05 July 2016

And Amjad Sabri came to stay

During the tense days of the Russian Revolution when victory and control were not assured, Leon Trotsky purchased some defeat-insurance in the form of an emphatic statement: “We will leave, but we will slam the door so hard the world will shudder.”  Several decades later, Joseph Goebbels would spin it thus: “If the day should ever come when we must go, if some day we are compelled to leave the scene of history, we will slam the door so hard that the universe with shake and mankind will stand back in stupefaction.”

In the case of Britain and the European Union it was not about defeat or eviction.  It was a straightforward exit from an arrangement that the majority decided was against the better interests of their country.  Interestingly, large and influential sections of the international community including the articulators of the radical right and left wing positions among academics and political commentators, screamed out their horror at the decision.  For the ‘Left’ it was about objecting to those who championed Brexit, i.e. in terms of their ideological orientation.  The ‘Left’ after all has to object to the ‘Right’.  As for the ‘Right’ in these matters, it was about the subversion of hard won coherence in Europe for the right and enhanced ability to plunder those bits and pieces of the earth and her people that the bigger brothers of Capitalism had yet to touch. 

What’s important is the noise levels.  It was loud.  It is not that the world shook and shuddered or was made to stand back in stupefaction.  That was clearly the intent.  The world was to take Brexit as the beginning of the end of the world as we know it.  Well, cheers to that! 

What’s important is the noise levels and for reasons that had nothing to do with European angst or possible repercussions for the global economy.  It’s important because even as the shrill-level went higher on Brexit, there was a silencing that went unnoticed. 

I had never heard of Amjad Sabri.  The belated introduction came last week through a chance post on Facebook.  And it is as though I’ve known him for decades and lifetimes.  And then I listened.  I listened to him singing in a language I didn’t understand and yet Amjad Sabri made me understand everything he had to say.  I understood something of his faith and his devotion.  He took me to all the Sufi mystics whose poetry I’ve read, re-read, shared, talked about and loved.  

This is what I listened to first:

I did not know then what the words meant, but I’ve read the translations since.  For example, the following translation of “tajdar-e-haram” a song composed by his father, Ghulam Farid Sabri.

What should I tell you, O Prince of Arabia,
You already know what is in my heart,
In our separation, O Untaught One,
Our sleepless nights are so hard to bear
In your love I’ve lost all consciousness 
Tajdar-e-haram, tajdar-e-haram
Amjad hails from a family of qawwali singers, going back according to some to Mian Tansen, the great composer and musician in the Mughal court of Emperor Akbar.  This is not the place for a biographical sketch.  Suffice to say that he loved and was loved in return.  Tens of thousands attended the funeral of Amjad Sabri.

Amjad Sabri did not die a natural death.  He was gunned down by the Pakistani Taliban.  He was all about love for the divine in which he believed and perhaps inspired love even among non-believers for his devotion if not his faith, a man who delighted and moved people to tears as he played (no, ‘prayed’, he would have said as would other exponents of the mode of worship he preferred) both with voice as well as his own tears.  He was ‘exited’ by those inspired by a doctrine or rather a reading that was all about hate.  Amjad Sabri sang the praises of Allah.  He was killed in the name of Allah.  Both were ‘acts of devotion’ and both about ‘deep’ readings of the faith.  Oh the irony!  

We have Amjad Sabri’s voice.  And yet, it is as though we’ve lost something of a language that brings people together rather than push them to kill one another.  It is as though in this particular silencing, this particular ‘eviction’ a door was closed.  Yes, a door was closed but not with the kind of bang that Trotsky talked of.  Yes, there would have been noise – that’s normal when it’s about guns and bullets.  And yet it is as though Amjad Sabri left quietly, closing the door soft as though he didn’t want to disturb those he left.  The people of Pakistan heard, the world however was largely silent – the world was fascinated by the noise in Europe.  Not anyone’s fault, but it seems to me that the world’s obsessions (constructs mostly) are obnoxious and scandalous.   

Amjad was praying.  He was singing and still sings.  He believed and would believe if he went where he thought he would as per his faith that he sang and sings, respectively, in the court of heaven.  His voice, his passion and his love were indeed heavenly simply because it was ‘out of this world’.  Yes, it rose and still rises above the cacophony of other exists, lamented and celebrated, shouted out to a world that is forced to listen to the shouting. 

I listened to his last rendition of his love song to the Prophet and of course to God.  I close my eyes.  I hear again and again the soundless closing of a door and the opening of a million windows, the turning off of a light and the brilliance of a sunlight whose source cannot be our sun but is still life-giving and illuminating.  I realize that nations come and go as per the dictates of cartographical fixations and the relevant balance of power but that these shifts of earth and line are far less newsworthy in the chambers of the heart than the arrival of a man who had to go for him to visit me. 

Amjad Sabri did not knock on my door, but I heard him at the door.  I did not ask who it was, but he said, as did and do people of his faith, “it is you”.  I did not say as those of his faith would (and mine too) “since we are one there’ room for both of us”.  Amjad Sabri stays.   And all I hear is his voice singing that last qawwali.  There is love in the houses that count.  Thanks for coming and thanks so much for staying, Amjad Sabri.  

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com.  Twitter: malindasene