Pappu Sain taps the dhol on the rhythm of his life that is marked by spirituality and a lack of concern for the external world. He may have been in the mainstream with his former stint as a member of Farhad Humayun’s Overload but his heart lies in performing at the shrine of his ‘spiritual guide’ Baba Shah Jamal. He beats the drum, not to gain mileage in his career but out of love for his craft and mysticism. “I believe that my talent is a blessing from God and I am surprised how people have commercialised dhol playing to earn money,” he says.
“I gave a new dimension to the art of dhol playing and have avoided adopting a commercial style despite having been part of a band and working with renowned singers,” he adds. Pappu says he never ignored the spiritual aspect of dhol playing and continues to perform at the tomb of Baba Shah Jamal, which is also where he learnt how to play the dhol.
Every Thursday, Pappu takes centre stage at the shrine of the Sufi saint, located in Icchra area, where he performs for a special audience, gripping them with every drumbeat. Starting around 10pm and sometimes lasting the whole night, Pappu Sain’s performance rivets the attention of the crowd that vastly comprises foreigners and university students. The performance is open-to-all. “I’m on duty assigned to me by my spiritual guide Baba Shah Jamal. The experience feels so innate and effortless that it seems as if someone else is playing the dhol for me,” he shares.
Pappu has been at the shrine for the past 40 years. “I’ve visited the whole world and gotten so many opportunities to further my craft but I like this place so much that I began my career from, and will see my life and career end here,” he states. A few years ago, he used to perform with another renowned dhol player, Gunga Sain, but now, both of them perform separately.
While Gunga Sain and Co. performs on the upper level of the shrine, Pappu Sain and his son Qalander Baksh perform downstairs. Pappu shares how dhol playing has been in his bloodline as his father Luddan Sain also performed his ‘spiritual duties’ at shrines in Lahore, including Baba Shah Jamal’s. “Now, I’ve extended my duties to my son Qalander and he performs here with me every Thursday.”
Pappu does not follow a timetable for his performances. “I perform whenever my spiritual leader orders me to, even if it means standing for 24 hours at a stretch. I am different from other performers at the shrine. It is my commitment to this place and Baba Shah Jamal that I continue to perform here without any major monetary incentives,” he says.
But Pappu’s career has not been devoid of difficulties. “In the past, people accused me of using charas (hashish) during my performances but those were just troublemakers. Following this, I began performing on the road. I am thankful to my Sufi saint that these people failed in propagating their smear campaign against me, and that I could resume my duties at the shrine.” This glitch has not marred Pappu’s popularity among mainstream musicians either. “People in the industry know me well and are aware of the opportunities available for me, but I am here to entertain the masses as they are the ones who have truly acknowledged my work.”
He goes on to say, “I’ve worked with legendary singers and learnt a lot from them. I’ve worked to preserve the honour of my country and this is why I was also presented with the Pride of Performance award.” But he shares it is painful that artists are not given due respect in the country and that artists in India are respected more than those in Pakistan.
“The onus is on the government to do something for the promotion of dhol playing in the country and to set up an institution dedicated to the craft.” Pappu shares he has been doing his bit to preserve and popularise dhol playing as he has taught a few people how to play at the shrine. “It is good to know that platforms such as Coke Studio are doing their best to promote traditional music. If they ever invite me to perform, I will accept the offer only because I want to contribute to promoting the art. But I would never beg for a spot on the show and feel honoured to perform at the tomb.”
He urges people to acknowledge dhol playing as an art and not trivialise it to mere ‘drum beating’. “I feel it’s a joke that a few girls these days have also joined the profession when they are not even experts and do not even know how to hold the sticks of the dhol,” he notes. He adds that beating the dhol is intrinsically linked with spiritualism and no one can do justice to it without developing an understanding of the craft. “I also request those who are selling their talent to spare the dhol as this is the only asset of mystical people and only a ‘pure’ man has the permission to beat it.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2016.