My guru, Professor Shahbaz Ali, once told me that Khan Saheb Mehdi Hassan (when he was still unknown and lived in a baithak on College Road, Rawalpindi) conjured up Saraswati Devi in his room by applying the first note ‘Sa’. I did not believe him until I met the great sitar player-composer Shahid Parvez.
Rageshri is Shahid Parvez’s hallmark in the same way Hunsdhun is that of Ustad Amir Khan. The last time I had heard him was at a performance in Karachi in August 2006. He had wasted the whole day in a police station because of a ‘reporting visa’. He had to give a concert in the evening and leave Pakistan at dawn. I was very fortunate to record this Rageshri that he played for 100 minutes. Last week, I gave it a non-stop nine-hour listen. I heard it again today and had the most pleasant dream of my life.
I was in a big castle-like house, which was tastefully decorated. I entered and confronted a very pretty woman bedecked in jewels. She told me that she was Saraswati Devi and with this, the sound of Shahid Parvez’s sitar prevailed in the room. The atmosphere was full of Rageshri’s notes.
“What is this?” I asked. “It is my favourite music. Whenever I am alone, I listen to this music,” she said. “How did you have it? It is my music. I recorded it,” I told her.
“No, it is my music. He plays it only for me — when I am happy and when I am gloomy. He comes here and plays it. He is here at this moment and playing it. You can’t see him. I can see him but can’t touch him,” she said.
“That’s not true! It’s Rageshri of Shahid Parvez and I have recorded it,” I said.
“Yes it is his Rageshri and he had played it for me and I had allowed you to record it because you love music. You could not have recorded it had I not wished so. Now listen quietly.” I sat down at the feet of Saraswati Devi and heard the entire alaap, jor, jhala and the gat in vilampit and madhlay. At this moment, I snapped out of my dream. The computer was playing the same portion that I would have heard had my dream continued. I did not miss a single note.
That’s how music should be. It should be able to take you to worlds different from this one, which has been subjugated by the religious bigots of Lal Masjid.
Mohammad Shehzad is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad. He is also a student of North Indian classical music.