Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – the voice of ‘Ishq’ | Pakistan Today

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – the voice of ‘Ishq’

by Shawaz Lodhi

A childhood gyrating to and around the likes of Richard Marx and Bryan Adams, classical rock was to be forever woven in the soul of a young wanderer in pursuit of insanity, spontaneity and acceptance. Born and raised in western music, the bests of the best, surely it would be the only thing that inspired him, surely nothing could compare to what he had: the aesthetic lyrics, the veritable music, nothing! But a wizard who made an addict, high on ecstasy, out of every single person ever to lend an ear to his magic. With his spellbinding voice, this man had the ability to induce sentiment through million-year-old fossils. Such was his aura that melody and euphony would boast a touch of the long-faded vibrations that were once dispersed through his lips.

Born on October 19, 1948, in Faisalabad to a family in music for the past 6 centuries, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the ustaad, the Shehanshah of qawwali, as he become to be known,  took over as the head of the family Qawwali at age 23. His father had worried about his vocal ability in his childhood but little did he know of what he was to craft.

I was just a 1 year old when he died, too young to preserve or even make sense of any memory I may have had of him. I would just walk into my uncles’ rooms, stocks of NFAK cassettes all over the place, one playing on the stereo, I’d grunt and was out of there in no time. Everywhere you go, whether you took a taxi or were in a restaurant, he was there. It was like death, no matter how much you avoid it, it’d come running towards you. And what eventually everyone would realise when it would finally catch up was that how sweet an embrace death was.

Enheduanna, the Sumerian high priestess of the 23rd century BC was the first person ever to assign her name to her writings, laying the first stepping stone towards what humans long before her had spent their whole lives in pursuit of, immortality. But immortality was an insult to the legacy the Ustaad preserved; such that a person who couldn’t understand him, too couldn’t help but submit to his calling, knowing that he must be singing of something so heavenly that it could not be expressed in a way he could ever fathom. What made this man so special was the tenderly agonising emotion and depth he put into his songs and the lyrics. Such profound were his aesthetics that you could take a couple of lines out of his songs and contemplate without a pause for hours.

Take a seat as I attempt a journey far beyond my reaches, for the heart is but a toddler that knows not the difference between a flashing orb and inferno.

Tumhain Dillagi Bhool Jaani Paray Ge

Muhabbat ki raahon main aakar toh dekho


Love it is the most unique, profound and virtuous flair one could ever hope to voyage. It stretches out to the narrowest reaches of the heart and the furthest reaches of the soul. It demands but a placid eye to observe; an eye free from impurity; without a grey in its blue. How do you observe it? You can’t, you feel it. How do you feel it? You can’t ever know, it’s something you can’t reach, it reaches you; reaches those on the purest persona. For some, it’s more common than catching a cold and for others, a lost ark, a holy grail.

What it is, is something not seen or heard, it is something unworldly. It’s not something you can ever hope to gain control over, it is but felt by the worthiest to which the Almighty blesses. It never dies or rests or sleeps or takes a break, it is a feeling incomparable to anything that can be felt by the body, and how could it be, because it’s a feeling of the soul. It demands sacrifice; submission of everything ever known, everything ever learnt; only then, does the route to this enchanted, perilous, ceaseless voyage unfold. And such is the treachery that you are unafraid. You welcome it; you embrace it, you become it. It is the water, the fire, the earth; the sun, the moon, the stars; it’s the heavens; it’s you; it’s all around you in every direction you see, every dimension you look. It is the song of the heart and the rhythm of the soul.

And truly the love we build is but an illusion of the heart. The love we build is but the projection of it in our physical world because we are incapable, not worthy of witnessing it. We see what we would want to see; what our heart wants us to see and nothing more. It is but a foiled attempt to satisfy ourselves; a pathetic strive to make us believe that we are special, distinct; our own personal superiority brand, that’s the bitter reality of what love is to us. It is but avidity; a cure to our boredom, a game to play and tickle our time away. Love can never be so vile, so shallow, so puny; to get a chance to discover this wondrous merry land, all kinds of contaminations to the heart must be eradicated.

Love is what gets you hung by the ignorant for being it, it is what makes a king bow and bawl as a slave, what gets the fire to lay its swelter onto your mercy, what obliterates all kinds of discrimination. It makes you immerse yourself in it; flooding your mind, your soul, body and heart. It flows and it overflows, leaving an essence on everything it touches until it becomes you and has an effect on everything you touch.

Dare to embark upon the path of love and you shall know what pain is. Never again shall you ever mock this agony for you’ll become the agony. Dare to look into the eyes of the demon and tell the story of every person it took on before you, every person it shall take on. Let the demon swallow you whole, for you are nothing; whatever you are or ever hope to be was lost way before you step foot in this world, for the encounter breaches the laws of space and time; it erases what was written and rewrites what was to be written. It reflects on your identity; it is your identity, overrunning through your hands and face, filling the insides of your heart and veins. Dare and you shall discover a new world. You shall know of an elixir that kills you but never shall you sway, you shall dive into the ocean, time and again, till you become the ocean; flowing through the world, free from the norms and bounds. For once try being sincere and honest with yourself, by lying to yourself; being pure within heart, mind and soul and you shall know of a feat which very few have the honour to suffer.

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