Monday, December 14, 2009

The Voice silenced

The Voice Silenced

(By Huma Sheikh)

The recording was done in 2003, a few days before his killing when Dad was singing to a group of students and family at our home in Kashmir.

My father Ghulam Nabi Sheikh had sung and recorded those songs during reyaaz (practice) at our Srinagar home. His voice shimmered with his passion for Kashmiri music.

The recording tape was unlike his singing recordings created at home or for his radio and television shows. It was not a monument to Dad’s recording ability. As Program Executive in Radio Kashmir Srinagar and previously as producer and singer, he could create a high-quality recording whenever he presented or dubbed a show on radio.

But in this recording, pauses, little chats, laughing and sometimes throat-clearing sounds accompanied the songs. They brought him to life six years after death had taken him away from us suddenly and mysteriously.

In the recording, I could hear Dad ask his students to recall a line for a new song as he sang and composed it. He paused to clear his throat in the middle of another ghazal and thanked his tabla player, who skillfully matched his harmonium tunes. He joked and joined others in laughing before he sang another song. And all this made the recording priceless.

The power of Dad’s voice and his singing versatility earned him a title “Mehdi Hassan of Jammu and Kashmir,” and his compositions carried him to greater heights. Dad spent almost 40 good years of his life in devotion to music in Kashmir. He was “Top Grade” artist of JK and his songs and compositions blended with contemporary tunes yet retained their melodic folk texture that touched people’s hearts.

He further honed his singing and musical abilities by creating a breed of singers in Kashmir, who all are now popular singers in the valley.

Dad began his musical career at the age of 14. From these early days, he would participate in singing competitions in and outside of Kashmir, often winning first slots. His first international visit as a teenage was to Bangladesh, where he received first prize in a singing competition. Around the same time, dad began singing for Yuvavani service of Radio Kashmir.

He would be at the same recording room as popular singers of their days like Ghulam Hassan Sofi, Raj Begum and Naseem Akhtar. Dad received first prize in youth competition in 1980 by the Cultural Academy, Srinagar.

Dad soon joined a cluster of singers like Shaheema Azad, Kailash Mehra, who had started their singing career way ahead of him. Singers like Aarti Tikko and Vijay Mala came around the same time as dad. He started singing and composing songs for Radio Kashmir’s General Service while mesmerizing thousands of Kashmiris with his wonderful voice. Dad marveled people with his singing performances across all states in India. He won “Grade A” singer slot in light music.

In 1983, Dad was appointed Music Composer in Radio Kashmir. After 1989 when Pandit Bhajan Sopori, who was Program Executive at Radio Kashmir, left Kashmir, dad overlooked radio’s Music section. During those tough years of turmoil, he created a large set of singers in Kashmir, who eventually got recognition in the field of music. Among them are Rashid Farash, Waheed Jeelani, Muneer Ahmed Mir and others.

As approved Music Composer by Music Audition Board, All India Radio, New Delhi, dad also composed songs in Urdu, Dogri, Gojri, Punjabi and Bengali among others.

Years into his stint as Music Composer, dad cleared Union Public Service Commission examination to serve as Program Executive in Radio Kashmir. Dad was awarded “Top Grade Singer” in light music for excellence in the singing of Kashmiri songs--the other “Top Grade Singer” in light music in the Valley is Begum Akhtar. Dad also won “D-I Graded Singer” award in light music (Urdu).

Dad served as member of the Advisory Sub-Committee for Kashmir Folk Music in Cultural Academy (1995-2003) and member of Program Advisory Committee of Doordarshan Kendra Srinagar (1986-88). Dad was also empanelled with Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

But the voice is silent now. Today is the sixth anniversary of my father’s death, which is still a mystery.

My father was killed in 2003. He disappeared mysteriously from the train bound for Delhi from Jammu on the night of July 13 and was reported dead the following day by Punjab police. They claimed his body had been cremated. We only got his clothes and slippers and the ring and watch he was wearing.

The tragedy of his death has stuck with us and the ghosts of mystery haunt us as time passes. We have many questions but no answers. Dad’s death is a mystery and his killing didn’t linger with our Valley’s people, though he was renowned in Jammu and Kashmir.

We have questions about who killed him and what led to his death. We regret that the Jammu and Kashmir government couldn’t do anything to unravel the mystery. The luke-warm response of the government toward handling the case also adds to the lingering feeling every Kashmiri has that the people hardly have any power when it comes to dealing with cases that happen outside of state.

My father’s death is not the only case in the Valley; many tragedies have happened in Kashmir. At the end of the day, it is not the death of a person but a family. Over the course of six years, my mother has lost hope that her husband will ever come back and so have I and my siblings—a brother and sister.

What is more frightening for us is the possibility that the tragedy may not have happened. We just don’t know as we have never seen his dead body. “Someday, there will be a miracle when dad will knock on our door. We don’t stop thinking about it.”