Lahore was once famous for the melody in its air and soil. The lives of the people of the city, which was once the seat of the Mughal Empire, were imbued with classical music, which in turn developed a rich baithak culture. A baithak is a place to sit, get lost in the music, interact with people of similar interests and share ideas. However, today that culture seems non-existent and classical music has become a privilege that only a few can enjoy.
“This phenomenon had much to do with Lahore’s inner-city culture,” explains famed musician Ustad Badaruz Zaman, who has been honoured with a Pride of Performance Award for his contribution to music. “This was a musical environment created by enthusiasts and lovers,” adds Zaman, who for much of his life shared the stage as a vocalist and harmonium player with his brother Qamar. On April 28 this year, Lahore-based NGO Jadeed Foundation announced that a music school will be named after the 73-year-old to honour him for his accomplishments in the field.
Zaman’s foray into music was deeply connected to the old city culture in which neighbourhoods were seen as amicable and vibrant environments in which entertainment was integral. “The best thing about this culture was that it catered to everyone and brought people together,” says Zaman. In every neighbourhood, there would always be one or two houses where people would gather for a musical night, recalls the musician with a nostalgic smile. “We are proud of it because this later became the launch pad for great singers like Mohammad Rafi Khan, Noor Jehan or Ghulam Ali,” adds Zaman, who, back in the day, converted a large room in his father’s house into a baithak. The room, he adds, easily accommodated around 100 to 200 people who came from surrounding areas.
Rise and fall of
The surprising part of the then burgeoning culture was that it developed from an amateur form of interest for music, pushed by local thirst for entertainment. The tradition then expanded outside of the city into local musical halls and during this process, the audience for this kind of entertainment grew rapidly. The increase in the number of shows was complemented by the success of Radio Pakistan, which in turn provided a platform for a multitude of classical artists.
“It was a very unique period for music,” exclaims Zaman, who has been recording and singing for shows on Radio Pakistan for 53 years. During this time the radio booked artists from various cities including Lahore and Karachi where they could interact and discuss the music in greater detail.
The culture thrived until the 1965 war following which, Zaman exclaims, the aesthetic sense of people began to shatter. Later, when it finally started reviving, it was hit by another blow — the 1971 war. “We all had this deep passion for music and we used to invite artists from all over Pakistan to play so that music would be heard at our place the whole day. However, things changed during the war. That was the start of a decline of this culture,” states Zaman.
Currently, Zaman’s efforts revolve around imparting knowledge, ensuring that the newer generation understands the deep link between music and the Pakistani culture. “I’ve written several books with the hope of passing knowledge or at least starting a debate,” he states conclusively.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2012.