Is the Lahore Metro more important than Nusrat Fateh Ali’s legacy?

Published: February 8, 2016
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I mean, even Google gave Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan the respect and love due to a legend of his stature.

The Lahore Metro, a project first proposed in the early 1990’s, has finally been set in motion after overcoming many of its obstacles regarding funding. After construction had begun, the Lahore High Court intervened and suspended the activity till the Orange Line was rerouted to protect 11 heritage sites from being impacted. These heritage sites include the Shalimar Gardens, Chauburji monuments, St Andrews Church, the tomb of Mehrunnisa and the tomb of Mauj Darya Bukhari. This intervention has calmed the uproar of the masses as it protects the symbols of our culture and history.

To most of us what would be shocking is how a whopping 11 heritage sites could have been so ignorantly involved within the routing in the first place. However the civil society representatives, having enforced Section 24 of the Antiquities Act, have protected this new project from vandalising any heritage sites.

The section clearly states: “No person shall put any neon signs or other kinds of advertisement, including bill posting, commercial signs, poles or pylons, electricity or telephone cables and television aerials, on or near any protected immovable antiquity. Whoever contravenes this provision, shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to Rs10,000, or with both.”

Well, if obstructing heritage sites punishes the accused with a fine and/or imprisonment, what is the punishment for ignorantly demolishing one?

After rerouting the Orange Line to accommodate 11 heritage sites, why is it that the Sargam Studio of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was completely disregarded?

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: Shahenshah-e-Qawwali, internationally acclaimed and celebrated, is one of the most treasured symbols of Pakistan and its music. Till today fans commemorate the mesmerising and spiritually enriching experience his music offered, drawing parallels with the hypnotic appeal of the swirling dervishes. Tragically, decades after the demise of our legendary musician, the studio where his music breathed life and his voice echoed, where the instruments he used still reside, is now being threatened by the upcoming project.

What’s worse? Raza Shah, the current owner of the studio, has been offered a hefty payment so that the project can proceed.

What baffles anyone is that despite being aware that Sargam fell within the route, it is still being disregarded as relevant enough to be spared.

The response to this finding has been erratic as people debate over the opportunity cost that accompanies retaining the studio. Some argue to not live in the past, while others share their disappointment for the lack of respect towards our cultural heritage. However, the real question that persists is not about the choice between prioritising the people or a studio. The real question is, when 11 other sites were accommodated for, why is accommodating ‘one’ more site suddenly where the line is drawn?

When the studios of Michael Jackson or Elvis Presley are preserved so that people from world over can celebrate the success and accomplishments of their lives, why is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan any different? Is Khan not iconic enough to have made his family tradition into one that becomes privileged enough to be celebrated worldwide? Is the ability of his music to have inspired qawwals to follow in his footsteps not valid enough to regard him as a legacy? Is the manner in which his music can make all listeners fall into a deep, unanimous trance not reason enough to celebrate his talent?

When Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is pivotal to our identity internationally and locally, when qawwali is very much rooted in our history and our culture, why is it that the pioneer of it is not being bestowed the same respect as that of any other heritage site?

If the vacancy of the studio is what deems it irrelevant then in that case most sites still preserved should be given the same death sentence.

What if the proposal of new infrastructure threatened the existence of Frere Hall?

Or the Mohatta Palace?

Would the uproar be satiated with a pay-off?

Would it be justified to demolish old for the new?

If not, then why is it that the Shalimar Gardens or Chauburji are more relevant as heritage sites than a musicians studio? Or is the problem really the fact that his music is not dated back as far enough as the Mughal era to be regarded as pivotal to our social and cultural identity?

What is certain is that he deserves to be respected for being successful in promoting music within the region as well as world over. If the work of deceased musicians is celebrated elsewhere, it’s tragic that Pakistan doesn’t bestow the same respect to musicians of their own. What’s even more tragic is that despite having suspended their project to accommodate the heritage sites that were previously being obstructed, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s studio was not even taken into consideration at the risk of being completely demolished.

Fatima Nadeem

Fatima Nadeem

The author is a Fine Art graduate from Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. She is a freelance artist. Apart from a passion for the arts, her hobbies include reading and writing. Instagram: fatimanadeem8

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    Nusrat Fateh Ali and his music will live on for a very long time…..here we are talking of his studio and not the musician. Possibly this could be shifted to a more august venue as a compromise……in the interest of all.Recommend

  • Waqar Jamil

    I agree! Lets also celebrate those musicians that are currently alive as well.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Pull it and rip it out by it’s foundations? Put it on a flatbed truck and
    transport it, to, say, Gulberg? Anarkali? Model Town? Opposite Chief
    Minister’s House? Raiwind Place? Joseph Colony? The Mall? Sialkot? Wagah Border crossing? Give it to the Indians? Ship it to Karachi? Put it in the Lahore Canal and float it to Multan? “in the interest of all” who are these ‘all’?
    You mean co regent and Vizier Showbiz Sharif? Dollar Dar? Railway Saad? Army Khawaja? Hamza Sharif? Maryam Sharif. Chulbul Sharif? Mynah Sharif?
    Geeta Sharif? Sadhvi Sharif?
    How about Dilip Kumar’s House in Peshawar? Or Raj Kapoor’s Haveli?
    Can they be yanked out and set up somewhere else? Huh?
    By now you should know, it’s always,…location, location, location…Recommend

  • Parvez

    I was simply making a suggestion, if it were not workable for the Orange Line to go around it……remember the Naseerwanji Building was shifted brick by brick to a location in the Indus Valley School of Architecture in Karachi ( it was a big building ).Recommend

  • SamSal

    Infrastructure for the city vs a musician’s studio – the choice isn’t that hard.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Must have happened when Moses came down with the tablets.
    They took apart London Bridge, and reassembled it in
    Lake Havasu, Arizona. [Cost and arm an a leg and the first born
    of EVERY Arizonan, plus, millions of $]Recommend

  • Alam

    In 1950s, Madrid (Spain) decided it wasn’t car friendly. So it took the hard decision and cut down 50% of the trees in the city. Now there are millions of people from countries with rain forest (Brazil, Ecuador, Peru etc) come to work in Madrid (rather than living and appreciating culture in their country).

    Economy is the biggest driver of culture. When rivers change course, the settlements also move with that (taking their culture to the new trade harbours). Even most of the celebrations are about economics (celebrating new crops/commerce around religious festivals….)Recommend

  • Alam

    @ Patwari, You have not only chosen an unreasonable name. you also seem really not in a fit state to argue. Calm down and have some decent converstation. No need for shouting (capital) and plenty of question marks. No need to show of your knowledge of lakes and moses when the discussion is about a straightforward issue. It seems you are writing in an agitated state of mind. One needs to think before answering someone.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Really? Unemployment in Spain is more than 25%. So Spain is giving
    out these work visas? To Ecuador? Brazil? Peru? Mexico? Columbia?
    Does not make sense at all. Your knowledge about Spain is non existent.
    If you have no job, you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, maybe your wife and kids are hungry, would it matter if you were living in Heaven? The dense rain forests are NOT going to fill your stomach. You can appreciate them all you want. You will still be hungry.
    By the way, Spain is part of PIGS, {Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain] they
    have the worst economies in the European Union. Because of no visa policy,
    PIGS countries are exporting their populations to England, Germany, France,
    and Scandinavian Countries. Plus the Low Countries, [Belgium, Netherlands]
    So your comment is strange.Recommend