fantasy fiction’s hero

Chorus (2)
Hey Naqi, hey Naqi, hey Naqi!

* Naqi: also known as ‘Alī an-Naqī was the tenth of the Twelve Imams. His full name is ‘Alī ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Alī. The exact date of his birth and death are unknown, but it is generally accepted that he was born between 827–830 CE(Wikipedia)

Translation by aftab.nfill in by ali.d
From YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rDXhjIN030

Download Song

Facebook Page

Protest in Vancouver, Saturday May 26, Vancouver Art Gallery, 6-7pm, Event information

Indian Classical Music at Surrey Arts Centre‏ – Nov 5/11

Virasat Foundation
Presents A Concert of Indian Classical Music
Saturday November 5th 2011
At 7pm
Surrey Arts Centre
13750 88 Avenue, Surrey, BC

The concert will feature renowned musicians Pandit Manu Kumar Seen on sitar and Ustad Akram Khan on tabla.

Pandit Manu Kumar Seen is a brilliant sitar player from Jalandhar, Punjab. Born into a family of musicians, he has inherited his talents and abilities from his father and Guru, Ustad Lacchman Singh Seen the renowned and legendary musician of the Punjab Gharana. His father instilled into him the deep spiritual nature of Indian Classical Music and opened his mind to the feelings and the meditative aspect of the various ragas. Punjab has it’s own unique style of playing sitar and this is what has been handed down to him from his father. Pandit Manu Kumar Seen is also fortunate to have learnt sitar form the world renowned sitar maestro Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan who has taught him the subtle techniques of sitar playing used in the Etawah Gharana.

In 2002 Virasat Foundation awarded Pandit Manu Kumar Seen with the “Indian Classical Music Award”. He has since been honoured by many other organizations including receiving the Surmani Award by Sur Singar Samsad Mumbai and has given sitar performances in many prestigious festivals like Baba Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan Jalandhar Swami Haridas Sangeet Sammelan Mumbai, Tirupati Balaji A.P., Bhaskar Rao Sangeet Sammelan Chandigarh, National Program of Music All India Radio, Globe Fest 2003, World Sacred Music New York, India Habitat Centre New Delhi and Saptak Ahmedabad which is one of India’s biggest music festivals.

Ustad Akram Khan is arguably the finest contemporary performer of tabla from the famous Ajrada Gharana. Ustad Akram Khan received his initial training in music from Late Ustad Niazu Khan who was known for his technical style and guidance. He is also fortunate to have learnt from his great grandfather Ustad Mohammed Shafi Khan. He continues his riyaz and training under the able guidance of his father Ustad Hashmat Ali Khan.

Ustad Akram Khan began performing at music conferences at a very young age. Since then, he has been participating in prestigious festivals across the globe to much acclaim. In 1987, he performed with the great Ustad Vilayat Khan in Japan and in 1992 he accompanied the maestro to the United States. He has performed before enthralled audiences at the Kennedy Centre and the Lincoln Centre in U.S.A. He was part of the celebrations for the 50 years of India’s Independence in India, as well as abroad. He is a leading tabla player of international repute and is in much demand both as an accompanist and a soloist.

Virasat Foundation is delighted to be presenting this exquisite concert featuring these gifted artists and welcomes everyone to attend. This will be an opportunity for everyone to listen to sitar and tabla at it’s finest and also Pandit Manu Kumar Seen will be singing and playing some traditional folk songs from Punjab. Please contact Virasat Foundation in advance for tickets.

About Virasat Foundation:
Virasat Foundation is dedicated to preserving and promoting the rich culture, traditions and heritage of India.

For Further Information:
Bhupinder S. Malhi 604 765 3063 or Jaspal S. Randhawa 604 897 4512
Email: info@virasatfoundation.com
Website: www.virasatfoundation.com

Forwarded by Shahzad Nazir Khan

Way to go, Jagjit Singh!

Jagjit Singh, the ‘King of Ghazal’ who sang Ghalib so well, moves on at 70.
His wonderful contributions to this world will still remain.
Thank you for all the songs.

Love and respect to Chitra Singh.

Jagjit Singh, the ghazal maestro, dies
NEW DELHI: Renowned ghazal singer Jagjit Singh, 70, passed away at 8.10 am in Lilavati Hospital on Monday morning.

Jagjit Singh was admitted to the Lilavati Hospital on September 23 after he suffered brain haemorrhage in suburban Bandra where a life-saving surgery was performed on him.

“Jagjit Singh passed away at 8.10 am after having a terrible haemorrhage,” Dr Sudhir Nandgaonkar, hospital spokesperson, told PTI.

He is survived by his wife Chitra Singh.

Jagjit Singh was born in Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan. He had four sisters and two brothers and he is known as Jeet by his family.

Popularly known as “The Ghazal King”, he gained acclaim together with his wife in the 1970s and 1980s, as the first ever successful duo act (husband-wife) in the history of recorded Indian music.

Recipient of Padma Bhushan award, he has sung in several languages including Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Nepali.