A music video recently took social media by storm. It was Taher Shah’s new offering Angel, which instantly trended on Twitter and posted by countless people on Facebook, mainly making fun of the singer’s lyric writing ability and his sartorial sense.
But there was another video of a rickshaw walla singing the famous Bade Ghulam Ali Khan thumri “Yaad piya ki aaey.” Someone put it on Facebook, and it was in the beginning shared only by those who know the business of music, not the music business. The thumri was sung with such purity of soul (and without hitting a false note) that it compelled those who viewed it to inquire about the rickshaw driver. They were told that the singer was Master Aslam, a resident of Gulistan-i-Jauhar’s Perfume Chowk locality.
A few hours after the clip was uploaded, none other than the iconic Indian playback singer and music connoisseur Lata Mangeshkar shared it on her Facebook page, along with the caption in which she hoped that such artists should be standing before the microphone (singing) and not driving rickshaws. A compliment from Lataji is no mean thing. It’s an unequivocal validation of someone’s talent.
Not that Master Aslam is unfamiliar with the limelight. In 1993, he took part in a TV programme Music Challenge on NTM and reached the grand finale of the talent show. Talking to Dawn, he said, “It was a girl who won that show, although I still remember that the newspapers at the time had written that I was hard done by.”
Master Aslam knows that he is these days being talked up. So he wants his admirers to know all about himself. “I was fond of singing from childhood. I’m from Hyderabad. The situation at home was not favourable to indulge in such an activity. My father, who was a policeman, did not approve of it. There were no opportunities to learn music. Somehow I managed to go to Ustad Umeed Ali Khan and Fateh Ali Khan (in Hyderabad) and learn from them for a very brief period. They taught me how to do the riyaz (practice). My mind was tuned to it, and I used to listen to quality singers — Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Mehdi Hasan, Ghulam Ali. I have no formal training, but once I hear a composition, I can sing it the way it originally is, very quickly. It’s all God-gifted.”
On his shifting from Hyderabad to Karachi, Aslam says decades ago his love of music brought him to the city by the sea. “In 1993, I took part in Music Challenge on NTM and reached its finale. I got the fourth position. Karachi’s volatile situation did not allow me to pursue my career the way I wanted. In between, I received a call from Lahore to sing for a film. I went there and did it. The atmosphere in Lahore was not right for people like me, therefore I came back. I kept singing, but the economic situation at home did not let me settle down. I even worked at PTV with Qamar Allahditta sahib. Then something terrible happened. I fell ill and it took me two-and-a-half years to recover. During that period, I had to spend whatever I had on me. In my entire life I have never sought help from anyone except Allah. This is why, to make ends meet, I decided to drive a rickshaw. I felt no shame in it. It’s been a little more than a couple of years since I’ve been in this profession.”
Aslam does not remember who recorded his clip and put it on the internet. He does know that music buffs are now discussing him, as a result of which he has resumed the riyaz. The mere mention of Lata Mangeshkar makes Aslam nothing but grateful to the legend. “When I heard about it, it brought tears to my eyes. I can’t thank her enough. She is such a legendary artist, a devi in the realm of singing, and I’m just an amateur. I’m not even a speck of dust in front of her. And to know that she liked my singing…”
Even in his new-found glory Aslam has not yet got any offers from anyone to display his vocal talent. All he has been receiving are calls from different media outlets for interviews. He says he only wants to sing.
This article first appeared on Images.dawn.com.