KARACHI: For eight hours everyday, Shakeel ‘Cassette Wallah’ wears a security guard’s uniform, holding a lethal weapon, and stands alert observing everyone who comes across. Evenings, however, give birth to an artist - a passionate drummer who cannot stay away from his dhol.
“I am addicted to playing the dhol [traditional drums],” remarked Shakeel, whose cassettes comprising folk music are available in the market. “Nothing else can quench my thirst.”
Unlike other people who, after the day’s labour, go straight to bed, Shakeel heads to the dhol office, located at Kalapul, to see if the group was invited for any event that evening.
The passionate dhol player, Shakeel ‘Cassette Wala’ beats his dhol at the band’s office (bottom right). PHOTOS: ATHAR KHAN/ EXPRESS
Reminiscing the ‘good old days’ , Shakeel spoke about the time he used to work as a driver for a British national and passed his time playing the dhol outside hotels, at roadsides and at any other place where his boss would stay while travelling between Islamabad and Lahore. “My dhol was always in the trunk of his car until he left Pakistan fearing for his life due to the frequent bomb blasts.”
Shakeel explained that he was compelled to undertake other menial jobs to make ends meet as it was difficult to survive on the meagre earnings from the dhol business. Despite the decline in business, Shakeel and the group he is associated with are determined to continue as it isn’t just a business for them.
“We used to be invited to up to 10 programmes a week but now the number has gone down to maybe one or two,” said the group leader Asif Iqbal. “People have stopped celebrating in public mainly because of the deteriorating law and order situation.”
Even though the profession does not pay as much as it used to, the groups associated with the business are determined to bring back the glory days when people would invite them to weddings, birthdays or any other celebratory functions.
Pipe and drum bands
The situation is noticeably much worse for the ‘pipe and drum bands’ as many of them now get a programme once in a blue moon. “We have just been invited to a programme after 15 days,” lamented a 65-year-old band master, Ashraf Baba. The instruments hanging on the walls appeared rusty as they had rarely been used in the recent past. “The law and order situation has not only destroyed the peace of the city but also affected our business.”
“I can distinguish between a halal and haram dhol through the sound produced by the skin stretched tightly across both ends of the dhol,” claimed Shakeel. He went on to explain that the skin of the haram goat contained more fat than the halal one which is why the latter produced better sound quality.
Band members, such as Baba and Shakeel, had a common complaint against the law enforcers - they take bribe. “We have been spared by the robbers many times but never by the police,” remarked a clarine.
Another front where they lost out was the election campaigns in the recent elections. “This election season was dry. People were too afraid to take part in large gatherings. Previously, it was considered a good season for the bands.”
Replacing the old
Besides the law and order situation, the ‘sound system business’ apparently holds the biggest threat to the dhol wallahs and pipe bands as people would rather have a ‘DJ’ with his sound system in wedding ceremonies. The giant speakers screaming popular Bollywood numbers have replaced the traditional ‘Dessan da Raja to Raja ki Aye gi Baraat and Sadda Chiryan da Chanmba a’ - once considered the greatest tunes at wedding functions.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th,2013.
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