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 .

Thursday, July 31, 2008

...Of Rafi And Family Curses

Its 28 years since Rafi died. It’s terribly shameful that I didn’t realize this till ‘round 7 pm this evening when I came back from jogging and there was a show about him on Geo. A pretty commendable show at that, comforting in the fact that even if the Indian film community, or at least certain members of it are deliberately trying to dilute his legacy, Pakistan hasn’t forgotten one of Lahore’s greatest sons. I don’t think I need to repeat how I feel about him, but to paraphrase; I think he was inarguably the greatest singer I’ve ever heard. And if I haven’t heard a greater singer, it’s not from want of trying.

The funny thing is that each day brings forth another gem that I hadn’t heard before. Take this, for example. A silly little song with Dev Anand as an Ice-Cream vendor, and a bunch of little kids (one of whom is in quite a state of undress) dancing around him. It is what was called a filler song, of little importance, but Rafi has sung it in his “special voice”. If anyone doesn’t know what his “special” voice is, here’s an example. I had bought a brilliant CD of old Pakistani songs from a roadside CD-wala in Pindi, which is pretty mind-blowing in it’s own right, but that’ll have to wait now. It’s Rafi for a whole week now, and nothing else.


The Lalis are an endemic clan, with Jhang and Sargodha their areas of greatest concentration. A storied tribe, with bloodlines linking them with Sultan Tipu, the Lion Of Mysore, as well as quite a few prominent Muslim saints. A few may have made Lahore their home, but the nucleus of the clan is the little town of Lalian, an hour’s journey from Sargodha on the Sargodha-Faisalabad road. Around a hundred odd years ago, their activities included bothering “peaceful” Sikhs and Hindus, having a go at Bhattis and Sipras, and during the World Wars, receiving the “Acknowledgement And Appreciation Of The Viceroy And His Britannic Majesty” for generous donations towards the Red Cross.

These traits have now been substituted with even more admirable ones like drug-trading, stealing canal-water and selling off huge tracts of land. But two things have remained with the Lalis form the days of Gaji Khan (Ghazi Khan, our oldest common ancestor) and those constitute the Lali Family Curse…..Obesity and Male Pattern Baldness!!

The main clan, the cadet branches, even the poor unfortunates who married into the Lali clan, all are inflicted by this curse. The baldness of course is the sole property of males, but the obesity is pretty equally distributed amongst both the sexes. In my case, the baldness stayed on one side and the obesity on the other side of the gender divide in case of my grandparents, but my uncles and aunts have been more equitably blessed with varying combinations of both.

So I’ve been aware ever since I was a tyke that one day I too would be struck down by any one, or God forbid, both of these afflictions. There was a faint glimmer of hope when my kid brother started losing hair like nobody’s business. A year later, the temples began receding, and now the poor sod is earnestly saving cash for a hair transplant. But though his hairline was betraying him, the waistline was above reproach. Sadly I resigned myself to the worse of the two curses (the curse of the two verses???), namely the potbelly.

I wasn’t too worried over hair-loss though, a benevolent Kismet (gimme another word for it if you can), and plenty of head-shaves in infancy had given me good hair, albeit with the consistency of obstinate barbed wire. I was beginning to believe that I would be like one of those lucky uncles of mine who went through life without a toupee to hide their shame. And thus I earnestly set out to achieve the second of the major family traits, and I’m pleased to report that a beer-belly is already developing and ‘tis but a few more weeks of hard work that keep me from a pot belly.

But the sense of security was a false one. Around the time my 4th year exam cycle started three and a half months ago, the unthinkable happened; I began to lose hair. And as it never rains but pours, began to lose ‘em aplenty. Now I’m a pretty strong hearted kid, and don’t get unduly alarmed by much (I think the snakebite and shotgun wound have something to do with that) , but I was darned well frightened. I consider combs to be unnecessary luxuries, and consider a few strokes of my fingers sufficient to make my hair presentable (the Oxford English Dictionary even has a pretty fruity name for people like me; “finger waver”). But now each “wave” of the fingers brought forth further follicular fatalities (hehehe).

I persevered as well as I could during my exams, losing many a precious hair in the process. Finally, as my exams ended, I faced a grim decision. Carry on in the same vein and be the proud owner of a shiny pate in a couple of years, or take the plunge. After a few days of hesitation, and much to my mum’s consternation, I took the ultimate step.

As of exactly 1200 hours today, I am officially a skinhead (no, not one of the neo Nazi, National Front, White Power twits) and I must admit, it feels ultra-groovy…

Now if only I could jog that waistline back to its senses……

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