Guftam ke Roshan az Qamar/Gufta ke Rukhsaar-e-man ast/Guftam ke sheerin az shaker/Gufta ke guftaar-e-man ast.” (I said: What is bright like the moon? He said: The cheek of Mine. I said: What is sweeter than sugar? He said: The talk of Mine.) The lights are dim. The voices and clapping resonate across the hall. The crowd is almost mesmerised as this beautiful bit of Amir Khusrau’s Persian poetry is performed by The Saami Brothers.
“So, who is the speaker and who is he speaking to in this nazm?” is the question a listener poses to Rauf Saami, the eldest of the brothers. “Nazm nahi, bibi. Ghazal,” he points out and goes on. “On purpose, this has not been spelt out here. Hence, this can be interpreted in more than one way,” he smilingly says that not all of Amir Khusrau’s poetry was for his spiritual master. “Where he wants it to be understood as specifically for Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaz, he takes his name.”
In a later sitting, Rauf’s father sheds more light on this. “Some people are given so much in so many aspects. They are God’s special people. Amir Khusrau was one of them. A linguist, a scholar, a poet, a mystic, an advisor to kings, the devotee of his Peer-o-Murshid Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and a musician,” says Ustad Naseeruddin Saami.
We are sitting in his spacious apartment in Garden Town with two of his sons sitting around him. Two tanpuras named Saawan and Bhaadon sit majestically in the room; they are some 430 years old, passed on through generations of the Saami family as heirlooms.
Ustaad Naseeruddin Saami’s four sons and a nephew make up The Saami Brothers group of qawwals. The troupe is currently performing in events that are thematic tributes to Hazrat Amir Khusrau, the father of qawwali and a 13th-century Sufi musician, poet and scholar, and a spiritual disciple of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.
Titled Kalaam-e-Khusrau Ba Zabaan-e-Saamat, their next performance will be held at T2F on Thursday afternoon after a successful event at the PACC auditorium. They are doing this to celebrate the Urs of Hazrat Amir Khusrau.
While other qawwals, even in their own family, have experimented with fusion and innovations, this group remains more puritanical in its approach. They safeguard their link to their ancestor Miyan Saamat, who was both a student and colleague of Amir Khusrau. “They were peers. Miyan Saamat was already doing zikr in the darbar of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. But when Khusrau entered, the two started working as a team. They experimented with it and the name ‘qawwali’ was introduced for this art form,” says Ustaad Saami.
Talking about the many languages Amir Khusrau wrote poetry in, the conversation wanders into the makings of the Urdu language. Urdu, the language symbolic of pluralism, has words of Arabic, Turkish, Hindi and Persian. Khusrau dabbled with all of these languages in his poetry. “The purpose of the Urdu language was mingling and communication of the many races here. Music is also a means of communication and nothing else. And Khusrau was the master mingler,” says the maestro.
For Saami, music is about “invoking in yourself and your audience the correct kaifiyat (feeling)”. Ustad Saami, for whom his close students use the term of endearment ‘jaan’, has a deep attachment to Khusrau. He had travelled to India on what one may call a ‘study tour’ to search his roots to Amir Khusrau. “Qawwali kiya hai? Kisee achhay qaul ko logon tak pohnchana,” says Saami. “The divine words given to us by those who were directed by Him.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2014.