Octogenarian shehnai player’s daily musical offering at a Bidar dargah

Updates from the Hindu 02 April 2017

He carries forth a family tradition despite physical frailty but there is no one to take it forward

For the last nearly 70 years, the daily routine of 82-year-old Mohammad Pasha Mian has involved waking up at the crack of dawn to reach the dargah of Abul Faiz in Bidar and begin playing his ‘chota shehnai’ at 6 a.m.

His post-prayer music recital at the nagarkhana, the music gallery atop the front gate of the dargah, also serves as a pleasant wake-up call to the people of the neighbourhood. Mian’s limbs are weak owing to old age but that has neither deterred him from walking to the dargah nor reaching the nagarkhana — on all fours when there is no one around to help him with the climb up. The ‘chota shehnai’ he carries in his pocket, he proudly says, was handcrafted by his father, who also played the same instrument at the same dargah.

He is sometimes accompanied by his grandsons, who play drums. The drums start playing just as the prayers end in the small mosque on the premises of the dargah, and within a few minutes, the soulful strains of the shehnai rise up in the morning air. On days when the boys go to work as construction labourers, Mian takes turns on the drums and the shehnai.

Hailing from a family of court musicians at the medieval era saint’s dargah, Pasha Mian learnt music from his father and uncles. He plays some classical pieces and then some Sufi songs and ghazals.

“I must have been a boy of about 12 or 13 years when I began accompanying my father and uncles who performed here,” he says. His childhood was hard and he received no formal school education. “Nor could I learn music from a guru. I began to play the ‘chota shehnai’ and practised on my own,” he says.

‘No money in music’

The dargah committee pays Pasha Mian ₹1,200 per month. He has no other other means of livelihood. Mian has a large family to feed as one of his sons died young and his daughter-in-law and grandchildren live with him. His other son is a carpenter. “There is no money in music. That is why it is unattractive to young people,’’ he says. “When I was young, there were six shehnai players in my family. But now I am the only one,’’ he says.

“Hazrat Khwaja Abul Faiz Sadath Zaid Husseini is considered Bidar’s patron saint and my family has been playing in the dargah for generations,” he says. “One of my uncles told me that the nagarkhana should never be bereft of sound. I continued the family tradition. But I don’t know what will happen next. My son did not learn the art and my grandsons are not interested,’’ he says.

A Sufi saint of the Chistiya order, Abul Faiz was hugely popular in the medieval era. The Bahamani king Allaudin Shah consulted him on important matters, says historian Abdul Samad Bharati in his book ‘Bidar’s historical monuments’. The dargah attracts followers from across the country even today.

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