Music when soft voices die
I don’t claim I was Musadiq Sanwal’s friend. I made his acquaintance a few years ago. I had heard colleagues at the Dawn office rave about how hard he had worked to set up Dawn.com. He, at the time, had been editor of the website for more than a year.
I don’t even remember when we first said ‘hello’ to each other. It just happened. I think it was a music concert that I had covered for the Metro pages that he had found ‘interesting’.
He had spoken about the nitty-gritty of the Bilawal thaat, trying to educate me in a subtle way so that I didn’t get offended. I was impressed. I was reluctant to ask how he knew so much about classical music.
Then one fine day I heard him sing at an annual All-Pakistan Music Conference event. It was not the Musadiq Sanwal I would often run into in the Dawn corridors. Accompanied by a harmonium player and a tabla nawaz on stage, he was a different creature altogether.
It was a song about fishermen’s plight. Very seldom had I seen and heard anyone perform a song with such compassion.
I didn’t understand the language the lyrics were written in, but I could tell what it was about. Musadiq’s love of music had turned him into a storyteller who didn’t need the crutches of language to put a message across.
The very next day I stepped into his office, without knocking the door, to congratulate him on a wonderful performance. His response was, “You’re being kind.”
After that Musadiq and I became ‘grouse’ buddies. Whenever we would meet, usually in the corridors, we would crib about one ailment or another plaguing Pakistani society. He was deeply hurt by the way bigotry and fundamentalism had taken root in the country.
I, being someone who is predisposed to seeing the glass half empty, didn’t help lift his spirits either.
My admiration for Musadiq increased manifold in 2012 when I saw him utterly distraught at the death of one of our colleagues and my former boss Murtaza Razvi. He was terribly shaken. He was very close to him and had known him for years.
He came into my room and talked about Mr Razvi for a long stretch of time. He recalled all the good times he had spent with him. I knew he had tears in his eyes; I just couldn’t see them.
It would be an understatement to say that Musadiq was a gentle soul. He was, but it was the kind of gentleness that is ingrained in creative individuals. He always seemed in a hurry. He would pass you by in a jiffy but would never fail to acknowledge your presence.
One day it came as a pleasant surprise when while chatting with me about everything under the sun — politics, music, art and literature — he asked me to write a regular bilingual column (Urdu and English) on culture for Dawn.com.
I, being an impulsive person, immediately said yes. I was over the moon to know that he, Musadiq Sanwal, had thought of me as someone who could serve him well. But I failed to keep my promise.
Then suddenly Musadiq disappeared from the radar. I inquired about him. A friend told me that he had lung cancer and was in the US for treatment. When he came back he looked hale and hearty. He had grown his (unkempt) white as snow hair. He cut a picture of that ’70s guy who was freakishly computer savvy.
He said he was feeling fine. He told me about the hospital he was in and shared a few jokes about the place where he recuperated. He had a distinct sense of humour.
Last year, when a church in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was attacked I wrote a blog on the incident. I emailed it to Musadiq and he put it on the website without thinking twice. I thanked him profusely which led to another round of discussion between him and I on how extremism was gnawing at the soul of our society.
For the past couple of months, I again lost touch with Musadiq. I was so tied up with work and family issues that I didn’t ask anybody where he was. A few days back when I checked my twitter account I found out that he was at the Aga Khan Hospital.
On the night of Jan 16, I read a journalist’s tweet that Musadiq needed blood. Yesterday morning I called up his office to know what room of the hospital he was in. Someone replied he had just passed away.
At the funeral I mustered the courage to see his face one last time. His white hair was still unkempt.