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Master in the real sense

Remembering Master Inayat Hussain, one of the leading music composers in Pakistan’s film industry

Master in the real sense

Master Inayat Hussain lived in Lohari Darwaza just where it gets merged into the road that comes from Taxali. It was with some effort that I was able to locate his residence in the mid-1980s to carry out an assignment by Lok Virsa on the famous music composers of films in the country. There he was lying in bed with a razai (quilt) and while I was there for about three hours he did not move out of it. He kept shifting himself in various positions, reclining in the same bed and also balking an order or two to whosoever was around.

He did not appear to be too well; and with formidable stubble and a face that appeared to be unwashed he looked older than he was. The weary and unwelcome look only complemented the impression. It was not that cold but he was wrapped in the razai to prove the proverbial saying that hereditary musicians/singers /composers feel colder than ordinary mortals.

The small room on the ground floor was largely unkempt and had space for just a bed. A chair also just fitted in — on which he beckoned me to sit, and where I sat for about three hours struggling to carry out a conversation that could also pass for an interview. He was not very loquacious as some musicians are, but spoke less and paused more in the middle of broken utterances — bored and perhaps tired of talking to people who had little awareness of music and his contribution.

It also appeared that he was not very well off; his modest surroundings spoke eloquently of his condition. He was very surprised that he wanted to be interviewed and written about in times when changing musical taste had rendered greats like him out of the job. His general demeanour was that of a cynic. What would he get out of the interview, he asked me with a straight face and I had no ready answer. I could not say that he would become well-known and famous — he was already very well-known and famous; neither could I say that his name would get recognition, he was already well-recognised. Whether it was for documentation and archival purpose he was not really pushed. What he needed was more work — he had enough left in him for that and probably some money to keep the home and hearth intact.

I felt like someone exploiting the name of a person for my own gain, a small mission being accomplished by aligning my name with someone very well-known. It is often the fate of public figures, especially from show business that when on stage they are treated like gods and goddesses but when off-stage, they are dumped and forgotten about till the opportunity for the next show arrives. It is very difficult to reconcile the glamour on stage and the struggling circumstances of being a member of society. It takes a while and getting used to the values and double standards. For me, he was Master Inayat Hussain, whose name I had often heard being announced on the radio before songs by the likes of Noor Jehan and Iqbal Bano, the divas that one could only dream of, being too intimidated to even approach them; or Master Inayat Hussain’s name being flashed on the big screen as the credits and titles rolled before the film started.

In all those hours, he was uninterested and bitter and not there except for the time when he spoke about the compliments that Ustad Amir Khan lavished on him on his composition “Ulfat ki nai manzil ko chala” sung by Iqbal Bano. Ustad Amir Khan was besotted by that composition and wanted desperately to know who had composed the number and praise him for that. It is rare that one ustad praises another out of sincerity, rather than jest, but there he was — the great Amir Khan generous in his adulation.

Master Inayat Hussain was one of the leading music composers of Pakistani films. The prefix master got attached to a number of composers because they either composed for the theatre or the recording companies which were set up in colonial times by the end of the nineteenth century and did roaring business by recording and marketing the gramophone discs. The word master obviously has European origins as against ustad or pandit that is local as the creative and virtuous musicians were called maestros or grand masters in the European tradition. ‘Grand’ got lost somewhere in the cultural transition from Europe to the Indian subcontinent and only ‘master’ survived. Most of the early composers either came from these recording companies or theatre and were called masters like Master Jhande Khan or Master Ghulam Haider.

In the 1930s, Lahore was abuzz with the rising star of music, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan as everyone seemed to be under his spell. He was also very popular because he could sing both kheyal and thumri/kaafi with great facility to embark upon a few eras in music that demanded less virtuosity and more evocation. Master Inayat Hussain too came under the same spell and must have attempted to be a vocalist, like many other composers but settled down to making melodies for others to sing, by reconciling to  the real talent within.

Thirty years ago, I was a little cheesed off by his indifference and cynicism but now am in a much better position to understand his disillusionment and repressed anger. He was as creative a composer as ever was in films and gave his best shot at a time when it was only appreciation — not supported by enough reward. He died a few years later — his person forgotten but only remembered when a programme or two on television about the golden past of film music was to be recorded. Then, he would be dusted and made to sit forced mumbling his own greatness.

Master Inayat Hussain died on March 24, 1993.

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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