For Kashmir

Two weeks of Rohail Hyatt being back in the freshest season of Coke Studio Pakistan, and there’s already so many reasons to get back and be hooked.

  1. Rohail is back producing it
  2. Zeb is back
  3. Atif Aslam looks and sounds like he’s grown up
  4. The season features Fareed Ayaz, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Sanam Marvi
  5. It’s already sounding like it’s full of the old, peaceful vibe of the old CS Pak days
  6. It’s raining
  7. Did I mention Rohail Hyatt is back?

I’d lost interest in the show once he exited his position as producer because he brought in a certain perfect aesthetic that no producer ever after managed to even come close to matching up to. And there have been oh-sooo-many producers and directors after him, not a single one could level up. In all the many seasons after his moving on, there have been so many misses more than hits that I’d gotten used to cherry picking the good tracks I could weed out of the trash and consoling myself about having to make do, when what I wanted was a whole seasons worth of music to fill to my hearts content.

Eventually, I skipped the last three seasons because the experimentation just got too much for me. To poppy, too noisy, too loud, too out there, just not tight, just not together, just not melodious even after a point. There’s a space for experimentation and fusion, but it can’t come at the cost of pure melody and aesthetic. It can’t replace music with noise, and unfortunately the last two seasons have been just that for me — noise.

Until this year suddenly my attention was piqued all over again because I heart Rohail Hyatt was back. I’ve been hooked, good and proper, since the premier three weeks ago. Atif Aslam has had a growth spurt, he’s singing well, he’s making sense. The general set isn’t OTT. The overall music production quality is sane and soulful again. The collaborations have been coming out of musicality first, and everything else next. There is a general sense of respect for the music, primarily, that is so palpable in every track so far. And I’ve only had a meh reaction to one out of seven tracks so far. That’s a bloody good conversion rate compared to the last few seasons.

I’ve been properly addicted, tuning into the BTS previews that release on Wednesday, and getting hyped like crazy in the run up to Fridays, when the episodes release. On Friday, there’s a dramatic countdown that happens on the video as it premiers live across the globe. And it has been such a rush to witness the release of these tracks along with other fellow junkies all shouting Rohail for president! and other versions of this in the comments as the song is slowly being released. S and I have been tripping cross continents, hyping each other and getting psyched in anticipation, on cue every single week.

I already have a season favourite.

The BTS, if it’s possible, is actually as good as the song. This is a song by Kashmiri poet Habba Khatoon who was called the Nightingale of Kashmir. In this she laments her beloved who has gone missing, for not returning to her, and keeping her waiting. It’s a comment on conflict and loss of life and love.

And I cried when I watched it. See for yourself, if you’d like. It’s worth it.

They couldn’t have timed this better even if they tried. And Zeb’s bright, twinkly eyes, the perfection in voice, and her heartfelt attempt to embody the spirit of Habba Khatoon, and her despair in missing a loved one, just did something for me that day.

The day the song released, the comments section was a celebration of love. There were loud comments harking freeKashmir! literally in thousands. Watching that, sensing the hope and optimism in those words really did something for me. Of course, I cried some more.

In the words of Zeb herself, “If we put aside what is right and wrong, the truth remains that in places where there is trouble, our loved ones are sometimes separated from us. This idea of missing someone when you don’t know where they are, it’s so relevant to places that have turmoil and that has been the experience of Kashmiri people now for centuries.” And it really hit me then, for centuries we have only heard stories of conflict, politicised stories that benefit nobody but those in power. Especially now, more than ever before, I’m suddenly curious to know more — what of the culture of the people there? What do they sing? What do they read? What do they eat? What are their celebrations like? What is it like beyond the face of turmoil and anguish that’s presented to us? Especially at a time when Kashmir is in a state of a blackout, I ask myself again and again, who will tell their stories?

It is so easy to get caught up in the right and the wrong, in the political angles. They’ll always exist, of course. And to choose one or the other will always put us in places at opposite ends of the spectrum. But what we’ve lost in all of this is basic humanity, a sense of basic rights, and this is something I’ve been sitting with silently (seeing as how this is not something I can discuss out loud, in person anywhere in my immediate surroundings) ever since the abrogation.

Thankfully, there are some people at work. This video needs to be seen.

[Trigger Warning: Violence and Bloodshed in the video below]

Is it possible to look at the humanity? At Kashmir in the context of conflict and it’s effects on people? Is it possible to put the justifications and political ideologies to the side at all?

I don’t know. And not knowing makes me very, very sad.

***

I’m grateful for music today. For poetry and the power to express such deep emotions through words in ways that can cross generations, centuries and touch hearts long after they were first penned. I’m grateful for artists like Rohail Hyatt and the entire Coke Studio Pakistan team. I can’t believe I’m going to say it but I’m thankful for Coke, else I don’t think I’d have accessed this goldmine of music ever.

I’m grateful to live in times of peace in my part of the world. For stability. For love and life as I know it.

One year ago: October
Three years ago: Diwali 2016

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