Patras Kay Mazameen

Back when they first started, there was a debate over what the point of litfests in Pakistan was. They seemed elitist and unimaginative and much more. To be fair, at first none of those attending seemed to know either, but over time the combination of free-to-enter public spaces catering to something other than food or religion (though both would be present) meant that these events seemed to generate their own gravitational pull, attracting attendees and sponsors alike.

One thing that has been common to all these literary fests, regardless of which city or season they have been held in in Pakistan, is that there are two boxoffice acts – Mohammad Hanif and Zia Moheyuddin. The crowds for their talks are always overflowing, with gates forcibly shut to prevent further people from entering.

It was at one of these events, where Zia Moheyuddin gave a series of readings, that I had the opportunity to have Patras Bokhari first brought to life. Granted, I had been taught some of his stories at school, but all that had left were some memories of an amusing story. However, the lyricism and magic that exist in Patras Bokhari’s writings had been lost one me. His writings feel infinitely better when read, or heard, with the life and vigour inherent in the language used.

Listening to Zia Moheyuddin’s masterly narration, one gets a far truer picture of the sheer delight that Patras sb seemed to take in his writing, or at least the delight he hoped to evoke. The time I heard Zia Moheyuddin read out Patras Bokhari’s story, he also spent some time talking about his personal experiences of the man, who was one of his teachers at school. It gave me a brief insight into the absolutely remarkable life read by this great author, which is summarised well in this piece by Raza Rumi in All Things Pakistan, which brings up his contributions as much lauded actor, a literary mentor, a broadcaster, a speechwriter for heads of state and a distinguished and celebrated diplomat at the UN.

The website established by his grandson has a charming anecdote which in a way references that idea we have of The Great Pakistani Man at an international stage. (See also: Bhutto, ZA; Kardar, AH)

A little known contribution of Bokhari is the survival of UNICEF, which was about to be disbanded after having completed its humanitarian mandate in the WW2 devastated Europe… Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the US President was the Chief US delegate. Bokhari as the chief delegate of Pakistan was elected to chair the Committee meeting.

She read from the prepared US statement given to her, thanking UNICEF for a job well done and proposed its winding up. Bokhari at that point in a dramatic manner stepped down from the Presidents Podium and resumed his seat as Pakistani delegate. He said that listening to Mrs. Roosevelt, he felt that he was presiding over some funeral. He said although UNICEF’s work in Europe may have ended, there were millions of suffering women and children in the developing countries that were in far greater need of UNICEF’s help. This reprimand stunned Mrs. Roosevelt. At the next day meeting of the Committee, she thanked Bokhari and reversed the US position.

However, during much of his life, Bokhari was often criticised by his literary peers, who felt he was wasting his talents by committing himself to so many different fields. Raza Rumi points these out.

Patras has, however, been criticised for being a man without a vocation and one who did not adequately focus on his literary genius.

Allama Iqbal is purported to have composed the poem Aik Falsafazada Syedzaday Kay Naam on his disappointment after meeting Patras upon the latter’s return from Cambridge…

Noon Meem Rashed, a student, lamented that Patras was “…a great man who missed the bus. The buses passed by one after the other, while he kept looking under his feet. For example, writing was his forte and among his countrymen he will always be remembered and respected as a writer, rather than as an administrator or diplomat; but he did very little to apply himself seriously to writing and once he sold his soul to the demons of administration and diplomacy, so to say, he found it even harder to satisfy his urge to write.”

I was unaware of this image of Patras Bokhari – imagine having Allama Iqbal of all people writing a diss(appointment) track about you! But the more I thought about it, the more I realised something about his place in time and culture.

This week, Patari has launched the first of many audiobooks we will be hosting on the site. Our first partners are the brilliant people at Urdu Studio, who have created a vast library of Urdu titles across genres and authors, available as audiobooks.  They have spent a long time to create studio-quality recordings of many a great work of literature, bringing together professional voice artists to do the recordings. While Urdu Studio has been a huge success amongst the Pakistani diaspora, they also wanted to find sustainable ways of introducing these audiobooks to Pakistani listeners, which is where we came in.

But returning to Patras, the reason we agreed to have him as our first choice was because he was both accessible and yet intellectually formidable. Take this story, Hostel Mei Parhana, which is exceedingly contemporary in its nature. Patras’s account of his life as a university student is full of wicked satire and some marvellous use of language, and yet it is also very universal in its insights and consistently self-aware and self-deprecating. The irony, the self-reflexivity, the moderness are all reasons that Patras’s work translates so well into another medium – audiorecording – as well as for a contemporary audience. Despite the fact that the language used here is regularly ornate, it remains something that people living today can instantly relate to.

It makes me think of all his critics, who seemed to be correct in their assessments on Bokhari several decades ago. But what they all didn’t realise was that he was a man both of his time, but also well ahead of it, which is why his genius remains relevant today.

Ye Indie Music Kya hay?

When I tell people I work at Patari, they often ask me, “Music industry ‘ka kya scene hay?’ Does Jal still exist? Is Junoon reuniting? Will Fawad khan ever sing again? Can I get a free Patari kitty sticker? Is there a new Meesha Shafi music video out?”

The mainstream industry in Pakistan has been going downhill for years. No one wants to make music unless they can sell it to a fizzy drink company, or give it to Bollywood. But to this question, I nearly always say “Indie music ka bara scene hay.” Lekan ye indie music hay kya? How has this alien term become suddenly so important? Isn’t all music currently being produced in Pakistan technically independent music? Functional record labels scarcely have a presence anymore. Everyone from Noori to Tahir Shah is making their own music. In that case, what is Indie music? Is it a genre? Do you have to have a house in Defence for it? Do you have to be an IVS or LUMS graduate to make it? What do artists like Ali Suhail, Asfandyar Khan and Poor Rich Boy have in common?

Indie is as much about the music as it is about how the music is made. It is associated with being ‘authentic’, somehow unlike most other mainstream music. Most of the musicians in the indie scene in Pakistan are either college students or people with day jobs. At the risk of sounding cliché’d, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that for these musicians, it is not about the money but about making art. But this is also true for a lot of mainstream music, since music is barely a profession in Pakistan these days. It’s easier to sense this honesty in indie music because of these artists bold attempts at experimenting with sounds and genres not traditionally explored in mainstream Pakistani music. We have Poor Rich Boy and Saad Follows exploring folk/alternative rock, Tollcrane and Dynoman making electronic dance music. 6LA8 and Atif Farooq making post-rock. It is not only their music but the musicians themselves often to seem have an eccentric almost quirky character to them. With names like Janoobi Kharogosh, Sikandar ka Mandar and Basheer and the Pied Pipers you automatically know that these guys aren’t your traditional rockstars.

Songs should be able to capture ideas and feelings, this is why the lyrics should be given as much importance as the music itself. This is something that a large strain of Pakistani pop music, unfortunately, has recently ignored. Lyrics have either revolved around a handful of folk poems and ghazals or laments of  ‘neend ati nahi’, ‘dil roya’, ‘raat jaga’.  Artists like Shajie, Poor Rich Boy and Saad Follows are great examples of Indie artists whose words are both powerful and distinct. Sometimes their absurdity is what sets them apart from the emotionally loaded lyrics of mainstream artists.

It is not always easy to categorize artists as mainstream or indie as the boundaries between these two groups are not well cut out. A lot has to do with perceptions about the music’s origin and its creator. Indie is a relatively new term in Pakistani music and this new generation of post 2010 artists including Dynoman, Shajie, Asfandyar Khan, Nawksh are the first ones to define the labels meaning and connotations.

To explore this new turn in the Pakistani music industry that promises to revive the music scene, there can be no better place to start than Pataris own indie playlist.

Pop Sitars

Noorzadeh Raja has this great mellow-afternoon soft-rock song that we featured in Haftanama 18:

It caught our imagination:

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The song has many great things about it, but it’s the texture of the song – made by Rakae Jamil’s sitar – that sets it apart.

The sitar has lagged behind desi percussion and the harmonium for uptake in Pakistani pop, which is strange considering it was one of the first Indian instruments to make it to Western pop. The biggest Western coup for the sitar being late Beatles music (prominent songs: Norwegian Wood, Love You To, Within You Without You).

The sitar’s travels to the West also gave us piece of magic:


The closest thing we have to this is psychedelic work from film composers Sohail Rana & Nisar Bazmi:

And perhaps the most prominent public presence of the sitar today is at Nafees Ahmad’s accompaniment at Zia Mohyeddin’s new year’s eve show at Lahore’s Ali Auditorium. Nafees Ahmad also played in this year’s Coke Studio:

Western pop’s infractions towards the east have mostly looked at North Indian Classical Music, where the sitar is often prominent. On the other hand, recent Pakistani pop’s explorations into South Asian musical traditions has largely centered around Sufi music. Junoon, of course, led this effort, and many others have taken it up in their stead. Which has meant that qawwali is the primary genre that pop has interacted with, and qawwali will often have only a harmonium and some percussion. Both of which have seen more successful forays into pop.

The sitar really found it’s voice in Pakistani pop when Rakae played with cousins Noori on Coke Studio 2:

Coke Studio has tried a handful of sitar pieces since, most of which are rooted in classical composition. Pop’s sitar players are few and far between – Rakae Jamil may be the only prominent one.

And if nothing else, I appreciate the effort to broaden the horizons of both pop and the use of the sitar in contemporary music. Why? Because unlike many other things in life, in music new-ness is almost always good. Because new means different, and difference allows art to do what it’s meant to: shake things up. The great thing about art, music especially, as opposed to other creative production like software is that art never goes out of date. Which means that even if a style isn’t fashionable in the moment, it may become so later. It is this permanence that leads us now into Sohail Rana’s work from many decades ago, which was perhaps ahead of its time in terms of fashion.

What is Bumbu Sauce?

Patari employees argue over many things – Why do certain people insist on inserting spaces before punctuation? Is Pinjra Sufi Rock? Why do bands break up? What color is our logo? How is Aja Re possibly in the top charts?

If you look really really hard in these discussions there is sometimes something useful said about music. Coupled with our collective sadness over the demise of publications such as Bandbaja and Koolmuzone, this led us to want to put together a collection of the best things said about Pakistani music. This is our attempt to give back – we’d love your feedback.

To start with, we relive the momentary euphoria that was Bumbu Sauce. Bumbu Sauce emerged in late 2010 with a handful of expertly-packaged punk songs that soon gathered a cultish Twitter following.

It’s not easy to trace Bumbu Sauce’s lineage in Pakistani pop. Instead their significance was Pakistani appropriation of a traditional rock sound. Similar to how eP drew on Tool, and Junoon on Zeppelin, Bumbu Sauce found their cultural roots in late 70s Punk. As such the band has described their music as Punkjabi, but we like this description a little bit more:

 

Bumbu Sauce’s entrance to the scene in late 2010 was an exercise in PR genius. Jiggernaut, alternatively titled The Taliban Song, caught the eyes of The New York Times & The Guardian when it was released as the first single. It was almost too-easy to fit into the Pakistani-youth-fights-Taliban-with-rock narrative, but we reckon the band saw it coming and used it to their advantage. This gave the band a much-coveted international route to local fame, which remains second only to censorship by the Pakistani government in efficacy of raising local pop acts to stardom.

Bistee Proof

Their first, and to date only EP, Bistee Proof, is a mish-mash of pop-culture references, punk riffs, and general Punjabi in-your-faceness. Perhaps the strangest thing about Bumbu Sauce is their seeming lack of musical lineage to any pop bands that came before or after them. To this day their songs exist in a little bubble of Bumbu. The aesthetics of Punk – simple sound and complex rebellion – exist spiritually in other Pakistani pop. But never was the texture of the sound this close to 70s British Punk. Perhaps as a result, Bistee Proof is accompanied by a certain wave of nostalgia that one associates with an era that is no longer within reach.

But five years on, this EP is still pretty Bumbu.