Dhrupad singer Aliya Rasheed is on song, as Saraswathy Nagarajan tunes in to listen to the Pakistani musician who performs in Thiruvananthapuram on Saturday
Streams of music flow unhindered through all barriers, man made or geographical. “That is because music does not belong to a region or religion,” says Aliya Rasheed, Pakistan’s first female Dhrupad singer. “Music can erase all barriers,” she adds, speaking over the phone in a mixture of Hindi and English, just before travelling to Kerala for her first recital in South India.
The visually challenged singer from Lahore has won accolades for her performances in many Indian cities and the United States (U.S.). Deeply committed to the Dhrupad style of music, she hopes to train a new generation of singers in her country to take forward the tradition.
At present a lecturer of music in the National Arts College, Lahore, she says music, especially Dhrupad, has changed her life for the better in every way. “Shahbaaz Sharif, the chief minister of the province of Punjab in Pakistan, was so happy with my recital that he promised me a home in the Aashiana Housing Society. That is where I stay now,” she stays. Dhrupad has given her an address and a place in the music firmament too.
Aliya grew up in Dubai, listening to the radio and legendary Pakistani and India singers. Her family encouraged her to train her soulful voice and she started learning music at the Sanjan Nagar Institute of Philosophy and Arts in Lahore. “It was my mother, Bushara Rasheed, who always encouraged me. There were dissenting voices but my mother did not listen to those,” she explains.
Although Aliya had heard about Dhrupad music, its long history and its association with “Miya Tansen”, she did not ever think she would be able to tune in to Dhrupad because “there were no Dhrupad singers in Pakistan who was willing to teach.” That is when Providence put her in touch with surbahar player Shuba Sankaran who performed in Pakistan. After listening to Aliya, she suggested that Aliya learn Dhrupad, which, Shuba felt, was ideal for Aliya’s voice. Shuba put her in touch with the Gundecha Brothers in Bhopal.
“Vijay Nambiar, the then Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, helped me get a four-year visa and I travelled to Bhopal with my mother. Initially, my father wondered if we were making the right decision. He was in Dubai and because of the tension between India and Pakistan, he was not keen on the trip. But my mother was firm and it was only because of her bold decision that I was able to make it to India,” remembers Aliya.
Aliya admits that her mother had to tell a white lie to her father that she was going to India for a year only. Eventually, her father did learn the truth but by then he had realised that his daughter was making waves as a musician.
In Bhopal, the Gundecha brothers, Umakant and Ramankant, treated her as a member of the family.Learning, living in Bhopal
“I did not know the ABCD of Dhrupad but my hearing is sharp. God has taken away my sight but He has given me the ability to pick up a note quickly. The strains of Dhrupad filled every nook and corner of my life. Riyaz and learning kept us busy. It was a guru-shishya relationship in every sense of the word. I stayed at their house, ate the same food, lived with them and imbibed the music,” she explains.
She returned to Pakistan at the end of four years but has visited India four or five times for performances. “It was my Guruji who suggested I perform a jugalbandi with Amita Sinha Mahapatra, also a student of the Guruji for our concerts in the U.S.,” she says.Bridging the divide
She hopes that music will bridge the divide between the two countries and the people.
“I have sent Ateeq ul Rahman, a student of mine to learn the Pakhwaj from my Gurus. As of now, there are only a handful. I want to increase the number of musicians. Although the Talwandi gharana used to flourish in Pakistan, today there are only or two practitioners. I want to prevent such a situation and the government of both countries have been helpful,” she adds.
The classical singer has not given much thought about a career as a playback singer. “I want to concentrate on Dhrupad and teach as many students as possible,” she says.
Music sans frontiers
Aliya and Amita Sinha Mahapatra perform a jugalbandi in the city on January 18, 6.30 p.m. ‘The Indo-Pak Sisters’ Concert’ will be held at Vyloppilly Samskriti Bhavan under the auspices of Swaralaya, Soorya, Sangeeta Natak Akademi and Vyloppilly Samskriti Bhavan.