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When music choked!

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R.V. Smith finds out why the qawwals at Hare Bhare Sahib’s shrine had one Thursday off

Do you know that people in the Jama Masjid area could not hear Thursday Qawwalis one evening in the late 1960s? The reason was the presence of a very important personage in the Walled City. The visit of the Imam of Kaaba, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdulla al Sheikh, to Delhi did not perhaps get the attention it deserved because it corresponded with the visit of the Shah and Shahbanu of Iran. The Imam nevertheless made quite an impression on religious circles which welcomed him in the Capital. Later he also visited Agra, Lucknow and Aligarh. In his white Arab robes the Imam did look a striking figure. But he may be remembered more for his injunction on photography and music. Orthodox Islamic law prohibits the making of a likeness of a living being, and the Imam was only adhering to it. As a result, his pictures could not appear in the papers. But one wonders whether he did without a picture for his passport too! But those days they didn’t need a passport. Incidentally,

Due to the discordant note struck by the Imam, the qawwals at the shrine of Hare Bhare Sahib, below the steps of the Jama Masjid, had to take a day off lest the visitor should feel offended by their singing which is frowned upon by the ultra orthodox Wahabis. However, as if to compensate for that, Ustad Latafat Hussain Khan, wearing a scented malmal kurta, agreed to sing at a mehfil in Delhi. Nephew of the famous Ustad Faiyaz Khan of the Agra gharana, he sang the classical raga Poorbi in his majestic voice which charmed the listeners no end.The ustad recalled that when he used to come to Delhi as a young man he felt inspired by an old fakir who sang the Sufiana Kalam every evening at Sarmad’s grave. What happened to the fakir is not known but some years later the presence of Allan fakir in the Capital was a reminder of the visit of many Sufis to Delhi from Sind over the centuries to preach the message of communal amity. The Allan fakirs owe their origin to Shah Abdul Bhatti who set up his own order in Sind. The present fakir is one of that lineage.

Other fakirs

Besides Allan, there are Lallan fakirs, Jumman fakirs, Chunna fakirs, Bunda fakirs and so many others carrying on a long tradition just like the bauls, the devotees of Namdev and Tukaram, the Kabirpanthis and other Bhakti exponents. In the pre-partition days one remembers a Chunna fakir in black shirt and tehmet with shoulder-length hair visiting various localities every Thursday. But his refrain was always the same: “Chunna fakir mai Chunna fakir — Tere bachhon ki khair mange Chunna fakir”. He had a big chimta (tongs), in his hand which he beat in rhythm with his couplets.

Jumman fakir was much older with snow-white hair, his back bent with age. Jumman was nearly 88 in 1940 and had witnessed the “Mutiny” as a boy. His father died a few years later and soon after, his mother. The only surviving son, he found refuge at a shrine where the Jumman fakir of Rohilkhand took him under his fold. In old age he too had a chela, Kalaan Fakir, a younger and stronger fakir who has not been seen after 1947.

The way Allan fakir brought the roof down at the New Year Eve function at Mandi House was to be seen to be believed. Looking like Rasputin, “the Mad Monk of Russia”, the fakir with his turban and bushy beard exuded the sort of magnetism associated with mystics who have transcended all bonds.

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