The day Musadiq Sanwal passed away I received many calls from common friends. I made some myself too. We wanted to condole with each other but most of us were out of words. We made the phone calls, uttered some sounds and ended our calls without actually saying much.
When your relationship with a person does not fit into any of the defined and sufficiently-coded social categories, conventional and customary expressions do not help. They in fact seem to be counter-communicative.
I have faced similar situations earlier too. But on that ill-fated day, one phone call stood out. It was from a media office; I could hear the newsroom buzz in the background. The journalist had probably seen some of my posts on social media with pictures of Musadiq from college days to conclude that I was an expert in ‘Musadiqology’.
He already knew what he wanted to, about Musadiq as a journalist, his designation, organisations he served, years spent in job etc. But he was curious to know about him as a music-maker. “How many CDs did he publish?” I was completely at a loss, asking myself whether he did do a single CD or cassette.
“Did he do any concerts?” Since I have worked in newsrooms, I knew what the journalist meant. I was yet to figure out if my friend ever performed in crowded halls full of yelling youth when he shot the next question. “Did he sing any song with any famous Indian or Western musician?”
Before I could murmur another confusing answer, my journalist friend had already decided he was wasting his time and that the headline of the Musadiq story be better drawn from his career as a media man.
My replies certainly did not help him fit Musadiq’s music into any of the familiar boxes. But they did make me recall that I knew Musadiq first and foremost as a music-maker; all his other pursuits were secondary for me. So what exactly did he accomplish as a music-maker?
Musadiq and I were together at the National College of Arts (NCA). We both came from Multan and lived in the same hostel though we studied different subjects.
At NCA, you could easily tell who was studying what — students of architecture carried their drafting boards while those of fine arts took care of their canvasses. But Musadiq’s paraphernalia was his musical instruments; his assignments were the raags and his homework the early morning riaz, even if it came at the cost of annoying his mates. The college did not teach music but that was all Musadiq ever wanted to learn. In the early 1980s, he could not have found a place as accommodative of his artistic pursuits as this college. He had the company but no department or faculty or courses.
Musadiq did not budge and filled all these gaps with his passion for music.
He did not come from a gharana and had no single ustad to associate himself with. If he decided to have one, he had the potential to become a “renowned classical singer”. He once said that classical schools are a kind of limitation and that it was a blessing he had no style to follow and no detail was forbidden for him. But that is not to say he learned from no one. He owed a lot to many, in fact too many experts of the field and never hesitated in acknowledging and respecting them.
He was an active member of the student group that fought against the obscurantism enforced by Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing in the 1980s. During that period, the state of Pakistan was identifying itself as something that had a basis in Islamic ideology. That essentially denigrated our local artistic heritage, banned creativity and forcibly shut down all spaces and avenues that harboured such activities. Musadiq’s rebellious student group idolised classical folk artists. His music was greatly influenced by what is known as the sufi tradition. He passionately sang kaafis and kalaam of Punjabi, Seraiki and Sindhi classical poets.
Over the next decades extremism spread far and wide in the country and some hakeems finally diagnosed ‘sufism’ as the antidote. It was time to avail the opportunity, neatly package your work, label it as the need of the hour and sell it to the highest bidder. Musadiq opted to miss the bandwagon. He was very clear that ‘sufi music’ is a people’s tradition and not a counter-terrorism tool that the state could strategically use to meet its objectives. He knew such a misadventure will kill its spirit.
He had a vast exposure to folk music as well. He became part of an Asian arts troupe as early as 1989 and spent quality time with folk artists from around the vast continent. He also travelled across Pakistan to meet village level folk musicians as part of his many journalistic assignments. He valued them highly and the richness of this experience was amply reflected in his work.
His circle of friends was quite influential and if he had the inkling he could have won sponsorships for running some ‘basement’ or ‘studio’. But corporations just do not underwrite your bills; they wittingly or unwittingly influence your content too. Musadiq did not want to make it big as he cherished the liberty he got in his smallness.
He resisted making his music a hot cake of sorts, and one of the consequences was that it did not fall into any well-defined segment of the predictable music market. He plucked music from every branch but who did he present his bouquet to? He played it to his friends. With all his vast knowledge and skills, he lived as music in the lives of his friends.
In the midst of the roadside tea stall meetings, where we use to gather to fine tune our revolution, he provided the beat on a turned-over tea tray. He pulled the right chords working with friends on a theatre or a film production. He beamed and boomed at parties at friends’ houses. He could even turn the mundane professional meetings into melodies and make his colleagues his fans. Making friends was his other passion or maybe it too was an extension of his first love — music. It is impossible to ascertain what was prime to him; was he a bard or a friend or a bard of a friend?
As my friend lay fitted in the box that no one can refuse to, I am at a loss to even invent one for his life. Maybe I too should have drawn the headline of his obituary from something more palpable than his music.