Articles of the year 2010

A Pakistani Ustad
Published on October 21th, 2010

We Pakistanis are an incredible people, for out of nowhere we produce results that confound ourselves, and our neighbours. This time the Chote Ustad program which was a competition on the lines of American Idol, only confined to India and Pakistan. Consisting of youngsters between 8 and 13.

We in Pakistan paid no attention assuming that in a musical contest Pakistan would not be able to compete against the mighty India that had always considered singing and dancing as part of a religious prayer, while in Pakistan it was looked down upon as an activity that was to be discouraged amongst the genteel in Society, and should be confined to a particular strata that would perform when called upon. Music was thus not encouraged amongst the children. Music has always had an air of the degenerate, in Pakistan—to be enjoyed –tolerated, but to be discouraged. If a child showed an aptitude, or any talent it was to be kept quiet, and god forbid a girl child, who was never to be encouraged or ever brought forward to display her skills. Dancing of course was Verboten in the strictest terms. Not to mention the Mullah frown.

So when GEO Tv announced their competition with the Indian children, we were flabbergasted convinced that it would be an embarrassment against the might of numbers, and the special status that music holds in the Indian cultural ethos. The Indians are also ten times bigger than us in population. Their music industry is huge, for it has to feed a film industry that is the largest in the world, requiring hundreds of dancers and singers, and musicians. Whilst in Pakistan the musician is lucky to make do on the scraps that come his way from the Mujras. Of course the musician is at the bottom of the pecking order when the spoils are divided. India however adores their musicians and their singers, who are beloved encouraged, and well rewarded. In India a musician seldom starves. And the competition was being held in India where the home bias would surely play a strong role in the calculation of the final positions.

With these doubts in mind we watched the competition progress, and after the first few notes had been sung, we realized that the Pakistani children were indeed a match for the Indians, till by the last few days word from Bombay filtered out that a Pakistani boy was not just in the running but way ahead of the rest. The climax was the showdown between the boy Pakistani Rohan and girl Aakansha.A stunningly beautiful child of thirteen with the voice of an angel, and skills of a master Ustad. It started as a simple duet, but soon turned into a duel between two exceptionally gifted and skilled masters of their art. First Aakansha would sing a couplet daring Rouhan to match her, and surprisingly Rouhan matched her note for note, till his skill and voice put his stamp of authority on the duel. He won that contest in front of thousands in the audience, and of course millions more on Television. That last duet was magical, and shall remain always as a glowing memory. I as a Pakistan was proud at the achievement of young Rohan, and considering the monumental number of youngsters in India that are practicing and singing daily, it was a miracle that Rohan won on the day. He is gifted with an incredible voice, and he is lucky that he got such a magnificent platform to exhibit his skills.His parents must have been delighted that all those years of hard work paid off—hugely as it happens.

The biggest winners will be the Indian and Pakistani children who were given a demonstration that with talent hardwork there is a world of riches and rewards that awaits them.

I cannot close without a voicing a note of disgust towards the Chairman, Pemra for scrambling the transmission of the program. He obviously did not realize the damage he did to himself and his office in this childish act. This was indeed Pakistan's finest musical moment, with an audience of almost 1 billion people, who were shown that Islamabad consists of tiny little men who derive pleasure from creating hardships for others. Like those little people who pull the wings off flies and watch them suffer. Pemra switched off this program for 100 million people.Why? Pemra owes the citizens of Karachi a huge apology.