I've been maintaining this blog (for better or for worse) over the last eight years. Over these years, its natural evolution has led it into becoming something of a niche place for discussion of music in general and Qawwali in particular. Rather than trying to return my existing blog to its pre-Qawwali eclectic roots, I decided I’d start anew on Tumblr. So if you’re interested in music, Qawwali and subcontinental culture, keep reading/listening/watching/commenting here. For all of the above and everything else under the sun, head on over to my Tumblr page .

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

...Of One Final Trip

It's the darkest hour of the night.The usual night traffic rolls on by while everything stand still.But there is still some life stirring someplace.Under the shadow of Chauburji,there sits a lone bluesman smoking pot.Wearing his worn down hat and his beaten up shoes,with barely a shred in between,he lovingly nestles his slide guitar in his lap.Polishes it with his dhoti,spits away the guthka and starts to sing...

"I got the rickshaw jitters,man they's messin' up my mind

Lawd I got them rickshaw jitters,they's done mess'd up my min'

I feel that shakin' in my bones Lawd,right down to my intestines !!"

With the last week of the holidays upon me,there was still time for me to drag my bootheels a' wanderin' again.Having learned nothing from the gut-busting hikes in the Northern Areas,I was off again.This time it was gonna be a trip to the plains,Lahore to be precise.It was gonna be a train trip from Pindi,two nights in lahore and then back home again.It shoulda taken two days,ended up spanning over four nights...

The first night was a surreptitious trip up to Islamabad.Surreptitious because I would never have been allowed to go there with the whole Lal Masjid drama going on.But go there I did.Now,Islamabad's a pretty organized place,and that's what numbs my brain.I'm a pretty disorganized person,and it doesn't take much for me to get completely lost.And that's exactly what happens everytime I go to the capital.But before getting lost,I managed to run into the mother lode of good luck.An hour later,lugging two thousand rupees worth of CDs and DVDs,griining like a Cheshire,I rode out to eat.

And this is where my GPS handed in the dinner pail.Now I knew,and my friend knew that there's just one darn Pizza Hut in the whole of Islamabad,but for the life of us we couldn't find it.At least ten times 'round Jinnah Super,and almost as many around Super Market left us dizzy,hungry and queasy.At last,giving up,we went into a KFC for a burger and that's when we found out,those damn Pizza Hut buggers had closed down the joint two weeks ago.It was midnight when we set out to my friend's house,knowing full well that the train to lahore was at 7.30 the next morning.So either we were gonna miss some sleep,or be late for the train.

In our ever-obligin' way,we managed to do both.Stayed up half the night,and had to run like blazes to catch the train.And even then,the adventures didn't cease.Now how were we to know that there were two trains to Lahore,and how were we to guess that they both looked the same,and both were rearing to go.To cut the long story short,we got into the wrong train,and realized our mistake at the very last moment,sending us runnin' crazy across the platform to the right train and to the comfort of our seats.And comfort it sure was,a credit to the Railway department.Five hours later,(it was a local train,dontcha know) we were in Lahore.

Now there's something in the Lahore air.A mix of petrol,lavender,sweat and soil,it freshens up a man like nothing I've known.Leaving me at the Mess,my friend went out to meet some of his relatives while I slept.When I woke up round about six,I still couldn't find the bugger anywhere.Turns out he was gonna be out till nine,leaving me stranded.I stood it as much as I could,but finally decided to take matters into my own hands and set out to meet an old College friend of mine.Now I know there must be thousands of rickshaws in Lahore,but I couldn't find a single one.

There's something in my demeanor that sorta invites confidence.People look at me and say, "Say,this here looks like a nice chap.Sort of decent,well behaved lad,dontcha think.Let's ask him for directions !!"

And they stop,roll down their windows and ask me the way to such-and-such.And I bend down,look 'em straight in the eye,flash my most charming smile....and send 'em off to god knows where !!

At least five cars stopped to ask me for directions,and unless they ran into a bit of luck,they might still be wandering listlessly across Lahore,trying to find their way back home.Thus a word of warning,do NOT ask me for directions.Ever.

I finally managed to find a rickshaw,and headed out to Jinnah Hospital,where I was to meet this friend of mine.It had been ages since I had ridden one,and it was bloomin' good fun.My innards got the churning they deserved,and any earwax I might 'ave had must have perished in that magnificent wall of sound.Finally I was at the rendezvous point,waiting for my friend to come.

Now,I'm a cad when it comes to keeping in touch with friends.All through my life,as soon as we moved to a new city,the old friendships were ancient history.I used to,and still evade any contact with some of the best friends I ever had.So it was by a bit of effort that I got around to hooking up with a bunch of old acquaintances.Meeting up,exchanging pleasantries,we set out towards my first destination,a bookstore.Now the only nice place I had heard about was Readings,Main Boulevard,and that's where I headed.Excellent place,nice ambience,great books,(I bought seven!),and bloomin' cheap.Try to imagine eighty rupee books in Islamabad or Rawalpindi and you'll understand my excitement.My errant friend and his cousin hooked up with us and we set out to eat round about midnight.A hearty meal,and a good night's sleep,and that was that for the first day.

Sunday was Tourist day,sightseeing day.The museum,the fort,the mosque.And that compulsory trip to Iqbal's tomb.The fort's in pretty bad shape from when I last saw it,but the Masjid's as beautiful as ever.Strange bit of irony that Chinese tourists are allowed in the mosque,and we can't enter the adjacent Gurdwara.Ce la vie...

Another hooking up with a friend,and then to a couple of other places.Went roaming about NCA and FC College out of pure ennui,and then more shopping.I bought another bunch of cds as my friends' hair turned white at the thought of these fresh monstrosities that would eventually find their way to my hostel room,and hence to their tormented ears.Then it was a walk across deserted Defence,where a strange thing happened.As we were walking,a bike passed by and suddenly bust it's chain.I shrugged and passed on,found a rickshaw to take me back to the mess,but the driver refused,saying that the chain was broken!

Another mile of walking brought me to another rickshaw,this one with all of it's innards thankfully intact.We rode on home,weary but elated,when it suddenly stopped.The driver got out,did a quick diagnostic,and delivered the verdict,the chain's broken.Well,I mean really !! Finally we were back in our room,and slept soundly..

The final day was reserved for shopping for clothes,something I detest.But a phone call to another long lost friend saved the day.I picked up a couple of Dockers,and a bunch of tees,and that was it for shopping.Then roaming about Lahore,killing time till I had to go back,I realized what a nut I'd been in not keeping in touch with all these lads.Finally it was time to head home,and I boarded the Daewoo with the song of the Chauburji bluesman ringin' in my ears...

"Well the rickshaw's a howlin',howlin' for all to hear

Lawd that rickshaw's howlin,n' it's howlin' for y'all to hear

It's turned my brain all to puddin'and it's a tricklin out ma ear"

Shopping For The Week,

A Bob Seger compilation
A Johnny Cash comp
A Leonard Cohen collection
Another comp of Cohen covers
A Joni Mitchell comp
We Shall Overcome,Bruce Springsteen
A Springsteen live bootleg
A Neil Young comp
A Jackson Browne comp
A Naushad collection
A Van Morrisson comp
And the latest White Stripes record,Icky Thump...

Dracula (the original 1931 film)
The Grapes Of Wrath
The Lavender Hill Mob

Sula,Toni Morrisson
Ovid's Metamorphoses
My War,Andy Rooney
Leaving Home,Garrisson Keillor
WLT-A Radio Romance,Garrisson Keillor
Two more for my friends...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

...Of The Great Summer Trip

If ever I have any children,a pretty slim chance,as I'll come to later,I know what I'll do on long winter evenings.
I'll sit the little buggers on my knees,give 'em something to eat so that they keep their mouths shut.And then I'll start my story...

"Today,me lads,daddy's gonna tell you the story of how he went on the first great trip of his life"

And they'll all squirm,look at each other and roll their eyes,as if saying,"Oh heavens,not again !!"

"Keep still you little varmints,and listen.This is how it all began"


I woke up in front of the PC.I had fallen asleep on the wicker chair recording the tapes for the trip to Shogran(see previous post).Grudgingly I put the final tape into the console and finished the seven hour recording session.Now was the time to pack.As always,mine was minimalist;a toothbrush,a Vonnegutt and my cellphone,plus the trusty inhaler for emergencies.The three cars were soon loaded up as we set out round about one in the afternoon.And this is where all the headfone-wearing bore its reward as Abida Perveen blared from then stereo.My cousins,caught unawares,quickly covered their ears and hid for cover...

We rolled along,smooth as can be,and by and by we came to Balakot.It's been one and a half years since the terrible earthquake of 8th October,but the land still hasn't healed.The mountains lay bare their scarred and bruised bodies everywhere one looked.The city itself was a jumble of blue-roofed prefab homes,a sign of the world's generosity.The Kunhar,the red river,still flowed in all it's roaring majesty.It cut and clawed at the already ravaged land,forcing a new path for itself amid all the sliding and slipping rock.

We passed on,along the makeshift one-way bridges.
The roads,once glistening two lane affairs,were utterly ruined.At places,almost unpassably dangerous,it was a miracle that the three cars managed to navigate them safely,their prodigious cargoes intact.Finally,we reached better roads,amid wonderful foliage,and snaked up the road to Shogran.Here,one of the cars which had drawn the short straw and was carrying the,er most generous load,finally gave up.It refused to go any further,citing the Geneva Conventions,unloading all who sat(applying the term very loosely) inside.It was for the rest of tha caravan to take turns depositing the whole traveling party to their destination.I was urged(shoved) out of my seat to make way for one of the others,and waited by the side of the road for the car to return.I whiled away the time by admiring the magnificent foliage,especially the fern forests.

Finally,I was there,Shogran.At a height of 2500 metres,a vast green plain nestled among the mountains,looking out to the snow-clad Kaghan mountains.

Our accomodation was reserved in a marvelous Forest Department rest house,a lavish new building constructed after the original one had been destroyed in the earthquake.It was cold,calm and windy,in short perfect for Frisbee !! An hour later,invigorated by cold sweat,sitting out in deck chairs,sipping tea,I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.

The sun set over the mountains at a quarter to eight,and the twilight lasted another half hour.Our appetites whetted by the mountain breeze,not that mine needs any whetting,I quickly wolfishly gulped down a hearty dinner,and had mangoes afterwards.(Just had to mention the mangoes,dontcha know !).
The night ended with everyone huddled up in the giant sitting room for a sing-along.Nano couldn't stop laughing at all her brood singing themselves silly in the night.then it was time for bed..


I was woken up at the ungodly hour of 4.30 am,and went out into the biting cold to watch the sunrise over the snow-clad mountains.My dad had assured me that it was going to be worth the lost sleep.Unfortunately,the clouds had different plans,and crowded out the whole east face,turning it into a kaliedoscope of light and shade,like something Rembrandt would have turned up if he had decided to take up landscapes.A single glimpse of the sun was all that was afforded us in that sunrise.

That day was earmarked for a trip even higher to a place called "Sarri Paye",a series of two mountains that in their confusion,had gotten topsy turvy,with Sarri on a lower altitude than Paye.We were all urged to partake a hearty breakfast,especially us dunces who had volunteered to forsake the jeep trail in favour of a nine kilometer hike.Me,my brother and the most,let's say,well endowed cousin collected the camera,the water flask and a pack of Wrigleys and set forth in advance of the rest of the family who would follow in jeeps up the trecherous track.My brother,the sly devil,quickly ran off ahead,leaving me to lumber up the mountain with my cousin at snail's pace.The poor sod would stop every ten paces with pitiful cries of"Ouch,my legs!","Ouch,my knees!","Ouch,my feet!","Ouch,my bum!"
Anyway,we trudged along.It was a sheer climb,slippery,steep and muddy,with not a bit of plain level track along the way.But it was as beautiful as could be,with vistas opening up at every bend,revealing the fabulous valley below in splendid detail.

The mountain sun blazed on my neck all along.the trek seemed to be never-ending,with every bend in the road exposing further stretches of the track.Halfway up,just as I was fed up with my cousin's whining,one of our jeeps met us and picked him up,thus relieving both of us of our misery.Instead,dad got out and decided to keep me company for the remaining four and a half hours.It was a very difficult hike,but we finally managed to make it to the top,albeit not without a heavy price.The damage my,ahem,family jewels took on the way set me halfway along a future devoid of the pattering of tiny little feet in the tiny little homestead.
But what awaited me on the top was well worth the sacrifice.As I trudged my now insubordinating limbs to the crest of the peak,a marvelous sight awaited me.Acre upon acre of the most flat,the most green,and the most flower-carpeted terrain I had ever seen.It was colourful enough to burn my retinas,after they had been greyed into oblivion by the mundane terrain of the plains.there were little lakes of rainwater,each fifty feet across,clear blue,with the green of the moutains reflected in them.All around were sheer drops into the valleys down below.

And that was not all.For rising from the plains was the Crab Mountain,"Makra" to the locals,which was still wearing a tattered mantle of last year's snow.All that snow re-awakened our hiking spirits that had been dampened somewhat by the nine kilometer climb.

Taking an empty water bottle,we wowed to trek up the mountain and bring back some of the snow.It was farther than we had thought,a total of five kilometres.Finally we reached the snow.It was dirty,in a rocky depression quite a long way down,and difficult to reach,but we were nothing if not resilient.We finally managed to gather a fistful of snow and brought it back like spoils of war.

We finally managed to gather a fistful of snow and brought it back like spoils of war.After three hours up at "Paye",we headed down to"Sarri" for a traditional mountain lunch,again courtesy the forest department.A mix-up with the jeeps meant that there wasn't anyone to bring the rest of the family down to "Sarri",and they all trudged down in groups of two or three.Everyone was tested to their limits,most of all,my Nano.She's hypertensive,diabetic,and as she let everyone know along the way,well versed in the choicest Punjabi expletives.Everyone was worried out of their skins at the thought of her climbing down the steep tracks and heaved a huge sigh of relief when she made it to "Sarri" safe and sound,although a little worse for wear.Everyone attacked the food with gusto,especially the silly hikers.
In a moment of madness,I had decided to opt for the jeep,instead of hiking down,thinking that my knees had already taken enough of a beating.I had thought that the trip in the jeep would be tranquil compared to the gruesome hike,instead,it put the fear of God into me !!The jeep swayed and rolled,jumped and flew down the bends that seemed ten times more treacherous.All the while,finishing the good work that the upward hike had started on my,er,you-know-whats.That's the moment I resigned myself to a life of sterility.I got off halfway,and in damage control mode,hiked very gingerly down the slopes.Once again,the valleys were generous in the views they provided me.

I dragged myself back to the hut,and fell headfirst onto the bed,thinking I would never regain the use of my battered legs after a total of 23 kilometres up and down the mountains.Elsewhere around me were similar sights to see.Everyone was nursing their legs,arms and other assorted body parts.I lay down that night expecting a deep,healing sleep.Instead...


I woke up at two in the morning to the scariest sound I had ever heard.Gale force winds were tearing through the rafters,with sleet crashing on the windows and awesome flashes of lightning that burned up the whole sky.I dozed off again,waking up on the final morning of our trip,expecting to see signs of last night's tempest.But a different sight awaited me as I stepped out into the bitter cold morning.The sky was clear,the distant mountains were fully exposed and bore on their backs a sparkling white burden of fresh snow.Hitchin up my sagged jaw,I called up the rest of the family to feast their eyes on the sight.

That sight,with the whole clan,the oldest member at 66 and the youngest at 5 summers old,gazing in awe at nature's handiwork,capped off a wonderful trip..
A few parting snaps,and we loaded up our stuff to head back.Thankfully,the road back passed without any incident.We stopped in Balakot to offer Fateha at the grave of Syed Ahmed Shaheed,who had laid down his life back when Jihad really meant what it meant.After that it was a smooth drive back to Abbottabad,with wonderful music playing all along the way.
"So,that me lads,is how your old dad went on the first great trip of his life.Wasn't it exciting,eh lads?."
"Lads ?? Where've you run off to ??"
"Lads,LADS !!"
N.B,All the photographs were taken from my mobile phone,apologies for the picture quality.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

...Of Road-Trip-Music

The "BIG SUMMER TRIP" is upon us finally,praise the Lord !!.

Sitting at home watching barnacles grow on my derriere,although an admirable pursuit,soon loses charm.And with a brigade of seven cousins,two uncles and two aunts straining at the bit,things start getting cagey unless some excursion diverts the attention.So,tomorrow,taking advantage of the strategically placed Long Weekend,I'm off.Off to Shogran,as pretty a place as can be.The sleeping bags,long mothballed,finally get their moment in the sun,or rather moon.The picnic baskets are being packed,the motel reservations completed.The three cars are being prepared for the ordeal of their lifetimes,namely,lugging 600 pounds of prime Sargodha meat and sinew up the most treacherous roads in Pakistan.May God have mercy on their souls...

The best part of the summer trip ?

The respite from heat ?

The beauty of the magestic mountains ?

The basketfuls of mangoes ?

The music playing along the way ?
Spot On !!

One of my oldest memories is driving down the old Jhelum bridge one night,just me and my dad,with Faiz playing in the car stereo.Then there's the Elton John album that was playing one rainy morning when our car skidded on a road in Chakwal and hit a tractor.The first time I heard John Denver singing,"Country Roads" somewhere in the foothills of Murree.Jagjeet Singh,Kishore,John Denver,Faiz,Faraz,Ghalib...the first time these names entered my mind was in the back seat of a car when I hesitantly asked dad to turn up the volume and asked him who that voice was.

It's been a vital part of my education,this roadtripsong.How many couplets have I heard,only to be asked a moment later by dad to paraphrase or explain it.My many stumbling responses awoke the appreciation of poetry in theHow many folk songs have I listened to,trying to make sense of the obtrusely elegant Punjabi,only to be revealed in wondrous detail on the next trip.How many songs are part of my family album,just because Nana hummed along with them,or Dadi Amman rememberd them from a Bioscope seen long ago...

Soon the tide turned.It was now my job to get the music for the roadtrips.Dad was introduced to Clapton,Sinatra,Lobo,Ella and many more via me.I was told to take trips to Islamabad to buy this CD of Kafis from Lok Virsa,that cassette of Talat Mehmood from Bombeat etc.And then there's today...

Daunted by a five hour trip up the mountains accompanied by a bunch of noisy kids,dad's asked(read ordered) me to make five tapes of his favourite stuff out of all the tons of stuff in my PC.After two hours of exhaustive selection,I stand ready to make these tapes ala High Fidelity.To make 'em,tentatively titled "The Tripped Out Tapes Vol 1-5",I've been presented with a behemoth of a recording console.It's old,it's clunky and it's short circuited,and I have before me at least six hours of headphone-wearing,monitor-staring fun.Here's to making music..

Song Of The Week,"If You Gotta Go,Go Now",Bob Dylan
Movie Of The Week,"Invasion Quartet",1961