ravings, rantings and ramblings
There is something magical about the song Aankhon Kay Sagar. And more so , about the singer Shafqat Amanat Ali. Each time he sings, he transports himself and his listeners to a different world, where the cool winds beat against your face and you can feel the light sting of the rain drops on your cheeks, as you smile from deep within. And if my words are a little incoherent today, then that is probably how I want them to be. Words fall adequately short in describing the sheer musical genius of Shafqat.
Back then, I was an impressionable radio jockey in New Delhi, India. There were two reasons why I wanted to be on radio. First, I wanted to grow my hair. And second, that radio probably would be the closest I could come to music. Music was and is my first love. All my life, I wanted to sing. I have the gift of tune and timbre, note and nuance. I used to sing in the bathroom and outside it as well. I was happy to sing jingles for radio and hum half a song with a few other singers I met on the way. Never really got an opportunity to take it up seriously.
And then I heard the song Aankhon Kay Sagar. I didn’t know who Shafqat was. Within a few days I was ‘Googling’ him up and getting as much info I could. This was much before his ‘Dor‘ and ‘Mitwa‘ days. And so, with my long hair, sitting inside my radio studios, I would play the song on loop. It was more of a ritual, something that would condition me for my three-hour show. Shafqat did not know all this. He still doesn’t.
I knew the entire percussion arrangement in the song; knew when each ‘splash‘ would occur. I would air-drum throughout the song, switching to some air-guitaring on the U2-esque interlude piece. I slowly started singing along with Shafqat. Was trying to match every quiver in his voice as he rendered “… le doobey humein” with so much passion. I felt a certain yearning and romantic pain in his voice as he strained effortlessly to the uppermost notes in the song. I was simply amazed at his vocal prowess and sheer range. I was enjoying the lyrical pain in the first stanza, “Tadapna mera, hansna tera… ” as much as I was enjoying the husky melancholic voice of Shafqat! The beauty of the Indian classical raga Yaman was very aptly utilised in this song.
And then one day, I heard that my radio station was organising a never-seen-and-heard-before concert consisting of super talents from India and Pakistan including Shafqat and the band (Fuzon) he was with. From the Indian corner, there was Indian Ocean and Kailash Kher. And from the Pakistani corner, there was Fuzon featuring Shafqat and Raahat Fateh Ali Khan. A stellar line-up like this is nothing short of history-in-the-making. I immediately declared that nobody be allowed to interview Shafqat, only I would. My programming director concurred, after all she has spied me head-banging and singing my lungs out to Aankhon Kay Sagar.
It was the day of the concert. I was to finish my radio show and then drive down to the venue. And I was excited that I would be interviewing Shafqat. I dialled out to him and he picked up the phone, sitting in his hotel room in Delhi. This was Shafqat’s first ever radio interview in India and I was happy to introduce him on the airwaves, to millions of fans. I was so excited talking to him! A true fan moment! He was very humble and down to earth. A little too simple compared to the self-proclaimed trumpeting that the other singers did. My respect and liking for the gentleman increased manifold.
And then, hours later, I was seated among the crowds that thronged to witness a historic concert. Fuzon and Shafqat were going to be performing for the very first time in India. The big man walked on the stage, unassuming in his black shirt. He went over to his microphone, placed his left hand on the stand, his right on the microphone, and his right leg on the mic stand as if he was hugging it like his beloved. He closed his eyes… and then his voice wafted through all the giant speakers as he proceeded with the ‘alaap‘ of the song. I was getting all goose-bumpy listening to him – LIVE! His ocean-swelling emotive voice belied the well-defined, strong, superhero-like jawline. He has thick wispy hair, that he was growing. He would not open his mouth wide or grimace much as he sang the powerful classical ballad. Shafqat did not open his eyes. It was almost like he was communicating with the power above. As if he was singing to the dark skies above him. And just as if it were a scene from a film, it started drizzling. Maybe the skies were moved to emotion. It was an open air concert and the performers also had no cover. The guitar in the drizzle as Shafqat kept building the bridge to the heavens above with his voice. You could climb, holding on to his voice and reach a new high. A new spiritual and erotic high.
I experienced a strange satiation.
And today, as I write this, with the song playing on loop for the last 3 hours, I feel a sea of emotion. Shafqat still does not know this.