Let the Music Play

It’s about time the government actively participated in the funding of art and music schools – like Lahore Chitrkar for instance

By Sonya Rehman

Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes from the soul the dust of every day life”. How very true.

As a child I had always been fascinated by this particular group of Afghan musicians who used to sit beside the tables (that were often laden with antique and silver jewellery) in Kohsar Market — one of the most popular markets in the capital. With their bamboo flutes and rubab (a three-stringed guitar-like instrument that is made out of wood and goat skin), these turbaned musicians would play the most poignant of tunes. The melodies were songs of the past which resonated throughout the entire market as some sauntered by choosing fruit and vegetables from nearby donkey carts, popped in and out of the market’s few grocery stores while others bargained with the jewellers over a ring, a necklace or some ornament or the other.

Nahid Siddiqui at Lahore Chitrkar

And amidst this entire hubbub, as I clutched my mother’s hand, I was transfixed by the music. It moved me. I was intrigued. The mental image stayed with me till many years later when I finally decided to take up flute lessons from an art and music school in Lahore. “That’s it”, I had told myself… It was about time I had tried my hand at learning an instrument that seemed to inspire creativity (of both thought and action) from the depth of my soul.

Lahore Chitrkar — founded by a group of artists — was the only music school that I had heard about (apart from the summer workshops at Alhamra) in the city and on my arrival; the studio greeted me with a certain ‘mellow earthiness’. Each room, whether spacious or small, seemed to flow into the other and in the distance I could make out a few broken notes of the sitar (of possibly a student practicing). The placid-bohemian ambience made it almost like an artist’s ‘sanctuary’ of sorts and at the time, I had felt right at home.

What followed were lessons under the tutelage of bansuri maestro, Ustad Khadim Hussain Haidri, or ‘Haidri sahib’ as I used to call him. And in the weeks that followed, I was able to play the beginner’s notes quite effectively. It was such a brilliant release — to actually be able to play an instrument whose music I had admired for years.

As of late, the trend of art and music schools have picked up — mushrooming in every nook and cranny of the main cities in Pakistan. Even with the advent of various music channels glorifying ‘pop culture’, there seems to be a retreat back to one’s own aestheticism and what it has to offer. Eastern and Western fusion music, art and photography based on local traditions and thought, are just some of the many diverse mediums of art that has begun to thrive today. Or maybe it is that we’ve only now begun to take notice? Either way, there seems to be a sense of liberation and relief to be able to identify with as well as understand our art culture better.

Candidly, it’s about time the government actively participated in the funding of art and music schools (such as Lahore Chitrkar) to promote and uphold the country’s cultural heritage. Shahid Mirza, one of Chitrkar’s founders and an accomplished artist, stated: “The government has to start from the very beginning — by making art/music education a standard curriculum in primary level schools. This will ensure many competent teachers as well as students willing to learn. Right now the government is only interested in a quick fix and therefore can’t do much.”

This, I felt, held extremely true. You may argue the fact that various multinational corporations have begun to fund and sponsor certain ‘cultural’ events but somehow, the cultural aspect of these events seem to have gotten enveloped and lost in the haze of this ‘thoroughly corporate and commercialised’ funding. The events depict Pakistan’s cultural heritage to be far too pseudo and limited somehow. Not only this, these events are only one-off and may serve short-term purposes solely.

We desperately need to plan and execute goals that are chalked out for the long-term. A few odd concerts and other such events won’t really cut ice you know? It has to be consistent and regular. And one way of doing so, is to have the active support and participation of the Pakistani government. Let the music play, I say… lest, it perishes forever.

Shehr, The News

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