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The life of a legendary singer

A slim biography of Pathanay Khan that skilfully dissects the life and times of the versatile artiste

The life of a legendary singer

Hafeez Khan is no stranger to the world of literature. He has been enriching Seraiki literature for quite some time. A poet, short story writer, playwright, critic and broadcaster, he is a man who has literally expanded the canvas of Seraiki literature because of his contributions to many diverse genres.

Hafeez Khan is also writing a history of his beloved city Multan in many volumes. So far, two volumes have been published and many more will follow. He is a true son of the soil who loves everything about the land to which he belongs and his scores of books bear testimony to this as well as to his scholarly stature. A true connoisseur of art and music, he hobnobbed with many renowned musicians and singers during his stay at the Radio Pakistan Bahawalpur where he shortly worked as a producer.

Hafeez Khan’s recent book on the legendary singer Pathanay Khan is a befitting tribute to the great artiste. Born in abject poverty in Kot Addu (Muzaffargarh) in the second decade of the 20th century, Pathanay Khan rose to be an iconic figure by mesmerising all and sundry with his mellifluous voice. According to Hafeez Khan, there is controversy among the biographers regarding the actual date of birth of the great artiste as various writers have quoted different years. One biographer puts the date as 1920 while another states it as 1928. Hafeez Khan does not lend weight to these two years as he supports another version according to which Pathanay Khan was born around 1915-16.

 

Born as Ghulam Muhammad, his fair complexion led people to call him ‘Pathan’ and thus after the sheer brilliance of his voice was discovered, he went on to become Pathanay Khan. His early days were tough as he had to do menial jobs to keep poverty at bay. He worked as a potter at one point and at a tandoor at another point to earn a living. During his school days, he idealised a Sikh man who was highly sought after due to his lovely voice. Pathanay Khan requested a classmate to help him hone his voice but his class fellow rejected him outright. This left the young man crestfallen but still determined to become a singer, come what may.

According to the author, Pathanay Khan continued to struggle as his search for a more devoted mentor who would appreciate his pathos-daubed voice continued. He joined many small theatres, both as an actor as well as a singer and travelled through many towns and villages.

He stole his mother’s jewellery and bought a harmonium to practice on. However, he had to face fierce opposition from his brother who taunted him for becoming a singer. His brother, in a fit of rage, burned his school bag thus closing the doors of school on him once and for all. From then onwards, Pathanay Khan had to fend for himself along with honing his raw vocal skills.

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Fate landed him in Layyah in 1951 where he met a blind musician Ustad Nazar Hussain. Ustad Nazar Hussain was well-versed in the intricacies of classical music but he refused to mentor Pathanay Khan, who was once again utterly dejected but still didn’t give in. Harmonium in tow, he came to the famous dancer duo of Layyah, Ameer Nazeer Bai who were under the tutelage of Ustad Nazar. Through the duo, Pathanay Khan selflessly served Ustad and followed him wherever he went. Seeing his resolve, Ustad Nazar relented and took him under his wings.

According to the author, Pathanay Khan continued to struggle as his search for a more devoted mentor who would appreciate his pathos-daubed voice continued. He joined many small theatres, both as an actor as well as a singer and travelled through many towns and villages. In 1970, Radio Pakistan was launched in Multan and thus an avenue was opened for the budding artistes of the area. Pathanay Khan went for audition and was selected and thus started a glorious era of music which enthralled and will continue to enthral generations to come because of his sublime voice which was trademarked with a Seraiki pathos of its own.

This slim biography of Pathanay Khan has nine chapters in which the author has skilfully dissected the life and times of the versatile artiste. Hafeez Khan has cleared many myths that were woven around Pathanay Khan’s personality and set the record straight. Another redeeming feature of the book is that it has been written with the perspective of a layman, so even a novice can fully grasp and enjoy the life of a legend.

Pathanay Khan — Gaiki aur Shakhsiyat
Author: Hafeez Khan
Publisher: Multan Institute of Policy and Research Multan
Pages: 116
Price: Rs300

Altaf Hussain Asad

altaf asad
The author is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad.

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